The Nativity Play

three camels
Max’s drawing of three camels.

This morning I went, along with Juliet and her mum, to see Max’s school nativity play. First up was the nursery, which brought back very happy memories of Max as an angel last year. Then it was the turn of the reception boys. This year Max was playing a camel and he looked utterly adorable in his costume, I can tell you. Unfortunately I can’t show you as the school has, understandably, a strict policy against posting photos online. What I can show you, however, is Max’s drawing of three camels, taken from the inside of the programme. Their tails seem a tad long to me but I guess I’m just nit-picking.

Back on the Road

Well, it’s taken almost three weeks but I finally have my bike back. After messing around with the electronics for a while and finding nothing wrong, the mechanics simply opened up the gearbox and manually put it back into neutral. Having reassembled it and taken it for a test ride everything seemed fine so they pronounced it sorted. Let’s just hope they’re right.

Getting Up

Recently, Max has developed a willingness to get up by himself in the morning and go downstairs to play happily by himself until someone else gets up. This has, I’m sure you’ll understand, been most welcome. Today, however, he decided to revert to his previous behaviour of insisting that Juliet or I get up with him. So, reluctantly, at 6:30 I dragged myself out of bed, pulled some clothes on and stumbled downstairs to settle him on the sofa with a blanket and some warm milk.

I confess I was quite grumpy about this and may have been quite short with poor Max. However, a couple of hot drinks and a listen to the wonderful Infinite Monkey Cage podcast have cheered me up no end and I’m ready to face the day.

My Poor, Crippled Bike

Yesterday on my way home from work my bike broke down. I won’t bore you with the tedious details except to say that it was, naturally, chucking it down with rain as I waited for rescue on a stretch of road with no shops, pubs or cafes. The nice man from the AA who attended wasn’t able to fix the problem and had to call for a recovery vehicle.

I arrived home eventually and had a much needed cup of tea, the all-healing drink, and felt much better than I had. It’s amazing how reviving a cuppa and a snack can be, isn’t it?

This morning I phoned the local Honda dealer and arranged for the bike to be collected on Thursday. With luck it’ll be a quick, easy fix. Until then, it’s the Tube for me.

Better Weather

I can’t even begin to describe the relief that today’s rain and lower temperatures have brought. It’s easier to sleep, easier to concentrate and easier just to be comfortable. The overcast sky means that I don’t get blinded every time I step outside, too. Bliss.

Working From Home

I’m working from home for a few days while the office is cleaned and rewired after a leaky pipe flooded the IT department. I have mixed feelings about it, to be honest. It’s nice to be home, surrounded by all my stuff and with easy access to snacks and drinks, but I miss the ride into Camden Town on my motorbike and I miss the to-and-fro with my colleagues.

I do find the open plan office very distracting at times, though. Once I have home to myself it’s much easier to concentrate here. And I can listen to music without headphones, which I find become very uncomfortable after a while.

Anyway, whether I like it or not, here I am until Thursday. I feel some buttered toast coming on.

A Pleasant Sunday Morning

This morning, the weather being sunny and warm, I jumped on the bike and rode off to Amersham Old Town in search of a cafe for a quiet breakfast. I had a delightful ride but failed to find what I wanted, so returned to Chorleywood and an old favourite, the Peppermill cafe. So here I sit with a veggie breakfast and a cuppa, perfectly content.

Quiet Afternoon Musings

Here I sit on a rainy Bank Holiday afternoon, my four year old son asleep on the sofa next to me, my wife napping upstairs. I have an urge to write something but I don’t really know what. Just some words on a screen. My eyes are sore, my left arm aches. The dryer in the kitchen keeps trying to attract my attention, turning over occasionally to let me know that the clothes I put in earlier are ready to be folded and put away. Later. I’ll deal with them later.

Maybe I should have another cup of coffee, but I’ve already had three (I think it’s three) cups today. That’s probably enough for now. I could make a cup of tea but I’m not sure I can be bothered.

The various bits of housework I could be doing are nagging at me. They’ll still be there when I can summon up the energy. My bike could do with some TLC but I think I’ll wait till it’s dry out.

I know. Netflix.

An Unpleasant Task

This afternoon I performed a task which has to be done every few months, namely clearing nasty, smelly sludge from the drain at the rear of our house. Basically, I have to stir the bottom with a stick until all the water disappears then get my hand in there and pull out as much crap as possible before bunging a kettle full of boiling water down there for good measure and coming indoors and washing my hands very thoroughly. It’s unpleasant but it only takes a couple of minutes and only needs doing every few months, so it’s not too painful.

The drain is shared with next door, although it’s on our side of the fence. I’m pretty sure we’re not putting anything nasty down there so I think it must be them, but I’m not completely certain. If I was, maybe I could pluck up the courage to have a word but, in typical British fashion, I’d rather just deal with it.

Working at Christmas?

It’s Christmas Day today and, for some unfathomable reason, I agreed with work that I’d keep my laptop with me today, “just in case.” It’s therefore absolutely guaranteed that something horrible will go wrong and need my immediate attention.

On a happier note, merry Christmas, everybody!

Please, Alexa. Thank you, Siri.

I have this thing that I do, and it’s quite deliberate. Whenever I speak to Alexa or Siri, the digital assistants from Amazon and Apple respectively, I always end my request with ‘please’ and often also say ‘thank you’ even though I know that, technically, it doesn’t make any difference.

There are two reasons for this. The first and most important is that, although it has no real effect on Alexa or Siri, it does, I believe, have an effect on me. I don’t want to get used to making demands, especially from those who have no choice but to obey, without the little courtesies. I genuinely think there’s a huge difference, psychologically, between ‘do this thing’ and ‘please would you do this thing’.

I know that there are people out there who don’t seem to think it’s necessary to thank people when they’re just doing their job but I disagree. It’s about acknowledging them, showing you’re aware of them as people, not robots. But thanking the robots too certainly doesn’t hurt and is probably good for me.

The second reason is that, although current digital assistants are not in any way conscious or self-aware, that won’t always be the case and it’s probably a good idea to get used to treating them with courtesy and respect now. Once they achieve awareness they’ll be just as deserving of these things as anyone else and they may well judge us on our treatment of them.

Women of NASA

Lego Women of NASA

On Saturday I bought the rather wonderful Lego Women of NASA set. I’ve wanted it for some time, so when I saw it in the shop I just had to buy it. I’ve brought it into the office so I can put it on my desk where it can, I hope, inspire me every day. It’s such a shame that Katherine Johnson isn’t included but I understand that Lego couldn’t obtain the rights to use her image. A real shame as she’s rather a hero of mine.


I’ve been watching Godless on Netflix recently and I have to say that I’m very impressed. Nice long episodes, each well over an hour, give plenty of room for character development, story telling and beautiful imagery. It’s well cast, well acted, well written and, despite its languid pace, always entertaining. Recommended.

Frost Fair

Yesterday we went to the Frost Fair at Hatfield House. We thought it would be an enjoyable event to take Max to but in retrospect we should have left him behind. Unlike the Living Crafts fair in the early Summer, which has plenty of room available to move around, this event was held in a series of smaller marquees and confined spaces and was very busy, making it extremely unpleasant pushing Max’s buggy around. It also meant that we didn’t want to spend a lot of time looking at things as by doing so we were getting in other people’s way.

On top of all this our offspring decided that the only thing he was interested in eating was ice cream. Unsurprisingly, given the time of year and the nature of the event, this was unavailable. Fortunately, we did manage to persuade him to have a chocolate cookie.

After a lot of pushing and shoving about we decided to give up and leave. Feeling that we should eat, and wanting to go somewhere that might cheer Max up a little, we decided to head for the nearest McDonalds. Yes, yes, I know. I fired up the navigation on my phone and off we went. Little did I realise, foolish me, that the nearest one was at the Galleria. If you’ve never tried to park there, you won’t believe how hard it can be unless you go into the  main car park, which we didn’t want to do as we were only making a quick stop. So we spent some time driving around the outside car park looking for a space and unable to stop and wait for one as by this point there was a fire engine behind us with lights flashing. Naturally, Max had spotted our destination by this point and was anxious to get out of the car.

Eventually we were forced to give up and take Max to visit his grandparents instead, where he did at least cheer up, but the whole day felt a bit wasted. I don’t think we’ll be doing that again in a hurry.

A Brief Note on Star Trek: Discovery

Like, I presume, most other Star Trek fans I’ve been watching the new series, Star Trek: Discovery, on Netflix for the last few weeks and I’m not entirely sure I like it. No, scratch that, I like it well enough but I’m not sure I love it. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why that is and have yet to reach any firm conclusions. Perhaps it’s just early days and by the end of the first season I’ll feel differently. Perhaps it’s the continuous narrative rather than the previous series’ format of discrete episodes, sometimes overlaying a longer story. Perhaps it’s just that what I’d really like to see is something set further into the future than the other series were, rather than sandwiched between Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: The Next Generation as this one is. I want to find out what happens next, not what happened before.

Whatever the reason, I’m not entirely happy. Oh, I shall keep watching and hoping it gets better and maybe it will. Does anyone else have any strong feelings about Discovery?

Please Sleep!

Last Wednesday my son, who is three and a half years old, began his school journey by entering the nursery at the place he’ll go to for the next few years. He’d been going to another nursery for three half days a week but this is proper, full day, every weekday, stuff.

I was expecting him to be tired and, indeed, after the first couple of days he was, but last night he was back to his usual bouncy evening self and this morning he was wide awake and itching to get up at 5:30am. My wife managed to hold him off until six but was then forced to get up with him, it being her turn. I can only hope that he will, eventually and hopefully quite soon, fall into a new pattern of going to sleep quickly at night and staying in bed until a sensible hour of the morning. Any and all advice for helping to get him there will be received gratefully and, if it works, with tears and professions of undying love.

PHP Font Ligatures in Atom

If you’re a user of the Atom programmer’s text editor and you’ve installed a font which uses ligatures, such as the excellent Fira Code, you’ll have found that although they work fine in most languages and even with plain text files, they don’t work with PHP. Here’s a simple solution which I found here.

Open the stylesheet for editing (Atom -> Stylesheet… on MacOS, File -> Stylesheet… on Windows) and add the following, remembering to save it when you’re done:

// Enable ligatures
* {
-webkit-font-feature-settings: "liga" on, "calt" on;

// Turn off ligatures inside strings and regular expessions.
atom-text-editor.editor .syntax--string .syntax--quoted,
atom-text-editor.editor .syntax--string .syntax--regexp {
-webkit-font-feature-settings: "liga" off, "calt" off;

You should now find programming ligatures working in PHP.

EDIT: You should no longer need this as Atom now works correctly but I’m leaving it here for posterity and also just in case.