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February 2010
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London's new cycle hire stands

It's nearly upon us - the era when thousands of vandalised bikes will be littered, like so many decrepit tramps, across our London streets. The era when I hope to the great Spaghetti monster that the inexperienced cyclists and more to the point, piss heads who on the spur of the moment decide to hire one to wobble along the streets are not mown down by HGV's and double decker buses or even the last remaining bendy ones.

Boris's Bike Hire scheme is going live shortly. Here's a map of hire locations with an app to appear shortly for iphones. I would argue strongly that they've got their market wrong: People with iphones if they wish to cycle I would imagine already have bikes. However, that's an aside really. The point, as Mr Murray would say, is this. Here's a spreadsheet for the locations where planning permission has been sought and granted. I'm not bothered about the locations, but I'm a bit pissed off about the numbers. 53, 39, 44 - there are going to be bike stands arriving all over central London for literally hundreds and hundreds of bikes. And existing cyclists will not be able to use a *single stand*. Someone should have thought about how ridiculous that is. What if, across central London, suddenly, the everyday bike stand provision were to grow by this much. That suddenly, next to your local park, or central London square, 50 bike stands appeared out of nowhere. Wouldn't that be bloody marvellous? Wouldn't that make you feel more positive about bringing out your bike and cycling to work?

What they *should* have done with this is at every commercial bike stand, guaranteed ten or fifteen placements for non-commercial bikes to be tied up alongside.

I wonder what % of the profits from this venture are being plowed back in to cycling provisioning across all the London boroughs (not just the ones between Camden and Kennington).

"Bag" like Baby slings nasty bit of news

Well this is all rather awful. Here's the news item: "Infantino baby slings recalled in US and Canada". Basically, this is one of those slings that looks rather like a cosy open bag, type of thing, that you carry over one shoulder and teeny baby's supposed to sleep soundly against your belly. Except three children died of suffocation whilst in them, during 2009. Christ.

Since there are quite a few types like that available in the UK, it's worth passing the news on. I remember my lovely, amazing nearly niece Ada was carried for donkeys in a type of sling called a "Maya wrap" which, when the baby's very small, has a 'tendency' to be used in a bag like way, or that the baby slips down in to that position. I know that because I bought one, on Quinn's recommendation (and it suited Ada very well, as I recall). Nora had colic and had awful trouble getting to sleep so I sorted out my wearing it, snugged Nora inside it and sure enough, she slipped right down in it, and it hung around her like a bag. I really didn't feel positive about it at all, and thought she looked far too squidged up. I think Mackay said as much too. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I switched very quickly to one of those African style long material wraps that pull the baby to your belly in an upright position. Nora's floppy head used to be protected by the shoulder strap (as you can see in the photo on the front page of the Hugabub website, here, but always with her head to the side).

Even Hugabub make one of those ring wraps too - without casting aspersions on the products, if you know someone with a teeny tot or pregnant who is thinking of buying, it's worth pointing them toward that article, and noting that Maya Wraps now have advice that babies smaller than 8 lb's should not be carried in them, as well as a big fat safety notice linked to from the front page of their site.

I loved my Hugabub. There are a ton of other slings and wraps that are similar in design now, and probably cheaper, who knows. Anyway, going for walks with your baby pressed to your chest so you can feel them breathing, and are all aglow from their warmth, right up high with you so you can talk all the time is just a total joy and I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I can remember going for walks with these inquisitive little beings, showing them leaves and spider webs, playing "touch the tree" and all sorts of nonsense - and also, by the way, when they fall to sleep and snug up against you it's magical.

So don't miss out on that experience, just think about the safety angle. And pass this on to anyone you know who is using one of the bag ones/  is planning on using one, with a teeny new tot.

The glorious joy of "The Adventures of Robin Hood"

The indoctrination process continues apace!

James had a 'Floppy/Kipper etc' book from the library last week about Robin Hood, which gave me the opportunity of suggesting that they watch five minutes of the film, to see if they liked it.

Which film? I hear you ask. Which film? Are you completely mad? There is only one film. And it stars Errol Flynn.

Nora sat with her hands over her ears waiting to hide at any fighty bits but refused to have it switched off, and they both cried when we had to stop it for tidy-up time. Since then they've been having sword fights with anything longish that comes to hand (so far: a recorder and a Swannee whistle!).

To put it plainly: they adore it.

I can hardly say I'm surprised. It's only one of the greatest movies of all time. I think I'll just put that in line 1 and put "GO TO 10" for the rest of this post, otherwise I'll start rambling about how brilliant it is and not stop for half an hour. Frankly, even looking at the DVD design on the IMDB page makes me grin with joy.

If by some ludicrous mishap you seem to have forgotten to add the DVD of "The Adventures of Robin Hood" to your collection, might I suggest that you remedy that immediately, regardless of the number of children in your household?

So that's two of my favourite films of all time that I've shown to the kids and they love (the other being Toy Story). Not quite sure they're ready for "A Matter of Life and Death" just yet.

Incredulous face

McK had to execute his delayed Jury Service, as I previously posted, which meant I was picking the kids up from school, after (for James) a long, long day of Nursery school in the afternoons and as short a time in after school club as my work-guilt would allow.

One evening I picked them up and Nora was still making a mother's Day card so took a while. The boy sitting next to her was looking incredulously at her, saying "God made me! He made you!, He did, I know it's the truth!" Nora looked back at him, bemused, saying "No he didn't, my Mummy did".

The look of absolute horror and amazement on the lad's face was at once hilarious and sad. I piped up, to save him.

"It's true, you know. Everyone's Mummys around the table made them inside their bellies. Nora used to be a little bean inside me, can you believe it?"

He still looked doubtful. I said to him, "You know, some people say that there is a God, and some don't. It's OK to think either things really". This seemed to be the perfect answer, and was accepted readily. I didn't think trying to explain the excesses of power and oppression by world religions in the name of any number of different non-existent deities would have gone down too well with that particular 7 year old boy.

McK was badgered later in the week by a lad who asked him if he believed in God! We suspect that Nora is spreading her Athiesm virus liberally. Given the richly African nature of the school population, I sincerely doubt she's going to get very far with her secular arguments.

Half of me is laughing out loud with pride, and half of me is slightly worried she's going to encourage bullying. I think I'll try to convince her to modify her tone slightly.

That all important question of knife sharpening

A funny wee piece in the excellent "Copenhagenise" biking blog showed not so much the interesting photo of two old chaps with adapted bikes doing the roads as bike sharpeners, but also a street based guy in Nairobi who has adapted an old bike to provide a superb way of knife sharpening.

A wee while ago I took to the streets of Streatham to find if there was anywhere left that did knife sharpening. The thought of anyone marketing that concept in South London is a bit wry to say the least but nevertheless, we have butchers, we have restaurants, where do they get their knives sharpened? I got nowhere fast, it was really odd. It almost seems as though no one bothers sharpening over and above the tiny difference a Steel makes.

Do people now simply plow on with blunt, crap knives or has everybody secretly got their own wet and dry set up at home? Or do people just buy new knives? Which is obviously a ludicrous waste.

I'd like to know- we love our cooking and by god, we've got some blunt knives that need sorting.

Michael Foot and the death of conviction

Michael Foot died yesterday. He was 96 years old. The last time I saw him was 1998, at a funeral. He was physically frail then, but his whip sharp mind was there, his passion, his decency and his amazing voice, having to stop to breathe between sentences. Everyone in the room was with him. We would have waited all day.

Of course, I filter Michael Foot's death through the experience of John, my Dad. Looking back at the pair of them, I think John when he was a politician must have admired Michael Foot enormously, and been very influenced by his example. John did love being the centre of attention, and he could do the political game playing with ease and what he wanted to do was work for fairness. John was a thinking, conviction Socialist with a strong sense of equality. I've said before that John would get to know and talk to anyone, and Michael Foot was very much that sort of person. He had no sense of hierarchy, but he loved the cut and thrust of the House, and the energy of being a change maker.

I was reminded yesterday that Michael Foot denounced the USSR and Stalin in The Tribune, the Socialist weekly paper and mouthpiece for the left in the Party. The left went mad, but the point is you see, that Michael Foot wasn't an Idealogical Socialist, he was a Conviction Socialist. He was fighting injustice, Fascism, racism, poverty... he was part of the pacifist generation of conviction Socialists who reacted strongly against the mass poverty of the first half of the 20th century. Imagine the conviction behind the decision then to try to join the army, to fight Fascism in Europe, because that was more important than personal pacifism. The medics rejected him for his asthma, so he fought on the home front, editing The Evening Standard. I can imagine how influential a strident, intellectually challenging voice like his would have been throughout London, helping to pave the way for the massive upheaval of the status quo post-war. Later, despite supporting the war, he helped to found CND. From a compassionate position, nuclear weapons are an abhorrence. He was rejected from the parliamentary party for two years in the sixties because he could not square his own convictions with the compromises being made by the party whilst in power. He was a curious mix of a brilliant speaker, MP, player in the House, and conviction led idealist, which if I look at the House now, is entirely absent. How rarely anyone would resign now. The only resignations in years have been due to graft, not conviction.

But it was Michael Foot and his generation of freedom warriors that helped forge our way out of the mess of post-WW2 confusion, and gave us a moral compass. We are not a racist nation, we protect our workers with Health & Safety legislation, we have an NHS, we support education. The conviction Socialist ideals of the post war era built the fundaments of the way we see ourselves as a nation. Decent, honourable and fair. Whether that is true or not is debatable indeed, but Michael Foot's torch beam energy, rooted as it was in ideals which are worth fighting for, standing up for and stating This Is What We Must Do, is an example not simply worth remembering, but worth emulating, as I think my Dad tried to do.

John would be sad beyond belief that he didn't have the chance to eulogise Michael Foot in death. Partly because it would be any excuse for a meander down honourable memory lane, but also because Michael Foot meant something, and stood for something. I don't have a tenth of John's eloquence, but I wanted to make that connection, because John would have wanted to say something.

John and his wife used to go to the Gay Hussar, once he'd moved to London, so often that the owners knew him and cared about him. The reason he went was because Michael Foot went (and many others, but for John, Foot was probably the main reason to go), which gave it a history of meaning something. Deals were done, but over a decent meal and red wine by honourable people. I don't know if he ever went and said hello - they had known each other. But I think John was in awe of the man, so he might well have never dared to disturb.

I think my brother Owen might have more memories of Michael Foot coming down to the Slough Labour Party than I do - I only really remember him picking me up and giving me a hug when I was about 6. He had come down with his old friend Fenner Brockway, to be wheelchair bearer for the day. Owen? Do you remember much?

Jury service horror

I'd forgotten how much I realy dislike being alone for long stretches. No, I hadn't forgotten, but I had backgrounded the reason why I avoid such situations to the deep dark murky depths of memory, only for it to be forcibly surfaced gasping out of its natural element and reminding me. Ack! I can't stand loneliness.

I think my room 101 might be enforced solitude, whilst knowing that people I care about are just out of my grasp. My lonely paranoia starts to oil toward me, creeping. Do they really like you, or do they just put up with you? Now you're not in the office, would they even notice if you disappeared?

Aaaaargh. Usefully, whereas in my younger days I might have been overcome by these creatures from my ego (and I well remember being overcome by them at the age of 23, curled up in a ball of insecurity), I can now wield the shield of resolute rationality and the "Oh please do shut up" sword of truth. For Mackay is on jury service *again* (reeeediculous. So much for fucking random bloody argh grrr ridiculous), and I am forced to work at home, alone, away from what I thought was the relative solitude of the office because I have to pick the kids up. Not after school exactly but they're doing some time in the after school club. I leave them for as long as my sense of guilt allows, which is not long at all.

So here I am, languishing, and fighting off self-indulgent loneliness. This is why I couldn't work as a freelance journalist or work at home as a consultant on my own that much. It would drive me a bit nutty.

Archive a go-go

My friend Meg is celebrating her ten years of blogging, and it kick started me in to pulling my old "Daily Cait" (defiantly still called) "Web diary" in to this database, simply in order that I don't completely lose the entries in some accident or other.

I started it on May 22nd 1998. So you now have two places you can read that entry: here, in the Moolies archive, or there, in the first hardcoded page of Daily Cait. It is very much a product of its time. We felt very self important in those days. I appeared to have a hell of a lot of readers, purely because there was still not as much actual content on the web as you'd think. What is interesting is the architecture idea of the site, predating 'tags' by some years, instead I used iconised major categories: cats, drinking, eating, music etc, and had to hardcode the bloody thing so every time I wrote an entry, I had to go and find the appropriate page to update that list. I sweated for my 'art'. The piece that I really loved at the time was the 'Asides' list. The idea was to write a 'universal' date-free list of anecdotes and facts which I was then able to link to whenever I needed to. I rather like that idea even now. I'll have to archive those in here by creating an "Asides" category. Perhaps I'll create a fictitious date for all of them, to vaguely maintain some sense of unity.

It also comes from the days before comments, obviously. God the debates when blog CMS's started happening. To Comment, or not to comment? I'll leave comments on the archive to enable anyone to post anything relevant.

I will add new old entries every so often, and will let you know when I do, so you can see what the then 28 year old Cait was doing, back in 1998.