Crazy, happy times

Crazy times for the Bexley Carters at the moment, as I settle into the new job, the girls reluctantly submit to after-school club again and the Lovely Melanie is summoned for jury service.

Talk about a perfect storm!

Not really a storm, however because the Lovely Melanie’s jury service hasn’t been too difficult so far. There was initially panic about getting home in time to collect the girls, even from after-school club, but so far it’s been no problem. In fact, she’s been getting home earlier than normal!

I’m not allowed to know any of the case details (and if I can’t then you guys sure as hell won’t!) except that M’ludanie Carter is on the case, is not a maverick and finds the whole thing fascinating.

After last week’s frosts and hail (I kid you not, in April!) summer has crashed in upon us, and with the sunshine we took a bus to Shooters Hill – somewhere called Severndroog Castle. Silly name, I know, and nothing to do with A Clockwork Orange (it’s a corruption of an Indian name – more here), but a stunning spot. It’s next to Oxleas Wood and Oxleas Meadow, which is another of those places you’ll be hard-pushed to believe are in London, they’re so big, green and unspoiled.

wp-1462475488521.jpg
Oxleas Woods and Meadows, with us, in distance

Severndroog Castle isn’t really a castle, more a folly, but pay the very reasonable £3 entrance fee to climb it and you’ll see some stunning views of London. And not just London – we were told by one of the very helpful volunteers that you can see seven counties from up there.

Having spotted Wembley Stadium in the middle distance I can well believe it!

And finally, what about my new job?

If you’d told me, just a month ago, that going into work would ever be fun again I’d never have believed you. Which just goes to show how wrong you can be.

Barely two full weeks in and it’s transformed me. I’m coming home smiling – hell, I’m going in smiling! Surrounded by smart, sociable, funny, helpful people, at a company that treats its staff very well, doing plenty of interesting, meaningful work that people recognise and encourage… What’s not to like?!

I’ve got a top-of-the-line laptop, been wined and dined, met people from all around the world, sampled some rum with them over lunch, am being paid more for fewer hours (but getting far more done in that time!) and next week they’re sending me to Oslo for a meeting.

Yeah, Oslo in Norway!

And I’m working back in the West End again, which is nice. I still get a out of kick of working there, even after 20 years in London; still can’t quite believe that my route there and back takes me through Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Soho, Chinatown, Regent Street and Oxford Street, to literally across the road from the BBC.

I haven’t felt this happy and grateful for far too long.😀

Not freelancing!

NotFreelanceAs it turns out, I’m mostly not going to be freelancing from now on.

With opportunities suddenly growing like weeds, and yours truly beginning to wonder if freelancing really might work, one of my main hopes rang me up out of the blue.

“We’ve got a lot of work for you, Stu,” they said, “Guaranteed six months worth; how about if you contract for us instead? Full-time with full benefits?”

Well, I…” I began.

“Or would you prefer to stay freelance? We can do that if you like. Have you been freelance long?”

“No, I think contract might be best, I’ve only been freelance 48 hours – since Friday.”

“Last Friday?”

“Yes.”

“Well, this is perfect timing for you, isn’t it?! Can you start next week?”

“Yes. Yes, I can!”

So I start tomorrow. It seems like forever since I looked forward to working, but I write this with a wide smile, full of enthusiasm about writing, meeting new people and doing a rewarding job again. I love being a writer and being able to call myself a WRITER. People paying me to do it is pretty much a bonus!

Over the last week I’ve found myself just…happy again. When you’ve been down for so long then rock-bottom starts to feel like normal. It was only this weekend, when I found myself smiling in the sunshine, stopping to smell bluebells in the woods and tickling my kids till they squealed, that I realised these simple enjoyments have largely been missing from life this last year.

It’s good to have them back. Wish me luck for tomorrow – and for the other freelance work that I’m hoping to carry on as a sideline.

You know, just in case.😉

Freelancing?

ExitYou may have noticed (or you may not…) that it’s been quite some time since I mentioned work here.

There are reasons for that.

Most of them were related to my not enjoying the job. However, I finished there on Friday and am now much happier – if somewhat lacking in disposable income.

Resigning without another job to go to isn’t something I’ve done before, and I couldn’t have done without the support (if not the happiness…) of my wonderful wife and family. Thanks, guys!

I’ve been job hunting for a while now, and despite coming tantalisingly close on occasion have yet to have any luck. But that luck seems to have changed following my resignation, just not in quite the way I expected, because I’ve now got some freelance work.

Freelancing is new to me. I have friends who are very successful at it and recommend the life to everyone. Their stories have always sounded marvellous, but while talking about tax advice, remarkable pay and choices of self-employment or limited company status, they always seemed to miss out the part where they find the work.

You know, the important part.

Luckily I seem to have stumbled onto some of this forbidden knowledge by accident.

In a couple of job interviews they loved me and my writing, but the job didn’t quite match my skillset. I shrugged my shoulders, thanked them for their time and was about to move on when the interviewer paused for a second.

“You know,” they would say, “we really did enjoy meeting you. Could we keep your details on file for the future?”

“Sure,” I would always smile, “that would be great.” And then close the door.

Well, this time, I’m pleased to say, they weren’t joking. In fact, they were so not joking that it might – just possibly maybe might – be a substitute for a “proper” job.

Only time will tell. In 12 months I might be king of the freelancers or I might be blogging from my ‘phone as I beg for money outside Albany Park station.

You’ll know it’s me because the cardboard sign will be properly spelt, grammatically correct and devastatingly effective in its call to action.:-)

 

Engineering calm

A TV programme about reconstructing a lawnmower should make good TV for insomniacs, but the first episode of James May’s The Reassembler (BBC4, last night) managed to be simultaneously fascinating and calming.

ReassemblerBetter known as part of the presenting triumvirate on Top Gear, James May’s other programmes have always interested me more, revealing his deep interest in how things work and a quiet reverence for the remarkable people who created them.

With precisely zero technical skills myself, I can completely understand this awe of technology and engineering; which is why it was so interesting to see someone with a modicum of these skills work their way through the reconstruction of something as prosaic as a 1959 Suffolk Colt lawnmower.

How does the internal combustion in a lawnmower (or anything!) work? I sort of know the theory, but seeing all the component neatly laid out like a work of art on a table, then gathered up and reassembled, revealed more in 30 minutes than any amount of books would.

But it’s May’s subtly rambling commentary on the reassembly process, interspersed with the lawnmower’s history and development, that transformed this 30 minutes of nerdistry into a  little piece of TV nirvana: I could feel my body relax – heart rate slowing, muscles relaxing, mind clearing – as, piece by piece, a lawnmower took shape once more.

It was TV as meditation!

This, I suspect, is because it brought back memories of being small and watching as my dad performed miracles in the garage: welding iron gates, fixing broken electrical appliances, making his own bricks for a wall, affixing a fold-down workbench to the wall. He would pick his way through endless drawers full of ancient and mysterious tools (passed down from his dad) to to fix or create anything.

Sadly, I haven’t inherited his practical skills, but my innate curiosity about how things work is all his doing (which is why I’m quite good at fixing computers). And that curiosity is a real gift: it taught me you’ll never ever be bored if you can recognise the artistry and complexity of the world all around you.

So, thank you, James May; but thanks more to my Dad.:-)

Thanks, Bliss!

A little bit more fame for the Carters today as the story of Millie’s birth (13 weeks premature) can now be read on the Bliss website.

Millie001It’s under my name because they wanted a Dad’s story to try and attract other dads to volunteer on the Bliss helpline, as I do.

But let’s not mention the award I won last year for “going above and beyond” – I don’t like to talk about that and all the help I’ve given to other parents and families. Let’s just put that to one side for the moment, this isn’t about all my great work for charidee.😛

Bliss - for babies born too soon, too small, too sickSeriously, however, if you think you could help and comfort anyone with a baby born too soon then visit the Bliss website for more details on volunteering. Any time or help you can offer is gratefully received, and the commitment is only what you can handle.

 

Saturdays

Saturdays when I was a lad mostly seemed to involve either hanging around leisure centres while my parents played netball and football, or staying round my Nan’s house while my parents played netball or football.

We were three brothers and it was just how Saturdays were. We explored and played and ran about the leisure centres of Swindon, running onto the pitch during half time and trying to cadge 8p for a cup of hot chocolate from the vending machine.

At my Nan’s we’d have a bonfire, teach Nan how to play computer games on our ZX Spectrum, explore the railway sidings at the bottom of her garden and help her check the football pools when the results came in (an important job since we were all going to Disneyland if she won).

Saturdays for our girls are quite different.

The Lovely Melanie and I aren’t interested in either playing or watching sport; we don’t live in Swindon; grandparents are quite a distance away, and no modern parents would let their children have an unsupervised bonfire!

Yesterday I found myself marvelling just how different the girls’ Saturdays are to my memories, after we caught the train into the centre (of London) and had a great time at the Royal Society, for their annual open day.

Crazy shades at the Royal Society
At the Royal Society

There were demonstrations, robots, talks on how science gives us “superpowers”, stunning holograms, mind-blowing augmented reality, a display of (justifiably!) award-winning photographs, lots of hands-on science displays, and all presented by really smart and nice people.

We expected it to be fun, hoped it might be inspirational – and weren’t disappointed. It was great seeing the girls getting stuck into all the displays and chatting with the people running them. I got talking to those running the robotics and hologram displays, too – it’s nice to let your inner nerd out to play and get really in-depth and interesting answers to any questions you have.

Particularly well done to the lady giving the “superpowers” talk for keeping all ages attentive, but also for showing plenty of women talking about their careers in science and engineering. Millie and Amber probably didn’t notice the gender balance, but I did.:-)

We stayed right to the very end (as did lots of other people) and then went to Chinatown, as promised, for Chinese food, which we all love. The girls loved the food and the place – especially the giant fluffy dragons by the door.

That’s where I looked around at my family, in a “proper” Chinese restaurant, eating Chinese food with chopsticks, and realised we would never have done this when I was growing up.

Not better, just different.:-)

What if they laugh…?

Following a school visit from poet Rachel Rooney, Millie has become interested in writing poetry. She’s always had a bit of a poetic bent, being published in a poetry anthology back in 2012, but this visit from a bona fide poet inspired her to put pen to paper again.

OMarvellous Millie's Perfect Poemr rather, finger to keyboard: her poems are composed and illustrated in PowerPoint, and each is a re-telling of a fairy story.

As an English post-grad and writer myself this is just too perfect! So I’ve been there in the room with her as she wrote them, trying to advise and suggest without telling her what to do.

For example: a poem isn’t just a story that rhymes. Yes, rhyming can be quite a large part of poetry, but it’s not a normal prose story, with added line breaks and rhymes. Poetry means you can chop and change the story, use unusual words – or try out usual words in unusual ways.

Some of this advice was heeded, and we now have a seven page epic poem telling the story of Sleeping Beauty, as well as the opening stanzas of Rapunzel. It’s not exactly Beowulf, but it’s not bad, and I’m so glad to see her trying to do this – creating something, having a bit of faith in her abilities and enjoying writing so much (she spent a good two hours of her own time on Sleeping Beauty).

However, when I suggested printing out Sleeping Beauty, taking it to school and showing her teacher she stopped.

“But what if my friends laugh at it?” she asked.

Oh, boy, I thought, serious, inspirational Dad talk coming up.

“Why would they laugh, love? You should be proud of what you’ve written. Your friends – your real friends – won’t laugh. Friends are supposed to help and support you, not laugh or make you feel bad.

“And your teacher will be so pleased to see you’re listening and interested in what she’s saying. I’m sure Rachel Rooney would be excited, too, knowing she’s inspired someone else.”

Yesterday Millie came out of school with a big smile on her face, “My teacher read my poem out to the class – she said it was really good!”

“And did your friends like it, too?” I asked.

“They couldn’t believe I had written it!” she grinned.

And I gave her a big proud hug.


 

Sleeping Beauty

by Millie H. Carter, aged 10

Once upon a time there was a king and queen,
Whose love for each other had always been,
But they were not happy,
For they wanted a child,
To make them smile.
So when they finally had one,
It wasn’t a son,
It was the daughter they wished for!

So they opened their doors,
So the child could be seen
By people who were keen
And came from far and wide.
And so they made up their mind,
To always be kind,
And to call their daughter Aurora,
So they held a christening for her…

But at the christening,
An unwanted guest appeared.
And nastily she sneered,
“Your daughter is doomed
For she will live to 18
And then her finger shall prick and she will die!”
“In a coffin she shall lie!”
And with that she disappeared.

But a good fairy,
(whose name was Mary)
Came to the rescue.
She chanted a spell,
To save the princess from hell,
But prick her finger and sleep years in a bed,
With a pillow beneath her head.
Until her true love,
( who would be as sweet as a dove )
Would wake her up,
With true love’s kiss.

Aurora thought she was happy and safe,
Unaware of her dreadful fate.
But just in case,
The good fairy,
(whose name was Mary)
Took her to a safe house
Where she made friends with a mouse.
But when Aurora was 18,
And loved to preen,
The good fairy,
(whose name was Mary)
Took her back to her real home,
Where she stood in her bedroom alone,

She found a tunnel and down she went
Even though she wasn’t meant
And she met a woman who told her to sit
On a stool next her
With a spinning wheel

“But papa says not to talk to a stranger
He says it could mean danger”
“You think an old woman could hurt you?”
“Come you can try my spinning needle.”
So Aurora chose not to heed,
Her fathers warning,
Though she had great need.
And she pricked her finger,
The woman did not linger,
But away she ran.
And later Aurora was found,
And laid to sleep on a soft feather bed,
With a pillow beneath her head.

So for many year she slept,
And many people wept.
For the princess was gone,
And for 100 years long.

Along came a handsome prince,
He had heard of the legend,
Of a princess who slept,
On a feather bed,
With a pillow beneath her head,
And decided he would rescue her.

So he cut through the vines,
With his sword so very fine,
And when he got to the castle,
He found the princess,
that slept on a feather bed,
With a pillow beneath her head,
And gave her a kiss,
Which couldn’t go amiss.

The princess awoke
In the hands of…
The handsome prince!
Shortly after they got married and
They lived happily ever after
(Apart from the wicked witch
Who was ditched)