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 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.
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.
I don’t usually follow recipes from magazines, because they usually need zillions of ingredients and take ages to prep. But I had six people around for dinner, and a whole leg of lamb, so Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Six-hour spiced lamb with 40 cloves of garlic seemed a good choice. (All of us like garlic, but it’s not actually death-by-alium, as you don’t crush the garlic, just add it to the juices.)
It took about 10 minutes longer to prepare than any other roast, and that was toasting the spices and pulversising them in a pestle and mortar, but it was time well spent as it was absolutely delicious.
It did list some ingredients I didn’t have, so I adapted it thus:
For the sauce, I didn’t have paprika, caraway or fennel. So I added a couple of cloves, and some chilli flakes (about a teaspoon).
After the first 30 minutes, when you’re supposed to add a cup of water, I added a mug of water and a cup of red wine. (I knew my guests would want lots of gravy.)
An hour before the end, when you add all the garlic, I also added a couple of sprigs of rosemary from the garden, a couple of handfulls of black olives, and another cup of wine.
The gravy was really intense, even before I squished some cloves of garlic and a few olives into it and sieved it. The remaining olives tasted great for people to munch while the meat was resting. I served it with carrots that I cooked around the lamb for the last hour, potatoes roasted in goose-fat, Yorkshire puddings, roast butternut squash and boiled broccoli and cauli.
Possibly my dullest-ever post, but two years after moving into a somewhat run-down Victorian house in South Birmingham (West Midlands, UK not Alabama) I’ve used lots of tradesmen – on one memorable occasion, I had 2 plasterers, 2 roofers and an electrician in at the same time.
These were all recommended to me by people I trust, and I can definitely recommend them to anyone else.
Badger Windows – a double-glazing company recommended by a friend, that didn’t try a hard sell or do stupid shenanigans to “give a discount”. They turned up when they said, did the job cleanly, and didn’t ask for money up-front, but invoiced a month later. (I regret using Anglian previously – they mucked around with installation dates, had to come back because the factory had sent the wrong thing then had to be called back because the new double-glazed door had a draught.)
Decorator, wallpapering, painting
Andy Day (0121 733 7359) decorated my previous house. Ten years later, we moved out and the decoration was still really good so we hired him again. He redid almost all of my new house, hanging paper immaculately on 10 feet high walls. He turns up when he says, takes half an hour to eat his sandwiches, and leaves at six until the job’s done. He was recommended to me by a police officer and is also a very nice bloke, which is helpful when you work at home and have someone in your house for 3 weeks.
Andy Day (above) recommended Dean Beach (07833 974859) who did some beautiful work clearing artex off, skimming and repairing some walls and broken coving (from when electricity had been installed half a century ago). Very good price, takes real pride in the job.
My brother recommended Gary Coles (07949 739056) who painted the eaves on my three-storey house, sorted out a couple of leaks, capped some chimneys for a very fair price, without trying to tell me I need a new roof (which the surveyor said I might).
Jason at Knight Security (they do burglar alarms too: 0121 706 5799) added some lights, light switches and plug sockets, lowered the main fusebox (it was 10 feet up – hard to deal with in the dark if the lights go!), installed extractor fans in the shower. Recommended by two different friends.
Jason the electrician – who’s also a guitarist – recommended his mate Paul (07902 624295) who’s both a plumber and a drummer to install a new radiator in a radiatorless, cold hallway. £150, including the radiator.
Handyman, shower installation, tiling, handmade oak garage doors
I recommend my old schoolfriend Matt who did loads of stuff for me. Drop me a line if you want details.
It’s five years since I began work at Opera, the plucky Norwegian browser maker. Despite this appalling handicap, Opera’s gone from 48.6 million users in June 2008 to over 300 million users.
Doing my job, I’ve co-authored a book and had the privilege of visiting India, Indonesia, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, France, Spain, Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Germany, USA, Czech Republic, South Africa, Denmark, Sweden, and (of course) Norway, and met some of the cleverest people in the industry.
I’ve gone from being a man who forced a corporate website to behave itself in IE6 every day (with only Firebug as my sword and a couple of forums as my shield) to someone who rarely makes full websites any more, but reads billions of emails about the next tranche of fascinating standards that take the web to new, ever more-powerful ubiquity.
When I was a young roister-doister, I lived in a flat with my massive tomcat, Bagpuss. Bagpuss was a bit weird, as he was obsessed with water. Perhaps in a previous feline incarnation he’d been a Van cat. It’s all the more surprising considering that once, when he was a kitten, he’d jumped up onto the toilet seat to peer into the water and fallen in, head first. Luckily I was in the bathroom shaving and was able to pull him out before he drowned.
A common way for me to entertain him would be to turn on the tap just slightly so water would drip out once a second, and he’d sit next to the sink and attempt to bat the falling drips with his paws. This could keep him transfixed for an hour.
Here he is, with one of his lady admirers:
Once, however, his behaviour metamorophosed from the quirky to the terrifying.
Picture the scene: I was lying in the bath, naked (as one does) when the door opened slightly and in came Bagpuss. He leaped up on to the edge of the bath to get a better view of the water, lost his footing and fell in. If you’ve ever seen a three feet long tomcat, flailing around in a panic with his claws extended fully, you’ll know to get out of the way. Now, imagine one on top of you, while you’re completely nude. It’s utterly terrifying. With one hand cupping the Bruce Juice Introducer™, I picked him up by the scruff of his neck and evicted him from the tub, and then had to spend 15 minutes soothing him before he’d let me turn the hairdryer on him.
I was reading a Reddit post on which celebs are “assholes” and which aren’t, and can exclusively reveal that Chris Tarrant is a tosspot, whereas Irish post-punk bands The Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers are jolly nice people — Jake Burns wished me happy birthday, and Undertones’ bassist Micky Bradley gave me a can of Stella when I was 14.
However, Tebbit also has a sense of humour. At University, my housemates and I would write letters to TV personalities requesting autographed photos to decorate our rented house on De Grey Street, Hull, AKA “Raunchy Studsville”. (Note, this is before the Web existed to divert students from essays etc).
We wrote to Tebbit at the House of Commons:
Dear Norm, we’ve watched your rise through the Tory party with admiration. Market Forces dictate that you send us a signed photograph. Get Down! The Raunchy Studs.
A week later, an House of Commons envelope addressed to “Raunchy Studsville, 1 De Grey St, Hull” landed on our doormat, containing a hand-written note on headed note paper:
Dear Studs, who am I to argue with Market Forces? Here’s your photo. Get Down!
It’s been an interesting year. I had my mother-in-law stay with us for six months. I can heartily recommend everyone do this. My cousin Mark got married; my uncle Colin died; my aunt Sue died of Multiple Sclerosis.
My son started high school and somehow became taller than my wife and turned from good humoured child into occasionally ill-tempered adolescent who’s the finest gamer in his gang. My daughter turned into a beautiful and strong teenage woman; her strength of character is an immense source of pride. For example, for months she and some colleagues had been bothered by an adult male taking upskirt photos of them with a mobile phone on the bus to school. No-one said anything until my daughter bravely called him out on the bus (getting an obscene tirade in response) and reported him to the police who deported him.
I visited Amsterdam in The Netherlands (twice); Oslo, Norway numerous times (where I bought the most expensive beer I’ve ever bought: £12.50!); Sofia, Bulgaria; Toulouse, France; Dusseldorf, Germany; Krakow, Poland; Moscow, Russia; Prague, Czech republic and Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town was particularly surprising; I didn’t expect to like it much and came away believing it to be one of the few places in the world outside the UK where I could actually imagine myself living.
I didn’t visit the USA in 2012 (but already have plans to go to Future Insights, Vegas) and had to turn down trips to Istanbul in Turkey, Lisbon in Portugal and Venice in Italy because of scheduling conflicts. Thanks to all the conference organisers, fellow speakers and attendees who allow me to travel to beautiful, interesting places and drink beer with and learn from some of the finest minds in the industry.
For pleasure, I visited Thailand and Cambodia with my mum, uncle and cousin and also my grandmother in powdered form, scattering her ashes in Angkor Wat. I did some Asian posing and got papped by a monk.
Having survived Cambodia and Thailand unscathed, I got a horrible bite in the UK which had me in A&E for the second time in two years. (The first time was after I was onstage barefooted in Sweden and stood on a rusty nail.)
After finishing the second edition of Introducing HTML5, I needed to do something unrelated to web in my free time and was commissioned to develop and write a weekend course to train teachers how to teach English to very young children (which is what I did in Thailand before the millennium and getting into the web business).
Talking of web, my personal website saw a few bemused visitors in 2012. The top search phrases were
bruce lawson (2.6%)
personal website (1.5%)
personal site (1.2%)
jacobean plays (1%)
friday jokes (0.7%)
pui fan lee (0.6%)
pui fan lee husband (0.6%)
cartoon newt (0.6%)
pui fan lee married (0.5%)
html5 form (0.5 %)
It’s good to see that I’m not just a one-trick pony (although “html5″ was the top single term). In the full list, I was pleased to see “naked men showering”, “spiffing” (an adjective, not a verb), “the pencil test”, “lovely bums”, “kerala beautiful ladies” and – by way of geographic balance, “uk anal sluts”.
I didn’t send you one. Not because I hate you (I don’t – I love you, especially in that outfit and the way you toss your hair when you laugh), but because I don’t send them to anyone. If I did, I’d have to post them to friends in Thailand, Norway, USA, Australia, India, Russia, Japan and elsewhere, polluting the planet so that twee pictures and shop-bought sentiments can end up in landfills. What a waste of money.
Instead, I donate the money I’d spend on cards and postage to a charity. This year, I’m sending some cash to the Bhopal Medical Appeal which gives free medical care to the people hurt in Bhopal and so shamefully treated by those responsible, Union Carbide (now part of Dow).
To date our Sambhavna Clinic has treated more than 35,000 people. We employ over 60 staff, roughly a third of whom are themselves gas survivors. We carry out valuable studies, inform, educate and train people in gas-affected communities to monitor their health.
…In the Bhopal Medical Appeal ‘we’ don’t ask ‘you’ to help ‘us’ help ‘them’. The Appeal and the Sambhavna Clinic are shared efforts between those of us who are survivors, those of us who run the Clinic and the Appeal and those of us who support the effort with our money and by volunteering our skills or just our enthusiasm.
So that’s your card. Have a merry consumerfest, and a happy new year.
I’m delighted to have arrived in Cape Town to speak at Content Strategy Forum with luminaries such as Kristina Halvorson, Luke Wroblewski, Relly Annett-Baker, and Cennydd Bowles (and many others whom I’m really looking forward to hearing).
But I’m sad that I’m missing the funeral of my uncle, Colin Lawson. Colin was my Dad’s younger brother – a lovely gentleman who ran a bike shop (Lawson’s Cycles in Christchurch) and played guitar in his local area.
In the early 60s, he was rhythm guitarist in a band called The Saxons, named by my Dad. Here they are, circa 1964: left to right unknown, Colin Lawson, unknown, Frank Smith, Roger Mabey (names gleaned from David St John’s site):
Their significant claim to fame was that they supported the Rolling Stones when they came to Southampton. Claims to fame don’t tell the real story, however; Colin was devoted husband to Barbara and father to Ruth and Guy.
It was Colin who taught me the most important lesson when I began learning the guitar (in the summer of ’82 after my O levels when I went to stay with him and Barbara). I’d wondered why I had to do all the pesky chord fingering with my left hand, when I’m right-handed. He explained my “lead” hand was used for strumming, which is far harder than fretting chords. Once I’d learned the chords and they were second nature, it was the rhythm that made a good guitarist. Of course, he was right, and I’ve never looked back.
Five years or so ago he was diagnosed with cancer. There were several years of chemotherapy and blood transfusions, throughout which he remained upbeat (“I’ve felt better but looking forward” were the last words he said to me on the phone). Eventually, he succumbed, having been out to the pub for the last time less than a week before he died.
I used to love going on peaceful demos when I was a kid. Aged about 14, I’d be on a coach once a month to London, or Greenham Common or some US military base to march in support of CND, Troops Out or against the National Front.
When today’s anti-austerity marches were announced, my wife and I thought it would be great to march as a family, to show the government how we feel.
But I’m ashamed to say that I got cold feet. Recently, the Metropolitan Police have taken to “kettling” demonstrators. Wikipedia defines kettling as “a police tactic for controlling large crowds during demonstrations or protests. It involves the formation of large cordons of police officers who then move to contain a crowd within a limited area. Protesters are left only one choice of exit, determined by the police, or are completely prevented from leaving. The tactic has proved controversial, not least because it has resulted in the detention of ordinary bystanders as well as protestors.”
There have been reports of people being kettled for hours with no access to food, or to toilets. As a chap with Multiple Sclerosis, being contained with no access to the loo is unlikely to end well. More importantly, it’s likely to traumatise my kids, particularly my son who has learning difficulties.
So, we decided not to go. And I hate it that fear of the police has prevented four people expressing their opinion.
(It’s too late to help us now, but there’s an app called Sukey “designed to keep people safe, mobile and informed during demonstrations. We crowdsource updates from twitter and other online and offline sources in order to provide our users with a timely overview of what is going on at a demonstration”.)