Leigh-on-Sea. Thumbs down.

Don’t go to Leigh-on-Sea if you can help it; it’s rubbish. We went there with a group of friends on Saturday.

I nearly wrote “gang” instead of “group” there, but at 34, with a wife, child and mortgage, “gang” sounds a bit disingenuous. We haven’t been a gang for a while now. 

Can you actually be in a gang if you have a mortgage?? 34-year-olds insisting they’re in a gang makes me think of people who insist they’re “crazy”.

If you have to tell people you’re crazy then you’re obviously not being crazy enough. If you’re actually “a bit crazy” then people will notice (trust me, I know some crazy people, and it’s fairly self-evident).

The Lovely Melanie met some self-proclaimed crazy people during her four-hour return journey from Hatfield last night. It would be fair to say that by about the two-hour mark she wasn’t in the mood for “craziness” – let alone “wackiness” or – the absolute lowest form of wit – “zany-ness”, but that’s exactly what she got. “Zany-squared.”

The way she tells it, waiting at King’s Cross for a train whose arrival time was being used as a random number generator by all the fruit machines in Las Vegas, she was joined by some people coming home from the Notting Hill Carnival.

I’ve been to “Carnival” twice in the 12 years I’ve lived in London, and I’m glad I have. But note the past tense, “have”. 

I’ve been, it was OK, and I don’t want to go again. Once you’ve seen one person dressed as an enormous butterfly dancing to a very loud sound system, you’ve pretty much seen them all. And once you’ve seen one lot of blokes having a smoke on a very slow-moving lorry with a sound system so loud that its mere existence makes your can of warm Foster’s (that you paid £4 for) go flat, then you’ve definitelyseen them all…

But we were sat with the Lovely Melanie at King’s Cross…

She’s joined by a small group of revellers on their way home from the Carnival.

They are “crazy”, they tell her.

The Lovely Melanie wearily agrees that they probably are.

No, they insist, they definitely are. Absolutely A1 “bonkers”. Why, they’ve just come from Carnival, therefore practically by definition they are crazy.

Some of them apologise (unnecessarily) to the Lovely Melanie for the impossible levels of sheer craziness currently being experienced on the platform.

The Lovely Melanie’s Ker-Razy-ometer stubbornly refuses to register their inherent lunacy.
Hasn’t the Lovely Melanie ever been to Carnival, they enquire? Probably not, they murmur sadly – she lacks the necessary “zany quotient”.

More unnecessary apologies are proffered for the abnormally bananas nature of these Carnival returnees. The Lovely Melanie finally cracks and says that, yes, she has been to Carnival. And it was a bit rubbish.

The crazy people, stunned into sobriety, leave.

Fortunately, we didn’t see any of this kind of thing in Leigh-on-Sea. When we walked the couple of miles to Southend we saw a little bit more of it, but it was true craziness – the kind of pissed-up English seaside resort craziness that you really really don’t want to be encountering after dark.

And, after the mud flats, fish smell and desolation of Leigh-on-Sea, it was almost a relief to see (did you know they’ve tarmacked the “beach” of Leigh-on-Sea? I kid you damn well not: instead of building a seawall or something sensible like that they’ve poured tarmac along a mile-long stretch of the coast. It’s quite a remarkable sight in a sort of beating-Mother-Nature-to-death-with-a big-stick-with-a-nail-in-the-end sort of way).

So everyone made a fuss of Millie, we had a great big lunch, bought some rock (the sugary mint variety) and played a game of “Adventure Golf” at the Southend Pleasure Beach. I highly recommend the Adventure Golf. It isn’t eh most imaginative in terms of the course obstacles, but they’ve really gone to town with the surrounding scenery, and I was jolly pleased with my score of 26 over 9 holes.

After a pint in a local Wetherspoon’s pub that welcomed Millie (Millie thinks all pubs are like Wetherspoons) we jumped on the train home, and were back in sunny Forest Hill just 90 minutes later. Since we were all absolutely exhausted it was just as well. A four-hour journey with added wackiness wasn’t something we could have dealt with without resorting to some particularly zany violence.

Here’s the Lovely Melanie and Millie on the mud flats at Leigh, and Millie and “Uncle” Mike reading the papers in the pub in Southend.

Millie’s getting more and more mobile, which is half blessing, half problem. It’s a blessing because, as I think I mentioned, she can amuse herself to a certain extent now: crawling around the house, eating dust and dead flies, using any vaguely supportive object to hold onto while she stands up (it’s the getting back down again that’s currently a bit of a problem for her).

The problem is that she never wants to stay where it would be convenient for us for her to stay, and consequently our house continually echoes with the tolerant refrain, “Millie, where are you, poppet? What are you doing, eh?

And we thought, the Lovely Melanie and I, that we were largely immune to smells of pooh, these days; that we could be vomited on, pee’d on, poohed on, burped over, whatever, but when I walked into Millie’s room yesterday…her entire bedroom smelt bad. She can fill entire rooms – not just a nappy – with eau de schiesse, these days; give her an hour in a medium-sized room and she can make it pretty much uninhabitable, yet with no outward signs that anything untoward has happened.

Thanks to everyone who sent their good wishes regarding my dad – he’s out of hospital and still doing fine. Well, no worse than he was before, at any rate.

If you really wanted to help him then you should bid on some of the comics I’m selling on eBay.

Nothing cheers me dad up like his son’s comics selling well on eBay. 😉

And my job search has gotten off to a disappointing start, it must be said.

Come on, folks, I’m writing my heart out here, surely someone in a position of power must be chuckling along and thinking, “Yeah, you know what? We should headhunt this guy – he’s a funny guy!

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Ventricular tachy-whatty-ah?

Aye caramba. I’m now more of an expert in ventricular tachycardia than I ever thought I would be – I didn’t even know what it was before yesterday (although, the tachycardia part was a clue – something to do with fast or irregular heartbeat).

My dad was rushed into hospital on Tuesday morning, not very well at all.

He’s had heart problems for a few years now: doctors keep promising him that this surgery or that drug or this new pacemaker will sort him out, but somehow they never quite seem to live up expectations.

My dad was in hospital most of last week; not for anything serious but beccause they were trying out a new drug and wanted to keep him under observation, in case there were any side-effects. However, he came out on Saturday – the drug had had no effect on his heart, and he was still very easily tired and prone to some bouts of unpredictable heart rhythm – so they’d sent him home.

Not, however, before doubling the dose of the drug he was being given. The same drug they’d had to keep him in hospital for previously; on a heart monitor; with expert supervision available at all times in case there were any side-effects.

They doubled the dose and sent him home. Does that make any sense to you?

Well, anyway, I got a call on my mobile at five past seven on Tuesday morning; I hoped it was the Lovely Melanie, ringing to remind me that Millie’s name is Millie, or that she needs to wear clothes, or not to give her vodka – something like that.

Because everyone knows that telephone calls after midnight and before roughly 8am are just bad news for everyone concerned: no one ever rang between midnight and 8am to offer me a place on the next space shuttle flight, that’s for sure!

And sure enough, it was my brother saying that my dad had gone into hospital with heart problems and wasn’t very well. Something to do with ventricular tachycardia. My brother’s a paramedic and told me that dad was lucky to be alive now, as sudden ventricular tachycardia is often rapidly fatal. Given that my parents hadn’t wanted to make a fuss, and that my mum had driven my dad down to A&E in the car (my dad originally wanted to phone them for advice!!) he was luckier still to be alive!

But alive he was, so having checked there was nothing I could do, I finished feeding Millie (not with vodka), dropped her off at nursery and went into work. I spoke to my other brother (I have two, both younger than me) who lives in Bristol, and he was on his way to Swindon to visit my dad.

When I got into work I looked up ventricular tachycardia on the Net. Given that my youngest brother, the paramedic one, had already said it was pretty serious, this wasn’t very reassuring at all: the prognosis for people like my dad, with pre-existing heart problems, who then have an attack of ventricular tachycardia was…patchy.

I told my boss what had happened and then caught a train to Swindon.

Coincidentally, it was the fastest trip to Swindon I’ve ever made, but that’s another story.
I met my mum outside Swindon station and we went to the hospital…only to find the cardiac unit was closed to visitors for a couple of hours so that its patients could get some rest. Fortunately, we found a sympathetic nurse there who recommended we give him a little longer to rest and come back in half an hour or so.

Half an hour later we were ushered into a twilight zone of beds and bleeps; kind of like a normal hospital ward, but with more room and more equipment and more nurses. My dad, as far as we could see in the darkness, was fast asleep, covered in monitors and wires (I mean, really covered in monitors and wires – his chest had almost no hair left on it afterwards!), plus a particularly big monitor right over his heart, which my brother later told me wasn’t a monitor at all, it was pad for delivering those electrical shocks that restart the heart if it stops beating.

Apparently, if they you expect you to “arrest” (as it’s called) then they put the pads on beforehand, to save time. It’s not something they do willy-nilly, and was just another measure of how serious my dad’s condition was.

As we went in he woke up…and, basically, over the next couple of hours, he got better; to the point where my mum was apologising and saying that he really hadlooked quite desperately ill that morning. 

By the time my youngest brother arrived at about 3pm, my dad was sat up in bed, drinking some tea, reading the paper and joking about making it out to watch The Town (Swindon Town FC, that is) play that evening.

My brother looked at his ECG readings (his heartbeat, essentially) and pronounced him fit and well. And that, really, was that. I caught a train back home an hour or so later. 

My dad’s still in hospital, still being closely monitored, but fairly decisively recovered. He’ll stay in hospital for another couple of days, they think, but then he’ll be back home.

And I got back to London in time to see a very very tired Millie just before she went to bed. So everything worked out OK in the end.

Except, perhaps, for the cause of the ventricular tachycardia; but if that wasn’t caused by the incredibly poor management of my dad’s experimental new drug, then I’m not a world-renowned heart specialist!

And, lest you think I’m blaming our brilliant and noble National Health Service (which, for all its faults, is an institution that makes me incredibly proud to be British), my dad has private health care. The NHS only came into the picture when things went badly wrong, and it had to clean up the mess left behind by private healthcare.

Yorkshire vs. Texas

“John Prescott faced further embarrassment last night after it was claimed that he had described George Bush as “crap” in a private meeting with Labour MPs.”

Hurrah! Go Prezza!

The row is further damage to Mr Prescott…”

What?! “Damage“? You’re kidding, right? Gordon Brown’s probably crying into his briefcase as we speak, knowing that he’s lost his chance to be prime minister!

Welcome to the Bourgeois Suburban Gardeners’ Club

As a now fully-fledged member of the bourgeois suburban gardeners club, I’ve never been so glad to see it belt down almost all weekend. Our lawn is showing a teeny-tiny bit of emerald colour around the edges once more…

In other news (by which, naturally, I mean Millie news) we took the girl swimming on Saturday morning, since she’s completely cured of the old hand, foot and mouth, and is back at nursery today.

She “enjoyed” it more than the time we went in Weymouth back in the Spring; she didn’t start crying at all until she’d been in the pool a good five minutes or so, and that crying didn’t then become uncontrollable for another 10 minutes – quite an improvement, really.

She’ll be scuba diving by the end of the year, you mark my words.

Of course, the scuba diving will depend on whether she’s still alive, being such a mischievous character, and quite unwilling to listen to her stuffy old parents telling her, “No, don’t grab the TV. No, don’t pull that wire, it’s the plug for the fan. No, don’t dribble on the computer. No, don’t try to eat the phone. No, don’t press the buttons on the freeview box. No, don’t pull that large encyclopedia down on top of you. No, don’t keep trying to slam that door while your head’s in the way. No, don’t try and follow that toy that just fell off the bed. No, don’t pull all the CDs off the shelf. No, don’t grab Daddy’s mug of hot tea. No, don’t eat Mummy’s old flip-flops…

And the old favourite, “No, don’t eat that dirt…

Millie will not sit still for more than five seconds unless she’s being swung upside-down by her feet (but the Lovely Melanie can’t sit still while Millie’s being swung upside-down by her feet – it makes her too nervous).

When she’s awake she’s indefatigable, always – always – trying to climb Mount Beanbag to reach the lights on the TV, only to be plucked inevitably from the summit by a pair of parental hands and returned to base camp. Either that or she’ll be out the door towards the kitchen (never the bathroom, for some reason…) or into the office.

The only thing that shouting, “Millie, no!” will get you is a cheeky smile and a flash of her pink heels…

I’m not moaning about this though: she’s usually huge fun to be around now, so that being at home with these days is less of a chore – no shaking of toys in front of her for the bazillionth time saying, “Ooh, look, Millie, look; look at this!” These days she can play happily on her own for quite a while while Mummy and Daddy catch that rare repeat of Churchill’s Bodyguard on UK TV History.

The standing joke in our house at the moment comes from Millie getting hold of the Freeview remote last Thursday and accidentally recording something called His Majesty O’Keefe three times in a row. The “joke” is that Millie loves this programme, and regularly tells us so in a slightly silly posh voice.

ME: “Oh, Mummy, is His Majesty O’Keefe on today? I loves that programme, Daddy. I loves it.”
LOVELY MELANIE: No, it isn’t.
ME: “Oh, can we watch it on the video, then? I loves that programme. God, it’s so brilliant, I loves it. My favourite bit is when…”
LOVELY MELANIE: Shut up, Millie.
ME: “Can we get the platinum edition box-set when it comes out, Mummy? It must be coming out soon, Mummy, because it’s such a brilliant programme. Put the video on, Mummy…”

That’s our house, these days.

Although, I did get to see Kung Fu Hustle on DVD Saturday night, and that went straight into my top five films of all time without passing Go or collecting £200. Forget His Majesty O’KeefeKung Fu Hustle had me laughing, gasping and cheering all the way through it.

Yes, yes, yes, all right, here are some Millie pictures. Enough already!

Terrorism – the last refuge of the scoundrel

“Even with the September 11 attacks included in the count, the number of Americans killed by international terrorism since the late 1960s (which is when the State Department began counting) is about the same as the number of Americans killed over the same period by lightning, accident-causing deer, or severe allergic reaction to peanuts.”
– From here, via Charles Stross here.

Stross also notes that “It used to be said that patriotism was the first resort of the scoundrel. Now terror-mongering is giving it a close run for its money. When someone tries to scare you, the first question you should ask is “who benefits?” Al Qaida and their friends carry out terrorist acts in order to terrorise you, with a specific political agenda in mind. Why are the US and UK governments trying to do the terrorists jobs for them? And what is their fear-facilitated agenda?”

Any suggestions?

Also, The Register has a mercilessly cynical piece about this kind of thing.

And as if to back up what Stross says, John Reid, our brutish Home Secretary, notes that anyone who disagrees with him is simply wrong, and is helping terrorists (and he’ll be doing something about that kind of thing quite soon…)

Hand, foot and mouth disease

It was Superdad to the rescue on Monday. Or rather, I had to go and collect Millie from nursery.

No, she hasn’t been expelled for excessive cuteness, rather, she has A DISEASE!

And not just any disease either – she has the dreaded hand, foot and mouth disease! It’s like bird flu crossed with plague crossed with ebola crossed with…

Actually, no, it isn’t. And it isn’t even anything to do with the proper “foot and mouth”, which saw sheep and cattle burnt by the truckload back in 2001.

Still, there has been an outbreak of it at Millie’s nursery, and she did have to be sent home on Monday, and isn’t allowed back for five days (so, er, that’ll be Saturday, then, helpfully!)

No, in fact, hand, foot and mouth was one of the seven plagues visited by a vengeful Old Testament God (and nagging – good grief, did He ever nag) upon the Egyptians after they were a bit rude about Moses’ mum. Or something. 

Actually, that might not be true…

Let’s start again. Hand, foot and mouth is a mild viral infection that gives the sufferer spots on the hands and feet, and around the mouth. These spots can be quite tender, and there can also be a mild fever.

That’s the official line. In Millie’s case she has a spot on her right little-toe, one on the unnamed finger of her left hand, and one in her mouth (according to the nursery: we haven’t seen it – have you ever tried to look in a baby’s mouth? It should have been a challenge on The Krypton Factor or The Crystal Maze or something).

And that’s it. Otherwise she’s absolutely fine. 

I got called out of work to go and collect her at Monday lunchtime, as did four other parents at her nursery, by all accounts. It made me feel like a right proper dad. I was all ready to show my boss the hand and pronounce, Charlton Heston-like, “My daughter is sick. I must go to her.” But they were very good about it. They were also very good about me having to have Tuesday off, as well, to take care of her.

Of course, I say “take care of her,” in reality there was nothing physically wrong with her, so the ‘Lays and I went to the National Maritime Museum to see an exhibition by Dan Holdsworth called At the Edge of Space, Parts 1–3, which is a small but entirely excellent exhibition.

I think, to my shame, this is the first proper full day of lone parenting I’ve done with Millie, and it was hard work.

I need to apologise to the Lovely Melanie for the couple of times she was at home with Millie when I asked her to, say, pop to the post office for me or get some bread, or something similar, and she said, “I may not get the chance to…”

At the time, I may have been a little ungenerous in my response.

Actually, I was completely and utterly wrong! Parenting on your own is incredibly hard and unending work!

OK, it is enjoyable and rewarding, for the most part, but it’s just unending. There was more than one point during the day when I wanted to put Millie in a box so that I could go and have a quick nap. Or read a book. Or eat. Or even just go and sit on the loo and read the paper.

And you can forget about updating websites!

So, a big – nay, a massive – kudos bonus to the Lovely Melanie for the past year spent at home with Millie. 🙂

Ahh, from Superdad to humble dad in just 300 words…

Killing hippies, Fruitstock and MMR

Another top tip, to go with the sandwich filler one: don’t go to Kill All Hippies at 333. It’s not very good.

In fact, maybe I’m just getting old, or have spent too much time going out in places like Brixton, but I’d recommend staying away from the Old Street area in general at the weekend – it reminded me far too much of a Friday/Saturday night out in just about any small town (and I grew up in Swindon so I know what I’m talking about!)

Just…not a terribly nice atmosphere: a bit overly charged with young testosterone and brightly coloured alcohol.

And Kill All Hippies, well… They gave me a huge amount of hassle getting in because I had a bottle of Lucozade in my bag (being a diabetic I always carry some Lucozade, I case I have a rare, unexpected attack of hypoglycaemia), then it was almost £15 for four drinks (three lagers and a cider). Now, this may be London, and we may have invented the three-pound-pint, but even so…

And then the club started filling up with mad people and folks who looked like they watched Big Brother for fun…

And so we decided to leave and go to a friend’s house (seeing as it was already too late to go to How Does It Feel To Be Loved down in good-old, friendly, non-Big Brother-watching, two-pound-fifty-a-pint Brixton).

God, I’m turning into such an old git.

Sunday, the Lovely Melanie and I took Millie to Fruitstock in Regent’s Park. A little corporate free festival. That was a very pleasant afternoon, although it was rather truncated by the two and a half hour journey to get there.

And that was via the tube, not, as you may have imagined, on foot dragging a felled oak tree behind us all the way.

I’d be less annoyed about the whole experience if London Transport had, at various stages of our lengthy journey, deigned to inform us that the entire network was in the process of going completely tits-up. But no, they left us to deduce this state of affairs for ourselves from the lack of trains turning up.

So we ended up waiting on a variety of platforms at a number of different stations for various amounts of time as we struggled to amend our route to take into account the ongoing verticalisation of breasts on the network.

The Lovely Melanie, as she sometimes does, became extremely demoralised by the whole affair, and apologised continually to Millie – who was sat in her pushchair having a whale of a time: seeing all these new and exciting places, being carried up and down stairs (and then back up and back down…), jumping on and off trains, etc.

The only real problem for Millie was that by the time we got to Fruitstock the poor girl was knackered. She struggled bravely to stay awake, and was agog at her surroundings and at The Mighty Zulu Nation Theatre Company, but eventually she fell asleep on my shoulder right in the middle of being agog, and so suddenly that her head banged my shoulder, waking her up for another five seconds, before she fell back to sleep – properly, this time.

We got to Fruitstock relatively early (about 1.45pm), and it wasn’t too busy then. When we left around 4.30 though, it was really crowded – and people were still streaming in from outside – so I’m glad we left when we did, even though it meant we only got to see our friends there for an hour or two.

This week Millie’s having her MMR vaccine: you know, the one the Daily bloody Mail whipped up a non-existent scare story about, so that now thousands of kids are at risk from a resurgence of measles because one doctor theorised, in a now discredited article, that the MMR vaccine might, in a tiny minority of cases, trigger autism in children.

The Lovely Melanie and I never had a single doubt that Millie was having the MMR – not only because of my long-held maxim that if the Daily Mail doesn’t like something then it’s almost certainly a good idea, but also because the Lovely Melanie and I have worked in medical research before (we met and fell in love at King’s College Hospital), we read New Scientist and lots of “Popular Science” books and websites, and so we knew that the MMR scare was rubbish, almost from the start of it. 

We also know that measles is actually quite a nasty disease: we may joke about it nowadays as just another outbreak of childhood spots, but that’s because we have vaccines against it!
Except, of course, that thanks to the Medieval attitudes of the Daily Mail and their ilk, the protection we had from near universal vaccination has now been dangerously eroded.

So, er, yes. MMR for Millie. On Thursday, I believe it is.

By the way, here’s another top tip from me – a computer-related one this time (I could be making a fortune from magazines like Chat and, er, Chit – they give you £25 for every tip printed – and most of them aren’t exactly rocket-science, “When getting up in the morning, remember to open your eyes to save bumping into things!” “Washing will dry quicker if you put it outside when the sun is shining!”)

Anyway – there’s a great, FREE little program called iColorFolder for Windows XP (but it works on Windows 2000, too) that enables you to change the colours of folder icons in Windows Explorer.

For example, if, like me, your My Music or My Pictures folders have a lot of folders in them then you can change the colours of frequently used folders to make them more eye-catching just by right-clicking on that folder.

In My Pictures we use the “Millie” folder a lot, and I’ve turned that one pink so it stands out against the standard yellow ones; and in My Music I’ve made the “Singles” folder blue, and all folders with recent additions grey.

This sounds so obvious you might think it’s barely worth doing, but it’s more helpful than you’d imagine, and takes just seconds to do.