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spikegifted.net - Archive Q3 2012

September 2012:
Home: In the past year, as the boys grew, they have grown differently. Being non-identical twins, that was expected. Looking at many parts of their bodies, Master Cheeky was comparatively smaller than Master Chill, although he was marginally taller than his younger brother. Although they were different in size, the difference was marginal that this age and they were both well within the norm, so they were wearing the same size clothes and had we, and they, wanted to we could interchange the clothes easily. Being bigger and heavier, Master Chill also had slightly bigger feet. This was one area which we could not get away with. By Continental European sizing, Master Chill was one shoe size bigger than his older brother. This was already apparent in the beginning of the summer when we got the boys their sandals. However, given they each have their own new pair of sandals, it was quite easy. So when we took them back to the shoe store, we came away with just one pair of new shoes as Master Cheeky did not require new shoes. That was while we were still on vacation in France. Master Cheeky had noticed that his brother had a different pair shoes to him (while the sandals were slightly different, their shoes had been the same up to now). As long as the weather was good, however, they could keep wearing the sandals. Now, however, with autumn truly set in in the UK, the boys had to wear shoes when they go out. We could just detect that Master Cheeky was checking out his brother's shoes when we were getting ready to go out. Eventually, one day, he actually put his feet into his brother's shoes and walked around the house in them (obviously, he could not do that had we been going out). So, obviously, he has noticed that his brother had a new pair of shoes... Let's see how long before he wanted to wear them all the time!
Home: Some parents were just plain inconsiderate. Just why would someone bring his/her child, who had a hacking cough, to the children center was just astonishing. We were convinced that was how Master Cheeky picked up his cold. Thankfully, after a couple of months when he had not had any illnesses, his cold did not develop into something more serious. He did, however, passed his cold to the rest of the family. First, it was the Ruler_of_spike who had several rotten days. That was closely followed by Master Chill, who was just miserable for a few days. Then I picked it up also. In all our family spent nearly two weeks with this cold that was brought on to us by a careless/inconsiderate parent who took a child with a heavy cold to the children center. We thank you!
Home: 'Welcome back to the United Kingdom! To bring you up to date with the mood, we have wind and rain. Ah, thank you.' Having had one of the worst storms in September for thirty years to welcome you back to the country was not entirely enjoyable. That, coupled with one of the wettest June and July, made it feel as if it has rained non-stop over the entire summer. High winds and driving rain made it feel like as if we have not been away at all. What miserable weather!
Home: The Ruler_of_spike and the boys have been away for nearly two months and they have not been going to their activities - children center, story time at the library, music sessions, etc. However, now they were back, they were getting back into the swing of things. One of the things most people who have seen them was that the boys have grown physically and mentally. Physically, we could see that they have grown. They were in France for nearly two months and it was evident that they have grown taller. That was clear to see as they have definitely outgrown their pajamas. They seemed to have put on weight also, but that was not immediately obvious. However, their concentration was way better than before the summer. Previously, it was tall order to have them concentrating for longer than thirty seconds. Now, we could see that they were prepare to spending longer time on a particular task, be it leafing through the pages of a book, playing with a toy, or even just watching TV. However, it was immediately obvious that they have matured a great deal when they were taken to do things which they previously been doing, particularly like the stories sessions in the children library and children musical sessions. These were the testament of the hard work done by the Ruler_of_spike.
Home: The Ruler_of_spike and I did not do 'baby talk' with the boys - we spoke to them like they could understand every word we said. Of course, we played with them and that often involved making strange sounds, but in general, we spoke 'normally'. Owing to their age, they soaked up every sound we made whether the sounds we made were intended for them or not. For over a year now, they occasionally made series of sounds which, to our untrained ears, could have been imitation of what we said. However, they were not 'speaking', they were merely making sounds which for a fleeting moment sounded like something we would say. On the other hand, the boys were only now beginning to say a word or two. Yet, they have a habit of making themselves understood. Aside from pointing at edible objects and then pointing at the open mouths, they have a variety of sounds and gestures of making us understood that they wanted to go somewhere, to get something for them, or to show you something they have done. Not entirely sophisticated, yet effective. Moreover, the boys talked to each other in their own 'language'. We were not certain how little or how much meaning the sounds they made meant to each other, but we were certain that there were real meaning as they reacted to each others with actions and responses. For them, it must have been very frustrating as we guessed that there were a lot things they wanted to say to us, and they could see that they somewhat understood each other, but their parents were not that good at doing what they were asked. It was not easy to be a child in our family.
Home: After a great summer for the boys, it was time to travel back to London. Packing after spending nearly two months in a location was not easy. Thankfully, the Ruler_of_spike was as usual super-efficient and she took care of a good portion of the work. I had mixed emotions the moment the roof box was re-attached on the roof rails. The boys have had such a good time that it was almost a shame to drag them back to London. On the other hand, I was glad that I was returning back to London with my family. We were bringing quite a bit of provisions back to the UK. For some reason, there were simply things that were freely available in France which were impossible to find in the UK. Take, for example, the boys' favorite: squeezy compot. They were sold in packs of a dozen and the boys were between them going through a hald dozen of them per day. They were sold individually at roughly twice to three times the price in the UK. On the other hand, there were plenty of stuff which we could not bring back, but would made the Ruler_of_spike's life significantly easier, which simply did not exist. Anyway, despite leaving much of the boys' toys behind in France, the car and roof box were both full. The crossing was fairly uneventful, which was good; and we even managed to get the boys to sleep part way through the crossing. We managed to use one of the facilities which we previously had not used before during this crossing, the children area. There was a little climbing area which specifically designed for little children which the boys had a great time exploring. We also sat down with the boys in the children TV room to watch a couple of UK programs which the boys were familiar with. We also let the boys practice their stairs climbing skills by going up and down one of the main stairwells. Despite these activities, the boys were still full of energy when we got home. So we let the boys roam around the house after dinner before putting them to bed. It was only they have fallen that we could proceed to unpack. It was a long day for all of us.
Home: I have previously mentioned that after being spooked by some freak waves, Master Cheeky was not venturing into the sea. We spent some time trying to convince him that it was fun to go back in the water, but he was not so easily convinced. Now that I was back in France and probably enjoying the last opportunity to go in the sea, I was hoping I could make some progress. It was not the case that Master Cheeky did not want to do things in the water, but he had to overcome some things inside his head. We were back at the same beach were he was spooked by the freak wave. However, as it was approaching the peak of the tide, the place looked very different. A number of times, he got me to carry him into the sea so that he could collect water, but he refused to stand in it. He could see that his brother was standing just a couple of meters away, but he would not do it himself. I tried lowering him into the water, but he just raised his feet up. However, after a few tries, and I managed to wet his feet on a couple of occasions, something clicked inside him and he stood in the water, tentatively. I made sure that I was stationed right next to him so that, should he choose to, I was there to pick him up. Of course, he was splashing about as other older kids around him were. Yet he stood there with a smile on his face. A smile which suggested that he has accomplished something which only he knew was it was. Master Chill, who did not have any trouble with the water, wanted to explore other parts of the beach which caught his attention. He went to grab the Ruler_of_spike by her hand and set off. Seeing that his mother and brother moving off, Master Cheeky was naturally curious and he grabbed my hand to follow them. As the tide was almost at its peak, what little uncovered parts of the beach were still full of beach-goers, we were walking in the shallow water with waves that were coming up above the boys' knees. Yet, Master Cheeky did not show any sign of panic, he just walked along holding on to one of my fingers. He was either holding his fear of waves very well, or he has finally gotten comfortable with the sea. No matter, he was clearly enjoying himself and so were all of us. It was a perfect end to a late summer day.
Home: Time really flied when you were having fun. Funnily enough, it flied even faster when you were busy with things. After two and half weeks of nearly non-stop activities at work during the week and at home during weekends, it was time to leave for France again. This time to bring my family back with me. It has not been the easiest of time for me - coming back to an empty house at night and basically using the place like a hotel, not a home. Owing to the little tasks at hand, I was thankfully sufficiently occupied between juggling them and getting to get the basics from the shops. Nevertheless, it was not the best of place to be without the Ruler_of_spike and the boys. On the other hand, the late summer / early autumn weather in Brittany had been very agreeable, with some days actually approaching hot. The boys had a fantastic time. While it had not been easy for the Ruler_of_spike, at least the weather has been agreeable and she could do things with the boys. All in all, I strongly believed that it was worthwhile for the Ruler_of_spike and the boys to spend the extra three weeks in Brittany. The boys were yet at school age, so there was no time pressure to get back for the start of term. It was a way to maximize the resources that were available to us for the benefit of the boys. The important was that they appeared to have had a good time.
Home: As I have mentioned, we were in a bit of a hurry when we decorated our house and we cut a few corners along the way. One of them was the skirting board in the stairway. What we really should have done was to sand it down before applying new paint. As it was, owing to the multiple layers of paint previously applied, there were parts which appeared very bumpy. It was really bugging the Ruler_of_spike, so it was time to have something done to it. The sanding down of the bumpy bits was tricky as it was right next to the wall and there were some bits that were hard to get to. The electric sander, being very good with sanding things down quickly, nevertheless created a right mess. The lower floor of the house was filled with dust, despite the dust filter and the plastic bag which I used to cover the unit. After letting the dust settled, it was time to reapply the paint. Having realized that the 'quick dry gloss' was in fact anything but gloss, I returned from the DIY shop with some proper gloss paint. The problem with the non-quick dry version was that it took between sixteen to twenty four hours to dry and I had to wait to apply a second and a third coat. Additionally, the paint smelt awful. However, that was the only way to get it done properly. Thankfully, the result really justified the long wait and the bad smell. The side of the stairs looked good. However, with the new paint on one side of the stairs, the other side was just screaming out for a new coat of paint of its own... All I had to do was to find time to do it.
Home: After we had the new door for the boys' room installed, I spent a good deal of time painting it. In an attempt to speed up the process, I bought something called 'quick dry gloss paint', hoping that I could achieve the same result in less time. Well, the paint was quick drying, just like how it was described on the container, but it was not glossy and you could tell it was not the 'right stuff'. First of all, there were still lots of streaks after the paint dried, unlike real gloss and it did not cover very well. So with the undercoat, even after four coats of this quick dry gloss, the door still appeared grey in certain light. To compound the problem, I forgot to paint the top of the door frame, so there was this yellow tone against the nearly-white. However, it was just too much effort to repaint the door and the frame in a short space of time. So I went back to the quick dry gloss to cover the top of the door frame. At least, the color was now consistent.
Home: I was taking advantage of the boys not being around to do some patching up at home, and there was quite a lot to do, again. The biggest item was the wall by the chimney breast in the dining room. In short, when we decorated our house, we were looking for the quickest solutions to the various room in the house. The dining room was one of the more problematic rooms than the others. The room was painted green and burnt orange and the walls were uneven. To hasten the completion of the decoration, we used masking wallpaper to cover the walls and simply painted over that paper. The result was acceptable but not spectacular. However, it was the first time I tried wallpapering and there were many tricky parts which, with hindsight and more experience, I would freely admit could be done better. Around three months ago, the boys were playing around one particular of the room and they found another bit of wallpaper lifting from the wall (as you would remember, this was not the first time they found wallpapers lifting). After a couple of days, they have managed to lift the wallpaper sufficiently that they could get their little hand under the paper. Soon afterwards, the Ruler_of_spike found a while portion of the wallpaper being lifted. We were back staring at the horrible burnt orange wall again, with all the unevenness accompanying the partially bare wall. Again, we cut it off at a convenient point and looked to limit the damage. Now that I was back in the house on my own, it was time I fixed the boys' latest master piece. After a lot filler being applied layer after layer to even out the most obvious indentations, I got down to apply multiple layers of white paint. The result was that in certain kind of light, it was impossible to tell there was ever a problem. I guess I was lucky that the boys picked a corner where there was not as much light than other parts of the room. Otherwise, it would have been a far more difficult challenge. Anyhow, as with previous occasion, once the initial surprise, anger and disappointment had passed, it was simply finding an opportunity to do the patch-up work.
Opinion: I was attending an internal training course which involved colleagues from a number of different areas. While we were discussing something, the conversation went off a tangent and one of the participants mentioned that she was so fed up of explaining to her friends and family what she did in her job that she told people she worked in a totally different industry. That made me feel very sad. In the past few years, the whole banking industry has had a long series of bad press, especially investment banking while was being labeled as the main cause of the banking crisis of 2007/08. In all the commentaries I have read and heard, it seemed that even the so-called experts did not know how banking worked, and even if they did they did not bother to show it. As I have been in investment banking for a good number of years, I have been asked in numerous occasions about my work and banking in general. My personal impression was that people outside banking had very little idea of how banking work and how the industry connected to the rest of the world. They tended to a particular view point about the industry and held the believe that this view point applied to the rest of the industry. If they did demonstrate any degree knowledge, it was of limited scoop, and they failed to connect how the various parts of banking fitted together. I have made a point to try to explain to those who asked the questions as fully and as honestly as I could so that they would have a better understanding of the industry I work in. It was not a case of 'defending banking'. I personally felt that there was nothing to defend. My feeling was as follow: If I, as a person who has spent many years working in banks, failed to explain to those outside banking what we did in banks and how banks operated, who else was going to do that in an informed manner? This simple task was simply too important to be left to the commentators as their comments were often edited so that only the 'sensational' parts of their work was seen or heard by the public. Throughout history, even today, we, as a society, held hostile views about things which we did not understand. It was the lack of understanding which led to, or be allowed to be led to, fear; and this fear was utilized to feed hostility. Only knowledge and informed opinion could overcome this fear and took away the fuel which fed hostility. We, myself along with my banking colleagues, as banking professionals, were the people who were best placed to provide this inform explanation of our industry. If people chose to be hostile to banking based on facts and knowledge, that was their prerogative. However, if they were hostile because they did not understand and no-one has bothered to explain to them, then we, as banking professionals, had failed ourselves: we had no-one to blame for the hostility towards our field of work.
Work: On the first day of arriving at my current workplace I was shocked to find out that our firm used Lotus Notes as an email client. Sure, I had previously encountered Notes, both as an email client and, more appropriately, as a groupware for cross-team collaboration. Back in 1995, using Notes as an email client was a novelty as e-mail, whether corporate or personal, was at it infancy, and there were a multitude of capable clients including Lotus Notes, particularly at the corporate environment. However, in the 21st century, e-mail has evolved. Unfortunately, Notes, owing to it being primarily a groupware application, has not follow suit. As a result, it was seen as being cumbersome. Frankly, at a corporate, as well as a personal level, Microsoft Outlook was the norm, unless you only use web-based e-mail. So after spending nearly two years struggling with the e-mail client at work, I was finally migrated over to Outlook. While this brought me back to a familiar e-mail client, there were other problems associated with the migration. For whatever reason, only new e-mails appeared in Outlook. All the e-mails I received prior to the migration were still in in Lotus Notes, including the extensive archive. Additionally, our team's mailbox was not going to be migrated for a while, if ever. So I, and the rest of the team, had to have both e-mail clients open all the time. It was a strange working arrangement.
Home: Master Cheeky has stopped eating fruit. At one point, he and his brother could not have enough of fruits, but, for some reason, he stopped having them. In the past, he, along with his brother, would gorge on them, but for whatever reason he stopped. The Ruler_of_spike and I have tried to encourage him but giving him fruits which we knew he liked, but never forcing him. When presented in a bowl, he would just look at them, while he brother would simply pile them into his mouth as quickly as possible. If we try to put it in his mouth, he would either refuse it or spit it back out after giving it a couple of chews. While we were not particularly concerned as he has plenty of refuge in his diet, we were puzzled. Then over the summer, we introduced wild blackberries to the boys. We first giving it to Master Chill as a way to keep him occupied or to take his mind away from something he could not have or he could not do. It obviously worked or we would not have continued. So he began to demand blackberries when he saw them. As we did not always had the intention for stopping for blackberry picking, he decided to do the picking himself. Given these were wild fruits, they did not arrive in a box fully ripened, but Master Chill was not one to care whether something was ripe or not. So he picked any fruit at random. As we did not see any harm in the berries, we let him make his own mistakes and he learned the lesson real quick, though. Seeing that brother was getting all the action, Master Cheeky decided to join in the fun and demanded to given the blackberries also. To begin with, he spat them out after chewing them for a second or two, but then he realized how delicious they were and swallowed them. Not long after, after his brother actually picking the fruits himself, he wanted to join in with that part of the fun also. Given that the blackberry plants had thorns and the boys were being really careful they had scratches on their arms. They also soon figured out that while the red fruits looked pretty, they were not as nice as those that were dark brown or black, so they began picking the ripe fruits. So they were exploring and learning, while having fun and entertainment. God bless blackberries.
Home: Having been away from the house for nearly a whole month and the fact that I last mowed the lawn nearly two weeks prior to our departure, the back garden was looking like a real mess. Had the grass was not pressed down (this was evidence that all kinds of animals had spent some quality time in our back garden in our absence), I was sure that some would have been up to my knees. As I brought out the lawn mower, my neighbor informed me while the weather has not been great, it was ideal for growing - alternating between sunshine and big showers. It was not going to be easy as I pushed the mower out to the grass for the first time. The grass was so long that the blades barely made an impression. To make matter worse, although it has been dry since my return from France, the length of the grass held a lot of moisture, adding to the work of the mower which I could hear was struggling. Long grass also slowed progress right down as I almost had to empty the cutting collection basket at every turn. After I made the first pass, which took a lot longer than anticipated, the grass at the side which I first started to dry and it produced an uneven look as the previously flattened grass started pointing upwards again. As such, a second pass was required. The lawn produced two full bags of cuttings. Given the need to cut the lawn twice and the time it took for the first, there was no time to do anything else in the garden. However, with the end of summer approaching, there might not be the need to cut the grass much longer. Hopefully, the boys would allow us to do some work after their return.
Home: Having three children, my brother-in-law had a lot of kit which were ideal for us. As they were no longer needed by his kids, they proved very useful for the boys. One of these was a seat for toilet training. In essence, it was a plastic seat for putting on top of the toilet seat so that little children could sit down and to get use to the toilet. As the boys were approaching the age when we thought it would not be long before they started their toilet training. It was not long after the Ruler_of_spike brought the boys home that Master Chill got his hands on this intriguing new 'toy'. Frankly, being a hard piece of plastic with a hole through the middle, there were not many things I could think of that would be considered fun with a toilet training seat - unless your head was small enough to pop it through the hole. Being an adventurous kid, Master Chill so figured that and duly popped his head through. There must have been something very satisfying about having a toilet training seat around his neck as he was letting no-one interfere with it, especially Master Cheeky who wanted a piece of action. Eventually, the novelty of having a piece of hard plastic around the neck worn away and Master Chill attempted to remove it. Now, here was a piece of everyday fact that contradicted apparent logic - a thing that went through a tight space might not complete the journey in the reverse direction with the same apparent ease. That was right, Master Chill could not remove the seat from around his neck. The Ruler_of_spike and her friend, who was with her at the time, tried everything they could but could not ease his head back through the hole of the toilet training seat. By now, he was getting frustrated and stressed. Being the one with less patience of the boys, Master Chill was not one who would wait for things to happen (not that Master Cheeky was particularly patient either, but he would pause for thought before executing his next move), unfortunately, as in most situations liked this, the more he got frustrated, the less likely he was to free himself without intervention. The adults were rapidly running out of options and given Master Chill's stressful state, it was decided that the only sensible thing to do was to cut the seat. As mentioned before, this seat was made of hard plastic, no ordinary household cutting tools would even make an impression on it, as it was design to support the weight of a toddler entirely on its own. No-one the neighborhood had anything close to being useful. So the Ruler_of_spike ended up calling her father who came with an industrial wire cutter. Even with such an impressive piece of kit, it was no cake walk. Had it failed to cut through, the only other viable option was to call the firefighters. Master Chill had a lucky escape. On the other hand, it did not seem to have any effect on him as he stopped being stressed out the moment he was freed and back to his usual happy adventurous self. We sincerely hoped that he learned a lesson!
August 2012:
Work: When I went on vacations, I switched on my automatic out-of-office e-mail response to direct people who have urgent inquiries to my colleagues for help. That was nothing new as the technology has been around for years. What tended to happen was that during my two-week absence, the really urgent requests would be dealt with during the first week and half, or at least the processes would have been started. However, as my return was approaching, my colleagues would try to have them deferred until my return. After all, we were all busy and they have their own stuff to deal with. Also, given that they would not be sufficiently familiar with my work, the amount of time they would not have to invest in to cover the inquiries would be too great for the relatively short time to my return to the office. This was not criticism, merely any an observation of human behavior as I did the same thing when dealing with my colleagues' work when they were away. So, when I returned to the office after two weeks away, I was greeted by over two hundred fresh e-mails. There was a distinct pattern there as people realized that I was not their, they approached other members of the team, so I was cc'ed on a lot of e-mails. In the second week, there was a noticeable drop in the number of items with new topics. I figured that they were holding back or have gone directly to my colleagues. A quick scan through resulted in the number being reduced to just over one hundred and thirty. I then started going through them methodically, dealing with the issues if required or simply file them away if no action was required. However, as soon as people realized that I was back in the office, they started e-mailing me again. What's more, my phone just would not stop ringing. So after a whole day of dealing with e-mail, when I could, I still had over a hundred e-mails I had to read or to do something about. Welcome back!
Home: The annual two-week holiday for me came to an end all too quickly. However, I was returning to London alone. As the Ruler_of_spike and the boys did not have any particular commitments in London, it did not make much sense to drag them back with me, especially as the weather was favorable. That was the main point - if the weather was nice, ie. warm and without rain, the conditions and surroundings in Brittany were so much easier for the boys and, indirectly, for the Ruler_of_spike. So, I left my family in France hoping that they would enjoy a few more weeks of late summer before dragging them back to London. My trip back from Brittany was thankfully uneventful, although both trains (TGV and Eurostar) were both full. As I traveled on a bank holiday Monday, I was half expecting travel chaos in the London Underground, as it was the case back in May. Amazingly, I had no problems at all. I even had time to stop at the supermarket to pick up some provisions. On the other hand, as I walked through our front door, my depression set in - I was entering an empty house. There were items around the place that suggested family life, but the people were not here. I was badly missing my family already!
Home: The Ruler_of_spike was chosen to be god-mother to a niece of hers and the christening took place in late August. Looking at the christening schedule, we knew it was going to be a long day, particular for the boys. The church service was late morning and the boys were in good form, in the sense that they did not really caused any difficulties, although I noticed that I spent a good deal of the service carrying both of them at the same time. After the service, we headed over the house of newly christened girl's grandparents. Master Chill, who has a fixation on water sprinklers (as well as hose pipes) insisted on playing with a metal water can which was placed outside the house as decoration. He was very upset when I took him away from it and it took a good fifteen minutes to calm him down. He was finally calmed when he was shown a little girl's bicycle, which was took big for him to ride. Thankfully, when it was time to have lunch, the boys were totally calm. The hosts arranged a little on the side for the toddlers and the boys ate like champs in their highchairs. It was clearly a house that has not been inhabited by young children as there were little bits and pieces all over the place - all breakable objects which the boys were keen to investigate. As we did not have any travel cots with us, we tried to get the boys to sleep in their buggie, which turned out to be a total failure as there was just much going on and they were too distracted to rest. We finally sat down to have lunch, but we were keeping our eyes on the boys. We were presented with a seafood platter that was just too good to ignore. However, we lost track of Master Chill. After a few frantic moments searching, he was found - he had left the house, climbed down a flight of tiled stairs which even I would consider steep and mounted himself on the bicycles which he had seen earlier. The rest of the meal was a total blur as the Ruler_of_spike and I spent many intervals going around the house looking for the boys to make sure they were ok, or to stop them from doing anything that would end in the destruction of some of the stuff in the house. Given that there was stuff everywhere in the house, we, along with our host, pretty much rearranging pretty much every item that was reachable by the boys. Given the Ruler_of_spike's role as god-mother, it would not be appropriate to depart early. The boys were used to having a nap after the lunch. However, despite being tired, they were running around, probably owed to the excitement. Given their tiredness, their behavior were getting increasingly erratic, Master Chill was getting particularly difficult. The end of the meal did not come quick enough for us and for the boys. When it came to depart, after all the goodbyes, we made sure that we had everything with us as the boys had random left their toys around the place. We also had to ensure that they did not leave with things that did not belong to us. The relieve of finally strapping the boys in their car seats was tremendous. As a sign how tired, they were both sound asleep with a couple of minutes of us setting of on our homeward bound journey.
Home: The boys each had a security blanket given to them by our neighbor when they came home for the first time back in May 2010. They were basically pieces of square fleece cloths with the upper parts of small teddy bear-like attachments in the middle. The bears had heads and arms - all very cute. They were so attached to their security blankets that they have not let them out of sight since. To illustrate an example: we tried to wash them on a regular basis but we had to make sure that if we wash it in the morning, it has to be dried by the afternoon so that they boys could have them for the afternoon nap. We called these security blankets by the French name: doudou. Anyway, they had very different ways of playing with their own doudous. Master Cheeky liked put the arms or even the whole head in his mouth. There were times when we could only his face with a fleece coming out of his mouth. Needless to say, the arms of his doudou had became lifeless long ago. However, he also played with the arms with his fingers, especially when he was drinking his milk or falling asleep. It was hard to describe what he did but it was obvious that the blanket was a 'must have' for him. Master Chill had a different way of 'dealing' with his doudou. While he would normally just carry it around in his hand, he would start playing with the corners of the blanket when he was getting tired. He would suck his thumb and hold the corner of the doudou very close to his mouth using the fingers of the same hand. He obviously had a favorite corner as although they all looked the same to us, he would pick up one of the corners and dropped the original one and replace it with the new corner in his hand. He would repeat this sequence until he found his favorite. The two doudous were slightly different and they knew exactly which one belonged to who. Needless to say, over time, the doudous were less than hygienic and they stank. One time, when we went to the beach, the boys dropped their doudous and we picked them up and stuffed them into the beach bag. Upon returning home, Master Chill picked his out of the bag and when Master Cheeky saw his brother with his doudou, he was obviously curious as to where his was. After not finding it immediate, he was given out some sounds that suggested he was concerned. So we asked Master Chill to get his brother's doudou for him. Master Chill, having picked his out of the bag earlier knew exactly where to look. After taking a short time of rummaging around the bag, he found his brother's doudou. Yet instead of just picking it up by grabbing it, he carefully picked up one of the corners with his thumb and index finger and gave it to his brother. It was a highly amusing moment when he handed it over. It was almost as if he did not want to touch it! He knew his brother habits of sticking the doudou in his mouth and he obviously knew that the safest part was the corners. Master Cheeky was not so concerned. He almost ripped it out of his brother's fingers when he saw it... and straight away put one of the arms in his mouth. Master Chill had the right idea! 
Home: Here was a very simple equation: kids + summer = beach. The boys were approaching two and half and this would be the third summer we took them to Brittany. Last year, they were too young to play around too close to the water, so we took on the 'fetching water' duty as they play around the beach. This year, we were keen to give them a gentle introduction to the sea. They were too young to go on boats, so, for the time being, they were limited to sand and the water edge. The 'problem' with the beaches in the area was that being inside a gulf, the beaches were comparatively small, both in depth and width. There were plenty of algae also. Additionally, owing to the tides in the area, there were huge differences to the beaches between low and high tides. At low tides, vast planes of mud could be uncovered, exposed many creatures hiding just below the surface to air, producing a field of bubbles and pushed-up material. All kinds of shell fish could be found. At high tides, entire beaches could be covered. So if swimming in the open sea was your hobby, you could step off the road and straight into action. However, the boys were more interested in just playing around on the beach. Master Chill was very keen. He was not afraid of the water and was happy to go right up to the water and a little beyond to bring water back. Yet, he was sensible enough to recognize that there was some things he could not do yet, like going into the sea. However, we still kept a watchful eye on him wherever he went, as although we knew that he was confident in roaming around the beach, we did not want him to get into trouble and trouble was never far off. Meanwhile, Master Cheeky was a little more risk aware. To start off, he appeared confident. However, he was spooked by the apparently sudden appearance of waves. Something about the waves he was not comfortable with and for quite a while, he refused to go near the water. With a lot of encouragement and patience, the Ruler_of_spike and I managed to convince him that there is nothing to fear and he gradually took some tentative steps towards the water edge. That was probably helped by a fiercely competitive nature between the brothers which spurred him on. However, the fear of sudden waves was still strong so we observed times when he dashed towards the water edge (he probably wanted to collect some water by himself or to investigate what his brother was up to), but a moment of doubt brought the progress to a halt before a mad rush back to the safety of the upper reaches of the beach. It was a humorous sight, but we also knew that he was trying to overcome his fear and to join in the fun.
Home: We have been talking about for a few months, and it almost did not happen owing to sudden work developments, but my cousin (the one who lived in Finland) was spending a few days with us in Brittany. We have not seen each other for fifteen months, and we were looking forward to see him again. It originally going to a week-long trip for him, but a sudden requirement to go to southern Africa shortened the trip to just five days. He actually flew in directly from Luanda. After picking him from the train station, we drove back to the house and the Ruler_of_spike and the boys were eagerly waiting for him. While it was not the most event-packed few days we spent together, my cousin had a front row seat of how demanding the boys were. The boys certainly took a liking of him as they typically stormed into his room after being brought downstairs in the morning. Initially, he had in mind to offer to look after the boys for a short period of time to give us some free time, an incredible generous thought. However, having seen how the boys were like, even given the fact that he has been around other toddlers (children of older sisters and friends), he recognized the fact it was an undertaking that he was not ready to attempt. Nevertheless, we believed that he had a good time in the few days he had with us, and we were hopeful that the boys and us did not scare him too much that he would come back and spend more time with us. The boys appeared to really missed him as they stormed into his room the day after he left, they turned to us and made inquisitive noises. It was as if they were asking: 'Where is uncle?'
Home: The one advantage of being in Paris was that there was no travel-related stress. As my family was already in France, my vacation started as soon as jumped on the TGV, rather than being delayed by a trip that involved driving and a ferry trip. Owing to the relatively little luggage I had with me, packing was a easy - all my belongs, aside from whatever I was wearing, were packed into a ruck sack and a suit bag. When I got to my family, I already felt relaxed, despite the constant stress I felt while in Paris. While the boys were already in bed when I got to the house, I was right in the 'domestic mode' the next morning when the boys gave us our morning call at 7:45. The excitement in their voices were overpowering! They saw me in the bed, they both jumped on my side of the bed and then on to me. The fantastic smiles that were beaming from their faces suggested they were very happy to see me. It was a vastly enjoyable experience, one that was hard to beat, except for the feeling I had when I saw the Ruler_of_spike and I knew we would be together for the next two weeks, uninterrupted by that inconvenient thing called 'work'. If I was not in a holiday mode before, those two experiences surely adjusted me away from the work mode.
Work: After two long weeks of working in Paris, my annual leave vacation was approaching. At times, it was hard not to think about this as all my work either has to be at stages where my intervention would not be required or for those that would require intervention I had to pass the files to my colleagues. Then there were those that were particularly sensitive, I had to leave instructions for others to take over in case emergencies emerged. Given that I was in Paris, away from my colleagues, I had to leave written instructions for everything, unlike when we were sitting next to each other, mere verbal ones would be sufficient. In short, being in Paris has been difficult for me in many aspects - not being with my colleagues meant a lag in team cohesion and not being face to face for many of the people I dealt with meant certain distance no matter how efficient modern telecommunications were. Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Paris. May be because of my ability to work on my own, and the lack of constant interruption, being in Paris allowed me to be more efficient. On balance, I believe it was an interesting experiment, but quite a way short from being a total success.
Home: While I took the bus when I was in the mood, I much preferred the Metro and I took it every evening after finishing work. From my temporary office in Paris, it was a direct Metro train which took me to the end of the street of my brother-in-law's apartment. It was very convenient and, frankly, after a day's work, I took the laziest way home. While it appeared to be always reliable, I guessed I have been lucky in that I have not been caught up in a delay until the second week. On the other hand, when there was a delay, it was a major on. On getting into the station near my office that evening, I was greeted by the audio message that the line was experiencing massive delays owing to some problem further up the line. After waiting inside the train for five minutes, it was evident that it was not going to anywhere anytime soon, I decided to seek an alternative route. It was immediately obvious why I have not explored the alternatives - they were not at all appealing. Whatever my choice was, it was either a long walk or from the station or it involved too many changes (interchanges in Paris were nowhere near as convenient as the ones in London). Eventually, I found a route which would leave me with a comparatively short walk up a main avenue to the street where the apartment was. Additionally, it was an interchange with the same line which I normally take. I took that route in case the line had become operational again and I could simply jump in a train to complete my journey home. As it turned out, after the lengthy detour, when I got to the station further down the line, it has just reopened and I boarded the first available train to compete my journey. Although I was happy to be able to complete the last part of my journey in the Metro, it was a massively long journey. In terms of time, it was a fifty minute trip compared to the usual thirty minutes. However, that did not take into account of all the walking in the interchanges. Additionally, at that of time of the day, on the line which I usually completed my journey, I would sitting and relaxing with my music (Paris did not have any free evening news paper like the London Evening Standard), that evening, I spent most of the trip standing in cramped carriages and looking out for names of the Metro stations in anticipation of the interchanges. It was less than pleasant.
Home: If you ask anyone who lived in a particular city about their experience of the place, it would be vastly different from that of a quick visit. Having enjoyed a relatively quiet week in Paris, except for the air raid siren episode, I was presented with one of the 'features' of living and working in a modern city - road works at major roads. Taking my brother-in-law's advise, I have been taking the bus to from his apartment to work. As things have turned out, there were actually two direct buses I could take which will deposit me around five minutes walk to work. Given it was the beginning of August, traffic was light as much of Paris was on vacation. The bus offered an excellent opportunity to see more of Paris, which the Metro would prove otherwise restrictive. For the first few trips, I happened to have taken just one of the routes. Then one day in the second week of my stay, I took the bus which went through a slightly different route. As the bus closed on Gare Saint Lazare, it has slowed to a standstill. It transpired that road works has closed two out of the three lanes just outside the station and as traffic was converging from three different directions, the volume was just too great for the remaining opened lane, even in the relatively light August traffic. That day, I got to work nearly thirty minutes later than usual. While it was no big deal as I was still an hour ahead of London, it just showed that while the location was different, Paris suffered the same ills of a place like London, where, owing to the shear volume of traffic meant the smallest of the incidents translated to lengthy delays.
Home & Work: In no time at all, I was back to Paris. While the weekend in Brittany with my family was wonderful, being back in brother-in-law's apartment and back at work made the change during the weekend felt distant. However, I felt more relaxed owing to the fact that I knew I would be off on my summer vacation after one more week of work. Having spend a week in Paris already, I have now settled into a routine and aside from being alone at home and at work, it was not much different from being in London with family away. However, at the same time, it felt totally different. Working alone in Paris and being away from my clients and colleagues was difficult, but at the same time, I was away from the 'pressure cooker'. So there were trade-offs. With my family away in Brittany, I did not feel the pressure to finish up and head home and I ended up being in the office until nearly nine o'clock every night. So my brother-in-law's apartment became a glorified hotel. That was being unfair. It was far more comfortable than any hotel, but it was not my own place and I barely spent enough time in there to be considered home, no matter how temporary it was. Essentially, I was getting up around 7am, getting into work around 8:30 and I was not back until after 9:30pm. After closing the front door, I would try to catch up with the day's development in the Olympics in London. A simple, repetitive form of existence. I could not wait for the end of the week to rejoin my family in Brittany.
Home: In the past, when my family was in Brittany and I came for a weekend, it involved international travel, either by train or a combination of plane and train. The journey was long and grueling. Pretty much all the decisions were made based on costs. Being in Paris working, my trip to see them involved a three-hour journey in the comparative comfort of a TGV, which was short when a typical journey from London with connections took nearly half a day. As it was, I left Paris via TGV just after 5pm and I was in Brittany just before 8:30pm. Again, my father-in-law came to pick me up at the station as the Ruler_of_spike was busy with the boys. After a hectic week in the office, I was transported to a world away. Unfortunately, as with all weekends, my weekend with my family was just too short. Again, as with the previous week, the boys 'smelt a rat' when they saw a packed rucksack appeared in late afternoon and they were hanging on to me like glue. Given our experience from the previous week, we made sure that our goodbyes were as low key as possible, at a time when the boys were suitably occupied, getting ready for bed, so I could slip away with as little disruption as possible. Nevertheless, Master Chill noticed something when I picked up my rucksack and was crying his eyes out then I left for the station. No father would able away without sadness and no husband would admit no feeling guilty - again, the Ruler_of_spike has been left to deal with the boys on their own.
Work: On the first Wednesday I was in Paris, which happened to be August 1st, while returning from picking up a couple of items from the nearby mini supermarket, I heard an air raid siren. I have never heard an air raid siren before, but I knew how one sounded like and there was no mistake that it was a proper siren. My first thought was: What's going on here? This led to the next thought: Why aren't these people seem to be bother by it? Logically, I would assume that on hearing an air raid siren, the least you could do was to look up the sky to see what was going on. The other logical thing to do was to run for cover. I saw none of those. People were going about doing whatever they were doing before and showed no concern whatsoever of the fact that the siren was on. It was as if the siren was not there. To be totally honest, I was ready to bolt towards the nearest Metro entrance. Had I even detected a slightest bit of concern on the people around me, I would have been gone! However, I detected no concern, no panic. The siren did not even have registered with these folks. The siren was sounded three loops then it stopped, and for the duration, the folks around did not seem to have missed a beat. After I got back into the office and was just settling down to deal with the e-mails, the siren was sounded again. Again, I looked around and my colleagues were carrying on with whatever they were doing prior to the sounding of the siren - talking on the phone, writing e-mails and chatting amongst themselves. Thoroughly puzzled, I searched the internet for an answer. It turned out at in Paris, and other cities, there were regular sounding of the air raid sirens, in case the systems in case war broke out again. As it happened, it took place on the first Wednesday of each month. That explained the complete disregard of the siren by pretty much everyone, except for tourists like me.
July 2012:
Work: It was a total novelty for me to be working in Paris. The area I was sitting with had very little direct contact with the front office. Additionally, all my work was still to deal with salespeople sitting in London, with their clients based in London and my colleagues being in London. I felt very isolated and removed from my work situation. However, there was so much to do there was little time to worry about not bring in London. After some initial minor IT issues, I had full access to my data and e-mail, I was in business. Lots of my colleagues in London, having not seen me at my desk assumed that I was vacation and they were surprised when I called. The fact that I had many very close working relationships with my colleagues made things easier - there was trust between the people. I worked to a very different pace to my temporary colleagues around me, and the issues I had to deal with were totally different to what they would normally encounter (and when they did, these issues were passed on to others like myself), in short, there was very little for me to relate to them and them to me, increasing my sense of isolation. All in all, the situation was not the best, but owing to the amount of work which I had to wade through, I was suitably occupied that it was not a particularly a hindrance that I was working in Paris, more of an inconvenience.
Home: After getting my family to Brittany and having had a few days of good quality time with the Ruler_of_spike and the boys, it was time to get ready to Paris. Thanked to the flexibility of my workplace, it was decided that I could escape London altogether during the Olympics and work from the Paris office. It made perfect sense for us. We have long planned for the Ruler_of_spike and the boys to go to France at the end of July. Given that my daily commute would require going through Victoria, one of the many stations which had been identified that was likely to be extra busy during the Games, I would have been working from home via remote access. While that was an acceptable work solution, it was less than ideal for our family. You would have noticed how difficult it had been in the past when I was away from my family, on my own in London. Fortunately, my employer offered me the possibility of working from the Paris office, provided that I arranged my own accommodation for the duration. Here was another piece of good fortune - my brother-in-law has an apartment in Paris which was not used and he was happy to let me use it during my stay in Paris. So as I prepared for my trip for Paris, I knew I was only going to be away from them for five days and at the end of the working week, I would be no more than a half dozen hours from end to end to see my family again. However, that was not how the boys saw it. They have seen be leaving in previous occasions, and having seen the packed suit bag and rucksack, they knew I was going somewhere and they were not coming. They spent the afternoon clinging on to me. While it was comforting to know that they did not want me to go, it made getting on with everyday things very difficult. My father-in-law came to drive me to the train station and when the boys saw that I was going, they were inconsolable! Master Chill was practically hanging on to me and Master Cheeky was not far behind. It was hard for them and for me, but the most difficult job was for the Ruler_of_spike for she had to calm them down and had to look after them. So, while I was sitting in the TGV to Paris, it almost felt like I was escaping from somewhere and left her behind to deal with the boys. It was unfair for her to carry such heavy burden.
Home: Having been away from France for nearly two months, it was time to head back for the summer. With our guest, we packed our car almost full to the limit. There were a lot of provisions we had to bring along and with this summer being so unpredictable, we had to bring with us clothes for all conditions. It was not easy. Additionally, owing to having two big child seats in the back seat of the car, our guest had to squeeze herself between the boys for the journey. I could imagine it not being comfortable, even if we allowed for the fact that she was not yet and adult and, thanked to the French diet, was definitively petite in size. We made it across to France, surviving a search at the ferry port by the friendly customs officer. Squeezing all of us into a four-berth cabin was interesting also. It worked out well in the end as our guest and I each occupied one of the upper bunks, with the Ruler_of_spike in one of the lower ones. Master Chill, the escape artist was in the cot and Master Cheeky slept on the last available bed. Our trip was broken up by stopping over at the Ruler_of_spike's friends' house. We have safely delivered their daughter back to them. It was a massive relieve as it was a big responsibility to look after someone else's child, even one who was beginning to be independent. We stayed for lunch and made our way to south Brittany afterwards. I liked this way of traveling - it was stress-free, almost leisurely, and, most importantly, the boys had a great time.
Home: With the build up to the Olympics, the route of the torch relay was schedule to go past the top of our street. It was an opportunity for our family to soak up the Olympic atmosphere. After all, as Londoners, we were all paying for it in our own little ways and as we were not going to be in London during the Games, it was an opportunity to make the most of it. The Ruler_of_spike and the boys went to see the torch relay with some of our neighbors and it did not disappoint. The change over was taking place right at the top of street! There were a lot activities before hand and there was a festive atmosphere. With the schools having broken up for the summer, there were full of kids and their parents. The support was fantastic. The Ruler_of_spike, the boys and our guest were ideally located to see relay change over. While we might have wondered how much it meant to the boys, we could tell them later in their lives that they witnessed this once-in-a-life-time event.
Home: By any standard, the summer we were having was nothing short of disappointing. So it was a welcome change to have some sun. In that I did not mean sunny intervals, I meant SUN!!! Yes, the type which would burn if you stayed exposed for too long! There were just so many things we could do with a bit of persistent sun. The boys could spend long stretches of time in the back garden. We could get some washing out of the way with a good degree of certainty that it would be dried in the sun within a few hours (rather than having them slowly drying in the house as we have turned off the central heating by now). Additionally, the sun changed the complexion of the days completely. Instead of the grey, dark days with temperatures struggled to reach the low twenties in Celsius, we were having enjoying days with the temperature reaching the mid- to high-twenties. The whole place just felt more alive. We all felt good after weeks of gloom. Long live sunny days!
Home: Over the years, I have been proud to be able observe people closely and managed to perform impressions on them which at times approached being convincing. I have always thought that it was a skilled which I developed over time and I spent time to observe and to digest people's mannerism so that I could reproduce the essence of their behavior. That was blown away one evening. I did not know about parents, but I had different tones when disciplining my children. It typically went from a suggestion in a soft tone, moving to a warning in harsher tone and finally to firm voice for a reprimand. That was pretty much it, short of the shouting which was rare and physical punishment which was rarer still. As Master Chill could sometimes be a little difficult to stop from doing stupid things, I often ended up telling him 'don't so this' and 'don't do that'. There were times when I had to stop myself and find a different approach or I would have ended up spending the whole day telling him off. However, there were times when my frustration boiled over and I would grab him by the arm and spoke to him in a firm voice as a form of final warning. I guessed I did this in a very distinct way - I spoke each word slowly and firmly, with my index finger waving at each word. Master Cheeky must have observed that over time. So that one evening after returning from and as the boys about to go to bed, Master Chill did something which we did not observe. However, it was something Master Cheeky did which caught our attention. He was saying something to his brother in their language loudly and he was repeatedly waving his index finger. In the mean time, he was smiling all the way through, with Master Chill looking sheepishly at him which turned into a smile. At the end both boys burst into a fit of giggles. It was one big joke for them. The Ruler_of_spike and I looked at each other and we could only smile and wondered. Master Cheeky was merely two years, three months old, yet he was 'doing me', so my ability to 'do people' might not have been owed to my own hard work...
Home: Could you believe that until recently, the boys have never been to London's China Town! That's right. On the other hand, it was entirely surprising given that we lived nearly twenty kilometers from the center of London and China Town was in the center of the city. Additionally, we lived our lives according to theirs. As their afternoon naps, no matter how futile it sometimes was, were a priority, hacking our way into the center of the city and back for the sake of a short visit was not deeded productive. As it was not merely just the two of us, it was not the simple case of jumping into the car or jumping on the train and we were off. It generally took around to get the boys ready and loaded into the car. Then there was the baby bag, the buggy and thing we take with us to keep them from getting bored. We also had to make sure that whatever establishment we were visiting had two high chairs available on arrival or our meal would have been very miserable. However, with our guest, we undertook a little adventure into London on the Saturday with having dim sum at our favorite restaurant in China Town in mind. We took the train into Victoria and caught a bus to Trafalgar Square. From there we headed up to Covent Garden. After spending some time visiting various shops and stalls in the market, we walked along the streets which connected Covent Garden with China Town. Despite all the times since we last visited the area, they were still familiar to us. Then we went to the restaurant which I have made a booking. With the boys installed in the high chairs, we had our lunch. The boys, and our guest, were loving it! They were old enough to insisting in feeding themselves and they had everything we put in front of them. Master Chill even wanted to try the chili oil (!), which, of course, he was not allowed to. After lunch, we even had the time and energy to catch a bus up to Oxford Street for a quick look around. Finally, we caught another bus back to Victoria to take the train. All in all, I was happy to note, it was a very pleasant day out in London for family and our guest.
Home: With our guest, the Ruler_of_spike and the boys ventured into London. As it was getting close to the start of the London Olympics, driving into London was not a good idea, so they took the train. While it was not the first time the boys went on the train, they were nevertheless very excited with it. Of course, the London Underground was totally avoided as it was not very 'buggy friendly'. The bus proved to be a more than adequate alternative. They managed to observe the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, visited St. James' Park, the Palaces of Westminster, Trafalgar Square and various other locations. The Ruler_of_spike arms were hurting by the end of the day owing to constantly having to people with buggy. Thankfully, the weather was very agreeable, which made their visit a pleasure. They enjoy a picnic in one of the parks and the boys had little sandwiches prepared by their mom. How I wished I could join them. A few days later, they had a outing to Kingston-upon-Thames, not far from where they were born, they had another great day out. It was not easy for the Ruler_of_spike, but gave her an opportunity to go and something other than just looking after the boys. Although she was kept very busy as she had look after the boys as well our guest, but I think she rather enjoyed a change in usual rhythm.
Home: We have not had guests staying in our house since the arrival of the boys. While we have had plenty of visitors, with some traveling a long way across the world to see us and meet the boys, all of them have been very considerate and stayed in hotels nearby. Frankly, we did not have the space to accommodate them. However, after a big clear out and a little of rearrangement of the spare room, we managed to squeeze in a sofa bed which meant that we could have guests again. Many years ago, in our more youthful days, we used to have friends coming over to stay our places. Now, time has moved on, we have children our friends coming over! Our first guest to sample our crowded house was a daughter of a friend of the Ruler_of_spike. She was at an age that she was beginning to sample a little bit of independence, but she was clearly far from being independent. As this was the first time she came to London, the Ruler_of_spike has planned to take her into London to visit certain tourist attractions. It was going to be an interesting time for the Ruler_of_spike and the boys.
Home: Before the arrival of the boys, we went to a parenting class specifically dealing with twins. I said class, it was actually a two-hour talk by couple of ladies who were very experienced with dealing with twins, being mothers to twins themselves. During the talk, one thing that stuck on my mind was that twins were likely to learn how to speak later than singletons and we had to be careful of the speech development as, between them, they develop their own little language - 'twin talk'. This was a 'language' of sort which only they would understand. We have observed glimpses of it in action in the past, for example when Master Cheeky made certain noises followed by Master Chill moving off to pick something up and giving it to his brother. However, it was nothing to what we have recently observed. One morning, Master Chill was making noises at an unreasonably early time. He was being difficult so I took him down to the living room and fortunately we both fell asleep again. Much later, Master Cheeky woke up and the Ruler_of_spike picked him and kept him on our bedroom. Not long after that, Master Chill woke up again and started moving around. Eventually, it was impossible to keep him in the living room and I let him out and he flung open the door and ran around to look for his brother. Having not found his brother, he called out "Yazoo" (that was how he understood his brother's name was), followed by a torrent of noises. Having heard his brother's call, Master Cheeky rushed to the door of our bedroom and called out "Teedor" before making a series of excited noises. Master Cheeky then bent down to see if he could see his brother through the banister, while Master Chill moved around on the ground floor to do the same. When they caught sight of each other (it did not take long), they both let out excited giggles. The excitement the boys expressed stayed with us for a long time!
Work: In this day and age, computers at were something you did not think about - you just expected them to work. The rigs we had at work were pretty standard, typical of computers supplied by large manufacturers to large corporate customers, standard builds based on standard components, for the ease of maintenance and replacement. There was nothing spectacular in the specification. These were certainly not something you would want to bring home and stress them with the demand of modern PC games. However, they did do a reasonable job for handling our day-to-day workloads. Like I said, you just expected them to work. One day, there was a lot of commotion among my colleagues sitting across on the other side of my desk. We have sat opposite each other for over a year (we moved desks often), separated by our respective walls of LCD screens (we each had a bank of four LCDs) and never passed a word as we worked in totally different areas. He gestured to catch my attention and asked if my PC was working for he has noticed a smelled something similar to wires burning. Since his rigs appeared to be ok, he suspected something wrong with mine. In my case, the rig appeared to be fine - there was no sign of anything malfunctioning. Still concerned, he called the IT folks to investigate. As it was a suspected case of meltdown, they came round in record time - burning wires were high up in the danger list for IT folks. They opened all the computer cabinets of my colleague and his neighbors but found nothing suspecting, but the burning smell was more pronounced. It was not difficult to figure out that something was really wrong and it originated somewhere else other than my colleague's PC. The IT guys walked around and opened the computer cabinet under my desk and pulled the rig out. It was immediately obvious the rig was in trouble - there was smoke coming out from the power supply. Given that the rig was roughly six years old, and one suspected that it had never been cleaned, all the dust collected over time must have blocked the airflow and caused overheating. I was instructed to stop using the PC and go and work on another desk. In the mean time, a brand new rig was brought up to replace it. They cloned my profile from the network and within three hours, I was sitting back at my desk. Had I not detected an improvement in speed and responsiveness, I would not have known any difference. So my little episode with the rig turned out to be a blessing - I now had a brand new PC at work! Hurrah!!
Home: Since moving into our house, the bathroom has been the one big job which has really bothered us. In essence, we did not have the know-how to get the job done ourselves. Aside from the sander (for stripping the floorboards), the builder (for building the shelves and cupboards), window installer and the damp-proofer, we have done pretty much all the work in our house. However, we knew our limitations and we knew the bathroom was on project which should be left to the professionals. Our bathroom was small, but most of the features in there were disproportionately large - the bath was wide and the sink was deep. To make things worse, the lighting in there was not the most intelligent and the color scheme did not enhance the overall feel of the small space. All in all, it was in need of an overhaul. We knew the previous owner has installed the bathroom himself as the original bathroom had been downstairs where the utility room was. Given our experience of some of his handy work, we wanted someone knowledgeable to made sure the job was done properly. We found a tradesman who appeared very experienced and he provided a quote which was comparable to one that was given to us by a friend of a friend. There was little to choose between them. One thing we discovered in talking to other people about bathrooms was that unless you had a super-sized bathroom and you were looking to install unusually extravagant features, all bathrooms costs roughly the same amount of money. When the tradesman started working, we came to realize how neat and tidy he was. He did a thoroughly professional job for us. As we have expected, the previous owner did leave us certain surprises. One which might have the most potential for future problem was that while putting in place the bathroom waste pipe, he did certain things that had the potential of endangering the house. It was impossible to tell if the danger was real or imminent or not. The builder made the assessment that there was no real threat to the house. However, it was something which we kept at the back of our minds, in case this knowledge was required in the future. After nearly two weeks of working, the bathroom was done. The room looked totally different. Thanks to the builder's helpful advise, the little room looked less cramped. It was brighter and neater. It was something which we could not have done ourselves - we did not have the skill nor knowledge and we certainly did not have the time. And we were glad we spent the money to get the job done properly.
Home: While it was difficult to do things outside with the boys, it was fortunate that they have made some friends with kids of similar age nearby, or, more precisely, the Ruler_of_spike having made friends with parents (almost exclusively mothers) of kids of similar age. She tried to hook up with these mothers and the children whenever it was practicable, typically either at our house or at theirs. Of course, there were ones who the Ruler_of_spike and the boys visited more often than others and there were once who came to visit us. For those whose homes the boys have visited more than others, they became familiar with them and they just did their things as they pleased, without the usual timidity associated with visiting a new environment. So, I chanced upon one of the mothers whose daughter the boys have recently visited while out shopping a few things and she mentioned the fact the boys have paid a visit. One of the comments she made was: "they were just like a whirlwind". I was not sure how to react to that. Was it a complaint or a compliment? Thankfully, she assured me that it was not a negative comment. Then, several days later, one of the Ruler_of_spike's friends came round to visit with her daughter and, on leaving, she made exactly the same observation on the boys. I guess the common theme was that they were both mothers of little girls who were a lot more calm than the boys. The boys, if they were given half a chance, would trash pretty much anything they have in front of them, particularly Master Chill (Master Cheeky was not much better, he was the able accomplice in most cases). Most people had no idea how challenging the boys were, until they have observed them 'in action'. Our lives, particularly the Ruler_of_spike's) would be very different had the boys been a little 'calmer'. On the other hand, we would not change a single thing about the boys, even if we could. Otherwise, they would not be 'the boys'!
Home: This so-called summer was turning out to be a bit of a joke. It has been a miserable time. We were now into the third week of July and it has been pretty much raining non-stop. Even when it was not raining, it was a solid grey overcast. We have not seen much sun. It has been raining so much that even the last of the hose pipe bans have been lifted. Given the bad weather, it has been a tough time for the Ruler_of_spike as it was difficult to do things with the boys when it was raining. The boys needed their activities and being trapped in the house because of the weather did not go down well with them. Also, the lack of sun was rather depressing. Our washing has been piling up as there was little certainty of good weather to allow us to hang the clothes outside to dry. In short, we all needed some decent weather. Let's hope that the bad weather would not persist for long and allow us to have a more 'normal' summer.
Home: The boys' hair were getting long and they were in need of haircuts. The Ruler_of_spike took them to their usual hairdresser and all seemed fine. Then suddenly all the hell broke loose! For some strange reason, Master Cheeky did not want to have his hair cut and he went off a round screaming. May be he was not in the right mood or he might have been spooked or something, but he refused to be seated. Meanwhile, Master Chill, who was having a nap, was woken up by his brother's screaming and started his own crisis. As if that was not enough, the truck driver called the Ruler_of_spike about a delivery. Now, there was bad timing and there was really bad timing. However, this extraordinarily poor timing! The boys were not themselves, but what to do? Clearing coming back another time was unrealistic as the logistical demand was just too much to consider. In the end, the boys ended up having their hair cuts sitting on the Ruler_of_spike's lap - she was covered with their hair by the time hairdressers were done. At least the haircuts were out of the way and we did not have to worry about for a little while.
Home: It was July. According to the calendar, it was supposed to be summer time. However, it seemed that no-one has inform whoever was responsible for the weather that was the case. Of course, being summer time, we were supposed to do thing people in the summer, like having a barbecue. We invited some friends over for lunch on a Sunday and having saw the weather forecast, which suggested that there might have been a chance that the rain would miss us, we decided to go ahead to have the barbecue. The omens were not good. It was windy in the morning and it picked up as the day wore on. By the time our friends arrived, there was a chill in the wind. Years ago, we invested in a Weber barbecue which was excellent even in windy conditions. However, owing to the chill in the wind, it took longer than expected for the charcoal to reach cooking temperature. Having finally attained the desired heat level, by which time it was running late, in went the sausages and burgers and it started to drizzle heavily. Driven by the strong wind, the rain was approaching horizontal! The sun umbrella was being battered and it nearly fell over a few times. As the meat was being cooked in the barbecue, the drizzle got progressively heavier and the wind got stronger. At one point, I was holding the lid of the barbecue in my left hand, with my right handling a pair of tongs to turn the sausages and burgers, and my shoulder leaning onto the sun umbrella to hold it in place. It was a miserable experience. On a brighter note, the barbecue turned out just fine. If anyone had food poisoning, they have not told me about it yet.