(Newest entries first)

Seen it

Yep, I saw it flick over to 100,000 miles (see below).

It's really difficult, driving and watching the mileometer at the same time, but I was just going along Drove Road on the way to work and I saw it go to six figures. So it was parked all day with exactly 100,000 on the clock.

That 100,000 miles represents about 13,000 litres of petrol. I never look at the price - I just fill it up for about 45 a time - so I had to look up the fact that it now costs 1 a litre. So the car has got through about 13,000-worth of petrol so far - most of it bought by us.

Nearly there

We went down to Somerset today to ferry our Mum to Carol and Dave who are taking her on a short holiday to Spain.

This gave us an excuse for lunch at the excellent Three Horseshoes in Langley Marsh and edged us tantalisingly close to the milestone of our car (the Fiat Brava) reaching 100,000 miles on the clock (although we didn't have it from new). This will now be reached tomorrow - probably when I am sat in traffic, on the way home from work. I'm desperately hoping to see it click over to six digits, although I'm not sure why. Probably the same reason I like to see eclipses and things like that - and other people like to see road accidents.

Hope I don't cause one tomorrow.


It's a sign

The sign I bought from eBay (see below) has arrived. Apart from a couple of blemishes at the top - which, if anything, add to its charm - it's a fantastic specimen.

Bring me the head of Steve McLaren

I suppose I'd better say something about England's dismal failure, tonight, to qualify for Euro 2008, even though it's the 37th consecutive year that our footballers have let us down and we really should be used to it by now (as I told Sean, although he didn't seem to appreciate it much).

Well, the manager is an idiot - that much is obvious from the fact that he put a rookie keeper in the team for a big match on a slippery pitch - but there's much more to it than that. What I can't understand is why putting on an England shirt so often makes good players bad, while other countries' shirts makes bad players good (look at Greece).

And it's nothing to do with how much they get paid. Brazilian, Italian, French and German players also get paid too much, but they don't play like a bunch of headless schoolgirls.

There's no doubt in my mind who should be the next manager - and his name is Harry Rednapp.

Taking notice

After a long time managing not to buy anything off eBay, I have succumbed again.

This time it was something with family history connections - a British Railways enamel sign from Swindon Railway Works. This doesn't sound too impressive until you find out that it's all about fires and having to inform the works fire station, which is where our Dad worked. Not exactly from the fire station itself, but close enough.

Even without this family significance, it's a nice sign, and worth the 50 (including postage) I'm paying for it.

Judith

You would think there would be very little that you could add after going to the funeral, today, of a 52-year-old who has been suffering with multiple sclerosis for 15 years. The situation seems to speak for itself - but doesn't tell the whole story.

I hadn't actually seen Judith (James), my cousin's ex-wife, for many years, but had had regular updates on her, and often heard news of the devotion of her three children as they helped to look after her from a young age. So it was extremely touching to see Scott, Duncan and even teenager Gemma stand up at the crematorium and say how proud they were of their mum for bringing them up in the face of her own adversity.

To say that all three did their mother proud in return would be the understatement of the year. They are now almost grown up, and the fantastic job that Judith did (along with her ex-husband Pete, of course) was plain for all to see - as good a testament to somebody's life as you'll ever see.

Jean and Fred's golden wedding


It was a family do day today as 11 of us went to the Kembrey Inn to celebrate Auntie Jean and Uncle Fred's golden anniversary.

Actually, the great day was November 5, but they didn't want any fuss and we agreed that a fairly low-key meal would be appropriate. As my sister-in-law Lynne said, "Here's to the next 50 years."

That was the week that was

So much for this being a(n almost) daily blog.

I've been so busy over the last week that I haven't had much time to read anything for pleasure, let alone write it. The combination of people taking holidays and some hefty supplements being published by the Adver means that I have been gainfully employed putting pages together and even writing a few things. And then there have been loads of other (nicer) things in the evenings and weekends, on top of the fact that we run a free taxi service for teenagers and we're still going back and forth to Ikealand and trying to put the house back together after the new extension/central heating.

So this blog has been reduced to a rambling regurgitation of some of the things that I've encountered in the last week or two.

I interviewed Jeremy Hardy on Thursday - a stand-up comedian who's mostly on the radio but also pops up on programmes such as QI. He wasn't the jolliest person I've ever interviewed, especially for a comedian, but I managed to get enough out of him for a feature that will be published soon before he comes to Swindon on December 4.

More inspiring - perhaps surprisingly, given the anoraky image of these things - was finding out about Swindon Model Railway Club who are holding a major exhibition this weekend. I found some pictures of one of the layouts they have made, which I think are stunning (see above). I had to convince some colleagues that they were models and not real.

It turned out that the pictures were taken by a railway artist called Craig Tiley - a fact which inadvertently led me to his website where I discovered that he is not only a photographer but an artist from Swindon who does railway paintings which are also very impressive (see above) - and I'm meeting him next week to write a feature about him.

I also surprisingly enjoyed putting together an advertising supplement called Christmas Around the Towns. As I had to write some of the copy for this, I had time to do some research into Christmas and discovered an eye-opening Guardian article from last year called The Phoney War on Christmas. As well as telling us about the way certain religious groups think of other religious groups, I think you can also insert 'EU' instead of Christmas and come to the same conclusion. As a recent edition of QI highlighted, the most famous stories about EU regulations are just as fanciful - or should that be fanatical? - as the ones about Christmas being "banned". I am increasingly amazed and concerned by the way most people accept rumour, propaganda, hearsay and downright lies as truth.

On a similar theme to not getting your facts right, I can't help noticing the increasingly ludicrous news reporting policies of the BBC - which hit rock bottom in the last week with something I heard on the Today Programme. I sort of caught it by accident because otherwise I've given up listening to the programme, mainly because I'm tired of the way John Humphrys deliberately provokes confrontation by simply contradicting everything his interviewees say (in the words of Monty Python, I came here for an argument and that's just contradiction).

Anyway, it was the business report, which wouldn't normally interest me, except they had the MD or CEO of the Carphone Warehouse on for an interview. This guy must be on one hell of a Christmas bonus because in the last year they've quadrupled profits and gone from literally nowhere in broadband provision to third in the market. Even to my anti-capitalist mind, that's nothing short of amazing and worth hearing about. And what does the interviewer say to him? "You're lagging behind BT a bit, aren't you?"

Also this week, I discovered that I am going to Cairo in 2011. This is because the final vote on the destination of LNO50 - a weekend of celebration we are planning when our lads' night out gang reach the big 5-0 in 2011 - rejected the venue I was sponsoring, which was Amsterdam. In a shock result, we voted 3-2 for Cairo instead, which I was disappointed about - not because I don't want to see the pyramids, which I do, but because I thought Amsterdam would have been more appropriate.


Headline of the week

One of the more satisfying things about being a sub-editor on newspapers is one of your key tasks is to come up with clever headlines. The best I've ever done - or ever will - was when I was working on the sports desk and there was a story about Swindon athletes having the major inconvenience of having to lock away all their equipment because of vandalism. The pole vaulters were especially miffed about this, which was very convenient for the headline - but not half as lucky as the fact that it wasn't just an election day when the story ran, but General Election day. My headline was 'Vaulters can't get to the poles'.

Not quite in that league, but by unanimous agreement in the newsroom, the paper's headline of the week, is the one I came up with for a story that's going in the food section of Monday's paper. This is about the makers of Bird's Custard who are lobbying MPs to get 'Great British puddings' put back on the menu in schools and hospitals, arguing they are dying out. My headline for this is 'Custard's last stand'.

Headline writing is not exactly a fine art but it is an art, even if it is one that's sullied by the drivel that too many sub-editors resort to, such as 'Simply the best' which is simply the worst I've ever seen, because you see it everywhere. It's like a default that's used every day by sub-editors who can't think of anything else. Next worst is 'A pizza the action' which is applied to any story remotely involving pizzas.

Look away now

An intriguing version of the if you don't want to know the score, look away now scenario has been played out on my nephew Stuart's blog.

Stuart and his wife Mel already have one lovely child, Millie, who was born so premature that she nearly made it into the Guinness Book of Records - but developed so normally that you could describe her as a little miracle. Now Mel is pregnant again, and the latest scan has revealed the sex of the new baby, which is due in March. You can visit Stuart's site and choose to reveal whether it's a boy or a girl.

When you think about it, discovering whether you have a son or a daughter is a huge moment as it decides which of two very different courses your life is going to take, and it all hinges on a moment in time that you have no control over. I remember thinking this, vividly, when Julie was in labour, wondering which way things would turn out.

We were never officially given the opportunity to find out about the sex of our kids in advance, although a fuzzy scan of what later turned out to be Holly suggested she might be a boy! Given the chance of finding out for sure, I would have chosen not to know, although I'm not really sure why. The only reasons I can give are the fairly lame one that it might feel like opening your presents before Christmas Day and the even lamer one that it's somehow not traditional.

I even found myself hesitating for a few seconds on Stuart's site, while I decided whether I preferred to know now or not. I'd probably have taken longer to decide had I not realised that it would be only a matter of time before somebody else told me anyway.

So now I know - and it's a landmark because it's the first time in my life that any parents whom I know personally have found out the sex of their baby before it was born - or at least the first time they've shared it with me.


School's out at the Copacabana

Here's a weird thought. I've been listening to a lot of Radio 2 lately, mainly in the car, and today Steve Wright was interviewing Alice Cooper. I think it's the first time I've heard him talk - and he sounded and spoke just like Barry Manilow. Same accent, same friendly manner, everything.

I wonder what the chances are that they are actually the same person.

Great Gilbert

A gang of Carter brothers and their wives (and honourary Carter for the night, Pete Lucas) descended on the Colston Hall in Bristol, tonight, to see one of Swindon's famous sons, Gilbert O'Sullivan, in concert.

I've always thought Gilbert wrote some great catchy songs, but wasn't quite sure what to expect of a real live show. Having got hold of a free copy of his latest album (A Scruff at Heart) it was growing on me - but only slowly. I was a bit disappointed that he is still writing much the same sort of stuff as he was doing back in the Seventies. The new album relies almost entirely on just gentle piano, strings and his own voice to carry it, which is fair enough - it is his trademark - but other Sixties/Seventies acts that I've followed have been more adventurous, trying new things rather than relying on successful formulas, notably Al Stewart and especially Brian Wilson.

That's one of the reasons why the Gilbert crowd was almost exclusively made up of people who were old enough to remember when his hits were new.

I needn't have worried, though. On stage and with a big band behind him, he produced a much bigger impression than the CD, so the tracks from the new album, which dominated the first half of the show, were really enjoyable.

Even so, his big hits, which were mostly in the up-tempo second half, were still the highlights, as you'd expect, with the finale of Alone Again (Naturally), Matrimony and then an extended Get Down, finishing it off a treat.

We also had great seats - three rows back and right in front of his keyboard.

The pictures are neither mine nor from Bristol, but from the Irish leg of the tour, a few days ago, as featured on the official Gilbert site.

That's better

More exciting things to report than putting down floorboards (see below)...

Holly has been asked to be a bridesmaid again. After doing it for my nephew Glyn (and Laura) this year (as pictured), she's now been asked to be a bridesmaid for Glyn's brother, Gary, who is marrying Natalie on May 2, 2009.

Now, it was the only time this year that Holly has worn a dress, so we were pleasantly surprised to find that she thoroughly enjoyed Glyn's wedding, and when she was told she was going to be a bridesmaid again, her answer was: "Coooooool!" So that's nice.

Meanwhile, Sean continues to work towards his Grade 8 drumming exam, which he is due to take in mid-December. He is also doing O Level music at school which involves periodic 'performances', marked by the teacher (I think it counts towards his exam, although I'm not quite sure*). Anyway, today he played one of the Grade 8 pieces he is learning, and scored 9 out of 10 for accuracy and 14 out of 15 for presentation. But because it's a Grade 8 piece and therefore more difficult than what most of the others were attempting, he gets a bonus of two marks, thus scoring 25 out of 25. I'm not quite sure whether it's possible to score more than 25 in that case, but the most amazing thing is not that he can do it, but that he thinks nothing of it.

At the same time, I'm getting progressively more nervous about my debut in our band, having now fixed a first session of playing together, on November 10. The only experience I have of playing with live people rather than CD tracks was the family jamming session we had earlier this year, so I'm not sure what to expect.

The good news is that the other band members - Dave and Roy - are a real laugh and easy to get on with, and we are planning a phenomenal set list, including loads of the kind of things I often wish they would play when I go to a boring disco and the DJ can't come up with anything more imaginative than It's Raining Men. The gems we're doing include You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet, Make Me Smile (Come and See Me), The Boys Are Back in Town, I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles), Money For Nothing, All Right Now... that sort of stuff. Even the cheesey ones we are throwing in because they go down well (such as Amarillo and Dance The Night Away) are fun to play. And I get to throw in some of my own favourites such as The Beatles and The Beach Boys - and even an Al Stewart.

For the moment we are concentrating on learning the first seven from the list, and the aim is to do a few 'soft gigs' after Easter before working our way up to weddings and suchlike. The others are really serious about doing this and doing it properly, rather than just playing around for kicks.

The band still doesn't have a name, though - not to mention a bass player - but I reckon I have come up with the best idea so far - Roy and the Rovers. Other ideas I've had include Band on the Run and A Band on Ship.

*I suppose I should know this, but the advantage of hindsight has taught me that O Levels are not a big deal if you are intending to go on and take A Levels, like Sean is. As long as you get English and Maths, everybody forgets about them as soon as you move on to something else, and he should easily get the grades he needs to do the subjects he wants to do at college (music, music technology and English). In that case, I don't see much point in putting kids through too much stress as they come up to their O Levels. Julie tells me she always got in a right tizzy over her exams, and already seems much more stressed out about Sean's than he is.


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Glyn and Laura's wedding
Mark and Maxine's wedding
Richard and Carla's wedding