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.

Don’t waste this wireless opportunity

Miraflores in Lima, Peru has free Wi-Fi in all public spaces.

Miraflores in Lima, Peru has free Wi-Fi in all public spaces.

Simple offering = higher usage = benefits for the area

With any new public project there is the potential to get it very right, or very very wrong, and with Cardiff council’s announcement of their intention to roll out free Wi-Fi throughout the city centre and Cardiff Bay they have the opportunity for it to be amazingly useful, or amazingly useless.

Free public Wi-Fi would mainly appeal to three groups; business users, tourists and casual users. It would be very important not to target, or exclude, any one group.

As an “anywhere worker” I use free Wi-Fi regularly, mostly provided at coffee shops, bars and restaurants where the connection is unlimited and unrestricted.  They’re usually protected by WPA (encryption), so you just ask for the password, or at bigger chains like Starbucks it’s connect and go.

Having free Wi-Fi or not is a deciding factor on where I spend my mornings/afternoons working. For example, I spend more time at Caffe Nero than I do at Coffee#1 because Nero has free Wi-Fi and Coffee#1 do not, however when I’m not working I prefer Coffee#1. Caffe Nero therefore get about £10 a day out of me while I sit there for the life of my laptop battery and work.

Free Wi-Fi is also a bonus for tourism – I recently visited Lima, Peru and one of the districts, Miraflores, has a big public Wi-Fi initiative and has connected all their public spaces. People sit on benches surfing on their iPads and kids peer over their friends shoulders laughing at pictures on Facebook. There is no registration, you connect to the hotspot and go.
For me, being abroad and with mobile data turned off on my phone, free public Wi-Fi drew me to the parks to sit and catch up with news, email, and friends on social media. It is also a talking point between tourists, as it’s a unique feature. The result is a lot more people in public spaces, because there is more to do there.

Bringing people to the area is the main aim of a project like this. The idea is that if people gravitate somewhere for this service then they will spend more time there and spend more with the businesses in the area, or it could be used to fill up public spaces that may currently be underused.

Here are some “features” that could be thrown in that would kill it, and make it wholly undesirable:

Compulsory log-in/registration
Requiring a user to register for a service like this is pointless. The service cannot be tailored to the user with any real benefit. Details cannot be verified so to cite taking user details for “security purposes” would be fruitless; who is going to register using their real details and then commit crimes online, seriously? The only purpose for registration with a free Wi-Fi service, as you have with The Cloud and other providers, is to collect data which is later sold for profit. Cardiff’s free Wi-Fi offering should be connect and go.

Time limitations
Why? The cost of the service to the council will not vary based on how many minutes somebody is connected, or how many megabytes they send and receive, so why limit their online time? The point of the service is to draw people to the areas that it is available, why only keep them there for 30 minutes?

It’s a simple concept really – set up lots of hotspots with good range to get good coverage, set it up to be click and connect (perhaps a welcome screen with a “connect” button could be tolerated), and have no limitation on how much of it you can use.

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.

Food hygiene ratings; excuses for low scores are a cop out and I can prove it, with my 5/5 rating

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Guest blog from my partner, Misia (@safetypin_)

It was reported today that Adonis Kebab House in Cardiff has closed following an E.coli outbreak. Five people were affected – one was hospitalised. As far as I’m concerned, this simply isn’t acceptable.

E.coli is easily preventable in cooked food. If fresh food is stored and cooked properly and preparation areas are kept clean, it is highly unlikely that an E.coli contamination will break out. But Adonis is not unique in its failure to sell uncontaminated food. A quick Google search will reveal a staggering number of UK restaurants that have been forced to close after being linked to E.coli outbreaks.

It’s important to remember that E.coli is a serious disease. The infection primarily causes severe and painful gastrointestinal problems, but other complications can arise as a result of the infection. It can necessitate hospitalisation even for fit and healthy adult, but E.coli can be fatal for those who are already physically vulnerable. A pregnant woman who contracts E.coli has an increased risk of miscarriage or premature delivery. Children and the elderly are especially susceptible to developing hemolytic uremic syndrome; the symptoms of which include a low red blood cell count, a low platelet count and kidney damage, which can ultimately lead to death.

Many of us have heard the story of Mason Jones, a boy who died after contracting an E.coli infection in 2005, aged five. The outbreak of E.coli that killed Mason Jones was traced back to a local butcher who failed to meet basic food hygiene standards. This story is a sobering reminder that all the recent discussions about the Food Standards Agency food hygiene ratings aren’t just a big fuss over nothing. The FSA hasn’t designed this scheme for fun. It’s there to protect people; to prevent new cases like that of Mason Jones – which is why I’m always furious when I read a quote from a restaurant owner making excuses for their low food hygiene rating.

The most common excuse is that the restaurant failed “on a technicality”. I can say with complete confidence that there is no “technicality” that could leave an otherwise clean and safe food premise with a rating lower than 3. The reason I’m so certain that this is true is that I’ve recently been through an inspection from the Cardiff Council Food Safety Team myself. I’m in the process of setting up a food business in a residential kitchen, but the guidelines are exactly the same as for those working in a professional kitchen (and, for anyone who’s interested, we received a rating of 5. It’s really not hard to achieve).

The guidelines are simple. A booklet filled with information on how staff should keep themselves clean, how food should be stored, how to keep the kitchen clean, how to ensure that food is cooked properly and how to prevent pests is provided, and it is required that every staff member signs to show that they have read the booklet. The booklet is detailed but simple – it’s designed to be understandable even to those with a limited understanding of English. Most people would already do all of the things listed in the booklet instinctively – storing raw meat away from fresh vegetables, washing your hands before and after handling food etc. – but the fact that you’re required to have read it before opening a business ensures that nobody has any excuse to neglect to do any of these things.

The only part that could be considered a technicality is the record-keeping. The council inspector confessed during our meeting that one of the main reasons restaurants don’t receive scores of 4 (good) or 5 (very good) is that they don’t keep a record of what happens day-to-day in their kitchens (though I’d like to stress that he did also tell us that you can’t get a rating of 2 or lower based only on that). While this in itself isn’t going to affect the quality of the food, it’s still a very important part of running a food business. Kitchen workers aren’t expected to write an essay each day – all that’s required is that they sign to say that they’ve cleaned the kitchen and checked for any problems, and that they make a note of any issues that arose that day and how they were resolved. It takes less than two minutes to fill out and it ensures that everyone can see that they are complying with the food safety rules they promised to follow when they started trading.

So when a restaurant receives a low score and blames it on a technicality, this can only mean one of two things: Either they’re lying – and they haven’t actually been keeping their kitchen clean and safe – or they simply can’t be bothered to take a few minutes a day to prove that they are doing everything correctly. I would never choose to eat in a restaurant that does either of these things. For obvious reasons, I would avoid any establishment where I can’t be guaranteed food that has been safely cooked, but I would be just as likely to steer clear of somewhere that doesn’t take their duty to keep track of what’s happening in their kitchen seriously. If they’re that lax with such a simple task, where else might they be slacking?

I believe that we all have a right to know how committed a restaurant is to serving safe food to their customers, and I don’t think any of us should eat in a restaurant that has a score lower than 3 (generally satisfactory). I implore people to continue to name and shame the restaurants that are failing to meet the standards we should be able to expect, whether that’s because they genuinely aren’t doing the things they should be doing or because they simply aren’t willing to put in the time to prove that they’re doing everything right.

I don’t particularly want to have to deal with an E.coli infection myself, but with a young son the importance of knowing that the food I buy isn’t contaminated is more important than ever. All I require from a restaurant owner is that in exchange for the money I’m paying, you can assure me that you have done everything in your power to make sure that it’s safe for me to eat. And, let’s face it, that is not something I should have to ask for.

To find out the food hygiene rating of any UK restaurant, simply search for the restaurant here http://ratings.food.gov.uk/QuickSearch.aspx