Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Chocolate Muffin Hunt

Tomsk's bladder control is extraordinary. No matter how much we encourage and cajole him, he still has much resistance to peeing in the potty. The poor wee fella crosses and uncrosses his legs, leaping about like he's auditioning for 'Riverdance'. We gently but firmly sit him down and play a video to keep his attention. Then, we wait...

Sometimes there is partial success. A few dribbles. But he will soon leap to his feet and pirouette happily around the living room, fingers in ears and giggling as if toilet training is the best game ever devised for the entertainment of young children. Once more, he is grabbed and placed firmly on the potty. The pattern repeats until we obtain the desired result. Or it ends up on the carpet. The odds seem to be against us at present.

Poo is another matter entirely. The only success we have had thus far is highlighting the connection between the poo in Tomsk's nappy, and the toilet flushing. Again, Tomsk thinks that flushing away a poo comes second only to ice cream in terms of treats.

However, at the weekend there was something of a breakthrough, and being the proud parent I would like to share it with you all.

The Good Lady shouted excitedly at me from the bathroom. I ran in, and there, lying open beside the toilet, was a freshly soiled nappy -- minus the poo! We jumped and hugged, then ran off to find Tomsk to praise him for his ingenuity. This illustrated a major piece of connected reasoning; he'd done a poo, gone to the toilet, taken off his nappy, and flushed it away. How amazing is that?

Later that day, another excited shout; this time from Chasbo. I rushed into his bedroom. He was standing by the bed, holding back the duvet, with what could only be described as a 'crinkled' look on his face.

There, on the sheet, was what looked like a flattened chocolate muffin. Judging by the odour, we suspected that our earlier celebration may have been somewhat premature.


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Happy Valentine's Day, darling! xxxxxxxxxx

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I don't quite know what to make of this poker lark. As self-delusion isn't one of my strong points, I will readily admit that good fortune must be at the foundation of my continuing success. Almost halfway through the second month, I am now sufficiently emboldened to be playing in 2-table $20 & $30 tournaments; a concept I would have considered fanciful four weeks ago.

There is undoubtedly some poker osmosis at work; how could it be otherwise? I am playing against stronger players, and therefore must be improving as a result. Although still very much aware of my beginner status, this can occasionally work to my advantage.

I now confess to having committed my gravest sin to date -- I made a $600 withdrawl from my account. Any serious poker player reading this will immediately curse me for all the names under the sun. It's nothing short of heresy to remove money from the poker economy; any self-respecting player would be building his/her bankroll. Well, f*** the bankroll -- I have a credit card to service!

The last six weeks have given me undeniable pleasure. To compare, I used to play chess to a reasonable standard (an ELO rating of just under 2000), and although a great game of chess is hard to beat, good games were few and far between. Every game of poker I play is enjoyable -- even in games where the deck runs cold or you suffer the worst luck imaginable. It's all about what you do with your chips in any given situation. That's the challenge.

I don't regard this hobby as gambling. It has only cost me $55 in real money to embark on this odyssey -- I challenge anyone to have as much fun over a period of six weeks for that paltry investment! Every player in a tournament begins with the same number of chips, the same deck of cards. Of course luck plays its part, but a skillful player can counter a run of bad luck with good play.

It's inevitable that my mother and sisters regard me as some kind of degenerate fiend; of course, as I am a degenerate fiend, I do nothing to convince them otherwise.

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+Degeneration+

--music to unsettle parents--

OOIOO
Mountain Book (from 'Gold and Green')

Jonathan Richman
Here Come The Martian Martians
(from 'Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers')

Fennesz
Rivers of Sand (from 'Venice')

Tom Waits
What's He Building? (from 'Mule Variations')

J.S. Bach
Concerto No. 3 in G Major: I. Allegro moderato
(from 'Brandenburg Concertos')

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Insomnia

Sleep. Where did you go? It's 3.20 am and I miss you so!

The streets are bustling in the city of Insomnia tonight. Tomsk is up and about, running through the house laughing and giggling like a mischievous sprite. This could last for an hour or two, or he may rapidly get bored and retreat back under the duvet. If he stays up, I'll make him some toast and keep a close eye on his activities. The bathroom door is shut; nothing will end up down the toilet. All the other bedroom doors are shut, so hopefully no one else will be disturbed. The baby-changing box is a favourite source of fun, so I ensure the talcum powder bottle is firmly twisted shut; there will be no snowstorm tonight.

We are lucky. Tomsk loves sleeping, occasionally clocking up as much as ten or twelve unbroken hours. More common is his habit of sleeping in smaller chunks, perhaps four or five hours at a time. I've read some horror stories about how badly autism can affect sleep patterns; not only does this impact on the child's health, but it has serious implications for the well-being of the rest of the family. We try to ensure that Tomsk gets plenty of outdoor exercise. We've found the combination of fresh air and play is the best recipe for a long night's sleep.

Tonight he is excitable, but not hyperactive.

Now is the time for calmness; sit him down with a blanket, make him a drink and put on a soothing video -- Postman Pat is good in these situation; nothing remotely interesting ever happens in Greendale. Tomsk soon catches on to this fact and the giggling ceases, replaced instead by drooping eyelids and a heavy sigh of resignation.

Five minutes later, I sweep him off the couch and into bed. Silence descends once more. One less insomniac roaming the streets. I think I'll kick about for a while longer...


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Of course, lack of sleep causes real problems. You get up late, you run around trying to get the kids ready for school and yourself ready for work. A bite of toast and a slurp of tea. Ironing – forget it. A shave if I'm feeling really awful, but – hey! -- I work in TV, and since vagrancy is the happening look in cool media circles these days, the boss extends a certain latitude in that direction. Crap –- two minutes to nine. Grab the keys, grab Chasbo, wheel-spin down the drive to the junction.

Although it only lasts a few minutes, the journey to school should be quality time. Father and son discussing their plans for the day in a friendly and open manner. Except -- no bastard ever lets me out onto the main road! Queues of cars and buses trail back from the traffic lights, each driver staring intently at the bumper in front, ignoring my increasingly desperate gesticulations and mimed expletives.

Last week, I let one slip.

I banged the steering wheel and shouted -- 'Let me out -- for fuck sake!'

Oops. Fatigue, having rendered Chasbo invisible for a split-second, now brought him back with a loud 'pop'; he was staring at me, his brow furrowed.

'Oh, er, sorry Chas – listen, that's a very bad word, and Daddy's really sorry he said it.'

'Dad! Dad!!!' He was pointing.

'What is it son? -- oh shit! --'

A space had opened up momentarily, and then closed again like the doors of a departing train.

'Don't say anything to Mum.'

That night, he was as good as his word, and we sat at dinner like naughty schoolboys sharing conspiratorial glances over our peas, mash and fish fingers.

Fatigue is cumulative. That's my excuse, for the very next morning, a bit further down the road, I did it again. Some elderly woman stalled her car, and the lights went to red. In mitigation, it was a barely audible moan, but Chasbo heard it clear as a bell.

'It's okay Dad. I won't tell Mum' he whispered.

'Good lad. Sorry. Won't happen again.'

The day after that. Oh God. Unbelievably, extraordinarily late. Visions of being called in to see the formidable Head Teacher, Mrs. Formidable. Gravel flies everywhere as we speed away from the house. The car skids to a halt at the foot of the driveway. Hells bells, what's this? Two men in dayglo vests standing in the road halting the traffic. A large digger lifts scaffolding off an overloaded lorry –- slowly. Nothing is moving, except the throbbing veins on my neck. I grip the wheel tightly, my eyes widen; a deep, shuddering breath is drawn into my lungs and held there --

-- 'Dad!!!'

I exhale slowly and look round at him.

'What?'

He looks concerned. He looks older. He looks parental.

'Just don't say it.'

'Okay Chas. Thanks.'


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+You must rest...+

Tracks that lead to the Land of Nod

Brian Eno
Dunwich Beach, Autumn, 1960 (from 'On Land')

Do Make Say Think
Chinatown (from 'And yet and yet')

Susumu Yokota
Thread leads to Heaven (from 'Boy and Tree')

Black Dog
Chesh (from 'Spanners')

Marc Leclair
1er Jour (from 'Musique Pour 3 Femmes Enceintes')

Monday, January 23, 2006

Makin' music

It started as a joke.

It continues as one.

The 'recording career' of the Martian Martian lurches forward at breakneck speed -- current output is averaging about three seconds per week. A rough calculation puts the release date somewhere around Christmas 2018, should I live that long.

I've played some of the demos to the family -- mixed responses.

The Good Lady's reaction is perhaps predictable, given her penchant for Chris de Burgh. It swings between patronising and confused; 'That's, er, really good. Very, ah, unusual'. Her most favourable opinion was reserved for the gentle, rambling nine-minute epic I played to her late one evening whilst lying in bed. By three minutes ten she was snoring loudly -- that's an endorsement!

As Lil smiles regardless of whether she is being subjected to my music or not, her responses have had to be excluded from the survey.

Whenever I move the headphones in Tomsk's direction, he gingerly pokes his head between the opened cups, only to withdraw immediately and run from the room. Tomsk has sensory issues; music right inside his head is too overwhelming at present.

Chasbo brings a freshness to the review, unencumbered by the baggage of musical taste. As most of the music contains audio samples taken from our home video, he is fascinated to hear his speech in a totally different context. Yes, I think I have a fan!

Unfortunately, several large spanners have hit the works since Summer 2004. The major one being the complete disintegration of my hard drive -- three complete (but unmastered) songs had been backed-up, but I lost six others that were work-in-progress. No great loss I suspect, as I can't remember the first thing about them. If you can't whistle them, don't write them.

A much greater loss was the Logic instrument settings unique to each of the completed songs -- a bit of a calamity to be perfectly honest.

The second spanner being the departure of Sparky -- well, to be exact, the departure of Sparky's midi keyboard. This essential link in the chain between my brain and the computer has been severed, and I now face the unbearable torment of inputting data using the mouse. My grand plan had been to blow my Christmas bonus on a replacement midi keyboard, a PC and various bits of groovy software -- how naive! I did get the PC, but the rest of the cash was tipped into the ever-expanding landfill site otherwise known as my overdraft.

The third -- and most important -- is the birth of my third child, Lil, and the inevitable reduction on time I can fritter away on personal projects such as this.

So, fettered by circumstance, my creativity is left to stew.


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Last week, a client of mine found herself suddenly without a voiceover artist. When I say 'suddenly', it was sudden to me, the editor. I suspect she never intended getting one in the first place. 'But you've got a nice voice', she said to me, all doe-eyed and syrupy. Christ, I hate when women flatter me; it makes a mockery of my obstinacy.

Still, I dug in my heels; 'I want to help, but -- sorry -- there is no way I can do this!'

More doe-eyes; 'But your voice is so deep -- in fact, you sound like Sean Connery'.

Women fight dirty.

The only salient piece of advice I received before stepping into the booth was; 'deliver it like you're being blown by a Thai prostitute'. The resultant recording sounds more like I'm being blown by a Pifco hairdryer.


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Day 14 of the online poker experiment. After four days of net loss, it was good to get back into profit last night with a first and second out of three games. The best thing is, I no longer go to bed thinking about poker -- so I reckon I've got about fourteen days to go before I lose interest in it altogether. This amusing article captures the essence of internet poker in all its glory.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Baptism of fire

The Good Lady has arranged for Lil to be baptised at the local Catholic church.

Long gone are the days when I would sink into an almighty huff over this -- she knows my views on religious organisations.

The pugilist in me is rather looking forward to meeting the old Irish priest who will officiate at the ceremony. Early indications are promising; on hearing of my indifference to God, he informed the Good Lady that he would have to 'have a word' with me. When told that our eldest was attending the local non-denominational school in preference to the Catholic, he nearly choked on his communion wafer -- 'We'll need to do something about that!!' he spluttered.

Excellent -- physical violence is unlikely, but should he decide to get all morally superior on my ass, he'd better prepare for some serious verbal horse-whipping.

If any person could persuade me of the existence of God, it is Richard Holloway -- though admittedly not through any intellectual argument. He takes a very flexible and humanitarian stance on Christian doctrine, arguing that the scriptures and teachings of Christ must constantly be interpreted within the context of current morality. His liberal views on homosexuality in the priesthood and the ordination of women are well documented. However, this leaves him 'between a rock and a hard place' -- with both conservatives and liberals questioning his 'pick and mix' approach to the Christian faith. All the more interesting given that until very recently, Richard Holloway was the Anglican Bishop of Edinburgh.

It is this flexibility that appeals to the tiny theist kernel buried deep within my psyche. As Thomas Aquinas put it, 'A man has free choice to the extent that he is rational'.

I wish religion had more people like Richard Holloway.

Hmmm, I wonder if he's free at the end of February...


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+Catholic taste+

Eyvind Kang/Mike Patton - Marriage of Days (from 'Virginal Co-ordinates')

Fennoberg - The Theme from Fennoberg (from 'Magic Sound of Fennoberg')

Led Zepellin - Houses of the Holy (from 'Physical Graffiti')

Alison Krauss - Down to the River to Pray (from 'O Brother Where Art Thou')

American Music Club - Jesus' Hands (from 'Everclear')

Thursday, January 19, 2006

All about Tomsk

As a baby, Tomsk was a breeze to look after. 'Mature' was a word I remember often using. He would transfix you with stares, looking with fascination into your eyes as if he was seeing something far-off or mysterious.

Always content, he would never cry to be lifted from his cot -- often were the times we would enter his room in the morning to find him sitting upright, happily playing with his hands, quite obviously having been awake for a considerable time. The most striking thing I remember is how hard it was to make him laugh. If I take pride in anything, it is the fact that I can make any child laugh at will. But here was my own flesh and blood, immune to my clowning, resistant to my fiendish tickling. 'God, he is...so... mature', I thought.

Physically, he was healthy and confident -- perhaps even precocious -- and walking by nine months.

And then, around the time when we expecting some babbling speech to emerge, there was only silence. Friends and family joked about how lucky we were; 'when Gracie was a toddler, she never shut up - what a nightmare'. They assured us that we'd soon be looking back on these silent weeks with misty-eyed nostalgia.

At his 18-month developmental check, the health visitor immediately realised something was amiss. Although autism was never specifically mentioned, the seed of doubt had been sown. After a few hours of internet research, our suspicions were confirmed and the gates to a whole new world slowly began to open.

As parents, we felt culpable. The Good Lady agonised about vaccinations. I agonised about 'cursed' genes. But eventually, we had to accept that Tomsk had autism, regardless of the cause.

And my defensive aphorism at this point is; worse things happen at sea.

Tomsk is happy. Tomsk is smart. Tomsk is physically as robust and dexterous as any child his age. When Tomsk fixes you with those bright blue eyes and flashes a grin that can be seen from outer space, all the music ever written could not better the fanfare I hear in my head. These facts are irrefutable.

We celebrated his third birthday just before Christmas. He attends a nursery school for children with additional special needs three days a week, where he receives speech and occupational therapy. One day a week a community speech therapist comes to the house to spend a couple of hours with him. He will soon be going to a 'mainstream' nursery for a half-day.

The Good Lady is currently introducing him to potty-training -- with some great results thus far. And best of all, Tomsk has begun to identify some objects in a picture book; apple, house, car, flower and orange.

These are all good and positive things.

He gives us hope for the future.



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A big howdy to Estee. I stumbled across her blog when searching for autism links. She has a lot of strong opinions that are worthy of careful reading, and some sentiments that resonate deeply within the Martian Martian. I also noticed that she has added a link to this blog, so if you are visiting via Joy of Autism, turn back now before it's too late!

I also forgive her for mistaking me for a woman. It's an all too easy mistake to make on the internet, particularly when I'm wearing lilac.

Meet the Martians

Since I will be referring to the various members of the Martian family often, now is the time to introduce them.

The Good Lady has been long-suffering now for fifteen years. That's a lot of suffering. We met in 1991 -- it was love at first sight, behind the office photocopier. Since then, we have continued to have nothing in common -- as good a recipe for success in a relationship as any*. She spends her days traversing the familial highwire, expertly juggling the smaller Martians, of which there are three. The collective noun for three children is 'handful'.

When happy, she sings. When sad, her singing wanders a little off-key.

The most recent addition to the Martian breeding programme is the Little Lady, or Lil. She exhibits a sunny and bright disposition not dissimilar to her mother, but in absolute contrast to her father. No act of foolishness or funny face-pulling is beyond extracting a giggle from this girl. Now six months old, she is beautiful, good-natured and we are all deeply in love with her.

At seven, Chasbo is the eldest. He was climbing to the top wrung of ladders before he was 1 year old -- and jumping off. He was the pioneering child, the trailblazer; a rigorous test of fledgling parenthood. With Chasbo we came to realise that, while we would never be the best parents in the world, we certainly wouldn't be the worst.

And then there's Tomsk, who is three. I've developed the terrible habit of saying, when asked how many kids I have, 'Three; one of each'. Tomsk will get a thread of his own to further explain this confusing statement.


*Think about this. It's very profound.


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+Today's tunes+

Patrik Torsson - Avmönstring (from 'Kolväteserenader')
A Swedish merchant seaman who spends his working days locked onboard an oil tanker. Then he spends his shore leave locked in a recording studio. It's worth it.

Jim O'Rourke - Life Goes On (from 'Insignificance')
Genius. Perhaps the best ending to a song ever recorded.

Noxagt - Det Er Typisk Norsk Å Være Best (from 'Fjord Focus' sampler CD)
Noisy. But groovy.

Oscar Peterson - Hallelujah Trail (from 'Theatre Des Champs-Elysees')
The fastest, longest, most articulate fingers in jazz.

A Silver Mount Zion - 13 Angels Standing Guard 'Round the Side of Your Bed (from 'He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corners of Our Rooms')
If brevity is the soul of wit, these guys have no sense of humour. But the music is poignant, delicate and beautiful.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Save the housewife

Hooray for the Japanese! Having watched the Sony QRIO starring in Beck's new video 'Hell Yes', it was easy to imagine future times where dancing robots make light work of domestic chores, as well as making our kitchens a much jollier place to have the dinner.

So, housework -- begone! Housewives -- cast off thy pinnies and leave the kitchen forever!

In this brave new world without housework, many unforeseen benefits could materialise. Consider; it is just conceivable that we might never again have to listen to the insipid output of 'artists' such as James 'Puppy-Dog-Eyes' Blunt, whose turgid mock-falsetto whining is churned out hour upon hour on kitchen radios up and down the country. Ruthless record company executives, whose jobs are dependent on sales generated by the captive housewife market, are cynically targetting the innocent in a relentless 'musical' carpet bombing exercise. Is it any wonder these poor women, toiling under the heavy yoke of domestic oppression, are powerless to resist?

In the interests of completing this entry and getting on with the remainder of my life, I've done some thorough market research with the Good Lady. The following mildly erotic fantasy sequence suggests itself.

Beaten down by the drudgery, she leans wearily over the sink and heaves a sigh, her spent pink Marigolds draped limply over the basin. Her only company in the world; a disc jockey called Mike from Lancaster. 'Play me a tune, Mike', she whispers. The opening bars of 'You're beautiful' drift gently across the room as she closes her eyes and imagines --

-- the doorbell rings, she answers. Standing there, a silhouette in the doorway, is James Blunt. Barefoot and dripping wet, he looks every inch the bedraggled ex-army officer. His jeans and white t-shirt cling to his taut frame. Blinking the rain from his puppy-dog eyes, he smiles knowingly. Little pools of water gather at his feet. He's holding a bucket in one hand, and a little puppy in the other. 'I was washing the windows, but I've run out of hot water', he explains. He could be singing the words, it's difficult to tell. All the buttons have been expertly pushed. It only remains for the quivering housewife to invite him inside, although a suprising number will insist the puppy stays out in the rain. An afternoon of passion ensues. The windows remain unwashed.

In reality, the bored housewive is trundling through ASDA, wheeling her trolley absent-mindedly along the condiments and pasta sauce aisle, probably engaged in one of countless other mildly erotic fantasies when she is suddenly confronted by huge James Blunt point-of-sale display featuring a lifesize cardboard effigy and several thousand copies of his new CD (only £9.97). I doubt he's holding a bucket or a puppy, but he will be barefoot and soaking wet. And those eyes.


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It was smash and grab on Partypoker tonight. I only played one game and I was a very, very good boy. Discipline coupled with selective aggression. A couple of great folds, a few judicious all-ins with absolute garbage, and the $50 was mine. It goes some way to offsetting last night's frustrating three bubbles out of four.

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+Tonight's music+

XTC – Stupidly Happy
The Swindon duo doing what they do best -- perfect pop.

Sufjan Stevens – Casimir Pulaski Day
A beautiful song from Pitchfork's album of 2005, 'Illinois'.

Heatwave – Boogie Nights
I love this song. Don't argue.

Teenage Fanclub – It's All In My Mind
Bellshill's finest, with the opening track of their latest collection, Man-made.

Boards of Canada – Poppy Seed
Trippy and cool, IDM for people with no intention of dancing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hand Analysis

Okay, we're down to eight on the final table of the 2006 UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Tournament. Money pays top three.

Blinds 300/600. Small blind, Blair. Big Blind, Bush.

Under-the-gun, Ahmadinejad. By far the shortest stack, perhaps only 5xBB. Without hesitation he raises to 1200.

Chirac looks at his cards, 74 offsuit. 'Pah!' he exclaims, and with a petulant flick, tosses his cards at the dealer.

Merkel looks unsure. She's holding KT off. But she's a newcomer to this level. Ultra-tight. No risks. She'll wait for a better opportunity, and quietly pushes her cards across the table.

Next up, Jiabao. 45 suited. He would love to see a flop, but it looks like it could be an expensive one, and his stack isn't looking too clever. Pass.

Putin clenches and unclenches his fist, his jaw set firm on his expressionless face. Without emotion, he mucks his cards.

Next comes Sharon, on the button. He's been quiet all night. An absolute rock. Not a flicker. Well, perhaps his eyelids. The table waits patiently. Ahmadinejad calls for the clock. Everyone waits. The Israeli railbirds stir anxiously at the sidelines, trying to cajole their leader into some decisive action -- but time is called, and Sharon's hand is folded.

Small blind Blair turns nervously to Bush. And then looks at his cards. 7 2 offsuit. Dreadful. He knows full well that Bush will re-raise. He remembers a similar situation in the Iraq Open in 2003 – perhaps this time he should fold and let George go heads up against the Iranian champion.

Oh what the hell, it's two live cards after all. Besides, before the tournament started George bought into him for 30%. 'Call' says Blair.

Bush draws himself up in his seat and ruffles his chips, all the while giving the implacable Iranian his hardest Texan stare. Ahmadinejad, oblivious, gazes straight ahead, a faint smile tracing across his face. He's concentrating on a thin strand of drool escaping slowly from the corner of Sharon's mouth.

Bush clears his throat. 'How much you got there, son?' Ahmadinejad blinks, but makes no reply. The dealer does a quick count. The Iranian is outchipped by 10 to 1. Bush counts out a pile and pushes them over the line. 'I don't know what you've got, but if it's pocket rockets, they'd better be nuclear'.