The Big Trev Trip 2014

Big Trev Trip 2014It was another storming year for the Big Trev Trip – the annual invasion of Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight to celebrate the birthday of my brother, Trev.

We remember him through the medium of laughter, fun and drinking, which is what he would have wanted. :-)

It was my turn to deal with the organisational side of things this year.  Trying to chase up the money to pay for our accommodation is never fun but for some reason this year was more work than usual!  No matter, we got there in the end, with a compliment of 28 people and enough booze to sink HMS Victory!

Thanks to Amit for stepping in to cook the traditional dinner for all on Friday night and to Rich May for his inspired Boney M tribute act – Phoney M – on Saturday.  Let’s hope that becomes a regular occurrence!

There’s an album of photos on Flickr…

Release the bats – er, butterflies!

If you’ve ever needed cheering up then I highly recommend letting some small(-ish) children keep some caterpillars; watch them turn into a chrysalis, hatch, and then release them into the wild.

We’ve had some caterpillars for about a month now; they hatched from their chrysalises on Friday and were released Sunday, once they were strong enough to fly.

The girls have been fascinated by the whole process, but were particularly spellbound by the emergence from the chrysalis.  Both of them were sat round the net container, watching as five painted ladies emerged into the light after a fortnight’s metamorphosis.

Butterflies in BexleyAnd Sunday they were shrieking with delight as we opened up the container and I coaxed each one onto my finger, lifted them up, letting them wobble into the air and away.  It was a lovely moment. :-)

The caterpillars arrived in the post – a birthday present for Millie from my parents – but we were all fascinated by their astonishing life-cycle and will getting some more next year.

A bit less fascinating at the weekend was the Olympic Park in East London – scene of the 2012 Olympics.  It was recommended to us as a great experience but I was left pretty cold by the whole thing.  If it hadn’t been for the Invictus Games taking place on the day then it would have actually been disappointing.

That’s not the non-sports fan in me talking, it was just a bit underwhelming.  Lots of walking about in former waste ground converted to reasonably nice green spaces; some nice stadiums, some excellent children’s playgrounds…  And that was about it.

Olympic Park fountainsMy favourite part of the day was when we arrived early on a cool Saturday morning, grey clouds hanging overhead, and the girls immediately stripped to their pants and ran into the fountains, delighted by the nicely choreographed jets of water!

Other children hovered around the edges, laughing and smiling, but only ours ran in and spent half an hour whooping, hollering and getting soaked!

Fortunately, the Lovely Melanie knows our children well and had heard about the fountains previously, so towels had been brought with us. ;-)

I’m back at work!

It’s true – I’m sat in a lovely office in a converted church on London’s not-so-fashionable Pentonville Road.  I’m now a technical writer rather than a copywriter (but the difference between the two is smaller than you’d think).

The Lovely Melanie is very happy, Millie and Amber less so – the first thing they asked was “Do we have to go to after-school club?”

The answer?  Yes; and four days a week, not three like before when the Lovely Melanie was only working part time.

I spent the last day of my unemployment helping my dad to fit some carpet in Millie’s room (thanks, Dad!) which was very helpful in distracting me from worries about the next day.  Having worked from home for over six months and been unemployed for two more it was a long time since I’d been in an office.

But it’s just like riding a bike. ;-)

Looms and Mines

Minecraft has arrived in our house.

Following hot on the heels of the loom band craze, which itself replaced the craze for anything Frozen, it’s not something you can complain about, what with it being all educational and stuff.

Loom bands are still big news but they’re no longer the only game in town, for Millie at least.  She’s moved on from bracelets to making small animals, then accessories for those animals, and is currently 48 hours through a project to make some finger-less gloves.  I kid you not.

This is as well as her project to build a castle in Minecraft.

I’m behind the curve with loom bands – only helping by unravelling Gordian Knots of the things or holding astonishing cat’s-cradles while esoteric twists or knots are added; oh, and I bought them both metal hooks because the plastic ones kept breaking.

And, of course, I wear a loom band bracelet to distinguish me as a parent.  Loom bands are a parents’ holy grail: keeping children quiet and being educational.  Millie and Amber can both concentrate on their projects for hours, following complex videos showing them how to build an internal combustion engine out of rubber.

About a third of the time these projects fail, although, that failure rate has been falling steadily as they (a) get more practice, and (b) realise that you can’t build an internal combustion engine from elastic bands.  So that’s all kinds of lessons there: concentration, following instructions and coping with failure.

Minecraft seems a similarly good thing for children, too: a computer game in which you build things from the environment around you: invention, architecture, chemistry, survival, engineering, it’s all there, at whatever level you’re comfortable with, and it can be as “girlie” or “boyish” as you want – there are no expectations, which is also a plus.

MilliesMinecraftCastle

Millie’s Minecraft Castle

Millie discovered it via her friend Ben (whom we first met in intensive care when Millie was born – his mum, Sharon, was there at the same time as the Lovely Melanie).  Millie came home talking excitedly about it, I knew roughly what it was, and so bought it.

Minecraft is completely open.  Certainly on the building levels we’re playing you don’t have to do anything, other than the sunrises and sunsets (which are surprisingly beautiful).

What you can do is explore this fallow world and build stuff.  As I said, Millie and I are building a castle – but like no castle you’ve ever seen before.  This one is built of glowstone and glass, sits on top a mountain with a gigantic quartz staircase leading up to it, all topped by a glass dome.  An unlikely looking tower next door is reached by a glass bridge where Millie has built a greenhouse full of flowers.  At the base is an indoor swimming pool, and there’s a deep cellar lit by flickering torches.

It’s a castle in name only, really. :-P

Millie needed prodding to experiment with different materials and architecture – to let herself go and start exploring -  but she’s really getting the hang of it now, as am I: suggesting what we might do next and pointing out that the only rules we need to follow are the ones we set ourselves.  In that sense, it’s a wonderfully liberating tool, so let’s hope Millie’s interest continues and her imagination takes flight with it… :-)

Return of the prodigal

Let’s just pretend I haven’t been away for the best part of a month, shall we?  Imagine there wasn’t an August in 2014. ;-)

People have asked what happened: was I too depressed to write?  Kidnapped by aliens?  Taken a vow of silence?  Broken both wrists?

To be honest, I’m not quite sure myself.  I joked about taking time off to look after the girls over the school summer holidays, but actually our original childcare plans remained intact, with the girls going to visit my parents’ in Swindon, the Lovely Melanie’s parents in Hatfield, and even to Bristol, visiting Auntie Conny for a few days. :-)

All of which helped me to search for work – never a fast process.  Mostly, however, my drive to write simply evaporated.  I thought about blogging – planning and shaping entries in my head as I automatically do – but they never made it to the keyboard.  Having been blogging continuously for over a decade it was an odd feeling, as though something was missing or I was being naughty.

We had some real fun over the holidays and none of it has been recorded here, which is nagging at my conscience, but the good news is that my blogging sabbatical has paid off.  The girls went back to school today and I go back to work on Monday, this time as a Technical Writer near King’s Cross.

The Lovely Melanie also goes full-time next week – as opposed to the three days she’s been working since 2006, when she returned after Millie was born.  She’ll be working from home on Fridays, but it’s going to be quite a different dynamic in our house; let’s hope it works out!

Yes and no answers only

Yes, I’m still unemployed (had a couple of close calls where I almost ended up working for a couple of companies I don’t personally like, but at the end of the day they decided against hiring me – phew, moral dilemma averted!) but the Lovely Melanie is returning to full-time work in September, which takes a little of the heat off me…

No, I don’t know if this blog is going to get back on track (let’s see what happens when I’m earning again, shall we?)

Yes, we had a lovely time on holiday in Suffolk (near the town of Saxmundham).  Photos can be seen on Flickr now.