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spikegifted.net - Archive Q2 2012

June 2012:
Home: Being parents of twins, we, particularly the Ruler_of_spike, poured every minute of our waking hours looking after the boys. However, we were also aware that being twins, each of the boys would not enjoy the undivided attention from their parents as there was always the other brother around. In the rare occasion when we, either or both of us, could devote all the attention on one of the boys, it was a pleasure for involved and a richly rewarding experience. One Sunday, Master Chill decided that he was not going have his afternoon nap - a deeply frustrating experience as he was fully capable of escaping from the cot and the play pan. To allow Master Cheeky to have his rest and the Ruler_of_spike a little time, I decided to take Master Chill to our local DIY store. We decided it was ok to allow him to walk around and saved me the trouble of loading the buggy in the car. To give the Ruler_of_spike as much time on her own as possible, we had a little wonder around the store. We walked around with me holding his little hand. I felt really like a dad! He was looking around in wonder. Aside from the weekly supermarket trips, we hardly ever take the boys out shopping. In fact, we hardly ever shopped. There were lots of things in the store which he was particularly excited about. Lawn mowers seemed to have captured his imagination - he has seen what they could do based on watching me mowing the back garden. Power tools were interesting, but may be because he has not seen one in action, he was not getting overly excited. As we moved around the store, I showed him what different sounds made by different objects - empty plant pots, doors, tables, plastic and metal tubing. It was hard to imagine that he was just overwhelmed by all the different things in the store. Even the slight fluttering of the overhead signs caught his attention. I got a plastic pipe to replace a small section of the kitchen drain and Master Chill insisted on helping me carry it. For me, it was a lovely experience and I sincerely it was the same for him. All too soon, we had to head home, I felt what little time we spent in the store was good quality time together.
Home: My rig at home, the once key part of my life, as died. Well, it was dead, but it was not far off. In recent months, there had been fewer and fewer opportunities to use it. I would it a couple of times a week, just to collect and sort my e-mails. Otherwise, I have hardly touched it. It came as a bit of a surprise to receive the message "Windows XP could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt..." In short, the Windows registry was corrupt. This was the first time this has happened to me. In the past, I used to clean install the operating system on a regular basis so that I would have a nice clean system. Now, I checked back and realized that the last time I performed a clean install was over four years ago! Over this period of time, various USB devices failed on me: web cam, trackball, external drives and finally the printer. The strangest thing was the network ports failed a round eighteen months ago. I blamed it on the fact that occasionally, USB ports and network ports did fail. That was a fact of life in computing - 'mean time between failures'. Then one day, the registry had either 'disappeared' or was corrupted. It was pointless to try to recover it as it would take a long time to try to restore the rig to the previous state. Also, PC technology has moved on and it was still using an operating system from the turn of the century. So I splashed out on a more up-to-date OS and the biggest solid state drive I could afford and upgraded. The installation was a breeze and the SSD was a dream to use. The OS was a massive improvement over the previous one. It found most of my hardware and installed the correct drivers without fuss and those that it could not find straight away were later updated via the internet. Moreover, as if by miracle, most of the USB devices came back to life! Even the network ports were working again. That was a good surprise. PCs being what they were, essential tools for business, were not known to give pleasant surprises, only problems. However, it was still capable of spring a pleasant one once in a while and I was glad that I could appreciate it.
Home: The boys had their regular check up with the paediatrician in Kingston Hospital. May be it was because we have twins that automatically zoom in to people with double buggies. The first thing we noticed after the double buggy was one of the twins being bottle fed. Seeing the little baby brought floods of memory back. The baby was so small. Now that the boys were over two years old, it was easy to forget how small they were when they were born. The twins we saw that day were six weeks premature and were born around the same weight as the boys. We, the parents, were chatting, swapping stories and the boys were fascinated by the junior colleagues. How quickly time flied and how interesting our memories worked. We have not thought about those early months with the boys - we were too busy with them looking after them day-to-day. Yet as we stood there talking to the parents of the young twins, all those memories resurfaced. More interesting, I caught myself saying to the mother, "Don't worry, they will grow, just look at these two", as I pointed to the two Masters. I remembered that someone said the exact same thing to us on one of our first visits to the paediatric clinic. That could have been a lifetime ago. Oh, how fast time flied.
Home: The boys were showing signs of beginning to learn our languages. For months, the Ruler_of_spike and I have been patiently showing the boys objects around the house and when we went out, in the hope of them picking up some English, French or Cantonese vocabulary. Owing to their adventurous natures, invariably we spent our days saying 'no' to them. So it was no surprise that one of the first words they said was 'no', or variants of it. Master Cheeky said it first. He had three ways of saying it: 'no, no, no...', 'noooh' and 'no' followed by shaking of his head. Master Chill sounded more 'French' when he first started. His 'no' was a cross between 'non' and 'noah'. However, much to the Ruler_of_spike's chagrin, he soon migrated to 'no'. Soon, they were beginning to master other words. Given that they were surrounded by balls of all different kinds, 'ball' was the next word. Master Cheeky said something that sounded like 'ball', very English sounding. Interestingly, Master Chill's pronunciation was closer to '
boule'. All the French that the Ruler_of_spike has been speaking to him must have rubbed off a little. Master Cheeky seemed to be leading the way with the spoken word as he blurted out 'regarde' one day when he was pointing at a car at a distance which he clearly found very exciting. However, what was most exciting was that the boys knew all the words for our little family. They knew the Ruler_of_spike was 'mummy'; 'papa' was yours truly; and their own names as well what each other was called. Watching these little people develop was truly amazing. However, participating in their development was wondrous!
Home: I enjoyed listening to music during my commute in the morning. I had a good collection of my music ripped from my CDs stored on my computer which I add to my smart phone which I relied on for my morning entertainment. Over the years I have also invested in some very good in-the-ear headphones to deliver that music to me. Typically, I would leave my headphones in my rucksack which I have been using for years for my commute. Lately, I had to make sure that I took them out in case the boys found them and played with them. The boys knew what the headphones were - they have seen me plugging them in my ears but that just made them even more fascinating. The chief instigator was usually Master Chill. He would open the zipper of my rucksack and fish out the headphone and pretend putting them in his ears. After the initial examinations and fooling around, it was time to get down to business - stripping! First to go would be the plastic/rubber ear buds. They were obvious and easy targets. If Master Cheeky joined in with the fun, a tug of war would ensue. However, if left alone, the rubber ear buds would be chewed. So one morning, I left our house to walk to the train station and when I pulled my headphones out of my rucksack, I noticed one of the rubber ear bud was missing. I tried to listen music but the sound was all 'washed out', not a pleasant experience. So, by the time I got to the train station, I had put the headphones away and was about to embark on my first commute without music in many, many years. Well, let's summarize the trip in a single sentence: It was unpleasant! It was not owed to my fellow commuters that made the trip unpleasant, rather, it was the noise, or more specifically, it was the constant stream of useless announcements which penetrated the bearable droning sounds made the trains. This constant stream of announcements was repetitive, unproductive, intrusive and extremely annoying. It was so bad that it was difficult to concentrate on the free newspaper which I normally had no trouble with had I had my music. Looking around the people, more than half the passengers I could see were listening to something using their headphone. Yet, I was sitting there, struggling without my music. It was painful.
Home: Well, it was nearly a thoroughly pleasant evening, except I received a penalty notice for a traffic offense about a couple of weeks after that evening. I remembered that New King's Road was closed just after Wandsworth Bridge Road and there was a lot of traffic. I did the natural thing in a traffic jam - I closely followed the vehicle in front so that other car could not cut in front of me. As I did so, I followed the car in front across a junction without realizing that there was insufficient room for me the clear the junction. As I came to a stop, I realized that I was partially sitting on a yellow box. The Ruler_of_spike even remembered that I made a comment that I might have been in trouble. I guess was correct. There I was, staring at the penalty notice with a CCTV capture of my offense. It was clearly our car, the registration, make, model and even the color matched. It was clear that it was man wearing a suit with a light color shirt and a tie who was driving at the time and the passenger was a woman wearing evening wear. It was also clear that the vehicle in question was in the yellow box. The only question was how could we be sure that I was stationery and not actually just crossing the junction. For a very brief moment, I considered disputing or appealing for the fine. Then I realized how pointless my appeal would be - the evidence against was overwhelming. I just paid the fine and took that as a very expensive driving lesson.
Home: One of the Ruler_of_spike celebrated her wedding the other weekend and we were invited to the wedding celebration which too place in a club in Mayfair in central London. We managed to arrange a friend to baby-sit for us for the evening and we drove into town. While walking from parked car to the venue, we suddenly realized that it was the first time we had been out on our own in London since the arrival of the boys, over two years ago! The thought of going out without them have cropped up in our conversation many times and it would have been a nice treat for the Ruler_of_spike as she spent weeks and months looking after the boys and seldom had the opportunity to go out. The main difficulty was that we did not have a babysitter or any relatives in the UK who we could turn to for favors. So it was so rare that we managed to find someone who we trusted to look after the boys for a few hours. The only reason that this opportunity came up was because the Ruler_of_spike looked after her friend's child one day and this friend was returning the favor. Fortunately we went out for the right reason and had a thoroughly good time and a very pleasant evening.
Home: Since May, we have been encouraging the boys to eat on their own. What a right mess they created to begin with. However, with patience and persistence, they boys were getting better at it. Of course, we needed to be vigilant and kept a watchful eye on what they were doing. We generally gave them either bread or brioche for breakfast (in France we also gave them cereals for children, but they did not have suitable cereals in the UK), which was easy for them to pick up and they generally managed without too much trouble. Lunches and dinners were quite variable. It was dependent on how tired they were - if they were tired, we would feed them. However, there was one thing that Master Chill, in particular, was quite insistent in feeding himself - Petits Filous! The boys really enjoyed putting their little spoons into the little pots. However, there were lots of opportunities to create a mess. They still have not got the full set of skills of using their spoons and they often ended up putting their spoons in their mouths upside down or even vertically! One thing I discovered was that while it was necessary to keep a close eye on them, if they saw that I was watching them intently, they would slow down and gave me this inquiring look which suggested they were wondering what they were doing wrong and if the spoons were not flat (they seldom were), big dollops of yogurt would end up everywhere other than in their mouths. On the other hand, it was impossible to help them as the boys wanted their independence and they would be very upset if we intervened by trying to help. Thankfully, they were quite good in responding to gentle advise and instructions, most of the time. So it was a bit of an art to watch them eat - watchful without being too obvious and helpful without being intrusive. Nothing was ever straight forward with children.
Home: Back in March, our water utility (along with several others servicing the southeast England) imposed a hose pipe ban in the area serviced by company. This was explained by two consecutive dry winter that the region has experienced which has led to unusually low water levels in reseviors and underground. Following the imposition of the hose pipe ban, we experienced a dry March and also enjoyed a couple of weeks of sunny weather in May. On the other hand, it has been raining pretty much non-stop outside the short periods of sunny weather. When I said rain, I was not referring to the typical British drizzle. These were proper prolong downpours. Although these were good for replenishing the low water stocks, it was not ideal for the boys. We generally refrained from letting the boys out to the back garden, to try to prevent them from catching coughs and colds. However, the persistent rain has made life very difficult for the Ruler_of_spike as she struggle to keep the boys entertained in the house. Of course, she took them out to other activities - various play groups, trips to the library and visits to the children play areas, however, the boys still wanted to go out to the back garden and it was difficult to explain to them why they were not allowed out as rain was not a concern for them.
Home: Long weekends were not that long when there were things to do. One of the reason for my trip back to Brittany was to being my family back to London. By now, the Ruler_of_spike and the boys had been in Brittany for just over a month. While the weather was not always sunny, the boys have managed to pick up quite a tan. Essentially, the boys spent almost every available moment outside the house in the small walled garden, as long as it wasn't raining. Aside from the bit of bad weather which I brought with me during my visit in the middle of the month, it had hardly rained at all; and even when it did, it was not the persistent rain which we often experienced in the UK. As soon as the rain stopped, they were outside again. The boys were basically living in the garden, a wonderful way for two adventurous little boys to pass the time. While the garden was small, there was so much going on in there that the boys have plenty of places to explore, to hide and to play with, that there was little chance of them getting bored of the place just yet. On the other hand, our back garden in London was bigger but lack the same level of features, it had a totally different feel to the one in Brittany. If it felt different to us adults, we were sure that the boys would have recognized it as massively different. Fortunately, they were fine with the change in settings - they just carried on with the exploration.
Home: I have been very unlucky with the weather on my last visit. However, it opened a much brighter note. We took the boys to one of the nearby beaches to run around and some fun with the spades and shuffles. The tide was very so there was a good deal of muddy parts exposed with many small puddles. The boys, being boys, were making sure they put their feet in as many of them as possible. They were also getting very excited when they saw the little animals on the beach. One that really caught their attention was the little crabs. They would not help themselves from giving out little screams of excitement when they saw one moving in the water. Given that summer was approaching, it would be unfair to have them walking around their in their winter shoes. Despite the fact that we bought them back around Christmas they were still going strong. So we invested in some sandals for them. Additionally, we also invested in some sun glasses for them to protect their eyes from the strong sun. The boys were now kitted for the summer.
May 2012:
Home: All the cleaning had to be finished as the next time I return to the house, the boys would be with us and the opportunity to give the house a good clean would have been lost. I was on the Eurostar and catching a connection in Paris, just like a couple of weeks previously. However, this time round, the train was earlier in the day and I was given a seat right at the front carriage of the train. It took no time to get down to the ticket machine of the Metro. I got to the connecting TGV at Gare Montpatnasses with a good deal of time to spare. What also help this time round was that I was assigned to a carriage towards the back of the train and this saved me from running down the platform looking for my carriage. The journey was smooth and uneventful. Given the train arrived in Brittany around 8pm, just before the boys' bedtime, the Ruler_of_spike drove to meet me at the train station. What a great feeling to be greeted by my family for the first time as I came out of the station. It almost felt like I was going home - a very satisfying and gratifying experience. 
Home: It was all becoming a bit of a mad rush. After finishing with the floor boards, it was time to clean the house. Owing to the use of the electric sander, almost every surface on the ground floor of the house was covered with a layer of fine dust. The thickness of this layer of dust varied from location to location, depending on how close it was to the sanding action. Additionally, we have not vacuumed the spare room for a while. This was where I have kept my desk and PC and there was a wide array of small objects which gather dust, so they have to be individually cleaned as they were small enough to be sucked into the vacuum. The cleaning took nearly the whole weekend. That was owed to me constantly allowing myself to be distracted. Being a hot day, with little ventilation inside the house even with windows wide open and the vacuum cleaner spilling out hot air, I had to constantly take on board water. Then, I treated myself to ice-cream cones whenever the van came by (not as often as I would like). If you considered all the bathroom breaks, meal time and other excuses I managed to give myself, that was a lot of time wasted.
Home: As with other times when the Ruler_of_spike and the boys were away, I took the opportunity to some work in the house. This time, the Ruler_of_spike has given a much shorter list of things to be completed given that I realistically only had two weekends to do the work. The work was primarily touching up some of the walls which has been superficially damaged when we had the windows changes and fixing the deeper dents created by the boys when they dropped/threw their toys on the floor boards. The painting part was comparatively simple - it was a case of paint, waited for it to dry and apply more paint, and repeat until the new paint appeared even with the old. The floor board were a little more complicated as I had to first remove the old varnish, which was made slightly easier by the old mini electric sander I bought years ago. Although it was equipped with a dust trap, it still spilled out vast amount of fine wood dust. It was a right mess. After a quick vacuum cleaning, it was time to fill the dents with a ready-made wood filler. One thing I discovered was that while I filled some of the dents, I found more as I went along. And as I went over the same area again, I found more dents. It was like a never-ending story. However, it had to stop somewhere as time was running out. After the wood filler has dried, it was back to the electric sander. With another round of quick vacuum cleaning, it was time to apply the new varnish. It has been several years since I last varnished our floor boards and I have forgotten much of the skills involved. Luckily, they came back quickly once I applied the first couple of strokes. Over the course of three days, four coats were applied. I mainly applied the varnish just before going to bed, so that it had several hours to dry out properly without me having to perform acrobatic moves to get to various parts of the downstairs parts house. This was during a hot spell in the UK, so it was warm even night, which aided the drying process. While it was not perfect as there were just too many dents to filled, it was pleasing to the end result as it was a vast improvement from before. 
Home: The trip back our house was nearly to the one I undertook two weeks ago. I said 'nearly' because it was not a bank holiday in the UK this time round and the London Underground was running nearly perfectly. The Eurostar arrived back in London early enough for me to avoid the rush hour and I was back in our house in less than one third of the time. That just show how critical a smooth-running public transport system was to the life and health of a modern city like London.
Home: The TGV zipped through the French countryside and I reached Brittany in less than four hours. I was greeted by the Ruler_of_spike, but it was way past the boys bedtime. Came Saturday morning, I was enjoying family life for the first time for nearly two weeks. It was great to be by the side of the Ruler_of_spike. There were so many little things to talk about - things that happened at home and at work. I got to spend time with the boys, watched them doing their stuff and listened to the Ruler_of_spike talking about their developments. Unfortunately - seemed to brought the horrible weather from London to Brittany and it was grey and drizzled a lot. Luckily, in between, we managed to visit the beach and went for a walk. I cannot tell you how much spending time with my family mean to me after being alone in London for nearly two weeks. Alas, the weekend was just too short. In a flash, it was Sunday and I was readying myself for the journey back to London.
Home: I must have made some really hasty decision when I booked the train tickets. While the connection at Lille Europe on my trip to back to London was straight forward - there was nothing complicated in being patient and wait for time to pass - I did not realize I had a different route until I was sitting in the train. Instead of switching at Lille Europe, I traveled straight to Gare du Nord in Paris and catch the connection to Brittany at Gare Montpatnasse. To make connection was simple, at least in theory, I only had to stay on the same Metro line for a few stations and I had fifty minutes to complete the connection. That was the theory, it was much harder in practice. I was seated in carriage 3 of the Eurostar, right at the back of the train. After getting into Gare du Nord, I had to walk nearly the whole length of the 20-carriage train to get to the station concourse. Then it was a rush to get the Metro station. Although being conveniently located in the center of the train station concourse, reaching it in a hurry while trying to get pass a train-load of international passengers with their luggage was not an easy endeavor. My trouble really started when I reached the Metro station as there was a massive queue at the ticket machine. Anyone who has lined up behind tourists at ticket offices would understand my problem - language problems, not being familiar with fare regimes, wrong change / no change, hesitation on what they wanted, confusion in regards to their destination and just ignorance meant my wait to get my ticket was a frustratingly slow process. Having obtained my ticket, I rushed down the Metro platform, but not before orientating myself with the direction of travel. After all, no matter how familiar I imagined myself with Paris, it was not my home city and I did not know the Metro like I did with the London Underground. The Metro made its way down the track while I read the hands on watch ticking to the departure time of my TGV connection. It was going to a tight finish. I rushed out of the carriage when we reached the station. Walking along as fast as I could while searching around for the mainline train station. One feature of Montpatnasses was the long walk between the Metro platform and the train station, including a long travelator and the fact that the train station itself was on effectively the second floor of a building. When I eventually got to the concourse, I had five minutes to find the platform and to reach the correct carriage towards the front of the train (thanked heavens that it was not a 'double train'). Somehow I made it and I sat down just as the train was pulling out of the station.
Home: Being in London by myself brought certain minor benefits. First of all, at weekends, I could sleep to whatever time I chose to get up. That, unfortunately, was no compensation to the fact that the Ruler_of_spike and the boys were not with me. I have said it before, but being on my own was painful. However, it was just difficult for the Ruler_of_spike to be on her own in France with the boys. She had to look after the boys on her own and that was not helped by the constant interruption to her sleep as the boys often cried during the night - we guessed it was often either they had bad dreams, or they could not find their security blankets. What was even more more wearing was that while I might not have been much help in the grand scheme of things, at least the Ruler_of_spike could take 'her foot off the gas' while I was around, but with me being in London, she was in action 24/7. We were all looking forward for my long weekend over in France in the middle of their month stay in France.
Opinion: I hate the phrase 'shadow banking system'. The way the word 'shadow' is used make it sound like it is something sinister or even evil. It was nothing like that. I would prefer to call it 'alternative funding'. The point is: alternative funding has been around for a long, long time! Why is it so new and surprising? Is it because of the scale? May be. As securitization has been around since the 70s, and repos have been around in the US for nearly a century, would it not make sense that someone should have a grip of repos of securitized products? The sad thing is that repo is hardly 'shadow' or 'alternative'. It is a staple of financial markets. I hope interviewee was/is speaking to completely uneducated audience. If the readers of that publication requires this kind of education, then there is no surprise that we well see banking crisis in the US again and again! For me, the whole history of 2007-08 crisis was that people got lazy! The loan underwriters got lazy, so did the people who bought the loans. This goes with the ABS structurers, modelers, rating agency analysts, investment analysts, investors, traders, credit analysts, bank managements, regulators, central bankers, politicians, even God himself (if you push it far enough). But then again, for me, the biggest blame falls on the rating agencies. From there on, given the credibility rating agencies had at the time, everyone one just assume that 'AAA' in structured finance is equivalent to 'AAA' in corporates and sovereigns. On the other hand, why should people believe different. Second problem was the reliance on models. I'm no rocket scientist, so in order for me to understand all this securitization and ABS stuff was/is the 'smell test'. Does it smell right? I don't have an opinion on the recovery rate of a pool nor do I have any understanding of the economies of US regions. However, I know what I'm saying when I say the senior tranche (representing 65% of the deal) of a sub-prime RMBS (heavily leveraged, lots of self-certification), securitized primarily from loans made in Detroit, Cleveland, Florida and California, cannot be AAA for long, certainly not for the life of the deal. No models required. It just doesn't smell right... Or an upper mezzanine tranche of a CLO of leveraged loans would rate BB-. Given the leverage of some of those buy-outs and the prices they were paying? There was no chance they will be repaid in full, if at all. The best anyone can hope for was refinancing. I despise people who work in or are associated with regulators and rating agencies making self-serving revision of history! They were the gatekeepers of the whole shebang! Yet they either didn't have a clue what was going on nor they ignored what was going on! Now they are trying to come out with righteous statements and analysis - "see how screwed up it was". Well, folks - It's a little too late to make these observations - the house has already collapsed!
Home: Three days is a very short time when the boys were around and things to do. Before too long, I was readying myself to travel back to London on my own. Owing to being outside the summer holiday season, there were no cheap flights available from the budget airlines. So instead of flying, I took the train. The timing of the train was such that the TGV left Brittany around 9am, which arrived in Lille Europe where I waited for an Eurostar which me to London St. Panceas just before 5pm. That, in itself, was the easy part of the journey. French TGV were fast, efficient and comfortable, even in second class. As it was a bank holiday Monday, half of the London Underground network was shut down for maintenance and upgrading. So instead of jumping on the Victoria Line, which was a direct link between King's Cross St. Panceas and Victoria, I had to take three different lines (Piccadilly, Northern and Circle) to get there. Owing to delays and overcrowding, the shortest part of my trip turned out to be the most painful part of my trip.
Home: Now that the boys were fully mobile and were getting very athletic, it was necessary to have the right equipment to prevent them from getting themselves into difficult positions and to have a peace of mind. The play pan we had in France was horribly inadequate - it did not have a base and was relatively lightweight, so the boys were pushing it around to get to thing they wanted to reach. and additional disadvantage was that the height of the pan was comparatively low, so the boys could easily climb out of it. So the first task after arriving in France was to set up the play pan which we brought from London. The next task was to install a gate at the bottom of the stair case, to stop the boys from climbing up the steps unsupervised. This proofed to be a little problematic as I lacked the power tools which we left behind in London. Thankfully, with the help of our friendly neighbor, who lent me his drill and other tools and his time, we managed to put up the gate after some initial set backs. 
Home: After the beautiful March, the month of April has been a total let down, weather-wise, we were preparing for the Ruler_of_spike and the boys to spend sometime in France. It had been a along stretch since they spend time in France and my in-laws were missing them. The bad weather was with us on our way to Portsmouth as it rained pretty much all the way. Thankfully, the rest of the journey was uneventful. However, Master Cheeky developed another cold after arriving in Brittany. As he has been freed from a cold for nearly two weeks prior to the trip, we figured it was something to do with the journey itself. It was most probably owed to coming to contact with people who had a cold during the ferry crossing or even something in the ferry ventilation itself, but we could not be sure. Anyway, it was an inconvenience to the start of a month's stay in France.
April 2012: 
Home: While Master Cheeky got off lightly from his tumble at home, Master Chill's accident took place away from the house. One weekend, we decided to take the boys to our weekly shopping without their buggy. So we occupied two shopping trolleys, so the Ruler_of_spike and I were each pushing one with one of the boys sitting in the child seat. As it was the first time we tried out this arrangement, it was an interesting experience for all of us. The boys were certainly a lot more involved than they would otherwise be if they were in the buggy. They were high up in shopping trolley so they could look around at the aisles and had a good range of movements. On the other hand, they could inspect our shopping a lot easier and it was particularly difficult if there were things which they wanted, e.g. bread and Madeline's. Somehow, we made it through our shopping and Master Chill was getting impatient and frustrated. So it was decided that I would go through the checkout with Master Cheeky, while the Ruler_of_spike would go out with his brother to have a change of scenery and some fresh air. However, as I was about to pay, I saw her near the exit carrying Master Chill, who was clearly upset about something, waving me to hurry along. I hastily paid and finished packing to join them at the shop entrance. It turned out that after they left the shop, the Ruler_of_spike put Master Chill down from the child seat. Although he was left on the back (deeper end) of the trolley, he had rushed forward to the front. The design of the trolley was such that the front was barely just about his hip which neatly acted as a pivot as he rush forward and tipped him, head first, out of the trolley. After landing on his head, he was clearly in distress and cried a lot. He had a bump in the middle of the skull. However, he did not display any other signs of injuries. We closely monitored him over the next couple of days on any signs of vomiting, lost of balance or any other signs of discomfort which usually associated with head injuries, and thankfully he displayed none. He was his usual happy, confident self. It was another very fortunate outcome from a potentially very dangerous situation.
Home: Being two-year old was not easy. Your body was moving with increasing coordination, but there were still a lot moves which you have not perfected. Moreover, being relatively inexperienced, you would not known the dangers which usually laid just a fraction of a centimeter away - a small error judgment would lead to some unintended consequences. The first one to experience these unintended events was Master Cheeky. During the morning of one weekend, the boys were in our bedroom. After picking then up from their room, I closed the door after they got into our room. Master Cheeky had other ideas and he opened the door and left the room. I was a little slow in following him and by the time I got to the top of the stairs, which was right next to the bedroom door, he has already started down the stairs, walking down just like older children would - facing forward and holding to the banister. I knew that would lead to trouble as our stairs were very steep and his little legs were not yet long enough to negotiate it properly. So I instructed him to turn around and decent on his stomach, a skill he and his brother learned a few weeks back when we visited our family friends in Cheshire. However, after a couple of steps, he decided to slide down. He quickly gathered momentum. As one of his feet made contact with one of the steps, he kart-wheeled down the remainder of the steps, hitting his head on the closed child safety gate. Thankfully, the gate was not locked and his momentum as largely transferred to the gate, which swung open, and he fell to the bottom of the stairs. On his landing, given how fast this was taking place, he was facing up and I believed his backside took the blunt of the fall, but he hit the back of his head on the floorboards nevertheless. Naturally, he was upset and he cried out to show his displeasure. However, in my opinion, it was a 'great escape'. Had the safety gate been closed, the force of him hitting it would not been dissipated by it opening and Master Cheeky might have be swung over the gate by the speed of the approach and his landing might have been even harder. An even worse scenario would have the gate not being there at all - he would have passed straight over to the porch which had tiles over concrete instead of floorboards. The damage would have been great. Fortunately, after checking him over, the accident did not cause any fractures nor any joints being twisted. Soon we were able to calm him down and he was fine. All in all, thankfully, it was a very fortunate outcome from a potentially very dangerous situation.
Home: While I always have a watch with me, except in a shower, I had very few opportunities to use it as I was typically surrounded by clocks or devices which I could check the time. On the other hand, the Ruler_of_spike did not wear a watch, no since the strap on her watch broke again sometime the arrival of the boys. There is a relevance of this little bit of background. One evening, after reading their bedtime story, the two Masters, instead of falling asleep, started rocking their cots. From experience, if we took Master Chill downstairs to the playpen, Master Cheeky would fall asleep on his own. Thankfully, this evening, he did. So after checking that Master Cheeky was asleep, I said to Master Chill: “Ok, it’s time for you to go to bed.” At that point, he brought his right wrist up to his chest level and he looked at it. Had he been an adult and was wearing a watch of some sort, he would be checking the time. He stared straight back at me and mumbled something, in a tone of voice that much liked someone would do when they report the time. The Ruler_of_spike and I looked at each other in amazement. We were trying to make sure that we were not interpreting his behavior based on our understanding. So I repeated the statement: "It's time for you to go to bed." Again, he brought his wrist up and looked at it and stared straight back at me. Owing to what I have just described above, we could not figure out from whom Master Chill learnt the routine of checking the time on a wrist watch. Obviously, he has associated the sound 'time' with checking his wrist, despite he was not wearing anything that would tell the time for him, nor, I would imagine, able to tell the time just yet. We were observing a child learning by association. He, I was certain, did not know what looking at his wrist actually meant, yet he has linked it to the sound. Nor would he understand the word nor the concept of time, yet he must of observed someone checking his or her wrist watch and he was repeating it in front of us. It was fascinating and was a privilege to have been able to observe that. 
Home: All the walking around in the Wimbledon Common was bringing us up to our lunch time. Given it was such a nice day, we thought we would take the opportunity to take the boys out to a family-friendly restaurant nearby. We walked from the common to the nearest (and our favorite) one but they were full. As the boys were in their buggy, we walked down to Wimbledon High Street where there was another restaurant with good potential. However, given that it was Sunday and just past noon, our timing was not great. We were walking back towards the Common and we gave the first restaurant another try and our luck was with us, there was an empty table which was not booked until 2pm. We had plenty of time. The Ruler_of_spike and I had our burgers and the boys had their little pasta dish and we drove home with our stomachs full.
Home: Having driven into the center of London, we were exploring options of thing we could do as a family with two young kids. As we were in South Kensington, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens beckoned. However, as we were driving, and were uncertain of the parking situation nearer to the parks, we were forced to consider options. It was a considerable shame as a walk in the park followed by a lunch nearby would have been ideal. The boys could have fallen asleep in the car on the way home. Having had the idea of visiting a park, we opted for Wimbledon where we were reasonably confident of finding a car park space near the common, which we did soon after we arrived in the village. The Wimbledon Common is a massive space, especially for children who still had little legs. Master Cheeky was off and started exploring around the place. Master Chill was not that keen. He insisted on being carried, which would have been a very painful experience. Fortunately, there were plenty of common garden weed around and they there blooming, so used them to attract his attention, he was very keen on ripping the flowers off their stocks, and led to him to follow the general direction that his brother has gone off. Then we saw the water level of the pond in the common, which was substantially lower than any time we have seen in the past. Of course, the boys had to venture out to the muddy parts. Along the way, we encountered lots of dogs and several horses with their riders. The boys were very excited whenever they see four-legged animals and they never failed to point at their object of interest. The really interesting thing was when one of them, say Master Chill, noticed something, like a dog running around, but the other failed to spot it straight away; we could see that Master Cheeky would be looking out for this ‘interesting thing’, but getting frustrated because he could not spot it.
Home: It was the first round of the election for the French president. As a registered French national in London, the Ruler_of_spike was eligible to exercise her democratic right in the UK, via the French consulate. As per tradition, the vote was on a Sunday. We drove up to South Kensington and saw a sea of humanity. It was as if the entire French population in London has descended on to the streets surrounding the consulate. I left her as close to the entrance she required and left to find a parking space as it looked like a long wait. Parking was impossible. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea had one of the toughest parking regime in London and I was going to risk a parking by stopping at a stupid place. Having been a student around the area and also spending many years living close by, I remembered a cul-de-sac nearby. I drove down to the end of the road and found a very small space. it was so small that I only just managed to park the car with millimeters spare. There I waited. That was only possible because both the boys fell asleep midway through the journey into town and they were still asleep. However, as any parent would be able to testify, they soon woke up after the car stopped moving. At that point, I sent the Ruler_of_spike a SMS message to see if it was feasible for us to go and join her in the waiting. To my surprise, she replied that she was coming out of the consulate! Later, it transpired that someone she knew working in the consulate managed to speed her through the process. That was extremely fortunate as the waiting was estimated to be over two and half hours! With the Ruler_of_spike having fulfilled her democratic obligation so quickly, we were able to try something different from our normal Sunday routine.
Home: It was not particularly the fact the boys have turned two years old, but more of a gradual process, something which we had noticed over time that, the boys had hit the "terrible twos". At this stage of toddlers' life, when they are just beginning to gain the skill of speech, they find things very frustrating. They have ideas of what they want to or to say, but they do not the language skills to communicate it to adults. In a sense, the boys, being twins, had 'twin talk', a language all to themselves, which only they would understand. So they could at least communicate with each other. Dealing with adults was totally different. The boys were not the most patient of children, particularly Master Chill. If whatever he was doing or being shown was not happening quick enough or in the way he wanted, he lost patience. He would either stop concentrating and start looking for other things to do, or he would get upset and make a mess. Master Cheeky, while he did not lose patience, was not keen on being told he could not continue with his fun (who would). When being told to leave the library or the play area or even a friend's house, if his mood dictated as such, he would throw a tantrum and refused to be strapped back in the buggy. All very embarrassing for the adults involved. Well, that was the problem for not being to express themselves and not willing to listen to adults. We were hoping that this was just a phase...
Home: The paediatrician has prescribed a tablet for Master Cheeky to ease his coughs. It was suppose to loosen the phlegm that built put when he had a cough. It was suppose to be a very tablet for him to take as it was chewable. However, he was a little young for that. The solution was to crush the tablet to powder and to mix it with some compote and he would consume that in no time - he has had a sweet tooth since birth. Master Chill was not happy about this situation. One day, while the Ruler_of_spike was giving Master Cheeky the tablet compote mixture, Master Chill left the living room and marched into the kitchen. He maneuvered the step-stool to the side of the kitchen where the leftover compote was located, climbed up to pick it up and climbed backed down, then walked over to the other side of the kitchen where we left their used bowls and spoons, and deposited the compote tub on the surface. He then maneuvered the step-stool to where he just left the compote tub and climbed back up. He picked up one of the used bowls and a spoon and proceeded to empty the remainder of the compote in the bowl and then ate from the bowl. That did not sound like a big deal until I thought through the whole operation from his perspective. If we work backwards with the final objective being able to eat the compote from a bowl with a spoon. Also, let's forget the part where he scooped the compote from the pot to the bowl. Still, there was a series of maneuvers that involved moving the step-stool, getting the compote from one side of the kitchen to another and being able to ended up standing on the stool with the compote in hand. The amount of planning involved was substantial. Taking into account that Master Chill had no patience, so he would attempt this once before getting frustrated. Add to the fact that he knew he would have to achieve the objective before the Ruler_of_spike intervened. For a two-year toddler, this required spatial awareness, plenty of planning, a lot of precision in execution and, surprisingly, no small dose of patience (you really can't rush such things). This sounded amazing when I was told by the Ruler_of_spike. However, it was even more impressive when I had a chance to thing about it.
Home: This was the first Easter the boys spent in London. Although we have thought of traveling to France, the alignment of this year's public holidays in May and June made it more conducive to stay in the UK for Easter. With a four-day break, we were looking for things we could do together. Taking advantage of the good weather as predicted by the weather forecast, we went to Battersea Children Zoo. How exciting was that! After parking the car, we let the boys walk and we slowly made our way to the zoo's entrance. After paying for the family ticket, we were off. Being a children's zoo, there were no 'big game' animals. Instead, the largest 'beasts' were a couple of donkeys and a pony. There were small primates, snakes, birds and asserted small animals. Master Cheeky was getting terribly excited by all these creatures. Master Chill was excited too, but for the various hoses and hose wheels that were dotted around the zoo. He was determined to go and inspect each and every one of them, no matter how far off they were. After going round to see the animals, we discovered a couple of children play areas. By that time, the place was getting busy. There were young children, toddlers, small babies being pushed around in prams and buggies. There were children with the parents, their grandparents, even big family groups. The boys were playing really well in the play areas. The weather was excellent and they were enjoying themselves. And we were enjoying the sights of them having a good time. They were climbing up the slides, playing the sand pits, riding the plastic toys. Eventually, it was time for lunch and we managed to find a little cafe inside the zoo. After a long and eventful morning, we headed for home.
Home: Through the afternoon of the boys' birthday party, when it was really warm, our fridge was making a horrific grinding sound. It was noticeable even though there were a lot people (and kids) in the house. Some of our guests even asked about it. I called the shopping which we bought the unit nearly seven years ago. Total credit to the shop, the consulted the servicing company and they immediately wrote off the unit and issued a credit note for a full refund. After receiving the credit note, I went to the nearest branch and ordered a new unit. I was informed that it would take between seven to ten working days for the new fridge/freezer to be delivered. Given that the servicing company has already written off the unit, they were not going to attempt fixing it. Additionally, the Easter long weekend was sandwiched in the delivery period, so the actual wait was actually up to two weeks! I reasoned and pleaded with the shop and used the boys as the reason why we could not wait for two weeks. Again, massive thumbs up to the shop, they pulled out all the stops and used various overrides in their systems to squeeze the delivery in before Easter. We were very grateful for the assistant and her manager for their efforts in helping us. We would definitely shop there again!
Home: Happy Birthday to the two Masters!!
Home: It was the boys' second birthday. However, given their birthday actually fell on a Monday this year, which proofed to be a rather inconvenient day to have a party, we decided to hold it on the preceding Sunday. While our house was comfortable for our family of four, it was not sufficiently large to handle twenty guests and kids. Fortunately, one of the neighbors lent us their gazebo. I managed to put it up in the back garden and it provided additional space for our guests and also opened up the back garden. The weather has been unusually warm for much of March and it was forecasted to hold until after the party. Although we advised our friends to stop by anytime in the afternoon, they all arrived within the space of twenty five minutes of each other. While this appeared to be an inconvenience as it made looking after the individual guests difficult, it proved very useful as we could serve all the food in one go. As predicted, the weather was completely on our side - warm, sunny, with moderate wind. The boys had a great time crawling under one of the sides and running around the pole. The children, those old enough to walk and run were spending a good deal of time exploring the garden. The adults were following the kids so they were not stuck in the house. The boys were also having a great time playing with the balloons we have dotted around the back. There were so many highlights in the afternoon - blowing out the birthday candles, opening their presents and just simple watching them playing with other children. It was busy but also rewarding time. The afternoon flew by and we hoped the everyone had a good time.