Millie’s birthday

Nine years ago today this blog effectively began – it had been running for a few years before, but previously content disappeared off the bottom of my hand-coded HTML pages it was lost forever.

Perhaps more importantly, and the catalyst for this change, was the birth of Millie, our eldest daughter: three months premature and weighing just 1lb 7oz.

Today, Millie’s a happy, healthy, normal girl –  a nine-year-old girl!  Happy birthday, not-so-little Millie!

Ironically, despite having more free time than ever, I’m finding myself less driven to blog.  There’s still plenty to write about, I’m just not feeling the urge to get it down here the way I used to.

It may be a temporary reduction in my “blog drive” – spent most of last week working on CVs and covering letters and profiles and portfolios – and a birthday story for Millie, which she asked for – so maybe I’m just a little written out right now.

The whole business of finding-a-new-job takes up a lot of time and is incredibly tedious to write about.  There may be more interesting stories when I go to register as unemployed – it’ll be interesting to see if the process is better or worse than it used to be – and when I start getting some responses to job applications through – or even some freelance work!

It’s been a surprisingly busy week for a man of leisure such as myself.

Water Festival at Somerset House
Water Festival

A play at Shakespeare’s Globe, an all-night party, a Water Festival at Somerset House, two sports’ days, my parents visiting, lots of gardening AND went to watch Millie play at the Royal Festival Hall.  Amidst all of that I’ve also managed to upgrade some CVs (mine included), apply for some jobs, and begin chasing down some freelance work.

I highly recommend a visit to Shakespeare’s Globe, almost regardless of what you’re going to watch.  The sense of history there (despite it being a reconstruction of the original) is remarkable – you really get a sense of what it must have been like visiting the theatre 400 years ago: the people milling around, the wooden seats, the large central stage… I almost wished they’d brought some animals in, as people supposedly did back then.

Shakespeare's Globe
Shakespeare’s Globe

As it was, the Lovely Melanie and I went to see The Last Days Of Troy by Simon Armitage, a new play dramatising the event of Homer’s Iliad, which was extremely good.  We were surrounded by a class of American schoolkids, which annoyed the Lovely Melanie no end, but I thought they were pretty well-behaved, all things considered.

We did wonder about the wisdom of bringing a six-year-old child, as one woman behind us did, but they left soon after the bit where Achilles smears himself in the blood of the dead Hector.  I can’t think why.

We’ve had twin sports days, too, which are always fun to watch.  Here are some pictures of Millie and some pictures of Amber.

But I think it’s fair to say the BIG event of the week was Millie’s concert at the Royal Festival Hall, where she played the recorder onstage alongside a couple of hundred other children from Bexley.

Originally, the Lovely Melanie and I had one ticket between us (reasoning it would be a bit long and late for Amber, so one of us needed to stay home with her), but as luck would have it my mum and dad were coming up to London to stay with us that night – my dad and the Lovely Melanie always have a day at Wimbledon.  They bought concert tickets, generously gave one to us and my dad volunteered to stay home.

Millie went up with the school during the afternoon to rehearse and get ready, my mum and I caught a late afternoon train up, and we met the Lovely Melanie at the South Bank after work.

The South Bank was full of excited parents and children, and the Royal Festival Hall was heaving!  We did wonder why the concert was three hours long, as the programme didn’t seem to have that much on it, but we soon found out.

Have you ever tried to organise a concert with 300 young children (they were aged 7-16, but most looked younger than 11)?

No, neither have I, and having seen it done I’m amazed they did such a remarkable job in just three hours!  Swapping orchestras and choirs, rearranging seats, changing the sheet music, bringing hundreds of nervous children on and off – often in semi-darkness…  There had been no full-size rehearsals beforehand either – Millie didn’t have a clue what she was doing, except to play her part of a tune at some unspecified point.

I rather enjoyed Millie’s bit.  The song – played by hundreds of kids of different talent and ages – had a ramshackle experimental air to it that reminded me of Can and other crazy ’70s Krautrock bands that I like. 🙂

Millie at the Royal Festival Hall
Millie at the Royal Festival Hall

Meanwhile, in the audience, the Lovely Melanie was sat downstairs, so she had a closer (if more restricted) view; my mum and I were sat up amongst the gods, so we could see everything and nothing – faces were all a blur.  Thank goodness we did eventually spot Millie just before she started playing after the interval, but as you can see from my picture, it was a sniper’s task!

She was so wonderfully excited to be there and I was so proud to see her there. I may have partied backstage with actual rockstars at the South Bank, but never in all my 42 years have I been onstage playing an instrument. 🙂

We finally got back home about 11pm, and exhausted Millie (and grownups!) fell into bed and straight to sleep.

It’s just about a week since I was made unemployed now, but we’ve been so busy that it hardly feels like it at all, and I’m only just starting to get up to speed with applications and plans.  The next big milestone is in a few days when we discover exactly how much money the taxman has taken from my job payoff, and how long I can afford to be at home blogging and arsing about!

Fingers crossed for that, eh?

More redundancy (yes, you read that right)

Everyone of a certain age remembers The Littlest Hobo and its theme tune.

For me it was always the lyrics I enjoyed, and they took on an extra-special resonance Wednesday, when I was made redundant again.

As theme tune says:

There’s a voice that keeps on calling me
Down the road, that’s where I’ll always be.
Every stop I make, I make a new friend,
Can’t stay for long, just turn around and I’m gone again

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on.

I was called into the office by my boss (never a good sign) at the very end of the day to be told about big new marketing changes, company restructuring, and a consequent reduction in demand for copywriters, i.e., me.

And that was that.  Completely unexpected.  Just turn around and I’m gone.  Again.

So I smiled, thanked my boss for eight enjoyable months, and went home.  After the fourth time this happens you become kind of immune.  There’s none of the panic of your first redundancy, the sense of injustice of your second, or even the resignation of your third.

The fourth time is far more positive: it’s an opportunity rather than a crisis, and I left there with a spring in my step ready to start another new chapter. 🙂

So, next time you need a superb copywriter or wordsmith with five years experience think “Stuart Carter!

In the woods

As a man who grew up in a house full of boys I’m not the best judge of how “girly” my two daughters are.

On the one hand my eldest, Millie (8) loves cuddly toys so much that we’ve had to ration them; while her sister, Amber (6) has a similar make-up fixation that has led to us actually hiding most of the cosmetics in the house.  They both enjoy dressing up and watching Barbie cartoons (most of which aren’t very good, although, Barbie: Life In The Dreamhouse has a knowing satirical edge that makes it surprisingly watchable even for male grownups).

I’ve done my best not to judge their predilections, while at the same time trying to introduce the idea that there’s no real differences between what girls like and what boys like.  As a result, Millie likes Star Wars and Doctor Who, they both enjoy playing video games such as Lego Marvel Superheroes, and their favourite colours are no longer pink (sadly, I’m slowly losing the battle against One Direction on the music front, but they do at least hear different genres and styles of music when at home).

But what’s most reassuring are the times when we’re out and about seeing a bit of Nature.

Yesterday we went to Joydens Wood again for the day, just wandering about, exploring, and playing.  The girls ran off through the trees throwing pine cones at each other and making up their own crazy games; they both found sticks that looked like swords and were battling against witches and, er, more witches.

Basically, they weren’t “girly” at all, which was, as I say, reassuring, because it shows that they can be physical and “boyish” when given the opportunity.  They were poking at ants’ nests, screaming with delight on swings, swiping at nettles with their swords, pretending to be knights, all without a thought for getting grubby or falling over.

And I nodded my head as I watched, thinking, “Yeah, we’re not doing too bad as parents.” 🙂

Millie at the Royal Festival Hall

Exciting news this morning, as Millie has been chosen to play at the Royal Festival Hall!

No, seriously, she has!

She’s one of six from her recorder class playing in a concert there on the 23rd.

RFHThe Royal Festival Hall!  The Royal Festival Hall!

The recorder’s not even her favourite instrument (she much prefers the violin) but she and five others are going up to the RFH to play an evening gig.

Millie’s over the moon about it, and the Lovely Melanie and I both jolly impressed, too – we’ve been to see “proper” gigs at the RFH, with actual stars worth paying money for.

And now we’re paying money to see our daughter up there.  Well done, Millie, we’re very proud of you! 🙂

Office facilities

It’s nice working in an office after six months of working from home – except for the toilets.

stcrossstI now spend my days in a pretty average building on St Cross Street in London’s bustling Farringdon. The office has been redecorated and refitted for us; it’s still a work in progress (we just got a bin yesterday and today a dishwasher turned up), but it’s fine – except for the toilets.

We’re on the second floor, which we share (as far as I can tell) with three other businesses.  We also share our toilets – or toilet, as it is now, because 48 hours after we arrived the bulb blew in one of the two cubicles.

The next day some workmen arrived and taped up the urinals.

The day after that they locked the door of the remaining cubicle with a working light bulb, so we now have a single functioning – but dark! – toilet.

Fortunately, the next floor up has the same toilets as we do, except they’re properly lit and fully functional.

But if you’re prepared to put in a bit of effort and make your way to the fourth storey it’s a whole different story – their toilets have a modern hand-dryer, nice sinks and modern toilets – all well-lit and functioning.

The really funny part is, if you look through the doors into the offices on that floor – they’re all vacant!

Carters on safari

Expeditions to East London are not to be undertaken lightly when you live in Bexley.

You may think that because we live in South-East London that the East is a mere hop, skip and a jump away; that we share many a transport line and a general affinity for all things “eastern”.

We do not.  Most of East London is a right pain to get to from ours.

When the whole family was invited to an anniversary party by one of my very best friends, Dr Mike, and his lovely partner, Inge, we were pleased as punch.  OK, so, it was in East London, but if the Olympics could find their way to East London then we could, too, right?

Well, yes.  Eventually.

We set off at three on a sunny Saturday afternoon, already feeling lucky because the weather forecast had been apocalyptic, but was now rather pleasant.

We caught the train into town, then the tube, then the other tube, then a bus, then the right bus going in the right direction, and finally a short walk to the venue.

A mere two hours travelling!

But we were so glad we did because the party was lovely.  Only a small affair (perhaps 30 people?) but absolutely smashing.

There was free booze, free food, friends we seldom see – and the girls were a delight to watch: chatting, playing and laughing with people they’d never met before, as though they were old friends from way back.

Thanks so much, Mike and Inge, for inviting us, hopefully you had as much fun as we did, if not more! 🙂

The late-night journey home got quite exciting at one point when I looked out the bus window at the darkened streets of, er… Where is this?  Where the hell are we??  Where’s West Ham station??

The Lovely Melanie started to get nervous.

Fortunately, London’s been my home for over 20 years – being lost in a strange part of town at night isn’t all that big a deal, and when a station appeared ahead of us just a couple of minutes later we swapped our rogue bus for a dependable train.

I still don’t really know where Manor Park station is located, but I’m glad it is!

We arrived back home at midnight, the girls (as ever) fascinated by the night time world that they so seldom see.

Sunday, unfortunately, was a trial.  Everyone was tired and no one came out of it well.