Friday, October 22, 2010

This hurts

I have just discovered I've got a bunion. I don't know if this is good news or bad as I thought I'd broken my foot somehow or maybe developed gout. Which is worst?

All I know is that it bloody hurts at  the moment - throb, throb, throb. I am currently self-medicating with Kronenbourg, which I don't think conflicts with the anti-inflammatories I'm on. For now though I'm a hobbling, limping fool and I don't like it. This really makes me feel like the old dad I am. I can't descend the stairs with any ease. I can't actually walk very far at the moment. It's a real pisser.

Our two boys are so physically demanding that I feel like a bit of a spare part at the moment. I'm only marginally more mobile than the six month old, who is already hauling himself up on things and standing gummily grinning at us: "Look what I've done."

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Advanced Police driving course - failed
We were sitting in the house yesterday when there was an almighty crash on what sounded like Graham Road. Being, like most people, nosey by nature, I halted what I was doing at the time - dressing down J over something or other - and rushed out to see what was going on.

A crowd of other rubber neckers had gathered on the corner of Graham Road and Navarino Road, where a couple of rather embarrassed PCs were surveying the scene. By all accounts they'd tried to undertake a car that was already turning into the side road, completely misjudged and kerrunch!

Although this tableau provided no little amusement, particularly for the guys who frequent the nearby bookies, it was extremely fortunate there was nobody on the pavement at the time as the results would have been terrible. Perhaps the police drivers wouldn't have been so foolhardy if there had been pedestrians, but this was the spot where Arina Romanova was knocked from her bike and killed a couple of months ago. Navarino Road is heavily used by parents and kids going to and from London Fields. On a lovely sunny, Saturday afternoon, it could have been much worse.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

They knead the bread

I yield to no one in my love of a nice spelt sourdough, but it's getting so you can't move around here for artisan bakers. Maybe they are the new plumbers. A couple of years back there was the idea that the middle classes were chucking their jobs in the City, accountancy and law to make their millions fitting U-bends and Armitage Shanks three pieces. Given the price of the average pain de campagne, perhaps dough is going that way.

The latest addition is the E5 Bakehouse, which is located in a railway arch just off London Fields. We stumbled upon it this morning, after stumbling upon it on Facebook. We bought some rather rich, but fantastically yummy muffins for £1.50-1.75 each, which although pricey is still cheaper than Violet. The USP seems to be the organic nature of the goods on sale. They are to be very into the provenance of the flour and such like. But ultimately the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the chocolate and cherry, and carrot cake muffins we tried were fantastic.

(Not E5's yummy muffins. These cakes are for display purposes only)
Bread is their big thing though and there was a baker hard at it on Sunday. Apparently they will be making bread every day, which opens up the fantastic opportunity of strolling up there of a morning and picking up a still steaming round of bread. Or going for a run and dropping in for a baguette on the way back. Jeez, I love Hackney!

They are also running baking classes, which sound like fun. For £65 you undergo a full day course which will show you how to make the perfect sourdough. As a bit of an amateur baker, this sounds very interesting. I kept a sourdough starter for four or five years, but recently gave up on it as I was making bread with it so infrequently. Partly this was due to the fact that I have so little time for indulgences like baking what with the kids' demands. But another was the fact that I could never get the same taste that I would buy on Broadway Market from Degustibus, whose Californian sourdough is the Holy Grail. Maybe I can perfect my crumb and crust with some tuition.

I worked in an industrial bakery when I was younger - summer holiday job. Oddly it never left me with a desire to make, or even eat bread. Probably because the process was so deskilled. You basically did one small part of the process - classic assembly line stuff - so you couldn't really feel much ownership of the final product, which wasn't much to write home about anyway.

Getting your hands into the dough is a completely different matter.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The 6.30 Club

In which Dad tries to do some surreptitious blogging while keeping an ear out for the almost crawling baby behind him.

Baby A is what you would call an early riser - 6.30 is a bit of a lie in. My wife and I tend to take it in turns to do the early shift with him. By rights I should probably get up with him every morning as she feeds him in the night, which is usually a drawn out affair. However, for the past week or so I've been getting up with him as well. He's been sleeping so badly that it's almost like a return to the baby boot camp of the early weeks. It seems as if he's been waking up every hour, although in my sleep deprived state I can't be sure of anything. Yesterday I mentioned to Mrs Holiday that he seemed to have slept well only to be met with a withering rebuke that I'd slept through the worst of it.

Not that it's usually possible to sleep through and most nights I end up pacing the living room with him. At the moment he's still in our room as we've only got a two-bed flat until we move to our Essex mansion. So, when he wakes, if he won't go back to sleep quickly we take him downstairs so he doesn't disturb his brother.

It's a funny thing. Even when he's bawling his eyes out, he is often asleep in my arms by the time we get down the stairs and into this room. Maybe he finds the peculiar odour relaxing. Here I will walk him or rock him, which can be for anything between 10 minutes (hooray!) and an hour (lots of inward swearing at this point). He seems to be thriving on it though - he's a happy little chap when he wakes up. For us, it's sleep deprivation torture and leaves us zombified for the rest of the day.

For now, we're waiting for the day when we can put him in his own room and not hear his every whimper, which is probably part of the problem at the minute. His brother was similarly restless, although in a different way. We used to have to lie beside his cot and hold his hand, but at least you got a rest. With Baby A it's a full body work out in the small hours with no warm up.

Reinforcements have now arrived in the shape of big brother who is currently keeping A occupied by distributing various toys to him. One thing to be thankful for is the fact that they generally get on well at the moment. I hope that remains the same as little brother's crawling progresses. J already finds it annoying when he wrecks his carefully constructed train layouts. Will I be an early morning peacekeeper in the months ahead?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Anxious times

As we get closer to moving to Essex, I'm getting steadily more nervous. Not just because of the usual worries about leaving the little corner of East London that has been home for the past 11 years.

I'm starting to worry about everything really. The buildings report on the house we are buying came in today. Overall there's not a lot to worry about - it's not going to fall down the week after we move in. However, seeing in black and white what you are buying, and seeing all of its little blemishes highlighted is quite sobering - we're buying THIS! Mind you, I'd hate to see the report on our current property.

A bigger concern is the school catchment we are in. We specifically bid on the new place, and dropped another property because of the school we thought it was nearest to. I consulted with the local education authority about this as finding out catchment areas is like trying to uncover the recipe for Coca-Cola - there are a lot of pretenders out there, but you're never sure what's the real deal. Surely the council would know.

Apparently not. In my original conversations with the LEA, I was talked through a map of where the boundaries were by a lady in the schools team - "Up this road, down that one...." It all seemed very thorough so we went ahead and put in our bid on the house which, fro her information was in the catchment of the school we wanted.

Weeks later, by which time we were up to our ears in costs of moving, the surveyor, of all people, mentioned that we might not be in the catchment we thought we were in. I checked again. This time the process seemed a little more robust. The guy I spoke to said he had to access a computer programme to get the definitive answer. Except it wasn't initially definitive. Firstly he said that we were in catchment - cue huge relief and air punching - then he added "Unless you are in Road X". Since this was our prospective road and the basis of our entire conversation to this  point, I felt a little like the beauty queen who was announced as winner only to have the crown pinched from her head seconds later due to the announcer giving the wrong name.

We've missed out by one street, which is rather galling. One of the reasons that we are moving is that some schools in Hackney are not great (although not the one that J would probably have gone to had we stayed - Gayhurst gets decent reviews). We're now in the odd position of escaping from inner city London, with all its perceived problems, to leafy Colchester, where it's possible our son will go to a worse school than he would have had we stayed here. As my wife pointed out, we are possibly the most crap, pointy elbowed parents.

We did think briefly about pulling the whole deal, but we're so far down the line that it was a bit too scary to more than contemplate. Maybe the sink school will have pulled its socks up in a couple of years time.

Another worry is work. Specifically will there be any? It's still very quiet in my line these days and I'll be at the end of a very long line should I need to get back into the Smoke. I haven't yet identified the media quarter of our new home. Surely there is one!

So really I've got to keep accentuating the positives: bigger house; garden; closer to the seaside; near to family; nice town... Phew, it's good to know there are still reasons to cheerful.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Easy rider

I finally got round to testing the Boris bikes today. The nearest ones to Hackney aren't actually that near so it meant a trip down Kingsland Road to the Geffrye Museum where there is a rack in nearby Falkirk Street.

First impressions were favourable. There were plenty of bikes to choose from and they all seemed to be in good condition. Rightly or wrongly I'd expected that they would already be showing the signs of unwanted attention from vandals and drunkards, but the docking station itself was well kept and the bikes looked very impressive in their serried ranks. These ones hadn't been stickered either.

The process of obtaining one was pretty straightforward too. You just insert your key into the docking station, wait for a green light and you're away. The bikes are pretty robust but not uncomfortable. The seat is easy to adjust to the required height, the chain is enclosed so your trousers won't get caught in it, and the seat is padded and sufficiently wide to accommodate most bottoms. They also have built in lights which flash funkily as you ride along, drum brakes which were efficient without throwing you over the handlebars, and a 'basket' at the front for strapping in a bag or coat. They also have a stand.

There are three gears which ranged from the hilariously frenzied - ideal for getting off at lights - to a decent third which made me feel I could actually get the beast moving at a decent pace. I was actually able to overtake a few people on their own bikes. They were probably in a more leisurely frame of mind than me as I raced to the next docking station to ensure I stayed within the 30 minute free window. It's actually remarkably easy to do as the stations are thick on the ground in central London. There were also plenty of bikes at all stations apart from Clerkenwell Road where only two were left. Maybe this is due to the difficulty of hiring the bikes. Unless you have a key (not that difficult to apply for and they only cost £3) you still can't use the bikes. I'm sure the casual use scheme will be up and running by summer and by then I can't imagine it will be so easy to get hold of a bike, on a sunny Sunday afternoon for example.

I did go a bit bananas on the first leg with the result that when I descended the bike my legs were as jellyish as Simon Pegg's character in Run Fat Boy Run (filmed partly in Dalston actually) after his first spinning class. I took it easier after that and cycled from Kingsland Road to Borough Market, then on to the Royal Festival Hall for lunch before heading back through the West End, Bloomsbury, Old Street and back to Falkirk Street.

The overriding sensation was how being on a bike really shrinks the city. It was Saturday so traffic was probably lighter, but I was getting around much quicker than I would have done on any other mode of transport. Also, although the bike is hardly a design classic, I didn't feel as much of a plonker as I thought I would, and saw lots of other people on Boris bikes.

Overall, I can't think of much negative to say, apart from the fact that they don't extend very far into East London. If Boris really does intend to be a mayor of the whole city and not just the West part, I hope that this changes very quickly. There should already be a stream of them leading up to the Olympic site to get people used to the idea of visiting what is for many a strange part of town. Let's be 'aving 'em!