Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Week Goes By

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Last Days in Dallas

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

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

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

Friday, November 24, 2006

Like The Holiday's Over

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

That’s really not good.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Day

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Shopping and Scenery

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Willow Pattern

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

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

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

Monday, November 20, 2006

To North Park Mall And Back And Back

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

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

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

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

An American Lunch

American Lunch

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

Zombie's Revenge

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

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

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

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Flight of the Zombies

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 17, 2006

Random Thoughts

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

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

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

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

…Life was so simple back then…

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

3, Avenue Q

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2006

Weekend, Shmeekend

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

So what have I been up to?

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 10, 2006

Week From Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Catch Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Early Flight

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

More later

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Running Start

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

We ran screaming from the scene.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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