I’ve never seen two small people so excited about Halloween.

Returning from grandma and granddad’s yesterday, they came running through the door, slowing briefly to take their shoes off and kiss me, before zooming off to see all of the Halloween decorations the Lovely Melanie had put up the night before.

Trick-or-treat outfits were decided way back in June (Devil and Ghost) and Millie’s last words before I left for work this morning were “I can’t wait to go trick-or-treating tonight!”

Halloween pumpkin

The Lovely Melanie has cooked spooky cakes and biscuits and they’re all going to a Halloween-themed birthday party in the village this afternoon (that of Abigail – five-year-old daughter of the other Bexley Carters, from just round the corner).

I’m taking them trick-or-treating tonight and carved a pumpkin yesterday; I was working from home and, since I’m serving out my notice at Expedia, had a very “coasty” day so was able to take my time.  Here’s the result.

Trick-or-treating is going to be fun – I’ll be simultaneously working on the BLISS helpline, so if tonight you encounter a frightful ghoul offering calming words of sympathy and advice…that’s probably me!

New job! New job! New job!

I’ve been offered a new job – which I’ve accepted!  Yay!

All the real excitement happened on Friday but I’ve delayed announcing it here while negotiating a shortened notice period at Expedia.

My new employer, from November 11th (coincidentally my 13th wedding anniversary, which I hope is a good omen) will be a photostock company called Fotolia.  I’ll be their new Content Strategist/Copywriter.

As well as (slightly) more money and a week’s training in Paris it’s also a return to something I’m good at and really enjoy doing – writing.

Most people who know me will be aware that I’ve been unhappy at Expedia since the job spontaneously morphed into a data entry role with no writing or creativity required.

I didn’t write about this because…well, online whining doesn’t make for a very edifying or entertaining read, and because I’m a grown-up and a professional.  Instead I took the decision to go back on antidepressants, which really helped.

And five months later I have an exciting new job – the result of spending many many hours searching and applying, getting slowly better at interviews, and then waiting on tenterhooks to hear back.

It’s been a hell of a rollercoaster ride – finding a great job and getting your hopes up, then being turned down and losing all confidence that you’re any good whatsoever at what you do, knowing that you have to get straight back out there and sell yourself all over again for the next great job…

I’m really really hoping that this one is as good as it sounds.

And as permanent!


The Zen Train from Albany Park

Arrived at Albany Park station this morning just in time to catch the 8.02 into town.

Albany Park station
Albany Park, mercifully deserted

Thursdays and Fridays are my “zany” train days because no one has a clue what train I’ll be on: do I want to be home early?  Am I going out late?  Am I in need of a lie-in?

Sure, Monday-Tuesday you’ll always find me on the 9.00, and Wednesday I’ll be working from home.  But Thursday/Friday…?  Jeez, anything could happen.

So I moseyed on down the stairs just as the 8.02 pulled in and grimaced: Dang.  Busy train, and only looking busier and busier as the carriages sailed past.

“Shoot,” I thought, “gonna have to get me to the far end of the platform where it’s emptier.”

But even the end carriages, crafty stand-by of the experienced commuter, were packed.  “This is gonna be no fun at all,” I sighed, contemplating the wall of suited bodies bursting forth from the now-open doors.

And then a voice spoke: Sit down, Stu, it said, relax; wait for the next one: read your book, listen to some music, watch the sunlight descending the side of the railway cutting.

So I did.

And ten minutes later, when a half-empty train rolled in, I sat down and carried on relaxing, reading my book, listening to some music and watching that dazzling sun climb the sky all the way into town.

And I was as one with the tracks. 🙂

Moths and spiders

Poor Millie, she does get worked up about things sometimes.

Just the other night the Lovely Melanie was putting both girls to bed while I was downstairs making dinner.  There came an exasperated cry from above, “Stu!  Can you come up here, please!”

Bounding up the stairs I found Millie in tears while an impatient Lovely Melanie tried to do some jobs.

“Can you sort Millie out, please.  She’s making a fuss about spiders.”

We have spiders in our house – who doesn’t?  They’re mostly minding their own business on the ceiling, but sometimes pop up elsewhere (Amber woke up next to one on her pillow recently – not one of the small ones either!)

Millie, bless her, has a remarkable gift for working herself into a panic about such things; particularly at bedtime.  She is genuinely scared of spiders (and moths) but this particular pair were outside her room and had been there for days.

Usually I’m pretty flippant about such things – “There’s a spider!”  “And?” – in the hope of setting an example that we’re not bothered by them, but sometime you have to be a bit more sympathetic.

I’m her dad, the person she trusts when anything goes wrong or things get scary.  You can always rely upon your dad – that’s the lesson I learned when I was little.

Sitting down on the bed I gave her a hug and looked into those tearful brown eyes.

“Lays, those spiders aren’t even in your room, love.”

“But I d-don’t like them.”

“OK, listen to me,” I began, quietly; “I know you don’t like them – I don’t particularly like them – but they’re not going to hurt you, I promise.

“I’m your dad, if I thought there was the slightest chance a spider would hurt you or Amber there wouldn’t be a single one left in this house.  But those old spiders have been sitting up there minding their own business for days now; they’re not interested in you or your bed or your toys, they’re interested in the flies that come buzzing in the house, that do come in your room and fly about getting germs on your stuff.

“The spiders are helping us by catching those flies, and all they want is to be left alone to do that.

“If you really want me to get rid of any spiders hanging quietly out there not harming anyone I will, but then there’ll be nothing to stop flies coming in your room.

“So, what would you rather I did?”

A brave little smile appeared on her face and she said “Leave the spiders there.”

I smiled proudly, gave her a great big hug and tucked in all the blankets around her.

“Night-night, my love.”

It’s a fine feeling knowing someone trusts you and everything you say absolutely: but it makes you want to be better – to be the very best dad you can possibly be.

Saturday night’s all right

If a Saturday night out makes you smile, despite it taking over three hours to reach the venue via an unwanted detour to St Albans, then you know it was a good night out.

Despite a neck still sore from dancing, a bank account severely damaged by drinks and taxis, and a feeling that I’m definitely done with going out for a while, it was a brilliant night/morning watching The Orb play at the Forum in Kentish Town.

The Lovely Melanie and the girls had gone to Swindon for my niece, Izzy’s, 3rd birthday party, so I had Saturday and Sunday to myself – Saturday to build up to a crescendo of excitement, and Sunday to lie in bed drinking milkshakes and sleeping.

Kanye and Meltdown

Smuggler's CoveI was fortunate last night to meet up again with my jet-setting, bar-owning, rum-loving old friend Martin Cate, over from the US again to attend London Cocktail Week, where his fine San Francisco establishment, Smuggler’s Cove, won a coveted place in the world’s 50 Best Bar Awards again!

But, just for the moment, he’d had rather enough of cocktails and rum, so we visited a new “gamers bar” on Caledonian Road called Meltdown, dedicated to video games (or “e-sports” apparently).  For some reason I was expecting something like an ’80s arcade but with a bar; what we got was your basic boozer with laptops and consoles dotted around amidst big screens showing games – computer games, that is.

Which was fine, but a little daunting.  There was nothing telling you when, where, how or what to play; the staff weren’t unhelpful but they weren’t overflowing with advice either.  Martin and I are both game players but not proper full-on gamers, so were a bit confused about how this worked.

You need to log into your Steam account, we discovered eventually, and managed a brief game of Team Fortress 2.

Who won?  I have no idea.

What was going on?  Ditto.  I’d never played Team Fortress 2 before!

So, nice idea, Meltdown, but needs a little tweaking on the execution side if you want to attract more casual custom; trust us on this, Martin owns the world’s 30th best bar. 😉

Afterwards, for a complete change of scenery, we went to dinner at The Only Running Footman pub in London’s exclusive Mayfair (you could tell it was Mayfair because there were lots of men rocking (ahem!) the evergreen suit-jacket and jeans combo).

But I do highly recommend the calamari at The Only Running Footman, should you happen to be in the area – delicious!

Martin and I caught up on the rum trade, the world of bars, children, chickens, Dr Rebecca Cate’s new job (Martin’s lovely wife, sadly not with him this visit), our age and its associated problems, a recent visit by Kanye West to his bar (he was very nice, apparently). 🙂

It’s a hard life, eh, Mr Cate?!

17th October teacher strike: An open letter to parents

I almost never reblog stuff but this piece by Equus altus deserves it: explaining why teachers are striking today, it counters the right-wing press who will doubtless be slandering and belittling the people you trust to educate your children.

Equus altus

Dear Parents

I’ve taken some time out to write this open letter to you because I believe it’s important to let you know why I am striking with my fellow teachers on Thursday 17th October.

Firstly, let me apologise for the inevitable inconvenience this action will cause many of you. Teachers do recognise – partly because many of them are parents themselves – that having to find childcare for the day or take a day off work to look after your children is a burden. That’s why taking strike action is always a very last resort. Believe me, none of us are particularly keen on losing a day’s pay either.

Many of you will have read in the press or heard on the news that teachers are taking strike action over changes to their pay and pensions. Often, this is shrouded in an air of disapproval, almost as if…

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