Edinburgh - wibbler.com

Pagans and other humdrum Scottish notes…

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“So are we only going to expect updates to the mighty wibbler.com when you meet celebrities?” said a solitary email that flooded into my mailbox a few minutes ago. Now, less of the sarcasm, mister. I suppose I should be glad that someone’s noticed there’s been an update – my audience must have dwindled a little over the last few months, while I flew around making business and personal ends meet and generally working myself into a frenzy. As it happens, I came back last week from Edinburgh. It was a dull week, by all accounts – the glorious sunshine that bathed the south of England didn’t manage to reach the wilds of Scotland – but the hotel made it all the better. It’s the only Edinburgh hotel I’ve stayed in, one where all the staff make a decent stab at looking happy about life. It’s called The Glasshouse, a converted church that sits at the bottom of an ominous hill. An ominous hill, I found out the next morning, that hosted a “pagan sex festival” the night before, which may explain the random clothes I saw as I looked out my hotel window. I mentioned it to my friend Marcel, who immediately incriminated himself by identifying the event as the Beltane. “Ah, I remember those days,” he muttered, allowing me to inwardly combust with shock and awe at this seemingly straight-laced man.
Anyway, Edinburgh’s nice. Very nice. But not nice enough to make me long for home on the third morning up there. There’s nothing like a girlfriend, a 40″ television and an XBOX 360 to come home to on Friday evening, let me tell you…

Good things come to those who…

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Well, let’s not labour the point here – I’ve been absent. In fact, for a number of days, even wibbler.com has been absent. My website was battered with visitors, my gallery was hacked by Islamic militants (nope, I’m not kidding – in fact it’s still stuffed if you want to look) and I was snowed under with events that really took a higher priority. But here I am. And you’ve missed a lot. There were at least two trips to Edinburgh that I’d love to have mentioned, plus several parties and amusing anecdotes that made me chuckle. I could rake over old ground – and maybe I’ll roll out some stories with the going gets sluggish – but let’s start afresh. Let’s break the ice.
Hello, dear reader. How are you?

An unexpected loss

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There are some things that make all of life’s little problems pale into insignificance. There are some things that happen without warning and without reason.
At 6.55am yesterday morning, Michelle’s dad Paul Cooke was knocked down by a car and killed near the Stoke crossroads in Guildford.
At 7.45am yesterday morning, I was in a slow-moving queue near Stoke crossroads, cursing Monday mornings and oblivious to the cause.
At 9.15am, I got a call.
Watching bad news move and spread through a family is one of the most moving things you can witness. The fact that it was so unexpected only served to multiply the anguish. When I arrived at Michelle’s mum’s house – a mere 400 metres from the accident scene which had closed a main road for five hours – I prepared for the worst. A police vehicle was parked outside, causing neighbour’s curtains to twitch with curiosity. Entering the house I was first struck by the quietness, followed a few seconds later by an explosion of grief as the events are explained. A police officer waited patiently for the next opportunity to be supportive. As the minutes passed, I began to be aware of every word I said, in case it conjured up unexpected mental images and set grief rolling down people’s faces again.

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Throughout the day the family travelled between houses, informing the remaining relatives and reliving the morning’s events. Little things became weighted with huge significance – writing notes to go with the flower tributes became one of the most difficult tasks of the day. Visiting the accident scene to lay those flowers was made even more difficult thanks to its position outside the local newspaper offices, where journalists approached with multiple questions on the day’s events. And all the while Michelle’s three year old niece Sophie, oblivious to what had happened – asking where grandad was and why everyone was crying – did her best to lift everyone’s spirits with giggles, balloons and bubble makers.
I had only known Paul for four years. From what I could see, he was determined to enjoy life and was always well-known and liked wherever he went – a fact confirmed this afternoon when we met some of the many colleagues he worked with. His sense of humour broke through the occasional dreary periods of life, and he always had a cheeky smile ready for you. He was especially keen to learn geeky stuff from me whenever I went over, plying me with enthusiastic questions about computers and websites.
“Get busy living, or get busy dying”, a film once told us. This morning was supposed to have been just another Tuesday morning – I myself was due in Edinburgh on business. Instead, today is the day the family face the reality of autopsy, donor cards and funerals.
The world keeps on turning – today there’ll be another accident and it will be a different family’s turn to grieve. As someone once said, “Life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”
(A small photo gallery is available here. If you have any photos to contribute, let me know)

Africa – answers on a postcard…

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The recent Live8 concerts and the G8 conference in Edinburgh have focused the mind on overseas aid – in particular in Africa. As I write, BBC News24 are showing the ubiquitous Bono of U2 telling us that they are “the saleman of aid in the world.”
Now, obviously saving lives is a good thing, as Michelle and I were discussing last night. There are plenty of naysayers, but I’m reserving judgement. I have a few questions for Bob and Bono before I get behind the whole movement.

One. A whole load of finger-clicking from those Live8 adverts has shown that a child dies every three seconds. How can I check this is correct?
Two. If a child dies every three seconds, and the yearly growth of Africa’s population is rising to 20% a year by 2050 at current rates (source), does that mean that a child is born more rapidly than every three seconds? If so, there’s an awful lot of spare time and carnal knowledge floating around over there…
Three. If there is a child born more rapidly than every three seconds, shouldn’t we be working to lower that birthrate at least as vigorously – if not more urgently – than stopping early death? Lower birth rates would mean food is not dispersed and stretched as much as it is currently.
Four. If we give a load more aid, and a load less people die, won’t the population of Africa grow exponentially (way, way more than the 20% predicted) until there is a population and resourcing crisis?

I’m not a naysayer. I know that there are other countries with higher population growth in other countries – but this demographic-changing aid isn’t going to those countries. I’m just asking for a few answers so I can be entirely happy with the cause. Answers on a postcard please…

Hazy at best

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Aaaaaannnnd breathe.
Ah, that’s better. You know, there are good and bad things about my line of business. For me, the high points include the hotels and cities that I frequent along the way, and the fact that almost everything I buy can be put down as expenses. There are low points too, of course – the queueing at airports, on motorways and at service stations all take their toll, my girlfriend is unable to join me on my whirlwind adventures – and when you slump into bed after sometimes working 16 hour days through the swirling mists of flu, you sometimes want to sneak off to a secret place where no-one can find you. I hear Osama’s cave is fairly elusive.
This last week and a half has been spent:
– late night partying in Camberley with friends at work, where I found that I love working with those fine people. I also found that I can, against all expectations, stay awake until 3am despite my increasing age.
– watching a football match with Michelle, Olly and Vicky the very next day, where I spent most of the day recovering from the night before. And cowering from fans after QPR lost. Again.
– travelling up to Edinburgh to train people for two days on a piece of software that they had used twice as much as I had. My straining voice managed to hold out. The downside of the trip was the obscene hours spent crafting a training course while training myself at the same time, and the upside – Edinburgh is a spectacular place to be drunk.
The waves of nauseating flu are subsiding, and I’m looking forward to a quieter week. No such luck, of course – I’m off to Winchester and Newcastle this week, and flying to Zurich next week. Maybe the week after I’ll manage to sit down for a day – and even get to the gym…