Google, we have a malfunction

Still looking... (picture source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/st3f4n/3951143570/)

Still looking… (picture source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/st3f4n/3951143570/)

Some of you come here because you know me, some because you have signed up to receive an email prompt. Some of you are fellow bloggers who have seen one of my posts on the WordPress reader, others have had links forwarded through either Facebook or Twitter. Then there is a final group, a group of you who arrived via a search engine.

Now I love all of you equally, but I have a particular soft spot for people who stumble upon this blog because you were looking for an answer. And boy are there some strange questions to which you would like answers. I know because I get to see the search terms used to arrive at my blog (don’t worry, I don’t get to see who you are or where you live – although I do get to see which country). Rather than keep these gems to myself, I thought I would share some of my favourites with you. Enjoy!

Having just received a summons, Tinkles looked a little non-plussed (picture source: zonabien.com)

Having just received a summons, Tinkles looked a little nonplussed (picture source: zonabien.com)

Is it against the law for a cat to shit in my garden?

Every week I get many visitors to my The cat that shits in my garden post looking for answers. It is my post that keeps on giving. Most are looking for some form of deterrent, a few are looking at the best ways to kill the feline defecator without getting caught. Some, however, want to go down the legal route. If you can’t stop them, sue the bastards! Can you sue a cat? I’m not sure, but there are one or two people out there who are willing to find out.

Do the British celebrate the 4th July?

No, is the simple answer. We lost. We had our asses handed to us (as our cousins over the pond like to say). Yes, there were a number of mitigating circumstances, which I pointed out in a post I wrote during the summer, but do you really think we would celebrate a defeat? Then again, Texans celebrate the Battle of the Alamo, so maybe we should after all, and not just because it was our idea in the first place.

One night stands in Suffolk

So you’re young and single, or you are old and single, or maybe you are not single and have flexible morals. Whatever the circumstances, you are in Suffolk and looking for a good time. Now Suffolk is a quiet, rural county, not known as a thriving hotbed of libidinous hedonists (at least it never was when I was looking but then again, maybe the issue had more to do with who was searching). So how do you find out the best way to meet somebody for no strings sex?  Ask Google. Sadly Google sent you to my blog. How disappointed must this person have been, looking for a good time but being pointed to a rant by a grumpy man about sexism. And the poor person was clearly desperate as I’m on page 2 of this particular search result. Well I had to check, for research purposes of course…

Who changes Stephen Hawking’s’ diaper?

There are times when I despair at humanity. Unless you are Professor Stephen Hawking, or you are a manufacturer of adult nappies for the disabled looking for celebrity endorsement, why would you care? Yet someone, somewhere, wanted to know and they found my blog (and before you ask; no, I did not make a joke about Professor Hawking, I just happened to mention his name in one of my semi-regular series on Petty Domestic Disputes). I have a message for that person: life is too short for researching this dross. You clearly have an inquisitive mind, why not put it to good use and discover things for the benefit of humanity, just as Professor Stephen Hawking has.

This is so true (picture source: http://weheartit.com/entry/26065795)

This is so true (picture source: http://weheartit.com/entry/26065795)

Why are guys so confusing?

When I first saw this search term come up, I felt a moment of sympathy. I imagined a shy, teenage girl confused at not being unable to understand boys her own age, driven to turn to Google to find  answers on why guys are so confusing and mistakenly looking at my why men are confused post for answers. Then, as with earlier, I googled the question myself to see whereabouts my blog came in the results list. And I looked, and I looked, and by page 25 I gave up and searched via Bing instead. Again I looked and I looked, past blogs about “why do men take so long to have a poo” and “why are their so many men on this site (for lesbian dating)” until I came to the conclusion that this visitor wasn’t so much confused as obsessed to an unhealthy degree. So if you are reading this; please, let it go. We aren’t worth the anxiety.

And finally comes the most bizarre search term of all:

Long hair picking nose

Is this an obscure Bob Dylan song lyric? Maybe it is a secret code that will start the Zombie Apocalypse? Whatever it is, somebody was interested enough to type this into a search engine and arrive at my blog. I wonder if what they read here was as confusing to them as their search term was to me.

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Saturday 16th November: Raevennan Husbandes, Stephen Hodd, Daniel Storey – Live at the Cottage

Raevennan Husbandes (source: https://www.facebook.com/LiveAtTheCottage)

Raevennan Husbandes (source: https://www.facebook.com/LiveAtTheCottage)

It was the last Live at the Cottage gig of the year last Saturday and what a gig to finish with. We a started with Daniel Storey, a local boy channeling the spirit of 90’s britpop. While laddish guitar bands may have fallen out of favour in recent years, as somebody who came of age during that time, listening to Storey put a new spin on an old (I can’t believe I’m writing this) style brought memories of my youth flooding back.

Storey’s opener, “Unbreakable”, set the tone for his performance; a good solid riff and an ear for melody, wedded to an unmistakable Manchester sound. As he continued through his repertoire of “Under the Metal Sky”, “Let the Light fall” and “Roll on”, the theme continued, each song performed with a brittle intensity that kept you interested. Then, for his final number, “The North Sea”, Storey changed style, the strumming replaced by finger-picking, and while it wasn’t his strongest song of the night it was the most intriguing, as it showed that he isn’t happy to rest on his laurels and is looking to push into new areas.

One of the great things about coming to live gigs is that, if you are lucky, you get to see a moment where artistry, experience, talent and venue converge to produce an unforgettable experience. This is how I felt watching Stephen Hodd. I’ve never seen him perform before but it was clear from the opening bar of “North Star”- a song about the sea and life, of uncertainty – that we were watching somebody on top of his game.

Hodd plays in a very sparse, almost delicate style, enabling you to hear every creak from his guitar, every movement of his hand. While you can tell he writes from an irish folk tradition, to me Hodd’s style was most reminiscent of Bon Ivor, in that he is not afraid to use silence for dramatic effect and the pauses between the notes are almost as important as the notes themselves. This was never more apparent than with the songs “Unbelievable Ways” and “Soul Getter”, his use of soft dynamics making the songs particularly moving.

There is also a wonderful poetic flow to his lyrics, the opening lines to “Desolation Town” being particularly poignant. What’s more, you can listen to everything Hodd has ever recorded (or buy as you so wish) by going to Savage Acoustic Records. This will give you a taste of what you missed, but in my opinion you should go and see him live while he’s in this form. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Raevennan Husbandes has a wonderful stage presence. She exudes warmth in a way that can’t be faked. There was a playfulness to her set in contrast to the more serious, introspective nature of the preceding acts. She sang with a smile that shone through her music. She started alone, playing a beautiful cover of Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song” which she followed by one of her own (the name I sadly missed) and it was noticeable that her original song didn’t wilt in comparison with Paul Simon’s masterpiece.

Husbandes’ style is to play a simple picking rhythm topped with a floating vocal melody – like Norah Jones singing Nick Drake – and when joined by the excellent Simon Lewis on cello, produces a rich, mellow sound unique to her. A good example was ‘Box of Innocence”, where Husbandes’ understated vocal dexterity blends into the fabric of the song to form a whole, as opposed to many modern artists who use vocal gymnastics as a means of showing off, to the detriment of the song.

Songs like “House of wood“, written by (and recorded with) Guy Chambers on the album “Harbour of songs”, and “About Somebody” confirmed that Husbandes has talent to burn, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Having Husbandes play as the final headliner of the year was, I felt, appropriate. The quality of the acts playing each month has been outstanding and with Raevennan Husbandes’ set the guys from Wet Feet Records sent everybody way with warm and happy hearts. I can’t wait for February when it all starts again.

Fingers Crossed

These are not my fingers, or my backside (picture source: www.bryangira.com)

These are not my fingers, or my backside (picture source: http://www.bryangira.com)

So here we are. I’ve finally done it. Having spent the last couple of weeks interrogating the Writers and Artists Yearbook (2014, no less), polishing my letter of introduction, squeezing my 85,000 word book into a one and a half page plot synopsis, succumbing to doubts about the merit of my work and researching self-publishing, procrastinating (lost of procrastinating, and eventually building up the courage, I’ve just sent submissions to four literary agents in the hope that one will bite.

And after all the stress and anxiety, I feel fine. My requests have flown, there is nothing I can do now but sit back and wait. I’d like to say that sending them now was part of a cunning plan to take advantage of the fact that most other writers are too engaged with NaNoWriMo to send in submissions, but that would be a lie. It just happened this way.

Why only send to four? Why not to forty? Well I decided to take some advice from the wonderful Jools of A Writer’s Notepad fame, and test the waters with the view to adapting my approach based on feedback, rather than potentially blowing it all in one go. Plus there aren’t forty who will take my book. One of the most depressing parts of the process has been reading agent descriptions which say “interested in all commercial and literary fiction (no science fiction, fantasy or horror).” I don’t see my book as Science Fiction, it is a political thriller. But it is set in the future, it does have a lot of future technology integral to the plot, so it would be an argument I know I would lose. My next book should be easier. It’s a contemporary thriller; everybody wants one of those.

I’ll keep you up to date with how it goes and try not to be too despondent when the rejections arrive (I’m not being negative, just realistic). In the meanwhile I’ll carry on with the new book and keep reading up on self-publishing. It’s good to be prepared.

Me and my embarrassing mouth

Did I really just say that (image source: kotaku.com)

Did I really just say that (image source: kotaku.com)

The thing about karma is that it revels in pulling people off their high horse and giving them a good spanking. Only last week I blogged about how annoyed I was in the way I was spoken to on a health visit with my son. Well this week karma decided some payback was in order.

It happened on the way home from collecting my boys from school and pre-school. We needed a few items for dinner that night and had popped into the local supermarket. Now my two year-old only needs to hear a name once to remember it. It’s a great skill to have. I think he’ll grow up to be a politician; with his memory for names to go with the usual self-centred and slightly sociopathic tendencies of all toddlers he’ll be perfect.

Anyway, he was very tired this day so I was chattering away to him, using distraction so he would forget the tantrum he’d just had on hearing we had to go shopping. I asked who he thought we’d see at the shop and he immediately said John,* a young guy who usually works at the deli counter who always makes a fuss of my youngest.

As we walked down each aisle I would ask my youngest if he could see John. It was a great game which meant we completed the shop without further tears. Then, as we got to the checkout, my youngest started shouting “John” at the top of his voice, and a slightly embarrassed young man waved back from behind the till. So far, so normal.

When it was our turn to pay, John served us, but my little one kept pointing to the next server, a man also called John, saying “Two Johns, two Johns.”
“Oh,” I said in a sing-song voice. “You’re right. There are two Johns. How funny. I wonder how people tell them apart? Do you think they have nick-names or something?”

Costume for my next shopping trip (image source: www.todevice.com)

Costume for my next shopping trip (image source: http://www.todevice.com)

It was one of those occasions where I clearly wasn’t thinking, just talking to keep my son occupied, because as soon as the words had come out of my mouth a feeling of dread hit me. You see, one John was white, the other black.

I looked up to see “white” John give me an odd look, as if to say “was that a racist joke?” I stood there for a moment, my sense of discomfort increasing exponentially as I failed to think of a get out, my silence compounding the perceived crime. Meanwhile, “black” John looked across as if to say “did I hear you right?” I could have died.

The good news is that I didn’t compound the error by trying to talk my way out of it. Instead, I continued as if nothing was amiss, despite my scarlet face, and the moment was broken (at least I hope it was). Still, it got me thinking. Could the nurse from last week have been thinking the same thing? We can all be so quick to judge people, yet with one unthinking, innocent comment I could have understandably been mistaken as a rabid racist. I think I may owe that nurse an apology, or at the very least the benefit of the doubt.

Karma can be a complete bastard sometimes.

*Name has been changed to protect the innocent

Not bad – for a man

I’ve been looking after my youngest boy for about 16 months now and while we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs, I wouldn’t have traded this time for the world. There are, however, odd moments where I am still pulled up short by the reaction of some people to seeing a man coping with looking after a toddler.

Not as brave as my boy! (source: blog.al.com)

Not as brave as my boy! (source: blog.al.com)

At this time of the year in the UK, every child 3 years or younger has the chance of a free flu vaccination (along with the elderly, people with certain medical conditions and key worker groups.) This year, rather than delivering the inoculation via an injection, it has been changed to being ingested nasally.  Today was the day of my son’s appointment, so I spent most of the morning explaining to him what would happen so that he wouldn’t be scared. The conversation went along the lines of “you’ll see a nurse, they’ll give you medicine up your nose and it will tickle. Isn’t that funny?” When it was our turn to be seen we followed the nurse into her office. My son was happy, because his nose was going to be tickled. The first question I was asked was “I take it you’re the father?” “No,” I replied. “I just found the poor child wandering the streets, a blank look on his face indicating loss, loneliness or some other trauma. As he looked a little on the pasty side I thought he needed a flu inoculation, so that’s why I’m here.” I didn’t say that, of course, but I was immediately annoyed. Do mothers ever get asked that question?

I explained to the nurse that I’d told my son what would happen and as the medication was squirted up his nose he didn’t flinch. Not once. I was so proud of him. The nurse turned to me and said “Well done. You obviously prepared him really well.” On the face of it, this was a compliment. However, the way she said the phrase meant that she left three words hanging unsaid: “for a man.” Now, if I was a 17 year-old kid still struggling to come to terms with the fallout from a one-night stand and who had no clue about life but was being placed in a position – of his own doing – of having to look after a child, that comment may have been appropriate. But I’m not. I am a 42 year-old father of two who chose to look after his youngest and has managed quite well despite the odd raised eyebrow and sexist remark from a very small proportion of the female population.

And it is sexism. Just read the above again and swap my role for that of a mother and the nurse for a male doctor and see how it reads. It doesn’t look too good, does it? And before anyone jumps in and says that you are being overly sensitive, just stop and think for a moment. “You’re being overly sensitive, love” was the stock defence that many women have faced for years (along with keep your knickers on, it’s only a joke) by the casual sexist. I was there. I know how it was meant.

So true (source: tarusjames.com)

So true (source: tarusjames.com)

I’m not for a minute equating my position to the tawdry way women have been, and still are, treated by some members of my gender, but given how long and hard women have had to fight for equality (and they are still waiting) I’m still surprised by the reaction I get from some  (usually strangers and often professionals) to the fact that my kids aren’t running around in filthy clothes, half-starved, swearing and smoking whilst knocking back the whisky because they are raised by a man. Except for breast-feeding, there is not a single thing that makes child raising the sole preserve of women, in the same way as there is not a single thing that makes the military, mining, engineering or any of the other traditionally male-dominated roles the sole preserve of men.

Here endeth the rant.