Sunday, October 29, 2006

China One at Battersea

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Acclamation of Maxentius

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

Friday, October 27, 2006

Sick Boy

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Happy Birthday Rosie

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

I am such a bad brother!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Lunch and Dinner

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

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

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

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Slug

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

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Le saint affamé

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Night In Front Of The Fire

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Half A Day In Canterbury

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 16, 2006

At The Grange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday morning, 6am

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

Sunday, October 15, 2006

And That Was My Sunday

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

And that was my Sunday.

A Very Social Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 13, 2006

Tasty Biscuit

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

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

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

That felt really good.

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

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

It's Not Against Nature...

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

This, shamelessly lifted from The Register:

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

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

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Human Plague

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

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

Can you say that he is wrong?

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

Light and Death

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 09, 2006

Diverse fatigues

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

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Doublethink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Devil Wears Prada

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 07, 2006

More 'Angry from Manchester'

Mr Jerry Toher
Managing Director, MINT
c/o The Royal Bank of Scotland PLC
36 St Andrew Square
Edinburgh
EH2 2YB

Dear Mr Toher

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Lou's Party

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

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

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

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sellotape

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

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Avenue Q - 2

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

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

Lack of Communication

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

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

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

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

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

The hamburger arrived late too.

A Postcard From Commuterville

Autumn is definitely here; no question about it. The air is crisp and there are leaves on the ground. I'm following the herd to my cattletruck and thence to the slaughterhouse of my ambitions... But on a more optimistic note; at least it's not raining and the outlook is good.
Today is a long day; in early and out late. At least I've got a new toy to play with to help pass the time. A demo kit of a new phone system we are considering arrived yesterday and I've got the rest of the week to mess with it and see if it will do everything we want. Fun, fun, fun!
Tonight we're off to dinner and a show (Avenue Q again) to help Ping celebrate his 40th birthday. Should be a good night; I've seen Avenue Q before and enjoyed it and this morning Brett seems to be over the cold that's been draining him for the last few days.
We're approaching Waterloo now and parallelling a Eurostar train. If I had my passport with me I'd be so tempted to just change platforms and spend the day idling in Paris...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

No-One Mourns The Wicked

So tonight we went to see Wicked and I think it may be a victim of its own hype. It had its moments, but I didn’t come away desperate to see it again.

The sound system wasn’t good; it was difficult to hear the lyrics at times, but they can fix that. A lot of the performances were somewhat lacklustre, but they can fix that too; indeed Gary S said that Glinda had improved considerably since he saw it a few weeks ago. What worries me is the telling of the story. At times I was gripped and really involved in the story but for most of the time I was just watching upmarket pantomime. Maybe that will improve as the performers settle into their roles – but then maybe it won’t.

I also wasn’t at all keen on the surprise ending; for me it destroyed the integrity of the story completely.

On the plus side, the woman who plays Elphaba is outstanding and carries the show. There are a couple of songs which have lodged in my head (Defying Gravity, Loathing & No-One Mourns The Wicked.) The costumes and sets are excellent and the finale of the first half was worth the cost of the ticket by itself; absolutely electrifying.

We are going to see it again in a month or so with Rod, Jess and my sister. Let’s see if it’s improved any with time.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Bloody Disgrace

Why is it that gay men are prohibited from donating blood in Britain?

The blood service, on their website, asks all the questions I would expect about your health; they ask if you have, or have cause to believe you might have, hepatitis, HIV or CJD and a number of other obviously health-related questions. Then they ask you if you are a man who has ever had sex or a blowjob with another man. If you answer ‘no’ you go on to the next question. If you answer ‘yes’ you are told you are unsuitable to give blood.

That sounds to me like pretty blatant discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The subtext is: “It doesn’t matter how healthy you are; if you are gay we don’t want you.”

That pisses me off in a BIG way.

I sent in a question about this through their contact form this morning but so far haven’t had any reply. If I get anything I’ll let you know what they say. In the meantime why not ask them yourself here.

I Don't Like Mondays

A great start to a busy week; five of the seven (almost brand new!) ticket machines at Wimbledon were out of order, resulting in a very long queue of very unhappy commuters.
The new machines seem to be a rather mixed blessing at the best of times. Not enough user testing went into them before the design was finalised I suspect. Either that or utility was sacrificed to economy, which is probably more likely!
So anyway... It's going to be a busy week; I have something on every night until next weekend. Hopefully though I'll be able to keep up with the blog with my recently remembered ability to blog from my phone. (So instead of the monolithic tedium of a single daily entry, I'll be jabbing at you with shorter, punchier (more poorly spelled) assaults on your will to live!)
Sometimes technology is just such a great enabler...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Night and The Queen

Well, last night turned out to be interesting. There was a certain amount of grumping over the fact that the restaurant took all our orders on one bill – which wasn’t helped when they forgot Helen’s starter. We were eating at the Swinside Inn, which did us some lovely food.

Brett got more involved in the over-dinner conversation than I did and ended up being quizzed on the little niggles he has with living a British way of life as an American (it turns out it’s primarily having to ask for the bill rather than just being presented with it, along with the way we handle our knives and forks while eating and having to leave them in a certain way to show that we’re finished. Not a bad tally really for a whole different culture!)

Unfortunately it turned out that the acoustics in the Swinside weren’t best for the singsong which inevitably follows the meal so the evening petered out rather earlier than normal, which was kind of a shame.

Heading out to the car I savoured the total blackness and silence of night when you are miles from anywhere. It evoked a great night I had as a student, driving back to Dundee from my parents’ house with Bruce. On a whim we diverted through the Lake District and spent a while sitting on the shore of Ullswater, just staring at the stars. It was the first time I ever really saw the Milky Way and since then I have always loved the opportunity to get away from the light- and noise-pollution of suburbia to stare at the depth of the night sky from where you can really appreciate it. (I really must blog the rest of that night at some point as it was quite an eccentric little adventure we ended up going on!)

This morning we had a later breakfast before setting off for home via the parents’ place to pick up some gifts they had brought us from Ireland (more green t-shirts!) As we were in the neighbourhood, we dropped in on Chris and Michelle for coffee before continuing south. Chris regaled us with tales of his recent trip to Washington DC and a previous venture out to Las Vegas; all very gung-ho. He’s booked them both a holiday to Las Vegas for next year, but Michelle is nervous of flying so we are trying to coax her into a shorter jaunt down to London to get in some practice before the transatlantic trip. The kids are growing apace; I think the last time I saw them the youngest was still a babe in arms. Now she is walking and talking (and fighting with her siblings)!

The rest of the trip home was uneventful. I think next time we may try alternative travel arrangements, as it is quite a long trip for a day’s walking. Either training it up or leaving on the Thursday night to go up to my parents and then a leisurely trip to Keswick on the Friday.

Tonight we went to see The Queen. It was actually more engrossing than I had expected and I can see why it won praise in Venice. There was some slightly clunky dialogue in places where they had clearly levered-in explanations of necessary points of history, etiquette and constitutional law, presumably for the non-British audiences, but on the whole it was surprisingly believable. There again, there were moments where, seeing the Queen, Prince Phillip and the Queen Mother sitting around watching television together, it felt strangely like a Spitting Image sketch. Go figure! Anyway, it’s worth seeing if you get the chance.