Marshmallow World

Oh, it’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts
Take a walk with your favorite girl
It’s a sugar date, what if spring is late
In winter it’s a marshmallow world

Some of you may be aware that cookin’ runs in the family. And because this is Christmas, and there’s a recipe that gets trotted out in the Sleeper household at this time every year, which was handed down to me down the ages, partially embellished from a recipe created by a football club majority shareholder. I give you:

Sleeper Junior’s Awesome Gingerbread House of Awesomeness!

To create an object of such awesomnity, you’ll need:

For The Gingerbread:

4oz soft brown sugar
11oz self-raising flour
2½ tbsp Golden Syrup
1½ tbsp Black Treacle
1½ tbsp water
4¾ oz butter, diced
1tsp baking soda
1¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1½ tsp ginger
pinch ground cloves

For the Decoration

60g white chocolate
240g chocolate buttons (assorted colours)
140g crispy M&Ms
Icing sugar

Other things

A four-year-old (optional)
A gingerbread house template. I used this one.
As many baking trays as you can lay your hands on
Baking parchment
A rolling pin. If you don’t have one, use Grandma Sleeper’s Patent-Pending Emergency Rolling Pin Substitute, as shown below:

Grandma Sleeper’s Patent-Pending Emergency Rolling Pin Substitute


Sling the liquid ingredients into a saucepan with the spices and bring to the boil. Once they’ve reached boiling point, turn off the heat and stir in the butter. Once that’s melted, gradually add the flour and baking soda a little at a time until you have  something approximating a dough.

Shove a lid on the pan and leave it somewhere for half an hour, or alternatively, as long as it takes to walk down the road to the shop to buy mince pies.

Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Roll the dough to about 3mm thick, using Grandma’s rolling pin substitute if needed, out onto a well-floured surface, and cut it according to your templates.  Once you’ve got all the bits rolled out, bake for 12 minutes.

The instant that you remove the gingerbread from the oven, take your templates and trim off the edges from the hot gingerbread with a sharp knife so that they once again match the shape of the paper. Leave them to cool on the trays for a while. Don’t eat the offcuts, and don’t allow the four-year-old anywhere near them.

While you’re waiting for the gingerbread to cool, mix the icing sugar with water so that it’s about the consistency of the middle of a Creme egg (which is to say almost, but not entirely solid). Wonder why it’s December 23rd and the shop already had huge hoppers full of Creme Eggs even though it’s not even Christmas yet.

Assemble the four walls of the house on a plate, using copious quantities of your icing sugar glue. Apply more glue to the top edges of the standing walls, then attempt to add each of the roof pieces. Fail.

Note the temporary presence of cocktail sticks while the cement, sorry, icing dries

Inevitably you’ll find that they slide down, so scramble through your cupboard and find some cocktail sticks. Skewer each of the roof pieces in place until the icing dries, and hope that it’s before you need to decorate the top of the house.

Now, take your four-year-old, and help them stick the chocolate buttons onto the roof. Attempt to disrupt their attempt to alternate the colours by sneaking an extra button in every now and then, and try to stop them scoffing them all before you know if there are enough to cover the roof.

Similarly decorate the sides of the house with the M&Ms. For the most part you’ll spend more time sticking them back on after they fall off than you will adding new ones on, but eventually you’ll reach a point of equilibrium.

Finally, fill the gaps at the top where the roof meets with the offcuts you made after taking the gingerbread out of the oven. If your four-year-old is like mine and has scoffed them all, despite your earlier protestations, instead just hope for the best. Melt the white chocolate and pour it over the top to cover up the horrible gap that you have between the roof pieces. Hope it looks enough like snow.

Finally, convince your four-year-old to hold off from wanting to eat it for long enough that you can take a picture for Grandma Sleeper.

Devour before the entire structure collapses under the weight of chocolate.

24th December 2016Permalink Leave a comment

Looking for a Rainbow

Well, we’ve come down to the valley,
Yeah, we’re looking for the honey.
I see a rainbow- I said, “That’s the land of milk and honey”

Me and my cousin, 
Me and my brother,
Our little sister too…
We’re going looking for a rainbow.

I’ve seen plenty of my friends articulate exactly what the results of Thursday’s referendum on UK membership of the EU means to them. And while I can’t speak for experiences as someone with a foreign spouse, or as someone who’s moved here from elsewhere in Europe, I can talk about how I’m feeling at the moment.

I grew up on the Yorkshire coast. Wikipedia tells me that the current ethnic makeup there is 97.5% white. That sounds about right. As an area of ethnic diversity, it wasn’t exactly cosmopolitan. I’m not saying that there’s a problem intrinsically with that (though I do remember some racist bullying at school). It’s just fact.

After I left home, I went to university in Manchester. For two years I lived in Rusholme, right off the curry mile. As a district it couldn’t have been much further from the place I’d lived for the vast majority of the previous two decades. People of all faiths and nationalities, living beside each other and for the most part getting on perfectly well.  After I left university I went to work for a small company, with clients across Europe and a few further afield

Then I came to London. Working for a startup with global ambitions, and then two large international companies. I can talk to my colleagues in India and China in the morning, and Canada and the US in the afternoon. Every now and then Australia comes into the mix too. And that’s before I’ve even discussed the rainbow of nationalities I come across every time I go to the office in the morning.

I listen to Canadian and West-coast American music. I eat food made in Indian, Chinese and Mexican traditions among others, and drink beer made from New Zealand hops. I have friends and co-workers from pretty much every part of the planet. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t see myself as a citizen of the UK so much as the world. And the thing that’s upset me the most over the past few days is discovering that there are so many people in my country that don’t share my worldview.

People that insist that the UK is full, who aren’t interested in learning about different cultures. Who post racist graffiti, who claim to “just be saying what we’re al thinking”. Who stand outside the tube station draped in the Union Flag and cheering at the fact that the entire country and future has been plunged into a state of disarray and whose pensions just lost a huge chunk of their value. Who rail against difference because they don’t know any better and don’t want to learn.

Truth be told, I don’t know how I feel about the UK any more. Right now, I don’t feel like it’s the place I thought it was, or wanted it to be. And I don’t know if it’s even possible to turn it into the place it by all rights should be.

Electric Guitars

I had a dream that we were rockstars
And that flashbulbs popped the air
And girls fainted every time we shook our hair.
We were songbirds, we were Greek gods.
We were singled out by fate.
We were quoted out of context – it was great!

It seems to me that we are all rock stars. We all have our time in the foreground then we retreat in time to give the next generation time to make their mark. None of us give ourselves the due credit that we should accept for the difference we’ve made to other people. We all get at least one bite of the cherry of influence, it’s down to us how we choose to use it.

As the 1112th incarnation of the Warped President, I made a difference. There were those who came before me (Four More Years!) and those who came later (Four More Years!). To claim I didn’t have an impact on what happened next, however small, would be denying that I made a difference, however big or small. There are still pictures online, if you know where to look, of those days. Not long after, somewhere in the background, the Support Engineer started to come to the fore, educating anyone who wanted to listen to what he had to say.

After I moved to London, I faded into the South, a fate which had been prophesied for a long time. There are still those who remember me as the Warped President, but as time moves on, another guise takes shape. Depending on where you looked from, I became the Systems Administrator or the Municipal Liason, ready to answer any question about my domain I cared, hoping that you’d understand my point of view.

Look at me today, I’m Daddy, ready to answer a million and more questions that have no answer ( apart from maybe ‘Let’s talk about this tomorrow’). I’m the Application Engineer, ready to use the knowledge I have to come to a conclusion that inevitably causes someone else pain. I’m the bitter ex-ML, disheartened by the direction that something I associated with has taken.

Tomorrow I’ll be someone else again. Someone I haven’t predicted, but still someone who makes a difference somewhere, for good or for ill. And that’s all we can ever be, an influence on the others around us. I’m aiming for it to be for the better, and I don’t imagine anyone who’s come under my sphere of influence in those years can claim they’re doing anything different, one way or the other. I can only hope that all of us are acting in the best interests of everyone. But I can’t imagine that we don’t believe we are. Best is, at most, extremely subjective.

The short version – none of us are the caricatures that could be painted of us. We’re all complicated. Who’d have it any other way?

Rainbow Connection

KermitWhy are there so many songs about rainbows
And what’s on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions
And rainbows have nothing to hide

So we’ve been told
And some choose to believe it
I know they’re wrong, wait and see
Some day we’ll find it
The rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers, and me

1st November.

Thirteen years ago today I was sitting in my flat in Manchester, frantically typing away on my debut NaNoWriMo attempt on an even-then ancient laptop which resembled nothing much else than a breeze block. I still have that laptop, and amazingly, it still works.

Ten years ago today I was sitting in my rented room in Wimbledon, not too many miles from here, frantically typing away on my first NaNoWriMo attempt that would actually cross the 50k line.

Four years ago today I was embarking on my first year as ML (basically regional organiser) for the London chapter of NaNoWriMo.

… and so on. You get the picture. Except something’s changed. This year I haven’t even attempted to pick up my laptop and start writing. I’ve been working on and off on one of my long-running projects, but not to the extent that I’ll set myself any kind of goals. I want to write, but I don’t really feel like NaNoWriMo is the right place for me any more. Absolutely, there are still plenty of people I know doing it, but every year I check back into the forums and it feels like everything’s just a little bit safer, a little bit less of the counterculture sort of vibe that there was there in the beginning.

I look at NaNoWriMo right now with detached bemusement; I wouldn’t say that I regret the time I put into any of it, not the writing half a million words of stuff desperately needing a polish, and definitely not the volunteering- the organising meet ups, managing the hectic London calendar or the time spent writing pep talks for the London crowd. But the culture has shifted as years have gone by. Once upon a time, the ML guide to life was written by Chris Baty, the man who founded NaNoWriMo (and an excellent fellow). It had loads of useful advice and wasn’t afraid to leave things to the reader’s best judgement. It was possible to tailor the NaNoWriMo experience to the audience.

Then Chris left and not much later, the guide was rewritten by no doubt well-meaning people, the upshot of which was that much of the nuance was lost. It now reflected a much more North American-centric and specific way of thinking about NaNoWriMo. One in which meant writing means coffee shops, timed writing sprints and word wars. And enforced sobriety. I got the impression that those regions who organised meet ups in pubs were mostly tolerated through some sort of grandfathering-in.

Anyway, this weekend I happened to watch The Muppets. It struck a chord with me. A world that had moved away from the titular characters felt somehow familiar. NaNoWriMo has moved away from me. I don’t want to sit in a coffee shop with numerous others. I want to sit wherever takes my fancy with the beverage of my choice. I don’t want to write as fast as humanly possible, competing to see who can throw out the biggest word count in the shortest amount of time. I want to spend my allotted time crafting if not a good sentence then at least a decent enough one to get me to an initial draft. There might be a target per day but I don’t want to care how long it takes for me to get there.

I want to agonise over my choice of words, struggle to cross the finish line and then spend about fifteen times longer agonising over whether I’ve put things together correctly as I edit. I don’t want achievement badges. I want a sense of genuine achievement in having written something I can take pride in. The world may need your novel but what it doesn’t need is your fifty thousand hastily scrawled words that were written because you couldn’t think of anything better to do.

One day the NaNo community may shift back. And on that November 1st, I’ll be opening up scrivener to a new blank document. Until then, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, good luck. It isn’t for me right now. I’m not trying to detract from anything anyone else might get from it as it is now. I hope you get as much out of it as I did back in the day.

1st November 2015Permalink 3 Comments


It’s coming on Christmas 
They’re cutting down trees 
They’re putting up reindeer 
And singing songs of joy and peace 
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on 

But it don’t snow here 
It stays pretty green 
I’m going to make a lot of money 
Then I’m going to quit this crazy scene 
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on 

It’s Christmas. And it’s been as the last few Christmases have been… happy, but tinged with melancholy. Yesterday I found myself missing the cold winters up north, not just for the weather but what they meant, all of us together for a couple of days in my parents’ house. New traditions replace the old (and some endure, like the reading of A Visit from St. Nicholas before bed on the night of the 24th). Time moves onward, and I miss the days that can no longer be recreated.

It’s been a good day, but one with memories I don’t want to lose but which are now tinged with sadness. To anyone who reads this: May your future Chirstmasses be filled with joy, and may your memories of past ones be happy!

Until I pass this way again…

25th December 2014Permalink Leave a comment

The Future

Give me back my broken night,
My mirrored room, my secret life.
It’s lonely here, there’s no one left to torture.
Give me absolute control over every living soul
And lie beside me, baby – that’s an order!

This is an unashamedly technical post. I’ve been playing with internet filtering for a few days and thought that it might be useful to others. If you’re not interested in deep-level home network and server configuration, you probably don’t want to read this; I’ve mostly written this down so I don’t forget it.

The UK government have recently started to pressure ISPs to filter their content by default, so that little Johnny might not see any naked ladies and be upset by it, or somesuch. Of course the filters that have been installed are laughably easy to get around at best (SSL, proxies, VPN, etc, etc). No doubt there will come a time when I’d like to restrict the internet access given to certain members of my own family. I thought I’d have a go at seeing how easy it might be to do. And it turns out it’s really not all that difficult.

I’m using a Linksys E4200 router running Toastman’s custom firmware, including the VLAN support, along with a home server running a Linux installation (currently KnoppMyth, but if I were doing this again it’d be either CentOS or an Ubuntu LSB release).

I want to maintain an unfiltered connection for the grown-ups in the house, too. So the first thing to do is to create a separate network allocation, under the Basic / Network section of the router: is the unfiltered area; is for filtered / guest traffic only.

We then need to associate this new network (br1) with a new VLAN (VLAN1) under the Advanced settings page:

Once this is done, we can add a new virtual network (with a new SSID) for the filtered network, on wl0.1 and wl1.1 (ie, both B and G wireless):

Make sure to go into the network settings for the existing SSID and set the broadcast flag to be off. This will prevent the network showing up when anyone searches for open networks. There’s one last thing to do, which is to allow the hosts on the filtered network to reach the proxy, under Advanced / LAN access:

Now, install Squid and Dansguardian on the server. There should be some OS packages available in your usual repositories. We want to look at what’s inside the SSL connections too so we’ll need to generate an SSL certificate for squid to present:

Generate key:

openssl genrsa -des3 -out server.key 1024 
openssl req -new -key server.key  -out server.csr 
openssl rsa -in server.key -out server.key # strip passphrase from key 
openssl x509 -req -days 3650 -in server.csr -sign server.key -out server.crt 
openssl x509 -req -days 3650 -in server.csr -signkey server.key -out server.crt

Leave the CN for the certificate blank. Fill in the rest of the details with whatever seems reasonable.

We need to configure squid (in /etc/squid/squid.conf) to listen on both HTTP and HTTPS ports, and to use the certificate we just generated as its SSL certificate, so add two lines:

http_port 3129
https_port 3130 cert=/etc/squid/dentrassi.crt key=/etc/squid/dentrassi.key accel

The https_port runs in “accel” mode because we want squid to behave as if it is these websites, with the exception that it can’t talk QUIC and SPDY (experimental protocols used by Facebook and Google among others), so we remove any references to switching protocols. So we need to add an additional configuration line too:

# Remove QUIC / SPDY header:
reply_header_access Alternate-Protocol deny all

I also don’t want details of my internal network to leak out. So I delete the X-Forwarded-For header:

forwarded_for delete

Configuring Dansguardian to talk to squid is straightforward enough:

# the port that DansGuardian listens to.  
filterport = 3128 
# the ip of the proxy (default is the loopback - i.e. this server)  
proxyip = 
# the port DansGuardian connects to proxy on  
proxyport = 3129

I have left configuration of Dansguardian, Squidguard, ClamAV, etc. is left as an exercise for the reader. Everyone’s requirements are different.

Finally, we need to redirect traffic coming out of the untrusted network. Back on the router, go to Administration / Scripts / Firewall. Add the following lines:

iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING -s -p tcp --dport 80 -j DNAT --to
iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING -s -p tcp --dport 443 -j DNAT --to
iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING -s  -p udp --dport 53 -j ACCEPT
iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING -s  -p tcp --dport 53 -j ACCEPT
iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING -s  -j DROP

All outbound HTTP and HTTPS connections are redirected to the proxy. DNS connections are allowed so that lookups succeed. Anything at all else coming from the untrusted network is dropped. Of course, for HTTPS connections a certificate error will be displayed. That’s OK; for any computers I control I can add the certificate to the trust store. For others, it’s probably a good thing anyway.

Things to do: There’s a vector of attack here along DNS, which is the only outbound connection I’m allowing. I’ll probably spin up a DNS server that gives the same response for all queries. So long as the response is outside, the request will get bounced to the proxy anyway. Then there’s adding IPv6 support too.


26th December 2013Permalink Leave a comment


She lived alone, and few could know when Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and oh! The difference to me.
A slumber did my spirit seal – I had no human fears. 
She seemed a thing that could not feel the touch of earthly years. 
No motion has she now, no force; she neither hears nor sees – 
Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course with rocks, and stones, and trees.

This is a companion piece to the blog entry I’ve just made for NaNo London. If you’re not interested in NaNoWriMo, there’s probably not a lot here of interest. But if you’re interested in how I find inspiration in music and elsewhere, read on…

Continue reading

24th October 2012Permalink 1 Comment

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go;
Take a look in the five and ten – glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.

Well, maybe not a lot like Christmas, but the mince pies have arrived in the supermarkets, the nights are drawing in and summer’s over. Most importantly, my Winter Ale is maturing nicely. So much so, in fact, that I’m going to have a go at a second autumn / winter beer, flavoured with plums, liquorice and spices. An interesting experiment if ever there was one. And after that I have plans for a US-style pale ale. Beer brewing: it’s the hobby that just keeps going…

And then there’s the other big part of the autumn coming up: NaNoWriMo. This year I’ve gone down the planning route again. I have a notebook that’s gradually filling with plot outlines and character notes. For my 10th anniversary of trying the challenge, I’m doing something different. The last few years have all been pretty grounded stuff – based as far as I can in reality. I haven’t cared to write anything that’s fantastical, preferring instead to take a concept and grind it down to what it might have originated as.

This year, I’m having a break from seriousness. Inspired by the fantastic production of Sweeney Todd that is about to close in the West End, which takes the Victorian story and sets it in the 1930s, I’m inspired to go even further and write a complete antithesis of steampunk; my novel this year will be inspired by the classical victorian melodrama, but set as a space opera. I’m beginning to think it might work quite well.


17th September 2012Permalink 1 Comment

Tower of Song

Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure:
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor.
And there’s a mighty judgment coming, but I may be wrong.
You see, you hear these funny voices in the Tower of Song.

In my last entry I hinted that I’d be making a complaint about Sleeper Jr.’s treatment in the first few days of his life. To sum things up, Mrs. Sleeper had immense difficulties in breastfeeding our son and as a result was kept cooped up in a hospital bed for five days after his birth, in a ward that had half as many beds again as it had any right to contain. It was excessively cramped and we found the hospital staff to be extremely unhelpful in the main. If I’d known at the time that a self-discharge was an option without getting social services involved, I’d have suggested it.

Anyway, they’ve finally replied to my extensive letter of complaint. In some parts there seems to be an immense difference between what we remember and what the nursing staff claim; however at this point it’s our word against theirs and as a result I can’t be bothered to argue as nothing good will come of it. In some parts they’ve acknowledged that the treatment was less than stellar which is at least something.

One point I am going to argue though. It’s well known that hospital car parks are priced extortionately. Because Mrs. Sleeper and Sleeper Jr. were in hospital for five days, whenever I could I walked or took public transport to the hospital. Except on the Jubilee Monday and Tuesday, because the hospital makes no charge for parking on Bank Holidays. I was charged £12 on the Tuesday, and wasn’t too happy about that so I asked why this was the case. While I can afford the cash, I’m sure that for plenty of other people it’s a lot of money.

The answer? “Tuesday 5th June wasn’t a bank holiday”. Hah. I’ve replied asking them how they were able to rescind the Royal Proclamation of said bank holiday. I wonder how they’ll respond.

When You Dream

With life just begun, my sleeping new son
Has eyes that roll back in his head
They flutter and dart
He slows down his heart
And pictures a world past his bed.
It’s hard to believe as I watch you breathe –

Your mind drifts and weaves
When you dream.

Sleeper Jr, in a rare moment of both wakefulness and calm.

On June 4th, the little chap pictured in the sonogram below finally decided to show up, over a week late. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks, in more than one sense of the word. I won’t talk about the hospital experience too much because I’ve been told by two independent healthcare workers involved in little’un’s care that I should be making a formal complaint about it. So more on that later. For now though it’s back to the office on Monday. Hopefully there I can catch up on some rest!