Baby sick

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…

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Clarke Award shortlist 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…

***

Unusual weekend

Blimey, all kinds of great and unusual things happening over the weekend (although not for the Lovely Melanie who’s currently into her sixth day of flu – and proper flu, too, not just a bit of a cold).
Let’s go through them all in reverse levels of greatness, shall we?

First (or, by level of greatness, last) is my not feeling the least bit hungover on Sunday morning. I went for a quiet drink down my local with some friends on Saturday night; had one of those really nice nights down the pub, just chatting away for a few hours, and had four pints (and a tinnie). Ordinarily I’d feel at best a bit “dry” next morning, and at worst I’ve had a full-blown hangover, but Sunday saw me up with the lark and playing five-a-side football by midday…

Which segues neatly in to the second great thing, which was me scoring a hat-trick of goals, and setting up a couple of other good ones, too. This is so great because I’m rubbish at football – rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish. In fact, let’s be honest, I’m rubbish at all sports (except swimming – I’m quite a good swimmer). And this is not me being modest about my sporting prowess, oh, no; I genuinely suck at anything involving physical co-ordination, far more so than any normal person. I’ve always sucked: I can’t catch, can’t throw, can’t control a ball with my feet, can’t hit things with a stick… so it was nice (not to say “unheard of”!) to genuinely play “quite well” on Sunday, if only to see the amazed looks on other people’s faces!

And so onto the third great thing, which is that I’ve managed to wangle a place on Thames Water’s annual sewer tour!

I’ve always been inexplicably fascinated with underground tunnels, hidden places and the like, and it was always my dream to go on a tour of a bit of the London Underground at night when the trains had stopped (obviously!). In 2004 we managed to get on the Open House tour of the abandoned underground tram tunnel/station on Kingsway in Holborn, which was pretty cool, but this is much much cooler than that. This is even cooler than a tour of the Underground, and that’s pretty cool – on a scale of one to 17 it comes in at around a 15 (17 being “living on the moon”).

Thames Water don’t advertise the existence of these tours anywhere, as far as I’m aware, don’t make any kind of fuss about it and certainly don’t encourage people to actually come on the tour. However, a little fact like that never stopped an intrepid fact-hound like yours truly, and I’ve been following the trail of the mythical sewer tour for a couple of years now.

It may seem like a pretty weird thing to want to do, but I’m SO excited by the whole prospect of seeing somewhere you never ever normally get to see: a whole strange new world just under your feet. And, trust me, it’s usually very very very difficult for members of the public to get down into the sewers for a guided tour of Bazalgette’s remarkable creation. I just hope the smell isn’t too awful.

And you know what’d be good? It would be if I could do the sewer tour AND use my voucher for a microlight training flight in the same week! To see a different view of above and below within hours of each other…

OK, that’s all of the really great and unusual things. Elsewhere, I’ve now seen a list of the Clarke Award books that the other five judges liked…and in some ways it’s very different to what I’d expected. There’s a meeting at the Science Museum this coming Saturday to narrow the list down to just six books, which we then have to re-read before we meet again in April, and choose a final winner. Personally, I think we’ll be able to pick about four books for the shortlist fairly easily, but the other two may turn out to be more difficult. It does at least mean the meeting on Saturday should be interesting. 🙂

And what of Millie…? She’s very well, thank you for asking. Still coping with the solid food (the Lovely Melanie’s already making noises about trying carrots and apples, as well as rice).

She also seems to have made one of those quantum leaps in her development that she periodically does. It’s quite a subtle change this time, but she now relates to the outside world more than she did, or more enthusiastically, I should say. She’s beginning to want to touch things she sees, and although this may not sound like a big thing I think it’s quite important because it means she’s conscious that she can move herself and can influence the world.

That awareness of yourself as a being who isn’t passive, but can do things and interact with your environment, that’s quite a radical change of viewpoint, if you think about it. And that seems to be what Millie’s just realised.

And my god does she talk! Not words, of course, but endless streams of syllables and sounds punctuated with laughter. On and on and on and on! It’s lovely to hear… 🙂

“Benefit cheats”

Gah! What’s going on?! You turn your back for one minute to have a baby and the whole world goes to pot!
Right, well, I’m back in town now, so it’s time to set the world to rights – starting with tax evasion!

But seriously, here’s something interesting, given the current fuss being made about how much unemployment benefits cost the UK and the efforts being made to get those lazy, shiftless, workshy, scrounging – probably asylum-seeking – unemployed to pull their fingers out, get on their bike and get a job.
Tax evasion (using loopholes and scams to avoid paying tax) by the very rich and by major companies costs the UK £20 billion (more details here, here and here, among others) – quite a bit less than the £12 billion spent on unemployment benefits in total. No doubt some of that £12 billion of unemployment benefit is being wasted, no doubt there are some illegal claimants, but if the government’s real aim was to save us some money then they’d do a lot better chasing that £20 billion lost by tax evasion, because all of it – every single shiny new penny – is basically being stolen from you and from me by big companies and the very rich.

So what’s being done to try and stop this massive haemorrhage of money from the government coffers? Is there a massive government crackdown on corporate and millionaire tax dodgers? Is there a reemphasis on the responsibility these institutions and individuals have to the country as a whole? Is there even, perhaps, a plan to get their neighbours to grass them up for non-payment or breaking the law?

No, there isn’t. Instead, they sacked a load of people at the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise.

So the next time the Sun or the Daily Mail has a crackdown on benefit cheats (precious few of whom are living in any kind of idyllic luxury at our expense) you might want to point out to them that there are much bigger savings to be made elsewhere…

My 34th birthday

“Ooh, Stu, you haven’t written anything here for ages, Stu.” “Ooh, Stu, have you given up with the website, Stu?” “Ooh, call yourself a, um…man with…er…a website thingie, Stu…?”

Shut up.

It was my birthday three days ago, I’ve had a cold, a bad back and a small child at home being decidedly picky about her milk.

Of all of these, I think my birthday has taken longest to recover from. And to everyone who made it along to my Bloody Big Birthday Bazooka Bonanza on Saturday 14th (and there were almost 30 of you beautiful people – although less than 20 actually came clubbing after the pub – boo, lightweights!), thank you very much for coming and making me feel so very popular. 😀

I didn’t actually feel too dreadful on Sunday morning, but it’s taken me a few days to get back to normal, rather than the few hours it used to. It’s a terrible paradox of being 34 that now you can afford financially to drink far more and stay out far later than ever before, physically it’s becoming more and more expensive.

Thank goodness Millie went to her grandparents for the best part of 24 hours, I say – but what was the Lovely Melanie thinking, having not gotten to bed until 4am, getting back up at 8am to go to Hatfield to collect the girl from her grandparents??? It did no one any favours, this morning masochism, as she then had to have a sleep at her parents (who were managing quite admirably with Millie!) and thus ended up not getting back home till 6pm! Thanks again, though, to Millie’s grandparents for taking care of her for the night and most of next day. It was either them or Social Services…

Anyway, I have to say, I’m beginning to think having your birthday on January 15th is definitely the way forward. It used to be that I thought it was a really really bum deal – coming so close after Christmas it meant you had to wait eleven and a half months till you got any more presents! I mean, good grief – eleven and a half months! Even at 34 that’s a long time, as a child it’s practically a life sentence!

Ah, but the wisdom of age…

It’s a well-known fact that January’s a depressing month. No-one has any money, the weather’s rubbish, the bright lights of Christmas are disappearing in the rear-view mirror like a car-crash on a rainy motorway. So to have your birthday slap-bang in the middle of that period, especially if you deliberately make a big fuss about it the way I like to (“Bloody Big Birthday Bazooka Bonanza” anybody?), genuinely gives me, and hopefully a few other folks, something to cling onto.

The two weeks after New Year’s are kind of the build-up to it (where are we going? what are we doing? who’s coming? etc etc) whilst the two weeks after it that lead to the light at the end of the tunnel that is February are still lit by the warm rosy afterglow of the birthday itself (where did we go? what happened? who came? how drunk were you!! etc etc).

“What did I get for my birthday?” Oh, you don’t want to know.

No, really, you…

OK. Sigh. But do try and remember that I’m 34, eh?

I got a new office chair and a big cooking pot for making stews and casseroles and things in (both of which I asked for, and both of which I’m well chuffed with).

Oh, and a few CDs (Architecture In Helsinki and Baxter Dury), some books (not science fiction – all ready for when I get a break from the seemingly endless Clarke Award reading). And a small toy car with very big wheels(?).

Oh, and in Millie news (which is of course why most people are reading this), we’re trying solid food again. So far so good…

Plus, we’re due to be weighed again this week; and after the disappointing weight gain of a fortnight ago, when we put on just a few ounces to reach 10lbs 2ozs, hopes are high that we’ll be more than halfway to 11lbs.

Rock’n’roll dad (not)

It’s turning out to be much much harder than I’d anticipated to maintain a dissolute rock’n’roll lifestyle when you’re a dad.

Take New Year’s, for example. We only went round a friend’s – one local enough that we could walk between his house and ours – and I only drank white wine (and champagne, natch) because I don’t normally get a hangover drinking white wine; or at least, not one of my famous all-day vomit-fests. We were back home by 2am (Millie had spent most of the night blissfully asleep in a towel-lined drawer in our friend’s bedroom, except when all the ladies at the party piled in to watch the Lovely Melanie feed her), I had a cup of tea and went to bed, a bit drunk, I admit, but hardly rolling about on the floor singing Copacabana.

Suddenly it’s 7am, the alarm goes off as usual: Millie needs feeding and changing. So I get up, a bit groggy, and change the nappy. Have a glass of water and a lovely cup of tea, then back to wonderful bed while the Lovely Melanie does the actual feeding.

Ten minutes later, I’m in the bathroom removing the cup of tea and glass of water from my gullet, and feel so awful that I don’t surface again until about 1.30. Fortunately, the Lovely Melanie is made of sterner stuff (and drank less) so she’s still able to function and take care of our daughter.

I am a terrible father.

But the thing is, I did feel like a terrible father; and not only a terrible father but really really guilty that the Lovely Melanie had to do everything for most of that day, even though she was feeling “a bit rough”.

It’s an awful feeling sometimes, to keep realising that this is never going to stop. There’s no foreseeable point, really, when our lives will get back to how they were before. And as much as I love Millie and don’t regret having her for one single moment, it’s absolutely impossible to carry on going out anything like the way we did before we had her. Taking care of a very small child is quite difficult anyway, but if you’ve got even a mild hangover it very quickly becomes simply wretched. Wretched is definitely the word. Oh, yes.

So, I’m still going to go out and have a rare old time on my birthday in a couple of weeks, and the Lovely Melanie will have to take care of Millie on her own the next day, but that’s only because it’s my birthday. From now on, big nights out are going to be few and far between…

Which isn’t actually as bad as it sounds for us since Millie’s growing more attentive, chatty and interactive by the day now. She watches people come in and leave the room, looks around to see what that noise was behind her, and laughs and laughs and laughs – I had no idea babies laughed so much! And the lovely thing is that it’s such uninhibited laughter, so full of innocent joy that it’s frighteningly infectious, and we can all just sit around and laugh for, well, only for minutes really, but it feels like longer in retrospect.

Oh, and a very happy new year to everyone. 🙂