Engineering calm

A TV programme about reconstructing a lawnmower should make good TV for insomniacs, but the first episode of James May’s The Reassembler (BBC4, last night) managed to be simultaneously fascinating and calming.

ReassemblerBetter known as part of the presenting triumvirate on Top Gear, James May’s other programmes have always interested me more, revealing his deep interest in how things work and a quiet reverence for the remarkable people who created them.

With precisely zero technical skills myself, I can completely understand this awe of technology and engineering; which is why it was so interesting to see someone with a modicum of these skills work their way through the reconstruction of something as prosaic as a 1959 Suffolk Colt lawnmower.

How does the internal combustion in a lawnmower (or anything!) work? I sort of know the theory, but seeing all the component neatly laid out like a work of art on a table, then gathered up and reassembled, revealed more in 30 minutes than any amount of books would.

But it’s May’s subtly rambling commentary on the reassembly process, interspersed with the lawnmower’s history and development, that transformed this 30 minutes of nerdistry into a  little piece of TV nirvana: I could feel my body relax – heart rate slowing, muscles relaxing, mind clearing – as, piece by piece, a lawnmower took shape once more.

It was TV as meditation!

This, I suspect, is because it brought back memories of being small and watching as my dad performed miracles in the garage: welding iron gates, fixing broken electrical appliances, making his own bricks for a wall, affixing a fold-down workbench to the wall. He would pick his way through endless drawers full of ancient and mysterious tools (passed down from his dad) to to fix or create anything.

Sadly, I haven’t inherited his practical skills, but my innate curiosity about how things work is all his doing (which is why I’m quite good at fixing computers). And that curiosity is a real gift: it taught me you’ll never ever be bored if you can recognise the artistry and complexity of the world all around you.

So, thank you, James May; but thanks more to my Dad. 🙂

On this, the occasion of your 43rd birthday…


Killing an owl“Happy birthday, Daddy, I love you – here is a card of you killing an owl.”

– Amber Carter, aged 6.

I love my children, not least because of their capacity to surprise me on a regular basis.

(Amber later explained that this was a reference to my love of shooting things in computer games)

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.” 🙂

We are good parents – official!

Following last night’s parents’ evening at Hurst Primary it’s been officially confirmed that the Lovely Melanie and I are Good Parents.

Parents' evening
Artist’s impression of parents’ evening

Our parenting skills and techniques were not once called into question; in fact, they were actively smiled upon by both teachers.  The way we’re helping and encouraging the girls to learn received top marks.  OK, so, they didn’t actually say that, but reading between the lines it’s obvious they meant: you are great parents!

And the girls got good reports, too, but again, that’s mainly down to our hard work in raising them and…


Yeah yeah yeah, good reports.  Fine.  Meanwhile…

Sigh.  What?

Yes, look, their reports were very good.  Anyway…

What do you mean, more detail?  OK, OK!  More detail!

Millie continues to do extremely well in reading and writing.  Slightly worrying was the news of her now being in the lowest group for Maths (she was in the middle group before), but her teacher explained that she’s between a rock and a hard place here, being a bit too clever for the bottom group but struggling a little in the middle group.  An assessment we tend to agree with.

Millie was also very attached to her teacher in year 3, which might have made the transition to year 4 a bit harder than previously, but no, the transfer has gone smoothly and Millie seems very happy in her new class. 🙂

Our meeting with Amber’s teacher was slightly more interesting in that we weren’t sure what to expect.  Amber’s a very smart cookie, but with something of a rebellious streak in her.

Which side would be most prominent…?

We needn’t have worried.  Amber’s occasionally a bit loud but is doing really well, particularly with her language skills, but also in numbers and other areas.

Both girls got a big hug and a shiny gold coin in their money boxes!

A dream of parenting…

If it takes longer to get to a party than you spend there you might think it wouldn’t be worth going, but that isn’t always true.

Grandma and the girls
Ready for the party

We visited Hatfield this Sunday for a 30th birthday party – the Lovely Melanie’s cousin, Nicky – and had a fine time.

It helped, of course, that the girls were in fine fettle and the weather was good, which meant the journey there and back was a family outing in itself.  But it also helped that Nicky and her family are jolly nice people and know how to put on a good spread of food. 😉

Sometimes, four-plus hours of travelling with the girls can be hard work – keeping them amused, stopping them arguing, fending off bennies, etc.  But other times they can be great – making jokes (actual funny-to-adults jokes!), playing nicely with each other and needing very little adult supervision or intervention. 🙂

Yep, we were living the parenting dream yesterday!

It even made up for Saturday, when I spent most of the day doing some overtime for work (interrupted once by fending off another cheeky fox in the back garden).