Friday, June 30, 2006

The Video Diary

Well, the video diary has finally made its appearance – albeit I heard about it when Owen mailed me to say he’d seen it, rather than when the BBC sent me a proof copy as they say they will in their documentation.

To be honest, even after getting over the initial embarrassment of seeing and hearing myself on screen, I am not much taken with it. The editing looks like a very hurried job. I would have used the music the other way around; starting on the opening of Teddy Bear’s Picnic and finishing with the end of Something Inside So Strong, which is shorter, sharper and less camp. I could also have done a better job with the voice-over; it all looks very serious, as I’m not smiling, and I’d followed the advice they give on their ‘tips for filming’ which says not to prepare a script but to talk naturally to camera – which means lots of umming and ahhing, as I wing my way through the list of notes on my cue card. (In retrospect, I think they probably meant don’t stand in front of the camera with your head buried in a piece of paper, reciting the words written there.)

So anyway, I have a DVD copy of most of the original footage I gave them, so when I get the time (I think we’re talking August now) I’ll try editing it together the way I would have done it and see if I like that any better…

See here for the BBC’s version in the meantime.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Windows Mobile 5.0: R.I.P.

Well, I gave up on the Windows Mobile 5.0 device in the end; it was just more hassle than it was worth. Getting it to use the right network for Internet was a real fuss and, although I didn’t need ActiveSync to get it synchronised with my Outlook mailbox, I did need it to synch up some of the other apps I wanted to use. The most irritating was the Pocket PC version of MS Money, which I use to manage my finances. I had a pocket version from Ultrasoft on my Palm when I was using that and it all worked seamlessly. Microsoft make their own version for Mobile Windows yet, try as I might, I couldn’t get it to talk to my desktop version; ActiveSync would just hang every time. I uninstalled and reinstalled. I searched for settings to tweak. All to no avail.

So it went back in it’s box on Tuesday and I’m back to using my Nokia.

The experience did serve to remind me though that I like a fully functional PDA, rather than just a feature-laden phone, so I am now living in anticipation of Sony Ericsson releasing their P990i which has received good reviews from pretty much everyone I’ve read.


A good night’s sleep? Nope; woke up in agony with cramp at 3:30am and then couldn’t get back to sleep. Consequently Wednesday was no livelier than Tuesday. I skipped the rehearsal for the Albert Hall gig at the weekend and just came home and flopped in front of the TV all night.

The week finally started today; stuff got done, I felt productive and even had the enthusiasm to do housework when I got home.

So far the tennis seems to be fairly low-key. I noticed a plethora of school-age kids in AELTC uniforms on Monday, presumably ball-boys and girls on their way to some briefing or other, but apart from that and a thicker than usual crowd coming down the hill to the station of an evening, all is quiet. I suspect that will change next week though as we approach the finals and there are more top seeds around each day…

In other news, I see US Supreme Court is finally resolving some of the legal ambiguity about the Guantanamo Bay detainees.

That’s it, then. Nothing profound to offer (as per usual) – unless you want to hear the fate of my Windows Mobile phone, but for that you’ll have to read the tech post that follows…

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sunday, Monday...

A quick summary: Sunday was more wannabe-travel-programme-director stuff; another excuse for us both to spend lots of time in green spaces and doing the things we like doing.

Monday was given over entirely to Chorus stuff; we were hosting a fundraising concert for Europride given by ourselves and five other choirs from London, Brighton and The Hague. I had volunteered to ‘buddy’ one of the guest choirs, so I spent pretty much the entire day with Diversity, the London LGBT Chamber Choir who were a very pleasant bunch, helping them get to grips with the words and choreography of All Girl Band, the song that all the choirs were singing together for the finale. After such an energetic day on my feet though, it was a relief to get to the actual concert where we spent most of our time sitting down and only had to sing five songs!

Luckily Brett was there with the car to take me home afterwards! He and my sister had been in the audience and enjoyed critiquing each of the performances. We also ran into John M and his friend Rob in the bar after the show and had a drink together, along with a bitch about Mobile Windows and a slightly surreal conversation between Brett and I about socks.

Today at work I was really only half there; I struggled to get out of bed and did the minimum work necessary to get me through the day.

Hopefully another good night’s sleep will set me right as there’s another Chorus rehearsal tomorrow in preparation for our Albert Hall gig at the weekend. Apparently this now includes Elton John as well as Heather Small, so should be even more fun…

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Windows Mobile 5.0 on a Qtek 9100

This entry is essentially going to be a partial review of Windows Mobile 5, so if you are not of a geeky disposition, or thinking of buying into this OS, then you may want to surf-on now.

At work recently we have been looking into giving certain staff 24x7 access to their email. They already have a web-mail facility, but some staff travel enough on trains and planes that there is a growing need for something more accessible and portable to the frequent traveller.

Naturally we are looking at the now ubiquitous Blackberry and we have already rolled-out a trial of this technology. We thought we would look into Windows Mobile 5 as well because, although we are advised that it isn’t ‘Enterprise-ready’ yet, it could be a potential challenger to Blackberry in a year or two.

So anyway, arriving at work on Friday morning, I found the device in its box on my desk. The device in question is a Qtek 9100. It’s a brand I haven’t heard of before, but so far it seems to be fairly robust and well laid-out. It’s basically a PDA/phone combo; a large touch-screen with Call/Hang-Up, navigation and soft keys below it and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. As the name suggests, the OS is based around Windows CE in its look and feel, so anyone who’s ever used a Compaq Pocket PC would be familiar with it.

It’s equipped with Wi-Fi as well as GSM and GPRS, although sadly no 3G facility. The clever bit (as far as Blackberry-challenging is concerned) is that it can interface with Microsoft’s Outlook Web Access to connect you to your Exchange Server. It will connect through either Wi-Fi or GPRS and gives you real-time access to your mail folders, contacts, calendar, tasks and notes. Our company already has secure OWA in place, so beyond the cost of the device, there is no expense to us to roll out the service – unlike Blackberries where you need at least an additional server and per-user licensing.

So far (okay only forty-eight hours) the OS has been quite stable and the applications are quite usable.

However… the first twelve hours of using were some of the most frustrating of my career! And here’s why;

ActiveSync is crap. It isn’t fit for purpose and is actually a disincentive to use the device. I was ready to do serious and prolonged harm to the phone on Friday because it proved so difficult to get it to perform such a simple task as synchronising with my inbox And that was with the damn thing wired to my computer!! Don’t even get me started on my travails attempting a Bluetooth sync (which my Nokia has never ever found tricky!)

ActiveSync really needs to be re-written from the bottom up; it is not terribly intuitive, it has very limited configurability of your options (why can’t it recognise the fact that I have two folders with contacts in and that I might not want to sync the default one with my phone??) It gives you pretty much no information about what is happening while it’s working, so you don’t know if things are happening, or if it’s hung and you’ll be waiting forever (which is what it did several times!) and ofcourse, when you finally decide that this first-year-project-work-beta-standard software has actually hung, you have no way of telling it to stop (not) synchronising with your device other than pulling the plug on your phone.

So anyway…

Once I had realised that my frustrations were pretty much entirely with the synchronisation software rather than the device itself, we got along much better. (I have subsequently reinstalled ActiveSync on my laptop, but only because that seemed to be the only way of installing applications to the device, but I think I’ve now worked out how to do that by Bluetooth.)

Having given up on ActiveSync and tried plain old wi-fi, the phone connected and synchronised immediately with my mail server. Suddenly everything was on the phone and as soon as a new message appeared in my inbox, my phone would chirp to say it had received it too. Using the out-of-the-box Bluetooth on my laptop enabled me to transfer files between the device and my laptop fairly painless, just as I used to with my Nokia. All in all, everything was well in the garden by the time I left work.

Having gotten the basics together at work and then come home, I came across my second (and only other) major gripe with Win Mob 5; managing different networks and protocols.

By definition, mobile devices are going to be moving a lot. You expect them to encounter lots of different networks in lots of different scenarios and you really want your device to take care of connecting to the correct one without much intervention from you. That’s something Microsoft needs to work on some more to perfect. While the manual talks about your list of ‘preferred networks’ there is no way of managing them effectively; it all seems a bit random. For instance, I’d like to be able to give it a list of Wi-Fi networks it can use and, when it sees one, it should connect to it in preference to making a GPRS connection (for which I pay per megabyte.) That seems like common sense to me, but I can’t tell my device to do it. I have to switch off GPRS for it to connect preferentially to Wi-Fi, which means that when I’m away from any friendly Wi-Fi base stations, I have to switch it back on to stay in touch…

Actually Wi-Fi seems to be a bit of an afterthought. It isn’t terribly well integrated into the OS. For example there is a nifty little way of dividing up your networks into ‘Work’ or ‘Internet’ connections, but it doesn’t deal with Wi-Fi. It only lets you pick GPRS, modem or Bluetooth options; not Wi-Fi. Huh??

Okay, to sum up, we were told this technology isn’t Enterprise-ready yet and it isn’t. Apart from the gripes above, it lacks any of the centralised control that Blackberry’s offer which is key to protecting your non-security-savvy user’s email in the event their phone gets stolen. That said, I can see that in a year or two, this system will be competitive with some segments of the Blackberry market and, if they can crack the centralised management thing (something which shouldn’t be too hard, given they’ve got the device talking to the enterprise network now which, as like as not, will be enabled for Group Policy management) then it will be a serious contender across the board.

In the meantime though, I would only give this device to the most tech-savvy of my users; it isn’t seamless enough for a technophobe or someone without the time to spend learning its peculiarities Now that my initial desire to smash the thing into a million tiny pieces has passed though, I think I’ll hold onto my one. It is a sufficiently good PDA-phone compared to my Nokia that I suspect I will actually come to like it despite some of its quirkier networking attributes. Microsoft have still got their work cut out if they want to dominate this market though!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Village Fête and Tea in the Park

We spent this morning chilling out at home really; Brett catching up on some of the shows on Tivo, me still mucking about with the phone, trying to make it work logically.

The weather was so nice though that this afternoon we took a stroll up to the Common. It turns out that there is a fairly substantial Village Fair happening this weekend and the whole of the south side of the Common was covered with stalls, equestrian arenas and a fun-fair. We had a wander around but I kept feeling the urge to buy things that I didn’t really need so we headed into the relative peace and quiet of Cannizaro Park.

Cannizaro is always a pleasant stroll, even if some bits of the formal gardens are in need of attention. There is currently an exhibition of Zimbabwean sculpture in the Italian Garden which was quite good.

After strolling through the grounds for a while, we retired to the very grand lobby of the house and indulged in a delicious, totally home-made Afternoon Tea. (Alas, though, I had to fail Brett on his test for becoming a citizenship of the British Empire as he made several serious faux pas in the navigation of said Afternoon Tea. Shame, sir!)

After that, we picked up the video camera and headed down to the Lawn Tennis Club. As Brett’s dad will be coming to visit in a fortnight, we thought we’d do a little video guidebook of Wimbledon and Richmond for his mum, who is staying behind. Approaching Wimbledon Fortnight, we felt we had to get some footage of the venue before it gets swamped with tennis fans. From there we went on to Richmond Park where we happily spent the rest of the afternoon looking hugely touristy capturing the ambiance and chasing deer with a camcorder.

That Was The Week That Was

Bah. It’s been a week!

I haven’t been sleeping desperately well and, one way or another, have had a lot of late nights, so I’ve been feeling pretty antisocial for most of it.

Wednesday we had a good rehearsal. We have a gig on the South Bank on Monday and were brushing up our choreography. Stuart B was directing the rehearsal and he always manages to make them real fun. After it was all over though, I ducked out as quickly as possible as I just wanted to sit and read on the train home rather than having to make conversation with any of the other Chorus members.

Thursday I put in a long day at work. I was being really geeky actually; things finally seemed to have quietened down a bit and I was getting to do some work on developing group security polices. (I know, it sounds very dull, but I was enjoying it…) The cycling home took it out of me a bit, though, as there was a stiff headwind.

Friday I will write about in a separate entry as it was almost entirely given over to frustration with a new gadget I’m evaluating for work and it’s likely to be a bit of a long rant!

Brett was home Friday night though, which took the edge off my antisocialness (albeit not to the extent that I stopped playing with the new phone…)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Love and Monsters

Brett’s in Copenhagen again. Worked an extra long day at work today. Came home, watched last weekend’s episode of Doctor Who, then Confidential and then the last episode of A Line Of Beauty (which doesn’t have a happy ending.)

Feeling low.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Monday, Monday

Another fairly mundane day. Only article of note was Brett’s dad’s trip over to the UK, which Brett has been talking about with his family for a while now, was finalised. Although recently we had expected the trip to be put off until September, he’s now going to be with us in July for three weeks as was originally planned.

So today has seen some hurried research into trains, planes and automobiles and the booking of leave, so I can do at least some of it too.

The difficulty is that Brett isn’t really sure what kind of stuff his dad might like to do over here. In fact he’s not sure his dad knows either. The only thing that we know for sure he would like to do is visit the Callanish Stone Circle on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides (map). Even with the planned trip to Edinburgh for a few days, it’s a five hour drive just to the ferry terminal – and then another three hours on the ferry! Hopefully though we can visit some of the more impressive circles that are closer to home to satisfy that desire and make better use of our time in Scotland.

Either way, it’s going to be a busy few weeks getting all the information together so we can be flexible when he gets here. Still, my old tour-manager gene is kicking-in and I’m enjoying the prospect of planning a mini-tour…

Chorus tonight was entirely given over to learning an arrangement for our Albert Hall gig in a few weeks, when we’re singing with Heather Small, the lead singer of M People. Should be fun.

My Weekend: Singing and Eating

It’s been quite a weekend. Yesterday was a very full day.

It opened with me dithering over what to do about hurting someone’s feelings. Rich C had copied my comments on the Small Group gig at the Theatre Museum last week to the group’s internal mailing list by way of saying ‘look how well we did.’ Unfortunately Ron D took my failing to laud his performance as meaning that I thought he had performed badly and had a bit of a fit about it, needing lots of subsequent TLC from the rest of the group. I was in two minds whether to write to him and explain what the particular passage meant but in the end I decided against it; if he still has a problem on Monday, he can come and tell me about it and we’ll work it out from there.

Other consequences from the wider-than-usual readership is that Simon R now thinks he has a stalker (but I haven’t received a restraining order yet, so I’m assuming he’s taking it in good humour) and John M was a bit miffed that I totally failed to mention his song (which was very good!) but his self-confidence is robust enough that when I saw him later in the day he was fine about it. No word from Raman though on the cannibal/psycho references…

Monday’s rehearsal should be rather interesting, I think!

Anyway, after a breakfast we were heading into town as the Chorus had a gig in Leicester Square as part of West End Live, a kind of mini-festival sponsored by the West End theatres. We had a half-hour slot at which maybe a third of the Chorus were on stage trolling through seven songs that we hadn’t really revised enough since we did the concert in April. As ever we got a selection of feedback both good and bad but, even though the audience were enthusiastic, I really don’t think we sparkled that much; it was a mundane performance.

Afterwards we had a few shandies with the boys. There were a selection of options for what to do for the evening; in the end we tubed up to Regent’s Park for a food festival called A Taste of London which my sister had recommended. When we got there though, all the tickets had already sold out, so we left her to it, grabbed a less haute-cuisine bite to eat in one of the Park Cafés and strolled along to the second-choice option; the Pink Singers’ summer concert.

In the end, it was a blessing because the hall was air-conditioned. The show was pleasant enough and well sung; although personally I think their arrangements lack inspiration. Then again, I think we are particularly lucky with the quality of the Chorus’ music team – we have some really quite good composers both on staff and in the membership. Anyway, we enjoyed the music and had a few drinks in the bar, but didn’t hang around after the performance as we were both flagging a little bit, what with the heat and still carrying around a full chorus costume each in our day sacks.

I hadn’t brought my book with me, so sitting on the Tube home, I spent my time observing the world around me and grabbed a few photographs which you can see here.

Today (Sunday) was a comparatively quiet day (for me at least.) Brett was up early to get to a sing-through of our planned Christmas repertoire; some kind of pantomime-type show which he is not keen on and which, the more I hear about it, the more I think sounds just naff. Well, I probably wasn’t going to sing this Christmas anyway!

So after Brett had set off for darkest North London, I strolled up into the Village for a late brunch at Café Rouge. Being on my own I took a book to read and spent a pleasant hour or so over orange juice, a full-english and some coffee. When the ambiance-setting French accordion music progressed into some French lyrics to the tune of Mack The Knife though, I decided it was time to get on with my day…

…Which meant laundry, computer stuff and then a bike ride down to PC World and Sainsburys (Kill-joy comments about World Cup Mania can be found here.)

By the time that was all finished, Brett was home again, so we had an early dinner and then went over to spend the evening with my sister. She and Andy are separating and he has moved out. While it all seems to be relatively amicable, I don’t think she is enjoying the experience any and is feeling rather lonely on her own. We hung around until about 10pm, eating take-out and watching the Desperate Housewives season finale, and then came home.

She is back at work tomorrow for the first time since her operation – which all seems so long ago now, although I can still clearly remember the lunch we had when she told me she was pregnant. Hopefully all will be well, although I really think she needs to get involved in something socially; in Hull she had her choir and even while she was down here on sabbatical she seemed to have quite an active social life but she hasn’t seemed to pick up those threads so much now that she is down here permanently.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Late Thursday Night

Okay, so I haven’t posted so far this week. So sue me!

Not really had much to say – plus with all this hot weather I’ve been waking up really early and so am very tired at night. I spent the last few evenings working on the new version of the Chorus’ Election Procedures, to reflect recent changes in the structure of the committee. (I can tell how you’re impressed by my exciting life!)

Not much exciting has been going on at work, although today I got to start playing with Beta Test versions of Microsoft’s Office 2007 running on Windows Vista. All very satisfying for the inner-geek, but doesn’t help me get through my To-Do list – which has been blatantly neglected today and probably will be again tomorrow. Oh well…

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Night In With The Boys at the Theatre Museum, Covent Garden

We are just back from watching the Chorus’ Small Group performing at the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden. It was a small, quite intimate venue but it was one hell of a good show they put on. The music was mostly selected from the Chorus’ past and present repertoire, so I knew almost all of the pieces and even some of the ones which were new to the Chorus.

They started with A New World an ensemble piece built up from numerous solos and with a real supportive, positive feel to it – although the intense, taut look on Raman G’s face at the front of the group made him look a bit like a psychopath ready to consume your liver with a nice Chianti!

They followed that with The Rhythm Of Life, one of their standing repertoire, which they always do well; it’s kind of a fun piece with a slightly aggressive undertone in the way they choreograph it which adds positively to its impact.

If You Were Gay, from Avenue Q was done entertainingly by Neil H and followed by two more of the Small Group’s previous repertoire; Me And My Shadow and Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love.)

Allan E did a fine turn with Painting The Clouds With Sunshine; he has a wonderfully expressive face and knows how to use it to add layers of meaning to the words of a song.

Hello Dolly, which I think is another core repertoire piece, was followed by Rich C singing Heaven Help My Heart from Chess. Rich can sometimes be a little underconfident when singing, so I imagine it was a bit of a trial for him to do a solo – especially with his parents in the audience – but he carried it off sensitively and without a hint of nerves.

That was followed by Simon R singing Bless Your Beautiful Hide from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. He managed to warm the audience up nicely with a little humour before his performance which was beautifully toned. I’ve always had a bit of a thing for Simon, so seeing him seductively dressed in formal dress trousers and an open-necked starched shirt and singing so well had me quite doe-eyed!

Seasons Of Love from Rent, is part of the main Chorus’ repertoire and had Ping in tears (I think because he hadn’t been expecting it and it obviously has some resonance for him now.) The first half finished with a solo-and-ensemble arrangement of Somewhere from West Side Story. It included an unexpected bass-line harmony towards the end which Brett liked but I wasn’t totally sure about, maybe because I’m not used to hearing it, maybe because it’s not the way I would have written it – but then those who can, do – and those who can’t, criticise…

The second half opened with the familiar All Girl Band which is always an energetic crowd-pleaser and was well done. Marry Me A Little from Sondheim’s Company is one of my favourite songs, describing what I think a good marriage should be; a joining not a merging of two individuals. PK, Chris P, Rich C and John M got the harmonies and the feeling just right.

This was followed by the much more humorous Dance 10, Looks 3 (a.k.a. Tits and Ass) from A Chorus Line done with aplomb by Paul H, one of our longest standing members.

Another Sondheim piece I’ve always been fond of is the title number of Company (it was the opening number of my first ever Chorus performance – and Brett [The first time I noticed him!] was singing the solo that day.) Ron D sang the role of Bobby tonight, but didn’t quite have the something that Brett’s performance gave me…

Two pieces that really did have ‘something’ were Someone To Fall Back On, sung by Neil H and Marc D, which was so lovely and moving it brought tears to my eyes, and Where I Want To Be (one of the lesser-known numbers from Chess) which was performed better than I have ever heard it done before by Nic B; he really brought the meaning of the words home as Simon’s piano alternately drove him on and reined him in. Both were incredibly sensitive and evocative performances

All I Care About Is Love from Chicago and Carole King’s Natural Woman respectively separated and followed them to lift the mood with some campery – although I have to say that throughout the show, while they followed the normal Chorus procedure of augmenting the numbers with humour and some choreography, it didn’t feel overdone at all, which it sometimes can with the main Chorus; tonight’s show managed to achieve just the right balance; the extras added to the performance, but the singing was always the star.

The show closed with a reprise of A New World, which lost none of its inspirational feeling the second time around – even with psycho-Raman taking point again!

I came away feeling properly entertained and very proud to be associated with our Small Group. Both a video and an audio recording of the show were made tonight, so I shall be watching out for a copy of at least one of them and more than likely buying tickets to one or both of the repeats of this show later in the year.

After such a fine night out, it seems a shame to have to go to work tomorrow…

Monday, June 12, 2006


Not much more to report of the weekend. I was feeling a little more human on Sunday morning. I spent some more time checking out the parents’ computer. Chris & Michelle came over for brunch and we had a pleasant few hours in the garden. The children seemed fascinated with all the wildlife. I also spent a fair amount of time mucking about with the video camera (well, Brett had said he wouldn’t be using it this weekend, so why not?!). I shot a pile of footage over the two days and on the train home managed to knock together my first mini movie on my laptop. Actually, it was more like a very brief documentary of my weekend. It’s not something I’d show anybody as it was thrown together so I could get experience with the editing package, but not bad as a first try. Home-editing is certainly do-able to produce a professional standard product.

I spent a while talking to Richard G, one of the Chorus guys, about elections last night. It looks like that could be taking up a fair amount of my spare time this week as well.

Today is hopefully a standard Monday – although the temperature is predicted to be hovering around 30°C (86°F) all afternoon and into the evening so anything is possible; heat stroke for me, a meltdown for the Tube… so much to look forward to!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Mr Grumpy Rides Again!

Not quite as efficient a day as I’d hoped on Friday; the cold that had been developing was in full flow, sapping my energy and enthusiasm.

The most memorable moment of the day was receiving a phone call asking “Did you know there’s water leaking out from the Server Room?” For someone in my position, that evokes the same kind of response as the Financial Director would feel if someone wonders into his office and asks “Why are all our bank accounts empty?” or how the passengers of the jumbo jet must have felt when the captain told them that all four engines had failed; you know you are in some potentially very serious shit.

There was water dripping (at quite a rate!) off one off the air conditioners that keeps the server room cool; it had soaked a diameter of nearly two metres of carpet and even soaked through the raised floor to stain the concrete below. Fortunately this was nowhere near as big a deal as it first seemed – in fact because of the nature of the room, this was the one place in the building where such a soaking would have minimal effect because we don’t have any floor outlets; the only power systems under the floor are the armoured cables running to the industrial-type power sockets supplying the equipment racks which would need several inches of flooding to be affected. A well-placed bowl prevented the problem from getting any worse while we waited for an engineer to come and fix the problem.

By the time I left work though, I was pretty weary and really rather wishing I could go home rather than having tickets for a show, but Avenue Q (the show in question) turned out to be worth the effort. As I said previously, I knew the concept in advance. I’d even heard a couple of the songs (The Internet is for Porn and Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist) on various TV items about the show but actually watching the show itself was far more entertaining than I had expected. If you haven’t seen it yet I really do recommend it. Brett and I both want to see it again.

Today I was on a train to my parents and I have to say that the trip with Virgin left a lot to be desired. If you book in advance these days you can often get two First Class single tickets cheaper than a Standard Class return. I enjoy First Class because you have more space, generally quieter carriages and (on GNER at least) table service and free WiFi Internet access. Well, not on Virgin. The carriage was full of loud Trade Union reps off to some conference. The free tea and coffee was available but you had to go and get it by presenting your ticket at the shop, half a train away. There was no onboard WiFi. To top it all off, the heat (come on, let’s face it, 28°C isn’t such a rare occurrence nowadays!) seemed to be having an unfortunate effect on the onboard toilets as there was a distinct smell of sewage in the carriage for the latter half of the journey. Not nice. Certainly not First Class!

If I had paid enough money to make it worthwhile I’d be demanding a refund right now!

So anyway, as a result of the journey, I was feeling rather rough when I arrived, had a nap for an hour or so, but eventually came round and had a look at the parents’ IT problems. (I think I’ve solved them now, although the logic of the diagnosis was somewhat nebulous…).

Because of the nice weather, Dad wanted to have a barbeque on the terrace, but because there was a bit of a breeze we couldn’t put the sunshade up and periodically had to hold the table down to stop it being lifted in the wind. On the whole I fear we looked, if not quite like the dinner party scene from Carry on up the Khyber, then at least a little like an episode of Terry and June; the sun is shining so we’ll go out and enjoy it, no matter what travails we have to suffer. At least the food was good!

Unlike my father, I don’t really enjoy sitting in the sunshine; I sweat too easily, burn too quickly and hate being smothered in suntan lotion which inevitably stains your clothes and means you leave greasy handprints on everything you touch. I made my excuses as soon as I could and came inside.

Tonight I’m feeling somewhat better (sorry if this has sounded like a Victor Meldrew rant so far) but still intend to get an early night. Tomorrow Chris & Michelle C will be coming over for brunch.

I wish Brett were here (he isn't, for reasons too complicated to explain) as I could do with a hug right now.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Life, Death and Video Cameras

So the training course was pretty much what I expected; about 30% interesting and 70% incomprehensible gibberish about financial procedures. There was a bit of a cock-up first thing when I took an £11 taxi ride (not a cheap/short one by Bristol standards!) to the address I had been given only to find that the course was actually taking place round the corner from my hotel. Still I got to see a bit of the local environs and they were beautiful; a very green and pleasant land.

Yesterday was hectic as I had catching up to do and my boss was working from home (which equates to me having to field twice as many inane queries from staff who feel they are too important to call the Helpdesk to be told to reboot their machine.) The day finished nicely though as I met up with Rob S for dinner and a few beers on the riverside. Plenty of catching up to do; I had last seen him a year ago in Folkestone for his leaving drinks when he left Saga. Since then, he’s had three different jobs (and only one of those changes was his choice!) and is now working for one of Ford’s subcontractors. Doesn’t sound like he’s having the best time in the world though as, just like a Microsoft Training Course scenario, his team is responsible for just one specialist area of network support and the lines of demarcation are dogmatically guarded. I wish I had the budget to employ him as he’d be a huge asset to the company if he’d be prepared to work in the city.

Today will hopefully be a more orderly and proactive day (which I think will make a total of one day this week.) Tonight though we are off to see the musical Avenue Q; a somewhat satirical, adult variation on the Sesame Street theme, which has done very well in New York. Then tomorrow, I’m on a train to my parents’ place to help them out with more IT issues.

It’s Dave Schofield’s funeral today. Pete, his ex, had been messaging me with various details during the week as I had hoped to attend, but I had to tell him last night that I wasn’t going to make it. While I feel like I ought to pay my respects as a friend, the truth is we haven’t been close friends in a long time and it would screw up so many other things to go up to Yorkshire today. Actually, now I come to think about it, my guilt is really about not telling Pete I wasn’t coming before now, as I’d worked out on Monday that I couldn’t do it but never got round to replying to his text messages. So I’ll probably take a contemplative moment around 11 o’clock and then get on with my day (all the while hoping that more than just his sister and ex-boyfriend turned up to the funeral – ah, there you go; more guilt!)

Anyway, in the meantime, I seem to be fighting a cold; I’ve had a sore throat for the last few days (which didn’t seem to be improved any by the beer last night), my nose keeps filling up and I’m feeling generally run-down. So I’m munching Vitamin C tablets, keeping my fluids up, taking it as easy as I can and eating heartily. Keep your fingers crossed.

The video camera I bought Brett for his birthday arrived yesterday, so there was some mucking about with it last night, but I am quite gutted that I’m going to be out tonight and gone all weekend when there is a new gadget to be played with – not to mention the video editing software I bought to go with it! Instead, I’m going to be configuring email for my folks and re-writing Chorus election procedures on the train. Grrr!

Ok, so that’s it for now. This was meant to be a brief recap of the last few days, but it seems that quite a lot has happened after all. Oh well. Later.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bread and Circuses

I really don’t care about Rooney’s metatarsal. Nor do I care who’s up for eviction from the Big Brother house this week. Haven’t we got more important things to be worrying about? Climate Change? Poverty? International Terrorism?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

In Bristol

Axiom: More haste; less speed. (Especially when packing to travel!)

Hence I am sitting in a hotel room without a mains charger for my phone or my laptop. Hardly the end of the world though, as the hotel want to charge me £15 for 24-hours of internet access. I’m not even in town for 24 hours, so not really worth it for the couple of hours I might have used it.

Apart from that, though, the hotel is all very nice – quite plush in fact; some grand old Regency-looking building with a plush foyer and spacious rooms. The quality of the hotel is probably just keeping the karma balanced though; putting me in a smart hotel tonight, as tomorrow I expect to be bored senseless while I learn about the inner workings of our new management information system.

Hmm. The receptionist said that breakfast wasn’t included on the tariff, which I am sure is code for it being fabulously expensive. I wonder how much I can eat (and hence charge to the company) by way of petty retribution for my purgatory…

Sunday, June 04, 2006

And now, a summary of the news

Blah. Can’t be arsed to write much today, so here are the bullet-points:

Dinner with John W, Rich C and my sister last night at Lydon’s in the Village; excellent food. Conversationally the main points I remember are; (1) Chorus politics are never-ending and (2) wedding rings are hideously expensive.

Today we drove over to Kingston to shop for Brett’s birthday present but, after an hour or so of wandering the shops, decided to buy it online instead. We had gone with the intention of buying some noise-cancelling headphones and somehow that morphed into getting the video camera we had spoken about a while back.

John Mc hosted an impromptu barbeque this evening and invited us over which was very pleasant and saved us from eating reheated chilli at home!

I have a long week ahead of me.

Message ends.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

A Study of a Summer's Day

[Here is the view that inspired this post.]

A soulful Rufus Wainwright CD is playing quietly as I lay on the sofa under the windows, overlooking the wooded area behind our flat. He’s singing in French, accompanied only by a soft piano. One of the windows is open and occasionally a gentle breeze of warm air brushes my face. It’s lovely to just sit here and enjoy the day.

As the music fades I am surrounded by the countryside. The only sound is the lazy birdsong of a warm afternoon and the occasional movement of air against the leaves of the taller trees. It sounds like rain falling, but there are no clouds in the glowing sky.

I am reminded of a similar afternoon some years ago, that I spent in the Kent countryside with someone I dated briefly. A warm, humid summer’s day, far from civilisation sitting in the shade under a tree, watching the world turn, enjoying the fresh and clean smell of the Garden of England. Even a gentle shower of summer rain didn’t spoil the day for us under that canopy of oak.

A small bird, it could be a robin, but I can’t be sure, just that it has a coppery breast, has just paused on the end of a branch a few feet from my window to observe the scene. Only for a moment though, before it flits onward. Now two grey birds, the size of pigeons or doves, wing silently by in the middle-distance and every now and then, some solitary emerges from the shade of a branch and wings its way from one tree to the next.

Suddenly there are two planes in the sky, far above, segmenting the sky with their white vapour trails, tinting the natural sounds with a barely perceptible roar. And then they are gone; almost as quickly as they appeared, and the sky is clear once more; an unbroken powder-blue.

It is just me and the sensations of nature again. Little specs drift around in the breeze; maybe insects, maybe dandelion spore moving in the heavy air. The sunlight, highlighting some leaves, others in shadow. The red leaves of one of the trees almost look wet the way they glisten as they move in the sunlight, such a contrast to the dark matt-green of the sturdy, motionless conifer that frames it. Between here and there a montage of foliage; layer after layer of leaves and branches, flora and fauna; a web of life around me, gently wrapping me. And tiny patches of sky peeking through.

I close my eyes and breath deeply.

This is life.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

As Others See Us

Brett is home tonight and it’s kind of thrown my head off. I keep thinking it’s Friday and I don’t have to get up tomorrow, when in fact it’s not and I do.

I’m having to get up earlier than usual to make it to my course on time, which sucks. That said, the course is in the City about five minutes from Aldgate East which means I can get on the Tube at Wimbledon and have a seat all the way – thus missing most of the horrors of rush-hour commuting in London – as it’s all on the same branch of the District Line.

The course itself isn’t quite as stimulating as I’d hoped it might be. I’d never realised before how Microsoft courses can be both wishy-washy high-level and drowned in detail at the same time. Nevertheless, I am getting stuff out of it and, when I’m not, I can put the time to good use pondering how to apply it all at work when I get back.

Chorus last night was pretty poorly attended and felt a bit like Groundhog Day, as we kept going round and round on the same four songs, rather than just spending a lot of time on each of them. I wasn’t that bothered though as, because of the course, I’d got to Camden in plenty of time, had a coffee, read my book, had dinner with Rich C, John W & David S and gotten to the hall in plenty of time so I was feeling pretty de-stressed.

Tonight I was partly catching up on work emails, partly reading and partly watching Dr. Who Confidential. Also had a couple of phone calls; one from my mother, to catch up on the news… until we realised we didn’t really have any new news that we hadn’t exchanged during various recent visits; the second from Janice N someone I know from my teenage years but haven’t spoken to in ages.

I knew she read my blog but in my casual habit of uploading my life onto the web, I’d rather forgotten how some of the things I write about can affect other people too. She didn’t know that Dave Schofield was dead until she read it in my blog, which is probably not the best way to find out that someone you knew is gone. I think it knocked her sideways a little, in much the same way that I was kind of groping for coherence when I heard.

We also talked a little about days of yore and I got another unexpected glimpse into how people saw me when I was younger. Janice seems to remember me as something of an oddball, likely set on the road to being a pirate or some other outrageous type; a curious contrast to Chris’ recollection of me as the guy who was living an average life until he broke the mould by going off to University and never coming back. [Actually, on writing that, I realise that the two views aren’t actually that dissimilar; one seeing the potential and the other seeing the actualisation.]

I should survey all my old friends to find out what they thought of me as a teenager! I never realised I was such a rebel. Then again, maybe with having the gay thing in the back of my head, being the odd-one-out in other areas didn’t seem such a big deal really.

Hmm… the more I write this blog, the more I think I should go spend time with a psychologist to try and get a handle on what makes me tick!