(Newest entries first)

That was the leak that was

I have to record a little story about how Sean's brain is being affected by being a teenager, although I've been debating with myself whether I should be so cruel. I have finally decided that I can justify it by also logging his progress as a drummer.

Anyway, it was Friday night at about 1am when I was going to bed and was in the bathroom, removing my contact lenses while rain was lashing against the window. There was some kind of commotion going on on the landing which I assumed was Julie investigating why Sean hadn't turned the light off and gone to bed. However, this was taking longer than expected and was punctuated by high-pitched noises from Julie, and by the time I emerged from the bathroom she was just climbing the ladder into the loft.

"What are you doing up there?" I asked, to be told that she was investigating the source of the leak in the roof.


It transpired that when she had gone into Sean's bedroom, she was surprised to find that he had strategically placed two cups underneath where water was coming through the ceiling! Casually enquiring, like you do, why he hadn't thought to alert us to this potential disaster, she was told that he thought we were both asleep. Worse still - he had first noticed the water dripping an hour earlier!

Oh to be a teenager when nothing - that is, absolutely nothing - is important, apart from the name of the latest heavy metal band and where the next chips are coming from. I'm convinced that the house could have been floating down the road and still he wouldn't have seen it as important enough to tell us about it until the morning - and only then if he remembered.

We're still not quite sure what caused the leak because none of the tiles are damaged or missing, but I think I've traced it to a drainage channel around the loft window being clogged with dirt.

It amazes me that somebody with no capacity to register any sense of urgency or danger and spend half his time in Teenageland on another planet can so readily manage the complex drumming that I witnessed him perform during a recent lesson - and do it like it was no more difficult than breathing. This was before I bungled my way through something that was about a tenth as complex in the following lesson.

Seth on You Tube

Never let it be said that this blog doesn't keep up with trends. Brought to you with the latest technology, there is now an embedded video from You Tube, featuring flavour of the month Seth Lakeman, singing Lady of the Sea. This is the same clip I saw on the BBC's programme about the Cambridge Folk Festival, as mentioned below...

Swindon on Blue Peter

While we're on the subject of web videos, there's an interesting piece about the Magic Roundabout and Blue Peter on SwindonWeb. I haven't worked out how to embed this yet, so here's an old-fashioned link to it.

Seth in concert

Our final treat from our little weekend break was a concert featuring Seth Lakeman at the Arts Centre in Salisbury, where we drove after leaving Street and met up with our friends, Lukey and Julie. Since we bought the tickets a few weeks ago, Seth has been voted BBC Folksinger of the Year or something, and after seeing him live it's easy to see why. I'd seen him on TV on a programme about the Cambridge Folk Festival, and heard more from Lukey and Julie, who were at the festival. We also have them to thank for alerting us to the fact that he was playing in Salisbury.

In some ways, Seth is an archetypal folksinger who writes and sings songs about exactly what you'd expect - soldiers on the run, souls lost at sea, that sort of thing. And there are no women in his songs, only maidens, and even - in one of his songs - a "maiden fair". I'm not complaining because I like all that stuff, but it's not the sort of thing you expect to hear in Matalan, where I once heard one of his songs. That's how far he has come in making folk mainstream.

Quite a few of the people around us in the audience last night were younger women - sorry, maidens - as Seth seems to be a bit of a pin-up, and it was a bit strange to see these rubbing shoulders with bearded folkies.

There's no doubting that Seth is unique because his brand of folk music is all about raw energy, and his trademark is being able to sing and play the fiddle at the same time. Not only that, he plays it so fast you could see the individual hairs snapping on his bow (as, indeed, you can in my pictures, below).

He also played guitar and banjo - though not at the same time - and was supported by a drummer/percussionist, a double bass player and his older brother, who is a great guitar player. The show was excellent, and because we were nearly at the front, I got some great photos. All four of us thoroughly enjoyed it, and Holly, who is learning violin at school, was suitably impressed.

If you want to know what he sounds like, check out Seth's official website where you can sample tracks from his latest album, Freedom Fields (Lady of the Sea is the best and features his trademark fiddle playing).

Street's ahead

We've just got back from our annual 'February Weekend' trip. This is a tradition dating back to February 1992 when our gang of friends starting taking a mid-winter break together.

We generally alternate between staying in large cottages and youth hostels (hiring the whole building for ourselves), although one year we went to Butlin's for a change. This year we hired a youth hostel at Street in Somerset and there were 14 of us.

Other traditions were observed, including tasting sessions - this year we did jam (and the winners were: raspberry - Tesco, exotic - Aldi Strawberry and Banana Conserve). The Seven O'Clock Club was also reconvened. This is a walking club that meets at 7am on at least two consecutive days but is only for the hardy members of our group.

Trips out from the hostel this year included spotting the weirdos in Glastonbury; going to the over-rated Clarks Village at Street where Star Trek lookalikes were visiting, including a stunningly convincing Captain Picard; Wells; Glastonbury Tor and Wookey Hole, where the mirror maze was a favourite but was beaten into second place by a really novel version of those seaside things where you stick your head on a comedy setting and take pictures (see the shocking picture of Julie, below, which is less shocking after blinking but shocking enough).

The general feeling was that this year's was one of the best trips and it was certainly at one of the most interesting/off-beat locations (so well done to James for organising it again). My favourite bit was probably walking round the shops in Glastonbury where every one had something interesting and I bought an ethnic-looking bell.

We arrived on Friday night and left on Monday morning, and then the four of us went across to Salisbury where we met up again with Lukey and Julie to see Seth Lakeman in concert at the Arts Centre (see above).

The pictures are the edited highlights and start (above) with a comparison of the youth hostel as it was years ago, with how it looks today.

Snow business

A couple of flakes of snow and Britain grinds to a halt... There was confusion in our household as Julie took Sean and Holly to school, only to return five minutes later to say that loads of kids were seen returning home, and everybody was saying the school was closed. However, the school wasn't on the list of closed schools on the BBC Radio Swindon website, so panic then set in as we thought it could be open after all. So they set off again, only to return again to say it was officially closed. Apparently, it was broadcast on GWR-FM but not on the BBC until later. Still, the kids didn't mind and made the most of snow which has rarely been seen in their lifetimes in Swindon.


We got the news from Maurice (my brother) tonight that leukaemia was undetectable in his latest tests from the hospital. As his doctor put it, things couldn't have gone better since his bone marrow transplant last September (he was diagnosed in June 2005). They now just need to make sure his new immune system matures properly, but don't seem to be anticipating any problems.

So it's relief all round now that this hard-earned victory is official - and Jacky, Mark and Claire also get the happy ending they've worked for.


Feeling dotty

I've been doing a lot of research into colourblindness in the last couple of weeks, and even bought a book of tests for it. They are the famous dots of colour that form numbers - or not, depending on which colours you can and can't differentiate. I also bought a book about colourblindness in general which turned out to be quite technical and lost credibility somewhat when I discovered it contained a map showing colourblindness rates across the world - and they used colour-coding to show different areas on the map. Needless to say, two of the five colours they used looked exactly the same in my eyes. Doh!

The tests, which are called the Ishihara Plates, can sometimes give a hint to exactly what kind of colourblindness you have (there are several), but prove whether you are red/green colourblind (by far the most common) or not.

I failed the test, naturally, and when I got Maurice (my brother) to take it, he failed too, but Ronald (another brother) passed. Apparently, Jenny (his wife) has been saying he's colourblind for years - they have arguments over whether turquoise is bluish-green or greenish-blue or something - but the test proved he is definitely not colourblind. I haven't tested Brian (my twin brother) yet, although this would seem to be a formality because we seem to see - and don't see - exactly the same colours.

There are plenty of interesting things about colourblindness - at least, I think they are interesting - and I now understand the genetics side of the subject.

Neither Sean nor Holly are colourblind, which is no surprise. Sean cannot inherit colourblindness from me (it's all to do with X and Y chromosomes). He could only have got it from Julie who, although she's not colourblind herself, could still be a carrier. Then the odds would have been 50-50. Holly would also have been a 50 per cent risk if Julie was a carrier. However, Julie is probably not a carrier as there is no history of colourblindness in her family that we know of.

Holly, meanwhile, is definitely a carrier. For each son that she has, there is exactly a 50 per cent chance that he will be colourblind. If the father is colourblind - and one in seven men are - there will then be a 50 per cent chance that any daughter will be colourblind. This occurs in only 0.5 per cent of women (one in 200). If the father is not colourblind, there's still a 50 per cent chance that daughters will be carriers, thus continuing this family trait.

My colourblindness is completely irrelevant to Sean and any children he might father. Because he is not colourblind himself, it is impossible for any of his daughters to be colourblind, and his sons will be entirely in the hands - or rather the genes - of their mother.

Our mum was a bit miffed to discover that this is all coming from her side of the family, but genetics proves this beyond all doubt. All the colourblind males in the family are getting it via their mothers who have been carriers, but there must have been somebody in the family tree who was colourblind - probably male - and set the ball rolling for all of us. The prime suspect would be my grandfather (our mum's father, Joseph Henry Weeks) but he was not colourblind as far as anybody knows. Because it can be passed down by female carriers for generations, the answer could be much further back.

Join the club if you cannot see a number in the circle of dots above (although the result may be unreliable if the colours on your monitor or my scanner aren't correct).

Queen of the South

Virtually my whole weekend has been taken up with chess - but it turned out to be worth every minute.

I got up at 6am on Saturday so I could go to the South of England Junior Championships near Camberley - partly so that Holly could play but also because Wiltshire Junior Chess was lending some equipment to the organisers and I was in charge of it.

Holly hasn't played so much chess in the last year but decided she wanted to play in this two-day tournament, even though there wasn't an under-12 category (her age) and she had to step up to the under-13s and play older kids. Although 12 might not seem old for a chess player, it's when a lot of kids give up competitive chess as they move up to senior school, and the only ones of that age still playing are really like the serious adults - they're all good. The ones who weren't so good have got fed up and gone on to do something else, so there's no such thing as an easy game.

She was really up against it, and if she was under any illusions about it, they were destroyed by lunchtime on Saturday. The draw for the first round is partly random and she was unluckily drawn against one of the highest graded players in the competition - which often seems to happen. Nobody beats Holly in a hurry - the British Champion took over an hour and a half last year - so it was two hours and 18 minutes before she came out and said she had lost. However, she won her next two on Saturday, and after waiting around to give somebody else a lift, we got home at 9.30pm on Saturday night - 14 and a half hours after we had set out.

Then, on Sunday morning, after another early start, she played another player with a high grade in her fourth game. This is one of the few major competitions where parents can actually go in and watch the moves, and when curiosity finally got the better of me and I went in to watch, she was losing.

In chess - and especially against really good players - if you get behind, you usually lose, but she somehow battled back with some really brilliant play, finally drawing level, edging ahead and then keeping her head to win a game that lasted two hours and 56 minutes. You only needed to watch the body language of the kid she was playing for a perfect commentary of what was happening on the board. It's a new record longest game for Holly - and during that time she never left her seat (although she's allowed to).

In chess competitions, your next game is always against somebody who has won the same or roughly the same as you have in the event, so her fifth and final game was against another highly graded player who was in form. This game lasted a mere couple of hours or so before she finally lost, to finish on three out of five for the event - and about seventh or eighth out of the 18 who entered. There was only one other girl in it and she got one out of five.

To say that we are proud parents would be an understatement, and after watching her today it's clear she is making the transition from a good child chess player to somebody who plays like an adult. All the little tricks that kids play against each other have been replaced by long-term planning and solid strategy. Even better, she still gets pleasure from putting herself through it all - which is not true of the sons and daughters - mostly sons - of some of the pushy parents who prowl the junior chess circuit. She should carry on playing chess for years to come.

As for me, the days when I can play her and not be completely thrashed and humiliated seem to be long gone.


January 2007