Versus the Mouse

When I was quite young we moved into a new family home a few streets away from our old one. It was a larger house and closer to my schools, and backed onto a Red Ash pitch (also known as a blaze) that was pretty harsh on your knees. It is now, 20 years later, a astroturf fullsize pitch complex for the local schools, but before that it was very much a low tech area. Next to this was a series of empty fields.

The fields were torn up and in it's place a massive new primary school was installed. I must have been six years old or there abouts, as I remember going to visit the school after it was opened - it basically had been built on the land that my primary school had as it's major playing fields. Today, my school is no more - merged into the newer school as a massive extension to house all the students it has amassed.

One consequence of this building work was to move a family or two of mice into my home for a while. The mouse, it was surmised, came into the house because of the distruption to their home in the field. My mum dad remember seeing mice running across the floor in the front room, the tiny creatures scurrying about looking for refuge in a home that wasn't theirs. My dad remembers having exterminators putting baited traps down and I remember the boxes all to well - I am sure that you could have still found a few of the boxes in the attic prior to it's last renovation ten years ago.

You'd think that living in Cumbria we'd have had mice issues before, but since coming back from Canada a family or two of field mice have moved into our garage. Coming in to find a raft of boxes and random stored items they made their home in a box. The first time we noticed there was an issue was Connie finding a tonne of droppings, and it was confirmed that we had a few in the house. So I popped out to Wilko and bought a raft of traps - a mix of live and classic kill snap traps - and I set about getting rid of them.

Two weeks later and 16 dead mice, I thought we'd got them. That's right - sixteen caught. What I found was putting peanut butter on the traps was giving me a 100% kill rate with what I started to call Old Faithful, a single snap trap that would kill every night.

There were some bumps along the way. I went down one morning to find a mouse, the only one that managed to make it in, alive in the live trap. I drove down the road a mile and let it free into a field, to live another day. The other harrowing tale was the morning I went down to find one dead in Old Faithful and... the other trap missing. I found it a few feet away with a still-alive mouse struggling to get away from me. I put it out of its misery humanely, but I felt terrible about it.

I discussed at length with Con the most humane way to deal with them, and it seemed that a snap kill trap was so instantaneous as to be as humane and maybe more so than a live trap. I didn't want to use the poisoned bait as that would have just moved the issue from the trap to a random hiding point.

I found their nest after I was sure I'd got them, and they'd just tore up a bit of paper and a poly bag and made a wee nest. It was harrowing to see them get smaller and smaller as the time went on, knowing I'd started taking out the young mice, but it was necessary.

One thing I realised later on was that to have got into the garage, a sealed fire room meaning there was no way into the rest of the house anyway, was there had to be a hole of sorts. I tore the garage apart trying to find it and found it in the fabric of the door. And then I realised quickly that my bait, that was ever so tasty, had actually been bringing the mice into the garage from the outside... to die.

So my 16 mice might have been a good chunk of the local mice populace from the outside.

The hole is now blocked and we're keeping an eye on things. I might have conquered the mice, for now.

Patreon for the Monday Graveyard

I've been presenting a podcast/radio show for the past three and a half years or so, and it's managed to reach 133 episodes in that time. I've got big plans for the future of the show, and even if you're not an avid listener, but a supporter of this blog, you could maybe pledge $1 an episode.

What is Patreon?

Patreon is a site that allows creators to be supported directly for their creation. In my case it's the podcast, which takes up a few hours each week and is hosted wonderfully on Mixcloud and here, on my blog. That in of it's self has been enough, but I want to expand the show a bit and move it into more ambitious circles. That's the goal of Patreon.

It is a platform (ugh, I hate that word, but it is better than "website") that gives me the chance to gather Patrons of the show, those who pledge to commit money to the show per week, and in turn get rewards back on top of the main show.

The Main Show will ALWAYS be free and available on the Mixcloud feed, this very site, and any other podcast apps.

But if you support the show, there are some cool perk to be had.

Why?

Well, as i said, I have some ambitions for the show, namely four of them really;

  1. Upload all the past shows to the podcast feed, and get it into iTunes.
  2. Expand the scope of the show to include new community aspects and a revitalised MG Mailer
  3. Return to doing the normal vocal voice shows, as before
  4. Invest in something called the MG24 - a 24/7 stream of all shows released chronologically

Some of these are further away than others; the MG24 is something that needs quite a bit of time and investment into, but number 2 is a good one; and it'll be starting next week.

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How?

The place to be is Patreon. Sign up there and you can see the "tiers" of payments and the rewards within. The one most people are interested in is the $5 teir for some reason; it unlocks two versions of the show, a non-vocal remix and the full voice show.

And if you can't that's fine; just listening is support enough. I am under to illusions; this is an experiment to see where the show can go and who can come along for the ride. You should come along too, if you want - even if you're not an avid listener.

The rewards are thus:

Graveyarder - $1 or more per epsiode of the show (weekly, at most) ∙ 0 patrons

  • Sneak peek of upcoming show
  • Shout out on the website as backer and in the show
  • Access to the Patron-only feed

Gorgeous Graveyarder - $3 or more per epsiode of the show (weekly, at most) ∙ 0 patrons

  • Access to patron-only content including out takes and tracks not played
  • Sneak peek of upcoming episodes
  • Email list for exclusive insight into the show
  • Shout out on the website as backer and in the show

Full Graveyarder - $5 or more per epsiode of the show (weekly, at most) ∙ 1 patron

  • Your own exclusive artwork 
  • Suggest theme or songs for a show
  • Access to a new voice-free mix of the show
  • Plus all previous rewards

Producer Graveyarder - $30 or more per epsiode of the show (weekly, at most) ∙ 0 of 5 patrons

  • You can do a full show of your own music or own selection produced by me
  • Plus all previous rewards

The Return of Gaming: The Nintendo Switch

In 2012 I wrote a series of posts that chronicled my favourite computer games "of all time". The reason I suggested at the time was that I was "over" gaming - my reasons were laid out in the first part of that series:

"...but the most important of all is that I don’t like the games being made anymore. They are not what I want to play, and not what I want to spend my money on, and as such I’ve fallen out of the loop. Also, the idea that games can only be played on one type of machine by one manufacturer doesn’t wash any more, and that’s annoying more than anything."

I thought to myself that I was over it. It had become a thing from my past. The games that were selling millions weren't my cup of tea, and the last really awesome game I enjoyed, Mass Effect 3, had soured everything about the series. Not even the promise of new Sonic games, new Shenmue games, or new Mass Effect games could get me interested in the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Nothing was even remotely what I wanted - a console wedded to my television that I can't take with me seemed so backwards and... last century, it put me off dropping money on a system I knew wasn't right.

Then Nintendo announced the Switch. I bought a Wii back when everyone was buying Wiis and I was so critical of it only a few months afterwards - my blog post about it is, naturally, amusing reading, with all the over-wrought drama of someone exaggerating their ill-will towards something that they actually feel remorse about buying. Notice that I actually bought a Nintendo Wii on launch day (with Colin, who was buying one as part of this 21st birthday that all of us, his friends, had chipped in on) and promptly sold it to a close friend and his then-boyfriend. I regretted it a bit, but later didn't.

Nintendo replaced the Wii with the Wii U, a catastrophically poorly performing console with umpteen issues. I was interested in the Gamepad idea, but it was poorly built and poorly executed, feeling more like a Mega Drive 32X add-on rather than an all-new console.

The Switch, however, is totally different. It fits the bill perfectly. It plays the games I want - that new Sonic game I mentioned, plus Mario Kart, a favourite of Con's, as well as a host of other cool games. It also is portable. Like, really portable. It's basically a portable console that plugs into your telly. It's fucking awesome.

And then when the TV's free, I can hook it up and be ready to go. It's unlikely that, in my current life, that hours of hours of play sessions are on the cards, but playing the console when historically I've been dicking around on Twitter or Instagram is much more interesting - the Switch slots into my current life style fairly well.

So we will see how it pans out in the long run, but the ability to take the games away to play where I want to is exactly one of the criticisms I made at the current generation of consoles five years ago - I might not have said portability, but I was certainly thinking that "one machine one manufacturer" limits it to one TV. I'm not sure I'm fully back, but it's nice to be a consumer and have one of my wishes fulfilled.

Floods in Houston

When I first moved to Houston the first thing that really got me worried was the pamphlet laid out on the kitchen counter top that was blue and had nice wee swirly symbols on it, hidden under the leasing agents stuff about the keys and rules of the pool. I saw it the morning after I arrived, jet lagged and confused, drinking a coffee from the simple rations that the company had left in my cupboards, as I wondered what I was doing living in the States.

The pamphlet was "Hurricane Preparedness" and gave an overview of what to do if there was a hurricane and a mass evacuation. I mentioned this on Monday to my new coworkers and whom had looked after the previous exchanges, and they spoke about the earlier year, 2008, in hushed tones - Hurricane Ike had made landfall as a Cat 2 storm a few days after the exchanges had arrived and had put the windows in on their then apartment, as well has taking out the offices a bit as well.

I wondered aloud if there was a chance it'd happen in 2010, the year I was there, and they said yes - normally they come in two-year cycles, and 2008 was the last one, so 2010 was likely to have one.

A few weeks after I arrived in Texas, a huge storm did swoop in and I was glued to my television. The storm, Tropical Storm Hermine, dropped a lot of water on the city. I blogged about it here, with a video soundtracked to the most wistful Boards of Canada (that you should watch) I could muster, shows my complete astonishment at the amount of water thundering down onto my apartment. In the video, I comment how they had forecast for the storm 8 to 10 inches of rain, which was unreal.

Houston this past weekend has had around 50 inches in 48 hours.

The fallout from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey is quite incredible. I've made contact with friends who live there who are all okay thankfully, and those who are sharing on social media and as bewildered as you could imagine they can be. This isn't a small city, nor a small area, this is a city that is larger that some States with a population larger than that of the central belt of Scotland, and is an important cultural, commercial and engineering hub for almost all the US. Houston is a city that gets unnoticed by most from the UK, being "Texan" for better or worse, and ignored compared to the East and West coastal cities, but as somewhere I lived with Connie it's extremely close to our hearts and always will be, and to see it devastated quite literally is heart breaking.

The waters are yet to recede so we don't know the true extent of the damage, but it can only be assumed to be utterly disastrous. The area Con and I lived in, Eldridge Parkway, was under three feet of water, being right next to Buffalo Bayou and five minutes from the Barker Reservoir. We walked along the Bayou, sunned in the park, and it really feels strange to see it under water. What is even odder is that I randomly came across a video on Twitter of the flooding and recognised the street instantly, with shock.

With the flooding in Cockermouth in 2015 and Houston it really does bring home the change in climate that is happening - but the saddest thing is that it does the opposite for others. I hope that the recovery for the city is swift and strong - I know it will be, Texas is a strong state. Texas strong, indeed.

Car Seats

When I was younger there was very few bigger thrills than getting to sit in the front passenger seat. I remember the thrill of getting to be up front, and be right at the drivers area, and loved seeing all the buttons. One of my pet loves was the hazard lights for some reason, and regularly I'd pop them on even when the car was parked in a car park, much to annoyance of my Mum and Dad.

One of the perks of being four years older than my sister was that when we drove to Blackpool or Alton Towers for a few family holidays I remember gettting upgraded to front-seat passenger status, with my Mum accompanying Lynn in the back. These memories are as strong as these early childhood memories get.

They cannot happen today with my children however. The rules on car seats and safety in-car has totally changed, and a child in the front passenger seat is just simply not the normal state of affairs in the UK, and is entirely frowned upon in Canada. This shift in in-car sfatey has saved so many lives across the world, from adult drivers and seat belts, to the car seats we now spend hundreds of pounds on everytime you have a child.

It is impossible to begrudge the cost of these car seats as they are nessecary - driving is the least safe mode of transport for any journey and putting the most precisou cargo in the world in your eyes into a metal box drving 50mph towards other metal boxes. My Dad said, just before Joni was born, that there would be no more focused drive than the one where you bring your new born child home from the hospital, and he was absolutely right - I've never drove that intently and only once since, with Etta's home journey, which was on a back road in the middle of November at 9pm at night in the rain. A nervy drive.

The car seats that Connie and I use are both Maxi-Cost models; the CabrioFix for Etta and for Joni the 2wayPearl, both with their respective bases. In total, the cost of both has been near to £700 all-in, and they are absolutely great bar a few foibles with Joni's newer one. The interesting thing is that going to Canada brings into sharp contrast just how good these car seats are.

If you've never driven your children in North America (and if you don't have kids) then you won't have came across the difficult to navigate issue out of EU car seats and travelling. In Canada we are lucky that our family have access to older used car seats, but the thing that Connie and I forget is the disparity in the perceived quality of the car seats.

In North America the seats still have the bolted anchor points - known as IsoFix points - in the cars but the car seats attach them differently. Instead of solid bars that ratchet onto them, it uses straps and seat belt fixings to attach securly to the car. In the case of Joni's, an additional top-tether is used. Unlike the EU seats, there are no front bars that attach to the floor. This means that we are having to deal with seats that we are unsure of.

There are a few other changes - the belt buckles are different too, with the EU ones aeasier to click together and also to remove if there is an emergency. In North America a chest buckle clicks together the two shoulder straps, which is pretty damn uncomfortable for Joni and Etta, and required some relearning from myself when putting them into the seats. The chest buckle is the oddest part of the difference in the car seats in reality.

The thing is that it only serves to give Connie and I pause - we prefer the EU car seats, as they feel easier to fit securely and more sturdy - a great example is that the official advice for the car seat in Canada is to put a towe underneath it to provide a better "titl" for Etta, which is hard to believe is safe - but we can't complain, as the car seats are still officially safe.

 

 

Rollercoaster Legacy

Joni turns three years old in a few weeks.

Ever since my slight obsession with Rollercoasters started in 1999 I have been forcing friends to come along to ride them with me. As a teenager I arranged for a bus day trip to Blackpool Pleasure Beach with five other friends that coralled two friends who didn't like rollercoasters to come along, and managed to convince a friend's father to pick us all up at 5am, an ungodly time of the day for a teenager. Later, Colin then I drove from Glasgow to Alton Towers and back with friends to go and ride the rides, two trips that sit as easily the most memorable moments of my teenage-hood. On the trip back when I was driving we came across a massive car accident on the M74 around Junction 15 that killed four people and gives me shivers every single time I drive past that point.

What I am trying to paint is that over time I've forced friends to come with me in my pursuit of rollercoaster fun. I regret not forcing friends to go to Magic Mountain in LA back in 2011, but I think that would have been a stretch too far. Ever since I became a father though I've eyed a holiday to a theme park as a goal that would later become a place to ride rides with my brood. Connie has various positions on rollercoasters; she used to ride them, but is unsure if she'd enjoy the rides as an adult, and that I can respect - even I had to pause when Colin and I went to Blackpool a few years back and I saw the height of the Big One from the rational mind that I now have as an adult.

Joni is now three basically and we went to a small family theme park in Bracebridge towards the end of the holiday called Santa's Village, themed around the fact it's Santa's summer home and southern branch office - and who wouldn't want to holiday is the Muskoka Lakes? The park is aimed squarely at the 3 to 10 demographic, the tallest and most thrilling rides being a 30ft ferris wheel themed to christmas baubles and a brand new spinning rollercoaster called the Peppermint Penguim Coaster that probably reaches a max speed of around 30mph.

My fear was that Joni wouldn't enjoy it at all - Connie had been there a few weeks earlier and said Joni had had a blast, but had postponed Joni's first rollercoaster ride until I was there, a gesture of sheer love and affection for my obessions that only my wife can truly understand and only I will truly understand how it made me feel. I was nervous that introducing Joni to a "big" ride, and worried it would put her off for life if it scared her shitless. Luckily, she actually, like her old man, loves being scared shitless. She's a wee adrenaline junkie and had no fear on any of the rides. The spinning rollercoaster was the only ride who had a minimum height restriction due to the over the shoulder restraints (OTSRs in technical lingo) and she was pissed off that she couldn't ride it - and despite it's diminutive size it packed a punch.

My memories of rollercoasters as a kid are great - I remember the Zipper Dipper at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, now known as Blue Streak in the Nickelodeonland area, a part of the park Joni would love. I also distincly remember, aged 9, refusing to go on Nemesis the year it opened at Alton Towers, and then again refusing in 1997 when they were building Oblivion, my dad going alone on the ride as we all waited. I remember going on the Big Dipper for the first time and realising how even the smaller rides can kick your arse (a fact I neglected to remember when I implored Colin and I to ride in the back row on our first ride at the park a few years ago, and it gave me a fright). I also remember going to Pac Asterix and riding the horrendous head banging mess that was the seven-looping Goudrix with my dad, who just shook his head afterwards, before we found the incredible Tonnerre de Zeus (still ym favourite rollercoaster of all time, actually) and rode it as the last thing before we left the park.

The fact that Joni and Etta, and Connie too, might join me on these rides in the future excites me - not just for bonding and the fun we might have, but the possible future of travelling in the North East of the US and Canada to places that have rides that are truly terrifiying, rides that I might not go on if it were just me - I realised that Cedar Point, home to some of the most famous rides on the planet, is only seven hours drive from Connie's home town whilst writing this post. If I'm to keep up appearances to my daughter or daughters, I will have no choice but to grin and bear the huge drops and racing speeds.

That's the kind of legacy I want.