Germany calling

I can't understand what this Carter thing is with collecting things and never throwing anything away. I myself hate to be surrounded by clutter and like to see everything in its place.

Not.

Lucy (my niece) has got it bad, too, judging by her brilliant website about her school trip to Germany, which you can see here.

Football jinx is broken

I haven't watched Town much lately - partly because I wondered whether I was some kind of jinx but mainly because the last couple of times I forked out vast sums of money to see them, they were absolutely crap. And that's being generous.

I saw them lose against Tranmere last season in a game where most of the players seemed put out that they had to come out for the second half. Then I saw them play Peterborough, earlier this season. Although I think they were still top of the league then, to say they were clueless would be an insult to clueless footballers everywhere. It was probably the worst match I had ever seen at the County Ground - and I have seen hundreds.

I vowed I wouldn't bother going out there again this season, but the arrival of a new manager who sounds really good (Paul Sturrock) plus a run of form, but mostly the chance of a cheap ticket (thanks to Carla via Ronald) got me out there again this afternoon.

Town won 2-0 against in-form Macclesfield and could easily have had more. The Macclesfield goalie made some good saves, including Christian Roberts' penalty, but 3-0 wouldn't have flattered Town after an unspectacular but surprisingly efficient performance. By the end they really looked like a team that knew what it was doing. Best of all was Lee Peacock who was diabolical on the (probably only two) occasions I've watched him before, but today was easily the man of the match.

I'm thinking of going out there again before the end of the season, although obviously I'll have to have a word with the bank manager because we've already got one mortgage.

SwindonWeb match report.


Arty farty, take 2

More artworks have been added to the 'Pictures' section (see link, left).

Holly on tour

I thought the Girl Guides were supposed to go camping, hiking and canoeing, but this morning Holly set off on a trip to... Disneyland Paris. They arrive on Friday evening and will be home very late on Sunday. The picture shows her getting on the bus at 7am, watched by freezing parents.

Lucky lucky lucky

I've started the Lucky Bag section of this site, and there are photos in the Pictures section. See the links, left.

Jacky's half century

A good time was had by all at my sister-in-law Jacky's 50th birthday party at Swindon Supermarine FC last night, where we were all entertained by a singer - I never got his name but he was really good - and Julie's dancing. Jacky has obviously had a bit of a time of it in the last couple of years, so deserved a good do. We also raised some money for leukaemia research.

Here are some pictures I took at the party...





Arty farty

I've finally started the 'Pictures' section of this website (see link, left).

It's going to be a depository for various arty-farty things I've done, and it so far features a load of old drawings I did years ago, which I've recently rediscovered. Soon there will also be some photos.

And there is a brand new drawing I've just completed. Mark (my nephew) and Maxine asked me to draw the church where they are getting married in July, so they can use it on their invitations. So I did.

I'm mostly pretty pleased with the result, especially as it's the first proper drawing I've done for years.


Seeing is believing - part 1

I had an interesting visit to the optician's this week - for several reasons.

I finally decided to go because I thought it was three or four years since I last changed my contact lenses - but it was actually seven years. In other words, I've had the same contact lenses for seven years - and some people have a new pair every day.

They weren't very busy in Boots, so I ended up having a long and interesting chat with the optician, including about colourblindness. She said so-called 'cures' for it don't do much and we got on to talking about genetics.

I said I couldn't understand how a defect like colourblindness managed to survive evolution, particularly as so many people have it (it's about one in seven men but only one in 200 women). And she had some interesting theories to explain this.

The first was that colourblindness has only been a problem in the modern world - with such things as colour-coding - and it didn't really affect people's lives so much in the past. I think this is probably only partly true.

Anyway, this wasn't the most interesting part of her theory about colourblindness and genetics. Her other theory was that colourblindness must be somehow linked with another genetic quirk - but one that works in favour of the person with that gene. According to Darwin's theories about the survival of the fittest, colourblindness should have been eradicated by now because it's a defect. So for colourblind people to still exist, we must have had something else going for us - something that's much more important to our survival.

She used the example of resistance to lung cancer. Perhaps people who are born with colourblindness also have something in them that makes them resistant to lung cancer. That could be why we've survived so long, despite our defect. Of course, it could be anything really, but there must be something - and people are doing a lot of research into finding these links between minor defects and other more major quirks in genes that over-ride them.

I really like the idea of people with so-called 'defects' getting ahead in the long run.


Seeing is believing - part 2

An even more interesting revelation from the optician was how they are going to sort out my long-sightedness.

I'm now at the age where I'm not only blind as a bat when trying to see anything more than a foot from my face, but can't read properly either. So, as well as a new pair of contact lenses, I'd gone along for reading glasses too.

At least, I thought that's what I was going to get - along with all the trouble of losing them, sitting on them, having to carry them everywhere and looking like Joe 90. But glasses, it turns out, is only one option.

You can also have variable-focal (or something) contact lenses which is a bit like bi-focal glasses only probably much more expensive. And the third option is 'mono-vision'. This is a brilliantly simple idea that you wouldn't believe could work.

The idea is that one of your eyes does most of the work for seeing things in the distance and the other is for close-up. So instead of having a standard pair of lenses, one is slightly adjusted so that you can read with it. The real work is going on in your brain, which adapts the information that's coming in - which is really slightly blurred - and corrects it.

The optician simulated this by getting me to hold a reading glass over one of my eyes - and it worked! I could read, but if I looked down the shop, I could read the signs down the other end.

She said some people can't get on with them, but it looks like I will, so I have ordered my magic lenses and won't need glasses. What a brilliant solution.


Game, set and checkmate

I shouldn't laugh really, but Holly is taking part in the UK Chess Challenge at school.

This is reckoned to be the biggest junior chess competition in the world as it starts at schools up and down the country and attracts about 75,000 entries. These are eventually whittled down to the last 120 or so kids, who are then invited to play in something called the Tera Final.

Holly has qualified for the Tera Final three times in the last four years, and as we don't know of any particularly good players at her school - we'd have met them by now - there is absolutely no danger of her not being the best in the school, let alone failing to be the best girl in her year. Chess is not like football. Whereas it's possible that Swindon Town could beat Manchester United and even go on and win the FA Cup, upsets like this never happen in chess, once you get to a certain level.

As I have learned more about chess from Holly's exploits (and managing the Wiltshire under-11 team for a season), I can sometimes tell who's going to win a game - sometimes with 100 per cent certainty - after each player has made just one move.

Holly played her first match in this year's competition on Thursday - against the kid who was the school champion last year. She explained what happened - and if it had been a boxing match the referee would have stopped it in the first round.

Actually, he wasn't much older than Holly, but I like to imagine the scene as maybe a six-foot-plus kid in year 11 walks into the room and finds out who his opponent is. "Oh good," you can hear him saying. "Not only am I playing somebody from year 7 - but it's a girl!"

Firefox problems solved?

The Firefox problems reported earlier seem to have been sorted out (by Brian). It was a dud doctype, apparently. Thought it would be something like that...

All you need is lunch

This is the sixth day of my post-Christmas diet - and after overcoming the misery of the first couple of days when I was hungry every single waking minute, it's now going pretty well. I am aiming to lose a couple of stone, and have decided there is only one way to do it - and it's not to follow any fancy diet or count calories. It's a don't eat much diet, which means I can look forward to a couple of bowls of soup a day - although I will be treating myself to a proper meal about once a week, mainly to be sociable. We are also trying to exercise more, which is why we are likely to be seen traipsing about the streets of an evening. In the meantime, I would appreciate it if nobody mentions food to me for the next couple of months.

Diana is dead shock

I have to be completely honest and say that I never cared much for Princess Diana and wasn't affected much by her death beyond the sadness of somebody dying so young. But even I am appalled at the way some sections of the media try to generate stories about her, nearly ten years after she died, rather than letting the poor woman rest in peace. We will never hear the last about her death until somebody comes out and says yes, she was killed by secret agents. Or Martians. The only problem with that is the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The driver was drunk and speeding, and she wasn't wearing a seatbelt. It's not rocket science, is it? Anyway, here's an amusing BBC News website feature about what the Daily Express has to say about it.

Firefox problems

If you are trying to view this site using Firefox, you will be experiencing problems with seeing the links. Fortunately, we have our experts working on it right now and normal service will be resumed shortly.

When Elvis left the building

Elvis was less than impressed when we took him to the vet's yesterday. We took him because he's lost a bit of weight, even though he was otherwise acting normally (for him) - greedy, not the brightest cat in the alley and - in the words of Holly who took the picture, right - "aDORable".

The vet could find nothing wrong with him and said we should just keep an eye on him, which isn't difficult since he hasn't moved from the basket chair we brought down from upstairs on Christmas Day, except to investigate the possibility that somebody in the kitchen might be getting him some food. The vet pointed out that he's actually the right weight for a cat. It's just that he's thinner than he normally is - as, indeed, is my wallet now, by 27.

Elvis, as you'd expect from a scaredycat, got a bit worried on the way to the vet's, but resisted the temptation to wet - an unfortunate but funny occurence on a previous visit, when Sean was carrying him. However, when we were nearly home, he disgraced himself, drenching me and the car seat - and proving just how dopey he is, as it would have been obvious to any other cat that the second journey always brings you back home again and the stress was about to be relieved.

On second thoughts, maybe that was what caused it.


All you need is Love


I have been having a few thoughts about the new Beatles album, Love, which Father Christmas generously brought me.

Beatles producer Sir George Martin and his son Giles have re-somethinged various old Beatles tracks. In some cases they have been re-mastered, others re-mixed, and others still, re-worked. Being a huge fan of the Beatles, I naturally consider Sir George (or anybody related to him by blood) to be the only non-Beatle worthy of such witchcraft (with the possible exception of Brian Wilson), and if anybody else had done it, I wouldn't have touched it with a proverbial bargepole or any other kind.

Sir George, by the way, only used existing recordings and out-takes, with the exception of some strings which were added to While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and most of it is recognisable from what has already been released. But not necessarily in the same order.

Some bits are genius of Lennon-McCartney-Harrison proportions, especially the idea of making a single song out of Within You Without You and Tomorrow Never Knows, which is the first one I played when I got the album. And I wasn't disappointed.

The best thing about the album is that it somehow makes you appreciate just how good some tracks were - which you may have become so familiar with over the years so as to not rate them as highly as they deserve. This is especially true of Here Comes the Sun, even though it has been changed only very subtlely. This, like all the others, is best listened to with earphones because you pick up more of the variations.

Others, like Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds and Lady Madonna, have undergone bigger changes, and the result is that whereas I considered them to be merely great before, I now realise they are both much better than that.

The same is even true of one of my least favourite Beatles tracks, Octopus's Garden, which I previously considered an inferior re-writing of Yellow Submarine - which itself only works if you get yourself in the right frame of mind and remember it's only really a kids' song. By adding an introduction from Goodnight (from the White Album), the new Octopus's Garden suddenly becomes really likable.

Octopus's Garden is also good because it keeps up the spirit of previous Beatles albums, which usually had at least one track where Ringo sang the lead vocal. To also include one here is a nice touch that Beatles fans will really appreciate.

In fact, other parts of the album seem to be underlining that Ringo was always under-rated. It not only includes his one and only Beatles drum solo but also the two tracks that show off his drumming most - Tomorrow Never Knows and Come Together. It seems to be saying what I have always suspected (and now believe as a drummer myself) - that he deserves much more credit than some people give him for his contribution to the Beatles phenomenon.

The most disappointing track is I am the Walrus, which is hardly any different to the original - although, if you think about it, you can't improve on perfection and it was a bit futile to try.

My main - virtually only - overall complaint is that, if anything, the re-doing doesn't go far enough. I had hoped the album would have been as radical as Brian Wilson's Smile - still my favourite album of all-time - but maybe that would have been too much. If Love had been the Beatles' Smile, there would have been no following it.

As it is, I'm already looking forward to Love2.

Family history pages started

I've started uploading stuff to the family history section (link in menu, left). This is a joint project by me and Brian.

It features only one article at the moment, which is well worth reading if you are related. More will follow soon.

Happy new year

We saw the new year in at Steve and Lynne's - a break with tradition as we usually go there on New Year's Day. As ever, they put on a great spread and the family all had a good time. Then we drove home on an almost deserted M4, partly through torrential rain. I've spent most of today compiling this page.

You never hear any good news in our family

"You never hear any good news in our family," is what my mum always says when something involving somebody we're related to doesn't go entirely to plan.
She said it a lot during 2006 - a year that you could be excused for thinking was one that is best forgotten.
But was it?
Naturally, our year was completely overshadowed by the death of Julie's dad, Keith, on May 1, and after that it really did seem that things could only get better.
But we have since begun to count our blessings.
One blessing was that somebody with a cruel and potentially very painful illness died suddenly in the end, before encountering the worst of the suffering.
Sure, that's only a consolation for our loss, but his doctor later summed it up for Julie when he told her: "Somebody must have been looking down and smiling on him on that day."
Several times over the last week we had to remind ourselves how miserable his suffering would have become if he had been with us at Christmas.

Hello John. Got a new flat?

Good can still come out of the worst of things.
Although it seemed that Julie's already close family couldn't get much closer, they've pulled together fantastically in the months since her dad died, and John, who faced the added upheavel of moving out of his home of nearly 50 years, now has a nice pad of his own.
All this is exactly what her dad - and her mum, who died in 1996 - would have wanted, which seems like another reason to feel good about how 2006 ended.

All's well that ends well

The Carter family spent most of the year withdrawing all the money it has invested in the National Health Service over the years. But even a traumatic year turned out for the best in the end.
At times it seemed that my two older brothers were competing with each other for a part in Casualty.
Ronald had already undergone heart surgery for a faulty valve and then the fitting of a pacemaker - in the last few years - but still hadn't got himself sorted out when he went into hospital to go on to some new drugs in August. This didn't exactly go to plan and at one stage, after being sent home, he started reacting to the new drugs and his heartbeat became dangerously unstable.
Jenny drove him back to the hospital, not realising that if he'd been in an ambulance, they'd have had the lights flashing and the sirens wailing, and would have crashed the stretcher through the doors of A&E without looking to see if there was a queue.
In the end, a technician twiddled some knobs on the pacemaker and brought a seriously dodgy situation under control.
Ron still has ups and downs with his health and has probably finally given up on his dream of playing at Wimbledon, but it could have been much worse, and he still looks well.
Maurice's story, meanwhile, came to a head in 2006 after he was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2005.
Despite encouraging results from drug trials, it was eventually decided that his best bet - given his otherwise good health but also the fact that he wasn't getting any younger - would be to have a bonemarrow transplant.
A good match (81%) was found in a donor from Sheffield - nobody in the family could provide a good enough one - and, to cut a long story short, he had his transplant in London on September 28, after a short course of chemotherapy.
The transplant immediately went extremely well, and a planned six-week stay in hospital was reduced to four. Minor infections and other little blips meant he had to return to hospital for a couple of stays, but these were expected, and he was still being described as a text-book success at Christmas.
Tests had showed a leukaemia reading of 100 per cent at first diagnosis, but by the start of December this was already down to just 0.007 per cent - barely enough to measure.
The risk of not surviving had been put at up to 20 per cent before the transplant, but an impressively positive attitude and the support of Jacky, Mark and Claire has helped Maurice overcome the disease to such an extent that they are now as near as dammit to claiming victory.
Meanwhile, Mark was also in hospital in September, finding out he has collitis, and with Carol getting a hip replacement earlier in the year, we are now well on the way to getting a season ticket with the NHS.
All's well that ends well, though, and the family is no doubt looking forward to being well again in 2007.
That's not all we're looking forward to. After years without any family weddings, there will be no less than three next year.
Even better news is that all three grooms - Glyn, Mark and Richard - have each found themselves a lovely bride.

Banging our own drums

As for the Jefferies Avenue branch of the family, we found reasons to smile in 2006.
I completed the Chronicle of Swindon, a massive history of the town in the Adver, which I researched, almost entirely wrote, sourced the pictures for, designed the pages, proofed the words and generally lived and breathed for six months before publication and during the six months of 25 eight-page weekly editions.
If you watch Little Britain you would say I wrote the theme tune, sang the theme tune... and it all went down very well.
I still write my weekly column for the Adver but otherwise finished 2006 in a happy state of unemployment - and planning to get down to finally write my book in 2007 (watch this space).
Julie, meanwhile, was promoted in 2006, becoming a team leader - which isn't bad for somebody who works part-time and watches X-Factor.
Sean continued to do well in almost everything at school, but especially in music.
He won the Young Musician of the Year award for the lower school - which is almost unheard of for a drummer - and will shortly be taking his Grade 6 drumming exam, aiming to reach Grade 8 by the time he leaves school.
He's also learning the guitar, and a couple of times this year he has appeared in concerts, playing both guitar and drums (though not at the same time).
Holly, who's becoming a nifty violin player, made her final appearance in the all-conquering Ruskin School choir in September, in a concert at the Steam Museum, which was the climax of Swindon's celebrations of Brunel's 200th birthday. Earlier in the year she sang with the choir at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham when they reached the final of the national Music for Youth competition.
She effortlessly made the transition to 'big school' in September, where her favourite subject is art, and she has also continued to be a quiet little chess star.
In the summer, she qualified for the final stages of what is reckoned to be the world's biggest junior chess competition, called the UK Chess Challenge, which starts with about 75,000 entries and ends up with the top 150 playing in something called the Tera Final, at Sheffield.
It was the third time in four years that she has qualified for this prestigious event, so we spent a weekend in Sheffield, including a stop-off at the National Space Centre in Leicester.
Most kids play less chess when they get to 12, and Holly is no exception, although she recently played for the Wiltshire Under-14 team as number 4 out of 12. She also has regular coaching with Dan Hall, who lives in Swindon and is the Under-16 British Champion, no less.
With one thing and another, we didn't get away much during the year, but we did have an enjoyable weekend in deepest Wales in February (our annual trip with our little gang), and a great week on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal in the summer with Brian, Sarah, Lucy and James.
Other highlights included camping in the Forest of Dean, seeing Al Stewart at the Albert Hall and Derren Brown at the Wyvern Theatre, plus two Test matches... although we were barred from seeing Sean play guitar in his friends' heavy metal rock band when they won a heat of a 'battle of the bands' competition. (Too old).

Blog standard

That ends this brief review of 2006, apart from the picture gallery below, but that's not the last you are going to be hearing of me as this new website is a thin disguise for a blog.
I've been inspired by Stuart's blog.
He's my nephew and his blog has the advantage over mine of being about the growing-up of his daughter and featuring cute pictures of her (although that won't stop me slipping one in here from time to time).
Millie was born outrageously premature in the summer of 2005, but continued to take great strides in 2006 - yet more proof that not only is there good news in our family sometimes, but even little miracles.
Some of the buttons on the left don't work yet, but they will become operational soon.
I aim to add to the site and especially the blog fairly regularly - but rest assured that few entries will be as long as this first one.
Here are those pictures I warned you about...