Thursday, 31 December 2009

New Year's Eve, and a pair of over-square trousers

We're just back home after a very long break in Finistere, Brittany. Plenty of tales from France in future blogs, but today's posting is about a pair of over-square trousers. As a younger man my trousers were 28 inch waist, and we used to laugh at our house-share pal, the stocky Phil, because he had square trousers, ie his waist measurement was the same as his inside leg.

The photo is a clock on the citadel at Concarneau, with various messages about the passage of time. And, over time, my waistband has expanded. Some of it's emotional eating, but mainly it's greed and gluttony, and less exercise. A few weeks in Brittany dairy central, testing local produce, has given me a single-pack barrel belly, made of Breton butter, beer, baguettes and frites. (I was, of course, slim and svelte before I left for France.)

I'm back at work next week, and last month I split two pairs of work trousers cycling home from the office. So today I popped into town and bought for work my largest ever trousers, 38 inch waist, and they fit a treat. And my project for 2010? To get into 30/30 square trousers again.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Nine blokes talking rubbish

Big Swifty (left) says to Alan (right) "this is probably the last time all of us will be in the same room together"
Alan says "what do you know then?"
BJ (centre) says "I like it when a plan comes together"
Meanwhile Peter (left) roars with laughter, as Brian (right) exclaims "chin see how", which is "lovely day" in a chinese language.
Chris (left) talks to Frank (right) about his underwater diving, and Frank says "I didn't know you had a daughter, Ivy"
John (left) tells us about his next big trip, and the state of geriatric care in Colchester Hospital, and David (right), chuckles with Big Swifty, that it has all come to this, after our shared working lives at Colchester Borough Council. Nine old blokes talking rubbish, in "The Foresters" pub, every first Tuesday in the month. And a newsletter from Rod in Scotland, the tenth man, as our absent friend.
A good turn out this week, and, as usual, there's several missing out of the potential crowd of about fifteen. There's some mileage still left in us, as we make the most of our lives after our main careers have finished. I don't suppose this particular group of nine will ever be together in The Foresters again; we've all got plenty of other places to be. Cheers, everyone, probably see you in January.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Big Swifty comes out at work

Big Swifty hasn't posted much about work. I don't think it's appropriate to use blogs to criticise one's colleagues or employers. Firstly, there's a proper process to air any grievances about work. Secondly, I don't have any grievances; I like my employers, as an organisation and as individuals, and I enjoy the company of my colleagues. Sorry, if you were hoping for some salacious gossip or nasty comments, but I like these people.

Having read various american facebook friends' tales of thanksgiving, and pumpkin pie, and yearning because we in the UK don't celebrate this festival, I was so pleased today to be offered home-made pumpkin pie by Laura, long based in Essex, but a native of Pasadena, Californ-eye-ay. Anxious to record the miniutiae and ephemera of life, I whipped out my camera, and created a minor commotion in our open plan office.

At this stage I was forced to come out about my blogging, admitting my shame, and hoping for understanding. So, colleagues, welcome to Big Swifty's pages. Feel free to comment, but remember, I know where you sit.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Brittany christmas, gingerbread and mice, aka The traps of wrath

Christmas has started early this year, as we're combining our summer holiday with Christmas. Why leave your home town in the best part of the year? Why go elsewhere when there's so many summer events at home? Abandon the damp and dark at midwinter, head for the Med. Well, we've gone a little off course and ended up booking a gite in Brittany, but at least it's a fair bit further south, and we will be warmed by the gulf stream (ho ho ho).

Time for the only Breton themed joke I know.
"Excuse me Breton chappie, what do you call this quaint religious procession?"
"Pardon, monsieur."
"I said, what do you call this quaint religious procession?".......

Meanwhile, right now we're busy at home, getting ahead on some of the things the rest of you will be doing over the next three weeks. The local garden centre had this fantastic fairy tale display, hence my opportunity to cuddle up with a five foot gingerbread man. (I'm the one on the right.) I'm full of christmas cheer, and goodwill to all, except the mice.

Spurs have won 9-1 against Wigan recently. Well I've been in a series of 0-0 draws with the mice, probably as the opposition has not bothered to turn up. But over the last 24 hours they have got through three mousetrap loads of chocolate, with no success at all on my part. So it's Mice 15 pieces of chocolate, Big Swifty nil. Can I ever come back from this 15-0 thrashing? All I have done is make the mice welcome. I reckon my game plan should be to hope the mice collapse from heart disease, as they won't be caught by the spring traps, unlike my knuckles. I've put another five pieces of choccy out tonight, and take solace from Wigan's 1-0 win in their subsequent match - it is possible to make a comeback.......

Friday, 27 November 2009

"Keep away" - tales of mice and men

" Keep away, unclean, unclean." We don't have a cross painted on our door, so we've put up our own notice. Frank was sick twice in the night, and it could be hospitalisation if it happens again. With diabetes, his blood sugars could hit the far north or south, compounded by the effects of dehydration, so we're keeping a close eye on him. Our house was buzzing last night, as we dealt with Frank, and the mounds of laundry precipitated by the sickness. We e-mailed all our National Childbirth Trust contacts to cancel the Open House we had planned to host this afternoon. Some people have come to the door and turned away! We're sealed up in our Plague House, spring loaded to take ourselves up the hospital ( we have 24-hour open access for Frank, yipee) so that he can be more closely monitored than we could manage at home.

Meanwhile, in a garage not ten yards away, there's something else spring loaded. Like an arsenal of cannons lined up on the cliffs against an armada, we have five mouse traps set, to deal with the winter invasion from their summer home in the compost heap. I feed my furry little friends Asda's least finest chocolate, as they take the sweet treat from the trigger, without releasing the trap. I don't know how they do it, as I catch my own fingers many times as I set the traps. I have given them about thirty portions of chocolate and caught four mice, which is probably about the same success rate that multi-million pound warheads achieve.

It's a waiting game, wondering if there's any more mice on their way, and where we ourselves will be staying tonight. Good night all.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

It was a game of two halves, with onions

It was a game of two halves, and if they could have contrived to play them concurrently we could all have got home an hour earlier. It was a windy night and Colchester struggled to string two passes together. And a light drizzle spiced it up a little with a slippery pitch.

Having been before I knew the catering for the masses in the stadium was limited, so I took my chance outside. Looking for my usual friendly-to-animals-farm-assured beefburger, organic onions lightly sauteed in rain-forest friendly butter, and a nineteen-different-seeds wholemeal bun, made from flour flown in from all over the world (but carbon offset, and orang-utan friendly), I was disappointed by what was on offer. Slabs of gristle fried in Castrol GTX, in a bun made of blotting paper, slathered with red sugar sauce that had once nodded briefly at a passing tomato.

The food was vile, the football dire, but the U's won 2-0. In the football table they're now in third place, but at the dining table they're North Circular Road Relegation League, division six reserves. I cycled the six miles home into a headwind, elated by the team's league position, and vowing never again to patronise that burger van.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Shock, horror - Big Swifty agrees with Roy Keane

Despite being a fan of most things Irish, I've always struggled with Roy Keane. Playing for the rich, powerful and immensely popular Manchester United, and also being a dirty player, are two bad marks from me. But on the other hand I wish he had played for my team. And his sending home from the 2002 World Cup for his outburst against Ireland manager Mick McCarthy confirmed my opinions of this man.
Having visited his hometown Cork in 2007 I was bemused by the elevation that he had been given, with many (usually very bad) drawings of Saint Roy as religious icon on display and for sale.
And he's back in the national news this week, telling the Irish FA to stop whingeing about the defeat by France, and suggesting they look to the team's performance over the two games, where they flunked the opportunity to beat a poor France team. He, quite correctly, rejected the suggestion that the match should be replayed, pointing out that Ireland had had the benefit of some shaky refereeing at an earlier stage in the competition, and that they had plenty of chances this week to beat France but failed to take them.
But was his criticism of the FAI in Dublin really about football, or was it an old Munster/Leinster sore re-opening? And would Roy like the chance to replay his season so far? His Ipswich Town have one win in seventeen league games. And Keane reckoned Mick McCarthy was a ***** ***** ****** ****** manager?

Friday, 20 November 2009

Spring cleaning in November, and summer holiday in December

It has been a busy year, since Frank's T1D diagnosis. Some of the time we've been frozen and dizzy from dealing with it all, other times we try to over-compensate by running a "normal life". Meanwhile the housework has been neglected at times, not that it's really a problem. But we've had a good fortnight, despite some moments of crisis, and we've made a few big decisions for the future.

Looking at our capacity, we have cut out or thinned down a few things we try to do. And we're catching up on holidays, with our summer break now booked today. We're off to Brittany for much of December, and looking forward to turkey galette for christmas dinner, followed by christmas pudding crepe for afters.

Meanwhile, our cleanup and clearout continues, with the house buzzing with vacuum cleaners, carpets being beaten (thank you Severine), surfaces being scrubbed, and junk being shipped out to the chazzer, the dump, or recycled. Home sweet home is even sweeter.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Mad axeman in Prettygate

In Hollywood the masculine heroes chop wood as easily as shelling peas. Having gone through the inevitable double-entendres to borrow my next door neighbour's big chopper, I set about the logs that remained from the fir tree that once stood in our garden. After much sweating, flailing and bludgeoning I managed to get some bark off the slices of tree trunk.

A new approach was needed, as the macho techniques learned from tv dramas clearly wasn't working. Rearranging the pile, I decided that the thickest logs were simply too much for Big Swifty. The smaller logs could be split and quartered using the big chopper and my hand axe as wedges, with my club hammer to drive them in.

Conscious that one shouldn't return one's neighbour's tools broken, I applied the hammer more vigorously to my own little axe, and buried it so deep in the log that it couldn't move further in or come out, or split the wood. Yanking the axe-handle, it snapped off, instantly giving at least one piece of wood for the fire.

Eventually a decent pile of logs emerged from the wood butchery session I was leading. And along came Frank, my trusty helper, to use his tractor to transport the wood to the porch, which was filled from floor to ceiling. As they say, you get warm twice from firewood, First, when you chop it up, and secondly, when you burn it.

Meanwhile I noticed that the gate had sustained storm damage from the blasting by wind and hail a couple of days ago. The whole of the gate was pock marked by the mothball sized pieces of ice that were blasted against it, chipping away at the protective surface and making hundreds of small craters. I don't know if we can put this down to climate change, but it was definitely the climate's fault.

In the good old days I used to follow the "reduce, re-use, re-cycle" principles, not because I was green, but because I was mean. Servicing my own car, I saved the black sludge and old sump oil, and used it on the fence posts and panels, and very effective it was too. No doubt it was polluting the groundwater and carcinogenic, but then I wasn't actually drinking the stuff. Modern wood treatments are so kind to the environment they won't hurt any birds or animals, or even the moss, algae and fungus we want to eradicate. Plus they get washed off by a heavy shower or a blasting from hail.

Looking forward to a fire tonight with my family and lodger. And my potential Hollywood axeman career is over.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Flavor bud living

For those that wondered, this blogspot's title is a play on this piece of music, one of my favourite "tunes". It is a Captain Beefheart composition, and he appears briefly at the beginning of this one minute long piece of music. Gary Lucas then works his way through this wonderful jangling music, wrestling with the guitar to play all the notes dictated by the Captain. I love the way it hints at a tune, but turns away just when we're on the brink of a melody, before it can properly become established. Wonderful invention, and well played Mr Lucas. For those less familiar with Don Van Vliet's work I suggest playing this short film three times, and then you can decide for yourself if you never need hear it again, or if you are hooked into the wonderful world of Beefheart's music.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Hail cease

Severine's shoes are dry at last. The day before yesterday we had heavy hail and wind for about ten minutes, with a hail-drift in our porch, which is a first for us. So much for any plans to get any exercise that day.

Then yesterday, it was fine and sunny, so we decided to cycle to friends at Manningtree. Come hell or high water, we were going to get our exercise, after days of poor weather. Well the fires of hell were unlikely in November, but we had plenty of high water. Although Big Swifty had allowed for all the puddles on the route, he forgot about the journey coinciding with a high tide. So his "avoiding the traffic" off-road route across the Colne valley involved crossing Haven Road and using Clingoe Hill subway, both prone to flooding after heavy rain, when combined with a high tide. Sure enough the tide-flap valves were closed, and we had four inches of water. Not a problem at Haven Road as we could freewheel across, but at the subway we had to pedal, as our momentum wouldn't take us the 30 yards under the road. Severine's shoes and trouser bottoms got soaked, mine only on one side as I adopted a one-legged pedalling technique.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed our ride out into the autumn sun across the becalmed plains of Tendring to Lawford. And shoes can always be dried.

Friday, 13 November 2009

I saw this and I saw that

Modern life on the streets. The weather? Rainy, dull, and dark early. Walking into town today I saw a (presumably) muslim (presumably) woman, covered top to foot with burkah, with just the eyes visible, the feet covered by modern trainers, and a mobile phone on the go. Later I went past Marks and Spencer, where there was a long queue waiting outside in the rain. Intrigued, I found out that a whole range of Christmas goods were being sold for 1p each as some kind of retro-brand promotion, with customers given the option to pay more as it's all for charity. And in my stylish tailor's, TKMaxx, and on my walk home, I heard various eastern European languages. One can only speculate what was being discussed on the phone and in the street, but it's a fair bet they were commenting on the weather and the queues. Lousy and long.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

After 31 years, it's time to move on

We've been busy clearing things out, making more room in our house for Frank and our lodger. And today I found my Geology Field Book last used before graduation in 1978. Why have I kept it so long? Firstly, I didn't know I still had it. Secondly, I'm a terrible hoarder. And I've looked at my fieldbook again, with my terrible drawings of rocks and minerals, all looking like formless dumplings, woolly sheep or children's scribble. Cezanne said everything can be reduced to cubes, spheres and cones - well he never tried to draw a rock sample in a science lab.

My journal has stereo photographs of landslips, with my attempts to annotate the physical features. Having studied these carefully I came to the conclusion that another landslip is likely to happen nearby, at some time in the future. I've managed to bring up a family, have a career, and cycled Land's End to John o'Groats, since I Iast opened its pages, and I can't see any circumstances where I'll need it in the next 31 years either. I've thrown it away right now, rather than keep it until I'm 85. OK, I admit it, I had one more last look.

Monday, 9 November 2009

It was twenty years ago today.....

The Berlin Wall fell on 9 November 1989. I was late for the party as I didn't arrive until October 2006. We were in our camper van, parked at the Reismobilstation on what we later found out was the no-man's land on the East German side of the Berlin Wall. Visiting again in September 2009 most of the gaps in the street where the wall severed the city have now been filled, with new buildings.

A few sections of wall remain, including this section by the Typography of Terror exhibition, on the site of the HQ of the SS. The "wallpeckers" have done their best to chip away souvenirs, but the wall is now protected. The wall is now a great tourist trail, options including the "Trabbie Safari", where one can hire a smoky old East German car, and be escorted by a guide in a trabbie procession to the main "Mauer" sites. I have no idea if there is a David Hasselhof impersonator straddled across the wall, awaiting the safari punters.

I was reminded at a lecture tonight that the celebrations in 1989 referred to the Berlin Wall being the last in Europe separating our communities. Of course, most city walls were built to defend the city from outsiders, not to keep the city dwellers in the city. Meanwhile, the "peace wall" in Belfast remains for the foreseeable future. Big Swifty announces his first quiz. Why do we need a peace wall in Belfast? Answers on the back of a postage stamp please.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

"Lest we forget" - how could we, watching the daily news?

Eight tiny jeeps took the veterans from the Town Hall to the War Memorial. But it's not just about the old guys and their time in the first and second world war; it's also about all the conflicts since, right up to the current day with Colchester's soldiers losing their lives in Afghanistan.

The High Street was closed to traffic, so that the space could be used for those taking part in the parade, and the onlookers. The crowd were respectfully quiet, as they watched the veterans, current soldiers, cadets and various local organisations, including The Town Watch.

A solemn ceremony at the castle park gates commemorated the fallen, a very moving experience. The band played Elgar's Nimrod magnificently, full of restraint and masterfully maintaining the requisite slow pace. The last post and silence followed the Town Hall striking 11 o'clock.

The crowd reflected on the occasion, no doubt thinking about the lost comrades, families and friends. Looking back, we can all see how the events on a world stage affected the outcomes of our own lives. My father's father died in the blitz in London, so I missed him by about fifteen years. But of course, my family's history would have been completely different if the second world war had not happened. My dad wouldn't have first been evacuated to the fens, and served in the RAF, and returned to the fens where he met my mum.

Hitler invades Poland, and one of many millions of consequences is - here I am.

Friday, 6 November 2009

I never met you Roy

"You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late" - Ralph Waldo Emerson
"A dedicated and highly respected dentist has died during a motorcycle race. Roy Parbury, who owned The Art of Dentistry dental paractice .....was competing in a British Motorcycle Racing Club race event at Lydden Hill in Kent when the accident happened", says the Essex County Standard today.
I knew him only by reputation. My connection is that he was my daughter's boyfriend John's dad. He was a busy guy, and I too have plenty to do. I assumed I would meet him sooner or later, as our offspring get along so well.
Condolences to his two sons, John and Mark, also motorcycle racers, and his family, friends and colleagues. Roy, I'm sorry I never met you.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band changed my life forever

An evening of nostalgia was expected, and a two-man show (Isoceles in association with Useful Idiots) served this up at Colchester Arts Centre, with lashings of pathos on top. Half expecting a show full of obscure references to the Bonzos, I was slightly disappointed that there were few Doo-Dah Band in-jokes or tunes, however the compensation was that the show could be enjoyed by anyone. But it would help to be at least 55 to know all the songs.

The two actor/singers were playing a has-been minor rock performer, and a never-was Vivien Stanshall impersonator, both waiting to audition for a "60s, one-hit wonders tribute show". With a nod to "Waiting for Godot", the audition never happens, as the players philosophise on life, interweaving lyrics from popular songs, and singing much reduced versions with their two voices accompanied by an electronic keyboard.

It was a tragi-comedy, and I'm sure most of the audience empathised with the lives portrayed by the artists. And the final line of the show was (almost inevitably) "here comes the twist, I don't exist" as the stage fell into darkness.

So, did I enjoy it? Well yes, but part of the fun was the audience. Remember the comedy sketches about "the nut on the bus" that always chooses to sit on the empty seat sit next to you? Well folks, that was my evening out. Just before the start this very nervy man occupied the inviting seat that was left after all the other groups, couples and singletons has taken most of the other 52 seats. With his Sainsbury's plastic bag full of whatever he needed to get through the evening, he fidgeted all show, dipping into his wrestling and boxing mags whenever the lights came on. Various rocking movements, and the odd puff on some electronic gadget that "smoked" his cigarettes, suggested he was struggling with (giving up?) smoking. Now and then he would madly laugh at an inappropriate moment, and he had a bit of a personal hygiene problem too. During the songs he would sometimes stamp his feet, though clearly his brain was beating to an entirely different drum.

And behind me was a very old man with a massive white beard, who insisted on badly whistling the tune he had last heard, even though the actors had moved on to some poignant discussion on our pitiful existence. On occasion he also gave voice to his thoughts about the play, which were quite entertaining in their own right.

There were times when I wondered if I was sitting in the middle of some performance art project, and that hidden cameras were recording my reactions to these two crazy guys. There I was expecting carefully crafted references on stage, to "my pink half of the drainpipe", and "the doughnut in granny's greenhouse", and what I got was 360 degrees of live art.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Information is not wisdom

There was a time when I was proud to say I had a book on everything. Yes, I have some special interests, but I have got by in life by being a generalist. This has helped me in my job, being able to work with lots of people, and seeing the links between what I do, what other agencies provide, and what is needed.

And in my time away from work I was always fairly handy in a quiz team, though some would say there is more to life than playing your joker on the "name the artist" round.

But along came the internet, and my stacks of books on obscure subjects became steadily more redundant. At first I held on to my repository of information, thinking that the www would never be a substitute for printed and bound pages. Slowly, I'm letting things go, freeing up some space, and clearing some tomes that have become rather dated. There's little I can just hand over to the chazza; I have to put the provisionally rejected books in a pile for a last once-over, and skip read, to squeeze that last bit of juice from the fruit.

Today I said goodbye to a book that I inherited a few years ago from my Aunt Beth, "How the city works" by Oscar Hobson, from 1938, but this was a sixth edition from 1959! It describes the workings of the City of London, especially looking at banking, trade and finance. The glossary of terms has no mention of hedge funds or sub-prime markets.

And now I have the internet to inform and entertain me. And what pearls of wisdom do I receive? E-mails teasing me, with pictures of camper vans on the back of bicycles. Information is not wisdom.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Life in the short lane, with diabetes

Sometimes I blog about my adventures, or spin a yarn about something that amused me. But most of the time I'm just getting on with day-to-day life, and my regular existence doesn't usually involve climbing mountains, pontificating on the BNP, or harvesting unusual vegetables. So how did today go? Today was a typical day, centred round Frank, this picture showing how I look from his height!

Frank woke us fairly early, and I elected to take the early shift with him. His diabetes means we cannot just relax and have a lie-in. We have to test him to check he hasn't sunk into a hypo overnight. The fingerprick testing didn't go well, and Frank had a lengthy painful process before we got a reading (and he was normal). He said he was hungry, but is he really, or is it another diabetes thing? Making breakfast, I talked up the possibility of porridge as that's always a good option for a person with diabetes, but Special K called him, and he had several small portions, before I said "enough". My attempts to charm him with fresh fruit were scorned, and I couldn't persuade him to have peanut butter on toast, which would be a source of protein. I was feeling bad about the unbalanced diet he was taking on ship.

He was most averse to the whole idea of having his usual insulin injection, and it took me ages before I could get it done, causing my self-esteem to sink even lower as I was aware I was unable to care for him as well as should be done. It's just the practicalities that any parent is aware of, dealing with a three-year old with their own will. But the problem we have is that it's bad for his health in the short, medium and long term if we don't do what is best for him. It is physically and mentally exhausting dealing with this condition. By the time I had got him round to the idea that he really will need an injection, even though he was one every morning, he had probably gone hyper, which is cumulatively damaging his health, and makes me even more anxious.

Our outing for the day was planned to be the Exhibition of the Ipswich Model Railway Club, which I knew we would both enjoy. It took us ages to get out of the house, as Frank was unco-operative, possibly linked with high blood sugar, or possibly just typical three-year old stuff. I packed our travel bag for the day, making sure I had his day-to-day blood testing and insulin kit, as well as supplies in the event of an emergency hypo. Before I went Julie surfaced, and we discussed what Frank had eaten, knowing that Frank's diet could have been better, which made me feel bad as I am doing my best, and we already know our best is sometimes not good enough.
We headed off to Ipswich, and Frank fell asleep in the van on the way, so we parked up near the exhibition hall, and he had a doze. For most parents a sleeping child is a welcome respite, but for us it's another worry, as some of the visual signs and clues that he is hypo- or hyper- are then unavailable to us. I thought about doing another blood test, but decided that on balance it was better to give his poor tiny fingers a rest from all the stabbing. But it's such a worry, wondering if he's slipping into a coma, and my head ran through the fuel in/ energy out calculations a dozen times before I had the confidence to just let him rest.

It's a constant and continuous process, looking after a toddler with diabetes. Most people assume that once a child is diagnosed, and "they, the medical profession" get the insulin dose right, our family life carries on as normal. And of course that is what we aim for. But the reality is very different. It's not just about the blood testing and injection events, it's the literally hundreds of other checks we do all through the day, and often through the night. We are ALWAYS looking at his behaviour, for physical and mental signs that his glucose levels are too high or too low. It's a very inexact science, with so many unknowns about how much he will actually eat despite our best planning, how much he will exercise, and hidden factors such as growth spurts or his body dealing with mild illness. We manage quite well, all things considered, but we are are painfully aware that his readings could be much better, and that bad figures make complications and side-effects more likely.

As Frank had a sleep, I read more of my Raymond Chandler novel, which I had picked up at an American Literature evening class. And I played Joni Mitchell's "Hejira", a bit of Rory Gallagher's "Irish Tour", and Love's "Forever Changes". Frank awoke, and I checked him over, deciding to give him only a small ginger biscuit low-sugar snack, as he had woofed a fairly high carb breakfast. After a wee stop, a frequent occurrence for a person with diabetes who drinks a lot, we made for the show. It was a small exhibition, and one of the less impressive shows, but they are always good fun, and Frank hugely enjoyed it. One friendly modeller had made a Sodor layout with Thomas the Tank Engine and friends. This was a good contrast to the "Upper Snoring station, exactly how it looked on 24 April 1921" type layout, which, to be authentic, would have no trains actually running, and everything brown or grey.The refreshments on sale were totally unsuitable for a diabetic, (or indeed anyone else interested in healthier eating), principally being white flour fairy cakes with 120% sugar icing. We went to the local cornershop, and found a tasty chicken and bacon wrap, which was just right for Frank once I'd taken out the green salad items. Pah, heaven forbid he might ingest a scrap of lettuce! We ate in the van, and headed home.

Back home, Julie and Severine had been baking, sorting the house, and preparing for Halloween supper. It was such fun to celebrate this evening meal as a family. The bedtime routine went as normal, though we had the worry of a high blood-glucose reading before eating. We just don't know if the reading is a true indication of his current blood mix, or if he really is too high, or has been too low and rebounded as his liver kicks in.

Overall, a splendid day, but as always, dominated by diabetes. We would love to be more relaxed about it, but it's an invasive matter, and it is our job to do our best for him. It would be bad for his health for us to be laid-back about it all; the monitoring he needs is constant. We try hard to be positive about our situation, but sometimes it is difficult. Believe me, rainy autumn backpacking in the Cairngorms is much easier than having a toddler with diabetes for the day. But I can truly say TODAY WAS FUN. Hoping for a good night tonight, and another FUN day tomorrow with my brilliant little family.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Loo with a view

It's not every day one gets the chance to use a public loo and leave the door open, but this is no ordinary loo. We're at Corrour bothy, nine miles from the nearest road, and 565 metres above sea level, in the heart of the Cairngorms.

A long weekend backpacking with my pal Rod was on the menu, with an ambitious plan to scale Ben Macdhui (1309m), and camp out overnight. But then there's the weather, and they have lots of it up here. Given that we're not Munro baggers we didn't feel compelled to slog ourselves to the top, through rain and cloud, and admire the view stretching to the end of our nose. The cloudbase was around 1000m, and we were damp to the point of soaking, from the falling rain, the boggy ground, and our sweat, as we dragged our portly bodies and backpacks up the glen from Linn of Dee.

The bothy at Corrour called us, and with its recent refurbishment, it made a splendid home for us overnight. OK, it has no electricity, gas, phone (land or mobile), but it has endless running fresh water, and full-on fresh air. And a wood burning stove, if you bring your own fuel.

This tiny refuge has been around since 1877, and since 2007 has had a toilet. Improvisation has been good enough for 130 years, but times have changed and they now have a "composting toilet". "What's that?" you may ask. For the user it has a conventional flap seat, but there's no water trap, so the smell discourages lingering. The toilet is being run as an experiment, with no precedent for a composting toilet in such a remote spot, and many days a year of sub-zero temperatures.

So what happens to the ordure? One is asked to wee elsewhere, and only drop poo and paper into the toilet. A bag collects the waste, and it is left hanging below the seat until it is full. It is expected that it will take three years for it all to breakdown into something that is safe to spread on the ground. The bag needs changing when it's full, with capacity in the toilet building's lower chamber for twelve bags of decomposing excrement.

Every stage has been thought through, but they didn't allow for the M25 effect. Four sacks of shit a year, taking three years to rot down, suggests that storage for twelve sacks is about right. But we're talking "Field of Dreams" here. Build it and they will come. The loo is fine for the past established usage patterns for the bothy, but when you build a proper bog, bothy dwellers and passers-by will gravitate towards it. It's like the M25 motorway; it won't just take traffic off the adjacent road network, it will make new journeys possible. New roads generate new traffic, and new toilets promote extra visits.

So what are they going to do about the backlog? Maybe once every two years they will send an all-terrain vehicle to take away some of the full sacks. Nice work if you can get it. And not too bad a price to pay, to save the landscape disappearing under a mound of turds, as Cairngorm visitor numbers increase year on year.

But let's be clear, it's never going to be too busy on a wet afternoon in October. So enjoy the view through the door. The crowds won't be arriving anytime soon.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Quiet please, there's someone from the BNP who has something to say

I don't usually bother with Question Time. I find David Dimbleby very annoying as a Chairman, as he too often adopts the role of judge and jury. And the politicians seem too eager to react against the other parties, without saying what they would do themselves.

But the draw of Nick Griffin's appearance was too powerful for me to ignore. Although I intensely dislike what the BNP stands for, I was pleased they were invited on the show, to explain what they are about, and to answer questions from the audience. But what did we get? A panel and chairman taking the opportunity to interrogate the man as if he was in the courtroom dock. Griffin didn't respond well to this treatment, but I felt that he wasn't given a chance to answer many questions, or to challenge the liberal/media establishment that were pillorying him. If I was a BNP supporter (or potential member) this bullying by the panel would have made me more more sympathetic to his cause.

I wish the panel had given Griffin more chance to speak, because that's when he revealed where he comes from. Responding to comments on his meeting with a Ku Klux Klan leader, he explained that the guy he met "wasn't one of the violent ones". And when he started talking about the British indiginous people he was on very soft ground and sinking fast.

Whether we like them or not we have to acknowledge that a sizeable minority voted for the BNP at the recent EU elections. Rather than criticise the voters for being gullible for succumbing to the charms of the far right, the mainstream parties should look at why they are so unattractive to a large part of the population, most of whom do not vote at all, or use it to support the BNP. The best book I've read recently about why the BNP is doing fairly well in some parts of the country is Billy Bragg's "The Progressive Patriot".

I left all the Question Time noise behind, when I made an early start by train to Scotland, on Friday morning. Sitting in a "quiet coach" I was intrigued by those inconsiderate individuals who enjoyed the peace and quiet so that they could get on with their busy lives, undisturbed by the rest of us quiet folk, while they tap away at their bleeping computers, have their (inevitably loud) phone conversations, and generally irritate those who have specially chosen to sit in a 125 mph bubble of peace.

Coming back from Scotland yesterday, the quiet coach was much quieter. One person had a phone call, an action which was condemned by the guard's announcement asking for compliance with the rule, but the message was only heard by everyone else in the carriage. Frantic arm waving had the desired effect, as the coach returned to silence, the remainder of the journey punctuated only by yours truly munching on an extremely noisy packet of crisps. Mr Griffin, they were indiginous British-day-at-the-seaside salt and vinegar crisps, and none of those fancy foreign flavours.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Big Swifty receives £19,100 cheque

Hurrah for the banking industry. Not satisfied with triggering the collapse of the economy, here they are again dishing out money to the gullible poor, and I guess I tick all their boxes on that score?

Call me an old cynic, but I'm usually a bit suspicious when someone sends me a cheque for more than I earn in a......... well, ever.

It must be so distressing to simple folk who think these sample cheques that look exactly like the real thing, are actually worth something, and they are suddenly wealthy. I almost feel like going down to the bank, acting a bit daft (should be easy enough), and trying to deposit the sum into my account. But of course my protest would make no difference whatsover, except maybe make an amusing diversion for the friendly counter staff that work there.

The deal I would like with my bank is simple. Please look after my money, don't invest it in anything illegal, immoral or too risky, pay me a fair interest rate, and let me have access to my cash after I have followed reasonable security measures. And send me a genuine cheque for £19,100 any time you like.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Mangels harvest

"Volunteers wanted for the Mangolds Harvest" said the chalk board at Old Hall community. The green suburbanites had booked a couple of days at Old Hall to help out with the harvest. But was this message a trap? I had never heard of mangolds, and wondered if the novice visitors were being sent on a wild goose chase. Was this the farming equivalent of the new apprentice asking at the hardware store for a jar of elbow grease?

Arriving at the lower field, it all became clear. Mangolds is one of the ways to spell the vegetable that is usually pronounced mangles, and is more often spelt mangels. A sweet root vegetable grown as animal feed, and HUGE.

Frank's current favourite book is "The Enormous Turnip". Imagine how it must be for a three-year old to take part in an activity out of a story book. A priceless memory, as we enjoyed a peaceful couple of days in the autumn sunshine. And no one felt it necessary to sing any wurzel gummidge.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Open Top Sound, and cheerleaders

"Further" was on the front of the magic bus from the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. And today we went on a bus that displayed "Listen".

Local artist Matt Cook's project "Open Top Sound" comprised of an open top bus ride round Colchester town centre. But the twist was that we were surrounded by speakers giving us ambient recordings made earlier in the town centre, mixed with edited irregular snippets of information from Blue badge guides. And on top of this were fresh ambient sounds from traffic, the buzz of Saturday commerce, and hecklers on the street responding to our crazy bus. Looking down on the common populace below, we were intrigued by their perplexed looks, as we broadcast back to them their own sounds of the town.

Bizarre. Which was also my feeling later in the day, when I attended the Freshers' Fair at the University of Essex. Thousands of people milling around in the autumn sunshine, being courted by about a hundred different political societies, pantomime horses, food outlets, sports clubs, philosophers, people in lion and parrot suits, fitness groups, history and art societies, theatre groups, religions and CHEERLEADERS?!?!

Were these women in tight bright short clothes, waving pom-poms, being ironic? Were they feminists exerting their rights to do whatever they wanted, were they anti-feminists happy to take on a decorative role for their (mainly male) audience, or were they post-feminists where the feminist battles have been won, so we don't need to concern ourselves about this stuff any more? Or maybe I should abandon my angst, and just enjoy the show.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Facing forwards, and proud

Some people have asked me "why do you have a blog?". Should it be by and about the real me, or should I adopt a (probably more interesting) persona? What is my ethos? Am I covering all aspects of life, or should I focus on a few themes and hope to attract followers of those topics? And does any of this matter, as it's only a bit of fun.

It would be easy enough to slip into a grumpy old man, "isn't modern life rubbish" mode, roll out loads of nostalgia for a past that never really existed, and spice it with some self-effacing humour before someone else puts the boot in first.

But no, I want to be positive and upbeat, celebrate the present and look to the future. And hopefully be entertaining sometimes. So Big Swifty is facing forwards, and holding his head up proud.

Looking through some other blogspots I tried the "next blog" tab a few times to see what other people are doing. Loads of crafts people out there, and fans of computer games. Then suddenly, up popped a warning from blogger saying that the next random site I had found contained "adult content". Well I'm a modern guy, I'm not fazed by a bit of swearing, and pictures of goths in studded clothing, so I went ahead.

I was confronted with a blog that consisted only of pictures of naked young men, clearly in a state of arousal. I thought about reporting it to blogger, not on the grounds of obscenity, but because it made me feel inadequate. Besides they had stolen my theme of facing forwards, and proud.

Anyway, each to their own. The purpose of this Big Swifty blog is to illustrate a flavour of Budd living, written mainly for ourselves, but if anyone else enjoys the ride, so much the better. That's us at the top of this posting. And I'll be keeping it U certificate in case anyone's concerned about the content.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Stacey Minshull is not my best friend

In a brief break from work yesterday, I chatted with Stacey, who works in the same building as me. Up to a few months ago she was just a friendly face I saw around the office occasionaly. Then I discovered Facebook, and we became "friends", using my own criteria, a) that I must have met the person in real life, and b) I must actually like them. (These are my criteria. I don't know what selection process Stacey has, but if she'll accept me....)

And now we've got to know each other a little, reading snippets about each other's lives, families, cooking, holidays and music. And about our passions - cake and Joni Mitchell.

There's no substitute for a real life, face to face meeting with your best friends, or a phone call, but Facebook is a fabulous way to keep in touch with our second and third division friends.

And I'm glad to have found more friends as a result of Facebook. People like Stacey, who were merely acquaintances, have moved from the wilderness of non-league outsiders, to the higher level of second and third tier friends. Does this imply a ranking of friends? Am I her Darlington, and is she my Accrington Stanley? It doesn't really matter, we've both slightly improved our lives as a result of our facebook friendship, and that's cool. And there's always the possibility of promotion for the lower teams. And cakes.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

£6 below the minimum wage

Lady Scotland may have hit the headlines recently for allegedly employing an illegal immigrant and paying slightly less than the minimum wage. Well she has nothing on me. I have new staff starting in a couple of weeks, and she has no contract and no pay at all. Severine de France is pictured above at her interview, where she agreed to work for nothing, do all the cooking and cleaning, and look after Frank. She also promised not to tease Big Swifty, or make rude comments about his record collection.
Today we had lots of fun sorting out some space for her. She would go under the stairs, but Harry Potter's already there.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Black History Month in Colchester

Reggae in the park. A music festival on the lawn of Hollytrees House. Built in 1718, when the slave trade from Africa to America is into its busiest century. Nearly two hundred and thirty years later, and Bob Marley is born. And now, almost three hundred years later, and there's a marquee pumping out reggae and dub. And that's why I like Colchester.

The doom-mongers are telling us our town centres are dead or dying, an inevitable process given the economic downturn, out of town shopping centres, the internet, and sixty-three other agents of change. So how come the town centre was so packed with shoppers today, with so mant people around I couldn't get to what I wanted in the shops? The coffee-houses had big queues, and the chazzers were busy too. It all looks like commerce is alive and well to me, although I guess the landowners can't command the rents they asked a few years ago. Who are these commentators that knock our old town centres? What criteria are they using when passing judgement on the success (or failure) of our towns?

I remember attending a meeting with local businessmen a few years ago, and they were bemoaning the number of charity shops in town. That's why I like Colchester, the wide range of businesses and attractions in the town centre, the market and the churches, the local characters hanging around, the buskers and the Big Issue sellers. That's why I don't go to homogenised soulless places like Freeport, Lakeside or Bluewater, to get 20% off last year's trainers.

The town centre's been around for a couple of thousand years, and it still has plenty of signs of life. I think it will adapt to the future. What will happen to the shopping malls over the next fifty years, given where we are on peak oil?

I won't pretend to be a Bob Marley fan, but I'm a Wailer for Colchester.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Apples and diabetes

It was Frank's quarterly check up yesterday, and we're all doing OK. Frank's blood sugar levels have been reasonable, and our management about as good as we could hope for. Frank's handling the testing and injections pretty well, though we have our difficult occasions, and I can't say I blame him for not liking it too much. Our overseeing of his injections, eating, exercise and other factors out of our sight and control, is a teetering balancing act, but we haven't yet crash landed too hard.

His specialist doctor and nurse are very helpful to us, giving us the information and support we need to act as Frank's life support machinery, given that his pancreas is out to lunch, permanently.

Our lives are not defined by Frank's condition, but we simply have to think about it all the time, looking for ways to keep him healthy, as we go about as normal a life as possible. And today's normal life fun activity was dealing with 250 wild apples picked yesterday morning, then lunch in town with Mark and Lisa, a bit of shopping at the Farmers' Market, and home again for a play in the garden. I must admit I found his behaviour tricky in town today, but thankfully he has energy and gets plenty of exercise.

Yes, living with Type 1 diabetes is difficult, but we manage to enjoy a good life. No jokes in today's blog, just some happy smiling faces in the background..........

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Free food - the gleaners

OK I enjoy a bit of tucker now and then (arcane language learned from Billy Bunter books), and if it comes free of charge, so much the better. And right now we're in the gleaning season, and it has been a bumper crop. The hedgerows have had an abundance of blackberries and damsons. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to come across a wild plum tree, with the ripe fruit dropping off with the lightest tapping. At the weekend I'm going to checkout my favourite row of chestnut trees to see how the crop is this year - it hasn't been too good for a few years.

Last weekend while walking on a right of way across a harvested potato field out at Bradfield, with ease I picked up half a rucsac of spuds left behind by the quick and labour-light machinery. The previous weekend I saw dozens of older people at Bures loading up bags on their bike crossbars, stuffed full of onions missed by the mechanised farming processes. I didn't have any bags with me so I couldn't join in. I wonder if I could have got away with "give those to me, I'm the landowner"?

And tomorrow it's apple picking day. I'm off with some pals (something like "Last of the Summer Wine") to a secret location in north Essex, on the site of an old WW2 US airforce base, where, so the story goes, the guys planted pips from their apples, and we now have some very old but still productive wild apple trees. Some for eating, and some for freezing, methinks.

So where are all these free food places? Well I'm not putting the locations on here am I? Sharing it with many thousands of others. Anyway, it's too late for much of this stuff. I was warned by Facebook pal Louise Denyer that "Andrew, you should know that the optimum time to pick blackberries is before the end of August otherwise they are "Devil's food" and are very bitter!" I told her I don't believe these old wives' tales about "the devil's food". Anyway, I had picked them to smear on my forehead and cure my baldness.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

An evening with three Shane MacGowans

It's the South Stand at the Community Stadium, and the occasion is Colchester United v Charlton Athletic, a match I couldn't lose as they are two of my favourite teams. The match kicks off and Charlton are looking impressive. After ten minutes the three empty seats next to me are filled by a guy, with his uncle and his nephew. They were all drunk, smelled of booze and sweat, and spoke in two languages; English and Profane. The family had crooked and missing teeth, and clothes that looked worse than the old ones I use for decorating. They all looked, smelled and sounded like Shane MacGowan. I have no doubt they were pleased to be sitting next to a pompous snob like me.

Colchester looked outclassed by second place Charlton, but their effort and persistence paid off as Charlton were pressured into an own goal. Could Colchester hold on? Yes, they scored two more and kept a clean sheet, so a good evening's work ending in a 3-0 victory in front of over 7,000. It was a very inspiring performance by the Colchester underdogs.

But what did the three Shane MacGowans make of it? Well they too were very enthused by the team's efforts, spurring them along with their liberal use of the F-word, sprinkling their sentences with the vigour that I shake salt over fish and chips. However, to their credit they didn't make a single racist or sexist comment, although they did suggest that the referees may have poor eyesight linked with self abuse, and that their parents were unmarried.

An evening of top entertainment on the pitch and in the stands. And Shane Two next to me, had a cough so bad that it could only be relieved by a couple more cigarettes.

Monday, 28 September 2009

De Magnete

Plunging into darkness, I entered Holy Trinity church on Saturday, walking in from bright sunlight to a blacked out nave, lit only by a dozen candles in the aisles. Ahead of me, a screen appeared as my pupils dilated to their maximum, to compensate for the low levels of illumination I was experiencing. Amidst cracking and buzzing sounds, I saw a woodland scene, as the camera panned around. (And I won't describe any more, as you need to see this for yourself.)

A short film by Kathleen Herbert was on show, "De Magnete" in celebration of Colchester's "father of electricity" William Gilberd, who was born in the town and buried in that church. "De Magnete" was Gilberd's publication on "electricus", a term he developed, and distinguished from magnetism.

Says Gilberd "The electric effluvia differ much from air, and as air is the earth's effluvium, so electric bodies have their own distinctive effluvia; and each peculiar effluvium has its own individual power of leading to union, its own movement to its origin, to its fount, and to the body emitting the effluvium." (From De Magnete.)

Was Herbert's film to be a documentary? Or would it be a Derek Jarman style "Jubilee", comparing a first Elizabethan thinker with a contemporary viewpoint? Or would it be Don Van Vliet's "Electricity" in the medium of film?

Catch it for yourself, and experience the spirit of nature and the elements, captured on video.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Bicycle powered smoothie maker - is it work as we know it?

Whilst in charge of the blendavenda this week, an old friend of mine, Mr Paul Bradford, randomly turned up. We exchanged pleasantries and insults, as he looked at the exhibition on transport options to North Colchester Business Parks. I was employed as local transport expert, especially on foot or by bike, and was providing free smoothies as an ice breaker for passers-by who may have otherwise been a little shy to engage with us friendly folk. The lovely Paul asked if I was being paid for this work, implying that this is not a proper job. (This from a man who earns his living by drawing lines on paper, and putting numbers into tables.)

And it got me thinking about my job, and what I do. What is my job, over and above the usual "good husband/ father/son/friend" roles? I'm pretty comfortable with my task to help people change their travel habits, reduce their carbon footprints, improve their health, and reduce congestion, fumes and noise. If that sometimes involves looking like a clown on a pedal powered contraption, serving up mashed fresh fruit, that's cool with me. But my paid employment part-time with Colchester2020 is only an aspect of my "job". I also do a bit of freelance work.

But I have another important job. I am also Frank's pancreas, an urgent practical task for the here and now, contrasting with the sometimes longer term environmental policy work that pays my wages. I'll leave it for others to judge what is the most important, and which is the most effective work.


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