RIP, my lovely father, my hero …

I cannot find the words to describe how I feel, but a kind friend reminded me of this poem …

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.

the language of a disease …

I’m not entirely sure how to start this particular post, or whether it is appropriate that I should write about the man lying in the hospital bed beside me as if he is no longer with us … One of the things doctors are very keen to get through to you about cancer is that there is no cure; one only discusses the future in terms of survival, but alas for my father, the prognosis is, as one oncologist suggested, ‘very bleak indeed’.

Personally, I find the whole language surrounding cancer very … disengaging to the point of frustration. It is after all, one of the biggest killers of the human race, and so it seems a little disingenuous and totally baffling why people give it pet names like the Big C, as if to call it by its full name might somehow incite the wrath of the god of acronyms and bring about an earlier end for the victim.

At the other extreme, cancer also brings with it a whole unsavoury smorgasbord of technical vocabulary. There are abbreviations that require early familiarisation, cold-sounding terms such as HCC, AFP, CT, MRI, TACE, PEI. You also learn very early on which words are your friends and which ones are your enemies: metastasize, for example, is not a friendly word. And even when the doctors use big powerful terms like Interventional Radiology, Chemo Embolization and Radio Frequency Ablation, one gets the feeling that these action words promise so much, but yet deliver precious little. In the end, there is only one term that matters, and it is associated with a number. Unluckily for my father, his initial diagnosis cited Hepatocellular Carcinoma with a Staging of 4 – which basically means, he was fucked from the word ‘Go’.

I’m spending a second night with my dad who is in the palliative unit at Mount Miriam Hospice, Penang. I’ve heard people talk about the fragility of life before but never really understood its meaning but here, in this dark room I get it, I mean I really get it.

Imagine this setting: initially, your senses are drawn to the comforting hum of the air-conditioning unit which provides a calming backdrop for the oxygen pump which adds a water feature to this happy landscape with what sounds like bubbles dancing on an icy lawn. But this audial nirvana is short lived because you soon learn to look out for the little mechanical ‘whizz click’ sounds made by the automatic timed dispenser as it releases more morphine into the bloodstream. You look out for these tiny clicks because you know that they will take away the frowns from the forehead of a man who is trying not to wince from the pains of cancer that has already consumed his liver, lungs and bones.

But the sound that rips through the quiet hospital corridors in the early hours of the morning and reverberates incessantly around the room is the dyspnea – the hopeless and most pitiful sound of a short-breathed man who is using his entire torso to draw every last molecule of oxygen into his body in order to stay alive.

the demons of capitalism …

Unless you have retreated to a yurt in deepest Mongolia, it would have been difficult to miss the headlines of meltdown in the global financial markets in recent days. But, tucked in a corner of yesterday’s FT was a curious rallying call by David Cameron to not allow the ‘lefties’ to destroy capitalism by putting the blame of the recent crises on ‘this important part of the British and world economy’. Excuse me???

When Gordon Gecko espoused the virtue of greed in the 80’s, Wall Street was awash with city yuppies with fast cars, and faster incomes. Two decades later, it seems not much has changed – the financial instruments have evolved in technicality but the basic desire to get rich quick is more prevalent, albeit a little less transparent. Today, simple debts have been transmogrified into complex securities and bonds, to the point that no party in the food chain fully understands the risks … until it’s too late, when bad creditors default on mortgage payments and savers like you and me start withdrawing our hard earned cash from the banks, thus fueling a bank run like the one we witnessed on Northern Rock. But as someone observed, banks buy long and sell short – that is what a bank does – so when they to use funds from their retail business (our money, and ultimately our pensions) to gamble in complex products in the wider financial markets … AND lose, should we feel sorry when we see images on the telly of jobless bankers and their sad office boxes walking out of the building of a collapsed bank? I think not!

I suppose the irony of the Lloyds and HBOS merger is not lost on the ‘lefties’ either: in the golden days of capitalism, mergers were used to promote growth and now they are being used for reasons of survival, and in the case of HBOS, handed on a silver platter to Lloyds TSB with the full blessing of the UK government. Whilst I agree that administrations have a duty to maintain financial stability, I can’t help thinking that perhaps it may be worthwhile to do nothing, thus sinking the economy in order to teach banks a lesson in liquidity and risk management. The only problem is that the collateral damage in these sorry times are folks like you and me – people who would feel the pain from a greed we never subscribed to. And the medicine used by governments to cure this ailment? Oh, that will be taxpayers’ money too. Someone please explain to me how this is good …

social networking 2 …

I had hoped to break radio silence with a more uplifting post rather than returning to an old paradox that has been playing on my mind these past few months – that of online friendships. Loyal readers of this dusty corner of blogosphere may be familiar with a previous entry where I contended a somewhat cynical explanation for the explosion of social networking sites; that we use them to actively seek out long lost friends to satisfy ourselves of our comparative position on the social ladder, so that we do not need to feel inadequate in any way about our own modest achievements. 

What utter poppycock!

Perhaps experience hardens our hearts and age softens our judgement but I must admit surprise at myself sometimes for writing some of the drivel I write. You see, on the question of online correspondence, there is and can only be one simple purpose – it is the opening gambit in a game of chess, a prologue to a yet unwritten book, a precursor to something that may become very special, or putting it in terms of today’s financial language – it is an investment for a future wealth that cannot and will not be realised … until friends actually physically meet!

Someone once said, if you want to bring someone into your life, you need to take a step into theirs. And last night, I made a move which hopefully will earn me a place in this person’s life. It helped that we shared some memorable times in the past, but we could have easily continued to ‘message’ each other without ever meeting and in doing so, lose the opportunity to become great friends.

on social networking sites …

So, good people – are sites like Facebook, MySpace, Friendster and dare I mention Bebo a curse on modern society or an asset? Discuss.

I’ve procrastinated my deliberations on this very topic until now for a couple of reasons: firstly, it was necessary to amass enough entries on one’s ‘my friends’ list to enable useful analysis (afterall, one swallow does not a summer make!) and then, I needed to find and get in touch with an old friend the old fashioned way, i.e. by picking up the telephone.

It is recognised that humans are a gregarious species, so why do we cower behind our computer screens, preferring to deliver one-liners to friends we have recently rediscovered, rather than pick up the phone to arrange a reunion? I partially accept that physical vanity may be to blame – faces do get wrinklier, breasts inevitably succumb to gravity, and tummies and hairlines do the inversely proportional thing of enlarging while the other recedes. Or perhaps, I suggest, there is another more sinister explanation.

The Singaporeans call it kia su [lit. fear of losing] which loosely translates to that western nirvana of not only just keeping up with the Joneses, but to excel and be king of the hill, top of the heap. And whereas it might have been possible for friends and colleagues to disappear after school/university and retreat to places where one is considered a bigger fish in a smaller sea (e.g. the so-called White flight of city dwellers to the countryside, emigration to Australasia etc), today the phenomenon of the Internet has brought us back together with a big awakening bang. Not only has it shattered all geographical boundaries (real and notional), it has also created a global village where peer pressure is now on steroids, and living an ordinary existence is about as appealing as a fungal infection in the groin 😉 You can run, you may even choose to hide … and succeed … but god help you if the commit the mortal sin of coming out and admitting to mediocrity, online or worse, in person!

Tomorrow I have an opportunity to telephone someone I have not seen in over 25 years. Back in those carefree days and what seemed like a lifetime ago, we didn’t have much to worry about – hell, we didn’t even worry about worrying! But I wonder – will we be more guarded on the phone or perhaps there is something to be said for getting through the ice breaking ceremony semi-anonymously via email. Churchill once observed We are stripped bare by the curse of plenty – his comment may yet have some relevance in our 21st century techno-rich world …

work work work …

Unlike last year, I celebrated Beaujolais Nouveau a couple of Thursdays ago in the relatively quiet surroundings of my kitchen with a rather generic and instantly forgettable bottle of George duBoeuf. Still, wine is wine and we all need an excuse to be merry especially right now, when the weather outside is cold and wet, and the prospect of staying indoors can only mean one thing: slaving away at the computer, righting a few corporate wrongs, and generally getting on with mortgage repayment activities.

So, some recent diversions and distractions have proved to be much needed life savers – such as my bebo page, the latest 007 outing with Daniel Craig, J2’s birthday party at Laserquest, and of course, my imminent visit to Marrakech.

Life could be worse, I suppose …

have you been waiting long …

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Yesterday, J & I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary – that’s twice the average shelf-life of a marriage these days. But if one begins to itch at 7 years, surely it is only natural to develop an insatiable rash at 14?! Not so Sherlock. And as I managed to forget to buy SWMBO a card, penitence involved a quick dash into town to procure some floral bribes (see pic above), arranged by Yours Truly. Don’t they look pretty?

I’m not sure that I should celebrate my return to regular blogging with a confession of a latent interest in flower arranging, but somehow one needs a way to break the ice after 8 weeks of radio silence – and needless to say, much has happened in that time – J1 started at secondary school,
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there was that *long* week-end in Champagne/Paris transforming David’s flat into a Pussy Palace,
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and another one in Dublin generally chilling with the in-laws over a pint of Guinness (or four),

and that time when I turned my hand to decking and changed the back garden from this:
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to this:
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and of course the highlight … my milestone birthday party in late September (sorry guys no pics of the stripper as this is strictly a family blog 😉 ) which reunited a number of good friends, including some who diligently visit this rather dusty corner of blogosphere. Life may very well begin at 40, but I rather suspect that brain cell decay begins to accelerate exponentially henceforth to the extent that it becomes more challenging to put pen to paper … well, fingers to keypad. Anyway, that’s my excuse for this barren period in this blog’s history and I’m sticking to it!

But fear not loyal readers, for I have a cunning plan. At the risk of turning myself into a stats whore, I’ve decided to give my blog a mini theme. More will be revealed in the coming days …

truly, madly, deeply …

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Husbands/boyfriends, when was the last time your wife/girlfriend looked at you like that? They say a picture paints a thousand words. Well, judge for yourselves and tell me that this isn’t the perfect Kodak moment of a happy couple totally besotted with each other. If only someone can bottle up that look, and put it up for sale on the shelves in Harvey Nichols as Love Potion No 1, I’d certainly buy a case, or 50 …

It is now 5 days since my return from Waiman and Emily’s beautiful and exquisitely presented wedding in the Far East, and yes though my body is back in Blighty – sizzling in the uncharacteristic heatwave that has settled on us like a 24-tog duvet on a hot sticky night – a bit of me never left Hong Kong and is still loitering with intent … somewhere between Wan Chai and Kowloon.

I’ve been thinking about what makes a perfect wedding over a good one and have reached this conclusion: timing. Timing is absolutely key and this goes back to the moment when Waiman and Emily discovered within themselves the strength in character and commitment to each other, ironically at the time of his mother’s death, quickly followed by the sudden passing of her father (they were on vacation on South Island in New Zealand when news of his illness came through). As Waiman himself recognises, when you build a relationship based on foundations as solid as these, it is easy to see how they managed to pull off (seemingly with little effort), the complex planning and perfect execution of both the church wedding and banquet – two very special events that will remain in our hearts and minds for a long time to come.

There is also an element of serendipity in timing for their guests: when friends and family find a way of flying in from the UK, the Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Taiwan, France, Japan, Singapore, Thailand etc, you soon realise that you have the ingredients for a very memorable occasion. I am sure each and every one could have found plausible reasons not to attend, but we all made the effort (and for some of us it was a good time to be away from our home environment) and so we were all duly rewarded. Right from the moment we landed, and then punctuated with moments of great camaraderie, for example, the chartered antique tram ride from Sheung Wan to North Point, pulling all-nighters in Insomnia (and sometimes with burger breaks!), chatting up Filipino tarts at the appropriately named From Dusk Til Dawn (I assume y’all have seen the film!), a spot of dirty dancing with a granny (which incidentally cost me a Dior handbag), the congee breakfasts (with and without cockroach!), eating deep-fried octopus mouths in Mui Kee Cookfood stall in Tsim Sha Tsui, being rained in at the Bulldog in Lan Kwai Fong (it bucketed for about 6 hours!), the curious but effective Swiss technique of hailing taxis, the delicious Dim Sum at the Tao Heung Super 88 restaurant and being educated by a 3 year old girl about the different species of garoupa, midnight dashes to the Peak and having our taxi chased away by the Police, a very brief visit to the Bottoms-Up bar of James Bond The Man with the Golden Gun fame (now lap dancing joint) – up to the moment our planes took off when we put our heads down to reflect on new friendships made, and oh yes, catch up on lost sleep 😉

So thank you Waiman and Emily – for showing us all a great time, but most importantly for reminding me the true meaning of love and devotion. Life-timers like Harry and I need a good kicking from time to time to rekindle the fire that we have with our loved ones. I went to Hong Kong to attend a wedding, and returned having left behind a small piece of my heart in that wonderful, wonderful city… which I fully intend to collect. One day. Soon.

home sweet home …

We have moved … and have no plans to repeat the exercise for at least another … oh, say 10 years. Or even 20. As I write, the sun is shining, there is a light sea breeze and from our balcony, I can see the boats motoring by down on the marina, as they negotiate the tight bends into their berths for the night. In short, life is rather good here … and the one thing that can top this lifestyle right now is to be on one of the boats … but ssshhhh, don’t tell J – that 31′ Westerly Tempest is looking very buyable from this angle 😉

And by way of icing on the cake, the company moved the broadband service from the old house and as a result torrents are now fyling down our 8Mbit/s ADSL line like proverbial off a stick! Oh happy days.

compromis de vente …

Yesterday, we exchanged contracts on the sale of our current house and the purchase of our new one. In house buying parlance, this is synonymous to the first few notes from the fat lady’s vocal cords as she delivers her final aria on stage before collapsing from a broken heart, poision or some exotic disease: the end to this dramatic home move is drawing to a close and this Thursday, after 9 glorious years in Wiltshire, we take our final curtain call at Deepwell House before relocating to North Somerset.

With hindsight, I should have maintained a running blog on this move, if only to serve as a reminder to the boys of this eventful period in their lives when change is rife and nothing is stable – but on reflection, this is perhaps one of those life lessons that is better learnt through personal (and at times painful!) experience. I can only thank the designers at EA games for giving us Battlefield 2: Modern Combat – a title that has seen much action on our Xbox 360 in recent weeks and has served as an excellent exhaust for pent up frustration as I frag imaginary estate agents, lawyers and carpet fitters with 120mm shells and FFARs from my virtual Apache helicopter 😉

Roll on Thursday!

Note: Readers should also be advised that I am planning to retire the deepwell.co.uk domain after we have moved – with immediate effect, you should all point your browsers to http://www.ongs.co.uk/ to access this page.

beauty is skin deep …

I can still remember feeling squeamish whenever J channel-flicked onto one of those edutainment programmes on Sky that show live surgery. If I had my way, even Nip Tuck would have been committed to the TV naughty corner, had it not been saved by surprisingly creative dialogue and provocative plots … not to mention the tanned bodies and strong jawlines. Call me shallow, but I pledge my full support to the producers of that TV show when it comes to flaunting feminine curves and 6-pack torsos … because beauty (and I herewith make an advance apology to any hirsute lesbians/feminists and Lionel Richie lookalikes who may be offended by my next pronouncement) is skin deep. And whereas the external human form has immense sex appeal, the insides of a human body and its workings are about as interesting as the contents of Margaret Thatcher’s handbag. That is, unless it is your body … and then, it suddenly becomes the most intriguing thing since Kate Moss’s purse and the most bloggable subject in the world!

Last Wednesday, I gave birth to twin gallstones – an achievement that would not have been possible without the skill and professionalism of the very competent team at Bath Clinic, particularly Messrs Hardy (anaesthetist) and Britton (surgeon). While Hardy knocked me out and made sure I stayed under, Mr Britton (whose dry and boyish bed-side manner reminded me of Stan Laurel) stabbed me 4 times in the abdominal area in a procedure known as a laparoscopic cholecystectomy (that’s gall bladder removal for the medically challenged among you) which comes under the curious medical vernacular of ‘key hole’ surgery. Key hole – now that’s a bit of a misnomer! What surgeons fail to explain to patients during pre-op consultations is the size of the lock they will be dealing with, and judging from the length of incisions on my tummy, it would appear that my surgeon was attempting to pick-lock the portcullis of Warwick castle 😉

But it is all good, as they say and I am now bed-bound and signed off work for the next two weeks with little prospect of social interaction to feed my blog, and yes, I will spare you loyal readers any write up on the frequency of bowel movements and other bodily functions. However, I’m giving serious thought about a paper comparing the coefficient of transparency between Egyptian cotton pillow cases and my nylon anti-DVT stockings. Ummmm, maybe I should save that for next week. Suffice it to say, the prescription drugs, in particular Tramadol, are doing wonders for pain management and inducing some very interesting and florid dreams – an added bonus of being an opiate derivative, I guess. Kids at home, say NO to Tramadol ok … unless you’ve been stabbed.

Meanwhile I’ve made a start on a programing project – a piece of extra-curricular work set by my boss to develop an eBay software tool that will allow sellers to do some statistical analysis on historical auction behaviour in order to predict (read: artificially inflate) the best final sale price for an item. I thought I might write it in Java, but being bed-ridden and having no access to any good books, I’ve decided to plumb for Visual Basic 2005 Express. Progress to date includes the GUI mini-browser functionality (which was a doddle), and today’s task is to work on the ‘state machine’ of valid eBay HTML responses, before diving in to the nightmare of parsing HTML code to extract valuable data from the noise. That should keep me out of mischief for a couple of days …

mac phoenix …

My Mac Mini is back in action … the doctors could not revive the dead hard drive so it was back to square one for my WordPress blog – an experience almost as painful as the chronic abdominal cramps of recent nights from my errant gall-stone(s). They say Revenge is a dish best served cold, and before I am through stuffing it with new chores (e.g. Asterisk PBX, CCTV, Media Streamer etc), my Mini will be wishing it had been reborn as sushi.

Navigation to the fixed menu pages is still a known problem, as are categories … but please bear with me. Torture is only pleasurable when there is no prospect of surrender 😉

dead mini …

Sorry fans, but as an emergency measure, I have reverted to this out-of-date blog following the recent demise of my Mac Mini … which until last night, was hosting my most recent blog on WordPress.

It’s off to the doctors today with a suspected disk ailment, so until it is returned (hopefully fixed) sometime in the future, you and I will have the to put up with the pleasure of blogspot.

Update: Ok, I’ve backfilled previous posts from cached copies lurking on other PCs around the house, so we should be up to date now …

adventures in flanders …

The decorators finished early, and by 0605 on Saturday morning we were already on the continent, en route to Ypres (via Brugges) for an educational week-end in the killing fields of Flanders.

Ypres – or Ieper in Flemish but never wipers – is typically Belgian with narrow cobbled lanes that contrast the architectural modernity of a town that has clearly experienced re-development since its obliteration from heavy bombardment during the Great War. It also boasts the Menin Gate, where every night since 1920 (except for the war years, when the ceremony moved back to England) locals and tourists gather under this monument to watch wreaths being laid at the playing of the Last Post. I don’t think I have ever been in a more moving remembrance event and while the general mood was decidedly sombre, I also sensed something else … something equating to relief, you know that feeling you get after paying back a long-term debt. To the 37 thousand or so British and ANZACS soldiers whose names adorn the walls of this monument because their bodies have never been formally identified, found nor interred, we can but hope that in over 80 years that this ceremony has been running, the crowds have accrued enough dignity to put their souls at rest.

For The Fallen
by Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

However, when it comes to understanding the true horror of this war, a visit to the museum at Sanctuary Wood aka Hill 62 is a must. If the stereoscopic photos, recovered munitions and miscellaneous memorabilia do not paint a clear enough picture of the 4 years of hell endured by the British forces in defence of the Western Front, then slip through the back door and walk in the trenches and/or potholes to get that first hand experience that I guarantee you will not acquire anywhere else. War, at best is ugly and horrific, but the First World War set a precedence for a shameless waste of human lives that has not and hopefully will never be surpassed.

For a change of scenery, we moved onto Brussels and checked into the Holiday Inn, set a stone’s throw from the chic shopping area of Avenue Louise. Earlier we had promised J2 seafood (mussels in particular) for dinner but not having the stamina to face the touts in Rue des Bouchers, we ate locally at Delire Parisien on rue Jordan, just off Ave Louise. Now this is great french cooking, with very friendly service in a setting that is convivial and spacious. The plats du jour promised l’Os a Moelle (bone marrow) which was quite delicious, but we were too late for the foie gras and pheasant, but found equally delectable alternatives a la carte – J in particular fell silent during her entree of Salade de chevre Chavignol with honey which she pronounced as simply excellent. Note: it seems that even in a French restaurant, the diner cannot escape the Belgian witloof (chicory or endive, depending on your linguistic persuasion). The one on my plate accompanying the rognon de veau was surprisingly tasty, perhaps a credit to chef who has managed successfully to present this rather mundane vegetable so that it actually invites ingestion Anyway, the Ch. Grand Bourdieu (Graves) we selected was perfect accompaniment to an outstanding meal, and afterwards we walked off the excesses by strolling into Sablon and taking in a compulsory beer at the Cafe Leffe!

The clocks may have gone back on Sunday morning, but we continued to enjoy summer temperatures as we setttled down to waffles and crepes for breakfast, around the corner from the Grand Place. Several chocolate shops later, we were ready for another break, this time at the Cafe de Bxl for a degustation de cinq bieres, which rounded off beautifully our little week-end in Flanders.

But during our time here, our thoughts were never far away from those men who fought and died that we may continue to enjoy the liberties and pleasures of this life. So boys and girls, remember this …

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.

new toys …

So it’s been a while since my last post. J and I were looking forward to a period of unadulterated chilling out which we did manage to achieve despite the chaos created by our earlier accident with the water tank. As a bonus, our respite ended on a materialistic high with some new toys for SWMBO and me: J bought a new car, and I’m now the proud father of this little bag of wizardry. The O2 XDA Exec (the Universal from HTC a.k.a. T-Mobile MDA Pro, Vodafone VPA IV, Orange SPV M5000, Qtek 9000, i-Mate JasJar, Dopod 900) is a replacement for my XDA II and Nokia 6630 – I now retain full PDA/MP3 functionality with TomTom 5 satellite navigation plus the added bonus of 3G high-speed data services including 2-way video conferencing with J’s Sharp 902 (Ferrari limited edition) – an early birthday present from yours truly. With the Blackberry Connect client expected imminently, I shall be in a position to get rid of the 7100v too – taking me down to a single device. Oh happy days!

It’s half term next week. The kids are home and I’m planning to take some time off to do some DIY on the house, addressing other parts that are not being worked on by the builders/decorators who will be onsite again repairing the walls and ceilings from our recent accident with the water tank. If they finish before the week is out, we may emabark on our annual pilgrimage to Disneyland Paris for Halloween and if not, well there’s always something here that needs doing. An old house is very much like an old car – when the fixing is done, one is instantly bowled over by the beauty of the finished product, but while it is being worked on, the monotony of repairs is just unbearably tedious

Which is why we needed some retail / gastronomic therapy today. Fresh & Wild (we visited the branch on Queens Road, Clifton) is fast becoming a mecca for the discerning foodie while providing instant gratification to those shopping for natural remedies / alternative skincare products. While J fiddled with rose-perfumed face cleansers, I rooted around the organic veg section (pah! don’t you just hate it when people do that and then add the detestable caveat of No pun intended) for some butternut squash for soup-making later … ummmm, I’m really into soups at the moment, particularly veggie ones. Afterwards, we popped into the new branch of Space.NK – a super-modern apothecary with Habitat-inspired decor, stocking the latest skincare products from Eve Lom plus other pricey items, but if you’re on a tighter budget especially after paying for so many new toys , then I recommend the relatively affordable Kiehl’s Lip balm. Oh, and the Men’s eau de toilette is just divine – Santa, are you taking notes?!

normality is for whimps …

Waking up at 0500 every morning has given me a sense of purpose and achievement- but now that this bidding cycle is over I shall have to find an equally satisfying activity for the early hours … because it will take a while before my mind and body come to the realisation that it is OK to sleep until 0730. Really.

And there is a lot on my mind. Like trying to find the optimal sequence to buy and sell property without incurring a shameful amount of Capital Gains tax, or working out the best return on long term investment based on SIPPs … and most importantly, obtaining the addresses for the best eateries in Venice when J and I visit this week-end.

But this evening, I shall put my feet up, pour myself a glass of something strong and reminisce on past times and old friends … because I just don’t agree with Liam Fox when he says that the past does not qualify him to become the new leader of the Conservative party. People judge us by our ability to deliver on our promises, and in return, we judge others in advance by looking at previous reputation and old behaviours. Just like on this bid team – there are some folks I will never want to work with again, but then there are others who I would actively seek out to collaborate with on some future project together.

And as we wait to learn our fate on this bid (announcement due in early November), I feel I need to remind myself that often it’s not the destination that matters … but the journey.

happy birthday to me …

It has been one year (to the day) since my first posting, and another candle has found its way to my already crowded birthday cake. What started off as an exhaust vent for the random rantings of an irascible man has followed the natural evolutionary path for blogs worldwide: after an enthusiastic birth, some blogs die young (primarily from neglect), while a few rise to prominence but the majority (and this blog is no exception) settle for a quiet place on the dusty shelf in blogosphere, to be taken down for a quick polish whenever an occasion rises that warrants such effort – because let’s face it, time is so precious these days. In fact I am seriously contemplating ditching my PDA and returning to a calendar free existence – you know, that carefree, stress-neutral, bygone era when you could go to the bathroom without the need to make an appointment But I digress …

These days, I know not to write about what I ate for breakfast, or the mating rituals of my pet goldfish instead limiting my written thoughts and observations to events and experiences that somehow bring meaning to the science of life, and the art of living. In life, we continue to go on holidays to cool places to be reminded of the beauty of Mother Earth, and from time to time, we are humbled by her forces (Aceh, Katrina and now Rita). The art of living, however, is a more complex and rewarding endeavour altogether: sure, we like our food and drink but the way we choose to live is more poignant for the simple reason that our hobbies, musical tastes and other passtimes are totally within our control to shape and mould as we please … except for when they are not e.g. when suicide bombers attempt to inflict terror, when politicians win despite exercising one’s democratic right or generally, when shit happens.

So, this has been an enlightening year for me and my blog, and now I would like to mark its anniversary by asking fellow bloggers out there for whom do you write your blogs? Personally, I thought I started this blog for *me* … but now I am sure it is for my kids.

History is the best teacher not only for the present but also for the future …

water, water everywhere …

Our house, that we’ve lived in and cared for over 8 years, is upset. I think it knows that we have been house hunting in Portishead and as a big f*** you, has decided that it would empty the contents of the water tank in the loft, creating substantial water damage on 2 floors. The restoration company called in yesterday and placed fans, blowers and de-humidifiers at strategic locations … I’m sure the National Grid noticed a blip on their monitors when the equipment was switched on. So, we’re sleeping on the floor … and will be for at least a fortnight. Thanks a lot!

The only positive news is that we’re booked into the Carlton , Venice for our wedding anniversary in October. Can’t wait …

suffering katrina …

Once again I’m struck dumb when I try to make sense of man’s actions in times of utter desperation and the almighty’s lack of compassion and mercy to allow such suffering to fall on humankind.

Natural disasters bring out the worst attributes of both mortals and immortals: the former for his reversion to survival instincts of the most cruel and horrible kind rather than rely on rational behaviour, and the latter faces the collective wrath of his believers who cannot come to terms with how he, the almighty, could have allowed such atrocities to happen. The cynical among you may have also spotted the cruel irony of this situation: man throws god’s gift of human rationality – that which is supposed to set man apart from animals – back in the face of god, in whose image man was created. And for the atheist, this is great god-ammo: if man is capable of such horror and was created in the image of god, does that mean that god is not infallible and so why should we believe in the existence of an almighty, but if it is man’s free will to piss on god’s gift of rationality, then one needs to question whether natural disasters are the actions of a merciful god, or the actions of an omnipotent chess player using humans for his amusement, or perhaps in the final analysis, there is no god … and shit happens.

I guess I’m coming to the irresistible conclusion that man is his own worst enemy, and we don’t need examples like Katrina or the Aceh tsunami, or Hotel Rwanda, Apocalypse Now or Schindler’s List to remind us of how fucked up humans can be if we exercise free will. And perhaps, that is why we all need something to pray to – to give us that glimmer of hope, no matter how small, that we may one day rise above this mess that we call Life.

notting hill (yawn) …

Is it just me, or do you all find that subsequent visits to a place or event fail to deliver that same sense of magic and excitement as the first experience?! Or maybe, this is just another symptom of the dreaded mid-life crisis – or maybe, as the surf-wise turtle said in Finding Nemo, You’ve got serious thrill issues dude. Anyway, the Notting Hill carnival this year was one such disappointment. Some people have been quick to blame the boxed-in feeling on the threat of terrorism – and I can bear witness to the fact that during the warm-up to the processions, there were probably more police officers that revellers on the streets – others accounted for the lethargic atmosphere by pointing out it was Children’s Day yesterday, but I suspect the reason is more simple … commercialism. Having just returned from Egypt where the hawking was almost unbearable, the last thing I expected was to have copious amounts of jerk chicken samples shoved in my face, or yet another trader trying to persuade the kids to buy a second whistle or horn. Carnivals are times when the street comes alive with dance, music, colour etc – making a profit, in my view, has no place in such events. And so, I doubt I will be returning next year

I will however be returning to the telly next month to (hopefully) witness Michael Vaughan’s boys reclaim the Ashes at the Oval. Yesterday’s nail-biting victory in the 4th Test Match against the Aussies should dispel any myths that cricket is a game for comatose, wimpy couch potatoes who constantly reminisce about the bygone days of the glorious British Empire. At its best (and yesterday’s performance by both teams is a case in point), cricket can give you that adrenalin boost … just when you need it most.

egypt bound …

Much has happened around the world since my last blog: the authorities, having shot dead an innocent Brazilian, now believe they have the losers responsible for the 21 July attempted bombings in custody, NASA’s still struggling after the Discovery shuttle experienced similar rocket debris problems that killed the entire crew on Columbia in Feb 2003, the world got together to outline proposals for a son-of-Kyoto treaty to tackle climate change, and after four decades of terror, the IRA have once again re-affirmed their position to end their armed campaign. Well, this has been a busy July, especially at work where the controlled panic of bid documentation production has now transmuted into a general mood of sensory-deprived cruising … I guess the feeling isn’t dissimilar to the sort the numb sensation you get after an engine burn-out … the vessel (i.e. me) is still travelling at considerable speed due to earlier momentum than any new accelerative agents, but somehow the thrill and excitement of the journey has long departed.

Which conveniently brings me to our imminent holiday, booked on the day of the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings – not that the horrific event would have changed our plans one bit. Egypt will soon be host to our 10 day sojourn that will include 2 main centres: Cairo with the surrounding Great Pyramids at Giza, and Luxor with the great temples of Karnak and Valley of the Kings/Queens. So watch out, moblogging will strike again … from a variety of devices … if only I can find a holster that will house an XDA II, a Nokia 6630 and 2 Blackberries (a 7100v and T4) and oh, not forgetting the mobile power generator to keep these devices fully charged 😉

J1 celebrated his birthday yesterday. It really doesn’t feel like 10 years have passed since we brought home the little bundle of joy from Queen Charlotte’s – a bundle that has mutated into a laconic, gangly, late waking, fridge emptying pre-teen ‘thing’, but who’s doing well at school and recently passed his Grade 4 (Piano) and Grade 2 (Violin) exams. So we treated him and his monkey brother to the evening show of Charlie and the Chcolate Factory – Depp under Tim Burton’s direction did a fine job bringing to life Dahl’s intended eccentricities in the Willy Wonka character. Go see – I don’t think y’all be disappointed …

tolerate and integrate …

I’ve blogged on my feelings about excessive religion before and now in the light of the London bombings, I feel somewhat … well, vindicated. Not in a smug ‘I told you so’ way, but with great sadness, regret and more importantly despair for my kids who will have to grow up in a world where religious zealots, bigotry and now practitioners peddle their hate so openly in public, aided by ease of travel and communications and advances in bio-chemical technology.

Take the BNP for example, who are desperately trying to paint a horrific picture of an ethnic Britain where a small group of young, impressionable men swap ‘snuff’ videos of executions on their mobile phones, or the BBC for that matter, when they publicly profiled the so-called ‘homegrown’ bombers, and pushed them into the category of idle, ideological losers who have somehow been indoctrinated into religious hate, from a single visit to Pakistan! Come on you guys – this is complete piffle and as responsible Brits, you owe a debt of gratitude to the immigrants who came over to rebuild post-war Britain, despite the memory and anxiety of past colonial attitudes.

Nationality is an accident of geographical settlement of our ancestors, and not a birth right to establish racial supremacy! Did we not learn anything from the last guy who gassed millions of innocent people because he didn’t like the colour of their hair or eyes …

That the war in Iraq divided British public opinion was to be expected – that it was to polarise religious beliefs to the extent that someone could detonate himself on public transport was quite frankly a big surprise. Not only because of the ‘homegrown’ factor which suggests that the integration may not have been as seamless as we first thought, but it is now clear to me that society’s tolerance to cultural and religious diversity is also on very shaky ground.

As a child growing up in Malaysia (a predominantly muslim country), I often wondered about the need for the frequency and volume of prayers – these questions became more pertinent when the government built the state mosque half a mile down the road and equipped it with the loudest PA system money could buy! Tolerance for me was hard to accept … until I considered my very own Chinese culture – the incessant burning of joss sticks and paper during our religious festivals (and there were a good many of them), the thumping of the barrel drums and fire crackers that accompanied the lion dancing and the regular traffic chaos created by wooden structures that seem to appear unexpectedly in the middle of a major thoroughfare whenever a need arose to host a chinese opera. When I put myself, as I did then, into their shoes, I soon realised how lucky I’ve been to have been born into this environment. If you want to see a truly multi-cultural society, where racial harmony between Malays, Chinese and Indians transcends over religious tolerance of Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity, where cuisine and language are so integrated we’ve almost invented a new genre and we certainly speak peculiar, then visit Malaysia. There, end of plug …

I think Britain is miles away from true racial integration, but miles ahead in terms of religious tolerance – mainly because (and call me a cynic if you wish) not many people give a shit about religion these days. But those who give more than a shit and think they understand the full implications of teachings and the concept of martyrdom in their young and irrelevant lives, these people clearly feel excluded enough to make a statement. As a wise law Lord once said:

Tell me, and I will forget.
Remind me and I will remember.
Involve me, and I will understand.

love is the world …

The BBC are proxy blogging the diary of a survivor from the London bombings last week, who is simply known to us as R. R wrote that she was reminded of a WH Auden poem “Musee des beaux Arts” about the fall of Icarus and the banality of evil. But, in the days that followed the the destruction of the WTC in 2001, another of Auden’s poem 1 September, 1939 was widely circulated because of its somewhat prophetic references to New York – “The unmentionable odour of death” that “Offends the September night” and the “blind skyscrapers” that “grope the sky. “

Auden left London at the outbreak of WWII, and was openly criticised by many of his friends including George Orwell for not supporting England at her time of need. As a pacifist, he felt he could not in all conscience stay, but whatever the reason, his poem left behind a legacy – a reminder to us all, black or white, Muslim or Christian, rich or poor – that in the madness that sometimes engulfs our world, there is and always will be love … but to those who have evil “bred in the bone”, there is no salvation. We must love each other … or *all* die.

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

fucking losers …

I was expecting the euphoria from the Olympic announcement to last at least 24 hours, but some Londoners had their lives interrupted (and in some cases ended) by the series of bombings during rush hour this morning. To those who carried out this nonsensical act, go fuck yourselves – I mean that sincerely, not as a directive, but as a polite invitation to continue with this futile form of procreation and thus bring about the extinction of your species … whatever that is, because human you certainly are not.

During these times, I see the wisdom in Lincoln’s Gettysburg address when he observed that while men are born equal, they are also born different. And the difference, I suggest, is our morality. Society does not create evil people – neither does religion, poverty nor dysfunctional political systems. Some people are born good, and some are born bad. Period.

Be strong, people of London. My thoughts and prayers are with you …