Friday, 31 August 2012

Snuggly and The Goldfish

My children, bright and bouncy little souls that they are, have discovered that they love the world and everything in it. Both are doing very well, and at the tender ages of five and seven have begun writing little stories to entertain themselves, as well as entertaining Mummy Nam and me. They write about the things that interest them; space and mermaids, dinosaurs and Ancient Egyptians. The stories are lively and wonderful, and the action is constant.

Encouraging such positive creativity seems the right thing to do as far as Mrs Nam and I are concerned, so I mentioned to them that I wrote a blog. "What's a blog, daddy?" I explained that I tried to write stories for grown-ups to read on their phones and iPads and computers. "Write one for us, daddy!" they said. Over and over again. Worn down by my little lovelies, and with no apology to my normal readership who I hope will enjoy this too, here is a blog for them.

I asked them to name two objects. My daughter chose her goldfish, and my son chose a much loved cuddly bit of felt called Snuggly.


Ruby and Max, two goldfish who share a tank together, were happy in their watery home. They had plastic seaweed, their very own Easter Island head, and a filter which hummed reassuringly day and night. Their tank was placed on a bright red table top, and they were as content as any goldfish had ever been.

Their favourite part of every day was the visit by The Hand. Every morning, The Hand opened their roof, and long slender fingers sprinkled in their breakfast. They loved their breakfast. Gorgeous flakey yumminess, all different colours; red, beige and green. De-licious! When The Hand came they splashed and darted, sometimes trying to give The Hand's fingertips a little nibble, and sometimes flicking their tail fins in beautiful little waves. The Hand was their friend, and their lives were complete.

One day, The Hand opened the tank’s roof. There was something different about The Hand; for some reason it had short little fingers, and it was holding a bit of orange cloth. The fingers were wriggling strangely, and Ruby and Max felt a bit surprised. As well, there was none of the lovely yummy red, beige and green food that normally appeared. “What’s going on?” asked Ruby, but before Max had a chance to answer, a large orange object came into the tank and floated to the gravelly floor. It settled gently on the tank’s bottom, and it said, “Hello. I’m Snuggly.”

Ruby and Max were bit surprised by what had happened. At first they didn’t know what to say, but, being polite goldfish, they decided to be nice and welcome Snuggly into their home. “Hello,” said Max, “I’m Max. It’s ever so nice to meet you. Are you lost?”

“Yes, I think I must be,” said Snuggly. “Usually I get to cuddle that nice little boy, but for some reason I now feel a bit cold and wet. I think they put me in here to hide – that nice little girl said it was hide-and-seek. Do you happen to know where I am?”

“Well," said Ruby, “this is our home. We call it The Tank. It’s lovely isn’t it?”

Snuggly didn’t seem too convinced. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I feel a bit cold and wet," he said. "Is there somewhere I could dry off?"

Ruby and Max were so lost for words that Ruby blew a bubble as big as a pea, and Max had to swim round the Easter Island head three times before he could speak. Cold and wet? But wasn’t that the best feeling in the whole world? Cold and wet were what Ruby and Max lived for. That was the best -- their little cold wet tank was their perfect place, and who could ask for more?

“I’m sorry,” said Ruby, who was always very polite and determined to make any guest feel welcome, “but cold and wet is how we like it. Where do you live, then?”

“Well,” said Snuggly, wriggling himself up as best he could in his waterlogged state, “I like to cuddle up with that little boy. He’s lovely and warm and dry, and he gives me snuggles and cuddles and kisses and hugs. It’s yummy scrummy warm, and I feel very happy when we fall asleep together. But now I’m very soggy – I don’t think I could be very cuddly like this. I don’t even know why I’m here.”

“How strange,” said Max. “Still, at least you’re a lovely orange colour, just like me. I would always want to help anything as orangey as you. Come on Ruby – let’s make some noise!”

And with that, the two goldfish began splashing and flicking their tails. They bobbed and weaved and somersaulted, and poor Ruby even bumped her head on the tank roof. They pulled on the plastic seaweed, and spilled the tank water onto the bright red table top in the outside world.

Suddenly, The Hand was back. This time, it was like the old hand they knew and loved. The long slender fingers reached in, grabbed Snuggly, who smiled and waved, and was gone. Ruby and Max briefly saw him above their heads. He twisted himself round and round, and a mini torrent of a waterfall landed back in the tank. After he finished being wrung out, he was gone.

“Well,” said Ruby, “He was nice. If only he could have stayed for breakfast.”

“I wonder what a cuddle is?” said Max. “No idea,” said Ruby, and she swam off to nibble the seaweed.

The next day, Snuggly was there outside the tank, gently swaying as he hung from the clothes line. Ruby waved a fin at him through the glass. “Hi Snuggly,” she bubbled, “did you get your cuddle yesterday in the end?”

But Snuggly couldn’t answer. He smiled back with his friendliest, cuddliest smile, adjusted the clothes peg that was holding him up, and waited patiently to be taken down. “What nice fish,” he thought. “But it’s so cold and wet in there. I’m glad I’m not a fish.”

Ruby and Max looked at their new friend through the glass for a while. “What a funny thing he is, wanting to be all warm and dry,” said Max. I’m glad I’m not a cuddly toy."

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Snuggly and the Goldfish by Siddie Nam is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Friday, 24 August 2012

Inexplicable Tuesdays

I know it's Friday. Yes, look, I may write some total piffle on this blog, but I am not entirely brain-dead. Despite what the calendar says, I want to talk about Tuesday.

What is it that's got me thinking about Tuesday? Well, what started was thinking about the slow commute home from the office, catching the train with the other Tuesday-dwellers. There are the familiar faces; Sou'wester man is usually to be found somewhere, telescope scanning the horizon (ok, I made up the bit about the telescope). Also there's the poor put-upon mother with the buggy and the large collection of cheery but unruly children (kids are never really very rush-hour friendly, but if you have to travel, what can you do?). But on Tuesdays, for some reason, my train is always much busier and I never get a seat. Wednesdays, no problem. Fridays, well the rush is spread out as people stagger home from pubs. (That's clever isn't it; they stagger because they offset the timings of their journey home, and they stagger because of the beer. I'm well good at this blogging malarkey, aren't I?) But Tuesdays? No chance.

Why is everyone on my train home at the same time as me on a Tuesday? What's special about Tuesdays then? As a weekday, it's one of a set of seven, a practice in Europe that seems to be attributable to the ancient Greeks, who felt that it would be good to have the gods for the five known planets, plus sun and moon, watching over a day each. The Romans adopted this idea (they had an eight-day week prior to this), and as a consequence the scheme has spread around the world.

Mars, red planet and god-of-war, was adopted for Tuesday. This can be seen in the weekday names from most of Europe's Latin languages, such as Mardi from French. But although the Britons adopted the weekday scheme from the Romans, our names are derived from Anglo-Saxon words imparted on Britain from the various post-Roman invasions that occurred. "Day" is a modern transliteration of "dæg", and we get the "Tue..." part as a transliteration of Norse god name Tywr, a war god, comparable to the Roman Mars.

The history lesson is all very well, but it tells us very little about twentieth century Tuesdays, except perhaps that having my face pressed against train window glass as a direct consequence of mass under-capacity (a term I prefer to overcrowding, since it implicitly blames the authorities rather than the long-suffering populace) can make me feel pretty war-like. What coping strategy might be employed?

I discussed this phenomenon with the lovely Mrs Nam, long suffering and enduringly patient listener when I'm philosophising. She suggested I offset my journey home and try a different train. Good idea. So off I went to catch the service scheduled for twenty minutes later. Amazing! She was dead right, that train was completely calm, relaxed and civilised, and I discovered that I no longer needed to care about what was causing the Tuesday chaos. Super. Mrs Nam to the rescue; wife and superhero.

So impressed was I with this change that I decided to try this lovely new quieter Tuesday service at the equivalent times on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The whole thing could be an utterly life-changing experience. What could go wrong? So, on Wednesday (Wōdnesdæg) there I was, waiting happily for my new train, and when it turned up it was jammed to the rafters. No explanation, no rhyme or reason. A proper old fashioned sardine special; I couldn't even get near the door.

Mars, or Tywr, is obviously toying with me. It seems I am destined to do this weekly battle, bound to have my Tuesday torment by the muses of ancient deities. Perhaps my only hope is to stagger home myself. Hic! Let's hope I don't end up saturnine by Saturday.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Random London

As a hardcore Londoner, I have always felt at home in the city. There's a strange and hard to understand part of me that sees London as if it belongs to me. My city... mine!

What this really is, of course, is a sense of belonging, the place we call home. It's punctuated too by more pubs, bars, clubs, restaurants, parks, history, galleries, museums, arts and culture than you can shake a stick at. Combined with the enthralling and ethnically diverse nature of London (the whole world is here; there's a language you don't recognise spoken on every tube train), it makes for a continuously absorbing and fascinating place to be. If you don't believe me, buy a travel guide, read my pal Natasha's excellent travel blog (she's a Kiwi who lived here for a good while, so you know she'll tell you it how it really is -- see here
for an example), get a visa (and an Oyster card) and come and see for yourself.

Did you notice that big sporting event called the Olympics recently? That took place here. It went well, as a result of which us Londoners are even prouder of our city. Don't you think it'd be fun to visit the city where all that happened?

Leafing idly through my photos (I have thousands because I'm obsessed with my Canon DSLR) I realise I have a few decent random London shots. I thought I'd share a few favourites here. There's no real rhyme or reason to them. Just for fun.

My photo of Tower Bridge with Olympic Rings is published below, but see here for the full set on Flickr.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The day after -- a Londoner's view.

Two weeks of Olympics have elapsed, and after moment upon moment of inspirational action and drama from both Team GB athletes and talented human beings from across the globe, we can stop holding our breath. We pulled it off. Hurrah London!

It's certainly been wonderful. Despite a dearth of tickets for real people (shame on you corporates who left empty seats; some of us would very much have liked to have been there), there has been a real and genuine buzz about my home town. Many of us had some initial reservations; one of my favourite places on Planet Earth is The Home of Time, Greenwich Park, which has been sealed off and somewhat altered by the Equestrian and Modern Pentathlon events. I was worried about this, but now, with the park finally reopening for mere mortals yesterday, I begin to think that Greenwich will have a new and historic chapter to add to its long, intriguing history. And it was certainly more inspirational than Johnny Depp's Greenwich visit, sparrowing about in the Naval College when they filmed Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

Meanwhile, I was in London's West End on Sunday, about the time the men's marathon was finishing and a brave Ugandan called Stephen Kiprotich made his much-troubled nation proud. I couldn't get anywhere near the finish, but it was a buzzing Sunday afternoon in the capital, and the area around Trafalgar Square, just a few hundred yards from the marathon's end and Buckingham Palace, was heaving with smiling and excitable people. There were many Canadians and South Africans (perhaps unsurprisingly; stately High Commission buildings for both nations face onto the square). I also saw some Japanese fans, some Kenyans waving their nation's flag enthusiastically (they came second in the marathon; a fine performance by any measure), and numerous others in numbers too great to count. Some Brazilians were having a little samba, some Spaniards were all talking at the same time, and many Brits had shed their usual reserve and were friendly and chatty. Road closures helped, and I was even able to take a family snap of my children giving a life-size statue of Olympic mascot Wenlock a cuddle. It was a fun a lively place to be.

Further onwards, along Charing Cross Road, we made it to Leicester Square, in search of a yard or two of grass on which to plant our weary backsides for a few minutes. The trees over the central gardens had all been draped with giant-sized replica medals, and the new fountains bubbling little streams of water made a cooling diversion for my young children on a hot day. The Olympic buzz pervaded, and more people with flags and souvenirs and cameras were visible in every direction, cheerfully doing their thing.

This was just one afternoon on a sunny day in the life of a city's Olympic experience, but I've been in town most days during this adventure, and have experienced happy people constantly as I've gone about my life. It's been wonderful, and I'm delighted that my home city has felt the way it's felt. And I find myself suddenly quite saddened that this brilliant adventure has come to an end.

I hope the mood on our city pervades. I think that it's been wonderful for us, and as a fairly hardcore cynic under more usual circumstances myself, I defy my fellow cynics to disagree. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to have been entertained by Usain, moved by double distance Gold winner Mo, or fallen in love with talented and likeable heptathlete and Olay model (as I discovered on opening today's London Evening Standard), Jessica Ennis, whose gold was amongst Team GB's first athletics achievements. You could blog every day with a different tale from a different athlete from around the world, and everyone's personal story of triumph and commitment would be endlessly compelling. And the people of London, if you speak to them, have their own Olympic stories to tell. Where they were when... How they overcame the transport disruption, how they watched the rowing on the big screen in Hyde Park. Everyone wants to know, to join in the fun with other Londoners.

But it's at its end for now. We eagerly await Rio and the Maracanã Stadium in four years time (perhaps I'll get luckier in that ticket lottery, and perhaps by then I will have convinced my mother that it's NOT the Macarena Stadium). London, though, has a new community spirit which I would love to see continue. It's the end of the affair, but let's hope we can still be friends.