Posts tagged ‘family’

Amongst my father’s stuff I found the beginnings of an autobiography. It’s disjointed as hell, and probably of no interest to anyone who isn’t in the family. For them, I may end up copying it out.

But the thing that caught my eye was the list of topics yet to cover… Read the rest of this entry »

Are you ready for the next thrilling instalment of the SodiumLights whirlwind tour of Kiwiland…?

Day three and we’re leaving Auckland for the coastal town of New Plymouth. This news amuses some who tell us that no-one goes to New Plymouth…

For the sake of my sanity (I’m currently fighting a migraine that started while I was in New Zealand 4 weeks ago) we’ll break this into three parts. Each part is more exciting than the last. Well, each part has more photographs than the previous one. Read the rest of this entry »

First up, lets all just say “Woo! Isn’t that impressive!”.

View larger map

If, of course, you don’t think it’s impressive, don’t bother. I’ve already said “Woo!” enough times to make up for you unimpressed types.

Right, moving on…

For reasons most (all) would associate with masochism, we decided to go play in the traffic again. Specifically, since every country claims that its roads grind to a halt, we decided to go play in rush hour traffic. Read the rest of this entry »

So, I’ve largely recovered from the flight, and I have an OU textbook to avoid. What better time to start the holiday memories…?

We flew out from Birmingham International on Saturday night. We landed in Dubai Sunday morning, and took off two hours later for Brisbane. An hour layover and we’re on again, this time to Auckland. It’s nearly 30 hours later, we’ve had about 4 hours sleep and it’s now lunchtime Monday. The brain is no longer working.

Auckland Airport is a marvellous thing. Sure, Dubai terminal 3 is a magnificent structural phenomenon, with walls of glass and two Oases, but Auckland is full of Kiwis. Somehow it’s completely alien and completely at home. I mean, we step off the plane straight into an immigration queue – but it’s efficient. It’s like the twilight zone.

The various officials are happy too. Back in Australia the security staff all looked like they’d had exceptionally bad news and were waiting to take it out on someone (and later on in Birmingham we’d walk into a world full of automatons) but here the immigration guys joked with us about what we were doing. The biosecurity lass was even cooler – we ticked just about all the red boxes we could find on the biosecurity form (food, plant matter, hiking boots, animal contact, living on a farm, smuggling wood, liking Marmite) and she cheerfully worked down the list before telling us that we could go on our way. Read the rest of this entry »

I was thinking about how adults say things they don’t mean, and how they confuse little kids…

Many moons ago, when I was about five or six years old (beds were made with sheets and blankets; my grandmother still had all her marbles; and the Model T was still in production) my grandmother came up to tuck me in to bed.

As part of the tucking in process, she pulled the blankets up said “you’ll catch your death if you don’t have your shoulders covered”.

I spent the next few years terrified to go to sleep, certain in the knowledge that I’d die if my ‘soldjers’ weren’t always covered…

Jan 2010

Cassoulet is a wonderful thing. It’s a beautifully simple and tasty French dish that reminds me of family holidays in Frejus. Unfortunately it’s not a pretty dish. The might that is flickr can’t take a nice picture of it. It’s not surprising, since it’s basically beans and fatty meat in a tomato sauce. It’s like posh sausage and beans…

I don’t think I’ve ever made two batches that are the same. It’s beans, meat and sauce after all. So… here’s the one that we just spent the last two days eating…

  • 1 x 5.5 litre slow cooker
  • A huuuge number of beans. Traditionally Haricot beans but the ones we get in the UK are tiny, so…
    • 3 x tins Butter beans (Lima beans?), 260g drained
    • 2 x tins Haricot beans, 290g drained
    • 1 x tins Black beans, 260g drained
  • A crapload of meat, preferably fatty. Confit of duck is traditional but expensive, so…
    • 200g paprika spiced sausages (not an air dried Chorizo, but a fresh Chorizo or Merguez type)
    • 700g pork belly rashers
    • 2 big duck breasts (gresingham duck ftw)
  • Then some tomato type sauce
    • 2 x 400g tins of tomatoes
    • 4 x tbsp tomato puree
    • 1/2 litre of vegetable stock
    • couple of glasses of wine (red, white, whatever… I tend to use cheap port actually…)
    • couple of teaspoons of paprika (I heart La Chinata smoked paprika)
    • two bundles of bouquet garni
    • a couple of bay leaves


Brown the sausages. Cut them into 2 inch lengths.

Fry the belly slices fat side down ’til it crisps up a bit, then seal the sides. Cut into 2 inch lengths.

Fry the duck, fat side down ’til it crisps, then seal the sides and cut into 3/4 inch thick slices.

Throw it all into the slow cooker.

Wash all the beans in fresh water. Throw them into the slow cooker.

Take all the sauce items and throw then in too.

Go to bed.

When you wake up, go to the bathroom, get dressed, turn on the slow cooker, go to work.

Come home with a stick of French bread and eat it with hot cassoulet.

Dec 2009
Christmas Photos

I took my big camera with me to Christmas dinner. I got a new lens for Christmas. I took no photos.

These were the 27th, and the only photos I liked from a twenty minute session and nearly 60 photos…

Dec 2009
All change…

It was only a matter of time.

Back on 18th November, my grandmother died – less than 10 months after my grandfather. I’m not the oldest member of our branch of this rather depressing little tree.

There’s my wife and me (who aren’t planning on having kids), my brother is rapidly approaching 30 and yet to settle. Both our parents were single children – mum through adoption. It’s hardly a thicket we’re discussing here.

Going back up the family name, my grandfather’s only brother died during WWII without having kids, and I think their father was the only boy in the family. Our little branch of a relatively rare surname (50 entries in the UK phonebooks) look like it lies just on our shoulders.

Our plans have to change too… there’s no way I can afford to take on the half million pound house that I grew up in, so it’s getting sold off.

One way or another, everything has changed in the last fortnight…

It’s strange to think, but Jean and I have been married 6 years today. And we’ve been together 10. That’s a third of our lives, near as damnit (I’m 32, she’s 28).

Today was a good day.

The cats levered us out of bed just before lunch, demands for breakfast merging with demands for the lunchtime meal that they never get.

For lunch we went off to the incredible King William pub in Heydon. It’s a pub embedded firmly in the past (even it’s website is lingering in the mid 90s). It’s exactly as it was when I first went there 15 years ago – the gloom in the in entrance hall, the beams threatening to brain me, the horse brasses on every wall, the hanging tables and the huge fireplace. The menu is the same too…

I know how dull it is to listen to someone else’s food choices, but this was beyond all descriptions… Beef sashimi with chilli jam; local sausages with bubble and squeak; and a jaffa cake bread and butter pudding. I’ve possibly never eaten any better.

Bread and butter pudding is traditionally a thick stodgy mess or carbs and fat. This horrifically rich sounding version was actually the lightest bread and butter pudding I’ve ever had, almost having the texture of a light but rich moist cake.

And by god, it’s perfect weather for a pint of Adnam’s Bitter to go with it all.

Then over to Wood Green at Heydon to be tempted by cats looking for a home. I can’t say enough good things about Wood Green – they’re everything that the RSPCA should be, but aren’t. They ignore the politics that the RSPCA has embraced, and instead dedicate their time to looking after animals. They went even higher in my estimation when I discovered that they never put down an animal just because they can’t rehome it. They have one pair there who have lived with them for over seven years. They got our yearly anniversary gift this year…

Then, this evening, we travelled in to Cambridge to watch “Cloudy with a chance of meatballs” – a truly wonderful film – and to eat ice cream for dinner.

Who needs to be a grown up…?

Jun 2009
Fete worth than death

Tomorrow is the day when the village I’m planning to move in to gets together and tries to earn money to stop the village hall from falling down.

Everyone gets together at The Chase, or the farm, or the house that is still known by the surname of the old lady who died 20 years ago, and they eat cream teas made with Tesco Value jam, and play those strange games that you only ever see at this level of fund raising event – tombolas and raffles; guess the name of the teddy and the weight of the cake; get as few points as possible at clock golf or as many as possible at pig bowling on a lawn that resembles the Himalayas. And I know that I will both love it and hate it.

I’ve lived there, on and off, for 15 years, yet I know that I’m still considered a new comer. In all that time, just one house has been built, and that was for the old farm manager not an outsider. I’ll go to the fete and know that barely half a dozen people will recognise and acknowledge me – and one of those will think I’m my brother.

Yet still, I’ll enjoy it in that way where you don’t really enjoy anything. It’s a sign that the village still cares about itself and is still small enough that everyone feels that they need to take part. Hell, I know that by next year I’ll be conned into running a stall of some kind – the ultimate sacrifice since it means you can’t bugger off when it gets tedious.

But I’ll be there – just like I’ve been there every year since 1987.

Yet, if I’m honest, one of the reasons I love it so much is that it lets me replay my old “Fete worse than death” joke. It’s hardly an original joke, but it’s one that appeared spontaneously many years ago and has remained a family joke ever since. I don’t recall who first made the joke either. It has a certain dark depressing cynical word play that could well be my doing. But that’s hardly unique in my family.

Yet, despite not being original, it always raises a smile, and it always seems to be new to someone.

There’s just one rule… don’t let anyone in the village hear you call it that…

Apr 2009
Beating the lawyers

Before he died, my grandfather decided to write his autobiography. Sadly, not much of it made it onto a computer and I now have sheets of barely legible scrawl to work my way through. I’ve just found an absolute gem… Before you read on, remember that my grandfather was the head of what was to become the National Archives…

I learnt to get my own back on the nit picking lawyers by throwing back at them some of my own mischievous legal concerns. My best one was to argue that s5 of the PRAct of 1958 did not create a right for members of the public to see documents which were more than 50 years old (the 30 year rule came later). I argued that the act said that “public records in the PRO [...] shall not be available until they have been in existence for fifty years [...]“. I contested that this did not say that such records must be made available. The Lord Chancellor agreed with me; and I was happy to agree that unless challenged we would ignore this bit of bad drafting.

I was also concerned about the definition of “records selected for preservation [...] shall be transferred not later than 30 years after their creation” when I discovered that two or three departments, including the Press Office, would simply create a minute, date is just before the last paper turned 30 years old, thus keeping the file from the PRO for another 30 years. This was not sloppy drafting, but merely a lack of understanding of [unclear word] procedures when senior officials wanted to keep files closed. This teased my lawyer friends, but I did [unclear word] departments to avoid this function (I expect the result was simply to shred such files and register them as ‘missing’).

Tomorrow will be the 12th of April. He would have been 88 years old.

It’s hard to think that he’s not here any more. I don’t think about him often, but when I do it hurts me so hard. It’ll be strange reasons too. I’ll discover a great recipe that I want to cook for him, or I’ll be told a cool joke. Or I’ll have a choice to make and I’ll know that he would have known the answer…

This branch of the family line is now down to Steven and myself. And since GB and I have decided not to have kids, it’s all down to Steven. God, we’re fucked…

Feb 2009
All change

Holy fuck… where do I start? I’ve been kind of awol the past few weeks.

My grandfather’s pancreatic cancer finally caught up with him and he died back on the 29th.

I spent the last three weeks on part hours, working in the mornings and then spending the afternoons trying to sort his things out. We threw out twenty or thirty bags of scrap clothes. We gave away another 15 or so to charity shops and hospitals. We’ve cleared the loft of crap and we’ve sorted a lot of stuff from the cupboards but we’ve still got a pile of banks, trusts, charities and associations I need to talk to about his death.

Granny is now in a home – a great place near to her house where the nurses look after her beautifully. She doesn’t have any idea who I am. Hell, I’m not sure she knows who she is.

We had a cremation service for him on Friday 13th. It was sad to see so few people there, but most of the people he knew from work are in their 80s and live in the London area. It was never going to happen. Family were there, as were the village. It was a nice service, even if we weren’t able to have the music we wanted (stupid virus precautions).

We opened up the village hall and invited everyone down for booze and pizza. It was good not to have a normal reception but to have a bit of a party. He was a good man who deserved to be celebrated not mourned.

Monday we went down to London, the horrible smelly people filled city that I hate so much. A wonderful woman from Kings College showed us around the old PRO site at Chancery Lane. It was a trip that we’d arranged for me and my grandfather. She happily showed my brother and I around instead. It was a shame that he couldn’t make it with us. He’d have liked it down there. The building has changed a lot since his time, but they’ve been sympathetic to the building at the same time. They’ve kept several of the old ‘cells’ with their metal frames and slate shelves. When they stripped out the rest of the cells they reused the slate shelves to put features around the lift doors.

Next stop was the National Archives. In comparison it’s a horrible 70s abomination. It looks like a brutalist concrete car park with some library/call-centre hybrid inside it. The only upside to the entire building was a decorative edging in the walkway up to the building – made from slate slabs the size of a bookshelf. A nice touch that would have been completely lost on all but a very small handful of other people.

Today (well, Tuesday, since it’s now after midnight) we buried his ashes. It went perfectly according to plan, apart from the fact the vicar didn’t turn up and we had to reschedule for 3 hours later.

I realised something scary though. I’m the oldest male in the family. I’m the oldest sane person in the family. So what, you may ask. I asked the same thing. Until I realised that people have started looking to me for a little leadership. That’s fucking scary.

The other scary thing is that I’ve just spent more time talking about bookshelves than my grandfather’s death.

They’ll be writing an official obit for The Times. Maybe I’ll post a link to it – they’ll describe his life so much better than I can right now.

Jan 2009
no words


My grandfather died this morning, 20 minutes after I arrived in a manic dash. It sounds cliched but it was peaceful. I had to go fetch a nurse to confirm he had gone. She was halfway through drawing up a new medication package for him.

Then I visited my grandmother. She’s as gaga as we’d all expect. I was about to explain the situation to her when my back went. Apparently my spine stiffened and my muscles braced to protect it. When I leapt up to intercept a nurse before she spoilt the surprise I pulled and tore the muscles.

One emergency trip to the osteopath and I’m back up, doped up on codeine and wearing a very fetching weightlifters type belt thing.

All in all, it’s not been a great day.

Still… it could have been worse. I could have done to that Focus ST driver what I wanted to when he blocked the motorway then accellerated when I tried to pass him on the left…

Jan 2009

Well… He’s getting worse. Every day he’s slightly less alert, slightly less able to talk to you, slightly higher dose of pain killers.

It’s becoming more and more obvious that he’s not coming home.

Which means that he can’t move house. And I can’t sell it, but it needs to be around until my grandmother croaks. Which means I might be about to move house.

Yeah… my grandfather is dying and I’m getting stressed about the idea of moving house. It’s great the way your mind works, isn’t it…?

Jan 2009

Nurse : “I thought you’d like to know, the bear’s t-shirt is missing because I washed it. It’s hanging on the radiator next to Granny’s bed.”
T42 : “Ah thank you. I’ve washed the pink dog and put it in her bedside cabinet. If you could swap them by the weekend, I’ll take the bear home and wash it. If you can do it overnight hopefully she won’t notice.”
Granny : “No, she never pays attention to anything. She won’t notice.”

Nurse goes off to have giggles fit.

She’s doing well… she called me Granny, Daddy, Mummy and Uncle. We had an argument about whether her ‘Daddy’ was male or female.

We also had a wonderfully playful bickering session about tickling. My argument being that if she tickles me, I’m entitled to tickle her back…

Dec 2008
Food is for wimps

I’m not enjoying this week.

Today i woke up with toothache, earache, sore throat (why doesn’t the throat deserve an ‘ache’?) and a hacking cough. I decided to spend the morning carving the feet needed to level off our sideboard and the new fishtank. At twelve I turned off my PC and gave up on that plan. Decided to have breakfast.

By half one I was down in Letchworth. I witnessed the funniest carpark argument I’ve ever seen, but which I can’t even begin to do justice to without about a dozen toy cars, some masking tape, half a dozen bemused pedestrians and a a woman terrified by her own car. Wandered around, discovered that the shops I wanted had closed. Realised I still needed to have breakfast.

By half two I was at the hospital visiting Granny. I spent an hour just sitting next to her, my arm across the back of her chair while she pointed at the Christmas tree, held my hand, tried to hide biscuits in pockets she doesn’t have and occasionally answered rhetorical questions asked by the guy on the TV program everyone else was watching. No idea when she’s escaping. The social workers can’t get their act in gear until the 30th, and even then it depends on when they can find a nursing placement or enough gadgetry to turn her house into a warehouse. They want us to choose the ‘home’ option. Realised that breakfast was probably a lost cause and wondered about lunch.

By half four I was at a different hospital visiting Pop. He was still in the assessment ward when I got there, but he was sleeping so I settled down to play games on my phone. They wanted to discharge him today, but the consultant discovered that he lives alone and has refused to discharge him until they can get a social consult to put together a care package. No-one knows what this actually means, other than that it won’t happen until at least Monday. Yes, after xmas. By the time I got around to leaving I realised the flaw in my plan was putting a time-descriptive label on the food I wasn’t buying. Solved the problem by buying biscuits and red bull.

I timed the drive home tonight. The traffic was about what it had been on Sunday afternoon and it took 45 minutes. On Sunday it took me just under 30 minutes. It would appear I still know how to drive quickly. Some day I’ll discover just how badly the experience scarred/scared Jean. I only undertook 2 vehicles. I only broke one speed limit by more than 40mph and that was by accident during an overtake. Strangely, When I checked my heartrate against a track on the radio, I discovered that my heartrate was actually lower than normal. Interestingly (and possibly because the Police often use Skoda Octavias round here) twice I had people see me coming up behind them at high speed and pulled over to the side of the road to let me go past.

EDIT : I realised afterwards that this post makes me look like an idiot driver. There are people who would say I was, but on Sunday I got a phone call from Pop to say he’d made it to the phone after 5 hours on the floor. Somehow obeying the rules of the road weren’t top of my list of things to do…

I’ve wrapped all my xmas pressies. And all of ours. And all of Steven’s. And all of Pop’s. I then realised that I’d not labelled any of them. Thankfully I dicided that wrapping each cd/dvd/book/whatever seperately was a stupid idea, so each ‘cluster’ of gifts was a different shape. I then managed to trap the sellotape inside Granny’s present.

Since I refuse to wrap xmas presents on xmas eve, the 23rd was officially 2 hours longer today. This means that the 24th should be 2 hours shorter. This is, obviously, not on. So I’m rolling this on until we get to the 27th. I think we can all cope with 2 hours less of the 27th. It just means that I’ll be spending the next few days in the “Mid-Atlantic” timezone. No idea what that means… Ascention Islands probably…

I have 4 minutes of laptop battery left. Time to stop talking crap and go to bed…

Nov 2008

Something just occurred to me.

My father’s death didn’t effect me. It really didn’t. I mirrored other people’s emotions a little, feeling shitty because they did, but I felt very little myself.

The reasons for this are many and varied, but there were two important factors…

Firstly, he and I hadn’t been getting on for some time. A little while before he died I discovered he’d written a will that stated that I’d only get some of his worldly wealth if he and I were on good terms when he died. I believe I reacted to this news by sending him a text saying he could stick his will up his arse. You can imagine how well that went down.

Secondly – he died in France. He pissed off without telling me, spent a week away without me noticing, and basically never came back. I never saw his body. I never saw him going down hill – I just never saw him again. It’s a common enough experience in my life that it doesn’t jar. People I consider close friends (like Scott or Stacy) I just simply don’t speak to for months or years at a time. I’m asocial. I just don’t do interaction. I’m happy when I get into a social situation, but I don’t go looking for it.

Now, remember those two factors. And then look at Granny and Pop. A couple who were the parents I didn’t have. The two I love with all my heart, and I see them both on a regular basis. I watch them failing and falling apart.

I fed granny last night. I had to do the “big aeroplane” thing to get spoonfuls of banana and icecream into her mouth. When I arrived she had her ‘sippy cup’ twisted round by 180 degrees, so that when she tipped it up to get the mouthpiece in her mouth the tea poured out of the vent. They look after her there, but they quite simply can’t do 1 on 1 care there.


Nov 2008
I am NOT drunk…!

Me : “Are you drunk…?”
GB : “No…”
Me : “what’s 2 times 2?”
GB : “4″
Me : “what’s five fives?”
GB : “…twenty five”
Me : “What about eleven elevens?”
GB : “132!”
Me : “What’s eleven elevens?”
GB : “…132?”
Me : “Eleven elevens…?”
GB : “…122!”
Me : “… eleven elevens…?”
GB : “it’s 122! I’m NOT drunk!”
Me : “what’s ten elevens?”
GB : “110!”
Me : “what’s eleven elevens?”
GB : “It’s one hundred and twen… SHUT UP!”
Me : “drunky, drunky, drunkard!”

Nov 2008
Is the end nigh?

Life has been getting interesting recently.

Granny is in hospital after she broke her hip. Every time they put her in a chair for her meals she stands up then falls over. She’s now (I believe) as medically fit as they can get her, but she has to stay there until a rehab position appears for her. This could be 15 minutes from here. It could also be over an hour away.

The problem with rehab is that it need her to behave, to do as the physios tell her and to exercise. She doesn’t do any of these. She spends her time rubbing her wounds and calling out for her mummy, daddy, uncle or baby. When I saw her yesterday she didn’t know who I or TPS were.

Pop has finally started showing signs of his illness. 18 months after he was told he had 3 months to live, he’s started turning yellow. It looks like his pancreas is finally giving in. Equally it could just be that a narrowing had got clogged by slow moving, and the bloody minded git will last another 10 years.

Worryingly, he’s visibly deteriorating since Granny has gone into hospital. It’s quite possible that his bloody mindedness has been there to look after Granny. For the first time ever he told me he thinks she’ll be able to survivie in a hospital without him. That’s not good.

So… I have a funny feeling that within 6 months the family may be down to just me and TPS…