Being “Daddy”

Me and Tristan at Cefn Mably Farm Park, September 2013.

First, some background. If you dig through the archives you’ll notice that there were some posts a few years ago about me having acquired a family. They’re here and here. They were written in 2010 and a lot has changed since then. We’re no longer a family; me and Tristan’s mother are both single parents as of a year ago. I moved out of the house we all shared and since then I have been on some kind of journey to discover what the fuck I’m doing and how to be the best dad that I can be, basically.

I’m not going to go into anything to do with the relationship, why it ended or how it’s been since then as I feel this is mostly irrelevant, but I will say that trying to start a new life when you have to see that person (almost) every single day muddies things quite a bit, to the point where sometimes I wish there was a network of pipes that we could package the kiddo into and he just plops on to my living room sofa.

The very first arrangement that we made was custody, and that we share as close to 50/50 as we could, so a plan was formed that we each have him every other evening, and weekends are alternated. A part-time dad was never what I wanted to be, but this was making the best of a bad situation; I get him Mondays, Wednesdays and every other Friday and Saturday or else on Sunday.

I’ve learned a lot about life as a single parent in the past 12 months, the biggest thing was that you need two bedrooms if you have a child over the age of two. I got my first apartment, it was very urban twenty-something year old with one bedroom and a lounge/kitchen. Perfect for the new bachelor. A pain for the father to a toddler. Tristan had to sleep with me, and he wouldn’t go to sleep without me in there with him, so that meant me having the same bed time as a 2-year-old every other day for 10 months.
We’ve just moved into a two bedroom house and everything is infinitely easier.
Sometimes he comes to stay while I’m working (I work from home), so we can’t go out, but with his own space he doesn’t demand all of my attention, he’s happy to play with his toys in his room while I get on with my business.

Finally, Tristan has his own room at my house.

I know that we have quite a unique situation, so working out my parenting style has been part of what I’ve been going through too. All parents I know that have split up seem to have an arrangement where mum takes full responsibility and dad pops in every now and again, mostly on weekends. I think that going the way that we did is the best for Tristan, but I get that it’s not available to everyone. I have however met a few that don’t think our agreement is a very good one. Some people (who I might add, don’t have children) think that being at two different houses throughout the week has the potential destabilise him and that it isn’t a long-term solution. The long-term part, only time will tell, but right now I can tell you that Tristan is happy, healthy and enjoys his time with both of us. There are no fits when it’s time to for him to go to his mother’s house, and I haven’t heard of any when he’s coming my way. He’s confident and comfortable when he’s at my house, even the new one. He’ll go to his bedroom or the living room to play, go to the bathroom to pee (he’s potty training), and he’ll go to the fridge to ask for something to eat/drink when he wants something. He isn’t shy, and doesn’t appear to feel he’s in unfamiliar surroundings.

For me, I’ll admit that having him around as often as he is has made things a little more difficult, particularly that part about working out what my new trajectory in life should be, and going through all the emotions a break-up brings; as well as moving out, moving in, and all while trying to keep everything else together. I’m lucky that my job has been very flexible, and that I don’t have to go to the office in Bristol any more. Dating is difficult, and Facebook appears to think that I should be dating other single mums. I won’t lay the blame on having a child for dating being difficult, as easy as that would be, I think that lies quite firmly in my corner, and being a difficult person. As for the social life, I now appreciate the times that I get to be with friends and to do things. Overall, this year has gained me new friendships, showed me who my real friends are and I’ve had experiences that I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise, all while keeping a healthy relationship with my son.

I look forward to when it’s time for us to be together, everything else stops and we hang out, it’s quality time unlike we had when we lived together. We go places, we do things; we walk in the park, we go for lunch at the pub, we go to soft-play, we go to the bookshop and the toy shop, and we just hang out at home playing with the great toy collection we’ve built up in the past year. I think we have a great relationship. I don’t think I’ve ever been mad at him, but I’m definitely not too soft on him, no way is he having Kinder Bueno before dinner and I’m not tidying up his toys on my own. Getting to watch him grow up from close proximity is something I’m thankful for.

Goofing around, as we do, October 2013.

How your convenience could be killing small businesses

Maestro ad campaign 2007-2008

It’s a well known fact that credit card companies are greedy. They appear nice, loaning you money whenever you need it, just by handing over your card whenever you need a quick cash fix, but when the bill comes in you quickly see why. Extortionate interest rates are not the only way that they make their money though, they have their cake and they eat it too. When you use your card, a percentage of the total transaction is also payable to the card issuer by the retailer.

Actually, a portion of the total is payable not just to the card issuer, but also to the payment processor. In fact, when you make a card payment there are a whole bunch of different companies benefiting, out of the money that had you paid cash, would all have gone to the retailer.

Although costs do vary between providers, on average a retailer will pay around 4% of the total transaction value on a card payment to the payment processor. There are often monthly costs associated too, and then there can be an amount payable to rent any chip & pin machines. Accepting cards can be very costly.

If this is so, then why do so many small businesses choose to accept cards? Well, simply because they have to. Over the past 30 years, the past 15 especially, paying by card has become the norm. Card issuer Maestro even had a campaign in 2007-2008 telling us that “cash is dead”, which is totally in their interest to do, since for every payment made with their card instead of cash, they make a healthy profit. There is very much the perception now that if you don’t accept debit or credit cards, then your customers will go elsewhere.

When I ran a retail business, the profit margin was very low since we were trying to compete in a very hostile industry. The profit margin we worked between was generally 6-10% over cost price. It was an online business, so we had no choice but to find a payment processor and accept debit & credit cards. After some shopping around, we had to settle with a provider that charged a £15/month fee and 4% on every transaction – this was the best we could find, and there were big limitations. All of a sudden our profit margin fell from 6-10% to 2-6%, a mighty drop when you consider how little we were making anyway. You won’t be surprised to learn then that this business is now defunct.

Another drawback is payment times; again, terms vary, but the time between you making the transaction and the beneficiary receiving the money can be up to three months. In fact, that’s how long most have to wait for the funds to be sent to them. This is generally to do with fraud; giving time for fraudulent use to be reported and investigated.

But what do you care? Well, you shouldn’t really have to. What I’m getting at is this; there’s a lot of talk about supporting local businesses, and a lot of us are. Shopping with independent supermarkets or snubbing Starbucks and going to a local coffee house.

Your local deli, coffee shop or corner shop probably survives profit margins similar to those in the case above, meagre amounts, and although they may have the chip and pin machine for you to pay with, they’re secretly scowling every time that you do, because that split second decision between cash or card can make one heck of a difference to them and their survival. So choosing to hand over the wonga will go some way to making sure they’re still there next week, next month or next year. Think of it like “Gift Aid“, would you leave that box unchecked if you didn’t have to?

tl;dr: Try to pay by cash with small business, especially for small amounts, because credit card companies take a big chunk of their profits.

Let the Vulcan die with diginity

Vulcan-Streetview

If you live South Wales you’ve probably heard of the Vulcan pub, perhaps only as a result of the long-running campaign to save it from being demolished.

The Vulcan is a pub that has been around for over 150 years, and the area that it is in has seen radical changes in the past 40-odd-years. It’s been around so long that the area that it was originally built in no longer exists, yet somehow it lives on, just.

Where it is now is a nowhere area – in between the city centre and Adamsdown – everything around it has been demolished, new buildings have been built up and it’s no longer a residential area – save for the 21-storey block of student flats right next to it.

Local brewery, Brains, keeps threatening to close it and knock it down, suffering the fate of every other building around it – but a high profile campaign that started in 2008, which drew in celebrities like The Manic Street Preachers, politicians like Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and thousands of signatories on a petition has saved it thus far.

Here’s the problem with the campaign to save the Vulcan – despite 5,000 people saying that they want it to remain, none of them actually go to drink there. It’s a love affair with the past that has to end, and will inevitably end, probably soon.

Hell, if they can’t even get the students in from next door – of which there are about 650 – to help them pay the bills by buying a few cheeky pints, what chance have they got?

I’m not one of those people that thinks the past should be unnecessarily levelled to “make way for progress”, but in some circumstances it is right to do so. The Vulcan now stands out like a sore thumb, and it’s preventing anything else from being built on the land around which it stands, where workshops were demolished a couple of years ago, and now is just a tarmac car park. It’s almost there out of spite.

The Vulcan had a reprieve, its supporters had a chance to make a go of it, the fought the good fight, but it didn’t come off – send The Vulcan to Switzerland, it’s time to end it all.

Save the Vulcan campaign

What Cardiff needs (from a ruling party)

Polling Station - Gorsaf Belidleisio

With council elections coming up soon, May 3rd, Welsh citizens get their first chance since the last general election to decide who runs their area for the next four years.

I would argue that these local elections are as important as, if not more important than, Parliamentary elections; the voter pool is significantly smaller, so in a lot of cases “every vote counts”, and the candidates that are being voted for can make a difference to a city, an area, an individual or set of individual directly. Think about it, what was the last thing that David Cameron or Nick Clegg did just for you, your area or your city? The councillors that are being chosen here are working for a smaller group of people, so their attention is more focused and they can make a difference for more people on a more personal level than an MP, and in Wales an AM, probably would (or could).

Cardiff has always been known as a new, little city with big ambitions, but right now is at a crossroads. In years past there was a clear direction, that was presented by necessity – like the replacement of The Arms Park by the Millennium Stadium – or by a policy decided and directed by the council – like the decision to revamp the city centre, focussing on retail and the courting of big chains, but right now Cardiff does not have a very clear set of change policies or ambitions. The global recession certainly helped on this change in priorities, since there are now very few investors willing to pour money into big, adventurous projects – where before they may have had a go, and Cardiff council would have been willing to grease the cogs of bureaucracy for them.
There are a few half baked ideas, which are continually being announced, changed, then eventually scrapped, for example:

  • The Cardiff “business district”
  •  Transport hub (AKA a bus station)
  • Ely “Urban village”

In fact, these two projects are really one and the same, since they encroach on each other’s area, both being situated on Wood Street. These are the only two (major) projects that I can think of that are “in the pipeline” that could significantly affect Cardiff’s fortunes, and both of them are long talked about with no visible progress having been made in at least 4 years.

Cardiff’s bus station terminal was demolished in 2008, the highly visible area surrounded by construction boarding and has been used as some kind of parking lot for construction vehicles ever since. The latest set of plans set out the site of Marland House, about 100m East of the original bus station site, as where the new “transport hub” will be built, and on the site of the old bus station will be the “Cardiff business district”.

According to Cardiff council the plans are still on time and work will begin later this year, which means demolishing Marland House and all surrounding buildings, including the NCP car park. To do this the council will need to use compulsory purchase orders to get the current tenants of Marland House to vacate, these businesses include National Express, Londis, Boots, CEX and Burger King. I have seen no indication that the process of purchasing Marland House, or the land that Marland House stands on, has even begun – though if somebody wants to tell me otherwise, I’d be glad to hear the details.

All this is getting to the real points I want to make, that Cardiff is a unique city that needs a particular type of administration, and this is what we need:

  • Thoroughly planned, innovative projects that benefit the city as a whole.
  • Firm leadership and decision making, because we have endured too many years of “flip-flopping” and bowing to public pressure, like in the case of the “school restructure” debacle.
  • Ideas that buck the trend, not just follow it, or are a knee jerk reaction to other city’s plans, like the “Enterprise zone” farce, that was a reaction to Bristol’s proposal (which has now started construction).
  • A leadership that will engage with its citizens wholly, and take ideas for the future from them. Cardiff has an amazing pool of talent, as demonstrated by some of the groups that have been set up in recent years, such as ThinkArk.
  • A more open council, with good communication at its core. We don’t want to have to read the formal minutes from council meetings, or sub-committee meetings to know what is being discussed or planned in our city, or else be kept in the dark until its formally announced and there is nothing we can do but comment on the decision that has been made.

I think these are some very simple things that can be achieved very easily, but will positively affect every resident and business in the city and make our “capital village” a much better place to live and work.

Night bus or drunk bus?

Night Bus (Sheffield)

Cardiff Council’s “Economy & Culture scrutiny committee” this week released a report digging into Cardiff’s night time economy, putting forward some recommendations that will go to the council’s executive meeting later this year.

- Calls for a clear strategy and management of the night time economy

- Better enforcement of licensing and other rules in the city centre by officers

- Business signing up to a ‘standard’ for customer services

- Investment in opening up the city centre at night for family and culture events

- Improved public transport links to allow people to get home without relying on taxis

I see improving the transport infrastructure after 11pm as the second most important point of the five, after the development of a strategy and management structure, which the city is sorely lacking at the moment, and which I believe is the main reason that our city goes adult after dark, and is a staple on the Bravo programme “Booze Britain” (which I was actually on once, but that’s a different story).

Many cities have bus services that run through the night, London, Reading, Manchester, Sheffield, Edinburgh; it really isn’t a ground breaking idea, nobody will earn any medals for innovation in implementing it.

Not long ago, Cardiff used to have bus services that ran after 11pm and I remember it well, for the fact that I refused to use it. It was around at the time I was in my late teens to early twenties, out on the town most Friday or Saturday nights, the service should have been perfect for me.

However, the service had a particular target of passengers and was run solely with that in mind, and I did not fit into this group.
It was specifically targeted at the pissed up revellers, and run like a big smelly, testosterone filled crèche.

The buses would run from the drinking hot-spot at St Mary Street (Westgate Street), call at Greyfriars Rd (another road filled with bars) and then make no stops until it got to the area that it was designated, and even then it would only make one or two stops for alighting passengers. They essentially functioned as big private-hire minibuses, waiting for everybody to get on and then pulling away (perhaps never to return?).

The services were a “special service”, different to daytime buses, and users treated it as such. Almost every person on it, especially as it got later into the night, would be jumping around, shouting at random persons, throwing things, generally making it a very uncomfortable ride. The perception that these were “drunk buses” was exacerbated by the fact that there was no return journey, nor any pick-ups or drop-offs on the way. They might as well have walked down St Mary Street banging a drum, shouting “Bring out yer drunks!”.

In the other cities that I mentioned previously the services run as an extension to the normal services, making almost the same journeys, just less frequently. The daytime bus service never really finishes, it just transforms, and the customers see it as they normally would and this in turn affects their behaviour towards it. They aren’t seen by the majority as “drunk tanks”, and are used by shift workers, something I don’t think many could imagine of the L8 Bus service that Cardiff Bus used to run.

So, Cardiff Council and Cardiff Bus, if you really want to improve the “night time economy”, don’t segregate it into categories and cater for only a certain type of “reveller” (I hate that word, when I go out I don’t “revel” as far as I know), the drunk who needs to get home and doesn’t want to stump up for a taxi.