Friday 3 April 2015

Vote for Me and I'll Set You Free (Except I am not standing, and I don't believe in the system)

Let me set my cards on the table from the start, politics will never deliver my chosen system of government, as I hope for a Star Trek style future where currency has been abolished, and we all work together for the betterment of mankind in a utopian egalitarian society without borders, war or any of that kind of unpleasantness. It is pretty obvious that this will never be delivered in my lifetime, if ever, but I do hold out some hope that in some far flung future Jean-Luc Picard looks back at us and shakes his head in disbelief at the way we organise things.

With that, we embark upon another election campaign, Britain is currently without a government, and thus, as I had always hoped, anarchy rules, and we are all free to follow our conscience rather than the arbitrary rules and laws stated by the government. Although, of course we are not, and plenty of things are still very much illegal, so stop punching your wife in the face, and put down that spliff. It would be nice if we could function as a society without having to make laws telling us not to do awful, horrendous things to each other, but it is obvious that there are just too many sociopaths hanging around for that to be a reality, and just twats, plain, common or garden, selfish twats.

The rhetoric and dialogue of the election campaigns are the thing that is currently upsetting me. We are all being told that we must own our own homes to be valuable, and that to stop the wealth creating upper echelons from hoarding as much wealth as they can would be bad for all of us. Once again, people are treating the laws of economics as if they were as intractable as the laws of physics, and forgetting that currency is an abstract concept, a useful one yes, but while you can't stop the earth from going around the sun, or things naturally falling downwards whilst in the grip of the earth's gravity, you could quite easily not put up prices when demand outstrips supply if you wanted to.

Would the whole of western society descend into some kind of anarchic bloodbath if there were a fight club style reset of all debts? Who would actually lose out if, like a benevolent parent who has loaned their child the money to cover their rent for a month with no real expectations of ever seeing it again, all national and personal debts were cancelled, and we all went back to zero? I would hazard a guess at pretty much nobody in a life destroying turmoil sense of losing out. Equally, if all the CEOs of every company out there were to suddenly have an attack of conscience and pay all their employees an actual living wage (the aspirational £10 an hour suggested by the Greens seems good to me) and took it from the shareholders profits and the higher earners salaries, rather than knee jerk price increases, would the business actually collapse as is so often predicted? Or would football club owners and their stars have a couple less yachts, and might Mr Branson not have his own private island or something. Businesses did not collapse when the minimum wage was first introduced, despite all the protests to the contrary.

To extrapolate a bit, I work for one of the small businesses so often quoted as likely to go under if higher minimum wages were introduced. Full disclosure, I do not make ten pounds an hour, though I am not terribly badly off, and as we bring in two salaries, we are ok thanks, there are other reasons for this which I will go into later. I suspect, that if the CEO decided not to keep adding to his collection of very expensive sports cars, or maybe took one less extreme fishing holiday a year, or maybe downsized from his big country house, or travelled between the London office and the Devon factory a bit less, maybe using something more economical than an Audi R8 then he could probably push up those of us who are under the tenner an hour down here to that level without too much upward pressure on the prices we charge, or too much of a dip into personal poverty. I could be wrong, and I suspect he would tell me that I am (he might if he is reading this, and if so, this is purely hypothetical, I am not lobbying here, and you knew I was a socialist when you hired me).

Once upon a time, a household could live on one salary, and that being a salary from a factory or other such low paid work. The other members of the household (be they the wife, or children who hadn't left home yet) could go out and work as well, but the second income would be to pay for nice things, like holidays, or new curtains or some such facile crap. The point being, that now, with a single income, no family can pay its rent, food, energy etc. etc. bills without claiming some in-work benefits that are the real problem with the benefits bill that we keep blaming on long term unemployed, disabled and immigrants. A living wage would stop that, if a job offered you a decent income, rather than merely forcing you to pay your own extortionate rent, while simultaneously preventing you from affording it, even the most hapless layabout would be more inclined to take it. Perhaps if the big CEOs had to live on what they pay their cleaners and call centre staff for a bit, they might increase wages out of some kind of human decency, although from what I have seen on shows such as undercover boss, and secret millionaire, they are more likely to make one off payments to a couple of people with impressive sob stories than make an actual real difference in the lives of all their employees.

It is not the politics of envy, for most of us do not want 4 homes, a yacht and a fleet of cars, we just want to not have to worry about paying our bills all the time, to get to the end of the month and have a bit left over for a rainy day, that is not envy, that is simple peace of mind. Equality should mean levelling up, not down.

The other real, massive underlying problem in the UK is housing, and not because we can't all afford to buy, but because increasingly, we can't afford to rent either. And we are told that we should all be buying, when quite often, rent is a perfectly valid option. We have taken one of the most basic of all human rights, the right to shelter, and commodified it, turned it into an investment and shoved the prices up so high that rents/mortgage payments are fast leaping over the 50% of your income that I was told to budget for it being back when I was a wide-eyed 18 year old skipping out into the world.

I am incredibly lucky to own my own home (although the bank still own half of it) and I am not going to pretend that I managed it by knuckling down, working hard and getting on with it as so many others claim. I only managed this feat by having the good fortune to inherit a decent sum of money from my grandmother (it takes a special kind of sociopath to describe losing a grandparent as good fortune) who only managed to leave me this money by having the equally good fortune to have bought a semi within walking distance of Guildford station back in the 1950s. She did not do this as an investment, she needed a home. I was also lucky enough to be born into a family that paid for me to go to a private school and get a decent education that provides an instant leg-up into better jobs. I threw it back in their faces, and went off to do low-paid jobs in crappy factories while pretending to be a rock star by night, but that is the only reason that I feel I have this unique perspective to share with you.

I see my contemporaries, claiming that the only reason they have their comfortable lives in nice houses and well paid jobs is that they have worked hard. I am not doubting that they have worked hard, but so do the people who live on the council estate where I lived before I had the stroke of good luck that let me pay off all my not inconsiderable debts and buy a house. We struggled to pay the rent and the bills in that house too, hence the not inconsiderable debts. It was owned by a housing association as affordable rented accommodation, and we brought in two full time salaries at above the minimum wage, but that was not enough with the pressures of bringing up two teenagers in modern society, spiralling food and energy prices and stagnated wages. We still struggle to pay everything now, I think everybody does, but the difference now is that I know I could cut down on the wine bill, maybe have a few less pets, not eat out any more etc. etc. whereas then it was the very real dilemma of eating or heating. Most of the comfortable middle classes who agonise over being in the 'squeezed middle' have no idea, Jacinta can do without her riding lessons, and Tarquin can learn piano from a book, ok?

Misunderstanding of Tax boundaries doesn't help either, I have never made it up to the 40% band, and probably never will, but I have met people who seem to believe that it will take 40% of everything they earn, rather than of that over and above the threshold amount. And if you are lucky enough to be over that threshold amount, truly, you are in a land of first world problems if you fear a little bit of a tax rise on everything you earn above £42, 385 a year will destroy your life.
Decent policies such as rent control, and the mansion tax would hopefully stop the relentless rent rise, as, if the most expensive properties incurred an extra tax burden, then the market would make them less expensive, thus the buy to let landlords would need less income to pay for them, and hopefully the rents would drop accordingly (though probably not, as I said before, there are many selfish twats). The ludicrously high benefits payout that we hear so much about in the red-tops and the mail are almost always made up of the amount paid out in housing to a private landlord, who is all too often one of the very MPs who are so quick to demonise the benefit claimants that they are gaining so much from. A wonderfully vicious circle.

I would like our prospective MPs to stop banging on about affordable housing to buy (let alone the obsession with building new when there are so many unoccupied houses already) when a huge swathe of the country do not ever even hope to buy a home of their own, I used to be one of them, so I know. Sensible, affordable rented homes, and not trying to hound people out of them for having a spare room might be a start. Along with bringing back a fair days work for a fair days pay, rather than the culture that you should have to aspire to better yourself, and if you don't then you deserve a salary that gives you less than you need to live on. Forget about social mobility for once, cleaners and call centre workers, and burger flippers are all working as well, they should be able to live on what they earn, rather than being made to feel like they should work harder to become managers, or entrepreneurs. We cannot all be the boss.

As to the leaders debate, and the cult of personality going on, it struck me that everybody says that their guy won it, and such is the nature of the beast. We agree with those who we agree with, and everyone thinks differently, I had been leaning towards the green party all year (and have enthusiastically voted for them in the past) but it is a shame that the charismatic and enigmatic Caroline Lucas has given the leadership to the awkward and frightened seeming Natalie Bennet. I can only hope that the more she does it, the better she gets, but I am leaning ever back to the Labour party again. See, even I am affected by the personality game that I am so annoyed with, green policies are still the ones that resonate with me most.

Ed is pulling off the lurch to the left that we have all been waiting for (those of us who wanted an alternative to Thatcher/Blairism anyway) and I suspect it is no coincidence that they have been fielding the most socialist MPs they can find on Question Time recently. Ever since Tony Blair tricked me (it felt like he invited me to a fantastic party, and then it turned out that the party was in my house, and he turned up with a load of rich mates, smashed up my stuff, drank all my booze, started a war with the neighbours and then left me an invoice for a load of other stuff I hadn't even seen there) I have felt abandoned by the party of the working man. The Lib Dems promised everything I wanted last time, and they too got a whiff of power and turned their backs on us, hence my swing to the greens. I am still undecided in case you are interested, but as a proud pinko-lefty-marxist type it is unlikely that I will vote UKIP or Tory, although where I live I suspect that will be the choice, and a tactical voter may have to vote Tory to keep UKIP out, an extremely unpalatable option.

I was most impressed by the policies of the SNP and Plaid Cymru, who sound like they actually care about people. Since I am no fan of nationalism, and no respecter of borders, I was surprised to be swayed by separatist parties, and it was suggested that nationalists just dress up in whatever clothes they can to appeal to the most people. I'm not sure that's true anymore, and I might have to move to Wales or Scotland just so that I can vote for a party whose policies I agree with. All the warnings the Tories are giving about a possible Labour/SNP coalition seem like good things to me, abolishing Trident is something I have always felt to be a good thing, given the nature of 21st century conflict, nuclear warheads seem utterly redundant, if indeed they ever were effective at anything other than attempted genocide, or ensuring the whole population live in constant fear. And the SNP have been given their answer about an independent Scotland now, so they need to concentrate on doing normal politics instead. What were once single policy pressure parties are all starting to have meaningful and well thought out manifestos.

It did sadden me that the massacre in Kenya was pushed so far down the news schedule while the pundits were excitedly dissecting the leaders debate, but that's the media for you. I missed all bulletins on the Kenya thing, as ironically, I was channel flicking to find it, and missed it by a hair on all of them, that's how short it was.

 The thing I must take from all of this, is how sad it is that nobody seems to think that the economy should be there to benefit the people, rather than the people being there to service the economy, we are all thought of as just units, there to ensure GDP goes up and help bring the books back into balance. The country is not it's finances, it is the people, whether they be those who had the good fortune to inherit vast tracts of land and a crown, or born to a hapless, uneducated 13 year old girl on a council estate, or uprooting themselves from their homes to build a better life in a foreign land, we need to make sure they all have real, genuine equal chances of success, and stop peddling this myth of a meritocracy. It is not coincidence that most of the powerful positions in this land are held by privately educated white men, and I say that as a privately educated white man.

Thursday 26 March 2015

Clarkson, Cats, Cars and C***s, where’s the connection?

I get around, round, round, round, I get around, as Brian Wilson once said. And in a whole load of different ways, I like to walk a lot, I have a bicycle that I am not averse to taking out on a nice day, and I have a car. We’ve got 2 cars in fact, and if you take us as a household, we have four of the bloody things. I am not an anti-car protesting freak, and I do watch top gear, as it makes me laugh, just so we understand each other. I live in the middle of nowhere, so without a car I would be totally buggered.
I have discovered though, after much soul searching, and a very strange week, that I am very much at my worst, most self-entitled, smug and angry (not to mention impatient and stupid) when behind the wheel of my car. And I suspect it is not just me. I am beginning to think that there might be something in the engines. Of course, it could all be the fault of the voice of the people, Jeremy Clarkson. I am still very much all in favour of free speech, and letting him say what he wants, for if people are not allowed to say awful things, we will never know that they are awful people, or be able to challenge them over it.

I will just chuck my hat in the ring briefly and say that what is often referred to as ‘political correctness’ I tend to call ‘manners’, and what the Clarkson petition signers call ‘banter’ I will probably denounce as ‘offensive bullshit’. I will also admit that this blog is not really about the Clarkson thing, I am just using him as click bait, thanks for clicking. There have been more than enough column inches wasted on repeating that if anybody else hospitalised a workmate and called their bosses ‘fucking bastards’ in public, they would have gone a lot sooner, and with much less support from the masses.
It does all seem to me to a bit like advertising for whatever he is going to do next. I quite like Top Gear actually, but then I quite liked Jim’ll fix it and Rolf’s cartoon club but I am not clamouring to ensure Saville and Harris remain on TV via petitions. I do realise that this is intentionally sarcastic exaggeration to make a point as well. The caricature that Clarkson plays on TV is the acceptable face of the motorist as over-entitled, smug, pompous arse, and allows people to think that their aggressive driving is ok. It is not (and that’s without even going into the legitimisation of casual racism as a bit of harmless fun) but as long as you take the on-screen twattery with the pinch of salt that I hope they intend, it is all a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun, and some people will always find something to be offended by. I have no problem with offending people by the way, I like all dialogues open, all the time, as I have said before, if the racists are silenced, they are no less racist, just not challenged over it, or noticed.
Back to the point then, as I walk up and down the road from my house to the town where I live (no pavements, no white line, but a relatively short stretch of road, and national speed limit all the way, just wide enough for two cars, but no more) I find myself feeling guilty for slowing down the cars that are driving past me. Same if I am cycling up it (quite a bit slower than I can walk it). Where on earth did I get the idea from that a small country road, and THE ONLY WAY you can get from the town to my house (and not just mine, there are others further up. Some of which have small kids living in them, won’t somebody think of the children? They cannot drive) is the property and preserve of those who choose to drive along it and nobody else. It is not my fault it has no pavements or walkways, we should all be able to share it with a cheery good humour surely? I should not be feeling as if I have to drive into town when I much prefer walking or cycling? Particularly since it is part of national cycle route 27 and is a constant stream of sweaty Lycra between May and September.
Well, no, because if I am driving up that same stretch of road I too get angry and impatient when stuck behind a cyclist, or if two cars are trying to pass each other while some small child has the temerity to walk along a road with his mum. Is there something about driving that turns us all into Clarksons? Maybe if the flying cars of Back to the Future 2 had actually come into being then the world would be a calmer nicer place to get around in? Maybe we need to build pavements along all the country roads in the UK just to stop drivers getting angry? Maybe something like the Green Lanes in Jersey would help us all get along a little better in what should really be a shared space, not a bit of concrete reserved for cars and cars alone. By the way, it is also often flooded with sheep as they are herded from one field to the next. The drivers really hate that, the cats seem to enjoy it though. Might be worth remembering that the speed limit is just that, an upper limit, not a suggested cruising speed, particularly relevant on little narrow country lanes, in case you’re ever visiting down my way and don’t want to die.
Maybe it is as a consequence of being warmly cocooned inside a big suit of armour/little tank that we feel invincible and entitled in our cars. I don’t feel as vulnerable when I am driving up the narrow country lane past a big truck as I do when I am walking past it. Which is odd, since were it to career out of control and hit my car, I would be just as mangled as if I were walking (with the added benefit of bits of twisted metal to get stuck through me, and plenty of glass) although I would have a better chance of jumping over the hedge to escape without the car. However, it must be said that we do all exude much more of a sense of bravado when we are in our shells. Now it might be just because I have skipped jauntily away from every car accident I have ever been in that makes me feel safest of all (see Gary Numan for reference please) and in a couple of cases just turned the key, restarted the engine and driven away. Despite the fact I have lost plenty of good friends in car accidents, and am fully aware of how deadly they are. Mind you, it took me a long time to give up smoking while being fully aware of the consequences, must be human nature.

The Car has freed us all from having to work within a sensible distance of where we live, with the unintended effect that almost none of us do anymore, and we all spend a ridiculous amount of time travelling between work and home. Except me, I can still walk to work, and it is much nicer. This also means that every single second counts, so we all have to drive as fast as is humanly possible all the time. I had a little experiment the other night, driving back from a band rehearsal in Exeter, I tend not to bother going terribly fast unless I am in a dreadful hurry, and obviously I don’t usually have the sat nav on as I know where I am going. So I set it going (for its estimated arrival time, to see what effect it would have) and drove home like an utter tit, stupidly fast and taking more risks than I usually would. I gained 90 seconds of time on the sat nav’s prediction, over an hour or so’s journey.
Now if you’re driving a few hundred miles, then yes, going faster will get you there rather quicker (maybe a whole 15 minutes, how useful, you can watch half an episode of EastEnders when you get there, or more than likely make up for the time you had to spend putting extra fuel in the car because of how fast you were driving) but for most of the silly fast driving I see every day on a regular basis, you are gaining seconds, not even minutes, is it worth killing (or indeed dying) for? No, calm down, it seems my gran was right, you won’t get there any faster, and unless you have blue flashing lights on your vehicle, it is unlikely to be a matter of life and death if you are a bit late.
I’m not entirely sure which came first, the car or the self-entitled prick taking up the whole road, I know Clarkson wasn’t the first, but he has given legitimacy to the outdated views of a vast swathe of society that it is ok for them to keep driving the biggest fastest cars they can whatever damage it does to the environment. I don’t doubt that there used to be some mediaeval cock on a big horse making the peasants push their handcarts into the ditch by the road so that they could get past a bit quicker, and not get dirt on their horses new shoes, twats are sadly eternal, and always with us, but at least the shit that spewed out of the horse helped the flowers grow by the roadside.

 I realise that I sound bitter, but then one of my cats got run over outside my house this week, probably as a result of the bridge being closed on the main road through town, and our little road becoming host to quite a lengthy diversion encouraging all drivers (especially those in lorries and trucks on tight delivery schedules, hey look, I can blame free market capitalism again, excellent) to fly up and down it more often, and much faster than usual. The irony of our home made slow down sign (a mannequin wearing a bear mask holding a sign) being hit by a car going too fast this morning and shattering all over the road was not lost on me. Slow down, life is too short and infinitely breakable to be in such a rush, next time it might be me, or one of my kids, not a mannequin in a bear mask. 

It was, sadly, my cat Heisenberg, named after an uncertainty principle, and shockingly stubborn, the less fluffy of the two nine month old cats who star in this stupid video I made a week ago, in happier times that was the victim this time. Sorry for the sentimental ending here, but the fluffy one (Kahlo) is sat on my lap looking around sadly for her brother and trying to get one of the old cats to play with her, it is not going well.

Friday 13 March 2015

Me and Terry Pratchett, a personal Epitaph

Normally, the proliferation of narcissistic grief that proliferates over the internet makes me die a little more inside. It was epitomised not so long ago when Leonard Nimoy died, and after commenting on somebody's sincere epitaph to him as Dr Spock that Spock was definitely a Mr, not the child raising expert Dr Benjamin Spock, the writer of the epitaph admitted that they didn't even like Star Trek. Which made me wonder why on earth you would write a sincere RIP message to somebody who you do not know, and whose body of work you do not even admire. Unless the ballad of Bilbo Baggins really did mean that much to him. I am sure in this case that his RIP came from the best of intentions and a good place. However, the proliferation of RIP posts about every vaguely famous person who dies makes one's social media feeds incredibly tiresome whenever somebody dies.

On the other hand, Terry Pratchett was incredibly important to me, and as I read all the poignant little discworld quotes on my facebook feed last night, I will admit to shedding a few tears. Which seems crazy, since I possibly only met Terry once, and I am still not sure if even that is true. But having spent the last twenty years reading every book he wrote at least twice, and many more times over in most cases, I kind of felt I knew him. The only other time I have felt a little teary over a famous person's death was Douglas Adams 14 years ago, which probably tells you a lot about where my priorities lie. So, apologies for the preamble, there now follows a heartfelt tribute to the man whose writing certainly changed my life, and possibly even saved it a couple of times.

To backtrack to about 1991, I was walking through Barnstaple high street with a friend from school, we met a man with a big hat and a beard who my friend clearly knew. The man gave my friend a copy of his new book, signed of course, we were introduced, and I shook his hand. I thought no more about my friend's Dad's mate Terry for another 5 years or so until I read a book called Witches Abroad and recognised the cover. In the interests of accuracy, it must be stated that this story may be entirely untrue and created by my overactive imagination, thus I am not stating the friend's name in case he is reading this and shatters my illusions. I may not have ever met Terry Pratchett, but in my hazy happy memories, I did, and I am happy that way. I did definitely meet a friend of my friend's father, who did give him a book, but he could have been anyone really I'd imagine.

However, five or so years later, I was not (for reasons I am not going to go into thanks) in a terribly good place mentally speaking. But while round at a friend's house, I was introduced to a playstation game called Discworld, in which the jokes and characters were utterly entrancing and hysterically funny. Now I am not a fan of computer games, so when I was told that they were actually based on a series of books, I went in search of them. I found a copy of Soul Music in the second hand record shop I spent most of my time in, and read it in an afternoon. Somewhere in my teens I had stopped reading so much for fun, and had become a little faux-earnest and mostly just read poetry and classic literature. This meant I did not read anything like as much as I had when I was a kid and utterly obsessed with Douglas Adams, and Doctor Who.

I went to the library in search of reading material, as that was where all my happy memories of reading came from. I had, in my very formative years, borrowed every single Doctor Who novelisation, Wind in the willows spin off and god knows what other strange books to read until I got the coveted Gold book track badge, and beyond. Sadly, the local library only managed to turn up 3 discworld books, including the aforementioned Witches Abroad, and my (admittedly completely scrambled at the time) brain made the connection with the chap I met in Barnstaple high street five years previously.

This led to the situation in which I find myself now, where my house is mostly made of shelves to keep all the books I have had to buy because of library disappointment. It might not be that between the late 80s and the mid 90s libraries went so far downhill as to make them worse than they really are. It is just possible that as an adult I went in looking for specific books, whereas as a child I had gone in just looking for something to read. Also, the librarian of the specific library I am speaking of might be reading this, and she is terribly good, as is her library, and would have ordered any book in I wanted, I was just too impatient to wait for them to come in. Which is ironic considering that I now have to buy most books via the internet, which ensures a lengthy waiting period (or did until my wonderful wife got me a kindle, thank you honey). Also, I live nowhere near a library anymore, so I have had to stop trying to find a way into L-Space.

I then went on a reading frenzy for a couple of years, buying up the entire Discworld series until I had finally read all the existing titles. Which was a sad day, as now I had to wait for Terry to write more before I could read anymore (I have spent the last 6 or 7 years in a similarly annoyed situation with George R R Martin, although given the state of Dance with Dragons, I might abandon the song of ice and fire series now). And so, ever since the fifth elephant, I have awaited the release of a new Discworld book like a 6 year old awaits their seventh birthday. I am tearing up a little now with the realisation that at most I will only ever experience this again once more. That's how much these books have meant to me. In between new releases I reread each and every title, in order, which is how come I have read a lot of them about 7 times now, and some still only once, life is more busy in your thirties than your late teens unfortunately, and there are a lot of other books out there to be read as well. One's priorities do change with age sadly.

I still maintain that if I had not had my spirits constantly lifted by Terry's endlessly inventive and amusing prose, then I may never have pulled myself back together enough to be a fully functioning member of society today. This is probably a huge exaggeration, but I maintain that it is true. It also turned out that Discworld is a gateway drug to hardcore fantasy, it led me to Tolkien, and the Lord of the Rings, which I fully admit I had tried and been bored to tears by at the age of 9. Along with Dune, and a bunch of other proper, worthy sci-fi and fantasy novels, which were not as good as Doctor Who novelisations to my pre-teen brain. I have since rinsed my way through the lot of them, and then applied them to Discworld, and got a lot more of the jokes than I would have done otherwise (a bit like kids who laugh at Family Guy and the Simpsons without understanding any of the pop culture references in them, and then see them again after watching the Star Wars trilogy).

Equally, my interest in writing had foundered at this point. I had previously attempted to write a huge epic of the type that only an endlessly nerdy and righteous eighteen year old can. It was to be about the second coming of Christ, only he would come back as a disabled girl, and be scorned and shunned by the church, and shit. Somewhere I still have the outline and first two chapters, though I should probably burn them in case somebody reads it. Luckily, Pratchett reminded me that you can actually chuck gags in and write things that make you laugh, and I immediately began writing a laugh a minute adventure in which the four horsemen of the apocalypse are replaced by five biker lobsters, who accidentally turn off the gravity. It was hopelessly derivative, and was also abandoned when it became apparent that I had no attention span for plot in my late teens and early twenties. Also, that writing with a pen and paper, and then typing it up on a typewriter is very hard. Particularly if, like me, you cannot read your own handwriting. Writing got abandoned again until I found a computer a few years later. But it is thanks to Terry Pratchett that I realised I could be any good at it, and make cheap jokes wherever possible.

It is with great sadness that I come to terms with the fact that I will never again be pulled into a new adventure on the streets of Ankh Morpork, or the Valleys of Lancre. I will never know how Young Sam Vimes grows up, or if Magrat ever really gets the hang of being a Queen. I have, this last week, been reading the Science of Discworld part 4. If you haven't read any of this series, I strongly recommend it, it is not like those “science of” books that pretend everything is real in the fiction. In it, a couple of scientists explain proper science in a way that non-scientists can understand, against the backdrop of a silly story about wizards. It just occurred to me this morning that there won't be a part 5 now, and I will have to start reading Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart's proper science books now, and hoping they still put gags in them.

By the way, if anybody is thinking of taking up the mantle, and writing new Discworld books without Terry, please don't, it will not work. We should have learned this from Brian Herbert's attempts at Dune, any James Bond books that aren't by Ian Fleming, etc. etc. Brandon Sanderson only got away with finishing the Wheel of Time by having all Robert Jordan's notes (and in his defence, he probably managed it in half the pages it would have taken Jordan, since Jordan seemed unable to start a book in the series without introducing 5 new characters and 2 new sub plots. If you're reading this Mr Sanderson, please have a go at the rest of New Spring, that had promise). Nobody else has quite the same way with words, or such an ability to hold up a wonky mirror to Roundworld and show us up for what we are. The analagous subtext of the Discworld may have become less subtle over the course of the series, but it never failed to make me laugh, and occasionally realise the ridiculousness of the real world by using a dwarf and a troll, and I don't think anybody else could pull that off, and more importantly, I don't want them to try, I will leave the denizens of my favourite fictional universe to stay as they are. Although I am sure CMOT Dibbler would love to be able to sell a few more books, genuine Terry, found in the back of his desk, honest guv, only a fiver, I'm cutting my own throat here....

 The english language sadly has not words enough to express my infinite sadness that my inspiration, my favourite author (although I am sure Terry himself would tell me that if he is still my favourite author at 37 years old, there is probably something wrong with me, he would be right, but it was once very much the truth) and person I may have actually met once is now gone forever, however much happier he probably is for not having to deal with the embuggerance of his mind leaving him. I thank him for restoring mine to me twenty years ago, offer him a banana, and simply say 'ook'.

Thursday 19 February 2015

The reason that TV and Adverts are both much better, and at the same time infinitely worse now

Many years ago, I used to get guitars thrust at me at house parties, and be asked to play a song. Now, being an arse as I am, rather than doing some beautiful, meaningful, self-penned love song in order to win the hearts of every girl in the room, or even some popular hit of the day, that would get me the approval of my peers, I would invariably sing some tv theme tune, or advert, in order to get a cheap laugh. It turned into its own bizarre kind of routine, and in a way, I am still doing it twenty five years since I began.

Now this is all well and good, but since there is now an entire generation of punters, all old enough to be in licensed premises where I may be playing my amusing, not-quite-comedy songs for small and faintly insulting sums of money, that have no idea why I am singing about shake and vac, I am encountering a problem. Modern adverts are just not funny enough. Whereas in 1996, Lean Against the Washing Machine could play a huge heavy metal intro before launching into 'I feel like Chicken Tonight' I feel that if we were to do the same trick now with 'We buy any car, dot com' it would not be as funny.

It could be that it wasn't actually that funny in the first place, I am getting old, and the puerile jokes that my 18 year old self made don't work on thirty seven year olds. Some of that is undoubtedly true, it is equally true that I don't bother watching much commercial TV now, thus the songs from adverts might be passing me by. I don't think so though. I think that the current swathe of adverts now try to be funny, and as a result, really aren't. You have the terribly ironic, knowing, ukulele tinged bollocks of Hive is busy controlling your heating at home, or that dick on the train platform, also with a ukulele, or the twats in the second hand shop that don't seem to believe that the Godfather part 3 is a godawful load of shite that should be purged from cinematic history. Um Bongo, Um Bongo they drink it in the Congo it is not.

I could maybe have a try at those, but I have a feeling that launching into 'wooooooaaaaaah, bodyfo-orm' will still get the bigger laugh. At least from those in the room that are old enough to know what the hell I am on about. Same with TV theme tunes, you could happily do the Rainbow theme tune, get a few giggles, then drag them across to the A-team theme, do a quick chorus of 'He Used To Bring Me Roses' (theme tune to Prisoner Cell Block H) and the Minder theme tune and finish them off with the snooker theme. Sadly, nobody under thirty is going to get any of that now. Not even the snooker, and that's still on, but you're less likely to be stuck watching it on a sunday afternoon with your Gran now, because you'll have satellite TV with a million choices, or an iPad full of movies and youtube clips to watch instead (which is a good thing for you kids, I am just jealous).

There are a lot fewer cultural references that everyone can get now, like the snooker, or the A-team. I mean, everyone has seen Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones, or whatever the new must see TV show is. Even those 'oh no, I don't have a television' holier than thou guardian reading tossers. Because they all have iPads, and they all watch endless TV boxsets on them anyway. Smug twats, but that's a whole different rant. But I doubt they will evoke the same misty eyed nostalgia as 'I ain't getting on no plane fool'. And none of us are watching them all at the same time, you have to wait until your friends have finished before telling them that you are the one who knocks (and lots of people don't get it, as it is mostly just a subsection of twats who watch this shit).

TV theme tunes are now more knowing, or just songs from proper bands, who give them away for peanuts, 'for exposure' and it works. The songs you hear on adverts, and on TV shows stick in your head, and people like them now, and they go and buy a copy, or download it for nothing. And the exposure that they have given their music away for has given them a hit single. Sadly, it's usually just the one, as the song being on an advert has made most people utterly sick of them, and they never want to hear them again (see Stiltskin, Babylon Zoo, and whoever wrote that godawful Hey Ho thing recently). So it's technically a good thing, as adverts and TV are less crap, and bands get the exposure that radio and TV no longer bother giving them.

Ever since Friends used that Rembrandts song, and changed the face of sitcoms forever (for better, or worse? You decide) my life has been a sadder place. I liked Dennis Waterman writing and singing the theme tune, plus, if I did a version, it got a laugh. I was much happier when a show like the Fall Guy had it's utterly straight faced and marvellous Unknown Stuntman theme tune, but I am running out of punters that recognise it, along with the Good ol' boys from Dukes of hazzard. The last advert that I managed to do an amusing version of was the 'everybody get into a big canoe, and row on down to phones for you' one. And that was funny without me helping, sadly.

I do hope that it's just that I am not seeing the adverts and Tv shows that don't know they're funny, and it is just that I am old, and my references are out of date. But I have a feeling that the modern world, with all it's very knowing irony, and slickly produced, excessively expensive adverts leave no room for a piss-taking git like myself. It is much easier to grab a recording of an unknown band and stick it on your advert than to pay some poor failed musician a small amount of money to write a classic like Waffley Versatile, and yes you end up with a classier product. But you lose valuable laughs in the process, and nobody will remember the words to your advert a quarter of a century later.

Sunday 1 February 2015

Fixed favourite things are for foolish fellows (except for alliteration)

The other day I heard Bruce Springsteen's Jungleland on the radio. I hate that song, sorry, but I do, it's too long, it's very dull, and I don't like Springsteen anyway. However, I did sing along to the main lyric as 'Down in Fabuland', which made me chuckle. So I thought I might write a terribly funny song and call it 'When we lived in Fabuland'. It was going to be epic. In preparation, I googled Fabuland, and discovered that as a reference, it is right next to Snarf, Orko and Godzuki as something you will only get if you are a very specific age.

Yes kids, Fabuland was only manufactured between 1979 and 1989, which for me was between the ages of 2 and 12, so you know, the kind of age where you might play with such a thing. The idea that it didn't exist before or after my own childhood was something that hadn't previously occurred to me, and I only thought about it (hence the googling) after watching the Lego movie with my wife, and wondering why it only got a passing reference. By the way, if you have got this far and still don't know what I am talking about, google it, this is an internet blog, you can open another tab and search it, I have no intention of doing the research for you.

Long and the short of that is that while I am probably still going to write the song (in case you were thinking of stealing the idea) I no longer think it is such a great reference point for writing comedy songs. Nobody over 45 or under 25 is going to get it, which is a bit shit really. Just like Thundercats, Superted, Bananaman (all of which were my favourite TV show for a month or two) MASK toys (which were my favourites, and way cooler than Transformers) Action Force and the ability to sing all the words to Star Trekkin' or the Chicken Song. Although my Mum can do those as well.

Now back when I was a kid playing with Fabuland, my favourite movie was Star Wars (except for that month when Return of the Jedi came out in 1983, when I saw it 5 times in one week at the Strand Cinema in Bideford, I loved the Ewoks, because I was 5) and I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. A few years on, and it was still Star Wars, but now I wanted to be Han Solo, as he is infinitely cooler on every level. By the time I got to 18, I had realised that the Empire Strikes Back was my favourite movie, and I wanted to be Darth Vader, as he is the coolest. Sadly, I have only ever managed to be either the Emperor or Chewbacca, depending on the state of my health.

I am now toddling slowly down the hill into middle age (you can do the maths, I told you how old I was in 1979 earlier) and my favourite movies are now black and white, or sometimes very early technicolour. Casablanca has been near the top of my list for ages, as a pretty excellent bit of film-making, and sadly, the utterly schmaltzy It's a Wonderful Life gets me every time I see it now. I watched it again this Christmas, with my stepdaughter, who hates old movies, she was not impressed. I cried like a little girl, same as always, I can't resist a happy ending (and am able to ignore the casual racism as a product of its time). I still cry every time I see that R2D2 is okay at the end of Star Wars as well. She then made me watch Frozen, which failed to engage me on any level (except perhaps making me wish I was deaf in both ears) so I suppose we all like different things. And no Rudi, if you're reading this, I do not want to build a snowman.

My point is though, that your tastes should change as you grow, if you still have the same favourite film when you're 65 that you did when you were 6 then something is probably wrong with you. I think it was Terry Pratchett who, when asked whether he thought that Tolkien was the greatest ever writer, said 'You can think that at thirteen. If you still think it at fifty-three, something has gone wrong with your life.' And I think that applies to everything, your tastes should grow and change as you do. Equally, if you get upset and angry defending your tastes in music and film, and you have left school, you may need to rethink your life, but I think I have already covered that here.

When I was 12 I loved The Wall, by Pink Floyd, though I had written my own plot for it as I only had it on a taped copy, and had not yet seen the movie. My version was better as it was about an oppressive political regime straight out of Orwell's 1984 that I had just read (which has been my favourite book on and off over the years). I recently listened to it again, and the irony of Roger Waters writing the most self-indulgent navel-gazing 'oh woe is me for I am a very wealthy rock star' album ever, after realising he was becoming a self-important prick of a rockstar, was impressed upon me more than the sweeping misery of his fretless bass performance.

In all honesty, these days I don't do favourite anything, I have a few stock answers I will throw out if asked, very few of them apply anymore. If I am asked what my favourite band is, I will always say the Residents, as, if you have heard of them, we will be kindred spirits and get on, and if you haven't, I will look clever, and a bit hipstery. I don't listen to them much these days though, and I haven't bought a record of theirs since Animal Lovers ten years ago. It was disappointing.

If I am asked which is my favourite stepchild, I will always answer the other one, depending on which of them is asking me. Ask me which is my favourite of my many pets, and I will usually say the Dog, because she is a dog, despite having something of a weak spot for the big, bitey, fluffy cat, and the naughty one, and the weird one that looks like we have already buried it a few times like in pet semetary, and the neurotic one that hates everyone except me and people think I have made up as he never come into the house if we have visitors, oh, and the ducks, and the rabbit, and, oh, you get the picture.

Rating everything you consume is much overrated, and thus I try to avoid it. I like a lot of stuff I used to hate, and I hate a lot of stuff I used to like. I also know a lot of people who when asked about things they like will rigidly stick to the one thing that has always been their favourite. They either lack imagination, don't get out enough, or haven't really thought about it recently. Perhaps this is why I don't follow football anymore, because you are expected to stick to one team, even though all the members have changed, and they aren't as good as they used to be. A bit like Dr Feelgood or the Yardbirds (they are bands kids, google them).

UPDATE: Since writing this yesterday, I have written the song 'When we live in Fabuland', while trying to explain it to my wife in song, it became much funnier, so I did that. It is not on this album that I released into the wild yesterday (and is as bad as it sounds) but here's a link anyway, in some shameless cross-promotional opportunism.

Thursday 22 January 2015

Happy Anniversary Dave Doesn't Write Anything Ever

Well, first blog of the year, and so many exciting things have happened that would fit right in with the sort of things I have mainly been writing about here. Freedom of speech, terrorism, the shouty twatness coming from both left and right, and even the moderate types are getting shouty etc. etc. ad nauseum. I felt that along with freedom of speech comes the freedom not to speak about it, something a lot more of the internet maybe should have thought of, never has Voltaire been misquoted by so many people simultaneously.

Je suis silencieuse. 

However, I remembered why I started this blog in the first place. So, if you are hoping for angry politics, utterly hysterical jokes and some outrageous statement of intent then go back and read some of last years stuff. However, if you are hoping for some terribly dull, navel gazing, self important whining then read on, this is very much for you.
A year ago, in a fit of new years motivation, I sat down and wrote this and thus began this here blog. It was intended as a record of just how badly I was doing at writing a novel, a week by week account of my ability to do anything other than actually sit down and write the bloody thing. A hysterically funny compendium of Arnold Rimmer style ways of avoiding doing the thing you wish to do. I intended to update it at least once a fortnight, if not exactly weekly, as had always been the original conception of it. It was supposed to shame me into doing some actual work. Looking at the control page for the blog, it says I have 30 entries. This means I managed to update it more often than I didn't. Which surprises me, clearly my early enthusiasm for it just about beat my later apathy.

In my own defence, the terribly quiet patch over November and December was, as always, the result of my job, which gets horrendously busy at the end of the year, and thus I have no time to write anything (I tend to find myself at work for 16 hours a day, 7 days a week for those two months). I also discovered, while researching this blog post, which is ironically, terribly late for a new years round up of events, that I had not written much of the actual novel over the last 12 months either. In fact, since this realisation about 3 weeks ago, I have doubled it's length, and am now about half way through the word count, and 3 quarters of the way through the plot (I have a fairly odd writing process, do not question it). I intend to have my first draft finished in time to spend the summer drunk, and waiting for feedback from helpful holidaying readers who own kindles.
Again, I can defend my lack of productivity, I never set myself very high targets for ploughing through the work last year, assuming every few words to be a victory against my procrastination and general idleness. Also, I was terribly punctual in writing this blog for a long time, assuming it to be the 'writer's shop front' that works as a show room, and gets you noticed, and brings offers of other writing work. At the same time, I took a couple of fairly long online courses, which ate into my free time, and used them all as excuses to not write the fucking novel.

In February, I wrote this which has turned out to be quite prophetic, since at the end of the year, I did quit everything else, and I am now more productive. I am in no gigging bands, and all the people I have said no to for dep gigs over the last 6 months or so have stopped calling. Which is a shame, as I would probably say yes now. Sadly the pub that was mentioned in it as reopening, closed a few short months later, and will now never be a pub again. And the last song for the Plastic Squirrel EP that was mentioned didn't get finished until December. I have an excuse for that as well thanks, and the results will be coming out soon(ish).

It turned out that having this blog here did manage to get me noticed, as I was asked to scrawl some stuff for a money making venture, that has as yet produced no money. So I knocked out about 4 times as many words as I had then managed to put into my book for that in about a month. And then a great deal of knocking it into useable shape, and putting together some clever advertising blurb and suchlike for it took another big chunk of time, and before I knew it the summer had waved a little 'no swimming here' flag and gone away.

The other thing about the summer, is that it is festival season, and last year, I was very much still in a band, and we did quite a few festival gigs, which required a fair bit of rehearsal (particularly as we had to keep borrowing extra musicians for gigs that regular members couldn't make it to) and a great deal of driving all over the country and getting rained on. My visions of sitting in my garden happily writing away at my book never happened. Mainly because you can't see a laptop screen in the sun, but also because any time I managed to find during which I was neither gigging, working, or rehearsing and it was sunny, I would use it to sit in the sunshine with cider, and my wife. Which is far more pleasant than trying to wrangle my characters into doing what they are supposed to when they really want to do something else. I also have a pile of wood that will eventually be a bike shed which bears testament to just how much time I spent not doing things that needed to be done over the summer.

Anyhow, it has been an interesting year, and this blog failed to be a document of how not to write a novel, it did, ironically, become an instrument of procrastination all of its own and ever so occasionally was well received. I may be a little less prolific this year, on the grounds that I now have a word count to hit every week before I am allowed to do anything that isn't writing the novel (and yes I hit this weeks target about an hour ago, and I am letting the characters do what they want rather than what I originally intended them to do, which requires an awful lot of retrospective dicking about) as it is the only way I can get it done before the weather turns nice again. Because once the sun is out, I am in it, and I have cider.

 By the way, I am sorry that this blog is neither serves any useful function, informs you of anything you need to know, or makes you laugh. I had to write something, and this was what spewed out of my head. Sorry.

Sunday 21 December 2014

In Defence of Evil Stepfathers Everywhere

I rarely like to tackle the thorny subject of step-parenthood, even in conversation, despite it being a fairly massive part of my life and who I am. Because it is a minefield of a subject to get into, thanks to all those fairy stories filled with evil stepmothers, and B-movies filled with rapey stepfathers and the general second-class status we are afforded. I have just accepted my lot and let the actual smug-faced breeders get on with telling me that I can't possibly understand what it's like for them (disclaimer, most of those smug-faced breeders are actually very lovely people, and without them the human race would die out, I am exaggerating for comic effect, please don't get angry). However, I am tired of being taken for a feckless shirker and thus I am here to state my case for all those of us who decided to bring up somebody else's kids instead of just making new ones of our own. After all, nobody tells couples that adopt that they don't understand what it's like to be an actual parent do they? Exactly. And they haven't even got the added problem of living with an actual parent telling them they're doing it wrong all the time.

And we don't get the head-start that those cheating genetic parents get, the immediate, instinctive and unconditional love that you get with your parents. We have to earn any kind of relationship that we get, and are usually greeted with outright hostility from the outset. There's plenty of ways to get round this, you can try to buy them (never works in the long run) you can ignore them and hope they go away (also doesn't work so well) you can be amazingly enthusiastic and interested in every little thing they do (which may well also backfire) or you can cheat, and be the owner of the world's most adorable dog that you take everywhere with you (works like a charm it turns out).

When I first met my wife, I had to give it a lot of thought before I decided to go into a relationship with a single mother. Largely because Jerry Maguire was one of my favourite movies at the time, and you can't go adding more troubles to kids lives than they've already had. I had, at one point, thought that I might have kids myself one day, because that's what people do right? However when it came down to it, I realised I was far too selfish and self absorbed to be any kind of actual parent, and thus figured that at least these children would be grown up and sorted and away by the time I hit 35 (btw, I am 37 now, and still worrying about them, turns out Dad was right when he said it never ends) I intended to endure it rather than embrace it initially. Never quite managed that though, for it turns out that I am not actually made of stone.

I started seeing my wife when her children were 8 and 10 years old, and not long after the youngest turned 10, I had moved in permanently. So no, I wasn't there for all the sticky bits, but equally, I missed out on the bit where they are cute and nice, and don't tell you that you “don't understand” all the time. I have spent the last 13 or so years of my life bringing them up with her. They have cost me no less heartache, worry, or indeed actual money than they would have were they the actual fruit of my trouser garden. And yes, you get pretty close and attached to them whether you want to or not. You can't help it when you live in close proximity to two ever-changing, ever-growing, ever-asking-stupid-fucking-questions creatures. And in a massive coup for nurture over nature, those two have picked up some fairly obvious mannerisms of mine, not the good ones either, just sarcasm, withering looks, and a fondness for heavy drinking mainly.

I didn't expect this either, back when I signed up for this, I entered the relationship because I loved the mother, and was prepared to put up with the kids. but when I decided to move in, it was because of all the stuff I heard about when I spoke to her at night on the phone, amusing kid stuff, I felt I was missing out, and just staying at the weekends wasn't enough. So we became a family, and we're pretty good at it compared to some “traditional” families I know. We stick up for each other, we do things together, and we make snide jokes about other families who aren't as fun as we are. We even invented a new Christmas tradition, family cocktail hour, which lasted for 12 hours last year somehow.

It got weirder, because as they got older I felt more parenty. I was not prepared for my reaction when I met my stepdaughter's first boyfriend, obviously I wanted to punch him in the face, but I relented, and we got on fine. Equally, I was terrified watching the boy taking his first skateboard over the little plastic ramp we bought him for Christmas. Though it may have been fear that he'd ask me to show him how to get over it properly, having not ridden a deck in anger since the late 80s, it was a daunting prospect. But that's what parents do right? Overcome your personal fears to help your kids get on. Luckily he didn't make me have a go, or break his neck, so none of my fears were justified.

And same as every other parent, when we left the girl at her first university digs there were tears, and some of them were mine. And when I first saw my boy riding a fire engine in his full uniform (it's ok, he is a real fireman, not a stripper). So yeah, I feel parenty things, do not doubt it. My heart is in my mouth every bit as much as my wife's when the phone rings in the middle of the night, and not so long ago I did some fairly long stints of waiting up all night to make sure they had got home safe from wherever they had been. Along with involuntary drives to pick up those who had missed buses, lost bus passes, or just run out of money. The alternatives were not good. I am glad they have their own cars now (although no less worried when they don't get back when they said they would, and still occasionally making those long night time drives to get them, but usually with a can of petrol in the boot now).

It gets more difficult for us though, because we have a real parent there as well, who is even more proprietary and worrisome than we are. So we have to roll it back a bit, if my wife is criticising them, I cannot join in in too strong a manner, as the protective instinct will kick in, and she will defend them to the hilt over me, every time, as she should. And interestingly, I do it as well now, if I have a little moan about them in the pub, and somebody joins in and criticises either of them, I get surprisingly defensive over them. Just another thing I did not expect back when I started on this journey (I certainly didn't expect to ever use the word journey metaphorically, but I can't think of a better one, please forgive me).

When my stepson had just left for his gap year travelling, and we still hadn't had a message from him 3 hours after he should have arrived, it was me who had to keep saying, “I'm sure he's ok, he's probably got no signal” and “he's probably in some greek bar with a load of cheerleaders from California on a backpacking trip and has forgotten all about us” over and over again, while pushing down any fears I may have had about plane crashes, train accidents, abductions, etc. etc. Luckily it turned out that he had just caught the wrong train from the airport, and spent hours going round greece with no phone signal on the trains. But as the step-parent, I had to reassure my wife and act the uncaring, callous git, to keep her calm, while internally panicking and worrying every bit as much as her.

I have given them my last fiver so they can go out, I have frantically searched the town during a busy carnival night in the rain for a teenage boy whose phone has run out of charge, I have picked a screaming girl out of a stinging nettle patch and told awful jokes until she smiled again, I have hunted the entire of Eurodisney for a lost memory card that turned up in a shopping bag later on, hell, I spent 2 whole days IN Eurofuckingdisney, where you cannot get a decent drink for love nor money. I spent hours explaining algebra and various forms of poetry, and am currently enjoying proofreading a rip-roaringly exciting fine art dissertation, and checking a sponsorship contract from some skateboarding company for hidden “we will eat your first born child” clauses. I have screamed, laughed and cried with them for the last decade, and yes, I am proud of who they have become, even if I do moan about them. And I'm pretty sure that's what real parents do, and I'm pretty sure that the key word in step-parent, is parent, not step.

I still don't want to have any children of my own the usual way, because as far as I am concerned, I already have two, and I think I did quite well, and the world has enough mumbling socialist drunken hippies in it already. I don't love the cats I have had from kittens anymore than the two that my wife already had when I met her, nor my Dog who I have had from a puppy anymore than the one I adopted at 7 years old, so I doubt I would feel more strongly about a child I had had from the beginning than I do over those two, even with the genetic crap thrown in. Again, ask any adoptive parent the same question, you'll get the same answer. My dearest and oldest friend was adopted, and he has plenty of mannerisms from his mum and dad, and regards them as his parents, no two ways about it.

I am not saying that all step-parents are wonderful people, or that everyone's experiences are the same. Watch the news, you'll find plenty of evil murderous genetic mothers, and rapey genetic fathers as well. I just wanted to tell my experience of it to someone, because, well, it's Christmas, and I am still a public school educated chap from Guildford, and thus incapable of actually talking about proper feelings and emotions and shit. So I wrote this instead. And if you also happen to be a step-parent who does care, and worries about telling people that, then next time somebody tells you that you don't have kids and you don't understand, tell them that yes you do, and yes you do. I really should myself, but will probably continue to shrug it off, and mumble something incomprehensible back. My kids have four parents, who love them, and I reckon that makes them pretty damn lucky.