Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Begins

We’re at my parents’ place now and doing our best to relax. The drive up was long, but we managed to avoid the worst of the stationary traffic (and it looks like things would have been a worse if we’d travelled yesterday as the roads are badly overcrowded as a knock-on from so many airports closing due to the fog!)

Instead, yesterday I was up surprisingly early and took a stroll around the park. I did some snapping of the birds on the lake and came away with a usable shot of one of the mute swans. After breakfast Rosie and I headed into town with my dad (poor Brett was still bed-ridden with a stomach bug) to shop for the weekend. Rosie and I had a look at some lenses for my camera but didn’t buy anything.

The bulk of the weekend shopping was for a get-together we are organising on Sunday for a few of our old friends from school. In previous years we’ve spent several days of the holiday period trying to visit everyone we know and we inevitably only ever get to see a few. I really didn’t fancy all the time and travelling this would involve this year (I really AM after an easygoing holiday!) so instead we invited people over to the parents’ place for lunch; we’ll lay on a buffet, everyone will come to us and we can catch up with everyone at once, they can all catch up with each other too, and everyone should be happy.

Well, I say everyone should be happy, but once again we seem to be having difficulty reaching Jon A. I’ve now left two messages on different phones trying to reach him and haven’t had a reply from either. Conventional wisdom is that he has a very controlling wife and that seems to fit with the observable facts; whenever Jon runs into someone in town he is always very chatty and wants to spend time with you, but usually gets told that he has to leave by Ann (his wife). Ann seems not to like any of his old friends very much; she is always quite short, verging on the abrupt, when talking to any of us and seems to try to prevent any contact with the old gang, or to limit it as far as possible when it is inevitable. It is rather sad, but that is the way it looks and, yet again, events are bearing out the theory.

I spent yesterday evening mucking about with my websites; I’ve now got my photographic domain name pointing to the commercial site where I’m putting up the stock photos for sale. I got those few (four actually) of the photos I’ve taken with the Nikon to date uploaded and available. I’ve also put a few more into circulation on Flickr to hopefully get some feedback from other photographers.

Today? Who knows? Probably a run out to Billinge Beacon to see how the view has changed. Maybe another walk into town. This evening drinks at Chris and Michelle’s place.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas at the Barbican 2006


Exhausted is the only word I can think of to describe how I feel right now. It’s a good feeling though; feedback from tonight’s Barbican show was good and I’m now in bed and don’t have to get up in the morning…

Hooray for Holidays!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas Spirit

Sunday was a busier day.

Up earlyish (for a Sunday) for brunch with Brett in the Village and then straight on the train to work to upgrade some switching firmware. (Our London Office network is now reaching a size where it becomes an entity in itself and in need of more care and attention than in the past, and this was the first stage of that.)

Around 2pm I set off for Islington where Jim G was hosting a farewell get-together for his friends before finally leaving the UK to move back to New York next week. The venue was The Green, a long and narrow but bright and comfortable pub. It turned into a bit of a meeting of old friends too, as John Mc, Richard H, Shane C & Joe R were all along too.

By coincidence, the Chorus was also doing a gig there in aid of the Terrence Higgins Trust, so I indulged in some charitable mince pies and listened to their set…

Unfortunately, we don’t often rehearse these ad hoc small groups before gigs like this one and in this case it showed rather; very shouty singing, forgotten words, dodgy tuning and no-one smiling. Most of the audience didn’t seem to mind, although I did wonder what Shane C (a musician and composer by trade), who was sitting less than five feet in front of the group, must have made of it all…

Alas I didn’t get a chance to ask him as, shortly after the first set was completed, I had to move on. The next venue on my list was Southgate in the Northeast of London where I was to meet Brett and his musical company.

It turned out that I got to the station where we were to meet up about half an hour before they did and I spent a while lurking around the ticket hall waiting. It’s a circular building built probably early last century and with quite a few of the original Art Deco features still remaining. Unfortunately it’s very run-down and grubby now and looking at it I was reminded of the scene from the start of the movie Titanic, where the camera is moving along the deck of the sunken liner when suddenly the music picks up and the murky grey decay dissolves into the clean new lines of the same deck back at Southampton docks before the ship sets sail. I wished I could do the same to this station, even for just a few minutes, so that I could see it as the clean and bright Edwardian original that it must once have been.

Anyway Brett and his crew turned up eventually, I was introduced around and we walked the few hundred yards to the home of Jo where dinner was to be served.

The evening was absolutely lovely; I felt rather like Scrooge enjoying Christmas dinner with his nephew’s family and suddenly seeing all the best aspects of the Christmas spirit laid out before me. To start with there was good company; all of the group were easy going and fun to talk to. There was none of the group politicking that tends to go one when two or three Chours members are gathered together! It was all good natured banter and talk. Then there was the food; beyond plentiful, there was turkey and pork with quite literally ALL the traditional trimmings and no less than three varieties of stuffing, the main course was followed by a choice of Christmas pudding (topped with single-, double- or single-with-brandy-cream), two Christmas cakes to different recipes, a table full of chocolate crispies, meringues, mince pies and sweets and a massive cheese board. There was mulled wine and regular wine aplenty with which to wash it all down. Truly a tremendous table.

The meal was then followed with coffee and brandy and singing. The group are rehearsing the Sondheim show Side By Side, so there were a fair number of his tunes played (and Brett does such a gorgeous rendition of Being Alive!) but we also culled the best of Lloyd-Webber, Kander & Ebb, Abba and (ahem!) Barry Manilow, not to mention plenty of Christmassy songs.

By the time we came away I’d had a wonderful evening, really enjoyed the company and was feeling in good spirits. Even another nightbus journey (this time far less crowded) didn’t dampen them.

I think I’m just about ready for Christmas.

Now I’m looking forward into next week; tomorrow I have our team's Christmas lunch at work and later the dress rehearsal for the Chorus’ Barbican gig. Tuesday night is our company Christmas party, where I have to see if I can still fit into my kilt (as I don’t have anything else to wear) and stay relatively sober because Wednesday night is our big Christmas show. Once that’s done we’re off up north for Christmas week and then back to host as many of our friends as are around for New Year. As they say; a packed programme...

Saturday, December 16, 2006


Well it’s actually been a lovely weekend; a couple of very late nights, but definitely worth it.

Saturday was pretty lazy – I spent most of the day sorting out how my email accounts are organised. (My domain name has been used by someone for generating spam email addresses so I’m getting dozens of non-delivery reports and out-of-office replies each day which are irritating and take up time and space.)

Once that was done, we were into town with Rosie to meet up with Rich (Brett’s former roommate from Austin) and his partner John. We started out with dinner at The Chinese Experience on Shaftesbury Avenue which provided a nice intimate booth for us to chat away. The food was very good Chinese fare and the service friendly and fast.

Then we were on to the Palace Theatre to see Spamalot, the musical written by one of the Monty Python team (and drawing heavily on the Python canon and style.) I had heard the soundtrack a few times and failed to be terribly impressed, but the stage show was quite a revelation and had me laughing out loud on many occasions; not quite your regular musical theatre experience, there were some of the better aspects of British pantomime in the mix as well as the zany humour of the Pythons.

After the show, which we all enjoyed, we did our usual ‘showing guests around London’ trick of wandering from one place to another in search of somewhere to have a quick drink and finding none of the places quite adequate for our needs and then ending back pretty much where we started an hour later. Rich was looking pretty worn-out by the time he settled into one of the deep sofas at Kettners for a few beers before parting.

Unfortunately we had left it rather late and by the time we left the comfort of Soho we had missed the last train and were reduced to the nightbus. Fortunately we found a seat fairly early in the journey. I spent most of the trip listening-in on the conversation of four students who were sitting next to us; two locals from London and two down for the weekend from Leeds. The two pairs of friends hadn’t met prior to this journey but they instantly fell into friendly conversation about all things studenty and/or Londony and chatted all the way through the forty-minute journey to Wimbledon (and presumably on to Kingston were they were heading!)

I don’t think that, even as a I student, I was ever that gregarious and I spent a while wondering at what formative experiences they had had that I had perhaps missed, or vice versa. Inevitably, at that time of night and with my slightly alcohol-befuddled brain, I couldn’t reach much of a conclusion and ended up merely mourning the lack of something I never had to begin with.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Because I can't sleep

Have a read of this:

Maybe it just caught me off guard, but it had me laughing out loud in places. It looks like a rewrite of a cut-and-pasted Wikipedia article. Either way it amused me. Hat-tip to Slightly Lost for bringing it to my attention.

In other news; work remains busy but interesting; I'm worried I may not be up to scratch for performing with the Chorus next Wednesday evening - am planning on spending my saturday afternoon going over all the material with the rehearsal aides. Christmas still isn't even on the radar; no cards written or presents bought. Christmas will start next Thursday when I wake up on the morning after the show and realise I don't have to go into work.

Further highjinx can also be found here on my photoblog.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Watch This Space

OK, I know I haven't posted in a week, but life has been hectic so I haven't really had time to journal it. My sister has moved in with us again this weekend, resulting in a great deal of clearing out getting done which, while it's necessary and good, has also been hard given my waste-not want-not psyche.
Looking at my diary I doubt I'll be writing much here before I reach my parents' place on the twenty-first of the month. That's when I can finally relax and begin to enjoy Christmas. I haven't bought any presents - nor even given much thought to what presents I might want to buy - nor have I written any Christmas cards. The joy of the season this year is simply going to be a week or so with nothing to do but enjoy the company of friends and family.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Expecting A Bumpy Ride

Nature is really flexing its muscles tonight. I’m sitting in the corner of the BA departure lounge at Glasgow Airport and the wind is howling around the building – and into it! The door at the apex of the corner is rattling and occasional gusts are somehow finding their way through the ceiling to pick at the pages of my magazine and the napkin under my coffee cup.

To one side of the building, through the wind-blown rain streaming down the glass, I can see the wing of a turbo-prop bouncing up and down and to the other under the yellow sodium lighting the external ladder leading up to our jetway is rattling and swaying. People boarding the small plane at the next gate were having to lean into the wind as they crossed the tarmac to board their plane.

The landing here on Thursday was one of the bumpiest I have experienced and the weather has been very wet and windy all weekend. Sitting in the taxi on the way here, I didn’t miss the irony of the radio playing ‘Why Does It Always Rain On Me?’ The cabbie assured me that this was excessive weather even for Glasgow! I wonder what our take-off is going to be like tonight…

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Glasgow Again

Yes, I’ve decided I do like Glasgow more than Edinburgh. It has at least as much great architecture but it has much more vivacity, much more atmosphere.


So the work in Glasgow went well; for once everything went smoothly with no unexpected problems. All I had to do was plug everything in and we had the link to the rest of the corporate network. After that all the pieces fit together seamlessly.

The hotel I’m staying in is a bit of a comedy of errors though. I’d booked a suite with a king size bed and requested an upper floor. I was given the key to a twin-bedded room in the basement. When I reminded them of what I booked they put me in the right type of accommodation, but one so far from reception that I couldn’t get a signal from the free wi-fi Internet which the hotel offers, so I moved again. The final offering was a room, rather than a suite, but it’s quite large enough for our needs.

The free Internet kept me entertained on Thursday night, but on Friday it had stopped working and it took until Saturday evening for me to bludgeon the staff into believing that the fault was with their systems rather than my laptop. Sure enough an half-an-hour later the problem had been fixed.

Brett arrived in Glasgow on Friday afternoon, having had to stay behind for a rehearsal of his show on Thursday, and today we’ve been exploring Glasgow some; mostly riding the tour bus and then stopping off at a couple of points to take photographs. The city is quite photogenic, but I fear it was not shown off at its best today, which was grey and showery. We both agree we should come back for another long weekend sometime in the Spring, when the weather will hopefully be brighter.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Week Goes By

And so I have time to blog again. I’m in another airport departure lounge, this time en route to Glasgow to connect up all the IT for our new office there. Dallas already feels like a world away.

I didn’t sleep at all on the flight back from the States and spent most of it lurking on the jumpseats outside the galley reading. We made it back to Wimbledon in reasonable time, albeit with a stop-off for a McDonalds breakfast somewhere around Sutton. I then changed my shirt and trekked in to work. Apart from a little drowsiness around 3pm (which to be honest isn’t unusual…) I didn’t notice any jetlag at all.

The Chorus rehearsal in the evening went well. I had been apprehensive going into it as I’ve missed about eight hours of rehearsal because of going to Dallas, but it turned out I was as competent as many in our section and, with a little while plugged-in to the rehearsal MP3s, I should be fine.

Tuesday and Wednesday were in much the same vein; work wasn’t too stressful and the evenings were spent at home shifting junk to make way for my sister, who’s moving back in with us this weekend.

The other thing of note was that, at our Monday catch-up meeting, my boss offered me his job. He is off to form a new business unit within the company so I was given first refusal at his current job. Initially I was disinclined to take it but on reflection I felt that it had more pros than cons and so yesterday I accepted. Details are still to be agreed, as Sid’s move forms part of a larger restructuring of the company, but I think this will shake things up a little which is a good thing.

In the meantime I get to spend the weekend in Glasgow. Thursday and Friday will be work, as I assemble the IT infrastructure of our new office, but Brett is coming up to join me tomorrow and hopefully I’ll get the weekend off to explore the city and its surroundings with him.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Last Days in Dallas

So Friday was pretty much as expected. The highlight of the day for me was Brett’s nephew Joshua, who has just finished his first year at university, teaching him how the ‘cool kids’ talk. Josh and his sister Katherine hadn’t been there on Thursday so Donna wanted photographs of them too. Brett then suggested a whole family picture which seemed like a good idea. Everyone trooped out onto the front lawn and I rather stupidly didn’t make any attempt to arrange them properly so the picture is a bit messy, with gaps in it and you can barely see Stephen, but Donna at least claimed to be enchanted with it…

There had been talk of going to the local arboretum on Saturday but in the end that didn’t happen. We spent an hour at White Rock Lake, a local beauty spot, for me to take some pictures and I think I got a pretty good one of fishermen on a pier in front of lots of autumnal colours. It could be my first saleable stock photo.

We had lunch at the restaurant owned by Kevin and Chris (Gay Dad) and then hung out with them for the afternoon. Chris very tolerantly spent a while on top of some multi-story car parks with me to see if I could get a picture of the evening sky behind a couple of skyscrapers which reflect the sunset, but unfortunately there was too much low cloud so the picture just didn’t happen the way it had on Monday (when the sky had been clear but I hadn’t had my camera with me.) Back at their place we had another game of Catan before heading out for dinner and drinks; a very pleasant evening.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Like The Holiday's Over

It’s Friday night. We don’t fly home until Sunday afternoon. I already have that pit-of-the-stomach-dread feeling, like I’m going back to school on Monday.

That’s really not good.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Day

So Thanksgiving Day was pretty much what I expected; kind of like Christmas Day without all the presents. Donna was preparing and cooking from late morning. The family started showing up a little before 1pm, there was food in abundance when we all sat down to lunch around 2:30 and afterwards, much lounging around on the deck in the sun.

Donna, had seen some of the photographs I’d taken previously and asked me to take some shots of the grandchildren during the day so, whenever I got bored of staring off into space I’d go and see what the kids were up to. I think I managed to get at least one decent shot of each of them.

As evening drew in the board games came out and Brett and I played a game called Settlers of Catan with Kevin and Andy which was quite interesting. People started drifting off around 9pm and we finally turned in around 11pm.

Tomorrow we do pretty much the same thing except we eat the leftovers and the family members who couldn’t make it yesterday will be here as well/instead.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Shopping and Scenery

Lunch with the two brothers today and then off to the mall to do some shopping. Managed to replenish my wardrobe nicely and pick up a Leatherman tool to replace the Swiss Army Knife I lost to airport security on the way to Turin. This evening Brett and I headed out to see if I could get a good cityscape of the nighttime Dallas skyline.

We couldn’t find an especially good vantage for the close ups and I didn’t have a good enough lens for the long-shot, so none of them are publishable but they’ll do well enough for the photoblog and you can see them here.

Brett was rather melancholy over dinner. I know he’s feeling pretty anxious about his job situation and coming home and seeing all the family seems to have thrown that into sharp relief. We talked it over some, but I don’t know that I was really able to help him at all. I’ll just keep being there for him, for whatever he needs me.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Willow Pattern

Another very early morning for me and I’ve napped intermittently today. I think my sleeping pattern is well and truly f**ked so getting back to the UK is going to be interesting.

We went to see Casino Royale with Ali this afternoon. It’s every bit as good as the reviews say; Daniel Craig is a very believable James Bond and there weren’t excessive unlikely gadgets and no massive underground lair for the evil bad guy. Plus they really show off his physique…

This evening all of the siblings came over and we had dinner and played poker. There was something of a time travel effect over the table it seemed, watching Brett and Steve (his elder brother) interact. They could have been teenagers again. Brett and I split the pot in the end, which surprised me.

Monday, November 20, 2006

To North Park Mall And Back And Back

One of the things I like about America is that so many things are open twenty-four hours a day. Even in London you’ll struggle to find a 24-hour café or supermarket yet here, when you wake up at 05:30 you can head out to the Waffle House and get breakfast with a bottomless cup of coffee (another thing I like!)

Even better is that, because I’m on holiday in a foreign country, many of the things that would put me off a café back home become charming cultural attributes. So I can sit in the shabby booth and eat my meal with cutlery I’ve had to clean up with my napkin and enjoy it all as part of the ambiance. Crazy, huh?

Spent the morning on the sofa mucking about with domain names and cheap business card printers to sell myself as a photographer a little more professionally. It’s not bad that you can get a couple of hundred colour business cards on reasonable quality card for less than ten quid.

The rest of the day was just eating and shopping and looking after nephews and nieces.

An American Lunch

American Lunch

Do you want some sandwich with your beef? Here's what Brett received when he ordered a beef sandwich for lunch today. I just marvelled at the beef-to-bread ratio...

Zombie's Revenge

OK, so the flight was quite tedious. Ten hours is a long time to be sitting in an economy seat. The pictures could be good – if I can clean up the interference from the window and the haze. We were about an hour late into DFW and America seemed even less keen than usual on letting people in; as well as a long queue at immigration we had to wait for half an hour to get through customs as well.

I was getting on with reading The God Delusion on the plane. I have to say it really is a book that everyone should read. Today’s chapters were about morality and how religion affects it for better and worse and it was quite amazing stuff. I’m going to have to read it again. I fear I’m not bright enough to take it all in on a first reading…

Didn’t sleep much on the flight so my body is telling me it’s 02:30 whilst my watch still insists it’s early evening. Bah, at least I know I’ll sleep tonight.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Flight of the Zombies

Had a good day yesterday; slept until ten and then meandered our way up to Islington to see a matinee of Simon S’s current show Schwartz Stories. It’s a kind of review show (he wrote Godspell and Wicked, amongst others) but linked together by a simple narrative, so there was some basic story being illustrated by the songs to keep those of us who didn’t know his music from getting bored. They were generally good performers too.

We are a pair of zombies this morning though. I haven’t slept well lately and last night was no exception; not letting go until around two-ish. Brett has been gradually slipping into nocturnality for months anyway, so he didn’t come to bed until I was already asleep. An alarm at 05:30 was a rude awaking.

I think it says something good about our relationship that we can actually function together at these times: I am notoriously irritable when overtired and don’t suffer fools (or indeed anyone at all!) gladly, but after much fumbling around the flat to complete final preparations, we left more or less on time and arrived at the airport on schedule.

We’re flying on a 777 and there were no good seats left in Economy, so I took a risk on good weather and chose a window seat as I have my camera in my bag. The flight is delayed though so we are still at the gate.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Random Thoughts

Today is the last day at work today before a week off in the US. I am absolutely ready for a break although I’m not sure that a week will be long enough. Still, it’s better than not.

I think I’ll spend some of the time over there amusing myself with my camera; I want to build up a body of stock photos ahead of signing up to one of the websites that markets them for amateur and semi-pro photographers.

Ping dropped by the office yesterday, as he was doing some Christmas shopping at the Oxo Tower (not far from my office,) and I managed to escape for a few minutes for a smoothie with him at Eat, so we got a chance to catch up some. He also said I’d be able to use his flat as a studio should I ever need one. (He has a very modern, white-minimalist flat in Notting Hill with plenty of daylight – ideal conditions!)

Since Wednesday I’ve been temporarily based in our new overflow office, largely at the insistence of one the senior consultants over there so I can ‘feel their pain’ at the network which is so slow (actually it isn’t; it turns out it’s his computer) and at the phone system which is crap (it isn’t either, but it certainly feels like it is because of the number of problems we’ve been having getting it to talk to the world through our mani exchange…) For some reason, through most of Wednesday, I had the words of ‘I Wish I Could Go Back To College’ (yes, from Avenue Q) running through my head.

…Life was so simple back then…

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

3, Avenue Q

Is it Wednesday already?? OK, I suppose it must be. Week so far: Monday; fairly relaxed at work and a bearable Chorus rehearsal. Tuesday; more hassle with the phone system in our new building. It seems that it doesn’t talk to the system in our main building quite as smoothly as we had been led to believe and now the cassette which links the two systems is acting erratically…

Anyway, rounded the day off nicely by Brett & I taking Rosie to see Avenue Q for her birthday. Even on a third visit I am still enjoying the show. We remembered to buy the CD this time – although it turned out to be the Broadway cast rather than the London cast. Still, it means I can brighten my journeys to work by (mentally) singing along to my MP3 player.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Weekend, Shmeekend

The weeks are getting longer and the weekends are getting shorter. That’s how it feels. Though at least, this time next week, I’ll be in Dallas ready for Thanksgiving (which promises to be a fairly pedestrian week.)

So what have I been up to?

Well, Saturday wasn’t too bad; we got up late and lazed the morning away. The afternoon was spent doing domestic chores and trying to reorganise space around the flat ready for Rosie to move in next week. We didn’t get very far. It means I have to spend an evening this week shifting all the IT equipment out of the spare room and relocating on the computer desk in the lounge. Hmm…

Sunday morning I woke up at 4:30am for no apparent reason and then couldn’t get back to sleep again, which was annoying; I’d wanted a good night’s sleep.

The reason for wanting to be well rested was that Sunday was the day I’d arranged to spend with Graeme N testing my photographic skills on him. In the end it went fairly smoothly though; online he came across as somewhat nervous but turned out to be a very relaxed model once we were actually working. We spent the morning doing portraits and candid shots which went very well, coming away with quite a selection of usable pictures. The afternoon session promised to be (and was!) more challenging; tasteful nude photography is trickier than you might think. The main problem turned out to be lighting it properly; I don’t have any professional lighting and what was available wasn’t nearly up to the job so I just couldn’t even attempt some of the arty stuff I wanted to do. After the awkwardness of the initial undressing was passed though, it went fairly smoothly and, although we may not have achieved anything worthy of hanging on a wall, we got some stuff that’s good enough for him to use on his web site I think.

When it was all done, I was pretty drained so, after edging my way home through the Sunday evening traffic (twice as long to get back as to get there!), I just collapsed on the sofa and Brett ordered pizza.

And now it's Monday again (groan!)...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Week From Hell

Well, it’s been quite a week. The bastards have been grinding me down pretty much non-stop. An incredible sense of relief as I walked out of the office on Friday evening! Two days of ME time (well, kind of)!

So, in between the endless snagging with the new office, I managed to do a little social stuff. Monday was Chorus, but I was so worn out after work I went home instead and curled up on the sofa for the entire evening. Tuesday I attended the Chorus’ Steering Committee meeting to speak in support of a proposal that was coming up. (It’s a lot more business-like than under the previous administration, which is a real improvement. Nevertheless, Martin B was there to speak against the proposal and, as usual, he had taken it personally and was quite vehement in expressing his offence…)

Wednesday evening I had off and spent the time surfing flickr for portrait inspiration and chatting with Graeme N, the guy who wants me to do some portraits of him. Thursday Rosie & Claire came over for dinner and we spent a pleasant evening catching up over dinner and some Gallo white wine. We also spent a while looking through the new Dieux du Stade calendar which had arrived that day. I was surprised to see how much agreement emerged between two straight women and two gay men about which were the truly erotic shots and which were simply naked space-fillers.

Finally today was virtually a half day for me. First off I had lunch with John W over at Borough Market which was very pleasant – we had dessert from Konditor & Cook again and, if anything, their fruit tarts are even tastier than before! After an hour of exchanging gripes about work he had to get back, but I spent a happy half hour or so wandering around with my camera, catching some of the colours of the market.

While I got quite a few very colourful and varied shots, none of them was really that good. I still haven’t quite mastered combining all the various settings to give me the depth of field I want, which results in parts of the shot being out of focus when I don’t want it to be. Grr. Ah, well. Practice makes perfect – and it’s the weekend tomorrow. Yeay!!

The rest of the afternoon was delightfully quiet as most of the company were away at the AGM. I should probably have gone along and enjoyed the free-drinks and camaraderie but I chose the quiet life instead and spent the afternoon at my desk not doing very much. It was bliss.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Catch Up

Well a quick recap; I liked Glasgow. I’ve never really been to the city centre before and there’s lots of lovely architecture, both old and new, the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. I’m looking forward to going back there at the end of the month. It was a long day though…

Friday was hectic as I oversaw the final preparations for sixty of our staff to move to a new office across the road from our London base on Monday; lots of things left to the last minute. Not good.

On Saturday I went out and bought myself a new camera. Having been trying things out with my trusty old Fuji FinePix over the last few days, I’d been realising how limited it was for doing much more than producing quality holiday snaps. If I want to do more stylish stuff I’ll need better kit, so I took the first step by splashing out on a Nikon D80 digital SLR.

The rest of Saturday was spent being very geeky, reading the manual and irritating Brett by constantly shoving a lens in his face as I tried out the camera’s different features.

He was a good sport about it though and even allowed himself to be dug out of bed at 6:30am on Sunday to act as a model for me to shoot in the early morning mists on Wimbledon Common. You can see a few of the experiments here.

After breakfast though, I was off to North London (15 miles north, according to the TomTom!) for the first Chorus choreography rehearsal for the Christmas show. It was a long day, but it all seems fairly straightforward, plus I am enjoying all the songs, so it was a good day too.

This evening we headed over to Rosies for dinner and to watch the fireworks around London from the vantage of her seventh floor flat.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Early Flight

Bah, another early morning, this time deliberate. I have to go to Glasgow to see a man about a dog an office; nothing terribly exciting, am just meeting with our Project Manager and the refurb contractor to agree what the voice and data requirements will be. The timing of my return flight means I might get to have a little look around Glasgow in the afternoon when I’m done too – although the way I’m feeling right now, I can see me finding a sofa in a coffee shop and dozing off over my book…

More later

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Running Start

So yesterday was quite social; I had lunch with Owen in The City and dinner with Joe R in Earls Court. Lunch was the traditional progress from SubWay to Starbucks whilst exchanging news and gossip. As we watched the world go by from the shelf at Starbucks though, we realised that we were witnessing another terror attack underway in London; it seems that there is a plague of Italian loafers (with tassels!) breaking out amongst the City Slickers.

We ran screaming from the scene.

Dinner was a less traumatic affair, although it too had an unpleasant consequence. I have known Joe since I was living in Folkestone (which makes it five years ago now!) and we share a dry humour, interests in good food and the arts and a certain technical overlap in our work. Neither of us is great at keeping in touch though and, when we totted it up, it turns out to have been two years since we last sat down for dinner – a gap broken by only occasional emails and invites to events that one way or another we neither managed to get to.

We had plenty of catching up to do and so, as Joe is a creature of habit and it’s on my way home from work (kind of), we did the catching up over dinner and a nice bottle of Chardonnay at Ballans in Earls Court. I spoke of the Chorus, my flying and a possible sideline in photography. He spoke of his career changes and endless business travelling (which is making his application for British citizenship a nightmare, because you have to list and explain every departure from the country in the last five years!) He has also just broken up with a guy he’s been seeing and living with for the last year or so, which he is finding something of a strain even though the parting is amicable. It was a very pleasant dinner though and we both came away nicely merry and determined not to leave it so long next time.

As for the unpleasant consequence? Well, I should really have been more cautious when I realised that the first bite of the seared tuna was so well stoked with histamines

My digestive tract was finally totally empty a little before 2am and I gratefully turned in for the night.

Only to be woken again a little after 4am by the night watchman at the office; the heat alarm for the server room was sounding; all the air conditioning units had shut down and he couldn’t restart them. There are only two things you can do in that situation; ventilate the room and reduce the heat generated. So while he opened doors and access panels, I spent an hour frantically sending shutdown commands to the non-essential servers before driving into the office to better monitor what was going on.

It turned out to be a cock-up by some electrical contractors who were doing testing work on other floors of the building. By the time I arrived the units were operational again so I spent another hour restarting machines and making sure all was okay.

On the upside though, it means I can now go and have a nice hot breakfast and charge it to the company! Yeay!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

China One at Battersea

We went to see the China One exhibition at Battersea Power Station with Ping today. It’s the first of three annual exhibitions around the world of the work of upcoming Chinese artists. This exhibit was mostly video installations, very few of which I got any meaning from...

The online information about the show had said ‘No Photography’ so I’d left my camera at home but then I was kicking myself as we walked around; everyone else had a camera but no-one was photographing the art, they were all taking the building: Battersea Power Station is a vast industrial derelict which isn’t usually open to the public. I determined that I should spend another fiver to revisit on another day with my camera.

At the end of the exhibit was a small section devoted to the future of the power station. Taking in the models and watching the accompanying film, I thought it looked rather like they are going leave the station itself as full of pointless art; a huge spiral ramp, for instance, will occupy most of the space in half of the main body of the building. Visually it will be very dramatic (being bright red and all) but it looks like a crazy inefficient way to climb from one floor to another in a leisure and cultural complex! I am not much of a fan of ‘form over function.’

Afterwards we headed along to the South Bank and tried out one of the new restaurants that have been built beside the Royal Festival Hall. Iguana serves Latin cuisine in its many forms. From what we had there was nothing outstanding, but I’d quite happily go back and try some more; they have quite an extensive menu.

After that we parted company with Ping and drove home. Spent the evening watching rented DVDs and being grateful we hadn’t paid serious money to watch the films in a cinema!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Acclamation of Maxentius

Not much today. The main event was dinner with Mark G & Chris M. They are both well; Mark is obviously busy at work with everything happening around the world right now and his involvement with foreign policy. Chris seems to be fairly relaxed into his role as househusband supporting Mark for the remainder of his two years in this post. (I think he’s rather setting himself up to be the Ambassador’s Wife at some future date.) We dined at The Gay Hussar in Soho which was a lovely spot; good food and wine.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Sick Boy

OK, so just when I thought I had my week nicely planned, I go and get sick again. The headache that I thought was from overindulgence at Peter’s birthday party on Tuesday night, hadn’t gone away the next day and had been joined by the nausea and exhaustion. Cue time off work, cancelled flights and general misery for me.

I got to see the doctor on Thursday and he was a bit more convincing with his migraine diagnosis than my last one. He also had something to quell the nausea and get me eating and drinking again without throwing up. Today the medication was taking effect and I began to feel human again.

Not a lot happening though; took a walk around the near bit of the Common this afternoon and surfed some this evening before watching Jarhead on DVD. Also got chatting to a guy on Out who wants me to do some portrait photography for him – something I’ve mean meaning to do more of for ages

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Happy Birthday Rosie

And in all the rush, I forgot to call my sister to wish her a happy birthday yesterday while it was actually her birthday. I guess that makes it doubly important to ge the Avenue Q tickets sorted for her birthday present...

I am such a bad brother!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Lunch and Dinner

Today was all about a trip to Bristol. Sid and I were off to visit Hewlett Packard to talk about storage with them and see a demo of a SAN we are considering buying. It meant an early morning start and then a long drive to the other side of the country (more or less) but it was a productive meeting and demo. We also had a very nice lunch on HP.

I came back into the office for a couple of hours afterwards; long enough to work through my mail, before heading over to a nearby bar which had been hired out for our Managing Director’s 60th birthday surprise party. Normally I am not a big fan of company socials like this, but this one went well. There was good food and I ended up having a nice long chat with several of the consultants, so I guess I did my bit for the IT Team’s public relations and had a good time at it.

Chatted some with Joe R online tonight. He is going through the break-up of a relationship and is feeling a bit rough about it. I think I managed to cheer him up a bit… Along the way though, he managed to throw me a rather left-field question about my own mental state. It looks like we’re going to have an interesting discussion over dinner next week!

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Slug

Heart-attack Central, here I come! Have spent the entire weekend on a sofa and eaten way more than my fair-share of cake. My timetable this week means that it’s not practical to cycle to work at all. I need to break some lifestyle habits and start getting more exercise before I turn into a pallid couch-potato who can’t climb a flight of stairs without pausing for breath!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Le saint affamé

So the rest of the week passed in a bit of a blur. I spent Wednesday afternoon reading Dawkins and then we drove back in the evening. Thursday and Friday at work were busy but not unduly hectic. Even so, I was more than ready for the end of play on Friday…

The parents were down too and despite best intentions I hadn’t managed to arrange anything so Rosie booked us into her local little-gem of a French restaurant in Battersea. Had a lovely dinner there, but began to nod-off by the end of it, so was even less good conversation than usual.

Saturday was an intentionally lazy day. I managed to finish trimming the worst bits out of the home video we took when Brett’s dad was over and got it ready to burn to DVD. All I’ve got to do now is index the rest of my still-photographs of the trip and we’ll be set for the Thanksgiving visit to Dallas. Spent a while chatting to Joe R online too. I sometimes amaze myself at my ability to not talk to someone for over a year and then pick as if it were yesterday.

Tonight we went to watch The Devil Wears Prada again with the parents (the other proposal, Marie Antoinette, mother didn’t like the sound of) and it was just as much fun as the first time; no hidden depths, no great action or suspense, but most enjoyable.

The downside was that I got a parking ticket for not parking in a bay in the over-full car park beside the cinema. That put a bit of a damper on the evening, especially since everyone else does it too and no one else there had got a ticket. I soothed my irritation with twenty-two-year-old whisky when I got home (well, dad wanted to try some of the Edradour I bought when we were up there in July.) Bah, time for bed!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Night In Front Of The Fire

Well, Miles cooked us a lovely dinner; Parma ham and a strong, shaved parmesan over passion fruit, followed by roast chicken with a lovely crispy skin and then onto a kind of mini fruit trifle. We managed to forget about the cheese we’d bought though, as we went through to the Drawing Room for coffee while David & Ping did the washing up. We spent a while reading and then played Cluedo until the small hours.

I read some of the history of the house; one of the things the Landmark Trust does is include detailed dossiers of their properties for you to read while you are in residence. Pretty much everything in the house is either original, a careful reproduction of the original or, in only a few cases, an educated guess about what something would have been, or something following a Pugin design from elsewhere.

It turns out that Brett and I are sleeping in Pugin’s own bedroom. There have been a couple of moments where I have felt myself walking in the footsteps of greatness as I’ve walked around the house. Reading the history, I could visualise an image of the man shown in the portrait beside the fire, working at a large desk in the library, sketching designs of the objects that I have seen in the Lords’ Chamber at Westminster.

The headline from the Cluedo is that I won both games. The detail in the small print is, I think, that everyone else was higher than I was and their logical thinking was somewhat impaired. (It probably didn’t help either that Miles and Ping took on the roles of the Bad Idea Bears (from Avenue Q) and apart from offering extra intoxication to all and sundry, kept whispering, “Accuse… accuse… accuse… accuse…” every time someone was about to check a suspicion!)

We finally rolled off to bed a little after 1am.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Half A Day In Canterbury

We slept-in somewhat this morning; partly I think because the curtains in our room are so heavy they totally blocked out the sunrise which, according to Ping, was spectacular. Ping and David went out for a walk along the cliffs first thing while Brett & I prepared breakfast. Brett actually did most of the cooking while I opened curtains, laid the table and unloaded the dishwasher and such like. (It’s all very well living in authentic early-Victorian splendour, so long as you have just enough mod-cons that it’s not too unpleasantly authentic to live without the accompanying domestic staff!)

After a leisurely breakfast we drove down to Canterbury to visit the cathedral and have lunch at one of the places that Ping had picked out of The Good Food Guide. It was everyone else’s first time in Canterbury and they all seemed to enjoy it. I spent plenty of time here when I was living in Folkestone and nothing much seems to have changed, apart from possibly the encroachment of another few international chains into the lovely old High Street.

Canterbury Cathedral I am always rather underwhelmed by; for the seat of the Anglican Primate it doesn’t seem to really excel in any of its attributes, which I suppose could be claimed as a metaphor for the Church itself…

The restaurant chosen for lunch was attached to a Farmers’ Market just outside the centre of town and the food was just as delicious as one would have expected. I had a gouda omelette followed by pot-roast chicken with a selection of exotic vegetables. For dessert I chose an almond and orange tart accompanied by real chocolate ice cream, however upon tasting Ping’s lemon soufflé and David’s roast pear with chocolate mousse I really wished I could order again; the flavours, particularly of David’s pear and chocolate were such a subtle delight it left your mouth watering for more!

By the time we had finished lunch and picked up a few cheeses for after dinner tonight, it was four o’clock and time to head back to Ramsgate. Miles was already there when we arrived and was just as delighted with the house as the rest of us are. It’s his turn to cook dinner tonight, so we get to sit and read by the fire…

Monday, October 16, 2006

At The Grange

Picture, if you would, the scene at The Grange; a fire is crackling in the grate of the Drawing Room, the walls are hung with sombre, ornately framed oil portraits of the ancestors. Heavy green drapes cover the windows, shutting out the cold sea air. From one corner comes a Beethoven piano sonata. Our protagonists relax in large, well-stuffed arm chairs in front of the fire.

The American is leafing through a book of anatomy by the respected Professor Thomas of Finland. Across from him sits the Frenchman, likewise examining a series of large colour prints of the wonders of the natural world. To one side the diminutive Chinaman is at a small desk conducting his inscrutable, yet certainly nefarious, business. In the corner sits the Englishman quietly observing the scene, making occasional notes in his journal.

There is a loud crack! Perhaps a gunshot? No, just the fire.

Then cut to the dining room; four places are set at the long polished table. Candles flicker in the candelabra, casting shadows over the heavily patterned heraldic wallpaper. A minuet by Boccherini plays in the background as our protagonists enter. The Englishman directs them to their proper seats and the meal begins. At the head of the table, the Chinaman receives sidelong glances from his dining companions as he noisily consumes his spaghetti and mops his plate with a swab of his bread roll. Not even the American has such poor manners; clearly those of an animal! The Frenchman playfully explains the faux-pas to his host.

And now we return to the Drawing Room. The staff have cleared dinner and our protagonists are seated around the fire once again, sipping on the last of the wine (and the Guinness). Although there are board games and other diversions to distract them, they sit snuggled close on their parallel sofas reading and enjoying the sound of the fire.

Seriously though, this is a lovely place. It just smells old. The whole place is gloriously atmospheric and I am loving it like you wouldn’t believe! It is a Victorian gentleman’s home; all oak, brass and velvet, decorated in deep reds, greens and golds. Yet a lot of it is new; the carpets certainly are and I am almost certain about the woodblock wallpaper – only two patterns repeated in different colour schemes throughout the house. Yet a lot of the fabric of the building is old – even a lot of the furniture. I am in heaven.

Actually that’s a rather ironic statement given my reading material at the moment. On top of that, our bedroom has a large crucifix over the bed and a statue of the Virgin Mary on another wall. We took that room because David (Ping’s boyfriend) refused it. (He is catholic and presumably couldn’t face making love to another man under the watchful gaze of an image of an (allegedly) omniscient god… Go figure!)

Still, I like the room. And I love the house!

(EDIT: Check out some of the photos here!)

Monday morning, 6am

Isn’t it just bloody typical; you spend day after day longing for your holidays when you can sleep late… and then when you get to your holidays, you wake up an hour before you normally do when you’re working!?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

And That Was My Sunday

Not much to report today. Read some, ran in to Joe R online (haven’t seen him in ages!) but he was just on his way abroad so we’ve got a provisional dinner date for a few weeks hence. We went to watch The Departed tonight; pretty tense and bloody but Leonardo DiCaprio is maturing nicely and Matt Damon can do no wrong, so it was a good night. Came home and everyone I knew was online but no-one was returning my messages (sob!) so I went to bed.

And that was my Sunday.

A Very Social Saturday

So Saturday worked out pretty well. We’d had a vague idea of checking out some more areas in the southeast of town (with a view to property buying) and then dropping in on Rod & Jess in the early evening before heading on to Colville’s party later on. As it happened, Rod & Jess rang us to say they were going to be in Wimbledon riding and would we like to get together for lunch.

So that’s what we did; after their ride we met them in one of the pubs in the Village, had lunch and a drink and generally caught up with each other. Rod is still looking for a way out of Westminster and Jess is still in charge of one of the Standing Committees with quite a diverse remit of hot topics. She is expecting to be asked to work full-time again, as her job-share partner is going on maternity leave (which I don’t think she minds doing, as the job is an extremely interesting one but which will make life really hard for her as she tries to complete the Open University degree she is taking.)

It sounds like they are enjoying their horse riding though; as well as their weekly jaunts around Wimbledon and Richmond, they had an entire week in the Lake District earlier in the year on a riding holiday which sounded fantastic (even if Rod did end up in A&E with bruised ribs at one point!)

So in the end we never got to do any house-hunting; by the time we’d finished lunch the afternoon was half over so we stayed in and did a few more chores. I started on the Dawkins book. Later on we headed over to Peckham for the party.

Colville is one of Brett’s former work colleagues; he left ahead of the redundancies though to set up his own business. The party was half housewarming and half birthday party for his wife, Soti. The flat is lovely; that rare combination in London of ‘modern’ and ‘spacious.’ It’s decorated and furnished as if out of a style magazine; wood flooring, a white, black and red colour scheme, sparse, plain furniture but with lots of texture in the rug, the sofa and even the big square coffee table, large unframed canvasses of modern art on the walls. The only thing that jarred was the shade of a standard lamp which was puce, not signal red, and clashed rather with everything else – although Brett forbade me from mentioning it.

I didn’t get a chance to talk much with Soti but Colville was quite entertaining to chat with (not to mention very easy on the eye and with an inexplicable inability to fasten more than two buttons on his shirt!) At one point we had a surreal but quite prolonged conversation with several others about how he has recently developed the Grand Unified Field theory (on a cocktail napkin) but he hasn’t got around to publishing it yet. (We’ll be getting tickets to the Nobel ceremony apparently when he does, which I thought was jolly nice of him.)

Slightly more seriously I spent a while chatting to a fascinating chap who works in forestry management who has spent five years in Nepal and just moved to Vietnam to help them develop sustainable timber markets there. He seemed to have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the city of Huế where he’s based; an immaculately clean and tidy and historic former imperial seat, but with nothing much to do there and a population that still has a bit of a superiority complex over the rest of their countrymen. It sounds quite a contrast to the more engaging, if ramshackle and increasingly dangerous, situation in Nepal.

We stayed until about half-past midnight before driving home again. A good night and I’m glad I went in the end.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Tasty Biscuit

It’s Friday and finally I’m feeling good. While I started the week getting piled on from all directions, I finished it having put some order into the chaos and now I’m on holiday for a while.

The weather helped to be honest; it was a lovely crisp day today; dry, not uncomfortably cold and with bright winter sunshine angling in from the south. I had lunch booked with Crouch End Johnny and we met up at Borough Market for tasty chorizo sandwiches followed by a trip to the nearby Konditor & Cook for coffee and cakes. John’s boss was on holiday, so he wasn’t rushing to get back to the office, and I felt I’d put in enough stress and hours this week to justify a long lunch, so we sat on the base of a pillar at the edge of the market to enjoy our cakes in the sunshine while we watched the world go by. It was quite blissfull.

The rest of the afternoon turned out to hold no surprises so my day came to a neat and pre-planned conclusion right on schedule.

That felt really good.

So far the weekend is largely unplanned; we have a house-party with one of Brett’s former colleagues tomorrow night but already I’m thinking I might try to duck out of it and leave Brett to go by himself; I just really don’t want to have to deal with ‘people’ for a while. I recognise it as part of my unwinding after stressful periods; I withdraw. Friends and family I can handle, as they know me for the grumpy muppet I am, but most social situations I avoid. I don’t want to have to make conversation or conform in any way to anyone else’s expectations; I just need some me time.

Not sure how that’s going to work out when we head off to Ping’s birthday retreat on the Kent coast for the first half of next week. While I know some of the guests enough to be relaxed with them, there are some who I know only slightly. Hmm. Well, maybe I can just stay in our room and read my book… I have been saving Richard Dawkins’ latest offering, The God Delusion, for this break.

It's Not Against Nature...

... confirms a new exhibition at the Oslo Natural History Museum!

This, shamelessly lifted from The Register:

"A new exhibition at Oslo Natural History Museum confirms what Aussie bovine lesbianism experts have known for some time: the animal world enjoys a bit of girl-on-girl or boy-on-boy as much as the next man - or woman.

Geir Soeli, the organiser of "Against Nature" (the world's first museum exhibition about homosexuality among animals, according to Reuters), said: "We may have opinions on a lot of things, but one thing is clear - homosexuality is found throughout the animal kingdom, it is not against nature."

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Human Plague

And while we’re on the subject of America, my eye was caught by a copy of The Independent at lunch today. The statistics at the end of this article were covering the front page in large type. While the article talks mainly about America and compares its consumption unfavourably with that of Europe and the developing world, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how London’s per capita consumption is also so much higher than the rest of the country’s.

It also made me think of a quote from The Matrix, which I fear is all too true; it’s Agent Smith explaining to Neo that “…humans are not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment; but you humans do not. Instead you multiply, and multiply, until every resource is consumed. The only way for you to survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern... a virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer on this planet, you are a plague…”

Can you say that he is wrong?

And on that cheerful note, I shall bid you goodnight!

Light and Death

Finally there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel at work. This week has been unbelievably hectic; one thing after another with no chance to take stock in between decisions. It hasn’t helped that one of my team has been off sick, meaning I’ve been doing more of the day-to-day admin as well! Today has been just as busy, but at least it’s felt like I’ve achieved things and got stuff ticked-off my to-do list, whereas the last few days it’s just felt like I’ve been getting overwhelmed with new demands before I can deal with the old ones.

Today was mostly spent on new offices; we are expanding our London office into an adjacent building and there are a couple of really irritating last-minute problems cropping up just now. We’ve also recently signed a lease to open another regional office at the start of December and, unlike other recent ‘seed’ offices of one or two people, this one is a full-on ‘let’s jump-start a good sized branch office!’ so there’s a whirlwind of stuff to order to make sure we’ve got a seamless voice and data infrastructure in place for when the office opens.

I actually rather enjoy this kind of thing; it’s not really very hard, just a lot of things to remember and keep track of, and at the end of it there’s a lot of satisfaction as you see people starting to use the network without even noticing it; they plug in, switch on and think nothing of how it all works; how they can email the files they are working on with the guy in Australia (which are actually stored in South America) to the other guy in Madrid while they are still having the video-conference discussing the project for the North American client. (I know that sounds a bit like the recent crop of IBM adverts, but that’s what my job is about.) (And we don’t use IBM anyway.)

So that was the day at work. I got home a bit late and with a headache, but I felt I’d achieved today.

Tonight we watched Death of a President on More4, a fictional documentary about the ‘future’ assassination of George Bush which has been garnering publicity as US cinema chains refuse to play it. It was all realistic enough, using several clever techniques to fabricate the bits that they couldn’t edit together from genuine archive footage, albeit there was rather more aerial-swooping through the night-time Chicago cityscape than most real documentaries can afford. However at the end of it, I was left thinking ‘so what?’ It was neither true documentary nor drama; it didn’t educate nor did it entertain (unless, I suppose, you were a particularly blood-thirsty US Democrat) so I came away somewhat nonplussed about what the point was. I’m glad I caught it on TV rather than shelling out £7 to see it in a cinema!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Diverse fatigues

I have nothing much much to say tonight. Work was really hectic; absolutely non-stop throughout. Chorus was uninspiring. On my way home now and likely straight off to bed when I get there.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


On Friday the USA and the EU finally agreed a deal over the American Department of Homeland Security’s access to information about passengers on flights transiting American airspace.

The next time you fly to, or over, the US, their government will know you’re doing it. They’ll know, amongst other things, which credit card you booked the flight with, the email address and phone number you gave, which seat you are in and how many frequent flier miles you have.

Interestingly though the actual ‘No-Fly’ list that’s issued by the US Government for airlines to check if terrorist suspects are trying to board flights, doesn’t contain the name of the people the US Government thinks most likely to initiate an act of terrorism, because that would be a security breach! You’ve got to wonder what purpose it serves.

If you’ve sent funds or bought anything internationally over the last few years, chances are the US Government knows about that too, since the records of international money transfers were open to unrestrained scrutiny for quite a while before the EU got wind of it. Buying from Amazon Jersey may have saved you the VAT, but Uncle Sam now knows about your secret predilection for Jackie Collins novels and Father Ted DVDs!

Then there was the fuss earlier this year about US Government monitoring of phonecalls and emails.

So they gather all this information about the minutiae of our lives, wave a magic wand (and probably a building full of Crays) over it and then they go round up the terrorists, try them, sentence them and we’re all safer, right? Well, that’s the idea but it doesn’t quite work like that… It seems that sometimes they get it wrong. Whoops!

And don’t think that, in the country that trumpets itself as the paragon of civil rights and democracy, that you would actually have any rights or comeback if they get it wrong with you! Nope. If you’re suspected of terrorism all your civil rights go out of the window. The US Congress has recently enacted law that allows ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ to be arrested and imprisoned indefinitely without ever coming before a judge, let alone a jury. If one day you do get released, because it’s all been an enormous mistake, you don’t have any redress either.

Am I the only one who thinks that a government monitoring every aspect of people’s everyday lives; where they go, what they buy, who they talk to and email, and then whisking folks away to interrogation, detention and potential torture, without ever having to justify it, all in the name of keeping the population safe and free, is more than a little bit Orwellian?

The Devil Wears Prada

Good weekend; I got plenty of sleep, got my equilibrium back and feel about ready to face the world again.

Hopefully on Monday I’ll be able to recover a personnel situation that I’m pretty sure I botched last week. That’s what made me angry-man; I was pissed at myself for not being better at dealing with people. That’s still a bit of a sore point at the back of my mind, but most of the rest of the guilt got rationalised away when I remembered that I am not omniscient after all. Such is life.

So how was the weekend? Well Saturday we decided, pretty much on a whim, to go play Quasar in Streatham. Neither of us had played in years and it seemed like a better bet than sitting at home watching bad TV. Unfortunately when we got to the Megabowl it was boarded up and had ceased trading. So much for that idea! So we reverted to the stereotype and went shopping instead.

Well, actually, we didn’t shop so much as wandered round Bluewater for a few hours and then came home again. It’s kind of an economy drive; the only things (other than a £10 cable for Brett’s computer) that we wanted were fairly big purchases which we resolved to research online a little more before splashing £400 on hi-fi.

We caught the 8:30 showing of The Devil Wears Prada which was most entertaining. I am a bit of a fan of Meryl Streep anyway and so long as you can get past the predictable moral of the story (which isn’t hard) it’s a gloriously witty, bitchy, caricature of what you imagine the couture industry must be like. I’ll be buying the DVD.

Today we basically walked around the Common. That was about it apart from chores, surfing and TV.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

More 'Angry from Manchester'

Mr Jerry Toher
Managing Director, MINT
c/o The Royal Bank of Scotland PLC
36 St Andrew Square

Dear Mr Toher

Over the last few weeks, I have received several pieces of unsolicited mail from MINT written in your name. One of them invites me to take out insurance with you against identity theft. The other two give me other offers/information and both quote eight of the sixteen digits which make up my credit card number.

I was quite surprised to note that in each letter they are alternate sets of eight digits; in one letter it is the middle eight that are obscured and, in the other, the middle eight are the visible digits. This does not seem consistent with a company that claims to be concerned with helping its customers avoid identity theft!

I have long been irritated that the credit card industry as a whole cannot agree on which groups of digits to obscure when quoting my card number, meaning I have to shred everything with even a partial reference, but I am amazed that within one company you don’t have a standard way of obscuring card numbers in correspondence. To me this suggests that your concern for the protection of my identity is, at best, ill thought-through and, at worst, merely lip service!

Can I ask that you insist your security team agree with the whole business which digits of credit card numbers should be obscured when writing to your customers, so that there is no chance of combining different pieces of your junk mail to reveal an entire number?

Yours sincerely...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Lou's Party

So, Friday after work I had been invited for a few drinks to celebrate Lou’s birthday. Lou is one of the secretaries at work, kind of a PA to an entire department. I like her; she is a very down-to-earth person, neither empty-headed nor too full of herself – unlike many in her profession.

The chosen venue was Jack’s, a cocktail bar just off The Cut. There were a number of colleagues there and some of Lou’s other friends – and even a couple of BT engineers she knows from the gym! We were celebrating her forty-second birthday but I swear I wouldn’t have guessed her age as much above thirty. (I must see if I can score some skin-care secrets off her on Monday, although I suspect that for me it’s probably way too late!)

I managed to put away three cocktails in an hour (they had a dangerously drinkable thing called a Showdown. It came in a tall glass and had passion-fruit and a lot of alcohol in it somewhere.) Lou was definitely settling in for the night, with more friends on their way, whereas I was more in need of a night off so I didn’t stay too long. A good evening though – and quite the tonic after a rotten week at work.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Pretty shit day at work; went in in a bad mood and came away from it feeling so totally fucked-off you wouldn’t believe it. Had a pleasant enough Chorus meeting after work. Meeting my mascot as soon as I arrived at Andrea’s flat helped my mood enormously.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Avenue Q - 2

After the drama of getting to dinner late and then having to wolf it down, the show was a relief. I wasn’t laughing all the way through this time as I was the first time, but it still caught me out quite a few times and you do get involved in the story. I even heckled at one point!

We were in the second row again. Apparently the seats only cost £20 as opposed to £40 for the rows behind, but you still get an excellent view – I could probably do that show again (possibly more than once!) for that price. It cheered me up and I came away with several of the songs going around in my head. Just what the doctor ordered.

Lack of Communication

So the evening didn’t get off to a great start. Because I was late finishing work, I took a taxi up to the Hamburger Union in Soho where we were meeting and was quite pleased with only getting their ten minutes behind schedule. The contented feeling disappeared when I realised there was no-one else there – plus it wasn’t the place we’d been to before, but Ping had definitely said the one in Soho so I gave him a call on his mobile… which rang and rang and then diverted to voicemail. So I called Brett… whose phone rang and rang and then diverted to voicemail.

“No problem,” thought I, “One of them is bound to hear if I try again…”

Well, to cut a long story short, ten minutes later I gave up trying each of them repetitively and asked the staff about any other branches in the area. Sure enough there’s the Covent Garden Branch so after wandering about for a further ten minutes before realising Garrick Street wasn’t where I expected, I got into another taxi and paid a fiver for the privilege of being taken to the Hamburger Union that isn’t in Soho after all.

Shortly after I sat down and apologised for being a bit late, Ping looked at his phone and wondered why he had ten missed calls from me. He got sheepish when I explained why. I seem to recall that he keeps it on silent alert because he doesn’t like it ringing when he’s out and about and it was in his jacket pocket so he didn’t see/feel it ringing. Brett’s, on the other hand, was ringing just fine – at home, where he’d left it! Well, what is the f***ing point??

I sat waiting for my hamburger trying to be social and not fume too visibly until I calmed down.

The hamburger arrived late too.