March madness

March has been an extraordinarily busy month for us–hence the lack of postings, reviews, et al. First we had Julian up from Down South for a long weekend; then Kenny came to stay for a short week before he bounced off on his tour of Europe; and now we’re in the middle of Susan’s two-week visit to see her new granddaughter. At the start of the month, Penicuik enclosed and glazed our porch, and Abi spent a lot of time and effort tiling it and putting up a coatrack, a new house number plate, and a doorbell. Alex decided that the coming of spring heralded the era of the Potty, and has been peeing like a big boy and wearing big boy underwear for a week now. Still a bit anxious about the poo, though. (I’ll leave you to guess how much fun that is. The question of how much negative reinforcement to apply is also a difficult one.) And I’m still working a full 40 hour week some distance away. (Aww, diddums.)

(Actually, the 40 hour week is more than I have done for about three years. After Alex was born in 2001, I was working a four-day week at Cedalion. At the ill-fated Tribune I was working five days, but the days were 7 hours, and the commute was a 15-minute bike ride. I can’t say that I’m happy about giving up part-time work. Everyone has their own comfort zone in the time-money continuum, and I feel like I’m out of mine right now.)

So anyway: most of my spare time right now goes into parenting. I’ve cut out a lot of dead weight from my RSS subscriptions, but I still can’t even keep up-to-date with reading my favourite sites. The idea behind my new Alphasmart is that it will allow me to wring the odd paragraph out of the tiny niches of time scattered throughout my day. (The fact that it has enormous geek toy value has nothing to do with it, of course.) March is a write-off, though. Maybe in April….

Oh yeah, and I’ve joined a gym. I’ve put on all the weight I lost during last year’s diet, and then some. Solution: eat less, and get more exercise. Screw Atkins. Been there, still have the psychic scars from the bread deprivation. Just getting removing all the gratuitous chocolate from my daily intake is going to shave a substantial number of calories from my weekly intake.

(“Gratuitous” chocolate: the Kit-Kats, Snickers, Rolos, Toblerones, etc. that just happen to fall into my shopping basket at the newsagent, supermarket, or sandwich shop. Sometimes they even jump right out vending machines into my surprised arms. Imagine that! Gratuitous chocolate is different than “Planned” chocolate, which covers the use of chocolate in home baked cakes and cookies, desserts at restaurants, and munchies at the cinema. I trust that all you chocoholics are with me on this distinction.)

Still, exercise is needed, and cycling to the cinema with Alex once a week isn’t going to cut it. I can’t see myself using the gym much more than once or twice a week, but they also do Tae Kwan Do classes. I’ve fancied giving TKD a go for some time, and attending a class might encourage me into a proper routine. We’ll see how it goes.

After swearing blind last year that I would never use Mozilla Mail again, I find myself in the process of migrating to the Thunderbird mail client. It’s clean, tidy, and fast. Outlook was starting to feel all big and bloaty and slooooow to start up. But a lot of applications are doing that right now, so it’s probably time to rebuild my computer again. Especially as I’ve only got about 1.5GB left on my 80GB main drive, and 2.5GB on the 80GB backup drive. It’s a good thing that you can pick up a 250GB drive for under £150 these days. And seeing as the only practical way to back up a 250GB hard disk is another 250GB hard disk, I find myself trembling with geeky joy at the thought that pretty soon I might be running my PC with half a Terabyte of storage under the hood.

“More than a single person will even need,” yada yada. It’ll probably last me a year, tops. (Hello Virtual Machines!)

Oh, you want some photos, too?

Alex and Martin at the Falkirk Wheel

Alex and Martin in Murthly

Bedtime now.

The Kangaroo Song

When I put Alex to bed, I read him a story, then we turn out the light (he blows it out) and sing a few songs. My repertoire of kids’ songs is relatively limited, though, and Alex regularly asks for stuff I’ve never heard of.

“Have the…zoom zoom song!”

“What’s the zoom zoom song, Alex?”

“Zoom zoom song!”

“I don’t know that one. Can you sing it for me?”


Riiight. So, racking my brains for new material, a month or so ago I remembered the classic Rolf Harris song, “Tie me kangaroo down sport.” Or rather, I remembered the chorus, which goes:”

Tie me kangaroo down, sport,
Tie me kangaroo down.
Tie me kangaroo down, sport,
Tie me kangaroo down.

Rolf Harris, for those of you who didn’t grow up in the UK, is an Australian entertainer who has been hosting TV shows, making music, producing some fabulous art, and generally being an all round nice chap for over fifty years. “Tie me kangaroo down sport” was a hit in 1960, and has become one of those cultural points of reference in modern Britain, along with Rolf’s famous catch phrase, “Can you guess what it is yet?”

The best of Rolf HarrisNeedless to say, Alex loved the catchy melody and sing-a-long-ness of the refrain. Despite me not knowing any more than those four lines, he insisted that I sing it over and over again. I liked having something new to sing, but I wished that I knew more of the lyrics. I could have used this new-fangled interweb thingie, of course, but by sheer coincidence I ran across a copy of “The Best Of Rolf Harris” in the line for the checkout at our local Sainsbury’s just a few days later. Bonzer!

Okay, so it’s not quite my usual listening material, but I bought it mainly for Alex, and he enjoys it. The Kangaroo Song is actually quite an amusing little ditty, and one I would recommend to any parent of small children. “Sun Arise,” which I used to think was irretrievably naff, I now find rather pretty and evocative. The last track on the CD is Rolf’s rendition of “Waltzing Matilda”, and he does an excellent job of that, too. The rest of the CD has its ups and downs, but on the whole it was five pounds well spent.

I was interested to find that I can’t listen to “Two Little Boys” without crying, though. It is regularly derided as one of the crappest songs in musical history, but it still gives me a lump in my throat and an ache in my heart. Call me sentimental, but I think it’s a beautiful expression of love, and of the fear of losing someone so close to you. I get the same way over Glen Phillips’s “Darkest Hour“. I can’t listen to it without tears, either.

Being a parent does mushy things to your head.

Gadget Fever

Oh, how we love it when the pound is so strong against the dollar! Suddenly all those cool electronic gadgets seem terribly affordable. It’s a shame that many US retailers won’t ship electronics to the UK any more (hi, Amazon!), but that’s where usefully placed family on the other side of the pond comes in.

Alphasmart DanaIn a week and a bit, our personal courier (hi, Susan!) will be bringing us some cool new toys. Abi has bought herself a new Garmin eTrex GPS receiver, and I’m going to be getting the Alphasmart Dana I have long been lusting after. The wireless one. Oh yes. It will be mine.

I have also been musing over the vexed iPod question. I would love an iPod. They’re gorgeous, and they are designed to go with iTunes, which is what I use to play music on my desktop. On the other hand, they don’t have an FM radio. And based on my past experience, portable music devices that don’t have a radio built in find themselves languishing under a pile of papers at the back of my desk. All aesthetic considerations aside (that high pitched sound you hear is my aesthetic sense whining in shame), FM radio is a deal breaker for me.

Out of the alternatives, the iRiver iHP 120 (or 140) looks rather spiffy. It acts as a simple external USB hard drive, it can record direct to MP3 from optical line in, and it has a Lithium-Polymer battery (the iPod uses Lithium-Ion) that by most accounts provides well over ten hours of playback. And it has radio. And it’s cheaper than an iPod. The downside is that it doesn’t have the groovy iTunes integration, so I’d have to do lots of manual file and playlist shuffling.

On the other hand, I’ve just managed to secure a car parking space near where I’ll be working for the next two months, so I’ll be driving my commute instead of taking the bus. That means I won’t need a portable music player for a while, so I think I’ll hold off for the moment. (Besides, economic forecasts suggest that the pound is going to stay strong against the dollar for a while yet.)

But still…new toys! Woo!

Just surfacing

If it seems like I’ve been awfully quiet of late, well, it’s because I’m currently working on a full-time contract about an hour’s commute away. Combined with the demands of a toddler and a four-week old infant, that just doesn’t leave much time for anything else. My previous entry (favourite TV series) may look relatively coherent, but it was actually cobbled together from fifteen minute chunks of time here and there over the last fortnight.

If I owe you an email, you can probably expect it, oh, around Christmastime.

Favourite TV series

Sara’s comment on my Farscape entry the other day set me thinking. Does Farscape feature in my top 5 all time television series? What are my top 5 (or 10)? I’ve produced lists of my favourite films, albums, and videogames, but top TV shows is not a list I’ve ever given much thought to. (Some day I’ll need to put together a list of my favourite books, too, but that’s going to be really difficult.)

Continue reading “Favourite TV series”