Out of the Games Cupboard

A random assortment of reflections, musings and a running commentary on life.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

... the story so far ...

I have not posted for awhile as I've not had the time. This may sound strange given that I'm not at work currently but sometimes I wonder how I found the time to go to work!

Since my last post Lisa, Ellie and I had a fabulous long weekend at Center Parcs with Lisa, Richard and baby Emma. They were really good company and we all got along well. Ellie loved all the grown up attention, the squirrels and swimming. She did much of the latter, including going in deep water during the waves and going down the rapids ride with us.

Monday night games sessions have still been taking place and have been good fun. (Lisa and I even took a few games to Center Parcs with us which Lisa and Richard enjoyed playing!). I have lent Carcassonne and the two expansions I've created to Greg for some independent playtesting so I feel that is moving forward again. I have started designing cards for another game based on Canasta. Whilst I can explain how to play this I am having a hard time writing the rules!

I had my 33rd birthday.. which was nice! Thank you all for cards and presents.

We went to see some friends in Leeds we haven't seen for a few months. It was lovely to catch up with them, spend time with them and eat the lovely meal they prepared!

Ellie and I have stepped up a gear making Christmas gifts. I will be starting on the cards shortly....I seem to remember promising myself that I wouldn't leave it until December again this year and...what do you know...its nearly December. Maybe I'll try again next year!

I am still having some neurological problems. I am still seeing my GP and the neuro psychologist regularly. The appointment with the Consultant Neurologist has been pushed back to January, although my GP is trying to get this changed. I may still lose my job. I am still unsure how to feel about this and whether to take the opportunity to be a 'stay at home dad' for a while.

So, life continues. I should get back into the habit of posting more regularly now... but.... we'll have to see how it goes!

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

My daughter the 'artist'!

I am constantly impressed by how art and craft activities hold Ellie's attention for a long period of time. She follows examples and instructions carefully and does look as if she's thinking how to position things (nothing overlaps in her scrapbook and everything is the right way up!). Here are some recent examples of Ellie's 'artwork'.

There is an orange 'sticky picture'. Ellie and I cut out the shapes from scrap paper (she now has her own sharp-bladed left-handed scissors which she enjoys using with adult supervision). She also has her own Pritt stick which she uses to independently stick everything together.

'Eleanor's Masterpiece' is a firework picture. I put glue on a sheet of paper and Ellie carefully sprinkled glitter on it to look like fireworks. Despite her concentration, glitter went everywhere!

The assortment of metal coasters was a pattern she made this morning by herself whilst I organised breakfast. Under the tissues is a bowl she carefully carried and put several raisins in. She then covered them with tissues as they were going to bed!

There is also a leaf picture which is all her own work...although I had to prompt her to stop adding more glue!

My favourite is the spider. She made this at nursery with minimal assistance after being shown what to do.

'Ellie's Treasure Chest' is actually something I made (well... its just a decorated cheap Ikea tub really!) as a Christmas present for her. Lisa and I are still thinking what to put in it though...

Vin Garbutt and the Dixie Chicks!

(Not a billing we're likely to see soon!)

For some years I have greatly enjoyed the music of an English folk performer, Vin Garbutt. His voice and style are a little "different" which had meant that he has not been gobbled up by "mainstram" folk. He is greatly respected by other performers and loved by his loyal fans. I don't listen to his music much these days as Lisa can't stand his voice!

Whilst Lisa was out I recently heard the song (below) 'When Oppressed Becomes Oppressor'. I don't always agree with Vin's politics but this made me think about the circular nature of human history. For some reason it also made me think of the Dixie Chick's 'Not Ready to Make Nice'; a response to the threats/abuse they received after making anti-war statements on stage. I find it odd that performers from a nation which prides itself on free speech could find themselves threatened and bullied by people who seem to have forgotten that right. The mass hysteria which has infused Western society in recent years has allowed governments to engenderand manipulate a state of fear....does this remind anyone else of the witch hunts of the late Middle Ages onwards?

When Oppressed Becomes Oppressor
When oppressed becomes oppressor and the best becomes the worst,
When the meek become the mighty and the blessed become the cursed,
When the flame of faith is failing and the light of love has died,
When the fruit of truth decays upon the tree of human pride.

Send me your huddled masses cried America the free,
Then from Saigon to San Salvador
The streets were filled with refugees.

The Jew who braved the ghetto wearing David's sacred sign,
In the promised land with stick in hand,
He beats the child of Palestine.

The Chinese peasant army faced the capitalist gun,
Then their long march to freedom
Ended in the Square of Tiannenmon.

The world expelled the man Saddam
From a defenceless Kuwait,
Then the torturers of Al Sabah sent hundreds to an unknown fate.

The Chetnik fought so bravely to fend off the fascist horde,
Then his sons went raping Muslin girls
On orders from a Serb warlord.

Will we ever learn from history,
The memory fades so fast
But we're destined to repeat the sins
If we forget the past.

When oppressed becomes oppressor and the best becomes the worst,
When the meek become the mighty and the blessed become the cursed,
When the flame of faith is failing and the light of love has died,
When the fruit of truth decays upon the tree of human pride.
Vin Garbutt recorded 1995 ('Plugged!')

Impressive Service

At 2pm yesterday I rang up Screwfix and placed an order. It arrived today at 7.35am. I did not pay for their 'guaranteed to arrive by 10.30am' or even 'by noon' service, just their normal service. The order was all there and all intact. The halogen bulbs we needed cost less for 12 from there than 5 would cost at our local DIY store. So how come so many companies take four weeks to deliver your purchases? I love Screwfix!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A thought and a quote...

Lisa and I have just watched a random episode of Futurama during which Bender meets God. At the end of the episode God says something like "if you've done something right it looks like you've done nothing at all". We both simultaneously thought "that's just like Social Work!" Not that we equate ourselves with God at all but... people always notice your mistakes (the media especially) but we do a lot of positive things which hardly get noticed. The most lasting positive changes are usually very subtle and rely on the strengths of the individual concerned. I once thought a good advertising slogan for the profession would be: "Social Work - making the world a better place for one person at a time"....

Out of the mouths of babes...

I read this several months ago and it made me laugh out loud. I rediscovered it whilst recycling the other day and thought others might enjoy it. Therefore I contacted the editor of Smalltalk (Yorkshire's Family Magazine), Corinne, and asked if I could reproduce it here:

"Children come out with such memorable things when they are young.
Here are some real answers that children have given to some interesting questions.

1. How do you decide who to marry?
Kristen, age 10
No person really decides before they grow up who they're going to marry.God decides it all before, and you get to find out later who you're stuck with.
Alan, age 10
You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming.

2. What is the best age to get married?
Camille, age 10
Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person FOREVER by then.
Freddie, age 6 (very wise for his age)
No age is good to get married at. You got to be a fool to get married.

3. How can a stranger tell if two people are married?
George, age 8
You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be shouting at the same kids.

4. What do you think your mum and dad have in common?
Lori, age 8
Both don't want any more kids. --

5. What do most people do on a date?
Martin, age 10
on the first date, they just tell each other lies and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.

6. When is it okay to kiss someone?
Susy age 7
When they're rich.
Lewis, age 7
The law says you have to be eighteen, so I wouldn't want to mess with that
Howard, age 8
The rule goes like this: If you kiss someone, then you should marry them and have kids with them. It's the right thing to do.

7. Is it better to be single or married?
Daniel, age 8
I don't know which is better, but I’ll tell you one thing. I’m never going to have sex with my wife. I don't want to be all grossed out.
Lucy, age 9 (bless you child)
It's better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need someone to clean up after them.

8. How would the world be different if people didn't get married?
Connor, age 8
There sure would be a lot of kids to explain, wouldn't there? --

9. How would you make a marriage work?
Will, age 10
Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a bus. --" (pg 5, Issue6, Summer 2006)

That made me laugh reading it again!

Thanks to the team at Smalltalk for their fab magazaine and for letting me reproduce this bit here!

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

Lisa has asked me to seriously consider being a 'stay at home dad'. She likes the way I take care of her, Eleanor and our home. She thinks I am more efficient at running the house than she is working part time.

In the past I have dreamt of this situation; getting to spend time with Eleanor and enjoying the gentle pleasure of maintaining a well-run home. Due to my current neorological problems there is a real chance I may lose my job. Whilst I am deeply upset by this prospect (I love my job!) there isn't a great deal I can do about it. Could this idea be the silver lining?

Financially, Lisa earns more than I do. She now has the opportunity to return to working full time and is keen to do this as I am now earning virtually nothing (the joys of Statutory Sick Pay!). If I stayed at home then we would not need two cars and our fuel/insurance/ road tax bill would be much less. Ellie could reduce her hours at nursery, although she would still go there for some time each week to maintain my sanity and becuase she enjoys it. We would not be well off but we could afford all the bills etc and have a small amount left over for emergencies/ holiday etc.

So why aren't I jumping at this chance? I am trying to think about it rationally (if a bit selfishly):

-I would need to keep abreast of work as I would want to return to work in a couple of years when Eleanor starts school. Could a career break damage my chances?

-would I go slowly mad being at home all the time?

-I could look at working part time

-do I have the physical and mental energy to keep Eleanor occupied for several days a week?

-do I really want us as a family to have so little money?

-I really do enjoy housework and making everywhere clean and tidy and I enjoy engaging Eleanor with this

-Eleanor loves being at home with me (apparently)

I think that I feel I am not making a positive choice so much as reacting to a bad situation. I suppose the logical thing to do is to wait and see if I recover quickly enough to return to work. If this doesn't happen then it's a pretty good 'back up' plan! Any ideas?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

How am I?

I have had several requests that I keep a running update here of how I am progressing with my neurological problems, so here you go....

I am still having absences. I am no longer keeping tabs on how many but between 15 and 20 a day is about the average. I am trying to rest more during the day (particularly as I am tending to get up early with Ellie) so this reduces the time available to have them in! They appear to be a bit shorter than they were as Lisa assures me they are usually between 5-8 seconds and never more than 10 seconds. They are still very annoying and upsetting. Every activity I do I have to factor in the possibility of freezing for a few seconds and alter my plans accordingly.

I am still having memory loss. Again, I am not keeping a really close eye on this as I found that quite upsetting. Unless I am quizzed, or am trying to remember something, I don't know that I've forgotten it! However, I seem to be 'losing' about half of the previous day and there are little 'gaps' in my recollection of the current day. This is a slight improvement, however. I am working quite hard at not worrying about this (which would be counterproductive) and am trying to use humour as something of a coping mechanism.

I still have an occasional tremour in my left hand. It happens maybe five times a day and lasts for 10-15 seconds. It causes me no distress whatsoever...unless I'm holding a drink when it happens! I suppose I do find it a bit embarrassing though.

The big problem for me is the cognitive changes that have occurred. Its hard to explain but...I can only do one thing at a time. If I break off an activity to go and do something else I can't go back to it without beginning again. I have to consciously work out all the stages in EVERY activity...even making a cup of tea. I have to check that each stage is correct. As a result everything is taking a lot longer than normal. There are also gaps in my logic. This makes it difficult to problem solve, follow books, films, TV, and, most importantly, play games! I am managing to do all these things but they are harder than usual and leave me feeling drained. I am also finding it hard to retain new information and make it make sense.

On the work front...I met this week with my manager and a representative from Unison. I can't remember much of it but I think it went well. I am awaiting the minutes to sign and we will meet again in four weeks to review the requested medical information. The stumbling block is that it is not currently possible for anyone to say when I will be able to return to work..which is awkward. I don't think how long I've got before they terminate my contract came up, so I intend discussing his with the very nice Unison rep.

All in all I'm a bit miserable and 'down' some of the time, but I'm enjoying lots of things and see more achievements in normal, everyday life than I used to.

...Also read recently...

Ooops.... I forgot that I also read Larry McMurtrey's 'Terms of Endearment' whilst in hospital. (Lisa bought it for me for the princely sum of £1.99 from the Oxfam bookshop in the hospital). I have to admit that I did enjoy the film and I was pleased to see that the daughter's death scene (Debra Winger in the movie saying goodbye to her two young sons as she lays dying from cancer gets me every time!) was word for word the same in both. The rest of the book was well written and very different from the film. Jack Nicholson's character was a composite of three men in the book; all the mother's suitors...none of whom are quite suitable. But the mainstay of both - the troubled relationship between mother and daughter - was similar to some extent. I enjoyed this and I will reread it when I'm feeling better.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Read Recently

I have read more than usual recently, particularly whilst in hospital. I can't remember much of what I have read so I thought it would be useful for me to record my thoughts here.

Haruki Murakami - 'Sputnik Sweethearts'. Apparently Murakami is widely considered to be the finest living writer. Hmm. This was beautifully written but, ultimately, I missed the point. Still, I had previously tried to read 'Norwegian Wood' but gave up out of boredom after a few pages....maybe I should persevere.

Dan Brown - 'The Da Vinci Code'. Hmm. As a thriller this was competent, page-turning stuff. The whole Opus Dei conspiracy thing did nothing for me and its faux-intellectualism irritated me after awhile. Also, I couldn't help but laugh at the cocnept of a Knight of the Realm having the name 'Teabing'!

Jasper Fforde - 'Lost in a Good Book', 'Something Rotten' and 'The Well of Lost Plots'. I loved 'The Eyre Affair' and so wanted to like this trilogy. Unfortunately it was a typical trilogy; the first volume left everything hanging; the second one was darker but patchy; the third did round it all off but rather unsatisfactorily. I think two good novels could have been achieved though if all the filler were removed. Still, truly original and a great concept.

Terry Pratchett - 'Going Postal' and 'Thud!'. Both great, read them before, love Pratchett, even if his books are not as 'clever' as they always appears to be at first.

Terry Pratchett - 'Wintersmith'. Thanks to Cara for this early birthday present. I really enjoyed this, as I knew I would. I don't remember much of it but will be rereading it soon!

Bernard Cornwell - 'Harlequin'. Adventure set during the Hundred Years War. I'd never read any Cornwell before and can't face Sharpe! I actually rather enjoyed this. Its view of life for a medieval longbowmen seemed well-researched and very 'human'. The plot (first in a trilogy... again!) was less convincing. Writing style was fluid and, I have to admit, gripping. I may seek out volume two!

Susanna Clarke - 'Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell'. I am currently reading volume three of this trilogy (another one!) and I am enjoying it. I can't remember all of it but hey! I don't care! It's fun. It's silly and its holding my attention. How would the Georgian world have been if magic was alive and well? Waterloo with ghostly hands dragging dragoons into the earth....parallel worlds accessed through mirrors...its great! Downside is boringly acadamic-style footnotes. Thank you Steer for this one!

I have also read many graphic novels and comic strip compilations (brilliant when your brain isn't doing all that it should!). Of particular note is the adventures of Iznogoud the Grand Vizier. These four volumes by Gosciny and Tabary are reminiscent of Asterix...by Goscinny and Uderzo...so that's hardly surprising! Tere is even a brief Asterix reference in one of them! Thanks go to Mal for lending me these rare books.

I'm a bad dad!

I spent Wednesday at home by myself with Eleanor. This was not an ideal situation but occurred as Ellie had been sent home from nursery with an upset tummy. Lisa had work commitments she could not reorganise and so, despite my neurological problems, I stepped up!

We had a great day! We did baking, made christmas tree decorations, played games, watched a movie, did cutting and sticking, did scrapbooking, made leaf pictures and made a glitter picture.

Unfortunately, Ellie had had one of her early morning starts (around 5.30am) and so I was quite tired. I was relying on her having her usual afternoon nap... she didn't! I had hoped to snooze at the same time she did. As a result by around 4pm I was exhausted. Eleanor had been well behaved most of the time (one 'time out' due to a catfood incident!). At about 4.15pm she placed her Fruitshoot on top of the TV, with the nozzle up. I immediately shouted "No Eleanor!" whilst rushing over to remove the bottle. My mind was filled with images of sweet, fruity liquid washing into the back of the TV and an explosion/fire ensuing. In near-panic I grabbed hold of Ellie and "explained" that she must never put anything on the TV. I realised I was shouting. This was only the second time I have ever shouted at her. She looked at me for a moment then started giggling then said "Daddy, you're silly!". This eased the moment and I started to laugh and we ended up hugging.

I find it odd that this is my overriding memory of a fabulous day. Amongst all the fun, laughter-filled, developmental activities we did that day it was the moment that I lost my temper that I remember. This underlines how emotionally pressured parenthood can be. When I think about being a father it is my deficits I consider. I have been trained to 'reflect' and yet I find it hard to apply this to fatherhood. I notice that Lisa's blog often questions her abilitiesas a mum. Her friend Francesca's blog often echoes this and yet it is clear that they are both fabulous, dedicated, inspirational parents. Where does this emphasis on the negative come from? I hope it makes us better parents but I suspect it makes us less calm people.

P.S. As you can see from the photo Ellie did finally fall asleep at 5.55pm. She gradually rolled onto the floor..I laid down next to her and stroked her face to soothe her after falling... Lisa came home at 6.30pm and found us both asleep on the floor!

Inaugural Curry

Lisa and I recently took Eleanor for her first 'real' curry in Bradford. We met up with our lovely friend Helen who navigated us to Ambala, a curry house on Great Horton Road.

I remember first going with my parents to Bradford when I was about 7. It became a recurring fixture despite the distance from our home.

Ambala is an up-market eatery of the sort which seems to be replacing the cheap and cheerful spit and sawdust curry houses of my childhood. They are still there but they are declining in number.

Ambala was lovely. The staff were attentive but not creepy; the decor was ultra-modern, stylish and beautifully finished; the food was heavenly and reasonably priced. It was all flavoursome and nicely presented (on stylish square plates). Helen's spinach curry was outstanding; the taste of the spinach was not lost.

Ellie particularly enjoyed the poppadoms and pickles (apart from the lime pickle which we failed to intercept!) and eating her curry with chappatis. She particularly enjoyed Helen's company and was fairly well behaved throughout.

This was an experience we all look forward to repeating...possibly with dessert instead instead of a starter.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Yummy or tasty...

Being two and a half Ellie's language skills are quickly developing. She has used the words 'yummy' and 'tasty' for sometime. Interestingly though she uses 'tasty' to mean 'horrible' when referring to food. Lisa and I think this may be because when people have tried to persuade her to eat something she doesn't like they have said something along the lines of "go on...have a bit...it's really tasty!"

This reminded me of a conversation I had with an English student back in my undergraduate days. He was explaining how the creation of the English Dictionary in some ways sounded the death knell for the English langauge. Until its publication there was no 'right or wrong' way of spelling words and there meaning was determined by their usage, not by a written definition. (Although definitions do change across time and geography he admitted).

So, in the pre-dictionary days people would not look quizzically at Ellie as she spits out food (neatly) declaring it to be "tasty"; she would simply be interpreting the word her own way and that would be just as valid as anyone else's usage!

Bad News

I rang my manager at work today who has been very supportive and sympathetic. I informed her of the conversation I had with my GP last Friday. She had wanted to sign me off work for several months due to the neurological problems I'm having. I said that I would rather be signed off for several weeks at a time so that I keep in contact woth medical services and so that I can decide when I think I'm ready to return to work (which I think may be sometime before I am fully recovered).

However, my manager thinks that if I do have to be off for several months then my contract may be terminated due to the shortness of my service (I only started working there in January this year).

This has been a little distressing to hear but..hey! what can I do about it really? I cannot return to work as I currently am and I don't know how long this will continue for. As soon as I feel able to manage at work I will be back there like a shot!

Pumpkin Perfection?

Yesterday was Halloween, a festival I increasingly enjoy since we moved to the suburbs.

I enjoyed the steady stream of mask-wearing, broom-waving, sugar-fuelled children demanding sweeties who haunted our doorstep.

Ellie enjoyed answering the door and showing-off her spider costume whilst dishing out sweets.

My favourite aspect, however, is making pumpkin lanterns. These are the finished ones (sorry about the poor lighting!)

I have had a few thoughts about pumpkin lanterns. (To be honest it's just nice having a stream of sensible thoughts at the moment!)

- Don't carve out too much flesh. If the pumpkin is too thin then it may collapse in on itself as it dries out. Similarly, crisp details you have carved may start to curl (the 'fangs to dentures' problem!)

- Don't carve large apertures. These speed the collapsing problem and will allow wind to blow out the candle.

- Don't leave your finished pumpkin in too much direct sunlight as this will make it dryout and curl.

- Ideally stand the candle in a clear, glass jar which fits inside the pumpkin. This will prevent the candle being extinguished by a draught.

- When choosing a pumpkin select one with a relatively flat bottom.

- Using a felt-tip marker draw the face/design you are hoping to create on the flattest 'face' of the pumpkin before carving.

Above all...have fun!

And here's Ellie in her costume.