Monday, January 31, 2005

Checks & Balances

I don’t like Mondays. The weekend is over and you’ve got the whole week stretching out before you. On the up-side, this particular Monday was mild, clear and sunny and I quite enjoyed my commute. I’m starting work at 10am this week, so I miss the rush-hour packing of trains. I was listening to the soundtrack of Steven Sondheim’s Company on my new iRiver and the world was a happy place.

Work soon put paid to that. I got in late so was feeling rushed as I attacked the Monday morning mailbox. Backup problems from the weekend in Leeds and Madrid delayed me further. I didn’t get to take a look at SMS until this afternoon. It still isn’t working.

Saw a couple of interesting articles on the BBC site today. One of them reports the fuss over a page of doodles left on Tony Blair’s desk at the Davos Conference. The press had the doodles analysed by a graphologist who drew all kinds of (largely negative) conclusions about what is going on in the Prime Minister’s mind. However it turns out that the doodles actually belong to Bill Gates. I wholly share Downing Street’s glee at this confusion and hope the BBC will follow up tomorrow with any explanations which may be forthcoming – although I suppose it's possible that Bill Gates could be ‘struggling to concentrate’ and ‘not a natural leader’ as well…

The other one follows on from my blogging yesterday and reports a US legal judgement that the detainees in Guantánamo Bay have rights too. Let’s hear it for checks and balances! (Although I suspect the decision will be appealed and will end up at the Supreme Court…)

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Trial by our peers

Justice and Human Rights are in the news a lot recently. One of the other bloggers I follow (Will Wheaton dot Net) recently posted his opposition to the appointment of the new US Attorney General because of his involvement in legitimising torture of terror suspects. There is also a lot of disquiet in the UK at the moment as the Home Office attempts to develop legislation which will allow people to be held indefinitely without trial, without knowing the evidence against them and having limited ability to appeal their detention.

The right to a fair trial in a timely fashion is one of the cornerstones of our society. Taking that away – for any reason – is undermining the very freedom that we claim to be protecting in the fight against terrorism. I don’t want to live in a de facto police state.

It seems that the so called 'War on Terror' is turning us into exactly what the terrorists claim we are: oppressors. Surely it's time for a serious rethink of the philosophy here? War is a tool you use against nation states who are prepared to put an army in the field against you - an army that you can see. Terrorism is not a nation and terrorists are not an army that you can send troops against. It's a whole different paradigm. To beat terrorists, you have to undermine or disprove the beliefs that make them turn to terror, not lock people up and throw away the key.

The Emperor Qin

Spent the morning lazing in bed. Drove over to Putney for lunch so Brett could pick up his comics. We came home with good intentions of doing domestic stuff, but while Brett got down to tallying his finances, I bottled out and watched TV.

The History Channel does some good documentaries, but they are SO bloated with needless dramatisation and fluff. I watched a two hour documentary on the Emperor Qin which had plenty of interesting information in it, but could have easily been condensed into an hour’s programming.

Qin was the first emperor of all China and was responsible for the Terracotta Army. Some of the finds there are astounding the archaeologists: There is stone replica armour, where the leather plates are represented by plates of stone so thin that they cannot be duplicated with modern technology. There are mechanical weapons which demonstrate a production-line philosophy in their creation. There are swords which are totally free of corrosion and still extremely sharp today, having been treated with a ten-micron layer of Chromium – a technique that has only been discovered in the last few years. Just because they didn’t have mobile phones, doesn’t mean they were primitive.

Had a strange phone call from Owen earlier on: It seems that the Basque separatist movement, ETA, have bombed the hotel in Denia where I worked for a season. Not entirely sure why though, it was hardly a prominent location. News reports are that no-one was killed but there were minor injuries. As far as I can see from their website Saga doesn’t use it any more.

In other news, I came across an interesting blog by a London Magistrate (see the bottom of the right column) which I’ve been following. I applied to become a Magistrate last year and am expecting to hear about an interview sometime in the next month. Probably ought to be doing some background reading ready for it…

Choir of King's College (Camden)

Yes, in the end, Saturday was a good day. The church was cold, but we’d brought lots of warm clothes, hats and gloves as we’d expected it and there were regular breaks for coffee to warm us up. The acoustics in the church were glorious (the frescoes weren’t bad either!) and we were stunned the first time they played back one of the recordings to us: We sounded like the Choir of King’s College! There were the usual problems of recording in a venue like this – aeroplanes flying overhead, motorbikes driving nearby, even the damper peddle on the piano making a thudding – but they didn’t spoil too many takes and we got through the five pieces that need the ‘churchy’ acoustic in the seven hours we spent there.

After the recording we took the tube back down to Camden for dinner with a few of the other choristers before heading on to the Christmas Party at the nearby pub, The Black Cap.

The party was busy right from the start. We got there about 7:30 and the place was already packed. There was cabaret provided by a few volunteers: a bit of a bizarre stand-up routine (read from a script), but followed by a visit from the always popular Mentl Plotkin (a drag Jewish grandmother with some unusual hobbies.) The last act was a magic act which was also very good.

After the cabaret, and a chance to refill our glasses, were the Chorus awards. (I don’t have any of the categories or winners to hand just now, but they’ll be emailed to me later in the day so I will update this post with the highlights.)

Once the awards were done, it was down to regular partying. Brett loves to dance and I don’t, so usually he hits the dance floor and I wander around with my camera taking all of the candid/casual shots that people love after the event. There was also a fair amount of mingling done, as you don’t often get much of a chance to catch up with people outside of your voice part at rehearsals.

We didn’t stay very late (we were home a little after midnight) but I still had to help Brett get to bed – although he doesn’t seem to be suffering for it this morning.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Quick Update

I’ve been a very bad blogger over the last couple of days. Life in the 3D world has somewhat overtaken my opportunities to sit down and write.

Wednesday was a good day, albeit long. I was visiting our company’s Leeds office to install a new server and move clients over to using it. It all went very smoothly, so I had plenty of time to deal with the inevitable ‘While you’re here…’ support issues, which people seem to save up for the appearance of a tech. On the train I actually got to sit down and thoroughly read a newspaper – something I have done in quite some time.

I got back late but still made a detour via the office on the way home to pick up my newly delivered iRiver iFP899. An MP3 player with no moving parts (so it’s fairly reliable and doesn’t skip) which also includes a radio. So far I like it a lot.

Thursday and today I’ve spent most of my working hours evaluating Microsoft’s System Management Server (which is a big bit of software for centrally controlling lots of computer systems around the world.) The theory is that we can install this system and have much better control over all of the company’s computers. In practice (so far at least) the system isn’t very intuitive. I’m struggling along a steep learning-curve using Microsoft’s own documentation (which is heavy on volume but light on useful content) and am wondering if I should be clicking on to Amazon and searching for SMS For Dummies. I’ll see how it goes on Monday.

Last night we were out at the Theatre seeing a Tom Lehrer review by Kit and The Widow and one of the women from Fascinating Aida. Excellent show – I like the performers and I like the material.

Friday night was spent at home wishing we didn’t have to get up early this morning to go record some Christmas Carols.

Tonight is the belated Chorus Christmas Party, which I recall being good fun last year. There are a couple of cabaret acts provided by members of the Chorus and the annual Chorus Awards with categories such as ‘Cutest Couple’ and ‘Most Fanciable Member’ but also ‘Worst Fashion Sense’ and ‘Most Likely Not To Know The Words.’ So that should be fun – although half of me would rather stay at home tonight. Hopefully a day of singing will brighten my outlook a little.

Brett is also trying to put together a piece for his audition for our main summer production. (Yes, there are two sets of auditions going on at the moment.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Ghost of Christmas Past

Today seemed to go very quickly. It started early as I haven’t been sleeping very well. Because I was going out tonight, I took the train in to work rather than ride my bike. I went to the gym for an hour just before lunch though, so I still felt fairly worthy. The afternoon just seemed to disappear and then it was time for our (belated) Team Christmas Dinner.

We went to a new Turkish restaurant called EV. It’s built under railway arches not far from work and is actually a lovely place. I came home feeling fairly merry from the good wine and very stuffed from the ample portions of good food. It’s somewhere I might take Chris C the next time he’s down.

Brett was at his callback audition tonight and reported it went very well, although he doesn’t know yet whether he’s made the grade.

One striking memory from today: as I was leaving for work, I passed a council flat bed truck that had been built up with wire fencing that was going around collecting dead Christmas Trees. It brought back the strongest memory of being on the road from Beijing to Badaling and passing a very similar truck piled high with the skeletons of sheep or pigs or some similar animals. It was one of the things about China which made it feel so alien – seeing an open truck piled high with that kind of thing just wouldn’t happen in the UK. Seeing a truck full of the skeleton’s of Christmas Trees was kind of sad, but brought on a twang of wonderlust.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Fast Forward

Reasonable day today - got useful stuff done at work, although my printer mapping script didn't work properly for some people because I'd missed off one of the new printers I was supposed to create. I fixed that this morning and this afternoon was spent tinkering with Group Policies to try to fix the wonderful Windows Firewall...

Met up with Owen for a drink before Chorus. He's feeling a bit footloose at the moment. I don't think his job is challenging him enough and he's contemplating alternatives. I was trying to persuade him to try something completely different, like working his way around the world, or signing up to crew a racing yacht for a season - something other than another desk job, doing something similar to what he's doing now (which currently seems to be the favoured option.) Not sure that I made any headway, but maybe I've planted a seed.

When Brett arrived we headed off to Camden to find a place to eat before rehearsal. We ran into Rich and John at the sandwich place where we stopped and did some catching up on the last week's events. There were lots of murmurings about the various auditions that have been taking place and how no-one has heard anything about callbacks.

Rehearsal went fine, although we are still spending way too much time rehearsing Olly's Carol Suite! I love the arrangement of The Rose that we are doing.
And that was today. Off to bed now. The temperature is due to drop below freezing tonight, so going to be pulling the extra duvet up to our ears I think.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Hot Coffee and Urban Myth

In summer, while we were in Texas, I was discussing the state of the American justice system with Brett’s brother who is a personal injury lawyer. I held up the example of the woman who successfully sued McDonalds for serving her hot coffee, which burned her when she spilt it. Kevin was quite insistent that the case wasn’t as unreasonable as it sounded in the urban legend.

I’ve had it at the back of my mind since then, but didn’t think much more about it until last week when I got an email from a friend listing last year’s ‘Stella Awards.’ The awards are named after Stella Liebeck (the aforesaid coffee-burned lady.) We were all sitting around the office wringing our hands over the worthlessness of the American legal system when I remembered Kevin’s vehemence about the Stella case and decided to check out the claims.

It didn’t take me very long actually. Google popped it up within seconds: There is indeed a website dedicated to abuses of the legal system and it is called ‘The Stella Awards,” it even gives some very interesting background to the case of the spilt McDonalds coffee. However the awards listed in my email were total fabrications so I sent a smug little email about cross-checking facts you learn from the Internet.

However the real awards on the site, while less jaw-droppingly stupid, are no less bizarre. One does wander what has happened to the American Dream – the pioneer spirit of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps seems to have turned inward and become a greedy ideal where people (claim to) expect someone else to molly-coddle them through life by hanging warning notices on every potential accident or misfortune. It’s a shame because, in principal, the American system of government is a good one – and most Americans I’ve met personally have been fine individuals. It’s just as a nation that I think they’re really in trouble!

I also worry that most of our culture these days comes from across the Atlantic. Can we be far behind Uncle Sam? Is the same thing happening here but we just don’t have a Stella Awards website to underline it? Maybe that should be the goal of my next Googling.

In other news… Went to see Vanity Fair tonight which was good – but a little bit heavy. It was an engaging story but I couldn’t escape the feeling afterwards that I should be writing an essay of two-thousand words on the effects of social position on one’s aspirations in early-nineteenth century London society.

It was a nice break before the crazy week that is to come!

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Shopping and Farscape

Not a lot to report today. We had a lie-in and then Brett got up to go to the gym and I did a few domestic chores. We drove down to Kingston for lunch and to do some shopping. I had bought Brett a work satchel for Christmas, but it turns out it’s similar to one he already has and never uses, so he got it refunded by Selfridges and we were off looking for more of a day-sack kind of thing. I was also looking for a particular MP3 player/tuner to listen to while cycling to work.

After a good wander around the lovely town centre Brett had found what he wanted and I had determined that iRiver wasn’t stocked by many retailers, so we headed home and I bought it online.

We had been intending to go to a friend’s housewarming party in the evening but wimped-out and chose to stay home and do geeky things instead. I had amendments to make to the latest draft of the Chorus Election Procedures and Brett had work to do on the Chorus website. Watched a couple of Discovery Channel programs in the background and then settled down to the first episode of the new Farscape mini-series which was very good. Ben Browder is still getting some cracking one-liners and the story isn't bad either!


Haven’t posted for the last couple of days. Life has been busy. On Thursday night we were out at the theatre. To be precise: We were out at the pantomime! Pantomime, at least in the sense that I know it, is something unique to Britain it seems. Brett had never heard of the concept, nor had several other Americans I’ve spoken to about it. Even when I describe what goes on they all seemed dubious. But the fact of the matter is that pantomime is just plain good fun. I eventually came up with the recommendation to Brett to go into it ‘as a child.’ That was the best way I could think of preparing him. Panto isn’t high-art – it’s a mongrel mating of entertainment forms – but it is great fun, with lots of audience participation, slapstick, over-the-top characters and costumes and a humour which is always current, sometimes ad-lib and works on both the adult’s and child’s levels.

We went to see Aladdin at the Old Vic, mainly because I wanted to see Ian McKellen’s debut performance as the Widow Twanky. The fact that Maureen Lipman and Roger Allam were on stage too, made this one a cut above the rest. Joe McFadden as Aladdin also added a lot of energy and a certain amount of eye-candy.

Friday was a regular day. I was still working on print servers and realised I need to go to Leeds next week to install one of them. So I got that lined up for Wednesday. Next week is filling up fast. Monday is the usual Chorus rehearsal, Tuesday I have the (somewhat delayed) IT Team Christmas Dinner, Wednesday is now a long day to Leeds and back, Thursday we’re off to see a Tom Lehrer show by Kit and the Widow.

Today we’re going shopping – and it’s already nearly time for lunch – so I ought to stop writing and get on with it!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Funeral Rites

Two funerals took place today: One in Merseyside (of my late uncle-Bill) and another in Bromley (of my fellow Chorister Philip Dewdney.) We chose to attend the latter, although I didn’t know until after I’d decided not to go to Bill’s that Philip’s would be the same day. Uncle Bill was my aunt’s husband but we weren’t close. It’s funny how personal relationships have changed in recent years. A generation or so ago, people usually stayed in the town where they were born, often in the same area, and the ‘family’ was the hub of the community. Now people tend to move further afield and, certainly in my case, ‘friends’ have replaced all but my immediate family as the core of my community. The simple fact is that I don’t know most of my relatives that well. We have little in common and thus little to talk about when we do meet up.

So, we went to Phillip’s funeral. Philip had been in a wheelchair since he lost a leg in an accident a few years ago, but had always been very independent; travelling everywhere he could by public transport. I knew him as another Chorus member and, last season, got to know him a bit better as I was pushing him around the stage during the Eclecsis concerts. He grew up in a world where being gay was both illegal and considered a mental illness but he always enjoyed life. He served in the Navy and played rugby until he was in his fifties.

The funeral was a Catholic Requiem Mass, but the variety of groups of Philip’s friends made the event anything but catholic. As well as the Chorus, the Cat Protection League and Gay Men Fighting Aids were present, as well as the Catenian Society which I understand is a sect of the Catholic Church and for whom Philip worked for many years. It was a good send-off for him and I think he would have liked it.

Although the crematorium service was also quite touching, it felt slightly less personal as the venue is a virtual conveyor-belt of funeral parties, in and out every fifteen minutes.

Walking around the crematorium grounds there were lots of small memorial plaques on the bricks edging the paths. There were also lots of the plaques obviously missing, with just the swirls of adhesive remaining on the bricks. It was quite sad.

I have quite clear ideas on what I want to happen after my death. I want a fairly upbeat funeral. I know that grief is a necessary part of dealing with death, but I’d rather my mourners were remembering the good times we had, rather than dwelling on the fact that there won’t be any more of them. I prefer cremation to rotting away in the ground – and anyway, by the time I expect to die, burials will probably cost a fortune because of the lack of space and who knows when the graveyard will have a shopping mall built on it! Cremation seems cleaner to me. I want my ashes scattered from the top of Ben Nevis on a bright summer’s day. That’s the memorial I’d like to have: close to the elements on a warm day with a great view in a place I love. Amen.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Good days

Another regular day but a good one. I like it when I start late – I get to have a lie-in and still be on time for work. Today I spent most of my time programming, or scripting (which is a degenerate form, I suppose,) which is not usually what I do. Programmers and Support people are different species, but every now and then it’s fun to get some variety. Now that we have the extra guy on the front-line support, I can actually do stuff like this again – project management, really. I enjoy it more than fire-fighting.

Cycled home against a strong wind, but the weather has otherwise been good today. It’s a cold night tonight though. Rosie was here when I arrived – she’s down to have an interview and give a presentation tomorrow. The downside of starting late, of course, is finishing late and I didn’t get in until virtually 8pm. By the time we’d eaten and I’d taken care of various chores, she was off to bed for an early start. We have an early start too, as it’s Philip Dewdney’s funeral tomorrow and we have to be at the church for 9am.

Brett’s been at a Chorus meeting which ran late and then he managed to miss his stop, so he’s only just in. Hyped-up as usual after Chorus politics, so I’d better go and calm him down…

Monday, January 17, 2005

Jackass, Verizon!

So yesterday was good. We didn’t do much. We had brunch round at Pings with about eight other guys. Didn’t get home until five-ish. Ordered pizza and watched TV.

Today was back to work, which went well, then Chorus which was also mundane. Nothing much to report there.

Only one news item caught my eye today. It was a follow-up to an article I’d laughed at last week, but expected to be a flash-in-the-pan. Someone was bound to realise what a jackass they were being and fix it. But, no! An American ISP, Verizon, is blocking all email (yes, ALL email) which originates from European network addresses because so much spam comes from Europe. The sheer chutzpah of that position leaves me speechless. The USA is without doubt, the single biggest source of spam to the rest of the world. I read an opinion piece once about the increasing grip that Corporate America has on the (theoretically) global network that is the Internet. I find I’m beginning to agree!

It’s a good job it’s so late and I have to get to bed: I really feel a rant coming on!

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Alexander the So-So

I’d set myself a list of things to do today and today the boy done good. Had a very productive day doing DIY and various other odd jobs that have been slowly accumulating and hanging over me. Had a bit of a shopping spree along the way too! I picked up a new pair of trainers, some carpet slippers (the kitchen tiles are COLD in the morning) and a new winter jacket.

I also made my first listing on eBay – the first stage in us clearing out excess clutter in our lives.

This evening we went to see Alexander at the local cinema. I’d held out hope that the critics might have been wrong but on the whole they weren’t. There was a lovely attention to detail and plenty of realism and good acting, but the film just wasn’t put together properly. It was narrated by an aged Ptolemy, but the narration tended to distract from the story rather than help it along. Similarly the battle scenes – while undoubtedly very realistic – were over-long and I found myself sitting there waiting for them to be over in the hope that there might be some story to follow.

The portrayal of the characters was good I thought. They did rather harp on about Alexander’s relationship with Hephaistion though – although it wasn’t quite the gay-sex-fest that one of critics had complained of (in fact the question of a physical relationship was left unanswered) it completely omitted two of his wives and only showed him shunning the one we did see. Not sure that this was entirely historically accurate… but the rest of the characters fitted with what I know of history. His father the overbearing, raucous general-king and his mother the bitter – and just a little twisted – scheming political bride.

Anyway, even though the recreation of Babylon was beautiful, I won’t be bothering with the DVD of this one. The film is a wasted opportunity that needn’t have been. With a little more script work, or even just better editing, it could have been a riveting, historically valid epic. Shame.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Random Venting

There was a refreshing chill in the air this morning as I left for work. It couldn’t quite be described as ‘crisp’ but it was a kind of autumn-morning chill where you could see your breath as you exhaled, but it wasn’t so cold you recoiled from it.

It’s been a long week this week. I start work at 08:30 – and I am not a morning person. As a result I inevitably fall out of bed too late to bike it in and have to get on an overcrowded, overheated train without any breakfast. Because I’m travelling early it costs more, so I end up with a miserable commute and pay £25 per week for the privilege. All for not having the will-power to get out of bed when the alarm goes off. I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that one of the things that makes humanity so successful is our ability to reason and learn and adapt. I guess somewhere along the line I got demoted from human to sheep.

Mind you I’m not the only sheep around. Something else I read noted that when humans were hunter-gatherers, man only had to work about eight hours a week to keep his family provisioned. I regularly put in over eight hours a day – and that’s not counting the travelling to and from. When I get home, if I’m not too worn-out, there’s a narrow window of social time before I head to bed. And when I’ve done this for another twenty-five years, I get to retire and (assuming I’ve worked hard enough, saved enough and been reasonably lucky about who I trusted with my pension funds) I’ll be able to stop working for someone else and start living for myself. Unless of course I get casually murdered, die in a road-traffic accident or contract one of the many forms of cancer and/or degenerative neurological diseases that seem to be occurring with increasing frequency in our super-sanitised modern world.

I think I need to think outside of the box.

Is this what they call the mid-life crisis? Should I be having it at 35??

In other news, the day was okay. I got stuff done at work – part of the day spent reading up on Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) which we are probably going to be implementing sometime soon, and part of the day spent building a new server from scratch, which still has a certain frisson when it all works. In between times I had lunch with Oz and his friend Nick who was very pleasant. It certainly made a nice change from sandwiches at my desk!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Like an ever-spinning wheel

Cards seem to have been the turning point today. Emma J in Folkestone has her birthday this Saturday and, most uncharacteristically, I managed to remember, purchase, write and post her a birthday card this morning. I’d actually planned to go down to see her this weekend but she has her mother visiting so she wouldn’t be up for much socialising.

At work today I got called on to exercise my First Aid skills for the first time. One of my colleagues had been at a yoga class, overbalanced and dislocated his thumb. The Receptionist in the office, who was treating him, couldn’t remember how to create a sling out of a triangular bandage. It turned out I couldn’t either. As we stood there fiddling with the bandage Tom, the injured party, joked how it was lucky the question wasn’t how to stop him bleeding to death. Actually if he’d been bleeding to death I’d have known what to do. Doing the actual life-saving bits is far easier than turning a triangular piece of cloth into a particular style of sling… Funny that - but part of the reason I took the qualification in the first place was seeing how easy it could be to save someone’s life.

The frailty of human life came up again this afternoon when I got a call from my father. My uncle Bill died today. He hadn’t been well for a while but he wasn’t that old either. The funeral is on Wednesday but I decided not to go to it. We were never close. In fact I don’t think I’d spoken to him in years. At the funeral I would just be in the way of the grieving process. So it turns out I wrote and sent two cards today.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Sleepless nights

OK so Tuesday wasn’t a good day. After the late night back from Chorus, plus rebooting a server I needed to do before I went to bed, I didn’t get much sleep. I was up late so rushed into work by train.

Last night was the Chorus’ Membership Committee – of which I have become chair by virtue of having volunteered to be Deputy Chair at some foolish moment in my past. While the meeting went well, it left me with an irritating action point that kept me awake last night. Was feeling pretty grotty again this morning but dragged myself out of bed and went to work.

Work today was no more exciting than yesterday, but at least tonight I got to come straight home and put my feet up a bit. Brett and I watched the first two episodes of the new series Desperate Housewives which we both loved. Very funny. The cute gardener was just added eye-candy…

Updated my blog template to show a few of the other blogs I read when I have the time. (Take a look at the bottom of the right-hand column.)

Early night tonight.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Groundhog Day

So today at work wasn’t too bad. Partly spent setting things in motion on a couple of fronts – we’re buying a couple of new print servers and trialling Blackberries. I also managed to track down a problem which has been affecting our email clients ever since we started installing Windows XP Service Pack 2. But enough technobabble…

It was the first Chorus rehearsal of the New Year tonight and there was a certain air of Groundhog Day about it as we rehearsed Christmas Carols. We are still working on the Christmas Repertoire in preparation for three recording sessions between now and early March. We’re going to have a Christmas CD in the shops for next Christmas!

The enjoyment of seeing everyone again after the break was saddened though by the knowledge that Philip Dewdney, one of our Tenors, had died before Christmas. He was our oldest member – although I was amazed when I heard he was seventy, as he was so much more active and alert than many seventy-year olds I met in my time at Saga! He lost a leg a year or two ago and was subsequently confined to a wheelchair. Last year when I was still singing Tenor, for the Chorus’ Eclecsis concerts, I was his ‘pusher’ (His phrase for the chorus member who manoeuvred his chair around on stage.) Of several people I’ve known who were wheelchair-bound, he was the most upbeat about the whole thing. I will remember him as a role model for how I hope to be when I’m seventy. I think it’s going to be a moving experience to sing at his funeral.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Brett can't think of a title either

So the weekend is over again when it hardly feels like it’s begun. Had a productive day today in terms of shopping and cleaning the house. Also tweaked my website and blog a bit so that I can include one in the other. I’m also now publishing an XML feed for anyone with an RSS reader. Use the XML button towards the bottom of the right-hand column.

Brett has been Mr House Husband today, cooking dinner and now doing the washing up, which is very decent of him as I’m feeling a bit rough for some reason. (The soup I had for lunch seemed to taste a bit funny – but I’m hoping it was all in my mind…) He also made it to the gym again today – which means he’s worked out more often than I’ve cycled to work this week. Will have to try harder next week.

It’s very windy outside again tonight, but inside the flat is snug. The Christmas Cactus is flowering too.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Who was Hephaestion?

No blog for yesterday. Work was busy enough that I didn’t have time to scan the news feeds but not interesting enough to talk about. The evening was spent writing Chorus emails.

Today was not so dissimilar: A bit of housework in between more Chorus stuff. I’m negotiating the approval of election procedures. We’re thinking of selling off some of our excess furniture and bits and pieces so I spent some time setting up accounts on eBay and PayPal. It looks like a good way to get rid of stuff, but not to make a profit on unless you want to work at it. Came across the very neat site Wikipedia which is an online encyclopedia - hence all of the links to references in this blog.

After lunch in the village we sat down and watched a documentary on Alexander the Great. I saw it advertised and thought it would be a good way to brush up the history before going to watch the movie. I’d read a few reviews which seemed more concerned about him being portrayed as bisexual than having any problem with the movie. I know the Ancient Greeks didn’t really define sexuality in the way we do: Sex was okay with whoever you liked. I was surprised that National Geographic was so direct about him having a male partner though.

I called my parents this evening. It’s been a day of ups and downs for them. Tonight is the night of my mum’s big retirement party. All of her friends are coming and she’s looking forward to catching up with everyone. One couple can’t get down to the party though. They are based in Carlisle (where a couple of my dad’s family live) and the town was flooded by some heavy storms last night. A couple of lorries have been blown over on the M6 so traffic is virtually at a standstill.

Brett and I hadn’t planned to attend as we’d been up to the family dinner in November. Tonight we went to watch Garden State which was pleasant enough.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Odds and Sods

Spent the day at work trying to find the least painful way of installing the latest Windows Service Pack on two hundred machines. Joy.

The cycle ride home was against a very strong, blustery wind and left me feeling knackered. Had really classy evening of pizza delivery and TV watching. Feeling quite weary. Hope I’m not coming down with a cold or anything.

Thought for the day: Alberto Gonzalez (George Bush’s nominee for Attorney General) said to the Senate Judiciary Committee that: "the Department of Justice's top priority is to prevent terror attacks against our nation." So if that’s the Justice Department’s top priority, whose top priority is it to ensure justice?

Brett sent me a note today with a link to his ex-flatmate’s blog. Dan has been sent to India with work, and he’s keeping notes as he goes.

Thursday morning, 7am

I am in no way a 'morning person.' Having to wake up at 6am again, after a couple of weeks of late nights and late mornings, is hard. I read somewhere that the human biological clock isn't based on a 24-hour cycle but seems to have been set at some point when the earth's rotational period was closer to 25 hours. That certainly makes sense to me. Left to my own devices, my period of wakefulness does seem to slip later and later each day. Not sure where I read that though, so it could be complete crap.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


They say that pride comes before a fall and sure enough, after trumpeting my success at virus-hunting yesterday, the first words that greeted me at work this morning were; ‘That virus is back.’ In all the excitement of having found the thing, we forgot to ask how it was transmitted between the machines. So, having cleaned all the machines up yesterday, we obviously missed one which came back and bit us – and reinfected the others. Hopefully we’ve got it sussed now though. None of the infected machines – and it was the same ones as yesterday – were properly updated with the latest security patches. For one reason or another they’d all slipped through the automatic patching system. It took half the day to get everything fixed.

Hopefully tomorrow though, the greeting will be a plain old ‘Good morning.’

The rest of the day was pretty mundane. Although I did notice some comments by Colin Powell about the US effort in Indonesia that made me smile: Muslims, along with the rest of the world, had "an opportunity to see American generosity, American values in action … And I hope as a result of our efforts, … that value system of ours will be reinforced." If the Good Samaritan had made a speech like that while helping the injured traveller in the bible story then I’m not sure that incident would have been held up as an example of mercy and neighbourliness. To me it sounds rather arrogant, not to mention blatantly politicising a relief effort. I really don’t think that Osama Bin Laden is throwing up his hands tonight saying “Oh my, what a mistake I’ve made!”

It’s Twelfth Night tonight, so we’ve been taking down our Christmas decorations and wondering where to keep them for the next eleven months. There’s still quite a bit of the Christmas chocolate left over, so tonight we followed dinner with a couple of liqueur chocolates to cheer us up while looking at the room, which suddenly now seems so drab and bare.

Oh I got my first blog comment today – and from someone I don’t know too! Thank you, Adnan. No idea why anyone who doesn’t know me would want to read my blog, but it’s nice to catch the eye of passers-by!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Of viruses, blogs and jet fuel

I did my bit for computer security today. The Internet connection at work got progressively slower through this morning. When we looked into it a number of computers were generating lots of illegal traffic. It turns out they were early casualties of a new variation of an old virus – but it we had to work that out pretty much from first principals as none of the antivirus sites (or even Google!) had any reference to the virus or its pathology. I got to submit my first specimen (virus) for analysis. Hunting it down was the highlight of an otherwise dull day.

I read a couple of articles on the wires today about the huge increase in blog readership and also the problems it can cause for employers when employees write about their work in (usually unflattering) detail. Seems it’s on the increase and that most blog writers are “likely to be young, well-educated, net-savvy males with good incomes and college educations.” Eeek! I’ve been categorised and put into a box! There were a couple of blogs given as examples of anonymous writing: The Policeman’s Blog and Random Acts of Reality (A paramedic’s blog.) I had a look and think I’ll keep an eye on them for a while as they looked interesting.

Our CDs from the show we did at the GALA Festival in Montreal in July (finally!) arrived today so we listened to that after dinner. I was very impressed by how we sounded. We really did showcase ourselves in that half-hour performance and the recording is very good quality – although a few voices do stand out from time to time. Think I might play it at work tomorrow…

After dinner we watched a Discovery Channel reconstruction about a passenger jet that ran out of fuel over the Atlantic. I found it fascinating but I think Brett was mildly disturbed by the idea that it could happen at all. It was an interesting program showing how an apparently minor ‘business-need vs. regulation’ decision can have such a serious impact. But, as I imagine it was meant to do, it was also reassuring to see what fail-safes and other options exist in even the direst circumstances. Modern jets are so thoroughly engineered and simulated and tested that every contingency is planned for. Disasters almost inevitably result from human error somewhere along the line. Fortunately in this case, though, the jet landed safely – it even made it to a runway! You are way safer flying than you are driving a car.

Monday, January 03, 2005


Another day largely spent doing geeky things. I’ve been preparing my web log for relocation to my website. If you’re a regular reader, you may like to bookmark as this will be the address once it is transferred. There will also be an RSS feed.

We did take a brief trip out in the real world. I need a decent winter coat so we went shopping in Wimbledon. Couldn’t find anything I liked in my size but Brett ended up with a nice new overcoat.

Rosie spent the day packing to go back to Beverley. Her sabbatical is over now so she has to go home. She’s been feeling very down – not looking forward to it at all. She’s been happy in London; finding a social life down here that was somewhat lacking in Yorkshire. I hope she’s going to be okay until she gets a job sorted in the South East.

Merchants and Web-Chats

Another day of not a lot happening. Brett has been more active than me – heading out for a class at the gym and then another fitness assessment. Rosie spent the day on the sofa watching episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer from the DVD’s that Brett and I had bought her for Christmas. I spent the day getting my main computer tidy and backed-up properly. Then I completed transcribing the handwritten journal I kept during a cruise I took in 1999 to upload to the website. The travel journals are actually ‘least-resistance’ kinds of things. I don’t expect they’ll be terribly fascinating to many people but they are easier to do. I should probably put more effort into more general content on the site. Brett cooked us a lovely pork roast this afternoon and we had hot apple pie for dessert.

This evening we went to see the film of The Merchant of Venice. Although I studied it during my English studies at school and I remembered the plot in its broadest outline, I had forgotten so much of the detail.

The film is well acted and lavishly set. With Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes playing the leads it almost cannot fail. Some of the reviews – and some of the mutterings I heard in the toilet after the showing – described it as anti-Semitic but that is part and parcel of the story: Shakespeare was a product of his era. That said, for all that he grieves the loss of his fortune more than the loss of his daughter, Shylock appeared to me as a sympathetic character and the mercy shown to him by Antonio is quite bitter-sweet. Not what I would have called mercy, more a case of exacting his own revenge. Anyway, I’m not re-sitting my English Literature paper so I’ll leave the film. Probably one for the wish list though.

After we got home we finally got a successful webcam link with Brett’s parents and gave them a virtual tour of the flat. There are still a few problems to work out to get it running smoothly, but at least we know we can do it now. I ought to get my folks equipped as well! Anyway, I’m off to bed – it being 2am already! Eeek!

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Dinner at Shmo's

We had a great time at the New Year’s Eve party. It was hosted by Robin C (who we know through the Chorus) and his partner Paul at their flat in Clapham. There were a few other Chorus boys and their partners there along with Robin and Paul’s two flatmates and a couple of other friends.

It was a good night all-round. Plenty of food and drink and not so many people that you can’t keep track of who’s who or find a space to sit. We entertained ourselves with watching the Musicality final show (the one where the winners were actually performing the lead roles in Chicago) and played a drinking game called ‘I’ve Never’ (Someone states something that they’ve never done and everyone who has done that thing has to take a drink.) and later moved on to the simpler ‘Truth or Dare.’ Good fun and – surprisingly for a group of gay men – nothing too outrageous. We had to leave a little before 2am to catch the train home though, which was unfortunate as it felt that the party was just getting going.

Yesterday started late. We slept until eleven but weren’t feeling too bad when we finally emerged. Still, it was a lazy day. Brett headed out to pick up his comics and did some shopping on the way home. I stayed in, published the photos from the party (they’re here if you’re interested) and started tidying up the data on my computers ready for their annual archiving.

Rod and Jess came over in the evening and we went out for dinner. We had originally been invited to dine with them and Bruce in Forest Hill on New Year’s Eve, but had already accepted the invite to the party, so made a date for tonight instead.

Not many places were open in the Village so we went to a place called ‘Jo Shmo’s’ which had a kind of ‘modern ethnic’ décor but a Tex-Mex Diner kind of menu. Unfortunately it was clear that the regular staff had booked New Year’s Day off as holiday, so we were left with the new recruits and temporary staff. We had a very polite, but very nervous waiter take our order and then carefully repeat each item to us. They served the starters with the main course, knocked over bottles of beer, forgot the dessert menu and couldn’t get the credit card machine to work for a while. We didn’t leave a tip, but the food itself was fine and we had a bit of a laugh about it.

Something else we had a bit of a laugh over were the toilets: At first glance it looked like there was a floor-to-ceiling mirror behind the sinks but in fact there wasn’t, you were looking in to the ladies toilets. On closer inspection there wasn’t even any glass there – you could step through if you wanted to! I suppose there was nothing inappropriate about it, as there were no urinals just totally enclosed cubicles but it was still very bizarre.

We came back to our place for coffee and played poker for a couple of hours. R&J got the hang of it very quickly and Jess finished the night with the most chips, closely followed by me. Brett, for all his card-sharp chatter, was very nearly bankrupted. Good job we weren’t playing for real money!

Saturday, January 01, 2005

So Here We Are

So here we are. And I'm drunk. Great party at Robin's - unfortunately we had to leave to catch the last train around 2am just as the party was picking up. "Truth or Dare" was fun. Now I need to sober up before I go to bed.