Do you have the time?

When I was at school I had a conversation with my physics teacher, Mrs Price, that truly was a butterfly effect moment. As a result of that coversation I finished up studying geophysics. At the time it was somewhat of a niche subject (come to think of it, it probably still is) but I genuinely found it fascinating (and I still do). The BBC has produced a couple of series recently that had me reaching for my text books again only to realise that I need to sit back and enjoy the Wonders of first the Solar System and then the Universe. As a quick aside, the series titles do beg the question; Where do you go next? You know, after you’ve done the Solar System and the Universe. Is there a multi-verse? Are we alone? What if it all means something? Or even worse, what if it all means nothing? (Or should that be the other way around?). Either which way, the two series demonstrate many of the things that the BBC does best and Brian Cox makes a pretty decent presenter, given that his day job is a Professor of astrophysics at Manchester University and he used to be in a (moderately successful) rock band. Oh and apparently he’s quite good looking too. Yup, he’s the kid we all used to know at school who was just too good at everything. If he didn’t come across as being such a nice chap you could really grow to dislike him.

But back to what I learnt at university: The single biggest concept that you need to get your head around in geophysics is “time”. Geology exists over such a long time that it makes your head hurt and no amount of analogy of compressing the lifetime of the earth into a single day makes it any easier. And in a somewhat related fashion, the 2nd biggest concept to get your head around in the bit of geophysics that I finished up studying is “space”. Which does mean that according to Einsteins’s theory of general relativity actually there is only 1 concept because of that mind-bending concept of space-time, but that’s a subject for another day.

 We, on this small, blue dot spend our days busily doing things and sometimes we fail to notice the passing of time. Sure, on a geological scale we are just a blip but that shouldn’t stop us noticing the changes going on all around us. I am fortunate that I have 2 sons and 2 daughters who seem to change each and every time you turn around to look at them. And every now and then we need to take the time to stop and realise the things that are precious to us and saviour them.

I was browsing back through some old photographs of my kids (thanks to digital photography that’s a lot simpler than it used to be) and it too my breath away to see the changes in them. Of course, we know that they grow, but if you are lucky enough to see your children every day then you probably get totally consumed with the minutae of the day to day routine. But we shouldn’t. We should find time. It’s worth it, I promise you.

A Child’s View

Sometimes we forget what the world looks like to other people.

Fortunately the ever simplification of taking photographs allows us to put a camera in the hands of quite small people and every now and then they are able to remind us in the most glorious, heart stopping way. Most of the pictures are not particularly composed well, but they are digital so it doesn’t cost anything and gives the little person a sense of pride and achievement. But every now and then this very innocence and different view of the worlds results in a picture that makes one stop and realise just how we take things for granted now that we are grown up.

I remember as a child having to stretch up to reach the light switch in my bedroom- that light switch is probably no higher than my navel, but at the time it was a great stretch. As my kids grow up I see the same behaviour: As winter has drawn in and it gets darker earlier in the evening so my 4 year old now needs someone to come upstairs with him. Not because he is scared but because he can’t reach the light switch.

The attached picture was taken by him with a Nikon D40 whilst we were on holiday. It may not be the best technical shot (everything was on automatic) and it may not be framed perfectly but it really made me stop and realise just how he sees me. Not as a regular sized person, but this strange, towering creature who reaches down to hold his hand.

I hope I can hold his hand for a long time to come. Even when I stop towering over him.

A Batman’s Review of the Dark Knight

Of all the super heroes, Batman has always been my favourite. Possibly something to do with my name and the obvious nick-name generated from it, but who says there needs to be justification for being a fan (after all I also support Arsenal and for years there was no justification for that). I went to see the first Tim Burton/ Michael Keaton Batman as part of my 21st birthday celebrations and was very impressed with the reboot of the franchise by Christopher Nolan/ Christian Bale. So the Dark Knight was high on the list of ‘must see’ films for the summer.

The short summary is that the film more than lives up to its predecessor- other critics have said it was over-long, but I didn’t notice that. What I really liked, but what also prompted this post, is the way that the villains are far more grounded in realism than any of the previous incarnations of Batman: By this I mean that Two-Face is verging on the horrific, especially when you first see his face. And this is the problem- my kids have been watching the trailer for the Dark Knight for months now and their excitement has been palpable, but there is no way that I can take either of them to see the film. In the UK it is rated as a ’12’ which means that children under 12 can see the film, but only if accompanied by a responsible adult. Now each child that an adult is responsible for is different, and we are all too aware of the loss of innocence in our children, but I am going to take a stand and not allow my kids to see the Dark Knight. Not yet anyway.

As a grown up I can see the Dark Knight and think it is a fantastic film, but just as ‘comic books’ grew up and became ‘graphic novels’, so are the super hero films growing up. There is a complete logic to this- the people now making these films may have read your father’s comics as children, but as they grew up so did the comics: Writers such as Frank Miller rebooted Batman and then went onto write novels such as Sin City, Alan Moore and David Lloyd wrote V for Vendetta and then Alan Moore teamed up with Dave Gibbons for Watchmen; and then Neil Gaiman created the Sandman. None of these are in any way your father’s comics; some have overtly political overtones, all involve copious and gratuitous amounts of violence and a few are clearly verging on what would typically be called horror.

What these graphic novels have in common is that there are often costumed or ‘cartoon’ characters, but unlike the camp Batman of the 1960’s there is no ‘Thwock, Kapow, Crash’ involved. There is real violence, death (sometimes real, sometimes off-screen) and all the other trappings of a grown up world. This would be fine were the films marketed at adults (as Sin City was), but when Burger King is including Dark Knight toys in its Happy Meal kids meal then the marketing department is creating a disconnection between the product (the film) and the audience they are targeting (I don’t know many 12 year olds who still eat Happy Meals).

So here is my take, for what it’s worth: the Dark Knight is a damned good summer film, but if you have children, go see it for yourself first before taking them along. And if you don’t have children, go see it anyway- it is what films based on graphic novels have evolved into- you may not like it and you may wish to head back to the ‘Golden Age’ of comics but that is what your DVD collection is for.

Ben’s School Photo 2008

Ben’s School Photo 2008

Originally uploaded by maguffyn

Been a while, but he has kept growing in the meantime. And who says you can’t get a decent photo from a school photographer.

Or maybe I am just biased towards my kid

And for anyone interested there are various other updates to the photo gallery- both kids are still being snapped and now I have a new camera (well, not that new, but better than I had before) they are trapped until I get a decent shot

New Photos of Ben and Jake

Now that I have a half way decent digital camera you can expect more photos to be uploaded.

This one is starting to teach me about flash and indoor portraits (like make sure there is a reflector to prevent the shadow behind Ben’s head) but that requires extra kit and more importantly, kids who will sit still for long enough for me to faff around.

The latest upload also includes photos of Jake. Click on the image to open the photo stream.

Overprotecting your child can cause brain damage

Anyone who knows me will be familiar with my somewhat laissez faire approach to parenting. Of course this does mean that there is the possibility of frequent trips to the accident and emergency department of my local hospital as one of other of my children falls off, into or down something or other.

On the other hand I have never caused head trauma to a child through my desire to protect. Allow me to explain what I have seen happen twice (and I figure if I have seen it happen twice it must be going all the time)

Picture the scene: A small child wishes to go down a slide; either a standard playground slide or a water slide, the effect is the same. The mother of the small child is concerned that the slide is ‘dangerous’. She feels this despite the many, many health and safety regulations that exist today because as we all know, ‘mother knows best’. So to ‘protect’ the child from the harms of going down the slide the mother holds the child’s hand. The child whizzes off, faster than the mother can keep up and the child’s hand gets dragged backwards. Now, small children like to keep their hands attached to the rest of their body, so the child’s arm gets dragged backwards too. As does the shoulder, chest, neck and crucially head. And here is the interesting part- as the head gets dragged backwards it also rotates downwards. There is probably a biomechanical justification for this, but empirical evidence supports the statement. By this time the child is hurtling down the slide and falling backwards at a rapid rate of knots. The natural conclusion to this motion is that the child reaches the bottom of the slide and almost simultaneously smashes the back of their head into the slide.

This head impact is entirely caused by the mother holding onto the small child’s hand and causing them to fall backwards. If the child slid on their own, there would have been no rotation, no head impact and no small child crying. And probably no mother thinking that the slide is a dangerous piece of equipment.

So, this being my soapbox to stand on and rant from; a plea to mothers (and possibly fathers too): Let your children play on their own. Your interference is causing your child to hit their head on slides. If the child doesn’t want to go down the slide, that is cool too. But don’t try to protect them too much, because by interfering with the design of the slide you are actually making it more dangerous and causing your child to injure themselves.