Category Archives: Family

My contribution to the 1986 BBC Domesday project is online

A PR representing the BBC has been working hard to get my attention with regards to Auntie’s attempts to upload, and reload, the 1980s Domesday Project. The pitch in itself is not surprising because, well, that is what PRs are supposed to do. But I was pleasantly surprised to be targeted.

My pleasure comes from the fact that I have a special place in my heart for the original BBC Domesday project. As I wrote in a piece for IT trade paper Computing in 2003, the scheme was set up to mark the 900th anniversary of William the Conqueror’s original Domesday Book in 1086 and was intended to provide a snapshot of British life in the late 20th century.

The new Domesday provided a cute collection of information. But as I also wrote eight years ago, while the data in William the Conqueror’s original manuscript is still accessible 900 years on, the pace of change in technology meant that the BBC Domesday project had become inaccessible. Mid-1980s video disc technology had been superseded by portable compact disc systems. And the LDV hardware used to run the BBC project’s video-discs was in short supply.

Which was particularly upsetting for me. You see, I was in the original Domesday project (the BBC one, not the one from 1066). When I was kid, I lived in a place called Hampton Magna. It is a small village outside Warwick (in fact, it is close to the site of a deserted village called Budbrooke which was in the 1066 Domesday but which was wiped out by the plague). However, I digress. As I wrote in the Computing article of 2003:

“I never won much as a child, so I was genuinely proud when I was chosen to represent my school on the BBC Domesday project … I was asked to provide a description of my house in Hampton Magna.”

The Computing piece subsequently detailed the attempts of researchers at the University of Leeds to preserve the Domesday material. I remember that they were lovely chaps, even providing hard copies of my data for illustrations in the magazine. Anyway, I completed my editorial folly in Computing with the following conclusion:

“Thanks to the emulator, the BBC Domesday is available again. Now it’s time to sort out the copyright situation and make its treasure trove of data accessible to us all.”

And almost exactly eight years later, those issues seem to have been sorted. BBC Learning today unveiled its resurrection of the 1986 Domesday project and a dedicated web site called Domesday Reloaded. And yes, MARKS [sic] HOUSE IN HAMPTON MAGNA is there (as well as pictures from the school summer fete).

It is, as you can see, a work of low-level genius. But it was my first publication and I loved going to look at the description on the BBC Micro at Warwick Library as a kid. BBC Domesday – it is good to have you back, old friend.

Pterodactyl lost – please return to very loving owner

There are, or were, five members in my family: me, my wife, our two daughters and a soft toy pterodatyl called Terrence. Sadly, Terrence is missing, presumed lost in action on Wanstead High Street.

For the last year-or-so, Terrence has been everywhere with the Samuels family. He’s been on holiday, to school, to London, to bed and on film (many, many times). Virtually every picture of my eldest during that period includes her holding tightly to Terrence.

But no more. Unfortunately, he wasn’t held tightly enough yesterday morning on Wanstead High Street and the little pterosaur slipped from my eldest’s grasp. We returned to the scene of the event but could find no sign of Terry.

The pterodacytl in question is available at the Natural History Museum in London, so all is not completely lost. But any replacement will not be ‘the’  Terry. Personally, I feel terrible. My eldest loved Terrence and I miss him being around. To anyone that lives in Wanstead and that might have been on the High Street yesterday (I have asked all the shopkeepers and market traders), here’s what Terry looks like:

If you see him, please let me know. We miss you, Terry!

Dino, T-Rex, the barbecue and the dream

I haven’t updated my blog for a while, so I thought I’d use readily available child labour and get my oldest daughter to pen a contribution. She is obsessed with dinosaurs; completely obsessed. So, we used this web site, where she could add words and automatically create a story. And here is big sister’s final work:

One day Dino decided to go for a walk. It was a sunny day and the earth was especially terrible.

Dino was really happy and was thinking about Pterodactyl. He noticed a T Rex in the volcano. Then he saw that the T Rex was heading for the bush. Dino got very scared when he saw the T Rex coming with a dead dinosaur.

So he went to a barbecue and he had no money. As Dino was walking his luck had turned. He was trembling with a Triceratops when he decided to go into the bushes. It was then that Dino saw a Parasaurolophus and the volcano. And he thought it’s time for lunch.

He found some treasure and he liked to play. For dessert he had pumpkin and squash. He then went outside and began to dream about a crocodile. Oh, Dino thought, another dream.

Five reasons why football is finished

  1. When I was a kid, the excitement associated to the anticipation of pre-season was almost unbearable. Every season, you’d look at your squad and think, “this could be our year”. As a Villa fan, that misguided belief would now be laughable. It must be a shame for all these Brummies growing up and never, ever thinking: “This could be our year”.
  2. Go to football. There’s a severe lack of kids. Why? Well, the lack of competition – producing a lack of anticipation – could be one thing. Expense is another; who can afford to travel round the country with their kids? Computers are also significant. Most kids would probably rather play Fifa then watch the Premier League. And if they do, they won’t pay for a ticket, or pay for a Sky subscription. They’ll watch if free on the interweb.
  3. In fact, there’s a severe lack of anyone. Newcastle got just over 40,000 for their match against the Villa last week. That was the Toon’s first match at home in the Premier League since they’d been promoted. Villa, for their part, have been associated to an (unproven) 40% drop in season ticket sales. Their lovely local rivals Small Heath attracted just 6,000 for their mid-week League Cup match against Rochdale. Meanwhile, attendance figures for games have been modified to include tickets sold rather than people actually in the ground. I wonder why…?
  4. The reason people don’t go to matches is because football is bloody expensive, and you’re basically paying for flash gits to drive round in stupid cars with naff paint schemes. These flash gits finally got their comeuppance at the World Cup, when the so-called Golden Generation exposed itself as an over-rated generation that, well, couldn’t give a toss.
  5. You know how everyone loved football after Italia ’90? Well, South Africa 2010 will be like 1990 – except in reverse. Everyone has finally woken up to the fact that the Premier League is uncompetitive, the ‘Chumpions League’ is a closed shop for rich swines and the players are nowt like us ordinary peasants. Bring back trips to Brum with my Dad as a kid, stopping at the sweet shop in Aston to buy a bag of chocolate éclairs and then watching the Villa lose 2-0 at home to Charlton in the pouring rain. At least I used to be able to think next year could be our year (expect it never was, of course).

Three-wheeled buggies are practical and (kind of) cheap

A former editor suggested to me that anyone who doesn’t buy The Guardian in their 20s hasn’t got a soul, and that anyone who doesn’t buy The Times in their 30s hasn’t got a brain.

It is, of course, an over-simplified generalisation. Like the quote (wrongly?) attributed to Margaret Thatcher which suggests: “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.”

But I digress – and the point I am trying to make is that over-simplifications, however generalised, can sometimes strike a chord. Take the recent column in The Guardian by author Jenny Colgan, which rejoiced in the falling sales of three-wheeled buggies.

The column – which starts with the word “Hurrah!”, possibly the poshest introductory one-word sentence imaginable – explains why the three-wheeled buggy is the noughties symbol of “more-money-than-sense parenting”. The offroad buggy is, apparently, naff conspicuous consumerism: “No longer would a handed-down Maclaren do,” she says.

In our case, Colgan’s kind of right – but not for the reasons she suggests. We have two children who both need to be pushed in a buggy. The three-wheeler allows us to push both at the same time. It’s not possible, you see, for one person to push two buggies.

And naff conspicuous consumption? Do me a favour – our buggy was passed on free by mates, who’d had it passed to them by other parents. So talk to the hand, Jenny Colgan; our offroader is practical and cheap as chips.

Over-simplifications? Like I said at the start, they never work…

World Cup sweepstake update

If you’re not a member of the Samuels family, you should probably stop reading about now. If you are – and you’re not Dan – you’ll probably stop reading anyway.

The premise, for those of you that are still with me, was simple: eight members of the family drew a team from each of the original seeding pots for the World Cup (which gave me South Africa, in terms of the top seeds – lucky me).

The winner of each seeding group (that’s the team that goes the furthest in each pot, please keep up) wins the huge sum of £2. So, in terms of two of the seeding groups, we already know the winners – Japan got the furthest out of pot 1 (extra time, last 16) and Slovakia got the furthest in pot 3 (2-1 defeat, last 16).

Teams still in with a chance of bringing you the cash are in bold. And to think, everyone laughed when I pulled out Ghana. Here’s that draw, and the remaining teams, in full:

  • Mum | 1. Honduars | 2. Chile | 3. Serbia | 4. England
  • Dad | 1. USA | 2. Ivory Coast | 3. Switzerland | 4. Spain
  • Annette | 1. South Korea | 2. Cameroon | 3. France | 4. Italy
  • Mark | 1. Japan (ladies and gentlespoons, we have a winner!) | 2. Ghana | 3. Denmark | 4. South Africa
  • Lily | 1. New Zealand | 2. Uruguay | 3. Slovenia | 4. Netherlands
  • Jemima | 1. North Korea | 2. Nigeria | 3. Portugal | 4. Argentina
  • Louise | 1. Mexico | 2. Algeria | 3. Greece | 4. Brazil
  • Dan | 1. Australia | 2. Paraguay | 3. Slovakia (ladies and gentlespoons, we have a winner!) | 4. Germany

Normal service will be resumed soon…

Apologies if you’ve visited this site during the last couple of weeks and found that, well, not very much has changed. I’ve been on paternity leave, following the birth of my second daughter Jemima on 8th April. It’s back to work on Monday, so I’ll make sure to keep the site fresh.

At home, all is well. Mummy is recovering and Lily is coping with being a big sister. Thanks to all for your best wishes.

Speak soon and up the Villa!

10 reasons why Aston Villa FC are by far the greatest team

The last month or so has been a reality check. I went with my Dad to the League Cup Final, thinking the game might be our opportunity to take home a trophy. One disappointing performance – and a very poor refereeing decision later – and our dreams were dashed.

More than just a defeat, the game proved to be a bit of a watershed. The Villa are still in the FA Cup but my natural Brummie despondency leaves me to conclude we’ll lose. We’re still in the hunt for fourth spot in the Premier League, too. Sky Sports would have you believe fourth spot is the promised land; I would vehemently disagree. We don’t win things very often and I would swap fourth place for victory in either of the domestic cup competitions in a heartbeat.

More to the point, I think we’d make an arse of ourselves in the Chumps League. The Villa lost in the qualifying rounds in this season’s Europa Cup and I fear a similar fate should we qualify for the European Cup (that’s the trophy’s real name, in case you’ve forgotten). I think the ‘race for fourth’ (T.M. Sky Sports 2010) will finish as follows:

  • (4th) Manchester City – Straightforward run-in; class in depth
  • (5th) Aston Villa – Not a bad run-in; not a great squad
  • (6th) Tottenham Hotspur – Bloody hard run-in
  • (7th) Liverpool – They are going nowhere fast

Which still doesn’t explain why I am being such a miserable swine when it comes to the Villa. Well, because as my Dad said: “What’s the point?” We don’t win trophies, we’re doomed to always come 6th in the League and – even we did qualify for the Chumps League – we’d end up out of the trophy and in debt. So, I had to have a think about why I still love the Villa. And here’s why:

  1. We invented football – The Football League was invented by former Villa chairman William McGregor
  2. We have a beautiful name – It’s almost poetic; I mean, just look at it: Aston Villa
  3. We play in great colours – Not red, not blue, but claret, blue and gold
  4. We won the European Cup – And no one can ever take that away
  5. We are not Birmingham City – No more comment required
  6. We have a great ground – Villa Park is a proper British football ground with four big, separate stands
  7. We are not arrogant – Villa fans expect little and get little
  8. We have won stuff – Every so often, things turn out right; we never take winning for granted
  9. We are the Samuels family – Me, my Dad, my Grandad, my Great Grandad are/were all Villa fans
  10. We had Paul McGrath – And he is God

Ah, I feel better now. Bring on Chelsea! Bring on the Chumps League!

South Woodford Waitrose and a £25 car parking ticket

I guess you probably think Waitrose is a classy store. Your call, I guess – but the following example of (non-)customer service has left me changing my perceptions of the highly rated retailer.

Shopping at Waitrose is normally great. Part of the John Lewis Partnership, it offers a smashing range of products, is better priced than most people believe and is connected to the brilliant online shopping specialist Ocado.

Unfortunately, a recent experience has left me to conclude that Waitrose is also the kind of retailer that allows an outsourced firm to charge a family (one Dad, a pregnant Mum and a three-year-old daughter) £25 to park for more than two hours in their car park as they spend more than £100 on a weekly shop. Thanks Waitrose.

Rather than drone on like a demented consumer champion (any of my neighbours in Wanstead will tell you that I have already bored them senseless about the incident), have a look at the following droning letter of complaint I sent to Waitrose HQ. And get bored by that instead:

To whom it may concern

I am writing to complain about an incident during a recent visit to the Waitrose store in South Woodford, London. As a regular customer that has received many years of quality customer service from the Partnership, I was dismayed to see the following incident occur.

My heavily pregnant wife, my three-year-old daughter and myself parked in a family bay and shopped as normal in the store. We completed our shop and, on returning to our vehicle, found a £25 parking ticket because our car had been parked in the same place for more than two hours.

First, and as can be seen by the included receipt, we completed quite a large shop. Buying food during a busy weekend is always a time-consuming process and is likely to take a considerable period of time.

Second, your web site refers to the friendliness of the Partnership experience. We met three groups of friends and spent time talking to your affable till attendant. We would not, however, have opted for the friendly experience if we knew there was a chance it would cost us £25.

Third, my three-year-old daughter had to be changed in the toilet. Again, this incident took a considerable period of time. My daughter also likes to look at the children’s books and magazines. While we appreciate the distraction, we would not have dallied if we had known it would cost us money.

In short, I can understand that your company might find a requirement to charge people that chose to stay in your car park and not shop in the store. But when a family spends £100, I think it is reasonable to expect that they will not be charged £25 for the experience.

Best regards

Mark Samuels

So, that letter was sent a few weeks ago. What do you think happened? Well, they wrote back quickly – which was nice. And was there a big apology? Er, not exactly:

Dear Mr Samuels

I was sorry to learn that you were unhappy with the car park charges at our South Woodford branch and would like to take this opportunity to explain our reasoning for these changes.

OK. Apology – good start. But look closely; they’re sorry that I am unhappy – not sorry the incident occured. Not looking so good now, especially when they say they’re going to explain their reasoning for the charges (also worth noting that there’s an extra space before South Woodford on my copy of the letter. The more cynical might suggest that the name ‘South Woodford’ has been simply copied and pasted into a standard letter; that’s what the more cynical might suggest…).

Whenever it can Waitrose is keen to provide unlimited free parking. Unfortunately, this is not always possible especially in areas where we must conform with local restrictions or the car park is under the control of the local authority.

Fair enough, they have limited spaces and I guess some people park and don’t buy stuff in the shop. But what’s this…?

At South Woodford there is a very high demand for the number of spaces, and to ensure there is a continual turnover of spaces so all of our customers can find a space during peak periods, Britannia Parking Limited control the car park by introducing a charge after a reasonable period of time. You would therefore need to contact Britania direct.

Woah! So to ensure shoppers can find a space, they fine you after a couple of hours. What? I spent £100 in your store – what on earth has ‘reasonable period of time’ got to do with justifying a turnover of spaces when you’re actually spending cash? If they want to keep spaces free for customers, fine – but surely not by charging people that are in the store shopping. And while I’m on the matter, what is ‘reasonable’? Does it not include spending cash, looking after your kid and having a chat with people? Clearly not.

I would like to thank you for taking the time to bring this matter to attention.

Fine, it’s given me an opportunity to moan and some free content for my blog. So, thanks to you, too.

I appreciate that whilst what I have written will not have been what you wanted to learn, I am glad to have had an opportunity to clarify our position.

Good for you. And you’re right; it isn’t what I wanted to hear – or, more importantly, what I expected.

I can assure you of our continued commitment to providing you with the service and merchandise you espect when shopping at Waitrose and hope this unfortunate incident will not deter you from shopping with us again in the future.

You’ve already failed to meet my expectations regarding service, Waitrose. But why would it deter me from shopping with you again? I’m not going to cut off my nose to spite my face; I like your shops. But I tell you what it will do – it will make me angry and push me to write a load of stuff on my blog about how disappointed I am. And I’ll tell everyone I know about how you left me feeling rubbish. Shame, really. I expected better.

Moral of the story? Don’t park in a mother and baby spot, and spend too long spending £100 in a Waitrose store. If you do, you’ll be charged an extra £25 for the experience.

Childish jokes from my daughter

One of the great things about my three-year-old daughter is that she likes a laugh. She’s shy but, in the comfort of her own home, she really likes a laugh. Much to my poor wife’s chagrin, who usually has to cope with an over-excited child and a childish Daddy.

She’s spent the last couple of months experimenting with jokes. Egged on by an immature father and the ubiquitous Justin (he’s a bloke that presents loads of shows on CBeebies, including the ‘funny’ Gigglebiz), my daughter has tried to come up with some gags. As can be seen below, she’s managed to rip off a fairly standard formula – but the gags show a strong (how I can put this?) alternative flavour:

  • Why did the pelican cross the road? To go to the barbers.
  • Why did the mouse run up the clock? To go in the trumpet.
  • Why does the steam go in your eyes? Because it runs about.
  • Why does a cup jump into the air? Because it digs on your floor.
  • Why does a turtle walk on the land? Because it swims in the sea.
  • Why does a cup go on your shelf? Because it sits on your table.
  • Why does the turtle swim like a fish? Because it’s like you and me.
  • Why does a machine cross your toy? Because it goes to the centre, where’s it’s cool and fluffy.
  • Why does a cow jump over the fence? Because it wants to eat your supper.
  • Why did the vacuum cleaner stamp on the house? Because it made the children run about.
  • Why did the toilet cross his neighbours to get to his house? Because he bought something new to wear.
  • Why does the tree lamp have a leaf? Because it’s bonkers.
  • Why did the cat jump over the moon? Because it runs to the stocking.
  • Why did the deer have no eyes? Because it had no idea.