Sunday, 23 July 2017

Parental Leave

Full-time salaried work is the hallmark of a badly organised society. If society were better organised, there would be zero unemployment and a lot more holidays. I love a bit of paid time off and the arrival of my first-born son was rewarded by the UK government with a blissful work-free fortnight. 

I'd heard that that neonates slept for like 18 hours a day, so thought I'd use my parental leave to catch up on a bit of reading. What I'd failed to realise was that I would be spending those 18 hours panicking about whether or not this small human that I had suddenly assumed joint responsibility for was still breathing. A month in and I'm a bit more casual. I can update this blog from the sofa while he is on the floor asleep on a cushion*. The breathing checks are now every thirty seconds or so rather than constant like in the early days.

Rudyard Kipling says in the first of the Jungle Books that "...there is nothing so unlucky as to compliment children to their faces." I'm not sure about unlucky, but it is unsettling when people say in the same breath how cute a baby is and then how much he looks like his father (he's ginger and has my snub nose, the hair on his forehead is growing in - mine is going the other way). 

Perhaps I had the Kipling maxim somewhere in my subconscious when I mentioned to Charlie that I thought Finn Jr (alias - before anyone accuses me of unimaginatively naming my son after my blog which is named after my imaginary childhood friend) looks a bit like a Slitheen - the ludicrous farting aliens that appeared in the first couple of seasons of the relaunched Dr Who. This is now on my list of things that with hindsight I wish I hadn't mentioned. 



Here's a selfie I took in the hospital just after Finn Jr was born. We had to go into the surgery for the final stages of labour. They gave me my own set of scrubs. They are labelled 'dad' just in case anyone noticed my calm air of competence and mistook me for a consultant anaesthetist or something.  I'm sure you'd all rather see cute baby pics than me in my scrubs - but it feels slightly unethical to use these precious images just to garner a few extra hits on my blog.

Baby's waking up now. Next week: Why Kant's "On Education" should be required reading for all new parents.

*Please don't fill the comments section with chastisement about the cushion thing. It is a specially designed baby-safe cushion. 

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Not Hume's Problem: 10 Words I've Learned in the Last 9 Months

My wife and I have been manufacturing a human. To be honest, she is doing most of the hard work. I've been busying myself reading the instruction manuals. Here are some of the new words that I have learned:

  • Fundal (adj.) Relating to the fundus.
  • Fundus (n.) Height upwards round the belly. [Out of curiosity, as this is not a service provided by my tailor, I used the paper tape measure provided for fundal height measurements to measure upwards around my own belly - the result was 'taller' than I wanted to admit, so I pulled the tape measure tighter and it snapped and after that Charlie said I wasn't allowed to look at her maternity folder unless she was in the room.]
  • Induction (n.) In this obliquely technical usage, 'induction' is a way of encouraging a small human who has got used to his current surroundings to make his way into surroundings that will take considerably longer to get used to. [Like me, you probably immediately think of 18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume when you see this word. But, in the topsy-turvy world of midwifery, 'induction' has nothing to do with the problem of inferring that "instances of which we have no experience resemble those of which we have had experience." (as Hume memorably put it.)]
  • Mucus Plug (n.) Like a normal plug - this plug stops waters from draining away, but it is made of mucus.
  • Multigravid (adj.) (Trans. from L. - author's own) Having experienced more than one heaviness (c.f. primagravid).
  • Occipito Anterior/Occipito Posterior (adj.) These Harry Potter spells make a muggle's head face the other way.
  • Primagravid (adj.) (Trans. from L. - author's own) Of or pertaining to the first heaviness (c.f. multigravid).
  • Show (n.) External manifestation of the mucus plug.
  • Sweep (n.) Intimate procedure that (uncharacteristically tactless) midwives have named after a glove puppet.
Bedside Reading

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Manifestos Manifest

Regular readers will know that I recently quit bartending and now I improve the quality of writing in little read corners of the internet for a living. As research for one of these projects, I read the Labour and Conservative manifesto proposals on Energy Policy. Anyhow, the article as I would have liked it to have gone out went unpublished - but reason will not be silenced! Here's what I found out.

Conservative Party Energy Policy

  • Cheaper Energy Bills for Homes and Businesses (p.22). That sounds good, doesn't it. My energy bills are expensive, how are they going to do it? The Tories are promising to put infrastructure in place to help large businesses improve their energy efficiency. Quite how giving large amounts of money to big business is going to reduce my energy bills is not further explained. 
  • A Diverse Energy Mix (p.22f). This section makes it clear that a Conservative government post-Brexit would form policy based on supply not generation. No mention of the fact that we can currently buy tariff-free energy from the EU or what their negotiating position on this will be. They say that they will stick to global commitments on Climate Change, but then go on to support...
  • Shale Gas Extraction (P.23). Don't let the language fool you. It is impossible to extract gas from shale without hydraulic fracturing. this is an explicit promise to allow fracking. Earth-tremor-causing, water-poisoning, mountain-eroding fracking. The Conservative Party propose to bribe communities with a proposed Shale Wealth Fund - this proposal includes a provision to pay individuals (read: landowners) and communities to allow fracking in their village. If global temperature rises are to be kept below 2 degrees, the majority of oil and gas deposits must be left in the ground.

Labour Party Energy Policy

(n.b. The pages aren't numbered on the online version of the manifesto - the relevant page is Sustainable Energy at the end of the section Creating an Economy that Works for All.)

  • Three Principles. Ensuring security of energy supply, reducing costs for consumers, transitioning to a low carbon economy
  • Cheaper Energy Prices for Homes and Businesses. Heard this one before. But here the plan is the opposite of the Tories' plan 'A' of handing taxpayer's money over to big business and hoping nobody notices. The Labour Party propose a cap on the price businesses can charge for energy and the setting up of locally-accountable, publicly-owned rivals to the big energy companies. Infrastructure will be put in place to assist with the insulation of 4 million homes - interest free loans for homeowners upgrading their insulation and rewards for landlords who improve the insulation in their tenanted properties. 
  • Ban Fracking. The Labour Party plan to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels in line with recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change. As you'd expect - fracking is opposed as part of this commitment.
There's significantly more on energy policy in the Labour Party Manifesto than the Conservative Manifesto. I've covered the entire Tory energy policy and restricted myself to showing how Labour differ on these points. That's letting the Tories set the agenda, I suppose - but what can I say? I'm lazy. Perhaps you can cover other areas (not just energy policy) on your blogs and between us we can build up a picture of where the parties stand on key issues? 


To keep things light, here's a picture of a statuette of Apollo that I found in a charity shop and Charlie told me was an unsuitable gift for friends who were hosting us for dinner (we got them a potted helleborus instead).




Sunday, 23 April 2017

Let's All Vote for More Paid Time Off

One of the benefits of my recent career change is that I now get Bank Holidays - paid time off. Workers getting paid time off is an unusual phenomenon. Bank Holidays and holiday pay and sick pay and maternity leave are rights that workers have fought and campaigned hard to win for themselves. 

Anyone working in the hospitality sector knows not to take these rights for granted. In large swathes of the sector, sick pay is non-existent - you either come to work sick or you don't get paid; maternity benefits seldom exceed minimum government requirements - anecdotally, they are sometimes ignored altogether; those on zero-hours contracts do not accrue holiday. Bank Holidays are irrelevant to hospitality workers.


For most of my working life, Bank Holidays meant nothing to me. In the very earliest days of my bartending career, the pub I worked in paid time-and-a-half on Bank Holidays - most pubs did, because it was recognised that you were working when everyone else was off. The industry bosses eventually reasoned that it was stupid to pay extra for a quiet shift (Bank Holiday Mondays are notoriously quiet because everyone has overspent at the weekend). The un-unionised bartending workforce was powerless to fight back. The custom seemed to disappear sometime around the turn of the Century.

The Labour Party has announced plans for four more bank holidays. This is entirely consistent with the Labour Party's historical agenda to improve conditions for working people. More time off makes people healthier, happier and more productive when they get back to work. They get a chance to rest and spend time with their friends and family and generally do more of the things that people tend to regret not doing more of on their deathbed.

We are an exceptionally wealthy nation (albeit that the wealth is poorly distributed). We can afford to pay people to have time off. Let's all vote for more paid time off when we go to the ballot box on June 8th and lets also make sure that those people serving us in the pubs whilst we are enjoying the paid time off are fairly remunerated for their hours. (Or at least buy them a pint when you are getting your round in).


Never let it be said that my Labour Party membership makes me uncritical of their policies. Four extra bank holidays is a great idea, but placing them on the Patron Saints' days of the four home nations is dumb. Our Bank Holidays are already too Spring heavy with Easter and the two May Bank Holidays. Adding two in March and one each in April and November is silly. Let's have some time off in the summer!



Saturday, 22 April 2017

Notes on Democracy

Those of you who know your Herodotus won't need reminding of the history of Cleisthenes of Athens - the politician who accidentally invented democracy. He extended voting rights to landless citizens (the plethos) not out of philosophical principle, but to increase his power in government. Like Alec Salmond giving 16 year-old voters a say in the 2014 Scottish Referendum, Cleisthenes was relying on the principle that the newly enfranchised would back their enfranchiser.  


Cleisthenes - not to be confused with his uncle the tyrant Cleisthenes of Sicyon



The Athenians loved their new found power and went on to win the battle of Salamis using the novel tactic of ramming the Persians' boats. Both boats would sink, but only the Persian sailors would drown because (unlike the Greeks) they couldn't swim. 

For the next two-and-a-half thousand years or so democracy kept bubbling up in Europe and being squashed again. The most important step was when it occurred to a few enlightened individuals that possession of ovaries shouldn't necessarily debar people from the right to choose who represents them in government. This idea was hugely unpopular - especially with people whose reproductive equipment pointed downwards most of the time. However, after a long struggle, women over the age of 21 won the right to vote in 1928 - that's not that long ago. I own books that are older than universal suffrage!

I'm a big fan of democracy. Even though I seem consistently to back the losing side. Regular readers will remember:


My firstborn is due the same week as the UK election. Two thoughts occur:
  1.  Let's use this opportunity to make our small island a fairer place.
  2.  I wonder if Charlie likes the name Cleisthenes...  
      

Monday, 27 March 2017

Early Riser

You may not have noticed because you're used to it but, in the morning, all the shadows point the wrong way. Obviously, I knew this was the case on a conceptual level. But being suddenly exposed to the horrific reality of this phenomenon five days a week is quite the shock. I suppose, in time, I will get used to it, too. Such is the way of things. With every new day that passes, the new becomes the everyday.  

My new job is a 45 minute commute on foot from my home. Everybody I tell this too says, "Get a bike!" But I'm not in that much of a hurry and it has long been an ambition of mine to listen to all 700 episodes of In Our Time that are available to download for free from the BBC website.

In Our Time is a radio programme about the history of ideas, so quite why it is called In Our Time, I have no idea. The premise is simple: Each week, Melvyn Bragg (memorably described by the comedian Hugh Dennis as "the man everyone wants on their pub quiz team") discusses a different topic with three academics. I figure I've got a couple of years worth of commutes covered.

Early mornings are okay provided you go to bed early. My Nana always told me that "Hours [of sleep] before midnight are worth double." It just goes to show how wise Nanas are.

The streets are surprisingly crowded at 8am. And I'm starting to recognise people that I pass at the same time every weekday. The coffee shop owner who always seems to be arranging pastries on the counter when I pass. The girl who vapes her way up Prince of Wales Road trailing the smell of blueberries. The secretary of Norwich Celtic Supporters Club who I know from the pub, but has yet to recognise me in my new disguise as an office commuter - cropped hair, tucked in shirt, sunglasses and noise-cancelling headphones.

I'll leave you with that anthem to early risers everywhere...



  

Friday, 24 February 2017

Threads and Bins

For the last twenty years, most of my wardrobe has consisted of promotional T-shirts that I get free from breweries. I have a couple of pairs of jeans or shorts in circulation depending on the season and for bar work I generally wore walking boots all year round. I also own a suit for christenings, weddings and funerals.

Basically, I have no clothes of the sort of mid-level formality I associate with the modern office worker. 

I am practising getting up early this week, so I went into the city in the morning to buy some clothes. Having not bought any clothes for the last couple of decades, I didn't really know where to go. I know that Primark is the cheapest, but I'm sure I read that all their shirts are made by children in Bangladeshi sweatshops, so I wandered into a shop called 'H and M' (The sign didn't seem to say what the letters stand for - Haberdashery and Something?)  and bought two shirts - one in olive green and one in burgundy. 

Clearly, I have an eye for colour. But I've been a bit worried about some of the other functions of my eyes - so while I was in the city, I nipped into Specsavers to have them tested.

I don't know when you last had your eyes tested, but there's a bit during the health check part when they shine the light in your eyes to check for tumours or something. Whilst this was happening I experienced a vision of the interior of my own eye - a coloured veiny web in green and red - the whole thing was a bit trippy. I said as much to the optometrist.

"That's perfectly normal that is exactly what I can see," he said.

My point was that it is not normal for me to have a vision of what the person next to me is looking at. I wanted some kind of explanation of the perceptual phenomenon - what was causing me to see the inside of my eye projected across my field of vision? But he didn't seem interested in explaining this to me. 

To be honest, he seemed a bit cross with me - apparently I kept giving contradictory answers about how blurry things were through various lenses. Also, when he was testing my right (bad) eye, he asked me if I could tell him what the letters were in the bottom of three rows. I told him I could tell him exactly what they were because he had just tested me on the same letters with my left (good) eye and I had committed them to memory. N O A H Z. I asked if I could have a new sequence of letters and he said no. 

All in all a successful morning. I own a pair of shirts and I will soon own a pair of glasses. I let the lady in the shop choose the frames, she seemed to know what she was talking about.