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You might well wonder why I haven't commented on Copenhagen, given that for large parts of this blog I'm stressing about the state of inaction instead of desperate rushing about and doing things that seems to be visible.

There are good things which seem to be clear from Copenhagen. There is no denier mentality there at all. Everyone there knows what the score is. In that respect it's one of the most impressive gatherings I can remember seeing. It is unfortunate for the planet, and for vast swathes of the human and animal population that the vast majority of countries involved are democracies. Therefore we have a schism between the people who will physically lose their homes within a matter of years, and those who know that the general population of their countries contain enough deniers to make the kind of swingeing cuts necessary unworkable. 1.5 degrees? No way!

What each of those govt representatives will be quietly weighing up is the conflict price of each percentage point from 1 degree and up. How much arable land will be lost? how much ground water? What will the refugee status be as a result, and how much will we have to spend on the defence budget?

The news came today from Oxfam that rains have failed again for the 3rd year running in East Africa. 23 million people face crisis. How many of those people will escape and become environmental refugees? How many will die before they're given the opportunity, and how many will simply be refused?

It is pointless to pretend that those scenarios do not exist when it is happening, now.

Amid all the other chaos that only a heated, impassioned conference could generate, the Swedish minister for the Environment made a statement on behalf of the EU, which is a tiny moment on which to reflect how far we've come. Ed Miliband has been talking like someone who works for Greenpeace for the last few days. Partially because he knows he can get away with it: the end result will not match the rhetoric. He gets to go home having made the UK look strident and radical on a world stage, but the affects on the local economy won't be as bad as they would be if the 1.5 degree target was in fact agreed.

So the EU statement is purely a 'delight factor', it makes no difference to the negotiations particularly but it puts the EU in a very good light. It may seem to be a meaningless gesture, but nevertheless, a statement worth making, and reflecting on.

Do I hold out much hope for the next 2 days?

Well - the thing is, the people there know the game's up. I don't think they have much choice. I have a small, glowing ember of hope that they might nearly come up with what's required. So kick me, I'm trying to be optimistic here.

If you stop and think about it for a moment, a hell of alot of that is down to Obama being in office. Purely because placing the US in to the skeptic's position would have made this conference almost pointless.

Non seasonal ice cream with lemons

Sainsbury's only sell unwaxed lemons in packets of about 7, so after I'd used the zest of one lemon in a cake (ffs) I had to use up all the other lemons quick. I ran out of caster sugar so now there's some lemon sorbet made with half light brown sugar, which looks rather odd (but tastes delicious); much better than that though, in the "Iced" ice cream book there was a recipe for lemon ice cream made with home made lemon curd, and you toast some dessicated coconut then add that in too, to softish vanilla ice cream (premade), then stick it back in the freezer.

So I had to make vanilla ice cream (whilst I'm boiling lemony syrup for the sorbet) using of course, a whole vanilla pod. I personally like to cut in to the pod, to release a few of those amazing, delicious, microscopic seeds in to the custard mixture. A real vanilla pod is one of those enhanced-by-man natural miracles (it is preserved, see, it's not presented to you as if it had just come off the branch) that imparts such intense Joy and comfortable yumminess in to anything it touches. In taste terms it's an old friend, but a friend you have a deep and warm affection for, come back to visit. I love making real vanilla ice cream.

Finding time between stirring this, boiling that, and constantly whisking the other, I used up the last of the lemon on the lemon curd. I'll stop this post right here and simply say this, about home made lemon curd:


Now you could, obviously, just buy some lemon curd, and buy some vanilla ice cream, in order to make this. Just mix it up, the coconut'll only take 3 minutes in a frying pan...

But what kind of crap is that?

Cait's delicious Lemon Ice cream. Made with love.

Tonight: freeze the sorbet and make as many mince pies as possible for carol singing at work *and* for Nora to take to school tomorrow.

Phew. Anyone would think it was Christmas.

Nora is six


She doesn't seem that different to the five year old version so far.

She's a fantastic person, who I appreciate so very, very much. Much of the time, once has to assume that everyone takes the parental love thing very much as read. On birthdays (even if a day late) I can say that Nor astonishes, aggravates and all the wonderful mess of different emotions that a small girl in love with the wonders of the world can elicit from her parents. She is kind (mostly), thoughtful (sometimes) and funny (most of the time).

I look at her, and I look at James and think very simple thoughts really. Like wow, these two people are so lovely and so brilliant. I am so insanely lucky they're here. i know that in some way, the way we bring them up, and the people that we are, have some influence on the way they're turning out, but for me, it feels like I'm shepherding these two brilliant human beings through the slew of obstacles, and hoping that none of the difficult bits stick around long enough to make any significant impact on the perfectly wonderful people they already were in the first place.

In the common parlance of the times, she is Teh Awsum.

This is a message to the future Nora: not much to live up to, eh? Hey, no pressure! Heh. xxx

A grand day out

The whirl of positivity that is December (if you have young children, at least) began in earnest on Saturday with the 'secret day out'.

It was written on the calendar: "Day out".  Nora was fascinated. Are we going to the Zoo? No, that's next Saturday. Where are we going then? Aha... wait and see. Her interest and strain grew as the week went on, and spilled over in to a bad mood by Thursday. Tell me! (Duckface very much making an appearance). So, the night before we went, we told her half the story. Under oath not to tell James.

We were going to meet Thomas the Tank Engine.

Didcot Railway Centre is a delight, staffed by energetic volunteers who roll about in ecstasy at their luck to be able to spend their spare time working on, training to, and driving beautiful restored railway steam engines. The journey there was comparatively, monstrously easy for us, comprising as it did of: a bus, 2 tubes and a train. But, leaving the house at 9, we were there by 11.28. Really not bad. James meanwhile, still did not know what we were doing, and I felt a bit mean that he couldn't read. He spotted a silhouette picture of a steam train on a sign at Didcot station and smiled. We feigned ignorance and carried on walking. When we came out in to the grey sunshine from the tunnel, there was nothing to show what was happening apart from a small shed, and a few people milling about. there were rails, but then, we were still at a train station, weren't we.

Suddenly, from the left, came that beautiful, hairs on the back of the neck sound: a proper chuff chuff chuffing as an engine, with green livery, wide and flat bodied rather than rounded came toward us from round a bend. It was carrying two coaches, and it had a vast, circular smiling face on the front.

James stood still in total shock and amazement. Not so much stood, but more like, he looked like he might execute a startled star jump. His face beamed out light and he jumped  as he yelled "IT'S A STEAM ENGINE!!!".

Oh yes. Not just one, but a walk along the path revealed a proper engine shed, just like Thomas, with smiling engines on all the lines going in. It was overwhelmingly amazing, and fantastic! So we decided to go on Duck before going to try and find Thomas.

Why are steam engines so glorious? It's not just nostalgia. They weren't going when I was young. More, they were rusting hulks in elephant graveyards, but  looking at them up close, they emanate the pride the people who made them so obviously had. They wear their engineering on the outside. They demonstrate their power visibly and on a cold day, the fire in their bellies is visible and tangible. Even though surely, being the coalman in that tiny space with the driver must be a bloody miserable job, you envy the opportunity to feed the mighty beast as its plumes of dragon smoke and steam are ejected with huge force. A modern diesel and electricity fueled engine is a bulk made appliance, in contrast to these forged, elemental beings. They're magnificent.

After we had left Duck's lovely old carriage (third class) we walked up from the other end of the Centre compound. At some point, nora saw the sign "Ride with Thomas and meet Father Christmas". What??! Father Christmas? Smiles of amazement all round, as we walk up towards where Thomas was sitting, waiting. In fact, the whistle was about to blow for that bunch of children, so we stood and watched as Thomas whistled and chugged backwards out of the 'station' and down the line. The centre had really done a decent job - they'd found a proper small sized tank engine and his livery was great, although it could have done with a clean. I told James (who said "Thomas's face is dirty!") that was was dirty from having puff puffed children along the branch line all day.

Waiting for the return of Thomas, we went in to the engine shed. More amazement and awe at seeing really huge engines close up. Then a return to the Thomas queue, with all the other small children, and ridiculously happy, smiling parents. A small glimpse of the not-really-very-fat Controller (James decided he was the Thin controller - aha. Good work). Ushered in to a Christmassy carriages, we edged up the line toward the front, where 'Mother Christmas' was executing through-put.

Now Nora had a bad Father Christmas experience the other day. She saw the person billed as Father Christmas on top of a bus in Streatham, and decided in short order that it wasn't. Why was he pretending to be Father Christmas? It wasn't fair. Nora cried. She's very close to asking the wrong question now, and when she does, I will not lie to her. I have always promised I never would, but have sidestepped the question in the past, with "Well, what do you think?" and other vaguely encouraging noises. So this was a bit of a make-or-break. Mother Christmas was a lovely slightly older woman of quite spherical size and grey hair, dressed up in red velvet, who had the ease with children of a well versed Grandmother, and was full of anecdotes about Rudolph, who has a purple nose currently because he has a cold. She spun tales about the elves and told the children that she had put Father christmas on a diet, so that he could eat anything he liked over Christmas  - and presumably become rotund again. By the time we were ushered through, Nora was under a kind of spell, which saw her through one of the worst Father Christmas impersonators I have ever seen. Under 30, slim, and wearing a terrible false bear with straps showing, he made absolutely no effort to be friendly beyond putting on a low voice and saying "Ho ho" a couple of times. He looked like someone who had been pushed in to doing the task at the last minute, and had no enthusiasm for it. Mck and I were heartbroken. Nora was silent, and I was desperately worried she would burst in to tears at any moment. They received their gifts each after relating what they wanted for Christmas (James was a little shy and amazed) and we went out of the carriage.

Nora said nothing.

James was desperate to open his present, which was a rather gloriously oversized tractor. Perfect for a small boy. For this, Father Christmas was a total hero. Nora opened her present - a maths-friendly jigsaw with 36 large pieces. We made encouraging noises about how she'd only been saying she liked maths yesterday, and how Father Christmas must have heard her. Nora remained inscrutable, and stood, basically silent. We went back on thomas, and along to the front of the Centre.

The rest of the day: another ride on Duck (this time in first Class - what stunning carriages they were too - basically equipped with armchairs!) and some 'making things' and playing. And receiving a long balloon each. James constantly playing with his tractor. When we had got off Duck, we went and sat at the front of him, on a bench, so we could see him whistle, and shunt his way back down the line. McK too a video of him chugging. James said "Thank you for giving us a ride, Duck!", and I smiled indulgently. Then later, on our way out, Duck was still masterfully chugging up and down the line. James called across, "Duck! Look at my balloon!". To him, the magical engines really were alive. Their rictus smiles in place for politeness's sake. He decided that at the end of the day they would be able to sigh in relief and yawn before going to sleep.  Even Nora half believed, and neither of them questioned the way their faces had been hung on the front of the engines, looking a little battered around the edges from years of storage, and use.


Sitting eating her tea, Nora said "Why was Father Christmas wearing a beard that wasn't real?". We feigned confusion. She had seen the elastic straps on the all too obvious, tatty white beard, and because she hadn't asked 'the question', and because it was clear he had been real to her, I remembered that Raymond Brigg's Father Christmas was recognised everywhere he went on holiday. so maybe he only grows his beard actually at Christmas, and the rest of the time he shaves, so that people won't recognise him. That, it seemed, was the correct answer.

Aunty Clare, Uncle Tim and their lovely zippy little boy came over on Sunday. James told his cousin proudly who had given him his new tractor. "Father Christmas!" "Oh", said Aunty Clare, not aware of when this event occurred:  "Who did we meet yesterday? "

...This could all go horribly wrong.

-Who did we meet yesterday, darling? It was Father Christmas wasn't it!

McK stood with a fixed smile, looking a bit desperate. I chimed in. "Wow, he was so busy yesterday wasn't he? He was in Bristol in the morning, and he must have come on the train or used his sleigh because we met him at Didcot in the afternoon, didn't we?" Nods of agreement from the two small people present.


I predict that I will not be writing about meeting Father Christmas in quite the same way for Nora ever again.


Definition of Stubble = Stagnation + bubble. 

Copyright Robert Peston

An excellent word for a clear observation. My observation on the back of that observation: we're just so screwed up.

I don't think as a nation we have a clue how to live within our means any longer. We borrow against a future that doesn't exist (we imagine). We don't build enough housing, therefore the housing that we have spirals out of control. We have a govt - a succession of govts, who keep building and development works "off books" by massive industry borrowing, with massive pay-back rates, but you know, hey, look we got everything we needed and more today, right? That is exactly the same mentality as the credit card obsessed population has toward money. It's not even money though is it. It's "credit", this weird alternative economy layer, which pretends it  will one day be real money, paid back and everything. In the meantime, just wap out your credit card and Bob is your Uncle! A vast new TV, despite the fact that your old one works perfectly well. New clothes? Who cares if you've got a wardrobe full of them - they're all soooo last year! Let's build a new mega hospital and close all the old ones now! Now now now I want it NOW!

Sorry, I really went off on a rant there, but I think the original statement does hold. We as a nation have lost the plot when it comes to money. The banking profession has already forgotten the disaster it made. It will make another one. Although I entirely agree with the bailout, it absolutely needed to happen, in doing so we seem to have given our banks the idea that they are untouchable. Lehmens went down but... I'm still getting my big fat bonus this year. Have you seen the FTSE 100 figures? They're bouncing up in the hundreds about 5k. It doesn't really make alot of sense until you realise that the mass delusion remains well entrenched. Credit is wealth. Betting vast sums of credit (not even actual money) against market chimeras... and you there, consumer: spend spend spend! You don't have to pay it back. Just declare yourself bankrupt! 

I do think Capitalism is utterly screwed. I also think that the UK is suffering a mass delusion based on previous power. In order to maintain our world status, we have deliberately let our banks behave as if they have access to unending betting credit. The City of London is one of the most important banking hubs in the world, you know. Really. Honestly. Leave it alone, EU, we've got to maintain our status because it's the only bloody thing we've got left. Our population expect a reasonable standard of living, but on what basis? All we really do, in a service driven economy, is sell things and time to each other, using credit cards. We don't make those things. They come from China, where people earn a slave wage in comparison. Our population continues to grow, as immigrants continue to pump in to this country having bought in to the whole delusion. They then become the ones earning the slave wages in *this*  country, providing the services that our deluded residents appear to think we're too posh to push. Or clean, or mend, or look after.

Where the hell do we go from here? The only concrete thing I can discern from this whole mess is that we need a mass house building programme. and I mean massive. Humungous. Landscape changing. And legislation denying anyone including landlords the opportunity of owning more than 2 properties above and beyond primary residence (or something like that). 

And credit cards should be banned*.

The bounce does worry me, but at the same time, I almost feel that the population is so blind to what is really happening around them that it doesn't really matter what transpires. As long as they can continue to consume, they don't really care.

On that note, I would like to contribute my own phrase to tghe modern lexicon. I get quite angry about the phrase "Make do and Mend". it's used semi-ironically, usually in magazines to promote products. Because we don't really want to do it, do we. And in fact, most people won't. they'll just know it's a good idea. But you see, mending is...well.  What we always did do. And there's nothing wrong with mending. In fact, mending is a virtue. you get to spend the money you would have spent on a new thing either on something good instead, like travelling to an amazing place, or you get to not have to spend money that you don't have. Mending is also a spit in the eye of the cunts who try to persuade you that you really, desperately need to spend your hard won credit on the latest fashion. Be it in clothing or gadgets. It is not a mark of being poor. Living within your means is not living frugally. It is living practically! Rationally! I'm not sure my phrase quite captures that but it is: Mend, don't spend.

I use the word "cunts" and it's not a nice word, but then I don't think we live in very nice times. The whole country, from Govt to streetsweeper has been hypnotised by credit, and we absolutely will pay the price. If this bubble bursts, do we bail out the banks... again? The delusion can't last forever.

*Well, I bloody wish they were. I made the mistake of organising one to cover xmas last year. Have snipped it up since and am still paying it off. Doh. Not doing that again!