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A guilty pleasure concluded

I read "The Deathly Hallows". What with the extended amount of travelling I've been doing recently, easy going, non-braintaxing reading is imperative. I must say, the usual moans apply - too long, needs editing, in some ways, the writing is clunky but she certainly pulled all the stops out. Swearing (alright, one word) and deaths all over the place. Why on earth are characters allowed to fall at the wayside like skittles, yet only one "bastard" in the whole book? Harry neatly sidesteps any sex (oh I'm sure that fan fiction makes up for that one  - shudder) and it did make me cry, I have to say - the bit with the stone, of course.

Worth reading? Almost certainly, if one accepts the limitations of genre and style, and accepts it (and the rest of the series) for what it is: a tremendously exciting book for young, white, middle class kids. Though in fairness, the text does not say that Ron or Hermione, or indeed, Harry, are actually white you'd be stretching the bounds of credulity a bit far to suggest that Rowling might be able to defend the book (which has 3 white kids on the cover) against that kind of thing. It's a cultural phenomenon, and a relatively harmless one.

As I say though: accept the limitations, and enjoy it for what it is. As I said the other week, any books that can grab young readers by the guts, and make them desperate to read the next one can't be all bad. How many other books can you remember this kind of fervour about? Queues at midnight outside Waterstones? Unheard of. Brilliant. And yes, I am sad to leave the Hogwarts alternative universe behind.

Mac sent a funny URL the other week with someone selling "Dumbledore was gay" t-shirts, and you can vertainly, at a stretch, find that in the text but it's a bit "C'mon... are you sure?". It's a shame in a way - if she had made it more explicit, I don't think anyone would have minded. Having a love affair with another man his own age would have been perfectly possible whilst being a sincere Obi-Wan-Father figure to Harry. But ah, it might have reduced sales figures in the US. But I suppose it's there if you want to dig.

Games and music dream

In that way that they do, dreams often tell me how much I miss going to see live music. I often have dreams set in dingy back of bar music venues, with sticky old worn out carpet floors, with some unlikely looking oiks pranging away on guitars, playing unknown indie whatever.

Last night, the Arctic Monkeys were playing in such a venue. I came to them so embarrassingly late. They really are extraordinarily good. They remind me of that visceral, exciting feeling you have as a teenager, when you find a band that speaks to YOU, and people like you, and you travel miles to see them, coming home with celebratory bruises that prove your joyful love, pogoing like an idiot at the front because you can't not do that. A passionate level of involvement that is sometihng akin to the passion you feel in an actual love affair, simply, and wonderfully because music speaks to the very centre of your being, and live music... well that really is something else.

For me, the usual collection of some absolutely brilliant bands, and some that in retrospect, you think "How the hell was I so in love with 'That Petrol Emotion'?" To be fair, the aforementioned did do a cracking version of "In a Rut"*. But I truly loved Blur, and it's to my great regret that I couldn't bring myself to go and see them when they briefly transformed in to Duran Duran, and did stadium gigs filled with screaming young ladies (I had first hand knowledge of what a tit Damon Albarn was during this era so wasn't particularly interested in man-worship). So I went straight from seeing them in the back room of a pub for the pre-release gig for "Modern Life is Rubbish" (bloody hell, what a fucking great gig that was, with many post-gig amusing memories based around going backstage with my then friend, a music journalist who hung out with that crowd, having flirted briefly with going out with Brett Anderson) to the greatest hits tour at Wembley Arena! (still a bloody wonderful, joyful, late twenties pogoing event in itself).

Pixies were the other legendary band that I would have followed to the end of the earth, that history has looked kindly upon. I've got a DVD of a live gig of theirs that I went to, and it's a curiously empty experience looking at it in retrospect. At the time, I remember the Town and Country Kentish Town being so overpacked that people were almost hanging from the roof. The entire floor of the venue was pogoing; every single person in the room knew every lyric, and the energy, the pure joy threatened to Zorn-like beam out of me like a burning torch. Like everyone else. There weere a few people at college who loved them as much as I did, including a lad called "Fuzzy" who I had an on-off 'thing' with (classically, he and I privately were great together, but he was absolutely mortified at the idea of being seen to be intimate with me in front of his friends. I was seriously uncool / put up with by people in some senses). Anyway, so there in the middle of the melle was Fuzz. We exchanged a brief shouted hello, both grinning from ear to ear, before losing each other again, diving in to the passionate mass of arms and legs.

Why am I rambling on about bands... oh yes! the dream. the dream was tangentially about music, but it had a great side element which was about modern gaming. Sony, through the PS had invented a platform on which people could create their own games, on a network which spread them like wildfire. They were everywhere, and formed part of the culture based around the youthful passion of music. Bands created games and embedded music in them that you couldn't hear anywhere else, and the games themselves of course formed immersive environments where you spent time within the culture of the band and the music. Yer man from The Arctic Monkeys had just released a game in to the network - the impression I got was that it was free to create, and there  so there was a huge mass of the bizarre, the immersive and the quick-and-funky available. It was all very punk, with games ripped on the fly - no record company bullshit in the way.

The amusing part of the dream was that I took a look at some kids playing the latest on their handhelds, listening to music, and that's where my game-oriented creative imagination lets me down. I just don't play games really. Much. It was based on classic Space Invaders!

Now you're talking. Or not.

James can say words, in that squidgy, cute, lacking definition, baby way. We were away at Nanny & Grandad's for a long weekend, and I would say, half the words James was asked to say, he could say, and therefore knew. Nanny, please, thank you, dog, duck, sheep, cow... etc, etc. Thank you comes out as "en ooo". I'm squirming as I say this but: sooooo cute. Heh.

So we've guessed that at present, he just can't be bothered. He's basically understood when he cries, makes appropriate noises or shakes his head. I think what we should do is ask him more. Ask him to say please and thank you, do more of the "James say X" type stuff.

Bob? How's Dex getting on? They're very similar ages (are they? Or are my baby ages getting confused?). Dexter's the first born, but he's also a boy, so any expectations I would have re: talking quicker would have to be based on my experience of Nora, who I'm sure we have gathered, is er... a teensy bit advanced in the communication area. I have a feeling that traditionally, yer average lad takes a little longer with communication. James is classically following this moded: he can jump on the spot with beaming enthusiasm, something that I remember Danny/Gilbert/Quinn videoing Ada doing when she was talking, pretty clearly. Nora was definitely in the "2" regions for that level of physical complexity.

Aaaaaaaaanyway. James' chest is having difficulty clearing, but he's in the middle of another mild cold. Echinacea and Sambucol at present. He copes with colds far better than Noo, which I can only put down to him being far more "solid" (ie: he eats like a bloody horse).

Does karma exist, discuss

Next trip up to Leeds: stayingt in the absolutely glorious "Queens Hotel", and they give me a room upgrade to, I think it said "Nobby" on the form.

Apparently it basically means better quality goop in the bathroom, but the room was lurvely.  Oh, but a lovely shag pile towelling bathrobe!

They had a great selection of films on demand too. What did I end up doing? Watching Harry Potter. The thing with hotels though, is that I can't sleep, and I also can't concentrate on anything, so something light and relatively inane like that works quite well. THe other major options were the Idi Amin film and "300", both of which I would have had to engage with. Harry Potter, you just know, automatically.

As it goes, I thought it was actually too short. They needed more stuff from the actual order and they really fudged Sirius's death. Plus, they sort of fudged Sirius too, thinking about it. I know Radcliffe's the star n'all, but then so does the entire watching public. You can actually afford to give your other major charismatic characters a bit more head room. I mean c'mon! Gary Oldman has got charisma to burn when he acts. Instead he just cropped up occasionally looking like an "alright sort of bloke" who gave Harry a clap on the back, then buggered off again; turned up at the end for 5 minutes in a stupidly short fight sequence which wasn't scary and had zero sense of threat, and died with no sense of drama.

Daft. Still, it wasn't an actually terrible film, and that's what's important. It would be a terrible shame were they to completely screw it up. Rowling's books may be stupidly over long and badly written, but anyting that gets kids reading stuff that actually isn't too rubbish, if we're honest, and actually we probably do quite enjoy reading the books if we are being really honest... is alright. Innit. Eh?

I am now a real modern parent

I beat the inevitable pre-xmas traumas by buying James his Igglepiggle & UpsyDaisy cuddly objects now.

I am now a modern parent, I am buying him a TV spin off product.

I must say though, it's difficult not to recommend "In The Night Garden". The Tellytubbies, were a bit bloody weird, and the Boobahs actually frightened Nora, they were so dayglo and freakish. ITNG, done by the same company, is a gentle, repetitive tale told by Derek Jacobi (Derek fucking Jacobi?! how the hell did they persuade him? I'm glad they did, he is marvellous), which tends to centre around the adventures of Igglepiggle (James says "Iguhpiguh!") a blue (of course - sigh) cuddly toy, and his other toy friends, in a slightly surreal but charming garden. It's calm, promotes friendliness and cuddles in abundance, with clear narration and cute songs. When the story fixes around characters other than Iguhpiguh (as it does on occasion) it isn't anywhere near as successful, but then, they do top and tale the programme with him, the credits feature him, etc, so it's hardly surprising.

The other day, Upsydaisy played a jumping game. By the end of the episode, every different character had joined in. As had James. He was having a fantastic time, jumping up and down. That was it. No story, really. Delightful.  He absolutely loves the programme.

He will go bananas when he helps unwrap Igglepiggle. I fear for Snigs, his no.1 cuddly friend. She never leaves his side in bed normally.

The most annoying thing about it is the theme tune. It is deliberately slow, and gentle. It's so tender sounding (the whole programme is about being calm and cuddly before bed) that it actually makes me cry! Bastards!

Glad to say though, that's still the only TV they watch, although Nor has been known to see the odd film when it's raining and James is asleep. She's now seen Bambi. I don't think she was that impressed, given that she's never talked to me about it. The Jungle Book remains King of Films.

I doooon't believe it!

I had to go to do an overnight in Leeds last night for a meeting early this morning.

I had to get a train that left London at 9.30 and got in to Leeds at midnight.


A swift walk to the hotel from the station. I will name said hotel but not provide a link, for I am about to slag it off somewhat. The Met.

Ten, twenty past 12, get to hotel, night manager lets me in. State name. Sucked teeth, ooooh I'm afraid we're full up.

What do you mean, I have a reservation? Hurley?


Right. So according to the night manager, the same vthing had happened the night before, and by the way she talked, it was a regular occurrence. They sent me off to a different hotel. Not thte nicey nicey Mat, oh no. The Comfort Inn. One step above student bloody hostel, it was.

It is my contention that this hotel regularly does this to corporate customers:? overbooks, then because corporate customers don't pay themselves, they shunt them off to cheaper hotels, then pocket the difference. generally speaking, the customer hasn't seen the bill at any point, and has no idea how much it actually costs.

I say: fuckfaces.

I eventually managed to close my eyes in a bed at around 1. Meeting at 9. Grrrrrreat.

Toe ow

Ow toe.

Never get a verruca just before becoming pregnant, is my advice.

Then don't have a verruca if you're going to breastfeed for fourteen months, then fail to do anything about it for a few months, then become pregnant again and go through the whole rigmarole all over again. Oh, and then best not twist your ankle, which leaves a very slow mending ankle injury, leading to the good work you had managed to achieve, reducing the size of your infestation, given that fact that any attempt to twist your foot is impossible without breaking trough a considerable pain barrier for several months.

Because, you see, I now have 3 verrucas, one in the crease which inhabits the space where my little toe joins my body. and that, I can assure you, is a complete bitch to get rid of.

I have tried the newer generation freezing sprays. However, my now elderly verrucas are so embedded that it merely tends to kill off the skin on top (which is nevertheless relatively useful, since I an then attack the vaguely uncomfortable little bastards with evil toxic zapping fluid, what I could not use when pregnant or breastfeeding.

I have been doing reasonably well recently, and managed to get to the point where I thought well, maybe I don't need to go to a chiropodist after all (a shameful sign of defeat, surely!). The layer of zapped dead skin on the one in the crease looked promising enough last night to give it a good tug and a whole chunk come off?

Oh. No. hold on. No that wasn't the plan. No, really - ripping a bloody great hole in to my toe, and really dark red bloody pouring all over the carpet wasn't on the agenda! You got that wrong, can you just, oh dear... mend, or something? Damn, damn, damn....


At least I can walk on it.


James' speech seems to have gone through something like a loop the loop training period in the last week. All sorts of new consonants are escaping all of a sudden, including a glorious "Ba-bahyee" which he is delighting in saying whilst waving to everyone at nursery when we leave.

Meanwhile everything else has moved on from being a Buh-bow (as opposed to a bubo. I know the difference could seem unclear on paper ;) to a guh-bow. this could be related to "Good boy" - it doesn't seem out of the realms of possibility.

He was absolutely delighted with everything this evening. He grins with excitement and pure unadulterated joy at all sorts of silly nonsense, but primarily, and oh, how wonderfully, he goes bananas with happiness when I enter the flat after a day of work. Rushing up to me, holding my legs, doig a little dance, jigging on the spot and grinning, grinning, grinning.

It's all good. It breaks my heart, but it's all good.

Oh yes, and it's so curious. Even though he's not really got speech together yet in any great detail, he loves longer books now. the Gruffalo and indeed, anything by Donaldson and Schaeffler, Hop on Pop we already know, but this evening, we read through 'Green eggs and Ham' and he loved it.

Dr Seuss. The man was a bloody genius. His books are truly amazing. His rhymes so beautiful, so funny and so incredibly memorable. There are jokes in there for the grown ups, but they are equally funny for slightly older children. Nora thinks the gag, "Where is Brown? There is Brown! Mr Brown is out of town"  (as the self same goes whizzing through the air at top speed after being flung off a seesaw and high in to the air) is hilarious.
He's so much a part of the furniture that people don't celebrate him in the way that say, Roald Dahl gets a weekend of programming about him (as happened recently). It could be because the films of his books are almost uniformly appalling (I'm not surprised. His books are all about language, and the physical comedy of expression in cartoon format) but at least a bloody documentary or two, eh?

Anyway. All's well and James' slow, inevitable morphing in to a proper toddler continues apace (sob).

Watching Stephen Fry's "Who do you think you are?"

I've often felt that there are a number of things to be said about the strong reactions one has to watching anything that explores the true nature of the horror of the second world war. I've seen this programme before and caught it again just now, by accident. In it, Stephen Fry discovers that his Grandfather's brother, and an entire branch of his family, were killed at Auschwitz, and a different camp whose name now escapes me. A smaller, less well known one. He finds his Great Grandfather and Mother commemorated on a plaque outside the house they lived in in Vienna, before being carted off to some god forsaken spot, in order to be murdered out of the eye view of the rich, non-Jewish Viennese residents.

They showed a few seconds of an elderly Jewish lady being manhandled by a young German soldier, treating her probably a lot worse than he would treat a family dog.

There's something about visible historical (and by that, I do not mean necessarily from a long time ago - witness Yugoslavia very recently) decimation (ethnic cleansing, as it's now known, which somehow divorces the true horror of the events from the reporting of them)... one should be forced to bear witness to these appalling horrors, but also to accept what bearing witness can do. How it makes you feel, as an individual.

There's something akin to shame in my guts when I see that kind of footage. These stupid, evil men, driven in to such abhorrent, unimaginable behaviours are human. Just as we are. Some lad in his early twenties... you can't see the soul that's missing behind the eyes as he shoots yet another Jew in the head in the street. stepping over the body, like so much garbage, lying there. These misguided, semi-brainwashed, patriotic young soldiers are us, and represent it seems to me what "Original sin" actually is. By that, I mean that the authors of the 'one God' religions associated with Judaism, christianity, etc  were clever - they managed to weave the generalised feeling of inadequacy, and yearning for betterment in to a myth which articulated said feelings and apparently resolved them. For me, original sin is in fact the realisation that part of the human condition is one of animal hatred, evil and the capacity for almost unlimited suffering. Part of the quest for civilisation is the desperate desire to overcome these aspects of ourselves, which lead to anything from rape to cold blooded murder. It seems to me impossible to completely divorce oneself from the young man wielding the whip, held against that old lady's face. Sickening as that realisation is.

...and that uneasy recognition is compounded by real shame: the acceptance of voyeurism. Sitting safely on one's sofa, and witnessing human beings, no different from me or you, enduring unimaginable suffering before their inevitable deaths. Every face one sees on camera is not only dead, but died in a way that does, and bloody well should, bubble anger from the pit of one's stomach like the worst case of heartburn.

...and long may it burn.