Archive for the 'personal, friends and family' Category

Good Birmingham decorator, plasterer, electrician, double-glazing, roofer, plumber

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.

Double glazing

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.

Plastering

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.

Roofing

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).

Electrical work

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.

Plumber

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.

Five years at Opera

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.

And they give me money to do it. Mad buggers.

My bathtub tomcat tadger terror

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:

bagpuss

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 a nervous wreck for days.

Why Norman Tebbit is cool

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.

Perhaps more surprisingly, Thatcher-era government minister Norman Tebbit is a good guy too, although he’s largely remembered as a leather-clad psychotic enforcer in the satirical show Spitting Image.

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!

and the photo was signed “Norm”.

Personal review of 2012

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.

Countries

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

  1. bruce lawson (2.6%)
  2. personal website (1.5%)
  3. personal site (1.2%)
  4. jacobean plays (1%)
  5. friday jokes (0.7%)
  6. pui fan lee (0.6%)
  7. pui fan lee husband (0.6%)
  8. cartoon newt (0.6%)
  9. pui fan lee married (0.5%)
  10. 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”.

So roll on 2013, with new exciting projects at Opera, the browser that a mere 275 million people use. At 4.5 years, it’s the longest I’ve ever stayed in one job, because I work with a fantastic bunch of oddball geniuses, helping bring the world wide web to the whole wide world.

Oh – and happy new year to you, too.

Where’s my bloody xmas card?

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.

Colin Lawson 21 April 1946 – 9 October 2012

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):

monochrome picture of five young men, posing with instruments in classic 60s style band pose

a different shot of the above pose

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.

Thanks, Col!

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.

Colin Lawson: RIP (Riff in Peace).

Too scared of kettling to march

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”.)

Cambodia Rap: thoughts revisiting Angkor Wat

“Cambodia’s great”, enthuses the twenty-something gap-year Italian woman in the air-conditioned internet cafe where they bake great croissants. “It’s just that there are too many tourists.”

That’s the trouble with being a tourist: all the other tourists. Whereas *I* am a sensitive seeker after knowledge, a traveller, everyone else is a mere tourist. A particularly twisted manifestation of “I am a traveller NOT a tourist”-itis is to be found by the resentment that many Western tourists feel towards Asian tourists in places like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or Wat Pho in Thailand. There’s a particular type of Western tourist I call the “I’m not religious but I’m really spiritual” genus (that is, I like joss sticks and New Age music but am too lazy for philosophy or reading). They resent the bus loads of Taiwanese/ Vietnamese/ Korean/ Japanese tourists who come to the temples by the aircon busload and walk around talking excitedly and taking photos of each other in Asian poses. How dare they come by bus instead of tuk-tuk? How dare they obviously enjoy themselves instead of walking around reverently?

Here’s an example found at random:

We rode off when the tour groups started to come with busloads of loud Japanese and Chinese tourists, most of whom didn’t even bother to look at the temples, preferring to carry on their noisy conversations instead. Where we had spent almost four hours most of the tours were in and out in 15 minutes.

Disgraceful! Asian Buddhists walk around enjoying Asian Buddhist sites, and in a manner not exactly the same as how I do? They should be instantly banned, as only white people have feelings delicate and sensitive enough to enjoy Angkor.

This can lead to a syndrome I’ve noticed in Nepal and Thailand I call “My Personal Yellow People Theme Park”, in which unimaginably wealthy young white people travel thousands of miles to get drunk at full moon parties with other unimaginably wealthy young white people, or go white water rafting, or trekking, or to gawp at long-necked hill tribe people, while their only interaction with the locals is to order food from them, be driven to the next theme park ride by them, or to fuck them (depending on the type of tourist they are).

Of course, I have no high horse to ride. I bargained people down by 30 cents, perhaps depriving them of some food to save me less money than the price of a watery draft beer on Pub Street.

And I had an attack of “I’m not religious but I’m really spiritual”-itis. It’s easy to do in temples as vast as Angkor where it’s possible to find quiet places – or whole temples that are empty – and to sit and reflect. The gigantic temples being overtaken by the jungle can’t help but put you in mind of Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, and the fact that we were there as a family to scatter my grandmother’s ashes leads to inevitable introspection about mortality.

It’s been suggested that I’m a boorish idiot without a spiritual bone in my body. I’m not given to flights of fancy or purple prose, but from my vantage point on a ledge at the twelfth century Angkor Wat, I was thinking of how time destroys all and the only constant is change – just as Buddha said – and was moved to write this rap song. Hopefully it communicates something of the beauty and the mystery of Angkor Wat.

Blogging Against Disablism Day

It’s Blogging Against Disablism Day. It’s also Multiple Sclerosis Week and the MS Society have published a report called Fighting Back – ordinary people battling the everyday effects of MS on attitudes to MS and disability in general.

Some of the statistics:

  • One in five (21%) British adults surveyed think disabled people need to accept they can’t have the same opportunities in life
  • one in four (26%) Britons think bars and nightclubs are not places for people with wheelchairs
  • 42% of people with MS admit to being concerned about telling their employer about their condition in the current economic climate
  • Over half (56%) of people with MS find it harder to socialise since their diagnosis, with around two-thirds (67%) saying their MS has hampered their ability to enjoy everyday social activities like drinking, eating out or shopping

The report concludes

MS is unpredictable and, perhaps largely because of this, widely misunderstood. It is different for everyone, and everyone responds to it differently.

But what most with MS have in common is a desire to live as full and active a life as possible before the condition strips more and more choices away from them.

I’m lucky; I travel a lot, do karate, and live a normal life. There’s a lot of ignorance about what MS is. The problem is that it’s different for every person. I was diagnosed in 1999 after I lost my vision in my left eye and the use of my left leg and arm. This is why my dancing is so crap.

Nowadays symptoms are

  • Tiredness. That’s why, if you invite me to speak and ask me to take a long haul Economy flight, I’ll need 2 nights e.g. a full day before the gig to recover
  • Clumsiness when tired, and slipping over on Oslo pavements in winter
  • Dry mouth and swallowing difficulties, which is why I drink gallons of water at conferences and then have to rush to the loo. (Apologies if I rush past you if you’re waiting to ask a question – I’m not being a diva, just seeking a pissoir)
  • Trigeminal neuralgia, random sensations like electric shocks, when touched unexpectedly, particularly on the face

My mankini allure is, thankfully, unaffected.