A Summer of Song and Laughter

There was a moment this afternoon, while our house was filled with fourteen year old girls, that I couldn’t help smiling – even though they were thundering up and down the stairs like a herd of elephants, shouting conversations to each other, and had taken over the living room for the better part of the afternoon.

While most teenagers are written off as social media junkies that gaze into their phones for hours on end like soporific zombies, these were doing anything but. For an hour they played various versions of hide-and-seek throughout the house.

I wondered both if this is the summer we have in store (they all broke up from school on Friday), or if this was a one-off throwback to years gone by, before relationships, hair, and clothes dominate everything they do, say, and even think.

While making a coffee in the kitchen, I blocked my ears from a really very dreadful rendition of one of the songs from The Greatest Showman that was coming from the lounge. I screwed my face up as I looked through the doorway, and was met with cackles of laughter from the collection of girls strewn across the sofas and the floor.

I can’t help feeling that I’m outnumbered.

The Online Friendship Dilemma

We empty our heads into the keyboard, or share brief moments in photos and videos, and often come to know each other better than those that surround us in the real world.

And yet we surround ourselves with lines – with walls – with rules.

We see a photo of somebody feeling good about themselves, and wish we could tell them, but we keep quiet because we don’t want them or anybody else to think we’re hitting on them.

We read a story about somebody going through a difficult time and wish we could be there to help share their burden – but then we become overly cautious because we don’t want them or anybody else to think we’re exploiting them at a vulnerable moment.

Maybe we overthink everything. Maybe nobody is watching every move we make. But maybe everybody overthinks everything – and everybody is watching – and maybe that thought explains why the internet seems like such a barren ghost-town at times.

We are all out here – we haven’t gone away – we’re just all watching our backs, rather than taking any chances. I think that’s a shame.

The Climb

After a pretty spectacular falling down episode last night, I agreed to meet our eldest daughter for lunch today – to provide her an escape from work for half an hour. We’re not entirely sure why such an escape is needed, but when you’re trying to put somebody that doesn’t appear to be in pieces back together again, you’re kind of willing to try anything – or at least I am.

There is only one problem with visiting my daughter at lunchtime – a mini version of a Tour de France mountain stage to reach her. I cycle to work – the office is next to the river in the bottom of a beautiful country estate. Also, my bicycle is somewhat simplistic – it has no gears – meaning that I have no gears to change down through when faced with hills. In true murphy’s law fashion, my daughter works just outside of town – a mile of steep climb winding through the estate. Add driving rain and wind today, and you’re starting to get some sort of mental picture.

The first few hundred yards weren’t too bad – my legs vaguely remembered the days when I used to go out training on a bike, and put some considerable power down. Unfortunately after half a mile of continual climb, lactic acid, and lack of talent kicked in – reducing me to a pathetic crawl.

I made it though.

After continuing on for half a mile, I spotted my daughter standing near a bus shelter – her hood up, hiding under a tree from the really quite ridiculous rain.

When we arranged meeting up, I had thought we might sit in the sunshine and enjoy a picnic together. Reality reduced us to standing under a copse of trees, eating wraps from the supermarket while squinting up at the bows above – wondering where best to stand – not that it would have made much difference to me by that stage.

Sitting and writing this nearly twelve hours later, I’m wondering if my legs have forgiven me yet. The thought has occurred to me that if this becomes a regular thing, I might actually become fit again – or fitter than I am at the moment at least. Years ago I used to make time to run two or three times a week – mostly because it was free. Maybe I should try and get back to that – you know, along with reading books, watching movies, writing, and all the other things I keep promising to make time for.

The Struggle is Real

I’m beginning to wonder when life will give me a break. While projects at work loom over me like an avalanche waiting to happen, the parenting adventure threatens to tunnel underneath me, and cause the ground I’m standing on to fall in at any moment.

I wonder how some people do it – how they manage to live such seemingly “together” lives. Life seems to be an endless struggle for us – often so busy holding each other up that we lose sight of ourselves – sometimes for months at a time.

While wandering through the office at work this afternoon, I started wondering what the point of everything is. We strive to learn, to experience, to collect, to connect, and to curate things our entire lives – and then suddenly we are gone. What purpose does all that effort really serve?

And no, I’m not turning into a nihilist. I’m just wondering out-loud.

Many people seem to be driven in some way – by all sorts of things. Money, fame, friendship, knowledge – most people seem to have something – but then some people don’t seem to have much of anything. Maybe they’re just good at keeping quiet about whatever their thing is.

Some people never seem to have enough of whatever they seek, and others seem content with what they have. How does that work? What causes some people to stop, and others to continue on? Is it so wrong to just drift along and find out what happens next?

Going Around in Circles

I’ve returned photos to the WordPress incarnation of my blog. If nothing else, they brighten it up a bit. Publishing purely textual posts becomes awfully repetitive after a while. I’m hoping that I might use the photos as an inspiration of sorts – on the days when I don’t think I have much to contribute, I’ll look at the front page of the various stock photo sites and see what comes to mind. It’s probably no better than daubing my face with facepaint and throwing pieces of bone on the ground, but it’s better than nothing.

I often think of things to write about while I’m out and about – and of course never have a notebook in my pocket to write them down. By the time I return to a computer, the thought has either completely gone, or diluted so much that the incredibly important rambling opinion piece I might have written is reduced to a footnote on the end of yet another post about blogging.

And yes, I know I’ve told myself not to write about writing. It’s kind of recursive, isn’t it. Writing about writing. And now I’m writing about writing about writing. I could point out that the last sentence was writing about writing about writing about writing, but it all gets a bit silly. Welcome to the mind of a software developer.

On about software development, I heard an awful joke the other day. I’ll preface it by saying that I’m going to explain it, which will kill the joke even if you get it.

“A man went to the grocery store on his way home from work. While there, his other half called, and said ‘While you are there, can you get some bananas?’. He never returned home”.

Did you get it? I’ll explain. It’s all about the word “while”. The condition on a while loop in programming specifies the exit condition. After getting the bananas, the man is still in the shop, so he gets some more bananas, then he gets some more, and so on.

I told you it was an awful joke.

What’s it all about ?

I’m sitting in the dark of the junk room at home, the soft glow of the computer screen lighting my fingers as they dance over the keyboard. I sat down to write a blog post an hour ago, and don’t have anything to show for it.

Sometimes I look back at the trail of blog posts that stretch into the distant past, and wonder how I came to write them all – how I kept going – emptying my head – day after day – week after week – month after month.

I wonder what future generations will do with my words? Will they be printed and kept, or will they vanish into the ether as the various online accounts they reside in expire ?

Will these words endure, or will they quietly drift away ?

What Happened to the Weekend ?

Douglas Adams once wrote “I love Deadlines – I like the whooshing sound as they fly by”. I’m starting to think the same way about weekends. Since finishing work on Friday evening the entire weekend seems to have been a marathon.

Saturday saw me accompany our middle girl to London for the day – a reward for doing well at school, and to cheer her up after the “no awards for girls rugby” scandal at her school sports awards evening. We set off early in the morning, and after connecting a number of trains, arrived in the heart of London a couple of hours later. Miss 15 busied herself with the Harry Potter game on her phone – catching no-end of baddies along the way. I read a book – the first time I have had to sit and read in weeks.

We visited “The Clink” (the famous London prison who’s name became slang for all prisons), the London Police museum, Forbidden Planet (the biggest comic book shop in the country), and M&M World. Along the way we also managed to fit in a “cheeky Nando’s” – if Nando’s doesn’t exist in your part of the world it’s a faux-south-american chain that serves expensive chicken and chips in a variety of dressed up arrangements. I had a chicken burger, and Miss 15 had wings. To be honest I was just glad we stumbled upon somewhere that had ANYTHING gluten free on the menu – while in Paddington station in the morning we searched for a snack in three cafes and two chain stores, and came up with nothing. Every substatial food-stuff they had was either based on wheat, or a wheat derivative.

We got home yesterday evening after logging something like twenty thousand steps during the day, and of course I walked into a wall of chores – because that’s what happens in a busy family – or at least mine.

This morning I was back up at 7, and shouted to my eldest. I had a shower, then put some coffee and bacon on, while waiting for her to appear. We bought tickets some time ago to visit “Hyper Japan” in the centre of London – an exhibition of food, music, culture, art, and everything else to do with Japan. I think this year marks the fourth time we have visited.

My other half dropped us at a nearby railway station in order to “life hack” an hour off the journey, and we found ourselves walking towards the entrance of Kensington Olympia by mid-morning. The next four hours were filled with an assault of on the senses – J-Pop, cosplayers, food, tourism promotions, sake (rice wine), more food, more J-Pop, Tokyo fashions, ridiculous toys, and anything else you might dream up.

After finally extracting Miss 18 (who had something of a strop because I’m not a billionaire, and neither is she), we trudged back towards the railway station, and I did my best to turn her mood around by filling her face with sushi. It sort of worked.

The train journey home was quiet. I checked my phone – another fifteen thousand steps. While 18 pretended to sleep to avoid talking to me, I checked my phone – and discovered a girl I used to work with had been at HyperJapan too. I kicked myself – she is one of the few people I’ve worked with over the years that I genuinely missed after she left.

Arriving home, I discovered the entirely predictable scene you might expect if a 14 and 15 year old have been left in charge all day (my other half went to visit her Mum). The washing machine had been on at some point, and left full of wet clothes. Another tub – of it’s previous contents – was left in the garden. An assorted collection of cups, glasses, and plates were littered around the kitchen worktops, even though the dishwasher was empty.

After hanging the washing out, and while crashing around in the kitchen, the kids arrived home – they had been to the garage to buy food for themselves – or rather, complete and utter junk. It’s amazing how children devolve the moment there is no parental input. They will wonder why their skin has erupted in spots tomorrow.

I’m looking at the clock, and figuring I have perhaps three hours of weekend left before work starts again. I’m trying not to think about work, given the vertical climb we face over the next few weeks. The bottle of sake I bought from HyperJapan may go some way towards helping with that.

Staggering Towards the Weekend

I started writing this post an hour go. I’m not quite sure where that hour went. Perhaps it had something to do with the bottle of wine I bought on the way home from work, and that is now almost empty in the fridge (in my defence, Miss 18 helped make it vanish). It had nothing to do with watching YouTube videos, getting sucked into a movie on Amazon Prime about the production of the Peter Gabriel album “So”, or playing chess on the internet, honest.

I’m home alone for a couple of hours. The younger girls are at a rugby club social in a nearby town, and our eldest is babysitting for friends that live nearby. I’m savouring the time to myself – tomorrow I have promised to escort Miss 15 to London for the day, and on Sunday I have tickets to “Hyper Japan” with Miss 18. Expect lots of photos to land on Instagram across the weekend.

The expedition with Miss 15 is a “cheer up” exercise. After being tasked with gathering “players player” votes from her school girls rugby team, we attended the annual school sporting awards last night, and discovered there was no award for players player in girls rugby. There were tears – lots of tears – and an entirely predictable sickie was thrown this morning.

We have something of a precedent set with throwing sickies – if any of the kids do it, all of their devices automatically get blocked from the internet for 24 hours. It happened to 15 this morning, just before I left for work. I stood in her bedroom doorway at 8am, and presented options – either I could write to the school and complain about the lack of any support for girls rugby – which would require Miss 15 to get up and go to school in order to avoid me looking like a numpty, or she stayed home and pretended to be ill, and I banned her from the internet.

She thought about if for a few seconds, and continued to pretend to be sick. I unplugged the television in the lounge before leaving the house, and hid the remote controls. Yes, I know – I’m horrible.

During our visit to London tomorrow we will hopefully make it to the Police museum. I’ve never been there before – it’s apparently connected to a library, and is something of a little-known secret. Ever since she was little, 15 has wanted to join the police – I’m feeling sorry for whoever is on-duty in the museum in advance, because they don’t know it yet, but their entire knowledge of policing is going to be put under the microscope tomorrow.

Last summer the local police force visited the green outside our house as part of a community out-reach initiative. After Miss 15 (14 at the time) gave the officer in charge a grilling for a couple of hours we wandered outside and rescued him. His first words to me were “your daughter’s knowledge of police work is frightening”.

Anyway. I need another coffee. I’m trying to reverse the effects of the half-bottle of wine I drank when I got in from work. I have an on/off relationship with wine – I like it if I’ve not had any for a few days or weeks, but then as soon as I’ve had perhaps two glasses I regret it, because I know it’s meddling with the workings of my head.

A Nocturnal Adventure

After making it to bed a little after midnight last night, I had just put my book down, turned the light out, put the phone on charge, and was drifting off to sleep when I heard noises from across the landing. Surely one of the children wasn’t still awake ?

A few moments later the bedroom door creaked open, and a finger poked my shoulder in the darkness.

“Yes?”

“George has brought something into my room.”

George is our enormous ginger cat – the last of three brothers – survivor of being run over, serial murderer of mice and birds, and muncher of spiders extraordinaire.

After scraping myself out of bed I followed Miss 14 across the landing to her room, and squinted at George – sitting in the middle of the room, fixated on a cupboard underneath the bed.

“It’s in there, I think.”

“Maybe we should just leave whatever it is to find it’s own way out? I’ll leave the door open, and we’ll let it escape on it’s own? Back into bed please…”

I returned to my own bed, and had a whispered conversation with my other half. We decided that Miss 14 probably wouldn’t sleep if she knew there was some poor creature hiding in her bedroom. A minute later I returned to find her hanging over the side of her bed, trying to find out what was hiding. George had lost interest and wandered off downstairs.

“Don’t do that – you might get bit” (I had no idea what might bite her, but it seemed like the right thing to say).

Over the course of the next few minutes I moved everything littered around her bedroom to a neat pile at one end, and then started retrieving items one at a time from the storage area beneath the bed. I started to wonder if there was anything hiding at all as we got down to an old running shoe, and a sandal. And suddenly there it was – the cutest little brown mouse you ever saw – perched on it’s bottom, ears like radar dishes, looking straight at me.

Miss 14 saw the mouse at the same moment I did, and let out the cutest “oh!” sound I’ve ever heard. It didn’t look injured at all, so god knows what the cat was doing, wandering round the house with it.

Next problem. How on earth do you go about catching a wide-awake, scared out of it’s mind mouse ? I left Miss 14 to keep an eye on it, and tiptoed downstairs in search of something. I didn’t have a clue what the something might be, or how we might use that something, but I looked for it.

I returned with a large plastic cake box – used to keep home baking projects fresh. By now Miss 14 was having a long conversation with the mouse, telling it how it was going to be fine, and that I was going to rescue it and set it free. I couldn’t help feeling the pressure mount – what if it ran into the pile of clothes at the end of the room? What if it ran through my legs ? What if it bit my fingers or toes ?

The mouse was quietly sitting on the corner of a sandal – so I hooked one end of the coat hangar I used earlier into the toe-strap, and slowly slid the shoe towards me – and towards the cake box. The mouse flinched, but stayed put on the shoe. I thought it was going to be easy after all. It’s funny how things have a habit of going wrong just as you think they might be easier than you thought.

Just as the mouse approached the cake box, it finally burst into action, and made a flying leap to freedom – landing precariously on the edge of the box, and hanging on by it’s tip-toes. More by luck than judgement, I intercepted it with the lid of the box, and captured my first ever mouse.

“Would you like to come and help release it?”

Miss 14 nodded with quite some enthusiasm. And that’s how we found ourselves standing in the garden in our pyjamas at nearly 1am – I opened the box and up-ended it on the grass in the darkness, and out fell our temporary prisoner. After a few stunned moments it vanished into the darkness of the garden at quite impressive speed.

When I woke Miss 14 for school this morning, she yawned, rubbed sleep from her eyes, and said “don’t forget to wash the cake box”…

Sideways

Today was one of those days where I tried valiantly to go forwards, but ended up going sideways, no matter how hard I tried. Have you ever had a day like that? I imagine it’s kind of like trying to swim to shore while caught in a rip-current.

Don’t get me wrong – I achieved a lot. I just didn’t achieve anything I set out to. That’s not to say the things I achieved weren’t useful of course. I’ll stop now because I’ve written “achieve” far too many times already.

This evening was a classic baton race between myself and my other half. While she made dinner for one of our daughters early, and then transported her to Hockey practice, I arrived as she left and made dinner for the rest of us. While asking how our children’s days had gone, Miss 14 volunteered that she would need to take dinner with her to school in the morning – on account of going on a school trip in the evening. So guess who walked into town after dinner to get groceries ?

The more observant among you may have noticed how often I seem to go grocery shopping. This has been a deliberate thing this year – rather than spend a small fortune on a car full of groceries ever other week or so, we are trying to only buy food as we need it – which hopefully means we don’t end up throwing anything away. It seems to be working so far.

Miss 14 and 18 accompanied me into town. At first I was glad of the company, but then realised that if they hadn’t been with me I might have made it to the supermarket and back in perhaps half the time. OH MY GOD they walk slowly. I also wouldn’t have been talked into visiting the boutique cafe behind the highstreet for coffee before returning home. While it was eye-wateringly expensive, I have to admit the coffee was good.

It’s now heading towards midnight, and I’m wondering where the rest of the evening went. Oh yes – I re-installed Elementary OS on both the old desktop computer, and the recycled laptop at home. I completely lost my shit with Windows 10 earlier, while waiting for a Windows Update to let me use my own damn computer. Deep breaths. I’ve left Windows in a partition on both machines – mostly so my other half can use it without setting fire to the computer, me, and anybody that gets in her way while printing something out that won’t print on her Chromebook. Don’t ask me why she prints things out – I have no idea – I haven’t printed anything out at home since about 2011.

Anyway. It’s getting late. Time to grab my book and head to bed. More of the same tomorrow.