20th April 2020

  • Feeling: Surprised how well today went
  • Listening to: Nothing today
  • Watching: The Mandalorian

Got up about 8am, D was already downstairs working and B was having breakfast. It was the first day “back to school” (at home) following 2 weeks Easter holidays, and I was really worried that the kids, especially F, would find it difficult to be told they needed to do school work again.

B decided to get dressed in his school uniform as a way of getting into the school mindset – which I think was a great idea and worked well for him. He seemed pretty focussed all morning and relaxed about his work – which was nice.

By the time F came down at 8:30, B was already working, and F had breakfast then got ready to do PE with Joe Wicks before starting some work. She did a little bit, but I’m not sure was very focussed, and then D persuaded her to give the BBC Bytesize material a go. I was teaching my online course at 10am, so not sure exactly what this was like, but D said it involved Dick & Dom reading George’s Marvellous Medicine and then F spent time going through various Bytesize resources on the BBC website – so I think positive although it sounded like it lacked any structure – so F presumably just picking the things she’s interested in (which is a win I think!).

F also did some work on her website during the day, adding a place where people can post ideas of things to do while in lockdown and was delighted when B left a comment for her 🙂

I was on calls for much of the rest of the day – teaching 10-11, quick break for coffee and then a meeting, a break for lunch and another meeting, with a final hour from 6-7pm on another call. The online teaching seemed to go well and I’ve got two further sessions this week to the same group. I was a bit stressed with the other work today but only because I feel like I’ve fallen a bit behind (having focussed on preparing for the teaching last week).

B & F had online Art class after lunch (which again left F upset unfortunately – she gets very frustrated and sad when what she is doing doesn’t turn out as she wants / thinks it should – I really relate to this as I feel the same often with artistic endeavours – the visions in my head are always so much better than what I seem to be capable of realising). After that they both had online tutoring with Explore Learning – which went well – they always seems to enjoy this and I think the 1-to-1 aspects are a huge benefit especially at the moment – it gives a focus on the kids which they don’t get from anywhere else right now.

I’ve got a plan to try to fix some electronics to the wooden automaton I built yesterday to get sound played as the guitarist moves – hopefully something I can work on with the kids.

So a good first day “back” after the Easter holidays. I suspect it won’t all be plain sailing this week, but I’ll take that for a Monday.

Stay safe, stay strong

19th April 2020: Lockdown Birthday


My birthday today! I woke in the early hours (around 4:30) but eventually got back to sleep and so slept through D and the kids getting up to get my presents, a cup of tea and toast and jam for me to have breakfast in bed.

We always open presents and cards first thing – before getting out of bed – and today was no exception. I got some lovely cards including a handmade coffee-themed one from B & F (Espressily for you!) and from my Mum a lovely photo of me and my Dad from my birthday last year. I also got a book (“Shadows of the Short Days” by Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson – Icelandic urban fantasy I think), a handmade, personalised, wooden whisky tumbler & some single malt Speyside whisky, and a wooden automaton to make.

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Lovely collection of cards and presents

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B and F have designed me a picture frame which B has created in some 3D modelling software – ready for printing once we get the 3D printer back up and working.

B was already baking by the time I got up (lemon cake ) and F was determined to read a book from one of my favourite childhood series The Song of the Lioness, and spent most of the morning curled up on the sofa with a book (F loves to read but only when she chooses – both the time and the material – never if we suggest reading something). After second breakfast and cake baking/reading was done we all went out for a walk in the beautiful sunshine. Spring really is moving on and it was lovely to see flowers out – even this simple sea of daisies in the park…

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Daisy ocean

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…and this beautiful blossom.

We had lunch in the garden and then I started to build the wooden automaton – a guitarist. It was fun to do and I finished it just now.

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Timberkits guitarist = done!

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In the afternoon we watched a film “Four kids and It” – a modern re-working of Five Children and It (the original by E. Nesbit, the new novel by Jaqueline Wilson, now a Sky film) which was a good fun family film. I talked to E and family and my Mum during the afternoon and it was lovely to talk to them. There was also more baking as D and F made me cinnamon buns with a salted caramel sauce – yum!

After the kids were in bed, D and I watched (well I watched, and D tolerated) Streets of Fire – which has become a bit of a birthday tradition for me. If you haven’t seen it (and you probably haven’t) it’s a sort of action/musical with music by Ry Cooder and Jim Steinman, costumes by Armani and directed by Walter Hill (The Warriors). It is about as 80s as you can get, with a 50s meets 80s aesthetic with Rick Moranis, William Defoe and Diane Lane playing second fiddle to more obscure 80s actors Michael Paré, Amy Madigan and Deborah Van Valkenburg. The whole thing comes across as a dark neon fever dream that takes itself slightly too seriously – and I love it. D puts up with a lot xxx

I had a lovely day and was spoiled by my lovely family. What more could I want?

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Out in the sun with the birthday boy

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Stay safe, stay strong x

18th April 2020


Reading my post from yesterday back I was obviously feeling a bit down at the end of the day, and I forgot to mention the amazing tiger models the kids made (with Ds help) from some yoghurt pots yesterday based on instructions from @DarrellWakelam.

I slept well and woke around 8. Got up, sat with D for a bit and then headed off to pick up pastries and other supplies from Haddie and Trilby. It was nice to see George (the owner/baker) and great to pick up some bread flour as well – but best of all to have lovely pastries for breakfast which we all enjoyed sharing.

Clockwise from top left: Lemon curd bomb, croissant, almond croissant, cinnamon swirl, pain au chocolat

The rest of the day was quite chilled and relaxed. I tried to do some reading, but I’ve been struggling to finish the book I’m half-way through – it just hasn’t really grabbed me (a sci-fi novel: The Technician by Neal Asher) and D has suggested I just give up on it – which has, of course, made me more determined to slog my way through it.

I worked on a looping arrangement for a while and helped F do a new page on her website about “fun activities to do in quarantine” (with an amazing poem she wrote inspired by @IMcMillan‘s “Adult Fiction” poem). Meanwhile B did some homework, and I tried to help him memorise the first twenty elements in the periodic table.

Unfortunately during the day I had some news that I’m not going to share on here and although it wasn’t unexpected it was very sad.

After lunch we went to an online concert on Zoom – it was part of the Oxford Folk Weekend and we’d originally intended to go to the live performance – part of my birthday celebrations. It was the folk due Gilmore & Roberts again (who we also watched a couple of weeks ago). It was nice they could hear our applause (although the video was lower quality than the streamed gig I think) and they took requests & questions/comments from the audience – and F was keen and able to show them the illustrations she’d been doing for their songs.

In the afternoon D & F watched Mary Poppins Returns while I did some work on the course for next week and B played on the Nintendo Switch. We had an early tea, and then our weekly quiz (during which I misremembered the actor Ann Bancroft as Ann Banks – for which I hold Mary Poppins responsible).

I continued to work into the evening until finally finishing up around 9:30, and then had a (second) beer and watched some TV while D did some cross-stitch (having finished her blanket this week).

I expect the kids will be up early to help me celebrate my birthday tomorrow so I should think about going to bed.

Stay safe, stay strong.

17th April 2020


Managed to get up a bit earlier this morning (closer to 7 than 8), and got on with some work first thing, then went to the supermarket to do the weekly shop. Sainsbury’s seemed reasonably busy but I was able to get in and out in around an hour which seemed pretty good going.

The rest of the day seemed to go pretty quickly with work, lunch, work calls 1:30-3 then 4:15-17:15, then tea and more work. Next week I’m delivering what was originally intended as a face-to-face course as an online course, and I’m not yet finished writing it. Instead of a one-day course this has become a mixture of 3 Zoom sessions (one hour each on Monday, Wednesday and Friday), plus self-paced exercises for participants to do themselves with me offering support through Slack (an online chat application). It’s definitely an experiment, but one I’m quite excited about – just hoping the participants get good value from it. Anyway, I’m still not finished writing all the material and so I think I’ll have to spend some time tomorrow finishing that off (to avoid ending up working on my Birthday on Sunday).

We had a Zoom call/family quiz with some of Ds side of the family this evening and then I spoke to my Mum while D put the kids to bed, before we sat down to watch some TV together.

Feeling a bit zonked now and don’t feel like I’ve really achieved much today (apart from coining the word “non-versation” to describe pointless chatter between B & F). Not even got any interesting photos to share 🙁

Stay safe, stay strong

16th April 2020

  • Feeling: More relaxed
  • Listening to: Laundry Service by Shakira
  • WatchingBreeders

Another later start, but thankfully this morning I woke up in time to drink my tea while it was still warm. D was already up and working. Surprisingly the kids both slept in and I had to actually get them to get up at 10am – Fs reaction was “I’m already up” (she was reading Harry Potter in bed) while B immediately got upset because he felt he’d wasted the day already (not sure B has quite got the hang of holidays).

I had a good morning work-wise and had a couple of calls over lunch lasting until 3, when I decided to take a break and spend some time with the rest of the family. I had a meeting at 7pm so I wasn’t entirely done with work for the day, but it was really good to spend some time with F, B and D.

We watched the Lego Ninjago movie (our second movie featuring Jackie Chan this week!), and I tried to help B with some code he was struggling with (I say “trying” in that I fixed the problem but it turned out that this made the code work in a way he didn’t want).

K from choir had posted on Fb about making paratha and I thought I’d give it a go as D was making us paneer & cauliflower curry for tea. I watched a load of videos for hints, but broadly followed the recipe and technique in this YouTube video.

The result wasn’t as flaky as I was hoping – but I think I can see room for some improvements (slightly different coiling technique, thinner roll before cooking and cooking slower & longer).

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First attempt at paratha

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Stopping work at 3 was so much more relaxing and pleasant even though I did another hour later on. I really need to find a way to work this into my day while we are all stuck at home (for at least another 3 weeks based on an announcement today – and lets face it that’s going to be an absolute minimum).

Didn’t go to the shops today – so that’s a treat (not) for tomorrow. But on the up side I’ve just placed an order for lots of delicious pastries with Haddie and Trilby for Saturday morning as an early birthday celebration!

Stay safe, stay strong.

15th April 2020


Slept much better last night and woke a bit late (D had made tea but it had gone cold by the time I got to it). Spent most of the day on Zoom calls with work calls from 1-5 and then choir 7-9:30.

I managed to get out for a walk with the kids before lunch which was nice – it was so hot and sunny! Unfortunately D had to work up to 12:30 and I had a call from 1pm – so I ended up going with just the kids.

I baked some batch buns for the kids to have burgers for tea, and was pretty pleased with how they turned out (although they got a bit darker on top than I’d intended).

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Batch buns

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Also made baba ganoush from a sole aubergine we got in our veg box – thanks to @schopflin on Twitter for the suggestion.

Not quite sure what D and the kids got up to in the afternoon – there was a lot of lego over the floor at one point. I should have asked them over tea but I’ve got out of habits that would have been more natural when everyone is out doing their own thing like asking about how their day went – I must try to start asking about their day especially as I tend to get a bit blind to everything else going on while I work.

In the evening E posted a picture of I & R looking through my mum’s window to say hello to her. It made me suddenly miss them all.

Tired all of a sudden now. Tomorrow more work and the weekly shopping trip I think.

Stay safe, stay strong.

14th April 2020


I was aiming to get up at 6am this morning and get some work done before everyone else woke up. What actually happened was I woke at 4:20, couldn’t get back to sleep, moved downstairs to listen to the radio for a bit, started to doze off, woken by a random phone call (with seemingly no-one on the other end) at about 5:30, eventually got back to sleep and then woken by the postman knocking at 7am, then finally made tea, took it up to D and then couldn’t find the energy to get up until gone 8am. So not an unqualified success.

Once I managed to get myself working I was pretty productive for the morning and had a couple of productive (but short) Zoom calls. At around 3pm I decided to cut the day short and spend some time with the family. I helped B with a Python install issue on his computer and then watched a kids Jackie Chan movie with F (The Spy Next Door).

F was pretty flaked out today after being awake until past 10pm last night. She was very pleased to get a birthday present this morning (the 7am postal deliver that woke me).

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Mischief manager

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She declared her intention to watch TV after breakfast and then “go to sleep on the sofa”. We let her do the first of these (it is the Easter holidays after all) but drew the line at the second – and she played outside and made a plaster cast volcano she got for her birthday with help from D (who is working half days again this week). Happily this evening she (F) went to bed, and then to sleep, without any drama – she must have been tired!

B spent the day playing around on the computer and reading. He was doing some machine learning tutorial and asking me random questions like “how would you model genetics in a computer game” and “what equations could you use to model the environment” (way beyond my ability to answer) and trying to tackle vector algebra (which I think I only did when I studying undergraduate mathematics) – I don’t know how much he understands (probably more than I realise and less than he thinks) but he seemed to be both engaged and happy with what he was doing.

We had roast chicken for dinner yesterday – which we very rarely do, and it was a revelation for F – she thought it was like having Christmas dinner 🙂 That meant today we had left over chicken stir fried for tea, and I made a batch of stock with the carcass.

Going to go to bed at a sensible time tonight and try to get a good nights sleep. I’ve not left the house since my shopping trip last Thursday, and I don’t think the others have been out for over a week, so it would be good to get out for a walk tomorrow.

Stay safe, stay strong.

13th April 2020


Easter Monday felt like the laziest day since lockdown for me, although D took on the challenge of tidying F’s room (with, sad to say, no help from F who just gets incredibly grumpy if it is suggested she should do the smallest bit of tidying her room).

We all got up late and didn’t do a huge amount in the morning. F curled up on the sofa listening to Cabin Pressure then played computer games, and I think B worked on the computer game he is writing some more. I read and mixed up some bread. We’ve got an excess of wholemeal bread flour so I thought I should try to use some up and decided to get a bit experimental. I had a wholemeal bread dough recipe from Richard Bertinet and a couple of recipes for bread made with honey, and so I decided to try baking a wholemeal loaf with some chestnut honey which I got from a stall on Warwick Market a little while back. The honey is quite dark and has a strong flavour (when I first tasted I said to the stall owner that it “tasted of old wardrobes – in a nice way”). I decided to go for a no-knead approach to the bread and just mixed, then stretched & folded a few times over the next hour, before leaving it to rise for another hour, then another stretch & fold before putting it in a proving basket for another hour before I baked it. Sadly that meant it wasn’t ready for lunch, which the kids had outside despite it being much cooler today.

The bread looks and tastes great. The honey flavour comes through enough to taste but not too strong. The texture a bit too soft for my liking – but I suspect the kids and D prefer the softer crust.

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Chestnut honey wholemeal bread

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In the afternoon F watched High School Musical 2, while I did some work (I’m a little behind where I need to be with some projects) and D worked on a blanket she’s been knitting. It was only when I got a reminder pop up on my computer that we remembered the kids had Maths/English sessions online today – and that we’d already missed an online art class for them earlier in the afternoon (in addition to missing Bs online piano lesson on Thursday).

It’s slightly odd that classes are carrying on despite the bank holiday – I guess we are all finding our perception of days and time is being affected by the lockdown and since no one can go away on holiday why not carry on with lessons and appointments.

I roasted a chicken with potatoes for me and the kids while D had eggs for tea, and we finished off Fs birthday cake.

We had an issue with F at bedtime and she got very upset, but I can’t bring myself to relive it right now – just 9yo drama but upsetting for us all and it makes us worry about her.

On a more upbeat note, D finished the blanket this evening after weeks (months?) of work!


Stay safe, stay strong.

12th April 2020: Chocolate, cross-stitch and The Magnetic Fields


I slept in a bit this morning, and didn’t get up until around 9:30. As she so often does, D brought me a very welcome cup of tea just as I was waking up.

Today was Easter Sunday, which for us means Easter eggs rather than anything else. Unfortunately I’d left some of the eggs (including a fancy tear-drop shaped one for D) in the car boot thinking they’d be safe there and easier than hiding them in the house – but the hot weather meant that some of them had taken on a distinctly non-ovoid shape. As well as chocolate, D had put together a bag of treats for the kids including books (natch) and some cross-stitch kits.

D hid some small eggs around the house for the kids to find, and F had written a set of clues that B and I had to follow to find more eggs + clues which eventually led us to some birds for us to colour in.

D gave me a box of small chocolate eggs from Tony’s Chocolonely (are current favourite chocolate) which are yummy although I may take issue with the label that describes them as “great big chocolate eggs”

After the chocolate was out of the way, F wanted to work on her website a bit more and setup and wrote a page linking to Bs, Ds and my websites. Later in the day she started doing a music looping project.

It was obviously a “be creative on computers” day as B spent quite a bit of time building a 3D model of a human figure in Blender with the aim of using it in a computer game he wants to build using Unity.

F also got creative with the garden Jenga set that C dropped round a few days ago.

Meanwhile I tackled the last of the hedge and I think I’ve now done everything I can do without going round into the neighbours’ garden – which for obvious reasons will have to wait.

I made some ribs in sticky sauce for tea (some passata, soy sauce, ketchup and brown sugar all mixed together, poured over the ribs, and then cooked on 140-160℃ for 2-3 hours), while D made chips. After tea and some TV the kids video called with their US cousins, then stories before bed.

Overall a quiet day without any drama and one in which a tweet reminded me of how much I love 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields.

Stay safe, stay strong.

11th April 2020: a 9th Birthday in lockdown

  • Feeling: Pleased that F enjoyed her birthday
  • Listening to: Apple music “Chill” mix
  • WatchingSpiderman: Far from home

I’d been worrying about Fs birthday and it being a special day for her despite the circumstances. Happily she seemed to have a great day, and even though at the end of the day she was a bit tired and grumpy, I think that was just normal over-tiredness after an exciting day – to be expected on any 9yo birthday.

She was really pleased with her presents – from sweets, colouring books and pens to spray paints to a computer of her very own (an Acer Chromebook 11).

F had specifically requested to wake at 7am and got me to set her alarm – I think she was worried about missing out on some fun if she slept any later. I made sour cream waffles for breakfast and after coffee F made us do a read through of another of her presents – a script from Cabin Pressure – a radio comedy written by John Finnemore. Since there are four main characters (and this particular episode, Limerick, only features the four leads) we were able to take one part each and read through the whole episode.

F played a computer game B had written for her specially for her birthday (the actual present B had ordered for her didn’t arrive in time but I think will provide some extra excitement when it does reach us).

Then the kids played outside a bit while I started to mix some dough for some pita bread so we could have it for lunch.

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Pita bread

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Inevitably the kids fell out after a little while, and F came storming in – but luckily we’d saved another birthday treat for her – a special birthday message from Tweedy the clown.

Tweedy is a stalwart of the Cheltenham Pantomime in the winter and Giffords Circus in the summer (although sadly not this year), and is a firm favourite with all the family (my Dad in particular would be reduced to hysterics watching him). I’d seen him offer on Instagram to do birthday messages, and emailed him, and got a video back – and F loved it. She must have watched it 4 or 5 times back-to-back immediately, reduced to fits of giggles each time.

After lunch in the garden we spent the afternoon out of the sun, with F starting to setup her first website from her Chromebook, and doing some drawing and colouring using her other presents.

F had requested spaghetti bolognese and a Victoria sandwich for her birtday tea. Luckily we’d been able to get everything except the spaghetti – and somehow I’d got the last packet of linguine in the supermarket – so she pretty much got what she wanted.

I got a bit (lot?) grumpy while I was baking the cake as our hand mixer broke while I was trying to cream the butter & sugar, and I made a bit of a mess as I tried to beat the mixture by hand. I think I was a bit tired by that point, as I fell asleep later in the afternoon. Anyway – the cake turned out great and B helped me do the butter cream & jam filling.

In the afternoon we had a Zoom call with most of Fs close family – aunts, uncles, cousins and her grandma – we all got to sing happy birthday and she blew out the candles (a feat she then repeated later during the weekly quiz we are doing on Zoom).

Overall a very successful day. Happy Birthday F. Stay safe, stay strong, keep smiling.