Full award report

Friday’s award was a bigger deal than expected. I honestly thought it would be – at most! – 50 people and my name being read out alongside lots of others.

I was glad to I had a shave that morning and looked at least vaguely respectable because it was actually closer to 300 people in the fantastic new(-ish) City Hall building, where Millie, Amber and I had reserved seats right at the very front and were made to feel very welcome by all the lovely people from BLISS.

There fascinating speeches from people who’d done far more than I ever could for BLISS, and whose experiences were far more traumatic. Millie was born at 26 weeks but there were children and grown-ups born at an astonishing 23 weeks – the absolute outer limit of survivability for premature babies!

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Me, Amber and Millie sat at the front

Professional photographers were snapping pictures the whole time and the whole thing was jolly well organised. Or, at least, it seemed to be – I’ve never been to a proper awards ceremony before (unless you count being backstage at the BRITS in the 1990s!)

When the chief executive of BLISS read out my name and contribution I had planned to take Millie up onstage with me, but Millie lost her nerve at the last second and I went up alone. My speech was very short and not particularly inspired – I didn’t write anything down, reasoning that a speech “no more than two minutes maximum” would be hard to forget.

Bliss awardOf course, once onstage everything clever I thought of saying vanished from my head like water down a plughole and I simply said something about Millie being the reason I was there and what a surprising honour receiving this award had been. I shook hands with the chief exec, took my unexpectedly large glass award and certificate, smiled for the cameras and ran back to my seat!

Amber was given the big family camera to film and take pictures of everything, not least so the Lovely Melanie could see it later. She got some great pictures of City Hall, of the speakers, of the stage, the audience, the other award recipients, the ceiling, the floor, the posters, the view out the window – everything, in fact, except me.

There’s not one single photograph or video of me.

I got rather cross about this when I later found out. Bad photos, blurred photos, wonky photos, fingers over the lens, all of this would be understandable; but not one single solitary photograph of me at all?

Anyway.

Bliss certificateAfterwards there was a reception at the top of City Hall, which offers some of the best views of London outside of the Millennium Wheel or the Shard. There was also free food, drink and face painting. But by far the most interesting part was getting to speak to other helpline volunteers, like myself, medical professionals and some of the BLISS staff.

I have very little actual contact with BLISS these days, mostly it’s logistical stuff about the helpline, to be honest. Getting to chat with other volunteers was very interesting, because I find working on the helpline quite nerve-wracking – picking up the phone not having a clue who the person on the other end might be, but having a duty to help them to the best of your ability, which is based on experiences from almost a decade ago now.

Another interesting fact was that I’m the only man who works on the helpline, which was a proper surprise. I didn’t think my work on the helpline was particularly award-worthy, but it’s obviously more unusual than I realised.

It was nice to meet so many people grateful for that help, too; in fact, with hindsight, that means more to me than the award – just meeting so many people who said “thank you”.

When working on the helpline it doesn’t feel like a big deal – I’m usually sat at home just watching TV with my mobile next to me – but it is a big deal for everyone who calls. Talking afterwards made me realise that all over again.

And one mum, who had been thinking of joining the ranks of BLISS helpline volunteers, decided to take the plunge and do it after we spoke for a few minutes. That alone made the whole day worthwhile. 🙂

Thank you to Millie and Amber, too, who were exceptionally well-behaved throughout the entire afternoon. It wasn’t always the most interesting day out for them (Amber had a massive benny before we left, shouting about how she didn’t want to go), but they were polite, friendly, quiet (when quiet was expected) and didn’t argue once.

When we left they both gave Angie, the lovely lady from BLISS who looked after us, a big hug, which left me smiling all the way home (until I discovered the lack of pictures on the camera…)

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Er, I don’t actually have anything to say here. The girls are away in Hatfield for half-term and it’s been blissfully quiet and easy, as usual when they’re away.

Without wishing to sound like a drama queen, there are also work-related things rumbling away in the background that are taking up a lot of my time. I hope to explain more of that when the time is right, which – fingers crossed – will be soon.

CityHallLondonThe girls are back tonight, and tomorrow Millie and I are going to City Hall to receive my award from BLISS, the premature baby charity. Amber’s not coming because she has a play date at a friend’s; Millie certainly is because she’s the reason I volunteer for BLISS.

So, that should be exciting, not to mention quite moving (but, to reference my recent Shy Guy? post, I’m damn glad Millie’s coming with me!)

Menace of the Shopkins!

If I was an evil capitalist looking to come up with an evil scheme to brainwash children into becoming good little consumers then I could sit back with a sense of a job well done after inventing Shopkins.

In fact, they’re so evil that I can’t find a site (there’s no Wikipedia page) that explains what they are without trying to sell you some.

Non-parents – you will be astonished and appalled.

Parents – your children may already have been assimilated by the unstoppable Shopkins.

Amber Carter, youngest fruit of my loins – you will no doubt sing me the damn Shopkins theme song. Again.Shopkins

These are Shopkins: small collectable plastic figures, all based on things you can buy at the shops.

Think about that for a minute: children are flocking to the shops to spend their pocket money on replicas of things you can buy at the shops.

It’s so warped it boggles the mind!

Amber has been well and truly caught by them – hook, line and sinker. In the mornings she’ll watch YouTube unboxing videos, writing down all of the names and comment on the videos  (carefully supervised by me, of course!). She’s spending most of her pocket money on these things and is asking for some sort of display case thing which costs £50 (no, she’s not getting it).

Just to reiterate: she wants to buy plastic replicas of actual things that you can buy at the shops.

(holds head in hands and weeps)

Shy guy?

I used to think I was quite a shy person. This isn’t unusual – when questioned roughly half of all people consider themselves to be at least a little shy.

But the strange thing is, I enjoy talking to people: I’m not scared of standing on a stage making a fool of myself and am happy to step in and lead a venture if no-one else volunteers to.

shyness, shy guySo, why, I asked, am I so crap at meeting new people? Especially if I’m by myself. Put me in a room populated with people I’ve never met before and I’m crippled by shyness.

Seriously, it’s one of the main reasons I’m not a member of any clubs or anything. I went along to a British Science Fiction Association evening in a pub once – a place full of nice, smart people with similar interests. Hated it. I didn’t know anyone, didn’t know who to speak to, and I just imagined they weren’t interested in speaking to stupid old me – this despite me being a reviewer for them and judging the Clarke Award that year, too!

I know, crazy, right?!

But I realised very recently (personal insights at the grand old age of 43 – imagine!) that when given an external reason to start speaking to people, say, a task to complete, I can talk to just about anyone, nae bother.

If it’s my job, I can do it.

If I’m in charge, I can do it.

If I have an audience of friends, I can do it.

So long as there’s an official reason to do it, I can. I’ve worked at enough different companies that I’ve become quite good at appearing polite, interested and sociable when I have to.

Plus, get me talking in the first place and you’ll probably have trouble shutting me up! Especially if you want to talk about something other than sport – which, for a man, is a real handicap – start talking about sport and macho nonsense and you can pretty much kiss goodbye to my conversation.

Maybe that’s why I often find it much easier to talk to the opposite sex…? Hmm.

So, my apologies if I seem rude or ignorant – or simply shy – when we meet; I’m not, it’s just my desperate strategies to avoid small talk. That’s why I’m self-diagnosing myself as crap at small talk – the art of striking up (and maintaining) a conversation with a complete stranger, rather than being properly “shy”.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and be charming and amusing in a meeting…

Millies are away, Ambers can play

Millie’s been away with the school for the first time, visiting a “field centre” called Sayers Croft with the rest of Year 5.

The Year 5 teachers undertook the heroic task of looking after 90 children for an entire weekend (90!), ensuring that 90 went away and 90 came back.

And came back they did – tired and muddy, but all of them with a smile on their face when they got off the coaches. They left on Friday morning (to tears from one or two mums, including the Lovely Melanie) and arrived back Sunday afternoon. In between there were stream walks and midnight feasts and walks in the woods and heaven only knows what else.

Whatever it was, it tired Millie out. She came home, had a bath, sat on the sofa and fell asleep, exhausted (of course, she then woke up again and couldn’t get back to sleep until gone 10 o’clock that night…)

While her sister was away, Amber revelled in being an only child for two and a half days (and, despite dire warnings, sneaking in to read her sister’s diary); but at times even she seemed a tiny bit lost without her sister. So we went to Surrey Docks Farm, a little inner-city farm in East London, next to the Thames. It was a toss-up between Nunhead Cemetery and the farm – both were having an open day – but the weather was too nice for mooching about catacombs so we went for the farm.

And we were so glad we did. It was much bigger than we were expecting, and just full of animals, most of which could be petted and stroked. Personally, I found the sheep-shearing demonstration absolutely fascinating (you can take the boy out of Wiltshire…), not least because the little OCD voice in my head couldn’t wait to see that messy fleece tidied and sorted… 🙂

And there were goats and turkeys and ferrets and lambs and cows and pigs and chickens and donkeys and baby chicks.

Amber face paintingMillie, whose love of cute furry animals knows no bounds, would have wanted to live there; Amber, whose love of cute furry animals is quite minimal, mostly tolerated it.

Despite being the loud bolshie one in the family she’s a bit of a chicken when it comes to animals: visibly unnerved by the sheep shearing (which, to be fair, was very physical) and unable to bring herself to hold a baby chick, she nonetheless managed to stroke a lamb, declaring it not unpleasant.

There were demonstrations of baking delicious bread in a wood-fired outdoor oven. There was face-painting, too, which we queued half an hour for (but which was well worth the wait – those ladies had skillz!)

If you’re in London next May and find yourself with a hankering for the countryside, pay a visit to Surrey Docks Farm, you won’t regret it. 🙂

On the ThamesAfterwards, we took a different route than planned back home, following the bank of the Thames westwards. It was a glorious day so seemed churlish not to follow Old Father Thames on his merry way.

But Old Father Thames didn’t have to walk it, and by the time we got to Rotherhithe station complaints were being raised by some members of the Carter family about their legs. But never underestimate the restorative powers of an ice cream on a warm day, and we were soon homeward bound.

As you can see in the picture, I managed to avoid my usual sunburnt bonce by using Amber’s hoodie as a hat. It’s only May and I’ve already been caught out like this twice, but not today! 🙂

Broken weekend!

When even a trip to the hospital can’t quite spoil the fun you know it was a good weekend.

Our great old friends the May family came to visit from Swindon, just bursting with energy and excitement. Unfortunately, little Lily went home with a broken wrist and her arm in plaster and a sling, following a nasty fall on one of London (in-)famous red double-decker buses.

Our kids have been travelling on buses since they were born, so as we came down the stairs to get off the bus I simply didn’t think to warn Lily that there would be a little jerk as the bus came to a stop.

“Hold on with both hands,” I reminded her (as I always remind our two) but with that treacherous little jolt as the bus comes to a full stop she lost her grip and fell down the last four steps.

It was a horrible horrible moment. 😦

Lily was very brave, but deeply shocked, in real pain, and went alarmingly pale. We got her off the bus, hoping it was just a nasty knock, but she didn’t want to move her wrist at all.

Just in case, we took her to Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup, who were absolutely wonderful. Friendly, efficient and professional. They quickly diagnosed a fractured wrist and put it in plaster and a sling – throughout all of which Lily was very brave!

We got back to Bexley after a record-breaking two hours, where Millie, Amber and Jack were all waiting at the end of the road to welcome Lily back. They’d even made her some get-well-soon cards, which was such a lovely gesture I had a lump in my throat. 🙂

You might think the weekend would end there, but the Mays wouldn’t be down-hearted about it and still stayed the night, as planned. All of us enjoyed a delicious dinner cooked by the Lovely Melanie and a few well-deserved glasses of wine.

wpid-wp-1431339838446.jpegThe next day, in the glorious sunshine, we went to the woods and the swings, where Lily understandably gave the death slide a miss but was on everything else with Jack, Millie and Amber.

Here’s are three of them on the pirate ship (Jack had run off to play football with some strangers at this point!)

At lunchtime, we all went to the pub in Bexley Village for a lovely roast, before the Mays had to head home to Swindon, no doubt to regale the locals with tales of stupid buses and wonderful NHS care.

I hope you’ll come and visit again, May Family – but perhaps next time we’ll stick to single-decker public transport!

Election 2015

wpid-wp-1431007233747.jpegIt’s election day here in the UK and we’ve already voted (Green Party, in case you hadn’t already guessed).

I didn’t want to vote after work (I don’t get home till 8pm as it is!) so the girls and I walked 15 minutes down the hill to our polling station after breakfast. Then we walked 15 minutes back up the hill to school – which is annoying because the girls’ school is also a polling station, and that’s just 90 seconds away.

The Lovely Melanie has written a letter to the council about this outrage.

I wanted the girls to see me voting (the Lovely Melanie is voting before she picks the girls up from after-school club tonight), so they would understand it’s an important thing to do. I let Millie post my completed ballot paper in the box, and on our way back we discussed why anyone would want to vote for the nasty Tory party.

I had to be honest and admit my ignorance, because I don’t understand why anyone would vote for them. It was a interesting conversation – far more so than the one we had going down the hill, about Millie buying a new pencil case. And maybe a little battery-powered sharpener. And some pens.