Archive for the 'personal, friends and family' Category

Jeff Lawson 6 June 1944 – 14 August 2014

Here’s the eulogy I delivered at my Dad’s funeral last Thursday.

Jeff Lawson, or (“Grandpa Fifi” as my kids called him, as when they were little they couldn’t pronounce “Jeffrey”) was born on D-day to Jim and Elsie. He spent his first few years with his brother Colin up in the North East for a while. One of his earliest memories was of running away from home, and getting on a bus to go and live with his Auntie, who spanked him and immediately put him back on the return bus. When his father retired, the four of them moved way down south to Southampton where he mostly lost his Geordie accent, although it returned after a few on the rare occasions when he’d had too many glasses of beer.

middle-aged man smiling and putting thumbs in ears

As a teenager in Southampton he developed a love of music, also shared with his younger brother Colin, and won a twist competition at the hop in the early 60s. In your order of service, you’ll see photograph of him and Colin’s wife Barbara shaking their booties at Jeff’ 60th birthday party.

two refreshed middle-aged people dancing in a garden.

He was the first Lawson male for generations not be a coal miner, and moved to London to join the civil service. After some time being generally groovy (see the photos in your Order of Service), he met Anthea and they married, honeymooning by being posted by the Civil Service to Aden, South Yemen, where I was born precisely 8 months to the day after the wedding. (They told their parents that I was premature).

london-60s

On returning to the UK, they lived in Hastings where Guy was born, and then they moved to Birmingham where he and Anthea brought us up. Times were hard, so family meals were supplemented with home-grown vegetables that were planted in Party 7 beer cans, empty 7 pint beer cans that spontaneously appeared in the kitchen over the weekend.

Guy remembers that, when he would walk us home from the bus stop where we’d meet him after work, he’d always discover a stash of sweets hidden in the undergrowth somewhere by a mysterious person known as the Magic Man, whose identity is still unknown to this day.

We remember his proud acquisition of a music centre in the 1970s, where he would listen to ELO, Abba and Alma Cogan through headphones and “sing” along.

His singing style was unique – he never believed changing pitch was as important as maintaining a high decibel count. He nevertheless never tired of telling his family that some young girl had once told him he had a lovely voice. And so he had – when he wasn’t singing.

An example of his non-singing voice was when he had to go to a training course in Edinburgh, and he recorded a series of stories about an Octopus named Oscar on his cassette player for them to listen to every night before bed during his absence.

Jeff worked for many years for the Civil Service as a Welfare Officer – a kind of staff counsellor – along with John who later became his next-door neighbour. In his spare time he used to enjoy music, gardening and amateur dramatics, as well as brewing foul-tasting but strong beer.

Tim, a schoolfriend of ours, recalls “Saturday afternoon, I’d peddled to your house to find you and your dad sat in the back garden “testing” the home brew. I remember it getting very giggly. I think we had about 3 or 4 pints each. Guy had to go to bed after 2 pints”. On his way home, Tim was arrested for being drunk in charge of a bicycle. Two other friends of mine crashed their bicycles into a steel gate on a building site – there was no fence around it, just a free-standing gate.

In the late 80s, Jeff separated from Anthea and moved to London, settling in Eltham with his new partner, Big Bruce (so named because I’m “little Bruce”) and his dog Digger of which he was exceptionally fond.

Jeff found life as a Civil Servant dis-spiriting, although he loved the Royal Parks that he helped administer. So, as soon as he could, aged 50, he retired and the last 20 years of his life were full of activity – caring for his mother, Elsie, who moved in with him, holidays (lots of holidays!), acting and directing at the Bob Hope Theatre, listening to children read at a local school, judging gardens and volunteering to use his counselling skills at Stepping Stones, a support service for those with life-limiting illnesses at Greenwich & Bexley Hospice. Ann from Stepping Stones wrote to us saying “we have so many wonderful memories of him over many years working together – in his easter bonnet and dressed up for Christmas and yet so sensitive and compassionate with all our users.”

Four years ago, the day after his mother’s funeral here, Jeff had heart surgery to replace a valve. Once he’d recovered from that, he took us all to a large villa in France where we spent a lovely summer holiday – although the restaurant meals meant he couldn’t indulge his love on elaborate and detailed menu planning.

He remained healthy for most of his retirement – as recently as Christmas he was at our house with Anthea and her new husband for Xmas dinner, and – although he was suffering from leg pain that made it difficult for him to walk – treated the family to a weekend at Centreparcs in June for his 70th birthday. After his admission to hospital, he was still texting Guy and me to arrange to visit Centreparcs again at Easter next year “when I’m better”.

His death was sudden – he’d been discharged from hospital. We were on holiday at the time, at a place he recommended, and using a map he’d sketched for us. We didn’t cut the holiday short; he’d have hated us to, especially as Dalyan was special to him.

We’re comforted by the fact that it was sudden, swift and at home; he was a private man who hated to be seen frail and would have hated to “become a burden” as he would have put it.

We remember him with love, and are grateful that you are all here to do that with us.

See you, Fifi.

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Education for the teenage girl: classic movies

As the proud owner of a teenage girl who’s turning into a fine young woman, I’ve reflected on the various stages of parenthood:

  1. spending 49% of salary on baby food, and 49% on nappies
  2. bedtime stories
  3. grazed knees and reassurance
  4. helping with homework
  5. realising you’re unable to help with homework
  6. pretending not being sad when they say they hate you
  7. making them work for relatively trivial amounts of money so they understand that money is valuable
  8. being polite to spotty herberts with ludicrous hair and unstable voices (Teenage Boys)
  9. “this is a house not a hotel”
  10. “Bye!”

The daughter is pretty well-equipped for adulthood. She already excels in many aspects of the curriculum at Bruce’s Finishing School for Modern Young Ladies® – she can fart outrageously, think deeply, belch loudly, accept differences, kickbox and knock down arse-gropers, play guitar, say “no”, say “fuck off”, spin out a really good joke to entertain both friends and eavesdroppers on a bus, get a paedophile deported, support her friends, swear inventively and hold her vodka down.

So I’m beginning a programme of watching classic movies with her. Not worthy art films, just those that have a different view of life, are surprising, or beautiful, or don’t portray women as idiots or trophies to be won, or simply those you’ll feel embarrassed saying “I haven’t seen that” at a student party.

Here’s a list so far:

  • Some Like It Hot
  • The usual suspects
  • Evil Dead
  • Evil Dead 2013
  • Alien
  • Blade Runner
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Seven
  • The Big Lebowski
  • Un chien Andalou
  • The Others
  • Triumph of the Will
  • Kind Hearts and Coronets
  • Pan’s Labyrinth
  • Python films
  • Twelve monkeys
  • The Shining
  • Fight club
  • Sixth sense

Your recommendations (with a line about why) would be highly useful.

Poem: It is a hot evening in July

My university friend Richard was doing some paperwork at his house and found a magazine published in the late 80s with three of my poems in it, each of which I’d written to capture one single moment or emotion. For no other reasons than it’s fun for me to rediscover my younger self, and because right now it actually is a hot evening in July, and also because I want to pretend to be all sensitive’n’shit, here’s one of those poems:

It is a hot evening in July. You and I
lie, naked, on the bed. My cigarette smoke
dances in the sun’s fading rays, and hangs in the air
like angels, waiting. Are you awake?
Yes, it seems that you are.
You run your fingers through your raven-black hair,
slowly. Your eyes are half-closed. Your eyelashes are long.
Your skin is pale, glazed with sweat. Your lips are wet.
Stubble in your armpits. Nipples dark, erect.
One of your legs gently massages the other, so slowly.
Perfect.
I lie back, exhaling slowly, and kiss you.
But you do not kiss me.
I have often noticed this: you will reciprocate,
but not initiate. A clock ticks somewhere.
You retain fragments of a fractured innocence:
You remind me of a fallen angel. There are no words.
A smile comes to your lips and I say, What’s funny?
You do not reply.
It is a hot evening in July.

It is a hot evening in July:
humid; quiet. You sigh.
We breathe heavily, in unison.
The sound of next door’s radio
floats languidly through our window to the world.
You hum along, inaudibly. I light another cigarette as
you shift to your side to face me. I stare at the ceiling
and send a smoke ring drifting
which hangs over your head and dissipates.
Your hand rests on my stomach, your head on my chest.
My free arm around your shoulders.
I can hear your heart beat.
I can feel your heart beat.
Somewhere a clock is ticking.
You look up and smile to me; our eyes are solemn.
And then you kiss me and I could cry.
It is a hot evening in July.

Two cheers for the economic recovery

As we approach a council and European election in UK, and are a year away from the General Election, the government is crowing that its years of austerity politics have put Britain right again. House prices are booming (in the South East) etc. 1.2 million new jobs are (apparently) created (but what kind of jobs?). “Welfare has been capped and immigration controlled, so our economy works for those who play by the rules”, say the Conservatives.

It doesn’t feel like a Golden Age of prosperity here in my past-its-heydey suburb of South Birmingham. Our high street supports two family butchers, and a greengrocer. But there are also two slot machine shops, several discount shoes and cheap clothing shops, as well as a slew of charity shops and places to sell gadgets/ jewellry for cash.

Here are some photos of my local high street; it takes 10 minutes to amble along this route – approximately 400m to walk up, cross the road, and walk down again.

There’s an Oxfam charity shop:

Oxfam charity shop

A shop selling plastic stuff and canned food for a pound:

Poundbase pound shop

A PDSA charity shop:

PDSA charity shop

A cheque centre (for cashing cheques at a commission) next to an “Entertainment centre” (where people can buy sell phones, games consoles, DVDs etc):

Cheque cashing payday loan place, next to "cash converters" type shop

A British Heart Foundation furniture and electrical store, where people on low incomes can buy cheap used furniture:

Furniture/ Electrical charity shop

A branch of Pound Stretchers:

Pound Stretcher

“Money for Gold Rope” where you can sell your jewelry:

Money 4 Gold pawn shop

Debra charity shop for cheap used furniture:

Debra charity shop

Cash converters, where you can sell your TV, DVD player. There’s always a queue to sell at weekends:

Cash converter pawn shop

A Marie Curie cancer hospice charity shop next to a British Red Cross charity shop:

Marie Curie Hospice Charity shop next to British Red Cross charity shop

Acorns Children’s Hospice charity shop:

Acorns hospice charity shop

BetFred bookmakers, next to Scope charity shop:

Betfred bookmakers next to Scope charity shop

Albemarle Bond pawn shop:

Pawnbroker shop

Bright House, a shop that provides “high-quality, branded products to credit-constrained customers, through affordable weekly payments. Our bespoke credit management processes enable our customers to get the goods they need, in a way they can afford”. It’s basically a high-interest hire purchase shop; the front page of their website today advertises a “representative APR of 64.7%”:

Bright House high-interest hire purchase

British Heart Foundation charity shop:

British Heart Foundation charity shop

Charity shops do great work, and I love poking around them for CDs and books. But when most of your high street is charity shops, it’s difficult to believe the triumphant cries of “recovery!” from the millionaires in government.

2013 round-up

2013 was a fun year. It saw my 5 year anniversary at Opera – which I actually missed when it came about, all the more surprising when I consider that I’ve never done one job for this long. (Previous records were Programmer/ Analyst at AT&T from 1988-92, Teacher at Amnuay Silpa School, Bangkok from 1996-2000 and Web bloke at The Law Society from 2004 until starting with Opera in ’08.)

As befits a tech company, I didn’t receive a carriage clock or gold watch. Instead, my CEO began following me on twitter. So now, I always wear a tie when tweeting. Just a tie.

Professionally it’s been an interesting and fun year. I got to visit Italy, Spain and Romania for the first time. Spain saw me in Barcelona twice, although the first time doesn’t really count as I was trussed up in a business suit and incarcerated at Mobile World Congress to leverage synergies in an aircraft hanger-sized conference venue. I have yet to go inside Sagrada Familia, so if any Barcelona conference wishes to have me in 2014, you know where to find me.

I also was invited to return to Scotland, Russia, Germany and The Netherlands and had the “fun” of two week-long trips to West USA in three weeks. Jetlag-a-rama. All worth it though, to mix with people who make the Web.

I’ve been spending time working directly with Opera’s desktop team. In 2013 we moved from using our own Presto rendering engine to using the open-source Chromium engine, and rethinking all of the features and UI. Results have been encouraging, but there’s more to do, so I’ve been working on gathering feedback, community engagement and planning next releases.

Working in products has been as interesting as I hoped it would be. Users talk very little about Web Standards – which has been my focus (=obsession) previously, but are very vocal about features and UI. I think this an encouraging sign for the Web generally; as browsers auto-update faster and rendering engines become more interoperable, there are fewer sites requiring specific browsers (although just as many breaking the web by requiring an iPad/ iPhone).

Due to the shocking revelations from Edward Snowden, In 2013 I’ve gone from the kind of person who mocked tinfoil hatters to someone who’s checking the signature of a Tails ISO. At Handheld Conference, my friend Aral Balkan announced IndiePhone, a new design-led, open-source Operating System and phone. I look forward to seeing how it develops, but fear that the tendrils of the NSA are too enmeshed in the infrastructure of the web to allow anyone to be free of intrusive surveillance unless they join the tinfoil-hatters in setting up the kind of countermeasures that consumers won’t understand or be able to do.

All the best for 2014!

Secrets of Mayan flower remedy healing: channelling the crystal tarot for wealth and success

Some of you may know this already, but I can now announce it publicly. 2014 approaches, and promises to be an astrologically significant year as Jupiter turns retrograde, just as Saturn reaches the mid-point of Scorpio and as Mars enters Libra.

The primary effect of karmic Saturn spending virtually all of 2014 in fellow Water sign, Scorpio is that I don’t have enough money. Therefore, I’ve been doing some serious study and am now a Reikimaster (7th dan) Aromatherapy Chakra Realignment Lifecoach.

If you’re rich and consider yourself “Quite Spiritual”, you’re invited to one of my workshops. The first, which will take place on the Spring Equinox near Glastonbury Tor where the leylines meet, is Secrets of Mayan flower remedy healing: channelling the crystal tarot for wealth and success.

In this two day Meditative Chakra Healing and Negative Energy Banishment Retreat™, you’ll learn:

  • some regurgitated bits of the Upanishads that I found on free Kindle books that explain how your Soul can never be destroyed but, by conflating it with some misunderstood terms from pop science books, is Quantum Mechanically “remembered” in the fabric of SpaceTime, meaning that your spiritual essence forever vibrates in trees and flowers.
  • how the secrets of the Ancient Tarot’s “High Priestess” card affects your karmic balance
  • how to use some attractively polished stones to raise your Magnetic Resonance during Magnetic Pole Reversal, which can otherwise block your creativity by flooding you with “Negergy” – a kind of negative energy that I personally discovered during my time at an ashram in Spiritual India (Thank you).
  • how the power of song can free the shackles of your spirit bringing a feeling of lighthearted one-ness with your fellow Truth-Seekers and the Universe, through a process of Astral-hyperventilation™.
  • how to visualize what you want to create – and you will electromagnetically attract the object of your visualization.
  • how to commune with Angels in a group meditative attempt bring about World Peace, Prosperity and Increase.

This warm, friendly, creative, meditative space costs just £499+VAT. Mung Beans and Scrumpy are provided (bring your own roach material).

Please indicate your interest below. (Note, we don’t take Bitcoin as that’s pie-in-the-sky nonsense).

Where’s my bloody Christmas card?

You haven’t got one from me. But don’t feel weepy or left-out; nobody has. I don’t send them. Not just because I’m a miserable old curmudgeon (though I am) but because I think it’s silly to spend money on cards, money to send them (often via plane) so you can put it in a landfill after 10 days.

So instead every year I give the money I would have spent to a charity. This year it’s going to the MS Society of the UK, which funds research into multiple sclerosis causes and treatments, and educates the newly-diagnosed, their friends/ family and employers. That service was invaluable to me when I was diagnosed.

They’ve been going for 60 years, and I’m proud to support them. I hope that you’ll be pleased with where your Christmas card actually went.

So, dear reader, whatever you celebrate (or don’t) I wish you a happy and lovely 2014.

To those who tell me aspartame, coffee cause Multiple Sclerosis

I’m not shy about talking about having multiple sclerosis (largely because I have supportive employers so I’m not constantly in fear of being fired as many disabled people are). So from time to time I get blog comments or emails from crazies who tell me that multiple sclerosis is caused by coffee/ aspartame/ invisible MS rays from the evil Quaziquarg, Lord of the Quarg People.

These people simply don’t understand the nature of scientific cause and effect. My fist and their noses would serve admirably to demonstrate how this process works.

Here’s what the UK Food Standards Agency says about aspartame. Here’s information about a far more dangerous substance, Dihydrogen Monoxide – armchair scientists, circulate it around Facebook now!

Chicken, chorizo, sausages and winter veg in orange juice

Not to be outdone by Sil’s 15 Minute Meals done by an idiot, here’s the lunch I cooked my yesterday for my brood as a change from normal roasts, to unanimous acclaim and a request to do it for Xmas dinner.

Ingredients

  • Enough chicken legs for everyone
  • 8 good sausages (I used Sainsbury’s best Pork and Apple ones)
  • Loads of thyme and some sage (out of the garden)
  • Half a chorizo ring
  • Jar of black olives (cheapo ones are fine)
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • Some pickled chills if you like a tang
  • butternut squash (or courgette, or potato, or whatever)
  • 2 – 3 parsnips, depending on size
  • 4 or 5 good size carrots
  • 3 oranges (and some lemon/ lime if you want)
  • olive oil, salt, pepper
  • Purple sprouting broccoli
  • Frozen peas

Get a large baking dish, and pre-heat the oven to about gas mark 5.

Lay the chicken in the baking dish. Cut sausages into 3 pieces, and throw them into the tray. Chop chorizo into fingernail sized chunks, throw them on. Peel and chop the squash, carrots and parsnips into decent-sized chunks – about half the size of your thumb (too small and they’ll disintegrate). Throw it all on. Ditto olives and pickled chillis.

Juice the oranges and pour it over everything, drizzle olive oil over it all (not too much as the meat will produce its own fat).

Finely chop garlic, some orange zest and pour it over. Add some salt, and black pepper and lots of sage and thyme. Wuffle it around with a wooden spoon to make sure everything is oiled and seasoned. If you like tang, put pickled chillis on the top. Don’t chop them; that way, they’re easily identifiable and can be removed for people who like the flavour they impart but don’t want to eat chunks of palate-scouring chilli.

Put it in the oven. Open bottle of wine to let it breathe. Drink a glass of it to test it. 25 mins later, turn everything over in the dish and put it back.

About 1 hour after you turned the oven on, put the kettle on and boil some water. While it’s boiling, put peas and broccoli in a microwavable bowl, add 2 tbsp of water, cover and nuke for 5 mins.

Serve everything. Use juices left in pan, veg water, a glug of wine and water from kettle plus a Knorr Chicken Stock Pot to make gravy. Eat it all.

Total cost, excluding wine, about £15 for 4 people.

On Romania

When I got an email from Gabi Schiopu inviting me to speak at the first front-end conference in Romania, I didn’t hesitate for an instant. I’ve wanted to visit Romania for a long time.

Years ago, I read an article in Guardian about how Ceaușescu, Romania’s dictator, paid off foreign debt by exporting much of the country’s agricultural and industrial production, and therefore causing great hardship to Romanians. As the birthrate dropped, fewer people had children because it was so difficult to survive, so he banned abortions.

I remember being thrilled when the 1989 revolution happened. The Guardian-reading Amnesty member in me was appalled when he was executed along with his wife on Xmas day, but the other half of me thought “gotcha!”. Tellingly, at his show trial, he and his wife Elena were accused of “suppressing the soul of a nation” which he doubtless tried to do. But, ironically, he didn’t achieve it. The reason that Romania fascinates me is precisely because it shows that brainwashing, personality cults and a quarter of a century of brutality didn’t suppress everyone. At some point, the people will rise up and free themselves. I hope the same will happen in North Korea and Iran, too.

Every wannabe despot should watch the video of Caeausescu’s last speech, and note the incredulity in his face (about 50 seconds in) when he realises that the game’s up; the people aren’t taking any more. And wannabe despots should be very scared by it.

Bucharest

Bucharest was called the “Paris of the East”, and it certainly has its fair share of elaborate buildings, wide boulevards and imposing structures. The historic centre is delightful, full of bars and restaurants. Unfortunately, half of it was razed, and its inhabitants banished to soviet-style concrete blocks in the suburbs, for a preposterous People’s Palace ordered by Caeausescu, who was shot before it was completed.

The Palace has 1,100 rooms and is the second largest building in the world (after The Pentagon). Our hosts took us on a guided tour; it’s impressive because of the size and workmanship of the fittings and decoration but, like Ceausescu himself, is dull, flatulent, pompous and uninspired. It’s a fitting monument.

SmartWeb Conference

I was in Bucharest for SmartWeb Conference, and what a treat it was. Excellently organised by EvenSys, it was invented and curated by Gabi because he wanted to go to a front-end conference but couldn’t, so decided to organise one in Romania. There were people from far and wide in the country, as well as some from Hungary and further afield, and a real buzz. It felt like a nation’s Web community coming of age, and it was a great pleasure to witness and be a part of it.