Liking/Not liking

Things I am liking (a lot) and not liking (at all) this morning:
I am liking – the first track on the new My Morning Jacket album, Z. It’s called Wordless Chorus, and sounds like angels breaking into the studios of Studio One in Jamaica. The rest of the album’s none too shabby either.

I am not liking – women sat next to me on the bus who, when you say “Excuse me, please, would you mind if I could just get past?” (because you’re sat in the window seat and need to get off the bus) look at you as though what you’d actually said was “Could I shit in your mouth?” I mean, honestly, what’s the point of being polite with some people?

Now, with that unpleasantness aside, let’s move onto nicer things, shall we?

First of all: good grief, do I ever ache this morning!

Played five-a-side football yesterday (the actual sides were anywhere between three, four and five-a-side, as stragglers turned up), and having had NO exercise whatsoever since Millie was born, I’m now paying for it. I walk about 40 minutes to and from various bus stops on a normal day and that’s it, and –aye caramba! – am I aware of that today. Ooh…

Still, at least I scored a goal, which is almost unheard of for me; I’m more of a defensive player – which, if I’m honest, is an excuse to cover up the fact that I can’t dribble or shoot. I can tackle, a bit, and pass, sometimes. Yesterday, however, I scored quite a good goal. I wouldn’t quite say that the spirit of George Best entered my body, but it may have been somewhere in the vicinity – perhaps looking in the windows of a pub up the road.

In fact, thinking about it, and flying off at a tangent, perhaps what finished George Best off was the prospect of the new licensing laws. Having fought the booze for so long, George saw that he couldn’t fight 24-hour opening and just…gave up. Certainly the timing of his death and the introduction of so-called “24-hour drinking” is a little suspicious.

And what about Millie? Ah, yes, Millie; who has delighted us over the weekend with lots of chatter and smiles. Obviously she can’t talk yet, but she’s obviously testing out her vocal cords, making all the different sounds she’ll need when she does start to talk. At one point this weekend, when it was just the two of us together, she said, “Hello”.

Now, obviously she didn’t consciously plan to greet her father with a common salutation, and obviously it was just the accidental conjunction of two syllables to make a recognisable word, and obviously it sounded more like “heh-low”, but it made me jump, I can tell you! And it earned Millie a kiss and a hug from her dad (as does pretty much anything she does).

She’s also been trying to suck her thumb, which is hilarious to watch, because it’s currently just about beyond her abilities. She can get a finger or two, or occasionally the thumb, in her mouth, but mostly only by accident and for just a few seconds before they slip out again, and you can see this is really frustrating her. “Stupid fingers!” she’s thinking.

The Lovely Melanie pointed out something rather interesting too: that Millie’s not an evening person/baby. It’s a crying shame because that’s pretty much the only time I normally get to see her during the week, but during the day she’s smiley and chatty, engaged with whoever’s holding her and able to be left to amuse herself for a bit while Mel grabs a cup of coffee. In the evenings she’s muchless inclined to look at people and smile or laugh, and she absolutely will not be left by herself for a moment without wailing. Sigh. 😦

Still, it could be an awful lot worse. 🙂

And finally, does anyone else out there with a baby love just smelling them? I don’t mean the nappies, obviously, I mean, just sniffing the tops of their heads whenever they can? Millie’s head has a wonderful (to me) smell to it. Nothing specific, nothing I can describe, just a sort of lovely human smell.

And then, of course, there’s those chubby cheeks…

Thank you-sorry

Oh, the shame.

No, really. I can’t believe I forgot to say a very very very big thank-you to my old friend Sasha over in the States, and his most excellent wife, Helen (and their two very cute kids, Spencer and James) for the tremendous box of baby clothes they sent us last week. I’m v.v. embarrassed; not least because Millie would have been a much colder baby during our weekend in Brighton – it was clothes from the big box from the States that Millie mostly wore over that weekend, and has largely worn ever since.

Not that she’s short of clothes of her own particularly, but she is kind of in-between sizes at the moment (being a big, bonny 8lb 10oz baby!) and the ones that fit best are – fortunately for us! – the generously gifted ones from the Zbitnoff family over the Atlantic.

So, sorry this has taken so long. I know we thanked you on email but such a fantastically generous action shouldn’t go unnoticed!

Part 3, unedited

Monday 30th January 2006

This is rapidly turning into “Stu’s Monday morning What-I-Did-At-The-Weekend site”, isn’t it?

Well, it was a very busy weekend (even without babies to take care of – babies who, you may be interested to know, are now eating rice, pears and carrots, although not all at once).

But the big event was on Saturday, of course, with the Clarke Award shortlist meeting at the Science Museum; when myself and the other five judges had to choose a scant six books out of almost 50 for the shortlist. It was a genuinely fascinating afternoon of polite, well-reasoned debate, with some really interesting points made by some very clever people (not me) and discussed by some less clever people (me), and I’m really looking forward to the finals in April now, when we whittle that final six down to a single, undoubted winner. There’s no second place or special mention in the Clarke Award – much like Russian Roulette, you either win or you lose.
Confidentiality forbids me to tell you much about what went on in the meeting itself, but I can give you a list of the finalists and say, cryptically, that I had to be persuaded about the merits of only one of them, and I’m glad that I was.
The finalists are:

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

Learning The World- Ken MacLeod

Pushing Ice – Alastair Reynolds

Air – Geoff Ryman

Accelerando – Charles Stross

Banner Of Souls – Liz Williams

More info about these books is available here.
If you know anything about recent sf and its authors I hope you’ll agree that there’s a remarkable range of both content and form displayed in this list; from the hyper-fast bleeding edge tech-head to the gentle near-pastoral; from squids in space to calamari on the plate; spaceships to child-bearing hips.
It wasn’t something we planned, or even expected, but it does go to show the great depth of field that modern science fiction embraces: I honestly think there’s a book on the list that anyone, regardless of their literary tastes, could enjoy – even the Lovely Melanie! The choosing of the final winner in April is going to be a long and possibly brutal, er, discussion, I suspect…
***

Tuesday 31st January 2006
Did you know that as soon as babies start eating anything but milk (Millie’s now eating rice, pears, apples and carrots) their sick starts smelling like adult sick? No, neither did I until last night, when Millie threw up on my chest just after a feed.
Then on my legs.
Then all over everything, when a towel placed in front of her to try and stem the flow only succeeded in deflecting it in a wide arc.
And so I had to change all my clothes, we had to wash the towels, wipe down the sofa, mop the floor and wipe down Millie.

And still the Lovely Melanie and I both smelt of sick all night – and not the old, milky, fairly innocuous baby sick, either.

Isn’t it amazing the things you find out when you become a dad?

Here’s the guilty party, pre-vomit…

***

Thursday 2nd February 2006

Wisdom for the day
And lo, he did preach to the parental, saying unto them, “Never feedeth to the babies that are small a foodstuff that stains bright orange while they dost wear anything white or light-coloured. Never weareth anything yourself that is white or light-coloured whilst feeding the babies that are small a foodstuff that dost stain bright orange – like butternut squash, for instance. For they that choose thus are doomed to become as of the colour of the butternut squash themselves.”
Here endeth the lesson.

***

Friday 3rd February 2006
An excellent Guardian article evoking everything that I remember being good about Smash Hits…

***

Monday 6th February 2006

This photo, taken over the weekend when my parents came up to stay with us, doesn’t actually look much like Millie, but the Lovely Melanie can’t stop looking at it, and I burst out laughing every time I see it, so we figured it was a good’un.

Millie also, it turns out, doesn’t much care for bananas, but does love all kinds of awful vegetable mush – which is the opposite of her dad, so maybe physically she’s mine but mentally she’s her mother’s daughter. My parents brought us up some rhubarb this weekend to plant in our garden; the Lovely Melanie likes rhubarb and we’re hoping Millie will, too, particularly since rhubarb is just about indestructible and grows remarkably quickly… Better get eating, girls!

And finally, with my parents around to make me feel vaguely guilty I got some gardening done this weekend, and we got a load of coving put up in Millie’s room and in the living room. It was a bigger job that took longer than I’d expected (and wasn’t helped by the Lovely Melanie and I feeling a bit ropey on Saturday, having been able to go out clubbing together on Friday night because my parents babysat for us) but now it’s done our house unaccountably feels more like a home and less like a very badly fitted and maintained habitation unit. Which is nice.

That’s a bit of a boring entry, isn’t it? Sorry. We had a lovely weekend, but not an earth-shattering one, and I’m just a bit too busy at work at the moment to add anything much else.

***

Thursday 9th February 2006
Crumbs, is it Thursday already?
The Millster and I were flying solo again last night while her mum went out boozing in Waterloo.
One strange thing we’ve noticed she’s started doing (that Millie’s doing, not her mum) is getting confused while laughing. She’ll have an hysterical laughing fit, during which she’ll do the Millie “happy dance”, which consists of standing up, flapping her arms about like a frightened chicken, and sort of bouncing from side to side, then collapse in hysterics at anything (literally collapse – she can’t stand up whilst laughing too hard). At this point, everything you do is just brilliant – you’re the best-ever episode of Father Ted starring Bill Hicks, Eddie Murphy (when he was funny) and Eddie Izzard. But then obviously this level of comedy genius can’t be maintained indefinitely and we start to get a bit confused – the laughter is just as loud but starts to sound more like crying, then back to laughter, then crying, then laughter and then…you can’t actually tell which it is, and then it becomes proper crying – it’s bathos in the truest sense of the word.
Either that or incipient schizophrenia.

I’m probably going to say something about cost/provision of nursery care in this country at some point soon, too – I can feel it building up inside me…

But not just yet – I’m more looking forward to going to see Belle & Sebastian play live tomorrow night. I’ve only heard the new album just the once so far (I bought/downloaded it on Tuesday from Karma Download) and I’m really not sure if I like it all that much yet – but I thought I didn’t like Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant for quite a few listens, but I love that now.
Can’t get too drunk though, as Saturday we’re off to see the in-laws in Hatfield and I’ve got to set up their webcam and sort out their MP3 players (I’m kind of their IT support…)

In fact, I’m actually going to TWO gigs tomorrow – that’s the kind of rock’n’roll dad I am – because there’s some kind of concert at LSE during lunchtime tomorrow (a sitar is involved in it somewhere, and I’ve always been a sucker for the sitar!). Can’t get drunk there either because, a, it’s in the LSE library, which (foolish oversight!) doesn’t have a bar, and b I’ve got to come back to work and do some subtitling afterwards. We’re very, very busy at the moment, since our parent company in the USA sacked all but one of their subtitlers during a dispute with the union, and are now desperately trying to get us to do all their subtitling for them (they do most of the TV subtitles in the USA!)
It’s – almost – hilarious that not a single person in their management thought to ask at any point before the official “please vacate the premises” letters were sent out, “Er, if we sack all our subtitlers who’s going to do all the actual subtitling – WHICH IS 99% OF OUR ENTIRE BUSINESS?!?!?”
The business mind (especially the “upper management” business mind) never ever ever ceases to amaze me. They really don’t think in the same way as the rest of humanity does, do they? Maybe I’ll write a short science fiction story about that one day (ah – almost forgot – I already did!)

***

Tuesday 14th February 2006
So far this week Millie has learnt how to roll over from her back to her front. It’s a great new trick and she’s practicing it at every possible opportunity.
Unfortunately the clever one not yet properly mastered rolling the other way, from her front to her back; and she doesn’t like being left on her front, so has to cry to get one of her parents to turn her over again.
And again.
And again.

Fortunately, she’s also getting even more interested in touching and grabbing things with her hands (although her sense of perspective is still a bit wonky and she’ll often try to touch things she can’t reach – to paraphrase Father Ted’s explanation to Dougal about this kind of thing – these are close, but those are far away). This is particularly nice as it gives us yet more of a sense of interaction with her.

We went to a first birthday party for a certain Jasper Hudson on Sunday afternoon, which was very nice, if a bit weird at times – I’ve never seen so many babies and toddlers and young children concentrated into such a small area since…well, since I was a baby/toddler/young child. Millie took the opportunity to sit in a ball pool (which she quite liked, for a few minutes), to get told how cute she was by every adult within a five-mile radius and to drool over everything within a three-mile radius.
Young Master Hudson’s not actually one year until tomorrow, so happy birthday for Wednesday, young man – I definitely think mum and dad will like your present, although you may be a bit young to fully appreciate its genius. 😉

Belle & Sebastian were very good on Friday, by the way. And even the Hammersmith Apollo being the most unpleasantly corporate concentration camp I’ve been to in a long while couldn’t quite take away from their brilliance.
And what a journey home – I know it’s on the other side of London but it took nearly two hours! Our friends who’d driven up from Swindon (75 miles away) were almost certainly home before we were! And I bet they didn’t have the unnerving experience of continually arriving at tube/railway stations to an announcement of “This is the last train of the evening. The station will be closing once this train has departed.” That message followed us all the way home, like a wolf nipping at our heels!

And a quick question for Gordon Brown – why are you trying to be more like Tony Blair than Tony Blair is in a bid to gain the leadership of the Labour Party? The reason Tony Blair is losing popularity at the moment is because he’s Tony Blair (and his policies are largely crap). Why the hell would we want to replace Tony Blair with someone exactly like him?? But, oh, no, we get the usual bollocks about needing to be tougher on crime, tougher on security, more money for police, fewer civil liberties, bringing back the birch, etc etc etc.
Sigh. We really seem to be heading the way of the US, where the difference between the policies of the two parties needs a magnifying glass to spot it. And I was only more depressed when Menzies Campbell (the senior Lib-Dem leadership candidate) said pretty much exactly the same thing – that they need more ties to business, to be tougher on security, etc. etc.
It’s almost* enough to make you respect the BNP for at least having some “different” policies…

*no, it isn’t, but you get what I’m trying to say

***

Tuesday 14th February 2006 (continued)
Excuse my language but – holy fucking shit! Millie’s picture on my desktop here at work just caught my eye a moment ago, and it suddenly hit me again – “I’m her dad! I am a dad! I have fathered a child!”

Does this ever stop happening??

***

Friday 17th February 2006
The scene: Millie has just been fed, but is plainly unhappy about something as she is crying quite loudly. Her dad is sat on the sofa holding her to his chest trying to settle her down ready for bed. Dad is in something of a hurry as, having recently discovered he is now officially “overweight”, he wants to do half an hour on his exercise bike before dinner.

MILLIE: Waah! (Coughs) Waaaaaaah!
DAD: (Gently) Come on, poppet, calm down, calm down. All right, all right…
MILLIE: (Even louder) WAAAAAAAH!
DAD: (Gently) No, no, no, no, no, love. Easy now…
MILLIE: (Coughs, looks alarmed)
DAD: Umm…
(Millie vomits a thick white substance down Dad’s front for about two seconds)
DAD: Melanie!
(Millie vomits a thick white substance down Dad’s front for about two seconds)
DAD: Melanieeeeee! Melanie!!
(Millie vomits a thick white substance down Dad’s front for a further three seconds)
DAD: MELANIE!!!! MELANIE!!!
(Millie briefly vomits a small amount of thick white substance down Dad’s front)
LOVELY MELANIE: (From offstage) What?
DAD: Can you come in here, please. Quickly!
LOVELY MELANIE: (Entering the room) What?
(Millie vomits a thick white substance down Dad’s front)
DAD: Quickly!!
LOVELY MELANIE: Oh. Hold on a sec. (She leaves the room)
(Dad sniffs, grimaces. He notices Millie’s face is covered in sick where it’s soaked into his top. He sighs)
(Millie coughs, then vomits a thick white substance down Dad’s front)

DAD: Melanie!
LOVELY MELANIE: (Re-entering the room) Stop making such a fuss. I have to deal with this on my own when you’re not here. I think she’s finished now. (To Millie) Have you finished, munchkin?
(Millie coughs, then vomits a thick white substance onto a towel held by Melanie. Millie begins to cry)
LOVELY MELANIE: (Sympathetically, to Millie) You should stop eating if you’re full, Millie-moo. (Briskly, to Dad) Give her to me.
(Dad hands her over to Lovely Melanie, then looks down at his vomit-covered top and jeans; he is unsure how to get the top over his head and off without getting vomit on his face)
(Millie begins to cry, loudly)

But despite all this, Millie still weighed in at a hefty 11lb 14oz earlier in the week.
Quite an increase from 1lb 70z, eh?

***

Tuesday 21st February 2006
No, there haven’t been any pictures for a while, have there?
Yes, I should probably rectify that.

I love that second one of Millie on the phone, it makes me laugh every time I see it – I can just imagine her shouting “What the…?!?!?

***

Friday 24th February 2006
Stupid government, not only selling off the family silver, but selling off the family silver for bugger all!
Here’s a letter I’ve just faxed to my MP (using FaxYourMP.com – which is very very easy to use and FREE!)
Why not send it – or a similar one – to your MP? 😉

Dear [MY MP],

I wonder if you can help me – I’ve been very concerned to read about the privatisation of ‘defence research’ group QinetiQ, which was recently floated on the stock exchange.

I note that the Carlyle Group (which bought the company) paid just £42 million for a third of QinetiQ and management control in the privatisation deal – a deal that cost the taxpayer double that amount in legal and advisory fees. How can this be justified?

Carlyle also managed to avoid any responsibility for expensive environmental liabilities, and immediately started selling off thousands of acres of former military training grounds, target sites, tank lands and air strips for housing, the sale of which has already netted them a cool £227 million.
Can you tell me how it was then that the government was so lax as to sell QinetiQ for such a paltry amount?

But it seems to get worse – QinetiQ’s chairman, Sir John Chisholm, has a potential windfall of £25m and chief executive Graham Love stands to make £22m from shares they awarded themselves, thus making a tidy £42 million profit, at the taxpayer’s expense.
Can you tell me how and why were they allowed to get away with such a blatant rip-off of public funds?

To add to this (and I’m sorry to go on, but this issue is really bugging me) there are the consultants, advisers and other service providers, who between them had also made more than £100m by the time the flotation was completed.

So it seems to me that all the sale of QinetiQ has done is make a VERY small number of individuals and institutions VERY rich VERY quickly at the expense of myself and other taxpayers.

Finally, given the government’s obsession with “terrorists” and “security”, I note that QinetiQ itself has warned that it may not be able to “deter misappropriation of its confidential information”. So it would seem we are not only out of pocket but also more vulnerable to attacks from the products of our own defence research.

Can you possibly confirm that this is the case, or is there some extremely well-hidden benefit to the sale that everyone outside the government is unaware of?

Yours sincerely,

[YOUR NAME]

***

Wednesday 1st March 2006 (afternoon)
Outside it’s a glorious sunny day – and it’s snowing hard.
What’s that all about??

Wednesday 1st March 2006
Cooked pancakes. Yum. Very nice, thank you. One piece of cooking I excel at. Saw Walk The Line at the cinema. Disappointing. A lightweight skim of a film, and nothing that hasn’t been done (better) before. Reese Witherspoon “funnier looking” than I remember. Millie still alive – still small, but still well. Very grabby. And apt to roll over at any moment. Very tired. But still going to see A Cock And Bull Story at cinema tonight. I’m playing cinema catch-up.

***

Thursday 2nd March 2006
Possibly the least convincing piece of spam ever.

We cure any desease!

We can’t spell it, but we can cure it.
I particularly like the use of the exclamation mark on the end of the title; it just adds that little bit of assurance, that little bit of emphasis – the doctor’s fist bangs down on the table – we can, damn it! We can cure anything! Deseases, duseases, doseases, daseases…

***

Sunday 5th March 2006
Some remarkably cute pictures taken by my dad when they were up on Saturday.
Four good examples of why, despite the vomit and crying and the lack of sleep, we can’t help but love that little girl (that’s her nan/my mum with her in the pictures).

Went to see The Go! Team on Thursday, and they were bloody brilliant – I’d kind of been meaning to get tickets for months and completely failed to get off my arse and actually go that extra yard and buy some. Fortunately (for me!) my boss and his wife had got off their arses and bought some. Desperately unfortunate (for them) Mrs Boss came down ill a couple of days before and couldn’t go, and when he offered them round the office for cost price the day before the gig I jumped at the chance.

And, as I said, they were very good.

So good, in fact, that I stayed out till stupid o’clock drinking afterwards (with my lovely friend Sam, and she’s very good indeed at drinking!) and had to take the next day off work. God bless my boss at work who said, when I emailed in on Friday morning to say “I’m too ill/hungover to come in! I’m really sorry! Please let me take today as impromptu holiday! Pleasepleaseplease!” he said, “If you’re sick then surely that’s sick leave, not holiday??” (wink wink, nudge nudge).
I’m so glad I went out of my way to buy him a t-shirt at the gig now. 😉

***

Tuesday 14th March 2006
We tried letting Millie swim at the weekend.
With…mixed results.

We filled the bath up on Sunday afternoon (not too hot, but not too chilly neither!), then we put Millie’s “water nappy” and swimming costume on, then tried to blow up her baby armbands. Then we sat down because we were dizzy from blowing so hard into the baby armbands.
Then we tried again.
Then the Lovely Melanie and I both had to stop again because the nozzle on the armbands had gone too far into our mouths and made us gag.
Then we tried again. And finally we got the armbands blown up (they’re so small each section only takes one puff to fill it – once you’ve mastered the technique, that is).
So at last we were ready to take Millie for her first swim! Although, first obviously we had to take some pictures of this epoch-making event.
And then, finally, we were ready…

And the whole thing was over in about five minutes. Meh.
We plopped Millie into the bath lying on her back and let her float about for a bit – the Lovely Melanie hovered about nervously overhead, just in case… well, I don’t really know, to be honest. Just in case the plug should come out and Millie would be sucked down the plughole and washed out to sea or something.

But Millie really enjoyed it for a couple of minutes; she floated about on her back, smiling and gurgling, apparently having a whale of a time until…the plug came out and she was sucked down it and out to sea!
No, actually until she happened to turn her head to one side to see what was going on around her – and of course turned her face UNDERWATER!
The Lovely Melanie had Millie out of the bath within about 0.00023 seconds of this catastrophe taking place, but tragically it was too late to save her – Millie already had a wet face…

At first she was fine about it, there was no fuss, just a little bit of confusion on Millie’s face, as if to say, “What just happened there??” The Lovely Melanie dried off Millie’s wet face and we put her back in the bath. But the fickle seeds of discontent had already been sown; Millie never really recovered from the now-infamous “wet face incident of 2006” and cried to be let out of the bath.
We tried turning her on her front, we tried cooing at her, we tried distracting her, but it was clear the brave experiment was at an end, and a distraught Millie was snatched, like Beebe’s bathysphere back in 1934, from the depths of the undersea kingdom.

Here are some pics – before, during and after (grr, angry fist!)
Did you notice I currently have a beard. 🙂 Isn’t it great? Quite the niceest beard I’ve seen since Brian Blessed was last on TV. Not much else to say about it really. It wasn’t a really conscious decision – I didn’t get a chance to shave properly for a week, and now I kind of like having one – only temporarily, but a change is as good as a rest, isn’t it?

***

Sunday 19th March 2006
I finally shaved off the beard tonight. Having a beard feels very odd (trust me on this, ladies and younger chaps, I’d forgotten quite how odd it feels), so after three weeks I’ve decided to call it a day.
However…not before I decided to mess with the Lovely Melanie’s tiny little mind, and did this:

She hated it even more than the full-on Grizzly Adams; but for about a minute there, at least a minute, I was thinking, “You know, that’s not half bad…” and was genuinely almost tempted to keep it. Then the Lovely Melanie put on her Serious voice and told me to get rid of it.
So I tried down-sizing to a relatively inoffensive Magnum… Still a big fat negative.
I thought I’d give her one last chance, shrink it even further down to – you know what it is – the ever-popular “Hitler”!
Which didn’t even merit a reply.

So I’m now once more bald of face, as well as (increasingly) of cranium.

***

Friday 24th March 2006
Guess who took their first faltering steps yesterday?
Nope, not me.
No, not the Lovely Melanie.
No, it wasn’t Jesus either. Sigh.
You blithering idiot: it was Millie!
Millie, with a little bit of help from her mum in the balancing department, walked across most of the living room yesterday!
I am a very proud dad at the moment. 🙂
It wasn’t the kind of walk that would have her wowing the catwalks of Milan or Paris, but by the simple expedient of putting one leg in front of the other and holding tightly onto mum’s hands Millie walked yesterday!

[Sits and proudly waits for applause to die down]

Does anyone know if this is unusual or not? Only, Millie can’t balance on her own yet, she hasn’t even figured out how to lift herself up on all fours as a prelude to crawling, and yet she seems to be taking tentative first steps across the living room!

Having children is a constantly changing experience – just when you think you’ve gotten used to them being one way they learn to do something new. And it’s a much subtler process than I ever imagined it would be. Before we had Millie I had a vague idea that there were some big milestones with your children every few months: they’d crawl, walk, talk, go to nursery, etc. and that was probably about it. But it’s not like that at all; there are all kinds of minor milestones popping up almost every few days. Things like, getting more hair on the side of her head (she has a fine head on top, but looks as though we’ve given her a “short back’n’sides”); there’s watching people leave the room and turning her head when she hears (but doesn’t see) them coming back; there’s playing with her feet; learning – almost – how to roll over onto her front; and, second only to the walking, there’s Millie’s new laugh, which we’re hearing an awful lot of these past couple of days, which sounds like just about the happiest, most joyous laugh I’ve ever heard (and I’ve heard some happy, joyous laughs in my time, I can tell you).

***

Tuesday 4th April 2006
Ahh… Morning. Wait a minute, let me just get a cup of tea and then we can have a good old chinwag.

Doh, the kettle’s taking ages to boil!
Well, anyway, so how have you been? What have you been up to? Oh, yeah, really? Yeah, we’re cool, great, you know; been pretty busy what with one thing and another. The garden’s coming along a treat – you should come and see it, and…
There’s no need to shout, I was going to mention Millie in a moment.
Yes, I’m sorry it’s been so long, but…
Oh, hold on: the kettle’s boiled now.

Ooh, lovely tea. Slurp.
Sluuuuurrrrrrrrrp.

Yeah, so, um, anyway, been very busy, or resting between bouts of busy-ness. We were in Swindon for one weekend, Hertford for another; I had a night out with the boys (and girls) this last weekend. I’ve also been working very hard in the garden. And the computer broke for quite a few days – screen went all funny so we bought a cheap new one from eBay. Turns out it wasn’t the screen, but the graphics card, so we had to get a new graphics card (a GeCube Radeon x800GTO 128Mb, for those of you making notes).

Millie remains just fine. We were, perhaps, a little premature with the walking announcement. She’s still making some sterling progress on that walking action, but it’s very much a work in progress, and has been somewhat sidelined by her newfound interest in the whole Michael Flatley, Lord Of The Dance-type phenomenon. If she’s in the right mood and if she’s held up with her feet just above the floor then Millie will do a very respectable imitation of all that fiddly-diddley Oirish dancing malarkey.

She’s also had her first taste of dead animal flesh – so far some fish and some chicken; as with most new experiences (e.g. mirrors, cats, plants, outdoors, her grandparents talking to her on Skype, etc…) she was absolutely gobsmacked by it to begin with, but soon recovered and quite enjoyed it. Which is a terribly good thing as the main problem we have with Millie these days is getting her to eat. Unless she’s absolutely starving Millie doesn’t enjoy eating: she finds it tiring and boring and long-winded – and so do her parents, quite frankly, because she takes so bloomin’ long at it. The first time we saw another baby drink a bottle of milk in less than 10 minutes it was we who were gobsmacked! The Lovely Melanie and I both assumed that all babies took about an hour to drink a bottle of milk, and that they all usually left at least a quarter of it.
(actually, I say “to drink“, but I really mean “forced to drink through a combination of cheek squeezing, raised voices, shaking of the bottle and – peculiarly – imitation fart noises, which Millie finds terribly distressing”)
It’s the one thing that makes life with Millie difficult; because mealtimes are such a drawn-out exhausting process we’re loath to try and feed her in public. On the plus side, she still sleeps very very well, for the most part. The same baby that we saw drink a bottle in ten minutes apparently leads his parents a bit of a merry dance at nights, so it’s all swings and roundabouts…

What else has happened…? Hm. Let me get some tea a second… Mmmm.

Not strictly Millie news, but I went up in a microlight the weekend before last. Only for 15 minutes, mind, as a heavy rainstorm was coming in so we had to land pretty sharpish. I’m going to go back probably sometime in June to finish off my lesson. If you get a chance to do a microlight flight I highly recommend it – microlights these days look more like very very very small ordinary planes, rather than the hang-glider with a lawnmower engine tied on the back that I was expecting, but they’re still very small and truly amazing to fly in. With a large passenger aircraft (which is all I’d flown in before) it’s not unlike being on a train, except for the remarkable scenery out the window; in a microlight you’re definitely not on solid ground any more, and I was very much aware of there being only a thin sheet of metal under my feet. I can’t wait to get up there again for a full 45 minutes! 😉

I could also mention flooring in our house, but I won’t.
I will mention that the Clarke Award final judging panel is on the 26th. And just add that I’m going to take a sabbatical from science fiction for a few months once that’s done. I desperately want to read some non-fiction and some non-science fiction.

And one other thing… What was the other thing…? Other thing…other thing…
Ah, of course: the sewer trip!
No, we haven’t done it yet, but did get confirmation from Thames Water the other day about it. Apparently there’s a finger buffet beforehand (yes, it is “a good job it’s before and not after!” as almost nobody has said to me…) and a presentation, and then we descend into the depths of the sewers at West Ham for just over an hour… And I promise to try to get some photographs.

OK, now my cup of tea is empty, and I really have to get on with some work before my boss notices I’m not really subtitling, just typing this!

***

Wednesday 5th April 2006
Millie now weighs 13lb 8oz.
And she loves chicken.
And it’s becoming increasingly difficult to change her nappies, what with all the rolling about, straining to look around her and grabbing hold of her feet all the time.

Brighton Comics Expo

You’ll possibly be pleased to hear that a delightful – if occasionally rather “challenging” – weekend in Brighton was had by all. Millie was an absolute star throughout, especially loving her time in the Brighton Hilton (a very nice hotel indeed). She may actually have enjoyed it rather too much, because it’s not like we can afford to stay there very often. Still, it’s nice to go mad every now and again; and go mad we did, taking full advantage of room service and of the always useful “Oh-but-look-at-our-liddle-cute-baybeeeeee!” effect. 😉

Millie075Even discounting this powerful mind-altering effect, the people at the Hilton were very very helpful with Millie, and the walls were thick enough that nobody heard her on the odd occasion when she cried for more than a few seconds.

It all started rather badly though.

London at 8 o’clock Saturday morning was bitterly cold; looking beautiful, but bitterly cold. Still we buried Millie under a pile of blankets in her pram, put the Doris hat on her, and some gloves, and set off.

The train to Victoria was (almost) on time, but as I tilted the pram’s front wheels up to get it on board then – calamity! – the expensive “coolbag” containing bottles with Millie’s next four feeds dropped out the back of her pram and down the gap between the train and the platform.

Now, bless the Lovely Melanie and everything, but she can, frankly, be a bit of a non-starter in a “crisis” sometimes.

“What are we going to do? You’ll have to get it!” she cried.

One, we couldn’t miss this train to Victoria or we’d miss our connection to Brighton, and two, how am I supposed to get down onto the tracks in the first place to retrieve the coolbag and milks?

I manage to hustle a fretting Lovely Melanie onto the train, but she’s obviously not at all happy about this whole business – you can almost see what she’s thinking – “We’ve lost Millie’s coolbag with her milk in it! This means Millie’s feed could be late! Which could lead to her being undernourished! That means her brain might not develop exactly as it should! Then she might not get to study at Oxbridge! So she might not become the world’s most famous scientist! And mght never develop an equation for everlasting world peace! And so the whole world will be destroyed! And we’ll all die! Oh, no!!!!”

Or something similar.

Anyway, common sense (i.e. me) eventually prevails, and once at Victoria we buy some new bottles, plus some sterilisation bags. End result: Millie’s none the wiser, or hungrier. And nobody dies.

Millie076Having settled his family into their spacious room at the Hilton, your intrepid reporter dons his “Press” pass and special coloured wristband and goes to report on the Brighton Comics Expo 2005 – conveniently located a 45-second walk away in the capacious conference/event facilities of the aforementioned Hilton. 🙂

And jolly good fun it was, too. Lots of famous (well, famous to some – you might not recognise any names) people, plus loys of interesting stalls too. Not to mention some genuinely fascinating (and not-so-fascinating) panels, interviews and talks by writers and artists of all ages. I even got to see a new UK film called Soul Searcher, made for just £26,000. It wasn’t the best film I’ve ever seen, but considering it had no major backing and was made for such a tiny amount of money it was a goddamn masterpiece. I’ve seen a couple of no-budget films being made and I happen to know that it’s a lot harder than it looks.

Anyway, I’ve got to write up my experience at the Expo for Emerald City so I’d better not give too much away.

Millie077The two things I will say are this: I am crap at meeting new people – I really really hate being on my own somewhere that’s full of people I don’t know; it’s one of my worst things, and I can’t “network” to save my life; so that stopped me having quite as much fun at the Expo as I might have had, sadly, and I didn’t make any new friends there. But it was a much friendlier event than I’d (for some reason) expected…which leads me on to the second thing – the lack of people with very bad BO at the Expo.

Sf and/or comic fandom seems to have a much higher ratio of people with rather poor personal hygiene relative to a standard sample of the population. It’s a terrible generalisation to make of “my people” (as the Lovely Melanie calls them), I know, but it is something I’ve noticed – and one of the reasons I stopped going to Forbidden Planet for my comics, and switched to Gosh Comics, because the air at the latter was that bit fresher. It wasn’t the only – or even the main reason (that would be the incompetence of the old reservation service at Forbidden Planet) – but it was a factor.

At the Expo I caught of a whiff of unbathedness just once, and that was around a computer game stand, so it doesn’t really count. This is a small and certainly rather petty observation, I know, but it was surprisingly important to me. It definitely raised the Expo in particular, and comics fans in general, in my estimation (except the ones in Forbidden Planet – and the staff in Forbidden Planet, actually – the last time I was in the London store there were some tills with noticeably shorter queues than others…)

Millie078As for the rest of the weekend, we took Millie for a pleasant walk along the prom very early on Sunday morning, after a mighty fine all-you-can eat Hilton breakfast (which, because they’re classy, they don’t call “all-you-can-eat”, but it so was!).

We got some great photos using my phone and had an all-round nice time. This idyllic ambience was somewhat spoilt by the journey home, when engineering works forced us to take a replacement bus service part of the way, and I had to stand up all the way, and the bus was late anyway so we missed our connection to Hayward’s Heath and had to stand in the cold at East Croydon for 20 minutes, but, hey, you can’t have everything.