Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Reaffirmation

When you get to my age it's nice to know life can still hold the occasional pleasant surprise.

Last Saturday was one such event. K had decided to give me an early birthday treat of an overnight stay on the east coast - minus kids - to take in a Biffy Clyro gig.

The Biff are one of those local bands who've been around for a while now, and who I've been vaguely aware of, but knew little about.

Recently they seem to be on a real upwards trajectory on the back of some songs I've caught on the radio and really liked. A proper old fashioned slow burner of a band who've served their time and seem to be reaping the rewards.

Rewards such as a sell out pre-Christmas tour, culminating in a gig at Glasgow's biggest arena - the SECC. The SECC has the scale for the biggest bands, but it's a soulless tin box and not on my list of favourite venues.

K however had been thinking creatively and landed two tickets for their warm up 'pre-tour' gig at the Alhambra Theatre in Dunfermline.

We very rarely do live gigs these days but the thought of a hot band at an unknown, but presumably intimate, venue was sufficiently intriguing an option to have us both eagerly anticipating the night.

First pleasant surprise was the venue. The Alhambra is an old 1920s theatre that has obviously seen a fair bit of money recently.

All the seats had been stripped out, so it was standing room only, including, it seemed on the balcony above the stalls where we located ourselves. I doubt there was a bad spot in the entire house to watch the gig from.

The combination of historic setting, modern facilities, and a generously sized bar with minimal queueing was a good start to the evening. I mused that it must be quite similar to how the long departed Glasgow Apollo would have appeared in it's heyday.

We easily found space near the sound desk and awaited the arrival of the band.

First impression. FUCK ME. Possibly the loudest band I've ever heard. Simple but effective lighting effects, almost zero pause between songs, and a forty five minute blitzkrieg of raw power almost blew me away.

I feared my ears may bleed, but I was loving it - despite a few crackles and bangs from the PA as the sound guys fought to harness the on-stage energy.

Just as I was beginning to think this is amazing but a little light to balance the shade wouldn't go amiss, the band paused for breath - and produced a gorgeous short acoustic set that took my breath away.

There's something distinctly incongruous about watching a sweaty, hairy singer and a drummer who looks like he repairs tanks for a living, singing beautiful harmonious tunes, but it works.

Then the noise returned and the rest of the concert was just a sea of adrenalin culminating in one of the best stage dives I've seen live. Proper rock'n'roll to finish the night off.


The whole night just blew me away. Even if my ears were still ringing 48 hours later.

It's a long time since a gig has left me feeling so alive, and it's made me regret not going to more in the last few years. The counterpoint to that argument being, of course, that most gigs probably aren't so good.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Shannon Matthews Revisited

When Shannon Matthews was rescued by the police, I had a right go at her mother, Karen Matthews.

Unwittingly I was surprisingly close to the truth when I joked about Karen fancying her chances as an entrepreneur.

It now transpires she was part of a kidnap plot to claim the reward money.

Even more shockingly the police have proved she was feeding Shannon - and probably the rest of her brood - a cocktail of prescription drugs for at least 20 months.

Temazepam, amitriptyline, tramadol and dihydrocodeine - with the dosages peaking during school holiday period.

In my earlier post I wrote, 'How she managed to get time for a social life once she'd got to four or five kids, while still in her twenties, is a puzzle to me.'

Well, I'll puzzle no more. But I won't be taking any of her parenting tips to heart.

It's quite clear the kids were viewed as an inconvenience. A nuisance. But they were a very reliable revenue stream. Worth keeping around!

Karen was making £400 a week in benefits. That's £20,800 a year.

Or, to put it another way, the after tax earnings of someone on around £28,000 per year - and that's before taking into account the various discounts or freebies benefit claimants can qualify for.

What a farce of a system. What a horrible woman.

This has been a particularly harrowing period for child related stories. I'd like to think the powers-that-be will be energised by these events and do something positive, but I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

On A Lighter Note...

...is this how the most famous dwarf in poker celebrates becoming the 8th best poker player in Latin America?


We should be told.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Who Killed Baby P?

They did.

Suck that up Google, Yahoo, MSN, et al.

I can't recall ever being as utterly disgusted and outraged by a case as this one.

Not just for the horrific brutality inflicted on a defenceless child over an extended period of time, but for the shameless self-serving arse covering of Haringey Council.

Sharon Shoesmith, Clive Preece and co. can rot in Hell along with the bastards who did this.

There are very personal reasons that make me feel even more strongly than I might otherwise do about this case, but writing about them would be too difficult right now.

I feel like a volcano ready to explode. I hope there are lots of occupants of maximum-security prisons around England feeling exactly the same way.

Monday, November 10, 2008

2008 WSOP Live Streaming For Nowt

Looks like the link I posted last year is still going strong this year.

No idea if this is legit or not and I'm too lazy to find out.

http://www.channelsurfing.net/watch-wsop.html

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Lewis Hamilton

I'm not a huge fan of Formula One but this afternoon's events were just mind blowing.

The drama, spectacle, and last ditch victory from the jaws of defeat ending, was the stuff of sporting legend.

The sight of the Ferrari team celebrating, only to slump in disbelief as Hamilton caught Timo Glock on the last bend, took me back many years to another event I had an interest in, but no emotional attachment to, which has lived long in sporting folklore.



On that day, Michael Thomas was the hero putting the local favourites to the sword in the dying seconds.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Donald Findlay

I don't usually bet on anything other than cards or the odd sporting event, but I wouldn't mind having a few quid on Donald Findlay being involved when this case gets to court.

It's A Sad Day When...

An astute political commentator...the most incisive political commentator in the country is a transvestite comedian.

On the way to work today, I heard Paul O'Grady (aka Lily Savage) talking about the Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand situation, and he was spot on in his assessment.

"I think it's about time we all moved on, really. I think there are far more important issues at stake than a radio show on a Saturday night and two comics saying silly things.

Yes, it's well out of order but it's not a hanging offence. Why is the prime minister getting involved? Shouldn't he be worrying about the war in Afghanistan, the credit crunch, knife crime?

The most relieved man in the country is George Osbourne. It's blown him right off the front pages."

Enough said!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Running Like David Murray

Miracle of miracles. I'm actually back playing a fair bit of online poker over the last month or so. Now all I have to do is start winning again.

Given my rustiness, and with a little concern at numerous reports of toughening of the online game, I've been breaking myself in playing micro stakes and gradually building up the number of tables.

It's been interesting to relearn some aspects of the game, and to observe how my opponents have evolved in my absence.

One of the most notable changes is the tremendous proliferation of short stackers - even at the lowest limits.

This has been particularly noticeable on Full Tilt and iPoker (via Blonde Poker).

I found multi-tabling extremely demanding for a while, and was blaming an imagined shortening of the time to act, until I realised the true reason was other players acting much more quickly, by folding or pushing on almost every hand.

As has been noted elsewhere, this doesn't make these games unbeatable, but it does require different tactics.

Conversely, Everest seems to be the land that evolution forgot. There's still a fair number of short stackers on this site, but they don't seem to know how to play, which makes for a fishier field with the consequently higher bad beat ratio.

I've been remarkably phlegmatic about that so far. Possibly this is one of the lessons I didn't need to re-learn, as it's more of a life skill.

That doesn't make it any more pleasing to survey the remnants of several lost buy-ins, while my Sklansky bucks meter goes off the scale.

Sigh. It's good to be back. I think.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Easily Satisfied By Katy Perry

Saw this today in work and couldn't stop laughing. Who said slapstick was dead?

Bizarrely it turned up on, of all websites, The Telegraph. A bit of light relief from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and Edmund Conway on the credit crunch.



Has to be up there with Fucking Matt Damon in my fave clips of the year.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Buying On The Sound Of Gunfire

This might seem a particularly odd time to be making a long term commitment to equities, but this week I signed up for a new pension plan.

I've been focusing on paying down the mortgage but since I'm tied to a long term low fixed rate, reducing my debt isn't an imperative in the current market situation.

Added to that, I've finally tired of handing over a huge proportion of my income to the tax man.

The nature of my work as a freelancer means that my gross earnings are subject not only to employee, but also employer, National Insurance contributions. Meaning personal pension contributions attract an effective tax relief rate of 48%.

That's quite a few BBs!

In addition, I've been rather lax about pension planning. My last contribution was a bottom-fishing lump sum some time around early-2003. At least I got my timing right!

This way I need to wait a long time to get my hands on the money, but at least more of it stays mine.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Michael Palin Usurped

They say people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

With that guidance in mind, I've been refraining from commenting on the US election. UK politicians hardly having covered themselves in glory over recent years.

However I had to laugh at John Cleese's declaration that Michael Palin is no longer the funniest Palin.

The thing that gets me about the McCain/Palin candidacy is that McCain must have realised his health and age were weaknesses, and people would pay more than usual attention to whoever his 'one heartbeat from the White House' running mate was.

Logically this should have meant going for a solid, reliable, experienced running mate. Instead he went for someone who makes George Bush look like Einstein.Sarah Palin

Someone who happens to already be more than cosy with 'big oil'.

My inner conspiracy theorist can't help but imagine a triumphant McCain victory, followed by a comfortable demise in his sleep a few months later.

Leaving the White House in the control of a 'nice-looking parrot'.

They'd be drilling on the White House lawn after that! Albeit I could easily foresee an Alexander Haig style declaration, as Palin was hastily packed on a plane to Alaska.

Just my idle thoughts. I've probably watched Syriana too often.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Icesave Iced

A few months ago I was perusing the Sunday papers, when I commented to K.

'The Icelandic banking system is looking really dodgy. I think I'll take that money out of Icesave.'

So I did. Online it took me about 2 minutes.

This week, Icesave went tits up. Within hours some woman was on BBC News bewailing the loss of the TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND pounds she had left on deposit with them.

Apparently it wasn't her fault she'd left what, according to her, was her entire cash pile in a failing institution. Oh no, it was the government's fault.

Seems she wasn't smart enough to read the papers, but she was savvy enough to know how to get on TV pronto to pin the blame elsewhere.

Not quite the attitude that made Britain great; and from memory I think she was an Oxford student too. Standards are slipping!

No doubt she will have been grateful today as the government voluntarily bailed out domestic Icesave investors.

News then started to leak that numerous local authorities had left MILLIONS on deposit with Icesave. Kent County Council alone had £50 million on deposit. Now they want bailed out too.

ffs The Chief Executives and Finance Directors of these councils are paid six figures plus benefits and lavish pensions.

Do they read the papers? Can they spell risk assessment? Should they still be in a job tomorrow?

If there are any vacancies maybe I should apply. I've got no relevant experience or skills in running a major local authority. Seems I'd be a shoo-in for the job.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Timing Is Everything

Tiered gardens + 50 year old brickwork + incessant summer rain = a bloody complicated insurance claim.

Collapsed wall

Not the sight I was expecting to see as I investigated a mysterious crashing noise in my garden this afternoon.

Fortunately E was at nursery, so there was no risk to life or limb.

The wall between the properties is commonly owned by the various properties it divides. The visible damage extends across the boundaries of six properties, two of whom are already in dispute.

I suspect the actual area of repair will cover even more. Each with their own insurance cover.

This could get messy!

Monday, August 18, 2008

How To Impress Many Women With One Gift

They say the way to a man's heart is via his stomach.

With a woman, the route is more circuitous.

It seems to start at the feet.

For a generation of men more than familiar with the Sex And The City girls and their never-ending lust for the latest Manolo Blahniks, Jimmy Choos, or whatever, this shouldn't be a great surprise. It wasn't to me.

What was surprising, was the effect the right gift can have not only on the recipient, but a multitude of other women too.

The scene was the Div household last Thursday. K was trying on outfits
for a Christening we were to attend on Sunday.

I pride myself on being a good shopping companion. Tactful but honest.

If I don't like something she tries on, I'm not shy about offering an opinion, though always in a constructive manner.

This doesn't always go down well in the heat of the moment, but she knows it means if I say I love an outfit, I really do love it.

With the birth being only six weeks previous, I knew this was a particularly sensitive time for offering opinions.

Outfit one was fine, but not brilliant.

Outfit two was great, except for the shoes. They were just a bit too clumsy for the outfit.

'I think you could do better', I told her.

'Well, I've been looking for weeks. You try finding a pair of blue shoes to match this skirt!', she responded just a little tetchily.

I said nothing, and retired to the computer room. That sounded like a fun challenge...

Step 1 - ASOS. I remember the early dot-com days when this was just another niche start-up that seemed doomed to crash and burn. Now they seem to rule the UK market for (fairly) affordable style. Plus I knew K had bought stuff there before so it was a safe bet.

Alas, they had what appeared to be the perfect shoes, but it was too late for delivery before Sunday.

Step 2 - I checked the website of the designer. Kurt Geiger. Same story here.

Step 3 - Last throw of the dice. Find a local stockist. At which point lady luck smiled on me. There was a Kurt Geiger outlet in one of the out-of-town complexes around fifteen minutes drive from work.

Step 4 - I zoomed over on Friday afternoon.

As an unaccompanied guy, walking into a trendy ladies shoe store alone, and seeking out a particular pair, must rank alongside job interviews, or meeting the parents of a new girlfriend, for pounding heart and clammy palms.

The store was quiet. The solitary sales assistant was young, blonde, and gorgeous.

I loitered while she dealt with a middle-aged couple who obviously weren't going to buy anything. Spotting my target I casually lifted them and did my best to appraise them in a manner devoid of fetishistic overtones.

The other couple left empty handed. The assistant politely enquired if I needed help? I did.

She checked with the store room. They had them in K's size. I bought them.

Gorgeous blonde girl seemed relieved I hadn't asked for them in an eleven.

As she wrapped, her curiosity got the better of her, and she gently quizzed me on the purchase. I explained the story. She looked at me like I'd suddenly transformed into a Thelma and Louise era Brad Pitt-alike.

I left the shop with a smile on my face, and a buzz of satisfaction at mission accomplished.

On my return, a few workmates wondered where I'd been. Flush with success, I explained.

The guys were agog, the few girls in the department impressed. Even more so when they saw the shoes. This felt pretty good!

I sprung the surprise on K once both kids were asleep. She was so amazed I thought she might cry. By now I was feeling positively heroic.

She told her pals, lots of them. The acclaim was universal. Her sister loved them.

By now I was starting to understand how rock stars feel. The smallest action sufficient to have women adoring you from afar, no matter how irrational it may be.

I do seem to have made a couple of enemies. Partners who reckon I've set the bar too high.

Do I care? No! She loved them, and I got to feel like a rock star for just a little while.

A small price to pay for these beauties!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Contraception The Div Way

Way back in the early days of this blog, I briefly mentioned some thoughts on pregnancy. Specifically I suggested replacing sex education with pregnancy education, as a way of trying to keep the teenage birth rate down.

How naive I was. I barely scratched the surface - and I use that term advisedly!

If pregnancy one was tough for K, and pregnancy two heartbreaking, pregnancy three was an entirely new experience. One which I couldn't write about on here at the time, as it would have given the game away.

K suffers from bad morning sickness, but in pregnancy three this got to the stage of being classed as hyperemesis gravidarum.

Hyperemesis gravidarum is morning sickness on steroids.

Forget a quick puke in the morning then a relatively normal day to follow.

Think instead waking up and being sick; eating breakfast and being sick; having a glass of water and being sick; having lunch and being sick; having a nap, and waking up to be sick; etc.

The doctors prescribed various combinations of drugs, all of which proved entirely ineffective. One of the major drawbacks being they were orally administered and she puked most of them straight back up.

When it gets to the stage that even a glass of water is intolerable, and sucking an ice cube becomes an ordeal, all paths start to lead to hospital.

K finally got to the stage where she was so dehydrated she could barely stand. Her ketone levels were through the roof - as her body ran out of fuel and resorted to burning fat - and she was clearly dehydrated to the point of incapacitation.

The hospital admitted her, hooked her up to a succession of drips - saline, glucose, and a weird yellow coloured vitamin supplement which, she assures me, stings like hell as it enters the bloodstream.

They also injected anti-sickness drugs that had a more beneficial effect - whether through increased potency, or simply because they were actually absorbed into her system.

After a few days she was discharged, and within a few more days she was ill again.

Another cycle of admission, discharge and regression followed, culminating in a third and final stay of four nights in hospital.

By this time the medics were actually contemplating dispatching a midwife to our home twice daily to administer the anti-sickness injections, as they are not normally available outside hospital. Fortunately K made enough of an improvement to manage without the drugs after this last stay.

With an energetic two year-old to look after, and my job being of the pay-as-you-work variety, stressful barely begins to describe the scenario.

Primarily, of course, for her; but there was certainly an increased burden to be shared by myself and our families.

This is definitely not pregnancy of the movie variety. We are not dealing with Knocked Up or Look Who's Talking here!

If the pregnancy was of the horrendous variety, the labour and delivery went fairly well, particularly when taking into account V being 9lbs 1oz at birth and delivered face-to-pubis i.e. head down but facing the wrong way.

This didn't stop us being regaled with various horror stories from unexpected sources. Such as the lady in the local soft play area, who told us how her daughter's shoulder jammed, and 'ripped' her open during the delivery.

Or, my workmate whose child was wedged so tight the pregnancy culminated in him and a midwife pinning his wife down by the shoulders, while a doctor wielded forceps with his foot braced against the bed for extra leverage.

Amazingly she actually had another child after that ordeal. Women ARE tougher than men!

In my previous post I didn't do justice to the true horror of the forceps.

I'd imagined some delicate almost tweezer like instrument, on a lilliputian scale.

The reality is more akin to something a barbecue enthusiast may be found brandishing with vigour on a sunny weekend afternoon.

Add to that the ventouse cup, scalpels, and the possible side effects of an epidural, and we are into Vincent Price territory. For those who missed my earlier post, a phrase to haunt your nightmares - incise the perineum. Enough said!

If all that failed to discourage the average teenage girl from denying her boyfriend a home run for as long as possible, perhaps the ultimate deterrent is less about pain and more about presentation. Stretch marks!

K got off lightly on these, but while she was pregnant we watched a BBC documentary about a girl who had gotten pregnant at thirteen.

By the time she delivered the poor girl looked like she'd had a particularly extreme session with Max Mosley.

Stretch marks is such a bland term. In severe cases they resemble open welts or burns.

If all else fails, the thought of no more hipster jeans or crop tops would surely deter a high percentage of our fashion conscious female youth from allowing themselves to get impregnated, though it may leave the boys with arms like Rafael Nadal.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Old School Poker

These are funny.

There's something pleasingly familiar about poker clips voiced by Jesse May and Padraig Parkinson. I always get the impression a night down the pub with those two would be a riot.

A bit of retro makes me feel all warm and gooey inside.

Time to reinstall my ZX Spectrum emulator on the PC.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Terrible Twos, Tempestuous Threes

If I were to kick this blog off again, I'd definitely pick a different name, as the 'Parenthood' content has proved to be extremely thin.

One problem I've come to recognise is that having only one child, and only limited experience of dealing with other people's children, meant it's been very difficult to know what is and isn't comment worthy.

In business terms, there was no benchmark for E, against whom I could make comparisons. Clearly that situation is starting to change, so perhaps more observations on V will be forthcoming.

For now, there's one area of child behaviour which is so commonly recognised, no benchmark is required. Namely, The Terrible Twos - a time of tantrums, tears, and what I've seen described as 'oppositional behaviour'.

It seemed to me that we were getting off quite lightly in this respect with E. For most of her twos she proved to be fairly easy to deal with.

She does seem to have almost endless reserves of energy, but for the most part she channelled them in entertaining or creative ways.

She loves to go to the park, she loves to go to various toddler/nursery groups, she loves things like painting, drawing, play dough, etc.

One activity I was quite happy to embrace revolved around my return from work.

K observed that regardless of her state at the time of my return, E would always spring to life and be ready to play as soon as I crossed the threshold.

Not only that, but she seemed to implicitly recognise that playing with daddy allows a wider spectrum of acceptable behaviour than playing with other kids, or mummy, or grandparents.

Specifically, there's a bit more rough-and-tumble allowed.

This would occasionally irritate K, particularly if I were a bit late home and E was getting sleepy and she looked set for a relatively swift transition from daytime to bedtime.

Sleepy toddler would spontaneously transform to whirling dervish toddler, and a period of tumbling, rolling, climbing, backflips and other games, would ensue. Not ideal preparation for bedtime.

For me, it was a joyous time. It's always nice to be welcomed enthusiastically after not seeing the family - often since the previous evening - and after spending most of my day stuck in front of a PC, a bit of physical exertion was no bad thing.

However, in the months approaching her third birthday, we noticed a definite change in E's behaviour.

The welcome home behaviour got a bit more manic, the games more frenzied, and a staring-eyed, teeth-clenching attitude became more prevalent on E's part.

Which all seemed terribly incongruous coming from this skinny, curly blonde haired, vision of innocence.

In retrospect I perhaps didn't take it as seriously as I should have. Laughing off the occasional slap or scratch as over exuberance. Even one of two headbutts seemed to be merely accidental - and may well have been.

E being our first child, I'd never realised how strong a skinny two year old could actually be. The punches are hardly knockout material but they do have an impact, and if she sets her mind to, for example, not allowing herself to be harnessed in the car seat, it's a tough job to get her secured.

One thing that started to toughen my attitude was her continual attempts to target my glasses. Which eventually led to them being so wrecked they barely clung to my nose and ears.

Replacement cost - £300. I was not happy, albeit my prescription had changed, so a new pair would have been required in the near future anyway.

K and I were now making a conscious effort to clamp down on the naughtiness - maintaining a united front against any misdemeanours - whilst still ensuring we were doing all the stuff the text books say should be done. Lots of activities to harness and focus toddler energy productively, making sure she didn't feel marginalised by the impending new baby, etc.

Still the teeth gritting and aggression continued, though at containable levels.

Until, that is, a bath time last midweek when, as I was lifting her from the bath, she caught me unawares and sunk her teeth hard into my neck with a vigour that would have made Dracula proud.

The pain was equal to anything I've had inflicted on me by an adult, and made worse by the complete surprise. Roars of pain, shouting, finger pointing, tantrum tears, and an early bedtime followed (for her, in case you're wondering).

It's difficult to strike a balance in these circumstances.

One the one hand I'm perfectly aware the Terrible Twos exists, and equally aware they were never going to disappear from the date of her recent third birthday. E is only a toddler, and mishaps and misbehaviour are bound to happen.

On the other hand, I was genuinely shocked by the calculated nature of the biting incident, and I do wonder if we've been a bit too soft on her so far.

She does seem to be a clever kid, and it does seem to us that she has a good understanding of right-and-wrong, but just doesn't feel compelled to comply with it sometimes. Time for some 'tough love', I feel.

Still it could be worse. All I've got to show for my suffering is a rapidly fading set of teeth marks on my neck.

A friend wasn't so lucky, when an incident involving his twenty month old son, himself, and a Thomas The Tank Engine toy, resulted in a broken nose for daddy!

He reckons it was an accident, but with the benefit of experience, I'm not so sure!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

RTFM

Anyone in my trade knows that acronym.

For those not in the know, it's an impolite exhortation directed at users/customers to read the manual before pestering us with frivolous queries.

Really then, I should know better.

Decide to get second Wii jOG...and Mario Kart...and why not get a spare SD card while I'm here...hey it's only another four quid to get the 4GB card instead of the 2GB card...bargain!

Receive card...plug into Wii...fail to access...RTFM...only accepts cards up to 2GB...ffs!!

I think I'm addicted.

Would anyone like to buy a second hand 4GB SD card? >:-)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Wii jOG - Cardio or ASBO?

There I was gleefully filling my virtual trolley on Play.com with peripherals and games. Extra nunchuk for controller 2, memory card, games, when I stumbled across something new.

I've already got a Wii Fit on order for K as a belated birthday present - eta God only knows - so I'm well aware of the supply issues with Wii gadgets.

Thus I was immediately drawn to the Wii jOG - a new device which, according to Play.com, isn't due out until the pre-Christmas period.

A quick Google threw up a couple of videos from a UK based company - New Concept Gaming - demonstrating the device in action.

Basically it seems to be a pedometer which hooks up to the system and means the player can drive their character's motion by running on the spot - taking interactivity to a new level.

The video explains better than words ever could.


My immediate reaction was this looked amazing. Fantastic fun, with a decent health benefit too.

When I thought about it a bit more, I came up with a couple of reservations.

From a personal point of view I'm not sure how my hamstrings will stand up to continual running on the spot.

On a more general level, I'd hate to be living in a block of flats when the 16 stone behemoth in the flat above decides to go on a Wii jOG enabled health kick. Particularly when they're on a guilt trip just after returning from the pub.

I can imagine lots of noise complaints on the back of this. Wii ASBOs anyone?

That said, the benefits do seem to far outweigh the potential negatives. Most importantly it looks like a helluva lot of fun, and I can imagine a definite macho element kicking in when playing against pals.

Play.com have them on pre-order for £14.99 against an RRP of £34.99.

Given what's happened with Wii Fit, I was seriously tempted to order dozens of them, in anticipation of profiteering from a pre-Christmas supply bottleneck.

It could be my conscience got the better of my capitalist instincts, or it could be I'm just too lazy, but I settled for pre-ordering one for myself.

On reflection I really should have got two. Might as well get a second one ordered now, and chuck in Mario Kart while I'm there...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Wii Goes Time

I've a terrible habit of getting involved in leisure activities that are comprehensive destroyers of time.

In my youth it was various Play-By-Mail games, alongside some of the earlier war/strategy computer games.

For a while online poker was my main vice - albeit with the advantage that I actually made some pocket money playing it. Not enough to retire on, but enough to fund the Vegas trip amongst other things.

More recently I've fallen under the sway of computer games again. Civilization IV and Company of Heroes being the prime culprits.

Both these games have a tendency to suck me in and completely negate my comprehension of time passing. Which leads to those 'oh shit' moments when realising it's 3am and I've just spent five hours trying to encircle an SS stronghold in western France.

Fortunately I've managed to avoid the temptation to sign up for World Of Warcraft, Second Life, etc, as I fear my friends would never see me again if I got involved in one of those games.

However I have succumbed to a new vice, and I'm already hooked. Namely, the Nintendo Wii.

Hardly groundbreaking stuff, and I've only got a basic bundle at present - although another nunchuk for the second controller, some games, and a Wii Fit are already ordered.

The boxing and tennis have got me totally addicted already, to the point where my arms and shoulders were aching last night.

This in itself is no bad thing. My exercise/fitness regime is totally out the window at present, and my hopes for stepping it up while off on paternity leave have been scuppered, not by time demands of a second child, but by the number of cakes I've consumed during a stream of family and friend visits to meet the newborn.

Return to work is this Monday, and I'm not sure the work trousers will fit. Unless, perhaps, I can squeeze in another few sets tonight...

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Life Is Good

This blog has been somewhat neglected for quite a while. Partly through time pressures, and partly lack of interesting stuff to blog.

Which isn't to say life hasn't been interesting, just that I've not been willing to put the pertinent parts in the public domain, until now.

Meet the latest addition to the Div clan. Another girl, born 3rd July 2008, who I'll call V for the purposes of this blog...

After we lost our second child to a missed miscarriage I didn't want to tempt fate by mentioning this pregnancy until it was successfully concluded.

There were a few problems along the way, but when V arrived she was fit and healthy, and weighed in at a whopping 9lbs 1oz. Quite a contrast to E's 5lbs 10oz!

Mother and child are both fit and well, and I'm delighted to report V is showing signs of being a good sleeper. No doubt inherited from her daddy.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Public Service Announcement x 2

A few words of wisdom borne of my own experiences.

1. Last year I bought a Dell PC. It came pre-installed with McAfee security software.

After a while I noticed a few websites I use - including a forum I share with friends - were loading woefully slowly. I mentioned this to my friends. It ran fine for them.

In the grand scheme of things this was no big deal, so I grinned and bore it.

Recently I got rid of McAfee, and installed the free version of AVG Anti-Virus. Suddenly the web browser is running like a dream across all sites.

At a guess, I suspect McAfee was doing some sort of real-time (sic) validation of embedded content such as adverts.

My recommendation, ditch it.

2. E started off as a really bad sleeper, but after a few months became capable of sleeping soundly for upwards of twelve hours. Fantastic.

Alas, as the early summer mornings arrived this year, they triggered a dramatic change. Suddenly she was waking as early as 5.30am and announcing herself to us, usually with a cry of 'Beebies'. Not good.

K picked up a tip on one of the mummies forums she frequents. The advice was to buy a Stay In Bed Bunny Clock.

My immediate reaction was this was an overpriced gimmick. But sleep deprivation makes a man desperate, so the purchase was made.

When it arrived, my cynicism grew. It feels like it was put together for 50p in some SE Asian sweatshop.

Within days, my cynicism was dispelled. The idea is devastatingly simple yet effective.

The clock is a very basic LCD unit, attached to an illuminated face, split into two halves, only one of which is illuminated at any given time.

The top half shows a little bunny, backpack on, out and about on a sunny day. The bottom half shows the same bunny tucked up asleep in bed.

The time each half is illuminated can be altered.

The child needs simply to be told it's OK to get up when bunny is up, but if bunny is sleeping then they should stay in bed.

I guess this works better for some kids than others, but with E it was an instant success.

She now bounds into our room at a mercifully civilised hour, and usually proclaims 'Bunny is awake'.

I can't guarantee success, but if you are a sleep deprived parent seeking a panacea, this is definitely worth a gamble!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Dutch Deflated

The Dutch are on fire right now, but I can't see them winning the tournament. Teams that come out the blocks so quickly have a tendency to burn out in the knockout stages.


Damn I'm good!

The above quote was me, a few days ago. Tonight Russia eliminated Holland in a game that made a mockery of the odds on offer.

I had a very small bet on the Russians at 9/2 on Betfair, and when they scored, I decided to experiment with my first ever lay off of a bet, which came good when Ruud van Nistelrooy snuck in at the back post with a few minutes to go.

Another tool added to the betting locker. Guaranteed winning is good!

The Russian's were just too good in extra time, and Guus Hiddink's record as an international manager just keeps getting better.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Winding Down

Mega project live. Defects under control. Propped up in front of the TV - glass of red in hand - watching Euro 2008 quarter finals, and skimming hundreds of unread Bloglines entries.

One of the sizeable backlogs belonged to Las Vegas and Poker, and I was genuinely astounded to see WSOP Event 33 had already been won.

Event 33!! I was dimly aware the WSOP was underway, and I've noticed a marked upturn in search hits for live webcasts or streaming, but Event 33. I just can't get my head around it. I've lost a month somewhere.

For the first time in several months I can contemplate an almost free weekend.

Plans so far encompass - repairing the long neglected lawn, ironing(!), and family time.

E is growing up so fast right now, and I do feel terribly guilty about missing a lot of time with her. Some days our only communication has been by phone - which leaves me feeling like a character from some 3rd rate Hollywood cheese fest.

One of her fascinations is aeroplanes. When she sees one flying overhead, I'll ask her where it's going.

She looks at me like I'm daft. 'To the airport daddy.'

I've taken her over to Edinburgh Airport a few times since it's possible to get really close to the runway and the taxiing planes. Close enough for her to wave to the pilots.

There's also lots of open ground for a kickabout when she gets bored with the planes. If there's one thing she has, it's energy in abundance.

Which is partly why this story really struck a chord.

The Royal Highland Show is held on the land beside the airport. This unfortunate little boy was playing in the same area where we are happy to let E run free.

Stories like this always make me feel terrible for the family, but it's a discomforting feeling to have such a direct link to our own activities.

I'd hate for E to become a McDonalds guzzling couch potato, but at the same time she can scare the living daylights out of me with her fearless approach to play. She always want to swing higher, spin faster, or come down the playpark chute head-first, backwards, or both!

While we always try to make sure she is safe, I think I'd rather have an energetic and independent child, pushing her own boundaries, than a cosseted, over protected, cotton wool child.

Like so many things in life, it's all about striking a balance, and finding the right compromises. Which is earier said than done.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Calm Before The Storm

In a slightly surreal place today. After six months of hard grind the mega project I've been working on passed it's final development cut-off today at 2pm.

Green for go. No more IT Iron Man for me.

Which meant a comparatively leisurely afternoon in work, and a generally satisfied feeling inside, coupled with some unease about the impending go-live.

I amused myself thumbing through a brochure on drugs that had been distributed to every desk.

It's supposed to be a guide to parents on how to deal with discussing drugs with their kids. High production values, glossy pictures, details of drug types, nicknames, modes of usage, side effects, etc.

If anything I thought it looked just a bit too glamorous.

Given that at thirty seven I'm the second oldest person on the team, and the average age is under thirty, it was receiving a less than reverential reception.

Many comments along the lines, 'There's a fault with this catalogue. They forgot to include the order hotline number, or website address.'

It should be fortuitous timing that Saturday is supposed to be a lads day out - drinking commencement scheduled for 1pm, with an end date likely to be some time in the wee small hours.

Unfortunately mega project is deployed into the production system at 10am on Sunday morning, and my attendance is required. No all day session for me.

We bed it in on Sunday, roll it out to the users in time for the Monday morning call surge. I'm anticipating a couple of days of frantic activity whilst hoping for a swift return to a more rational lifestyle.

So I'll need to content myself with a few afternoon beers and an early night. Partying can wait for a little while.

Contentment tonight came in the form of Euro 2008. The protagonists Holland and France; the football sublime; the atmosphere rocking.

The Dutch are on fire right now, but I can't see them winning the tournament. Teams that come out the blocks so quickly have a tendency to burn out in the knockout stages.

Another highpoint of the tournament is finally getting some value from my Sony HDTV system. Much as I could merrily strangle John Motson, the picture on the BBC HDTV broadcast is fantastic.

Ultra clear, vibrant colour, no smearing, and there's an appreciable depth to the picture. Just a pity there's so little HD content available right now.

No doubt that will be changing over the rest of this year, and with many more people gaining exposure to HD during Euro 2008, there's likely to be more demand for additional content as the difference in quality becomes obvious to non-geeks.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Oil Crisis Hits Home

I've been feeling a little smug as the credit crisis wreaked havoc on the financial markets.

Unlike our esteemed PM, I not only talk the prudence talk, I walk the prudence walk too. So our finances have been pretty much oblivious to the unfolding crisis.

Mortgage woes. Increasing rates. Declining choices.

No problem. We are on a long term fixed rate mortgage that's already overpaid.

Negative equity worries.

We paid a big deposit on the house.

Job security fears.

I'm freelance, so perpetually at risk. No change there. The mortgage over payments would give us a couple of years repayment holiday if required.

Reduced opportunities for credit.

We don't have any need for loans, and I've got enough credit on my cards to buy a very decent car. Mainly courtesy of Egg who gave me a £15,000 credit limit without offering me the chance to request a limit during the application process. A sign perhaps of the root of a lot of the current problems.

So, from a purely selfish perspective, all good. If anything the credit crisis might be a chance for me to exploit a buyers market.

The oil crisis isn't quite such a non-event for me. We are a two car household so rising prices are bound to have some effect.

Yet the big car is a very efficient diesel, and the little car is primarily used to get me to the train station for the commute to work.

Which means a relatively limited impact on me so far.

That may be about to change!

I'm pretty keen on environmental issues, so I should be glad that some people seem to have reached a tipping point and are ditching the car in favour of public transport.

The only problem being on my route to work there's already no spare capacity. The last thing I want after another crap day at work is a rugby scrum just to get on a crowded train for the journey home.

You might think the obvious solution is to run more trains, but there are track capacity constraints.

The best solution is to make the existing trains longer. A lot of the trains on my route are three carriage, when the platforms are built for six carriage units.

I suggested to the rail company they might want to lease more trains. They told me they can't afford it. Which makes me wonder what it takes for them to make a profit, when they've already got the punters crammed in like this...

The commute to work
If the oil crisis means more of the above, I might finally start to have some sympathy for the average motorist, so long as they promise to stay in their cars!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Happy Thoughts

Work has been killing me recently, so there's been little time for much else.

By this Friday, I'll have worked 19 straight days, and often a fairly extended working day. I feel like I'm running an IT Iron Man competition.

Which isn't great for family life, especially when I get home after E is in bed, and it's pretty wearing in general. On the plus side, I work on a day-rate, so the Div family coffers are swelling.

It's a grind though, so tonight I thought I'd post a couple of small but happy things...

Firstly, remember this bet? Turns out it wasn't so bad after all.

Celtic win league

Secondly, happy birthday to Kylie, who turns forty today. Forty!!

The newest pop princesses are all well and good, but as late thirties loom, it's nice to know there are women older than me who I'd still like to do scandalous things to.

Be honest, you would, wouldn't you?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Hate To Say I Told You So

Back in February, commenting on the forthcoming conclusion to the Scottish Premier League, I wrote..

Will we see more examples of dodgy decisions over the remainder of what looks sure to be a tight run in? You betcha!

If there's one thing about 'The Establishment' it knows how to close ranks in an hour-of-need.

Look for more invisible hand balls, mysterious offsides, debatable penalties, and more subtle influencing - such as the amazing Aiden McGeady booking count - as The Establishment attempts to fend off three-in-a-row for Celtic.
Today, after the Rangers v Dundee Utd match in which Dundee Utd were denied a blatant penalty, had a goal incorrectly disallowed, and TWO Rangers players escaped from red card offences, the Dundee United manager, Craig Levein, had this to say..

I said to him that we were as well not turning up. What was the point? We were as well going home.

Mike could have phoned me this morning and said: `Look, Rangers are going to get the three points today - just tell your lads to stay in the house.'
Today's referee. Mike McCurry. A man who has made an awful lot of big mistakes this season. A high proportion of which have advantaged Rangers.

As I said of Bobby Tait previously, at what point does dodgy refereeing cross the line into match fixing? I'd love to see that question answered in the courts.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Economic Indicators

Aside from all the usual economic indicators - GDP, inflation rates, employment numbers, FTSE, etc. - there are a range of other ways to gauge the state of the economy.

One financial journalist I read came up with the 'skip index' as a means of judging the health of the property market. He routinely monitors the number of builders skips outside properties in his street and uses it as a means of determining whether activity in the market is increasing or declining.

I liked that idea since it is likely to preempt more scientific measures, as renovating a property and selling it can take several months, after which there is then another few months delay until the statisticians compile their numbers.

Recently I've spotted a couple of new indicators of my own. One with a degree of science/rationality. One more of a gut feel.

The more rational one is in the new car market. I've been inundated with flyers from companies offering progressively juicier financing options on new cars.

The standard seems to be 0% interest over three years with a 35% deposit required.

This isn't a new game for the manufacturers. They want to shift stock but don't want to damage their brands by cutting prices, so they dress a price cut up as something else.

Particularly in the midst of a credit crunch where loans are becoming scarcer it makes sense.

However a recent offer from Renault really got my attention.

0% over three years, with a TEN percent deposit required. Or, to put it another way, put £750 down on a base model Renault Clio to drive it out the showroom, and pay it off over three years with no interest charged!

That's practically giving it away, and as clear an indication as anyone should need that the economy is in a bit of a pickle.

That's the 'big ticket' picture, but my less scientific, more intuitive analysis is from a much lower price range.

Recently I've bought a real range of stuff off a whole range of websites. Clothes, shoes, shaving products, plumbers rods (don't ask!), food supplements.

I'm definitely a bit of a 'long tail' shopper but the unifying factor across all the purchases is they are dispatching super fast.

Either a lot of web-based companies simultaneously upped their logistics game, or the oft forecast consumer slowdown is underway. I know which option my money is on.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Simple Pleasures

I was in the pub last year regaling my pals with tales of the disastrous stag do in Liverpool, and my run in with the guys who prove there's more than one cunt in Scunthorpe, when one of them remarked that I'd likely carry an intense hatred for Scunthorpe FC around for the rest of my life.

He was right. Which is why this gave me a great deal of pleasure.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Good Bet; Bad Bet

I keep a few quid in a Betfair account that comes in handy for fun/spontaneous betting urges.

Like sticking a fiver on Comply or Die at better than 10/1 in The Grand National. Good bet.

Solely on the grounds that I liked the name of the horse, and a jockey called Timmy Murphy had to be worth backing.

Or like sticking twenty five quid on Celtic to win the SPL at better than 4/1. Bad bet!

I'd sat and watched Rangers grind to a halt against Sporting Lisbon and figured they looked like a team dead on their feet, and likely to drop points in their many away games. 4/1 seemed good value on Celtic to overhaul them.

Alas I failed to take into account that while Rangers are, indeed, shite; Celtic appear to be shiter (is there such a word?).

The league isn't dead just yet, but I'd want way better than 4/1 before putting another penny on now.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Al Gore To The Rescue?

I've been watching the Democratic presidential candidate nomination process career ever further off-the-rails with increasing dismay.

Like many in the UK I was astounded when chimp-in-a-suit George W. Bush got in for a second term, and have been thinking surely the Republicans are going to get trounced next time around?

That was until the Democrats shot themselves in the foot with a cannon, by getting into a vicious internal war in which victory could well be Pyrrhic.

If the Democrats can manage to produce a third result - as is being speculated - that would be a real rabbit from the hat.

I bet McCain's campaign team have their Al Gore voodoo dolls out this weekend.

Grumpy Old Paxman - M&S and Me

It may not have escaped the notice of my few regular readers that not only am I becoming even more of a grumpy bastard recently, my political thoughts appear to be making steady progress from fairly left-of-centre towards the point where Norman Tebbit starts to appear over the horizon.

Not a thrilling thought!

Equally disconcertingly, I now find myself in agreement with professional controversist Jeremy Paxman on a subject so gratingly middle-class even Hyacinth Bucket would be ashamed. Namely the declining quality of Marks and Spencer's products.

Paxman had M&S underpants in his sights. The subject of my ire is a relatively new pair of plain black shoes purchased for work purposes.

When buying shoes for work, I'm generally looking for something smart, unobtrusive, and sensible. Gucci loafers are not in my thoughts.

Only once can I recall owning a pair of work shoes I had any real enthusiasm for, and that was an accidental purchase. A pair of Rockports bought on a US holiday at the same price in dollars I'd have paid in pounds back home in rip-off Britain.

On my return they became my work shoes by default.

Having size 10 feet, the lightness of their sole was a thing of beauty to me, and I mourned their demise, but I was fucked if I was going to pay the going rate in the UK for a replacement pair.

As winter descended upon us, I decided my current work shoes were showing their age and another re-heeling didn't seem justified. Given that I'm trying to prioritise time over money at present, the quick and easy solution seemed to be a visit to the M&S store.

Sure enough, they had exactly what I was looking for. Albeit slightly overpriced, I felt, at £50.

I was somewhat surprised to discover that fifty quid doesn't even entitle one to a cardboard box these days, as the shoes were plonked straight into a plastic carrier bag.

At first they performed exactly as expected. Until, that is, the rains came...

I should point out that my daily work commute consists primarily of car and train, with roughly a ten minute walk between office and train station. Therefore in total the exposure to the elements consists of less than half-an-hour each day.

With that in mind, the rapid deterioration of my not-so-cheap shoes pissed me off more than a little.

Within weeks they'd begun to stain white, necessitating frequent resprays with waterproofer, and a nightly polish.

Within a couple of months, I was starting to get a damp feeling in my socks by the end of the journey home.

After three months, as I was already contemplating a replacement purchase, the sole gave out and invisible leaks were replaced by a hole the size of a 5p piece.

I won't be back in M&S for a while.

It seems to me that the ceaseless drive to keep down prices in the face of competition is driving more and more companies into cutting corners to the point where quality is abandoned in pursuit of another 2% saving.

Not just on the high streeet. My work encounters with Indian IT outsourcers could fill a volume or two with tales of anguish, but that's for another day.

My shoe woes have been soothed by a most unlikely source. Amazon are now selling shoes - more specifically a huge range of Rockports at generous discounts - and my sub-standard M&S pair have now been replaced by these Rockport Conors for a mere £4 more.

The sole isn't quite as light as the earlier ones, but it has some sort of patented spring mechanism, which makes the walk to work feel like a rather pleasant trampoline exercise.

More importantly, they don't fucking leak! Take note Stuart Rose and M&S...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bobby Tait - The Original Mason In The Black

This little article appeared in the local free newspaper that pops through my letterbox each week. It's one of those pieces that leaves you unsure whether to laugh or cry.

Bobby Tait Lodge Pic
The event is a Freemason organised night. The guy in the middle of the photo is ex Scottish football referee Bobby Tait. A man who infamously requested that his last ever game as a Grade 1 referee be at Ibrox, as Rangers played Kilmarnock, in the midst of a historic battle for the title between Celtic and Rangers.

With Rangers desperately needing a win to maintain their chances of winning ten league titles in a row - thus beating Celtic's previously unassailable nine-in-a-row record - the game was of monumental importance. Victory in the title race would hand bragging rights to the dark half of the city for an eternity.

With the game heading for a draw, Tait decided to add an incredible five minutes injury-time at the end of the match.

On top of his previous performances that season - including more timepiece malfunctions that cost Celtic a win at Tynecastle - one could only conclude Bobby Tait valued Rangers wins above his own reputation for honesty and integrity, and would do anything to see them win the title.

Alas for Mr Tait, Kilmarnock had other ideas and scored a last minute winner that crushed Rangers push for a new record.

He must have been devastated. What a way to end your career!

Since retiring, the Celtic rumour mill has been rife with reports of Mr Tait's after dinner speaking. With boasts about never having awarded a penalty against Rangers at Ibrox being the supposed highlight of his act.

Given that he generally speaks at Rangers supporters events, Freemason events, or, allegedly, Orange Order events - in truth almost interchangeable as bastions of Protestantism and Rangers - it's hardly surprising he is a popular guest. Though presumably he focuses on earlier highlights of his career.

There you have it. A supposedly impartial - unimpeachable if the Scottish press are to be believed - figure who openly boasts of his pro-Rangers bias throughout his career. What would Donald McVicar make of it all?

I also wonder what the bookies and fraud squad would make of it. After all, isn't match fixing - which appears to be what that Ibrox penalty boast hints at - a crime?

Articles on the Freemasons and Orange Order are ten-a-penny in the Scottish local press and nobody bats an eyelid.

To be fair they can be a source of great amusement. Check our the 'surprised' eyebrows on the dude middle-back in the above photo. Does make one wonder where Bobby's left hand is!

But there's a more serious point to be made. The Orange Order in particular is a closed club - Protestants only - with an anti-Catholic agenda.

Yet it receives the same polite and sympathetic coverage in the local press that a bowling club might expect.

Imagine visiting Alabama and picking up a local newspaper with similar coverage of a KKK meeting. Or visiting Dagenham and seeing equally sympathetic coverage of a BNP event.

After a fine lamb dinner and some excellent red wine, those present were in full agreement with guest speakers who stated immigration was a blight on the nation, and those annoying blacks should be sent back to where they came from.

£200 was raised for charity.

There would be outrage. Sky News and BBC24 would be on the scene in hours. Questions would be raised in parliament. The tabloids would be foaming with righteous indignation.

Never mind the charity money. Listen to what those loons are actually saying!

Not so in Scotland. Another example of that not-so-secret shame.

Speaking of charity money, am I the only one who wonders how a night that features three 'esteemed' guest speakers only manages to raise two hundred quid? Seems more than a little on the cheap side to me!

I wonder how much was spent at the bar?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Shannon Matthews Safe; Charles Darwin Spinning In Grave

Shannon Matthews the missing 9 year-old from West Yorkshire is safe. Which is obviously great news. I always get the feeling after 48 hours in these cases that if the kid hasn't turned up, the police will be looking at either an accident or murder.

So it's great news she has been found, apparently well after being missing for more than three weeks, and I am genuinely delighted for her family.

Yet it's hard to shake off the horrible feeling that her abduction opened a window into a society that shouldn't exist.

The family life of her mother, Karen Matthews, makes Shameless look like Brideshead Revisited. The statistics are mind blowing.

Age 32. Seven children. Five different fathers. Bloody hell!!

If the average British worker was as productive there would be no recession fears, no deficit worries, no trade gap. We'd be world beaters!

Should Karen fancy her chances as an entrepreneur, I'd suggest she looks into setting up an Internet dating site. She obviously has expertise in the meeting and mating market.

In a way you have to admire her inventiveness and time management skills. How she managed to get time for a social life once she'd got to four or five kids, while still in her twenties, is a puzzle to me.

It must really hurt for couples struggling to have just one kid they'd love unconditionally - marooned on NHS IVF waiting lists that measure in years - to be exposed to an alternative word where kids are produced on a production line, with little apparent regard for their welfare or the likelihood of giving them a stable upbringing.

On a more practical level, it must be galling for families where the parents both work but struggle to make ends meet due to child care costs, to witness a culture where work is a swear word and kids are utilised as a means of enhancing social security benefits.

It seems to me we've reached a point where flawed government policies, allied to a culture that really is shameless, has turned Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection on it's head.

If you are smart, motivated, and hard working, the odds are you won't have the cash, or more crucially the time, to raise a big family. This is especially true where the woman is keen to continue working. There aren't many Nicola Horlicks around!

Conversely, if you can't be bothered working, but think the world owes you a living, having loads of kids seems to be the fastest legal route to boosting your income.

The inevitable consequence of this situation is that survival of the fittest ceases to be the norm.

The smart and hard working will be out bred by the feckless, whilst simultaneously being screwed for an ever higher percentage of their income to fund the offspring of the benefit junkies.

All of which sounds perilously close to a Nazi-esque view of the world. Which makes me very uncomfortable, but I cannot see where else current trends are taking us.

I'm absolutely in favour of protecting the weak; a high standard of comprehensive education; free health services; and Gordon Brown's oft quoted desire to end child poverty.

However it's clear to me that current policies are not going to achieve that aim. There has to be a better way.

I've got some post-budget thoughts on the general economy, but here's a quick hit in the area of Child Benefit.

Currently child one gets a higher weekly allowance and all subsequent kids are paid at a reduced rate. Why not continue the taper so that child three gets less than two, etc? I'd imagine that by child four, condoms or The Pill would be a much more prominent part of the conversation with any prospective partners.

This could be kept revenue neutral by increasing the payments for kids one and two, so no stealth tax here.

I can't claim this as a perfect solution - and it has definite echoes of China - but it's a step ahead of current policy which is a licence to breed without any regard for the consequences.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tweaks

Off for what should hopefully be a relaxing family weekend - despite a forecast of snow!! Heck I might even find some time for a bit of online poker due to the wonders of hotel wifi.

I've been doing a little more tidying up on the blog template recently, as well as adding a translation section on the left, courtesy of all powerful Google.

I can't imagine how much it would have cost to get a site of this size translated into multiple languages a few years ago. Now it's entirely free.

Maybe that Rising Sun icon will get a few clicks as the Japanese influence at Celtic grows, courtesy of Koki Mizuno. I really hope that guy is a success - not only since he looks skillful and quick, but because his name is such an absolute gift for song writers!

My language skills are almost nil, so it's difficult to know how good a job these robotic translation services do. All I know is they are 100% more effective than anything I could come up with.

It's been a long time since I trawled through the blogroll, so that's another thing on the todo list for next week.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

More Fun With Donald McVicar

In the early days of this blog I had an entertaining correspondence with Donald McVicar, SFA referee-in-chief.

The basis of the correspondence being that referee Stuart Dougal had inadvertently confessed on the SFA Whistleblower website to wrongly awarding a penalty against Celtic during a game against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, when the actual aim of the article was to justify the decision.

Here's another interesting example from the same site.

Last season - Celtic player Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink scores a late winner against Inverness Caledonian Thistle (them again!), celebrates with crowd, and is booked by referee Iain Brines - which is effectively a red card as it is his second booking of the game.

Utterly and indisputably correctly, according to both Mr Brines and Mr McVicar.

Not the unerring certainty of the words. The complete lack of any scope for interpretation of this rule...

Iain Brines: "I had no option to show the card....instructions over the past three seasons have been perfectly clear. The player ran off the pitch and over the track to the terracing boundary where he was surrounded by spectators..."

Donald McVicar: "Clubs, managers, players and all those closely involved in the game are aware that spectators should not be encouraged to run down to the perimeter wall or fence. This is a proactive measure to reduce the risk of injury to fans who might fall or be trampled in the rush.

If anone[sic] is in any doubt about the serious[sic] of the instructions they need only contact any of the Police Match Commanders at games or the club Safety Officers, all of whom have clear views on the need to be preventative. It is most unfair for those in the media to brand referees as killjoys in such situations. They are only carrying out instructions."

No scope for interpretation. It must be a booking. Fair enough them; no complaints.

But wait, what's this I see...

Celebrating? Or Escaping?Or
Hmmm, looks to me like wantaway Rangers striker Daniel Cousin celebrating with the crowd after scoring today against Gretna. Either that, or he spotted a tunnel in the Broomloan Road Stand that he hoped led to Fulham.

No matter, a booking no doubt. After all, as Mr McVicar says that is what referees are instructed to do. Mr Brines ASSURED us there was 'no option'.

Except, of course, there was no booking.

It seems today's referee - Calum Murray - doesn't know how to follow instructions.

Will we see an apology on The Whistleblower? Don't count on it.

Will we see Mr McVicar accept the decision was wrong? I doubt it.

Will we see more examples of dodgy decisions over the remainder of what looks sure to be a tight run in? You betcha!

If there's one thing about 'The Establishment' it knows how to close ranks in an hour-of-need.

Look for more invisible hand balls, mysterious offsides, debatable penalties, and more subtle influencing - such as the amazing Aiden McGeady booking count - as The Establishment attempts to fend off three-in-a-row for Celtic.

When Robert Met Shaun

So maybe I was a bit harsh on that Robert Marsden guy. All problems and not enough solutions.

To redress the balance, may I respectfully suggest he takes a lead from Shaun The Sheep, and shapes up a little.



Hint: Whole episode is funny, but it really picks up around 4:30 when the Stallone influence kicks in.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tough Love Now!

Spotted this story doing the rounds today, and could scarcely believe it.

Robert Marsden, age 40, weighs 41 stone and requires daily visits from carers. Due to his enormous bulk, it sometimes becomes difficult for the carers to move him. So they have to revert to the established procedure and call the fire brigade for assistance!

Which means TEN firefighters in two fire engines are dispatched to his house to shift him. This has happened FOUR times in a single week.

I have no problem with the carers summoning assistance. Otherwise sooner or later someone is likely to end up getting hurt. A friend's wife had her knee ligaments damaged when the hospital she worked in failed to provide proper lifting equipment, so I'm well aware of the dangers.

On so many other levels this is very wrong.

For starters, why does it have to be the fire brigade who are called out? Surely this is a golden opportunity for getting private enterprise involved.

Someone like Reliance - who do prisoner transfers - would be a good candidate, though with their record they'd probably end up going to the wrong house, or inadvertently heaving the guy away and dropping him at Barlinnie.

Maybe one of the airport baggage handling companies could take the contract. They are used to lumping heavy inanimate objects around. Perhaps the prospect of being exposed to their tender hands would motivate Mr Marsden to rediscover his mobility.

Taking my flippant free marketeers hat off, let's get down to the fundamental issue.

This guy is forty, unemployed, spends most of his day in bed, needs daily carers, and regularly requires the assistance of the emergency services. He claims he does not understand 'what the fuss was about'.

Well let me enlighten him. The fuss is about the fact he contributes nothing, while living off state benefits and routinely draining the state coffers due to his ridiculous weight. The state coffers funded by the rest of us who actually get out of bed in the morning and go to work.

Unless he does something to improve his condition there's no prospect of that drain diminishing, or him ever contributing a penny in tax until the day he dies. He is, effectively, a parasite gorging on the rest of us.

'My weight isn't something I like to discuss. It comes up in every conversation I have. I am tired of talking about it.' he says.

Credit where credit is due, at least he doesn't try to hide behind some mysterious medical condition. He is fat because he eats lots, and expends no energy.

How does he maintain his gargantuan weight? Given his obvious lack of mobility, he can't be routinely popping down to the shops for two litre bottles of Coke and family packs of crisps. The food must be brought to him; presumably by his carers or family.

Isn't this an obvious opportunity for some 'tough love'? Why are we paying for this guy to stay fat with the assistance of the local council, when all it's doing is prolonging his nonsensical condition.

Instead of Doritos and Monster Munch, why not just stick him on a lettuce and carrot diet until he is thin enough to get his own food?

No doubt human rights legislation would have something to say about that, but what rights are someone really entitled to when they have eaten themselves into a state of utter helplessness?

There are schoolkids in Scotland being told they can't study the courses they wish to because the council can't afford to fund them. Surely their rights are more important when it comes to allocating council cash?

The only positive thing I can see in Mr Marsden's current state is if he can't move, he can't be sat beside me on a train or plane.

If the carers can't give him some tough love, at the very least, the next time the fire brigade are called out, they should make a stand and nail his kitchen door shut.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Road To Somewhere

At first glance the building of a new piece of motorway is hardly something to get excited about.

While bridges and buildings can impress through aesthetic splendour or engineering brilliance, a motorway is rather more mundane. Not much more than a big slab of tarmac built purely for functionality.

Yet I was both excited and relieved when the Scottish Government finally gave the go-ahead for the M74 Completion project.

Excited, because the final five mile stretch of motorway is so glaring an omission from the Scottish road network that it beggars belief.

Relieved, because it has taken a scandalous fourteen years since the completion of the previous phase to commence work on this phase. By the projected completion date of late-2011 an incredible seventeen years will have elapsed.

Seventeen years! Children have been born, reared, educated, and left home in the time it takes us to build five miles of motorway.

Of course some of the delays were self inflicted, as the environmental lobby made full use of the legal and planning processes to attempt to prevent construction ever commencing.

As the legal battles unfolded I've lost a lot of respect for the environmental lobby. I'm all in favour of saving the environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, boosting public transport links, etc.

I'm also well of the 'M25 effect' - that boosting capacity simply boosts demand - but on the M74 link the environmental lobby seems to have mistaken connectivity for capacity. The fact is that a key link that should exist does not, which forces thousands of vehicles each day to route along the M8, causing congestion, pollution, and mind searing frustration.

For over a year I was subjected to the 'M8 slog' on a daily basis. I hated it.

A work colleague, who was clearly a masochist, commuted daily from Edinburgh by car. He told me he felt unable to properly converse with anyone for an hour after arriving at work, as it took him that long to depressurise from the journey in.

Eventually we both resigned.

Were the government proposing to widen the existing M8 route to ten lanes wide in each direction, I'd be out chaining myself to a tree too. They are not. They are putting in a sensible alternative route.

I'm equally glad to see the Scottish Government is also pressing ahead with several other major transport schemes.

The relatively new Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) administration may have gotten lucky to an extent in that several schemes devised by the old Labour/Lib-Deb coalition were nearing fruition when they came to power, but I have been impressed by how they've chosen to implement them and the apparent speed with which they have set the wheels turning.

The Edinburgh Airport Rail Link was one such scheme. The SNP undoubtedly did the right thing in canning the original risky and potentially ruinously expensive 'tunnel under the runway' scheme in favour of a more austere overground scheme tied in to the new Edinburgh trams route.

The SNP weren't keen on the trams, but I am. I've yet to visit a city with a tram network that didn't impress me. Somehow trams feel more secure than buses. They are better suited to moving large numbers of people, and electric power is infinitely preferable to diesel in an urban context.

There's a nifty little promo video for the trams here.

The Glasgow Airport Rail Link falls into the same basket as the Edinburgh Airport link. A no-brainer that has taken far too long to move from the debating chamber to the construction stage.

The new kid on the block is the Forth Replacement Crossing. It's hard to think of a more compelling business case for a new bridge than 'the existing one is falling down', but it seemed to take a change of administration for this to sink in with our esteemed leaders.

The existing bridge will still likely be closed to heavy vehicles before the new one is complete, thanks to the interminable delays in getting the project off the ground. Ridiculous.

The tangible progress we are finally making should of course be seen as a positive development, but in reality the completion of all the above projects will merely bring our transport infrastructure up to a barely acceptable level.

Of the outstanding projects that I'd still consider essential, the easiest to justify has to be Glasgow Crossrail.

The cost (probably £300m+ at current prices) is actually comparatively modest in the context of the estimated £16 billion cost of the new London Crossrail scheme, or the whopping £100 billion of liabilities the UK Government has assumed on behalf of Northern Rock.

The benefits in terms of improved connectivity, capacity increases, and reduced journey times are undeniable. At a time when the local network is maxing out, this seems to be another no-brainer scheme.

When was it first proposed? 1968. FORTY years ago, and still not a solitary length of rail has been laid. Suddenly the M74 link seems almost supercharged.

It would be churlish to mock recent progress, but let's not kid ourselves. There's a very long journey ahead. One of the biggest obstacles on that journey will be the challenge of integrating transport policy more effectively with other policies.

More on that later.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Get Me Mike McCurry On The Phone

OK, so the language is definitely NSFW, and it should be 'Mein F├╝hrer' not 'Mine Fuhrer', but that's just splitting hairs.

This had me crying with laughter. Put's the average British sitcom to shame.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Clearing The Decks

Last week I received an email from a very good friend expressing some concern for my welfare.

Among the criteria he cited as the basis of his concern were: non-attendance at the pub; lack of blog activity.

It's pretty difficult to argue with the facts here. Over the entire festive period and into New Year I was properly drunk once - albeit to such a spectacular level that it went way beyond properly drunk and more into the improper level. The blog activity speaks for itself.

There hasn't actually been any dark reason behind my disappearance from both the real and virtual social scenes. Just a vicious combination of work pressures, family issues, and ill health. At this time of year I seem to attract more bugs than the average UK prison.

Time to put things right!

It's symptomatic of the state the blog has fallen into that I can kick off the regeneration by doing the almost obligatory year-end review/New Year resolutions post in mid-February.

To do so, I had to go back and remind myself what the 2007 resolutions actually were. I was expecting abject failure, and was pleased to actually find a tickable box.

For 2007 I was comparatively unambitious in my online poker goals. I set only two, yet contrived to miss them both spectacularly.

Clear $6,000

2007 was a bad year! I didn't play anywhere near as much as I expected. When I did I either played badly or ran badly. Eventually time constraints and a lack of motivation drove down my table time.

I won a touch over $1000 for the year. Which is gravely disappointing, yet in a way still feels like a victory. 'Only' making $xxxx in a given time period has to be better than losing $yyyy in the same time period?

Deepen Experience of Other Poker Variants

This goal was basically sacrificed in pursuit of trying to remedy the shortcomings in the previous one. Trying to get a high volume of hands in at the table doesn't really lend itself to variants other than Hold Em.

Anyone who has tried multi-tabling HORSE, or even mixing Hold Em and PLO, will be able to attest to the mind altering possibilities of such a strategy.

Do Some Interesting Poker Related Stuff

Box ticking time. On 1st January 2007 I wrote:

A deliberately vague target. This could mean that long anticipated Vegas return. It could be satelliting into a decent size UK event. It could be a trip to one of the EPT events.

Much as I have no desire to live the life of a poker pro, I am envious of the travel opportunities it affords. Doing something along those lines would be a nice segue between poker and my wider ambitions in life.

On 9th October 2007 I landed at McCarran Airport to commence my second Vegas visit.

More than enough was written about that on my return. Suffice to say, I consider this box well and truly ticked.

The Vegas trip pretty much put a cap on my poker time for the year. I think subconsciously I may have burnt myself out by getting a bit too results oriented.

Another lesson learned and not one that will put me off in the longer term (gotta love that phrase). Without poker I wouldn't have gone back to Vegas and got the chance to do this...



For this year I'm not setting any real poker goals. What I am aiming for in the non-poker area is a progression of my aims in terms of simplifying my life and keeping my finances on course for early retirement.

I don't see any point expanding on this at present, as I hope to write more about it soon. Time will tell whether I keep to my resolution.