Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Sound of Forty-A-Day?

The course continues to be excellent, although I have been feeling very under the weather today; I didn’t sleep at all well last night and have had a terrible hacking cough since this morning. Grrr.

Spoke to Brett earlier which brightened the evening somewhat, but then went to eat in the ‘Brewers Fayre’ branch which serves as the hotel restaurant, which was less inspirational.

Spent the rest of the evening surfing and am now heading to bed.

Looking forward to being home tomorrow - if I haven't coughed my lungs up by then!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Navigation and Networks

OK. I’m buying SatNav.

After leaving the house at 06:15 this morning, I very quickly lost the route that I’d printed out from the RAC site (difficult to read the paper when you're driving in the dark!), eventually found my way onto the Inner Ring Road, but then missed the turning for the A1 and ended up in the murkiest depths of East London before I realised my mistake. Consequently, I had to navigate my way back and ended up stuck in virtually stationary traffic on the North Circular for half an hour. All with an uncomfortably full bladder! Talk about a painful morning!

I eventually found my way onto the A1 (I don’t think I have ever been so happy to turn onto a road in my life!) and, in the end, only missed around twenty minutes of the course (which in terms of missed curriculum means ‘nothing’.) I did however miss the second breakfast I’d been planning, as a bowl of cereal at 05:30 wasn’t going to see me through until lunch, so I had to make do with a cup of coffee and two Bourbon Creams. (OMG! This is beginning to sound like an episode of Acorn Antiques!)

The course itself is fascinating; it’s a Hands-On style of Network Security taught by a company which does a lot of network forensic work for the police, indeed the course is taking place at a police facility near Bedford. It’s a fairly detailed look at the tools and techniques that can be used to breach your network’s integrity, how to detect them and generally how to make it difficult for hackers to do their thing. By the same token, it’s also a fairly reasonable course on the basics of hacking and, as a result, we have all apparently been background-checked before being signed on to it! Hmm... I wonder what it says in my file...?

Security is an area of IT that I would love to be involved in; I suppose it has a certain James Bond thrill to it (without much risk of actually getting shot in the line of duty) but while I think I would be technically able to do the work, I’ve never had the obsessive fire for the subject that makes a good network security guru, so I’ve never put in the graft to acquire worthwhile experience. I’d rather spend my time being less geeky, so I guess I’ll never be the one that saves the Internet from the Bad Guys, but I expect that I’ll be able to make my company’s corner of the Internet that much more secure as a result of this and then – who knows?

One interesting point that came out of today was the talk about intuition and seeing patterns and predicting from them. Later, over coffee, someone asked me which hotel I was staying in (there are two cheap Travel Inns fairly close to the centre which are recommended.) I couldn’t remember the name, so described it as ‘the one that has WiFi’ (As only one of the two does.) Sure enough, all except one other delegate was staying at the same place for the same reason. (The odd guy out was staying at a B&B because his company was too cheap to even shell-out for a Travel Inn!!) For all that we value our individuality, we are predictable creatures at the end of the day…

Hehehe… sitting in my hotel room, checking my work email via the wireless Internet access, I was asked to clear some files from my area on one of our servers in Adelaide, Australia and, sitting here in my hotel room, with no physical connection to anything, I logged in and did just that. I still get a childish thrill out of being able to do that! Right, off for dinner!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

From High Culture to Hedonism

Saturday was largely a domestic day; the plumber showed up mid-morning and managed to stem the leak, but recommended we get in a corgi-registered engineer to fix it properly and said we should keep the water turned off when we don’t need it until then. Then there was laundry to load and dishes to wash and shopping to do.

Once that was all done though, we headed up to Waterloo and the National Theatre to see The History Boys; an Alan Bennett play about a school class applying to the Oxbridge universities in the 1980s.

I have mixed feelings about it to be honest; make no mistake it was an excellent, engrossing, intelligent piece (actually I think some of it went over my head) and very well staged. However it didn’t remind me in any way of a class of sixth formers in a northern grammar school in the 1980s; far too few pupils in the class, far too erudite and far too cosmopolitan. Because of the number of pupils in a class, you just didn’t get that level of tuition or interaction. Also, my recollection is that gay kids weren’t out at school and those that were suspected of being gay were ostracised, not embraced. Even so, it’s a damn good play; if you get a chance to go see it before it heads off to Broadway, do!

From the theatre we headed straight up to Camden to join the Chorus at our Christmas Party. (It’s never held at Christmas because we are always too busy performing and having Christmas to actually find time to organise a party!) We had missed the cabaret and Annual Chorus Awards by the time we got there, which was a shame because the awards are always so much fun; hopefully Steve B will post the nominees and winners (and commentary) to the email list in due course. We did gather though that John W & Rich C had won Cutest Couple (again!) (We wuz robbed!) and Scott L had won Chorus Slapper (he declared himself mortified - and innocent!) Apparently my website had been mentioned as a nominee for best online presence too which was nice. However since the alternative title for the award is ‘Best Gaydar Profile’ usually it boils down to the Chorus member who has the most explicit or erotic online personal ad! As a result I got several people asking me for the URL so they could check out the hot pictures of me and/or Brett… Hmm.

We had a thoroughly good time though; we had a bit to drink, Brett danced a while, we both caught up with pretty much everyone we know in the Chorus and even got chatting to some of the newer members for the first time. In conversation I picked up a fair amount of juicy gossip and, later on, even saw some more of it developing before my eyes!

The journey home was fairly straightforward, considering it was about 2am and all the Tubes had finished. We popped into a Chipper for a portion of Fish & Chips and then hopped onto a Night Bus down to Trafalgar Square (the hub) where we almost immediately found another one which took us all the way home: Good timing! Finally got to bed around 3am.

Today though, I was suffering a bit. I’m pretty sure I only drank five pints (on top of the G&T at the theatre), but I had a bit of a bad head when I woke up. After an hour or so of trying to function this morning, I went back to bed for a few hours. Since then, we’ve watched a selection of TV and I am putting off the packing I need to do for next week. (I am on a three-day course somewhere near Bedford, so I have to be up early tomorrow to drive sixty miles north of London before about 08:30… Joy!)

Nothing To See Here!

We've had a great night, both at The History Boys and then at the Chorus ‘Christmas’ Party, where the infamous Chorus Annual Awards were handed out. (More of that later.)

But for now, a short note to any of the Chorus members who have surfed in here to check out one of the nominations for ‘Best Online Presence’ (also known as the Gaydar award!); Sorry chaps, but there’s no Liam-porn here; it’s just not that kind of website. If you want to see me naked, it will cost you!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Plumbing and Poker

It was another event-driven day at work today but at least I came away from it feeling like I had achieved things. I had a typically pleasant (but brief today) lunch with John M where we mostly discussed career possibilities in flying. (He put some hours in on a PPL while living in the US and had some good ideas about how to achieve it and what to do later on.)

Rosie had come over early for poker as she had been in the area after work and so she had dinner with us. However, as I was going to load my plate up with second-helpings, I heard a regular ‘drip, drip’ sound coming from the cupboard which houses our boiler and, sure enough, water was dripping at a fairly rapid pace from one of the pipes supplying it. A rapid call to the landlord’s emergency line followed. It didn’t appear to be urgent enough for them to call out an emergency plumber and we were eventually told to expect one to call tomorrow morning, so as the first guests arrived for poker I was busy mopping the floor and playing with stop-cocks. In the end I managed to stop the dripping, but this necessitated cutting off all water to the bathroom and the hot water in the kitchen. I suppose I should be grateful that there is still running water in the kitchen at least, and we are not totally devoid.

The main event of the evening was, however, the regular poker game. I’d expected a full table, but Rod M called-off this evening, pleading fatigue, my sister subsequently decided she was too tired also and went home and Jeremy F, when we checked, hadn’t put the date in his diary and had completely forgotten about it! I do wonder sometimes if people are really looking for a way out of being invited without causing offence…

So in the end there were five of us playing; Brett & me, John M and Mark G & Chris M from the Chorus. A good time was had by all I think, although Brett and I did take away most of the pot again; this time Brett was the big winner, while Mark G and I split the remainder, both of us coming away with a small profit. I do need to find more dependable players though to make up a full table.

Before bed, we skimmed through the finale of Celebrity Big Brother to find that Chantelle (the fake-celebrity plant!) had won the series (which I think is a fairly poor indictment on the ‘Celebrity’ thread of this show.) Then we headed to the land of nod.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Chaitin's Construction

Not a bad day today; I slept well, woke up refreshed and had a reasonable day at work, even if it was pretty scattered.

When I left for work, I left Brett going over last minute revision for his Driving Theory test this morning. He was routinely getting 5-7 out of 30 questions wrong on the preparatory tests and was somewhat concerned. In the end he needn’t have worried as he got all 35 of the questions on the real test correct and so passed with flying colours!

His test wasn’t far from Blackfriars so we met up afterwards and had lunch with Scott L from the Chorus; a pleasant meal on Ludgate Circus and then coffee up towards St.Pauls, while setting the world to rights. Amongst other things Scott was worried he was going to win the Chorus’ Slapper of the Year’ award at the Chorus Party this Saturday. Despite giving him lots of sympathy over lunch, I got to thinking later that perhaps he was protesting too much and would actually love the attention of winning such an award (I have no idea what goes on in his bedroom, but he is such terrible flirt he deserves it!) so when I got home I filled out a nomination form and sent it in.

Brett had a doctor’s appointment this afternoon (he’s been having pain in his foot for some time now) and, after giving him a shot of something, the doctor advised him to keep off it for the rest of the day, so we skipped the Gay Gordons tonight and had a quiet night in. (We’re hosting poker tomorrow night, so we actually needed to do some washing of dishes too. Gee, what a cosmopolitan life we lead!)

[For those of you who are curious, Chaitin’s Construction is a real number which is definable but not computable. Wikipedia is such a remarkable resource!]

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Look Away From The Lights!

In the taxi on the way to the airport, I was reading through the brochures I picked up on Sunday about qualifying as a pilot. I eventually decided to put them away on the basis that it is an incredibly expensive hobby, which would divert money which could be usefully invested elsewhere and which would only really be worth spending money on if I was planning to take it up professionally.

As the plane was on its final approach I was looking out of the window into the night, at the lights of Greater London spread out and twinkling like faery lights on the ground and I imagined how fantastic the view must be from the front of the plane.

And all the logic of the decision melted away.

A Good Day's Work

Well, it’s been a reasonably successful and stress-free visit to Edinburgh. I haven’t been able to fix their main problem (slow network link to London) but I was fairly sure that would be the case anyway. I have been able to give them quite a few pointers to minimise its impact though until the office can move to larger premises.

Had a wander down to Waterstones for lunch and indulged in a bit of nostalgia as I had lunch in the embedded Starbucks and read the book I’d bought.

Off to the airport again shortly to head home.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Withdrawl Symptoms

So now I’m paying the price for leaving my packing to the last minute; I have clothes and toiletries enough but what I lack is entertainment. There are no wireless Internet hotspots within range, there’s a network socket on the wall, but no cable, so I can’t get to the Internet. I have nothing to watch on my laptop so I’m stuck with the TV provided by the hotel. Teletext has clearly gone downhill in recent years (the curse of the Internet, I suspect) so I have no idea what is on any channel. It’s all live, so I am watching adverts for the first time in two years (oh, boy! Are they repetitive!) The fiesta ad (“drop everything!”) is really beginning to grate; it’s January, so there must be lots of diet adverts; I see The Daily Mail has given up all pretence of being newspaper and is now advertising itself under the slogan “Get all the gossip while its still hot” and “Because old gossip is no gossip”; the trailer for the new series of '24'(which doesn’t start until February!) is quite stylish, but also being done to death.

On the upside, the dinner provided by Room Service was very good. I stayed here (the Roxburghe, on Charlotte Square) many years ago with US Saga groups and at the time it was a bit of a shabby place catering to coach parties. Since then it has been extensively refurbished and is now quite a smart place catering to businessmen and conferences, albeit with creaky floorboards in places…

Show Me The Way To Edinboro'


As I was lying in bed yesterday morning, trying in vain to muster the willpower to separate back from mattress, I remembered I was meant to be in our Edinburgh Office today. The visit is primarily to give them tea and sympathy about their network connection, which they have outgrown. However because they are growing so quickly, they will be moving to a new office as soon as they can find one, so it’s unlikely we’ll be spending large amounts of money upgrading their current Internet access.

Not much happened at work; I felt less stressed-out than I have in recent days, although I was still switching back to the backup software screen every few minutes to check that everything was proceeding smoothly. In the end everything did and I left early to give myself plenty of time to get to Chorus.

Despite feeling more relaxed, I didn’t get much cheer out the rehearsal. We spent the first half note-bashing new repertoire which, while I am certain it will sound lovely in performance, I really couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for tonight. I ducked-out halfway through and sat in the foyer to ring my sister (who was well, but busy at work after being ill last week.)

The break was a blessed relief (I was at the front of the queue, so managed to get some chocolate biscuits before they all went!) although I just managed to miss making eye-contact with Zefrog (maybe he was blanking me, but I think not) to see how he was doing as I was feeling slightly guilty about taking my stress out on him over the weekend. I spent most of the break chatting with Mark G and one of the new guys, Paul L, who is from Massachusetts, over here to teach English.

The second half was somewhat more enjoyable, if only because we were rehearsing some of the ‘core repertoire’ pieces for the new guys to pick up; all were songs I like and enjoy singing, so that lifted my spirits somewhat and I was in a bearable, albeit very tired, frame of mind as we set off for home.

I needed to check-in on the backups when we got home and it took longer than I’d expected because there were yet more problems with the backup system. It seemed that at least one of the jobs had finished properly though and, since I couldn’t seem to achieve anything with the system remotely, I eventually gave up and started putting my overnight bag together. [I wonder actually if the backup problems might not be caused by me connecting to the backup server by Terminal Services, rather than directly. We are using a new ‘rebranded’ version of the backup software released after Veritas was taken over by Symantec and, based on past experience with Symantec takeovers, it wouldn’t surprise me if they rushed it out (skipping some of the bug-checking!) in order to get their logo out into the field as quickly as possible. That seems to be the main object of their takeovers, as the quality of the product invariably plummets afterwards.]

Got to bed around 12:30 and set my alarm for five.

Tuesday Morning, 5am

I had completely forgotten I was going to Edinburgh today. Bah. Even for a 9am flight I have to get up when it’s still cold around the house. Not fun.

More later.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Up, Up and Away!

Well, it was a great afternoon. We were a little bit late at the airport, but as my instructor was late finishing off his previous flight it didn’t make much difference. The weather was rather grey and cloudy, which was a shame as it had been clear and sunny most of the morning, but the cloud wasn’t too low and we were good to fly.

There are photos and something of a narrative here in my photoblog. It felt a lot like learning to drive; at first it was very ungainly and I was very tense, but the advantage of flying over driving is that it’s harder to bump into things unless you are unbelievably careless, so it’s easier to relax at the controls of a plane than a car. I spent about half of the time in the air watching the instruments but, once I relaxed a bit, there was also plenty of time for sightseeing and being at the controls is undeniably fun once you get over the worry. Even through the cloud and haze the view was fantastic; much better than you get in a commercial jet and because we were flying over my old stomping grounds, both around East London and along the M20 as far as Maidstone, I recognised quite a few landmarks too.

The landing was a serious buzz; sitting in the cockpit, watching the ground come towards you is quite something to behold. Even though I didn’t have control at the time, I knew enough to know what the instructor was doing as he circled the airport and eventually lined us up for landing, so I felt pretty comfortable with it all happening around me. There were some beautiful moments in the last seconds of the flight as we eased down the last few feet onto the tarmac; it felt like we were floating along, or hovering over the ground for a while before we actually touched-down. Glorious!

The next option is to take a five hour ‘beginners course’ in flying, which is intended to give you an idea of what’s involved in the full forty-five hour Private Pilot’s License course before you commit to it. The problem with it is that it’s expensive. It’s very hard to justify such an expensive hobby when we’re supposed to be cutting back on expenses to build up some savings…

I can see us in twelve months time having the time of our lives, doing everything we ever wanted to do – but sleeping under a railway arch!

Bitter-Sweet Morning

Woke up this morning to the news that after all the fuss, the Chorus wasn’t going to be on Big Brother’s Little Brother after all; we couldn’t get the performing rights in time for whatever song was going to be sung so the whole thing was called off. Presumably they didn’t want a contingent just sitting at the back supporting Rula if we couldn’t sing for our airtime. Bah!

In addition there was a further email from Zefrog to me about the decision to use the Small Group in place of the volunteers from the Chorus at large. It didn’t even try to justify the decision particularly, just pointed out a misinterpretation I’d made and the fact that a number of the Small Group were part of the volunteers as well. I returned another reminder about purpose of the Small Group, underlined how it pisses off the rest of us when we get elbowed out of the way to push the Small Group forward, and fired a warning shot that I’ve crossed the Rubicon on this issue and am going to be hounding the Steering Committee in future to keep them true.

Then I logged into work.

Sometime while we were sipping our interval drinks last night, the backup services had failed. Both of the jobs that were running had crashed. This is a double-whammy as, for one job the catalogue (the list of files on the tape) is corrupt, so I’ll have to rerun the entire job from the start (thirty hours of tape, requiring a manual cassette change every three hours.) For the other job, where we at least have a valid catalogue and an autochanger to handle the tapes, the system is claiming the tape drive is busy and won’t start the job. I have restarted all of the backup systems, reinitialised the tape library and it still won’t start. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck fuck!

I once read a book (I think it was by Heinlein) about a man who was naturally lucky: In the same way that the laws of probability allow that if you make enough coin tosses eventually you will get a run of the coin landing on its edge rather than a face, this man was the embodiment of those coincidences; whenever there was a chance outcome which affected him, it always turned out in has favour. I feel like the antithesis of that man at the moment; I am the embodiment of Murphy’s Law and anything that can go wrong (at least as far as this problem is concerned) will go wrong.

Strangely enough actually, many years ago a friend tested me for ‘psychic abilities’ where they look at a picture on a card (circle, triangle, square, star, etc.) and I had to say what I thought it was. I scored abysmally – substantially below even random choice. Maybe there’s something in Heinlein’s theory…

And on that cheerful note, I turn towards the brighter part of today; I’m going flying. Around about 1:30pm today (weather permitting) I’m taking to the air in a light aircraft from Biggin Hill for a one-hour flying lesson. The weather looks good at the moment, but there is a possibility of low cloud coming in later, so I need to double check before we leave. Murphy had better steer clear of me on this one, or I am going to be mad!

More Venting

What’s the point of arguing anyway? The Chorus virtually beats its chest about how egalitarian it is, but in reality it’s just as corrupt and internecine as any other volunteer arts group; if you’ve got a great voice, if you know the right people, if you’re in a position of authority you can make your own rules. Naturally you want to put on your best show, but sometimes people forget that our object isn’t to win Tonys. The Chorus is supposed to be about giving people opportunities. The larger it grows the more I feel it is losing touch with its raison d’être by stumbling towards some ill-defined goal of mainstream recognition/success.

We are working with a commercial promoter (that quite a few members are not comfortable with) because it pays well and we need the money. Yet at the same time the Small Group, whose aim was to secure the lucrative, small corporate gigs that the larger Chorus wouldn’t get offered and thus make money for the Chorus, isn’t out selling itself because it’s too busy doing high-profile gratis gigs and rehearsing repertoire to pad-out the main Chorus’ concerts to satisfy the demands of the same promoter with whom a significant minority would rather we weren’t involved. What kind of circular/backward logic is that?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Billy Elliot

This evening we were off to see Billy Elliot, the Musical at the Victoria Palace Theatre. It’s incredibly popular at the moment; we bought our tickets several months ago and still only get end-of-row.

The story is set during the Miners’ Strike of the 1980’s and has a bit of a Full Monty feel to it as the young Billy finds an unconventional way out of the strike-crippled mining village where he grew up. It’s a quality production; they have a fine cast of youngsters who dance beautifully (when they are not acting that they have two left feet) and the setting provides for both drama and humour (although the sight of grimy miners doing formal ballet in their boiler suits only has so much entertainment value.) It’s a good show, gritty and pulls no punches, but is still quite uplifting (and did I mention the dancing is pretty damn good too?)

After the show we found ‘Victoria’s Only Gay Bar’, The Stag, not far from the theatre and popped in to have a quick drink, but (for a gay bar on a Saturday night) it was still early and not much was happening. That, plus the realisation that I was going to be flying a plane tomorrow and so shouldn’t be drinking too much tonight, meant we decided to head on home rather than join the other Chorus boys for a night out. (A large portion of the Chorus were guesting at Pink Singers concert in town tonight.)

Dermot: The Meeting That Never Happened

Ah well, the lovely Rula has been evicted from the Celebrity Big Brother House and the Chorus is sending a group along to do the Little Brother show tomorrow. Because of the short notice (well, actually, no shorter notice than last week when we were going to do the show on Wednesday morning!) Charlie & Zefrog took the executive decision not to use the group who had volunteered to do the show during the week, or to do a very quick mail out for new volunteers, but to select the Small Group (who, unlike the rest of the Chorus, will be free on short notice!?) to do it instead. I’m pretty pissed off as I was looking forward to doing it – I’d have even rearranged my flying lesson so I could do it – but no-one bothered consulting us lowly Chorus members, only the Small Group were worthy of consideration.

I fear this is going to resurrect a lot of the unhappiness which has been bubbling under the surface of the membership for some time; the Small Group are not being used for the purposes for which they were formed (raising money) and instead are getting plum gigs that everyone else dreams of doing when there is no really good reason for it.

You may have gathered I’m a bit pissed-off about this decision.


Friday morning was better than Thursday, although a text message from Rav saying he’d had to take his wife to hospital and so wouldn’t be in work didn’t help matters. I also got a text message from Chris C in Dallas on my way to work (he has been trying to get the hang of international dialling codes ever since a message he sent me about their trip to the UK never arrived!) A short burst of mental arithmetic revealed that it was something like 3:30am in Dallas and a brief conversation ensued. Turns out the poor guy woke himself up coughing (he has been under the weather for the last few days) and was sitting waiting for the cough syrup to take effect. It was a toss-up between watching TV and having another go at getting a message through to me. (I’m not sure why that was really a decision, but perhaps American TV improves in the small hours…)

At work there was a definite feeling of progress with the server and by the end of the day we were confidently pushing 800Mb/minute back onto the disks. It will still take most of the weekend to completely restore, once we’ve allowed time for the regular system backups to run and for tape changing delays (yes, part of the restore is being done through a single, manually loaded drive!) but for the first time in a week I feel I can say my confidence is high that we will have a usable system on Monday.

Had lunch with Ping at the new Strada which has opened under the Festival Hall and he was fairly buoyant. He has been going through some difficult times lately but seems now to be getting a handle on everything. He has finally talked it through with John W (which is a relief, as I was having trouble tip-toeing through certain conversations with him, trying not to break any confidences without actively misleading; not a happy situation.) Somewhere along the line, despite being in a riverside restaurant, we also managed to miss the whale in the Thames, which has been keeping the media busy since Friday morning.

Friday evening we were supposed to be having dinner with Scott L but he had cancelled a day or so ago (due to “prior commitments”) and my sister had subsequently asked us to go over to her place as she’s been off work sick since Tuesday and was wanting to see someone to alleviate the cabin-fever (as Andy is away in Aus at the moment.) So once we’d all gotten home (and I’d called security with the number of the next backup tape to load) we headed up to Battersea and ordered Chinese with her. Her Sky+ is now working and she has been making full use of it, so there was plenty of TV to watch (my sister’s favourite pastime.) We watched the opening of the new series of Desperate Housewives and a couple of shows of Bones, another variation on “brilliant-geek-meets-streetwise-cop-and-they-help-each-other-solve-crimes-and-evolve-grudging-respect” theme; a pleasant diversion from reality for a few hours before heading home to bed.


After the emotional boil-over on Wednesday night I didn’t sleep very well and so was in a pretty foul mood going into work on Thursday. The ongoing problem with our archive server didn’t help. Murphy’s Law was still operating at full strength resulting in a crucial piece of software crashing just as data was being written back to the server from tape (after a three-hour lead time!) and a second array of disks I’d intended to use not being recognisable to the server without deleting and rebuilding the system!

I had phonecalls from Ping and my sister during the day and fear I was fairly uncharitable to both of them – although Ping did get a lunch date out of me for Friday. For once, though, the day got better and by the end of it we were on a reasonably firm footing with the problem server. I still left the office with a great sigh of relief though.

Thursday night is Ceilidh night and I, very much in two minds about it, dragged myself along to Angel, force-feeding myself two disgusting cereal bars en route to avoid passing out from low blood-sugar levels as soon as I started dancing. As is usually the case with Choir at moments like these, no matter how much I don’t feel like going, I invariably enjoy it tremendously and come away feeling refreshed and cheerful again. Thus it was tonight.

An added surprise was Ping being there; he had spoken of coming along but I had somehow blanked it out of my mind until I saw him. He enjoyed himself apparently and will be coming back next week, despite his observation that the dancing took more out of him than his workout at the gym. (I really must go along to the gym with him sometime, as his gym seems to be far more social and far less effort than any of the ones I have ever been to.) After the session, we all went along to Hamburger Union again and I finally got rid of the taste of the cereal bars with a delicious burger.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Brokeback Mountain and Simon

He died on a mountainside,
He died on a cold mountainside.
The city couldn’t hold him,
It’s like he lived just for the ride,
And he was a friend of mine.

    - for Simon.

Tonight we went to see Brokeback Mountain and it was a very good film. It was very authentic; they felt like real people and there was no particular agenda to it. It was a very moving story. For once, though, it wasn’t Brett who did all the crying. The closer the film got to the end, the more it resonated with me and when they played the Bob Dylan song ‘He Was a Friend of Mine’ over the closing credits, I just started dissolving inside.

The verse at the top of the post is one I wrote for the song in memory of my ‘little brother’, Simon, a friend I met at university, who died in a climbing accident in 1998. The Chorus sang it anonymously at the Eclecsis concert in 2004, but I knew who it was for.

He was a very outdoorsy person and I loved him for his good nature and his energy. He was the first really close straight friend I had who knew I was gay before we became close. I was very relieved at how much of a non-event my coming-out to him was; he said he’d known a couple of gay guys at school and that it was no big deal – although he later admitted he’d actually made that up on the spot, so he could make the point that it wasn’t a big deal. We were firm friends throughout university, spending many happy afternoons bunking off in Camperdown Park at the adventure playground, or the beach at Tentsmuir.

We spent the golden days of our youth together and then went our separate ways; he went off to join Operation Raleigh for a while and I went off touring with Saga. Whenever I was in Edinburgh with a group, we’d always meet up for lunch or coffee and I have fond memories of sitting in the big bow window of the Waterstones on Princes Street, looking out at Castle Mount, drinking coffee and catching up on each others’ lives. He went on to work for Motorola and I eventually settled in Folkestone with Saga and we saw each other less.

Then one day my sister called me at work and asked when I’d last spoken to him and I couldn’t remember. She’d seen an obituary in the Dundee University Alumni magazine… I was absolutely gobsmacked when I realised he’d been dead a year and I hadn’t even known; my emails had been getting returned as undeliverable, but it was a work address and he’d been talking about changing jobs the last time we’d met, so I assumed that was all it was and he’d mail when he got round to it. I never thought anything more of it.

By coincidence, I was due to be in Edinburgh a month or so after hearing the news so I had one of the most agonising phone calls of my life as I called his father, whom I knew only slightly, to ask what had happened and where his memorial was.

He’d been climbing on Ben Nevis with a guy he knew; just the two of them roped together and somehow they had fallen. It wasn’t until the following day that the Mountain Rescue Team found them and took the bodies up to Inverness to be identified. He’d only been married for six months.

A few days later his father met me to take me out to his memorial near Bathgate at the Motorola plant where he had worked and we spent over an hour standing there, looking out towards the hills and exchanging stories.

I still find myself experiencing things and feeling sorry that Simon isn’t there to experience them too. He’s missed out on such a lot and he had such a lot to live for. The world is a viciously random place to do that to someone. Most of the time memories of Simon are a warm, nostalgic feeling. Tonight though they are in sharp relief and I miss him dreadfully. I miss the kid brother I never had. He was a friend of mine.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly ...and Mandarin Chinese.

Kind of the same old same old today; our problem server is still problematic but we are making slow headway. No Chorus tonight though, but more admin to do for the new members. I think the only thing that distinguished today was that I cycled to work for the first time in about a month. Blimey. What news! Remind me why you think it’s worth reading this blog again?

Well so you don’t lose interest, I thought I’d share a few links I’ve come across recently…

First the good; we have collected dust from the stars and are launching a probe to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. It’s inspiring; humanity’s endless curiosity expanding the boundaries of our knowledge; the best of what humans do.

Then the bad; in our rush for a better life, we often leave our roots behind but abandoning your family to potential starvation is a damning statement about the worst of what humans can do.

Now the ugly; worries about bird flu. This article on the BBC news site surprised me on several fronts. Firstly the UK is at the top of the list of countries to which and within which a human-transmissible form is expected to spread. Now I know someone has got to be top of the list and I’d expect the UK to be somewhere fairly high up the list, being host to the world’s busiest international airport, high urban densities and all, but it’s a bit daunting to actually be the name in the frame. (I wonder if the risk-analysis company that came up with the list is based in the UK?) Also, the information that it’s the fit and healthy under-65’s (that would be me!) who are likely to be most susceptible is a bit of a shock. I’d always thought that one of the benefits of keeping fit and healthy was to make sure your body was ready to deal with nasties such as a flu pandemic. Oh, well, guess it’s time to start discretely stocking up on canned goods again…

Finally, in other news, Mandarin seems to be in the news a lot at the moment. Not long ago Chris C joked about getting his son a Chinese Nanny and then today I saw this article about a school which has made Mandarin a compulsory language. I suppose it makes sense; if you’re going to have to learn a language, make it a useful one – and where do they speak only French and German these days apart from France and Germany?? (Even Latin is more useful than German!) Maybe there’s another reason for Brett to take that job in Beijing; it’s certainly going to be the best place to learn the local language!

London: The Place To Be

I knew there was a reason I lived here... This, from BBC News.

They're absolutely right about the price of the Tube though! If you use it a lot; buy a Travelcard!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Tell Me It's Not True...

Work is doing my head in. We’re still being frustrated by a problem server which has been giving us grief since before Christmas. The problem has been twisting and turning day after day to the point where I left work tonight ready to throw something out of the window. There’s at least another couple of days work tomorrow – even if it all goes to plan (which it hasn’t yet!)

Chorus tonight was good fun though; some new repertoire and some familiar old stuff. Caught up briefly with Mark G as I hadn’t seen him since the show; sounds like he and his husband Chris had a very interesting time on their honeymoon. Apparently they were stranded on a mountain top (I think in a hotel!) during five days of severe storms, so it sounds like there should be some interesting stories when they come over for poker!

Looks like I’m going to be on Big Brother’s Little Brother with eight or so other Chorines one day this week. It means getting up at some unearthly hour to be at the studio for 8am (eek!) but, hey, I’ll get to meet Dermot! (That’s what sold me on it, really.)

[Blimey, doing all the media within the space of seven days! At this rate I’ll be on Court TV before the end of the month…]

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Stardust Lands!

A fairly social day today; my parents are in town visiting my sister so they came over for brunch this morning. We had been invited to join them watching High Society last night, but had declined as it was our one free evening this week. All is well with the family apparently.

After brunch my mum and sister spent the best part of an hour poring over the Landmark Trust handbook that I ordered recently, trying to decide which one(s) they wanted to stay in. In the end, I think it amounted to ninety percent of the properties. That said, I originally got the book with a view to arranging a ‘Country House Weekend’ with a selection of friends and family and haven’t got around to doing anything about it yet, so I need to get my finger out.

This afternoon was more Chorus administrivia, but I also managed to organise dinner with Scott and a poker night for the next two Fridays, so it wasn’t spent entirely working for someone else’s benefit.

Rod and Jess were in Wimbledon this evening, collecting books for their online used and collectable bookshop, so they came over and we went out for dinner at a lovely little Italian place in the Village. We had all of the Christmas and New Year stories to catch up on and inevitably touched on politics, travel and theatre over the course of the delightful meal. Rod is hopefully joining us for poker in a fortnight and Jess will be along two when we get our games night together in a few weeks.

Right off to try and get a good night’s sleep in!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Chorus, Chorus Everywhere and not a Note Was Sung

Today I slept late but it didn’t seem to help; still a zombie when I finally woke up. Most of my time since has been spent on Chorus stuff; there was a change in how the main mailing list works agreed by the Steering Committee last week which I implemented today and inevitably generated feedback from the members. Also I needed to start getting last Wednesday’s new members into the system, so there was lots of database and mail-merge work as well.

Somewhere along the line Brett and I both took our bikes up into the village to get the chains sorted (Last month, somebody moved our bikes out from the alcove under the stairs around the side of the house and left them exposed to the weather over Christmas and New Year. As a result, my chain was virtually rusted solid when I came back to it last week.) To be honest I was quite glad to have the excuse to get a new chain, as the old one had been playing up.

On Thursday, you may recall I mentioned our picture in the Pink Paper; well it turns out that in my narcissism, I’d missed two mentions of the Chorus too. On the front page was a big picture of Rula with several choristers, including Mark G, Chris M & Russell E and then inside, the Chorus was voted ‘Best Social or Sport Group of the Year’ by the readers! I’ve copied the relevant photos onto my photoblog here.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Moments in a Bygone Age

Another day of not focussing on work. Around lunchtime may brain just turned to Swiss cheese and I achieved nothing all afternoon.

This evening I was meeting Brett, Ping and Miles to go to the Three Emperors exhibition at the Royal Academy. The exhibition covers the reigns of the three most famous emperors of the Qing (China’s last) Imperial dynasty. Like the Turks Exhibition I saw here last February, there are some fascinating items on display; the Imperial Court Robes, the objets d’art, the scrolls and calligraphy; all thoroughly described by the exhibit labels, room catalogues and audio guides in a series of themed rooms.

The detail on the scrolls was incredible, the cloisonné and the precision of the stitching on the robes were beautiful, but the thing that I think made the biggest impression was that this was all happening around the time the Stuarts and Hanoverians were on the throne here; that feels almost contemporary – this isn’t ancient history; the rituals, the art, the clothing were all from a bygone era, but they were still in use as the Industrial Revolution was starting in Europe…

Afterwards we went for dinner at Claridge’s which was very pleasant, although the service wasn’t quite what I’d expect from a restaurant in a hotel of this class. The food was, nevertheless, splendid and the ambiance of the Reading Room very conducive to cosy conversation; we dined sitting on well-stuffed easy chairs which made it very easy to relax between courses. Nobody fancied wine, but I glanced through the wine-list anyway and they had very well-stocked cellar; something for every pocket from £27 to £1700+ per bottle…

After dinner, we had a brief wander up to the first floor to compare the décor; downstairs is very Art Deco, while upstairs you get a much more Baroque feel. As we came down again, I had a bit of a Titanic moment; the foyer floor is tiled in black and white so coming down the sweeping grand staircase into that, with a couple of folks in evening dress smoking by the open fire and the elegant dining room just off to one side, sent me back about 94 years; a somewhat strange moment of déjà vu!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Baronial Turrets

Rather embarrassed myself today; I was sure I was due to be having lunch with someone, but there was nothing in my diary. Having had lunch with my sister yesterday, I called Ping who was another likely suspect but I wasn’t due to meet him so I put the idea out of my mind… and then at about 11:45 I got a phone call from Owen asking if I was still on for lunch. Whoops! (In my defence, he normally sends me an invite via Outlook, so I never put our lunches in my calendar as I end up with two identical entries, but this time he didn’t.)

This evening was another session with the Gay Gordons and it was just as much fun as last week; an evening of enjoyable exercise.

There was also a pleasant half-hour after the dancing at the local gourmet burger joint, where I got to have a Malt Shake (one of my all-time favourite drinks) and Brett got a very tasty and fairly healthy-looking burger! There were other new starters this week too and they were all very friendly. I was particularly surprised to meet Phillip, a guy who runs a kind of mini opera company, who has worked for Saga on several cruises on the Saga Rose. There was also some talk of the Spring Ball where we can show off our steps in a proper environment!

Then home again and to bed.

EDIT: One thing I forgot to mention earlier; my picture was in the paper! Well, okay, it was the local gay press, so hardly even my fifteen minutes of fame, but I was right at the front of the photo taken at the Gay Gordons last week and published in this week’s Pink Paper. I quite liked it, although Brett complained that it highlighted his bald spot…

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Travel Dreams

Today at work was divided into two halves; the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of a relatively minor event that I had been dreading for several days. It was a personnel-type conversation I needed to have with one of my team and I hate that kind of thing – I fear it is my weakest aspect as a manager – but in the end it went fairly agreeably and I came away with an immense feeling of relief.

I had lunch with my sister, yet again patronising the local bistro-over-pub. I found I was rather hungry and ordered all three courses. After my earlier dread-to-relief transition, I even indulged in a glass of wine. It seems that Rosie’s Christmas and New Year all went well; Andy got on well with my folks. She also has a professional conference lined up in Australia later this year! I am very envious, although Sid (my boss) and I have recently been considering organising an ‘IT progress’ around our further-flung branch offices. It’s unlikely I’d make it to our Adelaide Office, as there are only four or five people out there, but if I’m lucky I should be able to arrange a trip to Santiago and possibly Bogotá.

The afternoon was mostly spent despairing at the variety of parameters required to get video conferencing to work through a couple of network firewalls…

This evening was a new-members evening for the Chorus and Brett and I had a bit of a nightmare journey to it; after an earlier signalling problem on the Northern Line there were major delays between trains, resulting in trains being packed-solid, resulting in our train not being allowed to open its doors at Camden Town, where we needed to change. When we got to the next station on the line we heard that the next service back down the line wasn’t due for another fifteen minutes, so we headed up to street level and shared a taxi with several other frustrated commuters who were heading in our general direction.

The intake went fairly smoothly though; I am responsible for photographing all the new members and transcribing their registration forms for the membership database and we didn’t have very many attending tonight, so it all went fairly quickly. The rehearsal was of a couple of pieces of our core repertoire; Our Time and Seasons Of Love, both of which I already know, so it was an enjoyable sing.

We joined a group of old and new members in the pub afterwards. I only stayed for one, but Brett was in his element chatting to the new guys and the music team (for whom he is responsible as their line manager) so I eventually left him to it as I was fairly weary.

Finished Long Way Round on the Tube back to Waterloo. The DVD of the trip is already on my wishlist!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

...And We All Sing Along Like Before.

Well, work wasn’t as much of a struggle today, although I’m still finding it hard to muster much enthusiasm. It’s been quite a busy day, I suppose; lots of small stuff to keep track of and deal with.

Brett’s at a Chorus meeting tonight. I’ve been watching the DVD of You’ll Do For Now, our show last summer, which was distributed at last night’s rehearsal. The recording is actually pretty poor, being done by a domestic video camera from the rear of the balcony and without an audio feed from the venue’s sound system. Nevertheless just seeing and hearing it again brings back a great swell of nostalgia and pride.

Other than that, not much happening today.

I have lunch with my sister tomorrow, so that should be fun, and then a Chorus new-intake evening tomorrow evening.

Now watching Celebrity Big Brother, keeping an eye on Rula. Watching them all nominate for the first time and bitch about each other; same old format then…

Monday, January 09, 2006


Didn’t sleep well at all last night; was having some very weird dreams when the alarm went off this morning. Yesterday’s funk wore off by lunchtime but unfortunately the fatigue didn’t, so I skipped the first Chorus rehearsal of the new year to come home, put my feet up on the sofa, eat comfort food and catch up on Rome.

Managed to book my flying lesson though; watch out for a week on Sunday’s entry.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Tonight I have all the enthusiasm of a dead rhinoceros. I really have no desire to go to work tomorrow. Unsatisfying stress; what’s the point?

Maybe it’s getting time to throw it all in, sell-up and start hitching around the world…

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Aladdin at Putney

As Brett hasn’t been back at work this week, he still hasn’t really adjusted from Texas-time and he’d asked me to kick him out of bed when I woke up this morning. As it happened I slept through until nearly 11am, but I took him at his word and made him get out of bed and bring me breakfast while I caught up with some investing tasks online.

Ping rang while I was drinking my coffee and we caught up a bit and discussed future cinema outings. He seems to have recovered from the funk that has enveloped him over recent weeks and was fairly cheery. He declined my invite to lunch though, as he was going out on a date this afternoon.

By the time we actually started on the day it was already half over, but we got some laundry done and took the Christmas tree down and I got all my bills paid and my money balanced.

Around four-ish, we took the bus into Putney. Brett went for his comics while I went to the Café Nero, had a mocha and read my book (currently; The Long Way Round, which tells of the journey of Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman riding their motorbikes from London to New York by heading East. An enthralling read – I would so love to do something similar, although probably not on a bike!)

Brett came and joined me in due course before we met up with John W, Rich C and David S for a drink and then onto the Panto!

Stuart, the Chorus’ choreographer, was performing in an amateur production of Aladdin at the Putney Arts Theatre as The Slave of the Ring; a role which gave him plenty of opportunity to camp it up beautifully and have the audience rolling in the aisles with some very risqué double-entendres. (To coin a phrase; some of the humour was very near the knuckle!) He was absolutely the star of the show though and we congratulated him heartily in the bar afterwards.

We (John, Rich, David, Brett & I) went on for a late supper at Ma Goa, a stylish, modern Indian restaurant just across the road from the theatre. Afterwards John and Rich came back to Wimbledon and crashed in the spare room as it was gone midnight and (in fine Panto style!) most of London Transport had turned back into pumpkins.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Lucius Vorenus Rules, OK

Another surreal moment or two when the alarm went off this morning – if anything worse than yesterday! I got up too late to cycle into work and rather guiltily took the cheaper, post-9:30 train in. Work was fairly lightweight stuff again; my heart wasn’t really in it. After only two days back at work, though, it’s such a relief to remember that tomorrow is Saturday.

Cooked a lovely pork dhansak for dinner and then we sat and watched De-Lovely, a very entertaining and touching musical about the life of Cole Porter. (An unexpected appearance by the lovely Kevin McKidd made it even more pleasant!) Then caught up on Celebrity Big Brother, to see whether the Chorus got another mention. (As Rula was entering the house last night, Davina had commented that she had just finished touring with the London Gay Men’s Chorus. Whoa! Free publicity in front of an audience of millions! Excellent.)

On a slightly more serious note, I spotted this article on the BBC News site today and it struck me as very incisive; if mankind’s abuse of the environment is the cause of Global Warming then as mankind grows, the abuse is going to get worse even if we do manage to cut the average individual’s footprint. As well as recycling and cutting emissions, we need to deal with the exponential growth in our population – but that’s a topic that everyone shies away from.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Here, There and Everywhere

Yesterday was fairly relaxed in the end; I had an hour’s nap in the afternoon, but otherwise wasn’t affected by jetlag. We watched various shows we’d Tivo’d over the break, as well as a couple of DVDs we’d been given. Latter Days turned out to be just as touching and fun as expected.

It looks like March is going to be The Month of the Visitors; there was a Christmas card from Curtis, a friend of mine from Chicago, waiting for us when we got back which said he’d be over in March and would try to arrange to hook up with us while here. We already know Kevin and Chris are coming over in March, as is Rich M, with whom we stayed over New Year, so it looks like there could be a lot of playing host to be done.

Today was a bit more of an effort than yesterday. When the alarm went off this morning, I was in total confusion for a while until it properly clicked that I had to get up and go to work and slowly got back into the morning routine. Work was fairly unhurried and I spent most of the day working through my inbox and catching up with the team. At lunchtime I went down the local branch of Evans Cycles with Gaetan, who is planning to buy a bike for commuting. During the afternoon the time-zones began to catch up with me as I felt my concentration continually slipping; not much got done.

This evening Brett and I were up in Islington for Gay Gordons; a (predictably-named!) gay Scottish Dance group. We had a great time; it’s a pretty social way to spend an evening and you get plenty of exercise too so we plan on going back next week. Afterwards we stopped back for a drink with a couple of the other dancers in a local bar and watched a portion of the Celebrity Big Brother show, although we didn’t get to see Rula going into the house and had to wait to get home for the Tivo’d version. After the Christmas Show, I think the whole Chorus is going to be rooting for her!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Semi called Ponderosa

The flight home was fairly painless; timely departure, decent chicken and rice meal followed by a tasty chocolate cheesecake. We watched the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice (Brett got choked up at times – he is so sweet when that happens) and then we tried to get some sleep. I didn’t sleep terribly soundly, but somehow I lost three hours and suddenly they were turning on the lights and wheeling breakfast trolleys around.

On the ground things went smoothly, although Brett had to wait for about twenty minutes in the queue at immigration. (I’m trying to remember why we wanted to get the Indefinite Leave To Remain… now that he has it, it seems only to save you some minor paperwork every couple of years but doesn’t give you any practical benefits when trying to get into the country.)

The car was waiting for us and got us back to Wimbledon in reasonable time and we’re now listening to the recording of our Christmas Concert on Gaydar Radio; so far, no hint of jetlag. Yeay! Got to unpack now. Boo!

Oh yes, and coming along Wimbledon Broadway I was staring out of the window and saw a rather shabby semi-detached house with the name 'Ponderosa' over the door. Wasn't the Ponderosa the big ranch house in High Chapparal or one of the other western series of yesteryear? Somehow the image of the one doesn't fit with the image of the other...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Going Downhill

Oh and my day was going so well…

Had a relaxed morning, did the packing without much fuss and then Susan came over and we went over to the restaurant for lunch with Donna, Susan, Chris, Carter and one of Chris’ friends, Rhonda, and her children. I had a lovely steak sandwich, salad and tiramisu and then set off for the airport.

Just take for granted that I’m in a grump now; it started with paying $3 for a luggage trolley and went down hill fast after the (otherwise very friendly and helpful) check-in lady said we had to UNlock our bags for security reasons. What kind of security is that?? If someone’s going to manually search my bag, I want to be present – in which case I can unlock the case for them. If it’s not going to be searched both I (and my insurer!) would feel a lot more secure if the case is locked all the time it is out of my sight!

And the wireless access isn’t working either.

[Expletives deleted.]

Thoughts of Home

Well I was up early again and have been contemplating the trip home. We didn’t check our booking early enough to be able to reserve exit-aisle seats (legroom), so we’re stuck back in row 35. I imagine I will spend most of the night pacing the galley and ruthlessly making conversation with poor, defenceless flight attendants.

Looking at the weather forecast for London isn’t inspiring me to return home either. Today in Dallas temperatures vary between 16°C and 25°C (60°F and 77°F) and there’s a clear sky expected for the rest of the week; comfortable outdoors & t-shirt weather. Tomorrow in London temperatures are expected to vary between 3°C and 8°C (37°F and 46°F) and on Thursday it drops to freezing and there’s hail expected…

Scanning the news back home, I see Scotland Yard are launching an anti-terror campaign which I find rather underwhelming. Firstly, the idea of fighting terrorism with a poster campaign seems ever so slightly comical to me, although I agree the posters make good points. However, I am not convinced the points need making. I don’t think that Londoners are so reticent about asking these kinds of questions these days; I certainly am not. Maybe I’m over-estimating people’s vigilance.

Having enjoyed the no-smoking environment in Austin’s public venues, I am anxious to see what happens about tighter regulation of smoking in England. Total bans in public places are either in place or planned for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales but the Cabinet has come up with some half-way-house plan for England that most organisations and a lot of MPs seem to think is daft. The legislation is going to be debated shortly and I really hope this aspect of it gets amended so we get a total ban.

I am looking forward to seeing Memoirs of a Geisha when we get back. I haven’t heard a lot of hype about it so far, but what I have heard I like and I find the ancient oriental cultures fascinating, so this will be our first Orange Wednesday I think.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Butterfingers, Bolognese ...and Apples

Another nicely unstructured day; we started with breakfast at the Waffle House again with Brett’s dad, then Brett and I drove into town to the Apple Store to buy Brett’s Video iPod. Having accomplished the task, we went for a couple of iced drinks down in the gay quarter of town and browsed the local shops.

I found a t-shirt that appealed both to my sense of humour and my vanity (“Evil shouldn’t look this good!”) and bought it, while Brett browsed for a particular movie he was after. We also picked up a 2006 calendar and a couple of things for home. On the return journey we picked up six bulkpacks of butterfingers; a type of confectionary I’ve fallen for while we’ve been here – think of a Crunchie bar, except that half of the Crunchie bit is peanut butter.

When we arrived home Steven was there ripping CDs for his father, having arrived early for the family dinner tonight. In due course all of the other siblings and a selection of nieces and nephews arrived also and we sat down to eat; Spaghetti Bolognese followed by Blackberry Pie and Ice Cream. Yum!

From there we spent the evening playing a game called ‘Apples to Apples’; you get dealt cards with nouns on, someone picks out a card with an adjective on and you put down the card from your hand which you think it best describes. A judge chooses the closest of everyone’s offering and they get a point. It was a fun way to pass the evening, although everyone seemed to home-in on the ‘hate’ part of my ‘love/hate’ relationship with America I am so misunderstood!

I want an early start tomorrow morning to try to pre-empt the jet-lag when we get home, so the alarm is set for 06:00. We’re meeting most of the family again for lunch at the restaurant late morning and then heading straight on to the airport from there.

Finally, I put together a bit of a Family Album from the photos I have taken on the trip. Not all of them are great shots, but at least I’ve got all the adults I’ve been mentioning.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Austin Houses

This morning started late again, although I was in fairly good shape after pacing my alcohol intake last night. Rich had been invited to his neighbours’ across the road for brunch, so Brett and I tagged along. They were a group of lovely people and we chatted happily with several of them. I was surprised to run into a girl from Cheltenham whose accent sounded so wonderfully familiar, but so totally out of place. The food spread was not extensive, but it was tasty and filling and there was plenty of it. Best of all, it included a fresh-fruit salad and, spotting a tasty source of dietary fibre for the first time in what seems like weeks, I promptly leapt at it! (I must admit I didn’t stint on the French Toast baked with syrup either…) (Think bread-and-butter pudding with syrup instead of raisins.) (I am going to eat healthily this year. I am! I am!)

After we had eaten our fill and drunk as much coffee as anyone could ever want, we took a stroll around the block for Brett to show me one of the houses that he had lived in for a while. (It was empty and being renovated.) Then we went on to the house next door where the former landlord and his partner live. Austin is a small town; the partner (Peter) of the former landlord (Jack) sings with the Capital City Men’s Chorus and I had actually been introduced to him in Montreal last year!

Their house, while relatively regular looking from the outside, was a revelation when we got inside. I’m not sure quite how to describe it; it had a clearly Victorian ambiance without the weight and clutter that the Victorians loved and it worked really well; being both antique and formal, while having easy chairs and modern conveniences. One of the things which amazed me the most were the portraits; proper framed, oil-on-canvas of Peter’s ancestors – seven generations of them and all painted sitting in the same chair. (Brett teased me a bit about it, reminding me that America has ‘history’ as well as Britain.) Certainly most Brits can’t name their ancestors back through seven generations, let alone hang pictures of them on the walls of their house.

Peter also invited us up to their attic conversion which they had apparently been talking about when Brett was still around. At the top of the stairs, in what had previously been a vast empty space, they had recently constructed a soaring Georgian master bedroom. I suppose I was most surprised by the amount of space that had been left empty in the roof space, but what they had done with the space was certainly excellent work.

I think the houses are going to be my lasting memory of Austin; we have moved in perhaps more elevated circles than usual here and so have seen more expensive houses than we normally would elsewhere, but they have certainly been very impressive. I’m getting yearnings to dig out the floor-plan software again and design my ideal house to build…

When we left Jack & Peter’s we headed back to Rich’s to do the packing, hung out some more and then finally departed early afternoon. It’s been fun visiting with Rich and I would hope to do it again in future. He’s planning to come to the UK in March and we have tentatively arranged time in Edinburgh so we shall see him again soon.

Before setting out for the Interstate Highway we swung by the Texas State History Museum, which was closed, and then the State Capitol, which was closed also. So I took some photos and we left Austin to return once more to Dallas.

One point of interest on the road: They sell fireworks in roadside shacks along the highway, typically fairly far from other buildings (I’m guessing as a safety precaution.) But the hot weather and drought they have been experiencing in Texas this winter has resulted in a ‘Burn Ban’ being imposed. People are asked not to do anything that may cause a bush fire. One of these things is lighting fireworks. For New Year there were two government organised displays in Austin and that was it.

The curiosity I noticed on the road was the sign on one of these firework shacks: “Buy 1 Get 11 Free!”

You wonder how they can possibly survive!?

We headed over to Susan’s for dinner and then played Scrabble. I won – but then it’s a lot easier when you can use the dictionary before you play your word. I found words that I didn’t even know existed to make the best use of my Z and my X…

New Year's Resolutions 2006

Well, here are our goals for the next twelve months;

  • Save Money. If we are ever going to buy a house together, we need to get a decent deposit saved up. We need to cut down on the extravagances and put the money away for the future: Fewer take-outs, more home-cooking. More cycling, few train rides to work. And renting a cheaper flat when our lease comes up for renewal.
  • Lose weight. Brett is targeting himself to lose twenty-pounds, I just want to drop a few waist inches. Getting into the kilt is harder each time I wear it. Healthier eating/fewer take-outs, plus the more cycling will all help here. We’ve also been invited to join a gay Ceilidh group in London which would be good too.
  • Learn .NET. This one is just for Brett as he needs the certification to find a new job and advance his career. With a bit of application though, it could be done before February!

All my readers are invited to remind/assist us whenever you can. Happy New Year everyone!

New Year's Eve 2005

Well it was a fascinating night last night; whatever had been ailing me for the last day or so seemed to have passed and I was able to enjoy the parties with a clear head.

The first party was a fundraiser for a group called Equality Texas and was held in the house of some friends on the other side of town (a less than twenty-minute drive here in Austin!)

When we got there it felt a bit like a scene from The OC, the path up to the house was lined with little oil-lamps, as was the pool. There were staff (actually I think they were Equality Texas volunteers) manning two bars and serving food. I particularly liked the first-floor deck with the open fire and great views back towards the city centre. We were relatively high and the wind cooled you fairly rapidly so, even in my kilt, the fire was a lovely touch – and I love the smell of wood-smoke when I’m feeling cosy.

It turned out that Brett knew several of the other guests from his days as a local, so he was happily chatting away. My outfit was just as much a hit as expected and as well as several verbal enquiries, I also got groped several times by people trying to discover if I was wearing underwear or not, but nothing objectionable.

As midnight approached we got a brief thank-you from the Chief Exec of the host group and then the champagne was poured and we counted down into 2006. Much toasting and kissing followed…

People started to drift off after that and in due course Rich came by to propose we went on to another house-party with some of the other guests he knew. We duly headed onto the house of a retired Hollywood producer called Jack. It turns out he hadn’t really organised a party as such but instead had some snacks laid on and people just came back after he’d got back from dinner earlier in the evening.

It was a very different crowd. They were mostly younger (Rich observed that having to pay to get into the previous party put off the younger generation) and more outrageous. I fear I upset the drag queen (blonde and 6’4”) by turning up in the kilt and diverting her spotlight but we behaved amicably and she shortly headed off to a club to do some dancing anyway…

As I said, it wasn’t really a party; while we were there several groups of people arrived, did the rounds and moved on again. I was quite taken with the house; even larger than the previous one it definitely had a Hollywood feel to it, although because there was no real party, I couldn’t get to explore it much beyond the main ground-floor rooms. There was one wall absolutely full of pictures of our host with various celebrities over the years.

Around 2am though we, in our turn, made our excuses and headed home.

It was quite a night; I felt a little like Cinderella, the lowly IT-scullion, invited to the Austin ‘Gay A-List’ Ball. Fortunately though, I already had my handsome prince and so could enjoy the parties without having to scarper at midnight. It’s certainly a very enjoyable-looking lifestyle if you have the money to support it. Maybe one day… if we keep to our New Year’s Resolutions…