Are we a generation of idiots, smartphones and dumb people?

Remember those days before the world wide web, before social media when we were… well, actually social. We could sit in the same room with someone and chat with them in person rather than via Facebook or Twitter?

I appreciate social media and Skype, living here in the East Neuk of Fife which St Rule regarded as the western ends of the world. It helps me keep in touch, which is better than nothing. But I do love getting together with my friends in real life, which doesn’t happen as much as I’d like.

During this extended period of recuperation from viral meningitis, I have loved spending more time with Jane, Reuben, Joshua and Isaac. Long may that continue.

While I don’t think we’re a generation of idiots, I do think we need to put down our phones a little more often, step out from behind our computer monitors, and engage with the world face-to-face.

And maybe then rush home and micro-blog about it!

Highlights of a sunny day

Reuben and Joshua throwing stones into a rock pool

Today has been a lovely, if exhausting day packed with friends, family and a lot of laughs. A few highlights:

  • Waking up at 06:30 and spending an hour in the cuddly company of a very smiley Isaac.
  • Washing the car with Reuben and Joshua. There I was on my knees washing a wheel when all of a sudden Reuben’s face appeared round the car. “He he he he!” he laughed before soaking me in the face with the hose.
  • Joshua finished washing the gas meter box (a project instigated at his own initiative), stood back and said “Well, that looks lovely!”
  • A walk to the pig farm to the east of Cellardyke with Reuben, Joshua, Isaac, Jane and friends Joy and Dusty, during which Reuben and Joshua spent most of their time throwing stones into a rock pool (see photo above).
  • Dinner and chat with friends.

I love my children, my wife and my friends. I’d better get to bed: I’m on child-minding duties tomorrow morning again.

Luxembourg … and back again

On Friday I took the train down to Manchester, caught up with my good friend from my National Youth Choir of Great Britain days Danny Curtis and the following morning at pointlessly-early-o’clock (I got up at 04:15 BST) we caught a KLM flight to Luxembourg via Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

We were en route to Luxembourg to celebrate our former NYCGB colleague Jonny Grocock’s 40th birthday and the baptism of his daughter at the Anglican Church of Luxembourg.



Having done my homework online before we flew out I knew that we needed to get the number 16 bus from Luxembourg airport into the city of Luxembourg, alighting at Royal Boulevard, and that it would cost a very reasonable €1.50 (approx. £1.30).

We arrived in Luxembourg around 11:00, and thanks to Google Maps and my GPS-enabled mobile phone (HTC HD2) we were able to find the Anglican Church of Luxembourg very easily.

Venue found we went in search of lunch.

And demonstrating just how cosmopolitan and European we are we ended up at McDonalds Place d’Armes. My first McDonalds in about six or seven years.


We returned to the Anglican Church of Luxembourg in time and Jonny’s daughter was duly baptised … by the wife of one of my former tutors at TISEC (theological college), as it turned out.


And we then retired to the Mercure Kikuoka Golf Club for drinks, dinner and … of course, karaoke.

What fun! Danny, Jonny and his brother Richard and I enjoyed renditions of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and a song by Take That!

…and back again

Getting up pointlessly-early was becoming a habit. We closed our eyes around 23:30 (CET) and my alarm made me literally leap out of bed at 03:15 CET / 02:15 BST.

Having been in Luxembourg for only about 20 hours we caught the 06:20 plane back to Schiphol and then back to Manchester.


I then caught trains back to Cupar in Fife, via changes at York and Edinburgh. And despite having seats booked on the Manchester-York and York-Edinburgh trains I had to stand all the way back because the trains were either too overcrowded and I couldn’t actually reach my seat or because someone was already sitting in my seat.

The first seat was occupied by a man holding a baby and I didn’t have the heart to turf him out of it. The second seat was at first unreachable but by the time the carriage had cleared sufficiently the temperature in the carriage was so unbearable that it was preferable to stand in the area between carriages next to an open window.


All in all that was a great weekend with three great friends. Such a shame it couldn’t have been longer.

Daddy’s taking us to the zoo today

Reuben beside the Penguin Cow sculpture at Edinburgh Zoo

Reuben beside the Penguin Cow sculpture at Edinburgh Zoo

Joshua beside the Penguin Cow sculpture at Edinburgh Zoo

Joshua beside the Penguin Cow sculpture at Edinburgh Zoo

I had a day off today so that I could meet up with my old National Youth Choir of Great Britain friend, and former flatmate, Jonny Coore and family in Edinburgh.

Around 10:00 we set off (in the rain) to Edinburgh (in the rain) to visit Edinburgh Zoo (in the rain).  But what a great day (in the rain).

The first time I visited Edinburgh zoo I was in primary 3, so probably about 6 or 7 years old.  The last time I visited was for a funeral tea for a former member of the zoological society.  So this was my third visit.

I already knew quite a bit about zoos because I’ve listened to The Mighty Boosh on the radio.  Unfortunately, Edinburgh zoo is disappointingly not like Bob Fossil’s Funworld, so I did feel a little out of my depth as it turned out.

Animal magic

First up we saw the sea lions (not seals, those are different) which I explained to Reuben and Joshua look a bit like cats (cos they’ve got whiskers) that live in the sea.

Next up: flamingos. I explained to Reuben and Joshua that flamingos are a bit like pink cats, who stand on one leg. After an introductory talk by someone from the zoo’s education centre he invited questions from the public. Jonny had a question: what do they taste like?

Further up the hill we passed what I thought was an emu. I ignored the ‘emu’, he used to scare me with his pink windmill nonsense. Emus aren’t like cats.

The next talk we heard was about lemurs which I explained to Reuben and Joshua looked a bit like cats.

Reuben and Joshua don’t have a very wide experience of animals so I was trying to relate these new, exotic animals to something they do know about.

Before heading to the picnic area we saw a Malaysia sun bear.  My Mum used to have a bear in Malaysia.  No word of a lie.  I think she called him Joey.


We then had lunch.

It’s nice that there’s a section of the zoo set aside for people to bring their own picnics.  It reminds me of a restaurant I visited recently that had a section set aside for diners to leave their pets.

The highlight of lunch had to be that Jonny ate a Club biscuit.  The lowlight was discovering that 500 ml bottles of Coca Cola cost £1.30 at the zoo.

Thundercats and a revelation

After lunch we climbed the hill to discover the giant cats: a leopard, a tiger, a jaguar, another one that I can’t remember, and another one that I couldn’t see.

I couldn’t think of an animal that Reuben and Joshua know about to compare the leopard, tiger and jaguar to.

I also learned at that point to run a zoo all you need really is a very large estate and cages with photographs of animals on them.

If the accompanying text also informs visitors that this particular animal is quite shy which explains why you might not catch sight of them then you don’t even have to go to what must be the troubling expense of actually buying the animals.

So Jonny, his son and I started to think about the kind of zoo that we could realistically open.  It contained cages with — amongst other things — plasma TVs, paperclips, a chest of drawers and sticks.

We went to look for lions but found gibbons. The rain started to pour down so the gibbons took refuge in a custom-built cave-like shelter. We took shelter under a custom-built shelter-like shelter. And then for a moment I wondered if it was us who was sheltering so that we could watch the gibbons, or whether the gibbons were sheltering so that they could watch us.

I then remembered that we had chocolate biscuits in my rucksack and forgot all about the gibbons.

Penguins and monkeys

We trotted down the hill again towards the penguins enclosure for the Penguin Parade. The parade didn’t happen, for some reason, but we did watch a few small penguins feeding. They eat fish.

The monkey house provided more shelter from the rain and plenty of entertainment.  Did you know that monkeys … actually, I didn’t learn anything new about monkeys because I spent most of my time in there trying to prevent Reuben from poking a baby in a pram. Or stealing my glasses.

And that was our visit to the zoo today. Tomorrow I go back to work.

Can you run it?

Screenshot of Can You Run It showing that Battlefield 2 passes

Battlefield 2 passes with flying colours on my laptop

Downsizing and upsizing

By the recent photographs of my study in various states of disarray you probably know by now that I’m in the process of reorganising a few rooms in our house.

And by now you probably also know the reason why I’m doing it, judging by the recent scan of a 12 weeks and 3 days old baby currently gestating in my wife’s tummy.

Yes, we need to make room for another minor human some time in late January 2011.  So, I’m downsizing some of my … well, stuff, while Jane’s tummy is … well, I guess upsizing.

(She doesn’t read my blog, so don’t worry about that last sentence.)

Battlefield 2

In my study I have two PCs.  One is on my desk, the other is on Jane’s desk/our-old-dining-room-table.  One gets used almost every day, the other gets used only when Valley Boy Rich comes to visit, to play Battlefield 2 over the network.

But the time has finally arrived for my trusty Nethighstreet PC (MSI K7N2 Delta, 2.8 GHz Athlon CPU, 2GB RAM, Creative X-Fi soundcard) to be retired to the PC graveyard that is either Freecycle or eBay (I haven’t quite decided yet). Which obviously leaves us one PC down for our mildly regular death-matches.

Can you run it?

So there I was thinking, if only there was some way of discovering whether Battlefield 2 will run on my laptop when I discovered Can you run it? from System Requirements Lab.

It requires the Java runtime environment to be installed but it’s pretty simple to use:

  1. Visit Can you run it?
  2. Type in a game, or select one from the drop-down list.
  3. Click on the Can you run it? button.
  4. Can you run it? tells you whether you can run it. Or not. Any why.

Genius!  Within a few seconds I was given the good news that Battlefield 2 will run successfully on my laptop.  And what’s more it will do so at a pretty high spec.

I also discovered that it will not run Call of Duty 4, isn’t entirely sure about Lego Star Wars or Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts and hasn’t even heard of Heaven & Hell.

You have to put oil in the hot, noisy bit!

Engine part

Last Thursday — almost a week ago now — I’d booked the day off work so that we could drive across to Perth to meet up with our dear friends from our Inverness days, Andrew and Lindsay Howie, to catch up with them and meet their twins (a boy and girl … and no, not identical!) as they were heading north again.

The plan

What could have been more simple? The plan was to feed Reuben and Joshua at 11:00, load them into the car and drive to Perth via Dundee. They sleep well in the car, so it was a failsafe plan. Until we got into the car that is.

Jane has a Renault Mégane Sport Tourer (an estate car by any other name). It’s a nice car. It’s comfortable. And as we’ve discovered now three times within a month it has dodgy windows!

When I climbed into the drivers seat I noticed that the window was down. So I pressed the button.



I started the engine and pressed the button again.

Again nothing.

Plan B

Fifteen minutes later I was following Jane, who was driving my car (Vauxhall Astra, with fully working windows), to Dundee for an appointment with the Renault Minute garage. While they couldn’t fix it that day they said that we could leave the car with them, they’d secure it and replace the faulty window part in the morning. At a cost of £281.

They didn’t say that. We already knew. The front passenger’s window had done exactly the same thing two weeks previously.

Spoken too soon

About twenty five minutes after depositing the car in Dundee Jane and I were discussing cars, pondering about whether we should sell both cars and buy a new one, returning to being a one-car family.

“We should get a Vauxhall,” said Jane.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “This has done, what, 92,000 miles and it’s great.”

“We’ve not had a single problem with this car,” Jane pondered.

Not less than a minute later not one but two warning lights lit up on the dashboard: the engine electronics/immobilizer warning light and the low oil warning light.

To cut a long story short

It turns out that every now and then you have to put something called ‘oil’ into the hot, noisy bit at the front of a car. Ahem!

Having arrived at our rendezvous (Dobbies Garden Centre just outside Perth) I checked the oil level with the dipstick.

There was no level! Maybe I was the dipstick!

And to think that just the other week I’d thought to myself: I wonder if I need to check the oil level.

Another irony was that in order to get the boys’ pram into the car we had to remove my Big Boy’s Box of Interesting Car Maintenance Bits and Pieces, which included a two litre bottle of Castrol oil.

“We don’t need this box do we?” asked Jane, removing it from the boot of the car.

“Nah! We’ll be fine,” I foolishly reassured her.

So, having purchased a new two litre bottle of oil (10W-40 or something) I emptied half of it into the engine. Result! The dipstick was now showing that I’d reached just below the minimum line. Pouring the rest of the oil brought the oil level on the dipstick up to just above midway between the minimum and maximum. Phew!

And do you know what? The engine hasn’t sounded or felt better for months. Funny that!

Windows 3

The following day Jane got a lift up to Dundee to collect the car and hand over another £281 for a repaired window.

And this morning Jane returned from coffee with a friend to discover that it had done it again! The driver’s door window again.

The trial continues …

The best job in the world?

My friend Iain has applied for what is being dubbed “The Best Job in the World“: The Caretaker of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef.

Not sure how it can be, to be honest, given that the best job in the world is to be working within the Web Team at the University of St Andrews!

Anyway, that dispute aside, potential applicants are asked to upload a video, photograph and video of themselves (no longer than 60 seconds) to the website.

Here’s Iain’s … erm, offering. Check it out, it’s a work of genius!

Or you can check it out within the context of The Best Job in the World website.