First Phone

Kids – they’re a chip off the old block, eh?

Mine certainly are.  We gave Millie her first mobile phone at the weekend – before everyone starts shouting She’s only nine! or We had to make do with a stick and a hoop in my day! I should point out that this phone doesn’t have a sim card.

Millie's phone

Millie’s phone

So, technically, it’s not a phone.

And we didn’t buy it – it’s the Lovely Melanie’s old phone – the one that was dropped down the toilet, was fixed thanks to my insurance, then got slightly damp again and stopped working as a phone.  I mean, it worked fine except that it wouldn’t make phone calls.

It wasn’t worth selling to the usual recycling companies so we just held onto it.  I bought the Lovely Melanie a brand-new phone for her 40th birthday and we talked vaguely about letting Millie have the old one…at some point.

Then Millie’s CD player broke.  She didn’t use it very often, having discovered that her favourite songs are on YouTube, so most mornings she’d use my phone or the tablet for music.

Which gave me an idea: modern CD players seem to have a half-life of roughly six months and, in a house that’s fully networked, seem a bit, well, clunky.  Couldn’t we just buy a networked music player?  Or something?

Wait!  We’ve got some Bluetooth speakers lying around somewhere… and… if we had an old phone…


I wiped the phone, of course; installed a new and better ROM (CyanogenMod 10), put a password on the Play Store so she can’t download anything that costs money (we’ve had “the talk” about in-app purchases), and a content lock on YouTube and Google in an attempt to avoid any awkward questions about hardcore pornography.

Millie was over the moon, of course.  I handed her the phone and Bluetooth speaker, and explained what it was for and how to play music using it, but she quickly realised what this actually meant: SHE HAD HER OWN FRICKIN’ PHONE!

Just like me she then spent the next 24 hours getting it looking and working exactly as she wanted – customising the launcher, changing the wallpaper and downloading lots of games.  There are still rules on when and where she’s allowed to use it, and I shall be keeping an eye on what she installs, but it’s lovely to see her taking after me with her enthusiasm for technology.

This morning she asked about a case for it, and her little face lit up when I showed her the limitless choices on eBay (and my face lit up when her first choice wasn’t a pink one!)

Amber’s not asked for a phone yet, which is just as well – she’s too young anyway, and we don’t have an endless supply of old phones and Bluetooth speakers lying around, but it’s only a matter of time…

I’ll be interested to hear what other people think about nine-year-olds having a phone…

LeeFest 2014!

Some good job news -  I spent the best part of a day last week rewriting the covering letter I send to potential employers, making it worthy of a good copywriter.  It must have worked because the next application I sent came back within 24 hours offering an interview the next day.

So, that was nice, and the interview seemed to go well, too, which was a nice lead-in to…

Camping at LeeFest 2014

Camping at LeeFest 2014

LeeFest!  Where we’ve spent the last two days having a wonderful time in unexpectedly beautiful sunshine!

After having such an amazing time last year the girls’ practically demanded we go again this year, and I certainly wasn’t going to disagree with them – we even managed to persuade Auntie Kris, over from Australia for a few weeks, to spend some of her valuable UK there with us. :-)

The day before we went it seemed we might have made a terrible mistake because it rained - hard – for most of the day, some of the worst weather we’ve seen for months.  The Lovely Melanie was taking the girls’ sun dresses and flip-flops out of the rucksacks and replacing them with wellies and jumpers.  But by the time we arrived at Highams Hill Farm in South London, proud home of LeeFest, the rain had stopped, the sun had come out and the ground was just about dry.

Auntie Kris & I DRUNK at LeeFest


It was perfect weather for a festival: hot but with just enough cloud to keep us from boiling (we only woke up to a slightly damp field and tent on Sunday).

The girls had their faces painted, did some African drumming, danced to some bands, played on the beach, won a glitter-wrestling competition (Amber), learned to do cart-wheels (Millie) and…oh just tonnes of stuff.

Auntie Kristine and I had a bloody fantastic Friday night getting very drunk (my last sent text of the night reads “A gyre y guys tend r4eashjeui7!”), dancing till 2am and chatting with loads of lovely people.  Admittedly, I regretted going quite so mad when I woke on Saturday, but after – ahem – clearing my stomach a couple of times I eventually rallied in time to catch some dinner and some bands (but no more alcohol).

Sunny Saturday at LeeFest 2014

Sunny Saturday at LeeFest

Thanks again to the eponymous Lee Denny (organiser of LeeFest) for putting on such a fantastic festival.  Lee, you made some rather old people and some rather young people very happy this weekend. :-)

And that’s one of the best things about LeeFest.  Obviously, the weather and the bands and the booze and the people were all great, but the thing that really made it for us was that both the adults and kids had about as much fun as it’s possible to have in a field.

At the same time.

Amber glitter wrestling at LeeFest

Glitter wrestling champion!

There was no following the kids about while they did nice but slightly dull children’s stuff.  No children being forced to watch boring bands they’d never heard of.  Somehow LeeFest managed to hit a perfect balance of fun for grown-up and children – unpretentious and full of all different ages and types.

And that was even before I found that LeeFest is a non-profit-making venture, with all the extra income going to charity, and I realised there’s no corporate sponsorship either – no massive billboards or endless posters telling you how great beer X is or mobile phone Y or trainer Z.

And one final observation: there was a little quadcopter/drone flying above the campsite filming bands and people all weekend.  Everyone was fascinated by it, swooping about the place like a tiny ADHD helicopter; but I predict that next year this sort of thing will be absolutely commonplace…

A story for Millie’s birthday

As you may know, last week was Millie’s ninth birthday.  She made me promise to write her a story, just as I do for both girls at Christmas, but this would be just for her.

What with all the recent drama about unemployment I really didn’t think it would get done…but the final draft spilled onto the page just in time.

Who says I can’t hit my deadlines? ;-)

So, please enjoy this story, written to try and address Millie’s current arachnophobia…

Millie Saves The Spiders


“Mummy!” came a thin, small voice from the fireplace into the empty living room, “Help!”

And again, this time a tiny bit louder, “Mummy!  Daaaaaaddy!  Help!”

If anyone had been in the living room they might – just – have heard the muffled call for help, and they might have looked at the fireplace where the voice seemed to be coming from.

And if they could have looked up the chimney, past the upstairs, past the attic, right up to the roof, then they might have seen a dirt-encrusted Millie Carter desperately clinging onto the chimney there, shivering as the wind blew the burned and tattered remains of a once-magnificent magic cloak around her.

But no one was there to see or to hear her cries.

Millie held tight to the chimney against the wind and tried not to cry, recalling how she had ended up trapped and alone here on the roof.  But she couldn’t help it, and the tears rolled down her face as she remembered…

Chapter 1

Spiders.  It had all started with spiders.

She had been in her bedroom, dancing, jumping about on the bed pretending to be the world’s greatest popstar.  She was singing her most-famous song, the one on the radio every day that all her fans loved.  Her favourite bit was just coming up and she opened her eyes to do the famous Bollywood dance move that her fans liked to copy.

“Help,” she suddenly thought.  “Help”?  Help what?  Help who?

That’s when she realised there was writing on the carpet of her room.  Help it said, in wobbly black letters.  Well, actually it said Hepl but as she watched the l and the p swapped places and settled down where they should be.

Millie stopped dancing and looked at the floor.  It definitely said Help and Mummy was definitely not going to be happy that someone had written in big black letters on her bedroom floor.

The letters moved again, breaking up into pieces and scuttling about until they said, You are Mellie Carter?  Millie Carter stared at her name on the floor.

“No,” she said, “I’m Millie Carter,” and watched in amazement as Mellie corrected itself to Millie before changing to Sorry which then changed to Us not good at spalling.

“Who are you?” asked Millie, “And how are you writing on…?  Oh, wait – is this magic?  Are you using magic to make this writing?”

Iz not magic, wrote the floor, Iz just us – iz spiders.

Millie’s eyes opened wide and she gave a little cough before whispering “S-s-spiders?”

Please be frightened, we are not very friendly, appeared quickly on the floor, and just as quickly rearranged to say Please not be frightened, we are very friendly.

As the letters changed before her very eyes Millie nervously looked closer; yep, it was true: the writing was made of lots of little spiders all moving together to make letters.

“Eek,” said Millie, very very quietly, and she went very pale at the thought of all those spiders on her bedroom floor.  “Eek.”

Please, Millie, we are need your help, wrote the spiders.

Millie took a deep breath, preparing for a really big scream.

We not hurt Millie, we Millie friends, wrote the spiders as quickly as they could

Millie’s mouth opened ready …

You are brave lady who defeat Lobster King! scribbled the spiders, You see Great Magician Trev.

Millie stopped getting ready to scream.  “How do you know about that?  The only people who know about that are me, Amber and…”  She turned and looked at the gerbil cage.  “Sparkle?”

There was no reply.

“Sparkle, are you in there?”

There came a squeaky muffled reply, “Er, no, Sparkle’s not here at the moment.”

“Come out, Sparkle,” said Millie crossly, and the little gerbil appeared from under the sawdust.

“Oh, hello, Millie.  Didn’t see you there,” she squeaked.

“Sparkle, why is my floor covered in spiders?  You know I don’t like spiders!”  Millie looked down at her floor, “Sorry.”

Is OK, spelt out the spiders.

Sparkle looked nervous as she answered.  “I know you don’t like spiders,” she squeaked, “but this is important.  The spiders need our help, they—“

“I’m not helping spiders!” interrupted Millie, “I don’t like spiders!”

“Millie,” squeaked Sparkle, “listen to me.  The spiders knew your Uncle Trev – they helped him in the past, and in return he swore to help them if ever he could.  Well, now they need our help, and Uncle Trev is gone – the only person they have to turn to is you.  You’re the only person who can help them.”

Millie made a pained expression. “But…but…why did it have to be spiders?” she whispered.  “Why couldn’t it have been the… I don’t know, a beautiful unicorn that needed our help?”

Sparkle waved a paw at the spiders bustling about the floor, “Trust me, these little people are really nice guys.  Unicorns may look nice but they’re actually kinda stupid and vicious.”  She shook her tiny head and tutted. “Unicorns.  Don’t talk to me about unicorns.”

There was movement on the floor as the spiders spelt out something new.  Please us help, they wrote, You are spiders onyl hope.

Millie looked unhappy and tried not to stare at the spiders, who were trying to spell “only” again.

Millie looked up at the ceiling and shrugged her shoulders unhappily.  “All right,” she sighed, “And it’s o-n-l-y.”

The spiders somehow managed to look embarrassed and grateful at the same time. Continue reading

Call them old-fashioned…

wpid-wp-1404378613956.jpegMysterious monoliths materialised outside each of the girls’ rooms a couple of weeks ago and are communicating old-fashioned messages written on – get this! – paper.

Forget all of the smartphones, computers, tablets, smart TVs, digiboxes and everything else that can send digital messages at the speed of light; my two children are over-the-moon each morning to receive letters.

They’ve always enjoyed receiving stuff through the post (who doesn’t?  Although, these days, we’re more likely to enjoy receiving things from eBay than, say, Great Uncle Monty in Fitzrovia!).  What’s different now is that they enjoy the simple pleasure of reading hand-written letters from myself or the Lovely Melanie each morning.

The letters seldom say much of great import: “Well done on getting two house points at school yesterday”, “Don’t forget your PE kit again!” or simply “We love you,” but Millie makes us promise to write a letter each evening, and both of them are downcast if the postboxes are empty come the morning.

It’s very sweet.

And afterwards they’ll switch the computer on and play Lego Marvel Superheroes together for half an hour, which is also rather sweet, but in a slightly different way.

Millie’s birthday

Nine years ago today this blog effectively began - it had been running for a few years before, but previously content disappeared off the bottom of my hand-coded HTML pages it was lost forever.

Perhaps more importantly, and the catalyst for this change, was the birth of Millie, our eldest daughter: three months premature and weighing just 1lb 7oz.

Today, Millie’s a happy, healthy, normal girl –  a nine-year-old girl!  Happy birthday, not-so-little Millie!

Ironically, despite having more free time than ever, I’m finding myself less driven to blog.  There’s still plenty to write about, I’m just not feeling the urge to get it down here the way I used to.

It may be a temporary reduction in my “blog drive” – spent most of last week working on CVs and covering letters and profiles and portfolios – and a birthday story for Millie, which she asked for – so maybe I’m just a little written out right now.

The whole business of finding-a-new-job takes up a lot of time and is incredibly tedious to write about.  There may be more interesting stories when I go to register as unemployed – it’ll be interesting to see if the process is better or worse than it used to be - and when I start getting some responses to job applications through – or even some freelance work!

It’s been a surprisingly busy week for a man of leisure such as myself.

Water Festival at Somerset House

Water Festival

A play at Shakespeare’s Globe, an all-night party, a Water Festival at Somerset House, two sports’ days, my parents visiting, lots of gardening AND went to watch Millie play at the Royal Festival Hall.  Amidst all of that I’ve also managed to upgrade some CVs (mine included), apply for some jobs, and begin chasing down some freelance work.

I highly recommend a visit to Shakespeare’s Globe, almost regardless of what you’re going to watch.  The sense of history there (despite it being a reconstruction of the original) is remarkable – you really get a sense of what it must have been like visiting the theatre 400 years ago: the people milling around, the wooden seats, the large central stage… I almost wished they’d brought some animals in, as people supposedly did back then.

Shakespeare's Globe

Shakespeare’s Globe

As it was, the Lovely Melanie and I went to see The Last Days Of Troy by Simon Armitage, a new play dramatising the event of Homer’s Iliad, which was extremely good.  We were surrounded by a class of American schoolkids, which annoyed the Lovely Melanie no end, but I thought they were pretty well-behaved, all things considered.

We did wonder about the wisdom of bringing a six-year-old child, as one woman behind us did, but they left soon after the bit where Achilles smears himself in the blood of the dead Hector.  I can’t think why.

We’ve had twin sports days, too, which are always fun to watch.  Here are some pictures of Millie and some pictures of Amber.

But I think it’s fair to say the BIG event of the week was Millie’s concert at the Royal Festival Hall, where she played the recorder onstage alongside a couple of hundred other children from Bexley.

Originally, the Lovely Melanie and I had one ticket between us (reasoning it would be a bit long and late for Amber, so one of us needed to stay home with her), but as luck would have it my mum and dad were coming up to London to stay with us that night – my dad and the Lovely Melanie always have a day at Wimbledon.  They bought concert tickets, generously gave one to us and my dad volunteered to stay home.

Millie went up with the school during the afternoon to rehearse and get ready, my mum and I caught a late afternoon train up, and we met the Lovely Melanie at the South Bank after work.

The South Bank was full of excited parents and children, and the Royal Festival Hall was heaving!  We did wonder why the concert was three hours long, as the programme didn’t seem to have that much on it, but we soon found out.

Have you ever tried to organise a concert with 300 young children (they were aged 7-16, but most looked younger than 11)?

No, neither have I, and having seen it done I’m amazed they did such a remarkable job in just three hours!  Swapping orchestras and choirs, rearranging seats, changing the sheet music, bringing hundreds of nervous children on and off – often in semi-darkness…  There had been no full-size rehearsals beforehand either – Millie didn’t have a clue what she was doing, except to play her part of a tune at some unspecified point.

I rather enjoyed Millie’s bit.  The song - played by hundreds of kids of different talent and ages – had a ramshackle experimental air to it that reminded me of Can and other crazy ’70s Krautrock bands that I like. :-)

Millie at the Royal Festival Hall

Millie at the Royal Festival Hall

Meanwhile, in the audience, the Lovely Melanie was sat downstairs, so she had a closer (if more restricted) view; my mum and I were sat up amongst the gods, so we could see everything and nothing – faces were all a blur.  Thank goodness we did eventually spot Millie just before she started playing after the interval, but as you can see from my picture, it was a sniper’s task!

She was so wonderfully excited to be there and I was so proud to see her there. I may have partied backstage with actual rockstars at the South Bank, but never in all my 42 years have I been onstage playing an instrument. :-)

We finally got back home about 11pm, and exhausted Millie (and grownups!) fell into bed and straight to sleep.

It’s just about a week since I was made unemployed now, but we’ve been so busy that it hardly feels like it at all, and I’m only just starting to get up to speed with applications and plans.  The next big milestone is in a few days when we discover exactly how much money the taxman has taken from my job payoff, and how long I can afford to be at home blogging and arsing about!

Fingers crossed for that, eh?

More redundancy (yes, you read that right)

Everyone of a certain age remembers The Littlest Hobo and its theme tune.

For me it was always the lyrics I enjoyed, and they took on an extra-special resonance Wednesday, when I was made redundant again.

As theme tune says:

There’s a voice that keeps on calling me
Down the road, that’s where I’ll always be.
Every stop I make, I make a new friend,
Can’t stay for long, just turn around and I’m gone again

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on.

I was called into the office by my boss (never a good sign) at the very end of the day to be told about big new marketing changes, company restructuring, and a consequent reduction in demand for copywriters, i.e., me.

And that was that.  Completely unexpected.  Just turn around and I’m gone.  Again.

So I smiled, thanked my boss for eight enjoyable months, and went home.  After the fourth time this happens you become kind of immune.  There’s none of the panic of your first redundancy, the sense of injustice of your second, or even the resignation of your third.

The fourth time is far more positive: it’s an opportunity rather than a crisis, and I left there with a spring in my step ready to start another new chapter. :-)

So, next time you need a superb copywriter or wordsmith with five years experience think “Stuart Carter!