Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I hate that AJAX is a thing.

Helping to contribute to the marketing efforts for my latest project, I came to the somewhat unpleasant realisation that AJAX (man, I cringe each time I use that term) has marketing collateral. I wrote my first xmlhttp script that manipulated the DOM back when I was working in Tax in 99. So, it's certainly not anything new.

But as Cam says, a snazzy acronym, and a ringing endorsement from the big end of town, and all of a sudden our marketing story has got a simple, sexy word to describe what we've got over our competition.

So, I guess it's bring out the AJAX dancing girls...

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Extra Pooh!

I just noticed, when putting my youngest boy to sleep, that Huggies Nappies now have a picture of Disney's Winnie-the-Pooh on them.

If only I could have been involved in the marketing of that product....

"Huggies Nappies. Now also with pooh on the outside!"

"When too much Pooh is never enough..."

"Huggies Nappies. Now featuring Winnie the Shit."

Oh, the possibilities...

Going Solo in a Crowded Marketplace

Democracy started somewhere in a marketplace in Ancient Greece. Everybody important to the society had a vote, and decisions concerning society would be made. It seems somewhat easier than it is to understand in modern day Australia.

(Back in Athens,not many people were considered to be important to society - women and slaves were forbidden from voting. These days, in Australia, women and slaves are encouraged to vote! )

But it seems that the key founding principle behind democracy, was to allow people's opinions to be directly solicited on issues that would affect them. Should we do this? Well, let's just ask everyone...

Nowadays, proportional representation means that I simply elect my local member, and never have to think about those things again. But is that really democratic? I'm sure that, while Bob McMullan is a nice guy and all, he and I wouldn't agree on everything. I bet most of the people I know who voted for him wouldn't agree with him on everything either (and there are lots of people didn't vote for him at all). In fact, I don't really know any two people who can really agree on everything.

Okay, so it's a compromise. At some point, the marketplace became too crowded, and we needed to spend less time making decisions, and more time getting on with building society. So, along comes proportional representation. I can elect my guy to go to the marketplace and he can make decisions, while I get on with my business. It's classic supply and demand. I can see how we got there.

But everybody is complaining.

As long as I can remember, grown-ups have been arguing about politics. I assume that partially it's because people just like to complain, but the crux of every political gripe has this at it's core:

"I didn't vote for the incumbent government, so why should I be party to the decisions they make that I didn't want them to make because I knew I wouldn't agree with them?"

And then our political representatives started banding together, as the issues grew more complex, so now we have political parties. Not being privy to what goes on inside a party, I can't say, but I bet that the disagreements within parties (like this one) are substantial, and much more prevalent than the party marketing machine would have you suspect.

So - we have a system where we elect a nominated representative to make decisions, (that a significant number of people don't want to elect), who then band together with a collection of vaguely like-minded other representatives, (who the representative doesn't always agree with, but is bound to stand by the decisions of) who then decide what happens to our society.

Where's my opinion in that diluted mess? It's worse than homoeopathy! No wonder people complain.

Yeah, yeah I hear you.
"It's the way the system works",
"*shrug* - whaddya gonna do?",
"It's the best we could come up with. Bloody politicians" etc.

Okay, if you look at the modern blogosphere, there are over 10 million opinions (like this one) being solicited, published, debated and consumed every day, all with an infrastructure that allows it to happen. It's just like the original marketplace, only ordered.

We could harness this infrastructure to allow people to have their voice back.

Picture the following scenario:

You come home from work and your aggregator has automatically obtained the parliamentary bills for the day. Because you are a registered independent, your single vote needs to be received on each of these issues. Using indexing tools like google or technorati, you can find opinions, listen to debates, argue and learn more about the issues. You register your votes against each bill. Sure, there will be a lot of them. Being a registered independent means that you really care about your society, and you're prepared to work for it. You don't have a nominated representative.

The number of votes in the house of parliament is once again the same as the number of voters.

Okay, so what if you are too lazy? Or you don't care? Or you don't have a computer? Or you can't read? Simple- you delegate your vote to a nominated representative. Registered representatives vote with more weight. They vote with every vote which has been granted to them. If a constituent disagrees with a decision, he or she can remove their vote from that person, and assign it to another representative, or "Go Solo" as a registered independent.

(hey - then we could fire our politicians if they didn't have an RSS Feed...)

Representatives can still belong to parties. They can belong to whatever they want. It's just that you, as an individual, would assign your voting rights to another individual. Never to a party. You're making the decision: "That person is qualified by me to hold my vote."

We have the technology and the infrastructure to go back to the roots of democracy. What would be the ultimate result of such a system? True representation and a society that more accurately represented the wishes of the people within it. Bills would automatically be broken down to the smallest unit that people care about, so as not to "sneak" legislation through by piggybacking other things. Less wheeling and dealing? Better decisions? More room for facts and less for marketing? An army of automated software bots running our society?

*shrug* - whaddya gonna do?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

How does yoga work?

So, the more Zen and enlightened among my colleagues joined me for yoga today. Bending yourself in weird and unusual positions, concentrating on your breathing, and relaxing are all good, albeit challenging, but at some point Avanashi asked us to "think of a prayer for yourself - an affirmation all your own."
(Avanashi has one of those deep female voices that seem common among drama teachers - one that automatically makes you relax.).

So I'm standing there, trying to think of something to pray for. Not being a religious person, I don't have much experience with prayer. In fact, my only real memory of praying was when I was a kid.
(At some point I found out that there was supposed to be a big man in the sky who could do anything, and so I prayed every night to God for a motorbike. After two weeks I didn't get one, and my Dad thought the whole thing was hilarious, so I gave up.)

Anyway, so yeah, trying to think of something to pray for:

Money? nah - don't really want much...
Fame? nah - rather be anonymous...
Google-fu? nah...Surely indexing all these blogs will make google's results suck?
Becoming more productive? nah - I work enough.
Happiness? nah - I'm happy enough.

Time was running out - we would soon be having to wrap our legs over our shoulders or something, and I seriously couldn't think of a single thing I wanted to change about me or my life.

If only I could've come up with something the Buddha would be proud of:

"Becoming a kind and enlightened human who helps people feel better"

But no - I spent all the praying time trying to think of something I wanted to pray for.

I suppose there are worse things :^)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Dreams of a night on the TRIM

Disclaimer:People's dreams are often not very interesting to anyone but them. But this was so weird I had to write it down. I don't know what it means, other than to highlight the fact that I'm a little deranged. All companies and people in this dream are actually me, and almost definitely wouldn't behave in such a fashion in real life. No correspondence will be entered into.

Shimmery Dissolve in

In my dream, software was alcohol . Everybody was drunk all the time, because of the amount of software in the work place. Big companies like Microsoft and Oracle were in the business of getting people shitfaced at big conventions, where they'd teach you about the alcohol molecule and how they'd added a new hydroxide molecule. Microsoft called this directDrink. IBM had a reputation for taking out the CEOs of large enterprises and getting them all really drunk, thus mandating more IBM liquor (which was blue) be bought and drunk by millions of government employees around the world every day.

I worked for TOWER, which was exactly the same, except that TRIM was a very strange tasting brown liquid that got you really pissed, really efficiently. It was an acquired taste. People at work would jokingly refer to it as "A night on the TRIM". After one night on the TRIM, I remember getting really drunk with our CEO. At some point, I had to leave, and the boss said he'd look after my watch. He gave me a ticket with "The Tabstern Tavern "written on it, with a number, For some reason I knew that I could pick it up there once I was sober.

I went home, and we were renting a friends house while they renovated ours. Ali was all worried that they'd decorate it in a disgusting way. When I woke up, I went to the Tabstern Tavern, which was a very seedy club where the staff all wore singlets. The guy behind the bar looked like this guy. I gave him my ticket and he said:"Oh - okay- your boss dropped this off. Come this way." I went behind the bar and around the corner to a place where all this lost property was laid out on a table. My watch was there with a ticket matching my number. I picked it up. As I did, I noticed Martin's pants and shirt, neatly folded, with a ticket on them. Okay, I thought, that's weird. Maybe I should pick those up while I'm here. I imagined myself handing the boss his pants, and decided maybe I should leave them there.

I was at work getting in trouble. Apparently the preliminary tests for my new project weren't going so well. Turns out that my project was to take the TRIM alcohol and make it attractive and palatable to teenagers and modern people by mixing it with stuff and selling it in a fancy colored bottle. It was the same alcohol - it just looked much nicer and had a spiffy marketing campaign, The team had come up with three variants, Trim with Egg and Orange juice, TRIM with lemon, lime and glycerin and TRIM with some chunky fluffy looking thing that looked a lot like vomit. Straughan had each one of them lined up on is desk in a tall glass with a cocktail umbrella, and was shaking his head at me, while he went over the advertising campaign storyboards.
"The market isn't going to go for this ready-to-drink shit. They need to understand the real value proposition" (swill from the TRIM bottle, which looked like a Grant's whiskey bottle with the Context logo on it.)

I Woke up.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Tell me a story...

I've been following a lot of the hooplah around Seth Godin's new book - All Marketers are liars.

(I haven't actually read the book yet, but I've read so much about it that I probably don't need to. Maybe blogging like crazy isn't the best marketing tool when what you're trying to sell is words...)

Anyway, for those of you who want to make out that you've read it too, here's the 237 word synopsis courtesy of Brand Autopsy:

"All marketers tell stories. And if they do it right, we believe them. Successful marketers don’t talk about features or benefits. Instead, they tell a story. A story we want to believe.

Marketing is the story marketers tell to consumers and then maybe, if the marketer has done a good job, the lie consumers tell themselves and their friends. Some marketers focus so hard on the facts of their offering that they forget to tell a story at all and then wonder why they’ve failed.

Stories are shortcuts because we’re too overwhelmed by data to discover all the details. Marketers tell the stories, and consumers believe them. Some marketers do it well. Others are pretty bad at it.

Great marketers tell stories we believe. The marketer tells a story about what the consumer notices. The story changes the way the consumer experiences the product or service. Storytelling only works when the story actually makes the product or service better.

Storytelling isn’t Seth’s idea. It’s the idea of customers. It’s customers who want to be told stories. It’s your prospects who will walk away if you obsess about the last sigma of this or that without bothering to tell a story about it.

There are no small stories. Only small marketers. If your story is too small, it’s not a story, it’s just an annoying interruption. Make your story bigger and bigger until it’s important enough to believe."

As much as you might not like it, you have to agree it resonates. Facts are boring and easily forgotten. Stories are what our brains have evolved to remember. Which is a better choice when you're trying to directly affect people's brains?

Case in point: this product announcement from IBM. Holy crap! I think the product might actually be cool, but I got so bored reading the thing I fell asleep!

Saturday, May 21, 2005


Warning! This post contains very introspective noodling about me and things I care about. There are no funny jokes or cool links. (There's always spamusement if you're after that sort of thing...)

Early morning silence got me thinking about becoming fully engaged. About actively embracing the things that are important to my family - as opposed to being passive and dismissive about them.

If you're like me, your wife runs your household. Sure, you like to play with the kids now and again, and you expect that your wife will have time for you when it suits you, but other than that - you're a pretty busy guy. You've got people to meet with and places to go and lots of really important complex work issues to manage. And things like school permission notes, or lunches, or after school play-dates with neighborhood kids, bills and housework are just a nuisance. You have the minimum possible interaction required in order to keep things smoothly running. (i.e. no complaining) You're not fully engaged - you're just along for the ride.

In the beginning, your wife might've said that she thought your behaviour was unfair. But after a while, she stopped mentioning it - probably because it just led to arguments. Gradually, the current model of behaviour evolved. You chuck your socks on the floor, not because you want her to pick them up, but because you're lazy. She picks them up, and assumes it's because you think she deserves to. Silence. Repeat.

I kind of fell into this model of behaviour for two reasons: one, because I'm lazy, and two because the society I live in tells me that this is perfectly normal. This is the way life has been since the fifties, and isn't it all dandy and fine. (Fetch me my slippers and my pipe, dear)

So my insomniac dischordance comes from the realisation that in order to behave in such a fashion, I have to take advantage of the one person that I love the most in the world. She loves me, so she'll put up wth the fact that she works twice as hard for the family as I do. Aristotle wrote that "the noblest use of power is restraint". It seems to me that if you're going to be in the habit of burdening people, they really shouldn't be the ones who will just take it.

I'd always justify my position by saying: "Oh, that domestic stuff bores me - it's better for you to take care of it" Or worse:"You need to care less about this stuff - your standards are too high - take more time for yourself" What I really need to do is realise that the amount of work involved in running a household like mine is considerable, and that in a realationship, you should share the responsibility, and the benefit. So, I guess i'm resolving to become more engaged, on an emotional and physical level.

No, I haven't been fighting with Alison or sleeping on the sofa. It's just a place I've come to lately. Having four children involves a lot of responsibility, and I need to ensure that I don't get distracted by easier things, like work. My kids will be grown up soon, and I don't really want to miss out on any of this stuff - even the boring bits.

I think it's time for me to grow up now.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Slips and Roundabouts

So I woke up at 3:30 this morning with a stark realisation: Despite valiant efforts, My project team was going to miss it's feature complete milestone. By at least a week. If I had actually been impartial, and not really wanted to make it on time, I would have seen this much earlier, but I find that you get so caught up in the desire to get everything finished and everyone really wants to make it on time, that everyone (I say 'everyone', but really I mean 'me') tends to have those trendy rose-colored glasses on...

Schedules are made early on with the best intentions, and no pressure, and retrospectively, to be out by a week over a 6 month project is actually pretty good. But nobody likes to slip.

Two things come to mind about schedule slippage, (both courtesy of Jim McCarthy):
  • never trade a bad date for an equally bad date, and;
  • a slip should be a net positive.

When you slip, there's serious pressure on the team to come up with a new date. Often you'll just pick a new date that's in the future - by virtue of it being the future, it's automatically better than the one you've just missed, which is now in the past. Giving into this impulse is dumb - it almost always leads to more slippage.

And slips happen because of things that you didn't know, which have since become known. So, that's not actually a bad thing. Better knowledge of how to ship the product can't be bad. What's bad is when you slip and you don't know why.

In our case, we have a better insight into what we need to do to hit the new milestone, we've revisited the specs and schedules, and we've set a realistic date that we can hit, so I think we're okay on both accounts.

Still not fun to slip though :(

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Gord to World - All your aggregators are suck.

All this talk about nudie rudie conversations and membranes is all well and good, but I really took heart from this post about conversations being a two way street. And the conversations coming in seem to be sadly lacking in proportion to the the number of marketing gurus who are busy trying to "practice the art of sincerity" in order to get their "corporate message" across.

So, with that in mind, here's my lil contribution as a consumer - talking to somebody who really should be listening.

World, I hate your RSS Aggregators. All of them. Over the past eighteen months worth of RSS interaction, I've gone through over 10 aggregators. And they are all, for various reasons, condemned to my windows recycle bin. So, given that I spend a bunch of coffee time each morning trying to find out what people think of our product, I thought I'd help all the manufacturers of said aggregators out, by telling them why they ended up in my bit-bucket.

I installed, uninstalled, then re-installed and then uninstalled this aggregator wih the cool name and funky icon.
In it's favour: notifications were good, I like the way you can read the actual blog web page that the post came from.
Importing feeds from OPML one feed at a time? I got RSI importing my channel list!
No folders at all!
I really don't want to see a list of every post that has ever been made - the three pane interface seems superfluous and I couldn't configure it to not be there.

Onfolio (Beta)
This is probably the thing I hate the least so far...
In it's favour: Firefox integration, Newspaper View, Reading Tray, nice blogger integration
Against: .NET runtime means that it is s-l-o-w. Not Free. Notification seemed to be whenever it felt like it.

In it's favour:
It's free
Against: It's ugly. Notifications are weird and jittery. Again with the three pane interface.

In it's favour: It's free, Company has a cool name, integrated browser, folders
Against: refuses to read ATOM feeds, doesn't integrate with my default browser, came installed with a zillion channels I didn't want.

In it's favour: It's free, Firefox plug-in, Newspaper view
Against: No capacity to mark all as read (you have to manually load every feed and then click a button) three pane interface means more clutter, no notifier

I'm currently still reluctantly using this service, becuase it seems like aggregation should be a service based app.
In it's favour: It's free, web based, nice folders
Against: Notifications don't tell you what's new, only that something's new. I hate having my content pane filled with ads for bloglines functionality.

JetBrains Omea Pro
With it's capacity to track everything in the known galaxy, Seemed like overkill. I just wanted to read some blogs!
(ReSharper is a nice product though. We bought several copies!)
In it's favour: Full functionality, nice folders
Against: Not Free, took ages to load, and even longer to close. No notifier

For:Integrates with Outlook 2003
Didn't seem to work particularly well on my machine - meaning I had to re-install several times before swearing and uninstalling.

So, there you go fellahs, put that in your transparent membrane and smoke it.

Maybe one day I'll find an aggregator that doesn't make me cry.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Friday Night BUI*

Friday night at the end of a pressure week that was somehow unsatisfying, drunk and inspired (do those two things really go together? ever? Think about it... ) to re-tell a moment from my day, which struck me with a poignant profundity.

After returning from lunch for a departing colleague (the worst steak ever) Stilly and I stopped to watch the big-assed construction machines next to our building, that were digging big holes in order to build more apartments, (Australia needs lots of apartments, nobody gets any space over here). There were three digging machines, making tremendous noise and smashing rocks and stuff.

Mainly because it was so noisy, Stilly and I just stood there for 10 minutes watching them. And that's where the profoundness came from. Watching these enormous machines operating with enormous power, in the process of creating something that I wouldn't have the faintest idea how to do, I felt like a little kid.

And I felt like me and Stilly were both kids -back when you'd just be friends with anyone, and you wouldn't judge anybody because you hadn't learned how to be jaded and judgmental, and those seeds of doubt at your own value and worth hadn't been planted by the awkwardness and despair of adolescence.

We had a great work experience guy from ginninderra high helping us out this week. He was quite a skilled guy for 16, and I bet he'll grow up to be a good programmer one day. But the thing that always strikes me about these kids is that they are always really nervous.

I remember why this is. When you're sixteen, you have this perception that the world is an incredibly organized place - one with an intricate complicated system, that you as a total noob could never hope to understand. You feel like everybody else has a copy of the script and you don't. And eventually, as you grow up, you realise that it's total bullshit. Everybody else is just making it up as they go. Things that you thought were incredibly organised are only designed to give the impression that they are organised. Life is really one big adlib. And as an adult, you're expected to contribute to, and maintain this illusion. And for some reason, you do.

For that moment, I captured a little bit of that childish awe and wonder about the world. And maybe it's latent in all in all of us - that we're all just big kids, and we could just as easily ditch our evaluatory fingerpointing ways and just play together, because it's fun.

*Blogging Under the Influence

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Who rules The Ancient Pyramid? -Linkfest

Our new Graphic Designer and Flash Guru, Rhys, pointed me to this flash movie that shows the relationships between Fortune 500 companies. Pretty amazing, and a little scary.

My vote for spamusement cartoon of the week: stop that bending!

I dug Paul Graham's article on why hiring is obsolete:
"...The three big powers on the Internet now are Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft. Average age of their founders: 24."

I made a winsock version of pong when I was 24. Does that count?

That is all.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Due to probably the weirdest impulse purchase of my life, you can now get to my blog at www.goodgord.com. It was a case of - hey - the domain's not taken! Therefore - I should buy it!.

So I did.

Now, if only I could figure out why all my computers seem to think they are in Singapore, I might be able to see if it works. (For some reason, I can't access the domain, or the hosting company (godaddy) from my home PC. I rang my ISP but the helpdesk guy talked to me like I was a crazy person.

"That thing between your start button and your clock is called a task-bar..."


The Hackety Hack Challenge

I really enjoyed reading the results of the JotSpot hackathon. I've been keen on the idea of a hackathon for a while now - (although not with such a l33t name...) Back in December, when we were planning our R&D Convention for this year, I was keen to take the R&D guys through what I had called (in a very boring, non-l33t way) : "Something Great". The aim of Something Great was to give everybody everything they could want for in terms of tools and food, allocate some time, and get them all to come up with, well, something great, that wasn't related to their daily work, but could still potentially benefit the company.

The reason I was keen on this idea is because when you are working on maintaining and building the same product that you've been doing for (in some cases) 20 years, you kind of forget the fun thing about being a computer programmer - the fact that you can make really new innovative things that impress, delight and amaze people. And maybe it might be a great way for people to realise how talented people actually are, when given total freedom to do things their own way.

Anyway, It turned out it wasn't practical to ship everybody's machines and stuff around, and would've taken far too much time to co-ordinate, so I ended up going with boring powerpoint slides instead (no! - it's actually true...) But, the thought was there.

And I still think the idea of a one-day Hackathon might be fun - and actually produce some amazing innovative stuff. I'd be willing to give up a Saturday to play Air Hostess and Cheerleader for any developers who were up for the challenge.

I might even have some costumes lying around somewhere...

Friday, May 06, 2005

Can't make it - see you there.

Some folks over at MIT are holding a time travel convention. The idea goes that there would only ever need to be one, because people could just turn up from whatever time they were in.

It's on at the east campus courtyard MIT, May 8, 2005 02:00:00 UTC.

I have no plans to go right now, but I will definitely consider going sometime in the future if it transpires that I can.

So, I might see you there!

Come to think of it, I might see me there as well...

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Red Couch - Chapter 4

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel have posted chapter four online of their book on business blogging. There are some valuable lessons in there:

"Blogs...have already proven to be the most powerful tool to directly access company constituencies, short of buying your own printing press. Come to think of it, blogs are a whole lot less expensive than a printing press as well."

(Doesn't 'Robert Scoble' look weird without the underline?)

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Business of the Artisan

I used to know a very friendly, very creative guy called String. String was one of those guys that art just came out of. In the same way that Jimi Hendrix played guitar, or Henry Moore sculpted, String would draw and sketch and paint. My creative endeavours are extremely contrived by comparison.

Anyway, as a young student, I remember listening to him complain bitterly about his art class, which he was failing. I found this somewhat hard to believe.
"How could you fail art? You're the most artistic person I've ever met!"
He laughed and told me that people were looking at his work and saying that it was " worth about an E - maybe a D". He couldn't believe that anybody could apply a stringent set of evaluation criteria to something that obviously came from an intensely personal endeavors, and try and rank it against other people's personal endeavours. The whole concept seemed entirely preposterous to him. Fair enough. String went on to fail art, and to draw and paint and sketch anyway.

The point of this story (apart from the obvious personal nostalgia trip) goes to the situation that I see frequently among truly creative innovative people, and their interactions with the mainstream evaluators. More and more it appears, the ability to execute is not enough in the modern world. Quality is an illusion.

Big customers are often unwilling to take a chance on a tiny company - despite the fact that it may have a superior level of skill and insight. As a project manager, and one who does risk management on an almost daily basis, I can understand making such a decision - but I also know that percieved risk and actual risk are mitigated the same way.
People who are smart enough to realise true talent, and a real artisan, are often not brave enough to commit to it, because they know other people will judge them harshly for their decisions, despite the little they understand about the situation.

Now this is all getting a bit mealymouthed, but the point I'm trying to get across is this: We should value creative skill and talent above all else, because that's where the big changes in our lives will come from. Process is important, but it isn't everything. A really skilled, cohesive team will transcend a poor process - but a poor team will never produce anything great, even with a perfect methodology and unlimited resources.

So there's the dilemma of the business of the artisan - somebody who's skilled in a field, who has to contend with a whole host of wacky criteria that don't make any sense to them - marketing, sales, product positioning, networking, professional appearance, indemnity, legality, insurance, taxation. And all the poor guy wanted to do was get paid for what he was good at - be it baking pies, or building houses or writing software. Sadly, many artisans end up hating what they once loved.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Forced Housework

If you're feeling unmotivated, and you want to clean up your house, here's a tip:

Invite the bank over to value your house.

It wastes a bit of the bank's money and time, and it makes you clean up all those things that you've been putting off because, uh, well, um *scratches head* uh-because they're as boring as batshit.

I read somewhere that the Queen thinks that the whole world smells like paint, because wherever she goes, there's some red-faced bloke forty feet in front of her with a paintbrush. Well, this guy must see 5 spotless houses a day, and then go back home to dwell on how lazy and pathetic he must be because he just can't be bothered to do the dishes...

Anyway, the valuer (who was very nice, and not in the least lazy or pathetic) came over an hour early, while we were all red-faced after deciding to take the teenager approach and hide the mess under furniture and stuff. He was a very tall man, with a bit of a beer gut ("A roof over the tool shed" as Terry would say) but he wasn't exactly what you call fat.

Unless you happen to be two.

As soon as Phil the valuer arrived, and Ali and I had shaken his hand and smiled politely, and he'd gone on with his valuing work, Link said in a loud voice "Mummy, where's that fat man? - that huge giant fat man? What's he doing ? He has a big tummy!"

Mummy, in a flash of brilliance, pulls out a Santa Claus toy from Link's toy box. "Here's the fat man, Linky. Would you like to show me how you play with him?"

Link turns and looks at his mum in the same way that a Jehovah's Witness does on a Saturday morning when you politley explain that you think it's all bullshit and you'd quite like them to go away.

He says: "No mummy - that's not him. That's Santa. I'm talking about the huge giant fat man in the lounge room!"

Can't wait to get the report from the bank. The house is clean though!