Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year in Las Vegas

After breakfast we napped a while, then I caught up on writing my blog while Brett went out in search of a shirt to wear tonight. He didn’t manage to bring back a shirt, but did pick up a couple of tickets to the Cirque du Soleil show, Zumanity. We did the roller-coaster outside New YorkNew York before lunch (surprisingly it was less thrilling than the previous night’s ride at the Sahara!) – then did some more napping in the late afternoon to make sure we were up for reaching midnight then got up and headed back along to New York – New York for the show.

Las Vegas Boulevard is closed to traffic for New Year’s Eve and crowds were already beginning to gather along its length and at the massive eight-lane intersections. Revelry had started early in the afternoon as people started drinking. There were hawkers all along The Strip offering silly hats, air-horns, sparkly necklaces, etc. and Budweiser had set up trailers at intervals along the roadside which appeared to be nothing more than big beer kegs. They were serving into what looked like two- or three-pint plastic mugs with handles that looked a bit like the measuring jugs back home and pretty much everyone under the age of thirty seemed to be carrying one. For all the drinking going on though, everything was good-natured.

The show Zumanity is a somewhat naughty, somewhat erotic cabaret stage-show of humour, song, gymnastics and dance; all very enjoyable, and it provided us with free feather-boas which later proved a big hit on The Strip.

The crowd had thickened by the time we’d finished the show and had a quick bite to eat. It wasn’t oppressive though and throughout remained very well-behaved, if a little loud at times – but that was all part of the celebration. At (roughly) a minute before midnight all of the big display screens outside the major casinos put up the same countdown – which were amusingly out of synch with each other – and we joined in the chant as midnight approached and the fireworks began.

Having seen New Year’s Eve firework shows in London and Edinburgh, I have to say I was rather disappointed with Las Vegas. We were worried to begin with that, being stuck at the end of The Strip, we might not get the full effect. In the end though we needn’t have worried as the display was identical from the top of each of the hotels participating. There wasn’t any choreography or synchronisation to music, it was just the sequential letting-off of a vast number of fireworks; really nothing I couldn’t have organised myself with the right budget down at Fireworks R Us! Still it was an impressive sound and light show and rounded-off the evening nicely.

The fireworks were done before a quarter-past the hour and the crowd began to disperse. I tried calling home, suspecting my parents would already be up by 8am GMT, but the network couldn’t connect the call – predictably, I suppose. Back at the hotel we were straight to bed as we had an early start planned for our last day.

More Vegas

Today seems to be the day of the mobile phone. It’s been pretty much silent through the trip so far but this morning at 3:40am I got a call from Ryan C, a guy I worked with at Saga, to tell me he was at a loose end in London and did I fancy a coffee. At 4am I got a text message from Jeremy F inviting us to birthday drinks later in the week. Around 9am Chris C called from home to wish me a happy New Year and advise me on the best place to see the New Year fireworks in Vegas. Since then there’s been a steady stream of text messages from people wishing us Happy New Year.

We had actually planned a 5am start this morning to catch the sunrise that we missed yesterday, so on the whole the messages weren’t a problem. As we were dressing, the TV news told us that New Zealand had already celebrated the New Year (at 3am local time) and briefly contemplated the huge Earth spinning on its stately axis; I thought of one of my work colleagues who is down there with his family. They were already in 2008 while we had another 19 hours to go!

We drove out to a viewpoint outside the city as dawn was beginning to break and I think I got some good pictures of that, although I’ll probably need to carefully process the shots of the first sunlight hitting the hills beyond, as the morning was hazy again. There was a distinct layer of grey/green smog hanging over the valley this morning. Not pretty!

After that early morning outing we came back to the hotel, napped a while then went down to the buffet for a second (more substantial) breakfast. It was busier this morning than it had been at dinner the first night and we had to queue for a while to get in (another parallel with Disney; endless queue-management in front of each attraction…)

Then we took a stroll through the connecting shopping mall to the Mandalay Bay hotel next door; a much nicer joint than the somewhat down-at-heel Luxor! Whenever I come back to complete my exploration of Vegas, that’s where I want to stay.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Viva Las Vegas

Sunday started early; Las Vegas is two hours behind Dallas and I had been having trouble adjusting my sleep pattern anyway, so at 5am I was wide awake. I coaxed Brett out of bed to come with me to do some early morning photography in the hills surrounding the city.

We paused in the hotel food court for McBreakfast. The place was deserted apart from a few folks who looked like extras from Jerry Springer, The Opera; one was clearly a Working Girl finishing her ‘shift’ and then there was the couple who looked like the very definition of trailer-trash… hollow eyes, grey skin, long greasy-looking hair, wearing shellsuits. Actually, they seem to make up about half of the denizens of the casino; very few of the folks playing all those slot machines look like they can afford it. There is a certain horrible pathos about the look of them and the looks on their faces; glazed concentration, tinged with a vain, slightly desperate hope. If Dante were alive today, he’d include endless rows of slot machines as one of his circles of Hell.

Anyway, by the time we got into the desert the sun was already well up and a haze was beginning to form so I didn’t get the early-morning-sunlight-on-the-hills shots that I was hoping for. However just being in the desert in the morning was worthwhile in itself. It is pure and silent and beautiful – quite the refreshing contrast to the clutter and noise of the city.

After a couple of hours driving a circuit through the desert west of the city, we headed southeast with a view to visiting the Hoover Dam which isn’t far away. We stopped briefly in Boulder City for a coffee and to visit a cash machine and I was impressed by the township; it was almost chocolate-box pretty, very well kept and the people we encountered in the Starbucks gave it a real small-community feel.

From Boulder the road was clear (and in very good condition compared to Texas!) until a couple of miles from the dam, when it slowed to a stop-start queue for the rest of the way. There was a security checkpoint a mile or so before the dam itself where the police were randomly pulling cars aside to search (because terrorists would never plan for that!) but the congestion seemed to be caused simply by the weight of traffic on a narrow mountain highway leading to a tourist attraction.

The dam is located very picturesquely and we decided that, having come all this way, we should take the full tour which, as well as visiting the turbine rooms, involved a trip into the heart of the dam itself. I was surprised by their policy on photography though – they were happy for us to take as many as we liked. A far cry from the camera Nazis you find in some places! I think my personal highlights were standing in one of the bypass tunnels and looking at the enormous 30-foot wide pipe which delivers water to the generators and later looking out of a ventilation duct in the face of the dam and thinking of the huge mass of water behind me. Seeing one of the actual turbines in pieces for an upgrade was pretty impressive too!

Back at the hotel we got cleaned up for the evening and tried to plan our remaining time in Las Vegas. Having only come here for a few days, expecting it to get old fairly quickly, I’m surprised by how much I want to do while I’m here; it really is a grown-up Disneyworld! We’ve booked ourselves onto a helicopter and trail-wagon tour of the Grand Canyon for early New Year’s day before our flight and are planning to do the Star Trek Experience tomorrow, as well as some day time photography along The Strip.

We took the monorail from the MGM Grand all the way along to Sahara Station and walked from there to the Stratosphere with a view to having dinner there either tonight or tomorrow. They were fully booked for tonight but weren’t sure about New Years Eve (!?) and we should contact their reservation line to check… In the end we ate at the Nascar Café in the Sahara before riding the little rollercoaster they have and taking the monorail back south.

The journey on the monorail is accompanied by two recorded voices; one is the overly solicitous lady trying to make sure no-one sues anyone by warning you to hold on to the handrail every time the car accelerates or decelerates and lets you know that the doors are about to close and what the next stop is… the other voice is the cheesiest talk-show-host kind of inane drivel and terrible jokes. It would be so much better if they just played you some elevator music while you look out of the windows, as the monorail gives you scenic views of most of the big hotels on both the old and new parts of the Strip.

On the way back to the Luxor, we got off a stop early and went to see the Bellagio Fountain show.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Transfer Day

Dinner with Kevin & Chris was delicious; we went to a rather smart steakhouse and had some very tasty beef. The only complaint was that the desserts were too big; seriously, they were obscenely large even with two people sharing!

On Saturday morning, after overnighting with K&C, we headed back to the parents’ for some brief packing and then on to the airport. The flight to Las Vegas was cramped and too warm but otherwise uneventful. On arrival we could see our hotel (The Luxor) as we disembarked from the plane but, to pick up our hire car, we had to go and find the Car Rental Centre (a courtesy bus ride away) and then find out which of the rental companies was the agent for Auto-Europe (the company Opodo named, without further instructions, as our car provider.)

Eventually in possession of a maroon retro-design Chevrolet we navigated a congested Las Vegas Boulevard to the hotel, only to find we had further major navigation to do to find the check-in through the casino!

The hotel is a pyramid, but it’s only a shell. The hotel rooms are contained in the shell – meaning the lifts move diagonally; a very strange feeling the first time you use them. In the void within the pyramid is a lower floor containing the casino, restaurants and bars and an upper floor containing the other attractions (more retail, a wedding chapel, a museum and a theatre.) There’s also a further level below the ground floor whose only public area seems to be a large buffet restaurant.

We ate and then set out to explore The Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard.) We didn’t really get very far, just completing a circuit between the four casinos near our intersection; the Excalibur, the Tropicana, New York – New York and the MGM Grand. It took a while, even with the overhead walkways connecting the buildings, especially as I kept wanting to take pictures of everything. We were pretty tired though and got a relatively early night, not long after 9pm local time.

Friday, December 28, 2007

More Shopping

More shopping today; Brett got the suitcase he’s been after and I got a couple of pairs of trainers and a pair of formal shoes to wear with my suits. We headed out around White Rock Lake, where I got some good photos last year, but alas nothing looked good this time around, the season being most definitely Winter rather than Fall.

After lunch by the lake we headed back to Susan’s to pick up her, Jesse and Steve and go to watch I Am Legend, the new Will Smith movie. It turned out to be very good; excellent creation of an abandoned Manhattan (can’t wait to see The Making Of… to find out just how they did that!) and a great performance by Will Smith, who is the only person we see for most of the movie. I’d definitely recommend you go see it – but go see it with a friend you can hold on to during the scarier bits!

Off out for dinner and drinks with Kevin & Chris tonight and then Vegas tomorrow!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Day in a Paragraph

Bit of a so-so day; did more shopping and bought good cheap stuff. Was suffering from a possibly-migraine headache through most of the day though so was pretty slothful. Shops in the morning, lunch at the family restaurant (including minor family tiff), a bit more shopping after lunch, coffee with Kevin again (more conversation today though) and then home. We were supposed to be having dinner with an old friend of Brett’s today but I wasn’t feeling up to going out and Brett felt that he could do with a quiet night as well, so we rearranged.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day

Brett’s mum did us a cooked breakfast this morning. I ducked out of the gravy (really a savoury white sauce) and had jam on my biscuits (actually light, scone-like cakes) instead, which seemed to satisfy honour all round. (Brett has given me lots of grief previously about not appreciating the American tradition that is Biscuits & Gravy for breakfast…)

We (Brett, Donna and me) headed out to a nearby opticians mid-morning to get Brett some new glasses made, as his prescription has changed recently. From there we headed on to Northpark Mall for what ended up being a not-very-satisfying shopping trip. Everything was more crowded than it had been on Christmas Eve and neither Brett nor I managed to find much of what we were after. After we’d given up on the shopping we met up with Kevin and Carter for a coffee at the nearby Barnes & Noble bookshop. I also picked up a book I’ve looked at a few times but always resisted buying; 1,000 Places To See Before You Die.

Dinner had been planned for a Tex-Mex place called Chilli Gordo’s. I recall we ate there last time we were here and the food was good. Sarah & Andy and family were there, along with Susan & Ali’s crew. We headed back to their place for dessert and coffee afterwards and had a few games of Spades. After the game though, I fear I wasn’t much company as I managed to doze off again. Don’t know what’s the matter with me; I’m normally much better at getting over jetlag than this.

Headed home afterwards and straight to bed.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day

Christmas Day was another early awakening, followed by reading until the house stirred. Nothing much happened in the morning. We went over to Sarah and Andy’s place for lunch, along with Jim & Donna and Susan & Ali and their family and had a pleasant few hours. I’d forgotten that Andy keeps tropical fish and lizards.

In the afternoon we took in a couple of movies; firstly, The Golden Compass with Ali which I wasn’t too impressed with. The storyline seemed too hurried and wasn’t particularly well written. After a brief trip back home, we went on to see Sweeny Todd with Kevin. This was a much better movie; from what I recall a fairly faithful rendering of the Sondheim story. It looks very much like you would expect Tim Burton movie to look but then, given the story, how could it look better? They don’t stint the gore, though; each slashed throat is seen in excruciating close-up.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

In the end we were an hour and a half late getting away from Gatwick and I think that time tipped the flight into the interminable range. The gap between onboard meals didn’t help either. After eight hours of fasting, a small chicken roll and a 3cm square of fruitcake isn’t enough to satisfy me.

Unusually the standard US welcoming formalities (standing in line for an hour to be photographed and fingerprinted by Immigration) didn’t piss me off and once I had been processed by the bureaucracy, we were straight through to pick the luggage and out to meet Ali and his son Jesse, who had come to collect us.

The moon had only just risen as we drove across Dallas and it was massive in the sky. I wished I had taken my camera as carry-on baggage, rather than leaving it buried in my suitcase where it would have been a real hassle to get out.

Back at the ranch Donna was cooking up spaghetti and not long after we arrived, most of the rest of the family showed up to welcome us. After dinner we played board games until people were ready to head home. I think the napping on the plane helped me avoid dozing off too early in the evening and in the end we lasted until around 10pm before turning in for the night.

Christmas Eve started early for me; jetlag had me awake around 4am so I lazed and read a while until we headed out for breakfast with Brett’s dad to the nearby Waffle House. Jim likes the venue and since it’s open (I think) 24-hours a day, it’s the ideal spot for us to get breakfast when we’re up really early.

Brett and I took the festive turkey over to Susan’s house late morning and then went on to some of the nearby malls to do some shopping. We were surprised by how un-busy it was for Christmas Eve but weren’t going to complain. In the end I bought a couple of new suits, shirts and ties, a couple of pairs of jeans (I mean, at £12 for a pair of Levi 501’s, how could I not?? They’re £40-60 in the UK!) and some new chinos. Brett was looking for stuff too but didn’t find what he was after.

Around 6pm we headed back to Susan’s house for the Christmas dinner and present opening. The whole family was there and a substantial amount of food was laid on. After eating, the family gathered in the den to open the Christmas presents arrayed before the tree. There followed the inevitable chaos as the younger nephews and nieces set to. Carter and Joey both received Transformers toys which can be changed from being a rifle which shoots foam darts into either a plane or a truck. The two of them spent the rest of the evening constantly changing them back and forth; there was no game-play with the toys in either configuration (apart from occasional shooting of darts at people) the joy of the toy seemed to be in changing it from one configuration into the other. And this they did, with gusto.

My recollection of the end of the evening is vague; I think I began to nod-off before 10pm.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Christmas Trip Begins

Well, once again the Magical Packing Fairies failed to show up and I was left to organise my own suitcase. Turns out I was better organised than Brett though as he still had packing to do after the alarm went off (at 5am!) this morning.

London is blanketted under a heavy fog this morning but the traffic was lighter than I'd feared. A bit of congestion on the approach to the terminal is all. For once BAA had everything working and the 'security' process was rapid.

We boarded on time but are now being de-iced while awaiting a slot from Air Traffic Control. The Captain reckons it could be an hour...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Perfect Moment

Today felt like a holiday; a really nice holiday.

I was only in work for a couple of hours. I arrived straight into a good meeting, proof-read and sent a report I’d written yesterday, did an interview over video conference with a potential new recruit in Bologna and then got on a train to Oxford. It’s the company Christmas party tonight but I’m skipping that this year to hear the BBC Singers sing music from the Tudor period in the chapel of Merton College, Oxford.

I arrived at the hotel around 3pm. Brett had booked us a room at the Malmaison which is a converted gaol. It’s all very nicely done and I especially loved the heated slate bathroom floor! As Brett wasn’t due until early evening I had a wander around the town centre. I think I probably have been here before, but likely on a very brief city tour with a group as I don’t recognise it particularly. Some of the town reminds me of Edinburgh – grand architecture in white stone – but not much of it is Georgian and the architectural styles vary quite a bit.

Brett arrived a little after five, a bit worried about whether we’d make the concert on time (it was due to start at 6pm.) In the end we had no difficulty as the College was only a ten-minute walk from the hotel. The chapel was everything you would expect from an Oxbridge College; candlelight, carved stone and wood, stained glass, stalls and pews lining the walls. It was also quite cold, which tempered the enjoyment somewhat. The music was lovely, although I don’t think the acoustic was sufficiently good to really let you hear all forty parts of Spem In Alium. I’m looking forward to downloading the MP3 when the performance is broadcast tomorrow night, in the hope that the positioning of the microphones will make the recording clearer.

The College itself looked well worth a visit too and we both agreed we’d like to come back to Oxford to explore it more closely. Looks like a weekend break in the Spring is in the offing!

Afterwards we strolled back to the hotel and had dinner in the brasserie before retiring for an early night in our beautifully appointed cell.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Beowulf et al

A good day today; got the telecom terms and conditions agreed, got the SAN and the Scottish ISP change signed-off, got the outstanding IT Policy written, got my monthly report drafted and cleared my inbox.
To finish the day off nicely had a leisurely dinner with Ping at 'Canteen' under the Festival Hall then went to see Beowulf in 3D at the Waterloo IMAX. Really enjoyed the movie; a good, (truly!) classic plot with lots of human grit and ambiguity. The CGI was excellent; photorealistic in places! The 3D was used to good effect throughout. Only fly in the ointment was the almost comical, Austin Powers-esque modesty protection of the naked hero. Apart from that it didn't feel like a Hollywood movie at all. Would watch it again.
Home to pack now; off to Oxford tomorrow for a concert at Merton College and a night in a smart hotel with Brett.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Week in Sitges

All good things must come to an end and, as I write, the last hours of our week in Sitges are ticking away. We’ve just checked out and now we’re sitting in the lounge for a few hours before we have to head to the airport. We did consider doing something in Barcelona this afternoon, but in the end chose a lazy day after a long night last night.

There is something to be said for not having the Internet available on holiday; pretty much from the start I’ve managed to completely forget about the rest of the world and it’s been delicious.

The outward trip was a trial though; BA have switched over completely to self-service check-in at Gatwick which means that the queue for the Bag Drop (discretely renamed from ‘Fast Bag Drop’!) was just as long as the check-in queues used to be, so there was no avoiding it. Then the woman at the counter told us that we had to pay another £60 excess baggage because Brett had two small suitcases rather than one large one. To add insult to injury they then managed to lose one of the cases en route!

Fortunately once we left the Barcelona baggage hall things got better; Avis gave us a rather nice Alfa Romeo for our hire car, the new maps I’d bought for the SatNav all worked fine and we had a smooth ride down the coast to the hotel. A quick unpack, shower and change later and we were off for the first of the week’s gourmet dinners with John & Rich.

They were planning a fairly lazy holiday by the pool sunbathing but I was in the mood for something a little more active. On Sunday Brett and I took a drive along the coast immediately south of Sitges but weren’t much impressed. I think Tarragona might be worth seeing but we didn’t go that far and nothing intermediate looked worth a second glance.

On Monday we headed out for a trek up towards the French border and foothills of the Pyrenees. We saw some lovely views and picturesque towns along the way, some of them feeling quite Alpine, but we had rather overstretched ourselves by not properly planning the day; we needed a lot more time in the area to do it justice and, as it was, we didn’t get home until 11pm.

Tuesday was a much needed lazy day in the hotel.

On Wednesday we assayed Gerona, north of Barcelona, and had a lovely day; we spent it entirely in the old town which has something of a Moorish feel to it; lots of tiny shaded gardens built into corners of the tightly-packed buildings and lots of narrow, winding cobbled streets between them all. I got quite a few nice photographs of the town and we both agreed it was somewhere we’d like to come back to for a longer stay.

Thursday was another day in the hotel. I got itchy feet though and took the camera out for a stroll along the beach and around the town. I ended up getting some good shots of surfers in action, even though the surf apparently wasn’t up to much. One of them told me the surf was supposed to be better tomorrow but gave me his email address anyway to send on the pictures.

I was feeling pretty rough that evening – possibly from not realising how dehydrating the wind and sun were whilst sitting out on the seawall snapping surfers! – so I passed on the usual after dinner drinks and had an early night.

Friday we had thought to do another day trip but in the end decided not to as I was still a bit groggy and Brett was not much better; he hadn’t got in until nearly 4am having run into a couple of other Chorus boys in one of the bars and hung out with them for a while.

A long morning nap after breakfast sorted me out though and I awoke feeling clear-headed again, just in time for lunch which we took at a Mexican tapas bar in town. The afternoon I spent on the beach again; the surf was indeed a lot better than it had been the previous day – to the extent that the lifeguards put up the red flag for bathers. Unfortunately not many of the Sitges surfing community seemed to be skilled enough to take advantage of the big waves so about half of the shots are of guys falling off their boards. Still I had an enjoyable afternoon and it got me thinking about another strand of photography I could develop; sports photography. (I really need to get that website sorted so I can start attracting paying clients!)

In the evening we were joining Jamie C & Andrew and two of their friends, Damon & James, for dinner at the Mezzanine restaurant and then went on to a few bars for drinks afterwards. One of them was quite a discovery; the Mediterraneo, just along from our regular Piano Bar, was a bit noisy but was spacious, modern and well ventilated (unlike most gay bars around town!) I wish we had discovered it earlier.

After that though we headed to bed.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Facing the Music Again

Well today wasn’t great; I missed my train, got in to find a crisis to resolve, things left undone after an office move at the weekend and pushy salesmen to deal with. I’d also been left in charge of the Chorus’ new intake evening tonight, as Richard G had been offered a free holiday at the last moment(!) A looming Tube strike planned for tonight meant that that demanded more of my attention than it should have.

For all the anticipation though, things went smoothly once I got there. The first half of the evening was all about form-filling, warm-ups and ice-breaking. The second half we spent learning ‘Seasons Of Love’ (from Rent) with the newbies. Unfortunately because I’d been busy through the first half my voice wasn’t warmed up and, between that and the fact I haven’t sung seriously for nine months, my sound wasn’t really up to much. It got better though and the new guys picked the piece up quickly enough, so by the end of the rehearsal our performance was quite rousing.

I think I’m going to be glad I’m back. Other highlights of the repertoire will be ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’ and ‘The Internet Is For Porn’ (from Avenue Q), both of which I’m looking forward to – albeit for different reasons!

Brett’s back in Stratford-upon-Avon, so I’m on my own again tonight. He’s found himself a choir to join up there already – although it sounds like spare-of-the-moment serendipity – they’re classical, which it sounded like he could take or leave, but all being well I’ll be able to hear him do Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis at some point in the future.

The weekend was a good one; we hosted another poker game on Saturday (which meant the flat got cleaned some. Yeay!) I think in future that, rather than playing to the bitter end, we’ll put a guillotine in place and split the pot at 10pm. With the limited transport connections it’s just not practical to have late nights in Grove Park the way it was in Wimbledon. It was a fun, if long, day; we’d started earlier than previously, but that didn’t seem to help the finish time as we took a break for dinner. (Chris M had brought a selection of homemade goodies in unnecessary atonement for not bringing anything to the games day we had the other week. Didn’t complain though, as they were all scrummy!) Poor Mark was on call though, so had to keep ducking out to answer the phone and reply to mail and was anticipating spending Sunday in the office.

In the end it came down to Richard T catching a lucky hand against John M. I'd done okay, coming back from a very poor chip count, but then got caught out by a full house against my three of a kind. Ah well, have to find some other way to make the rent!

Generally, I think the poker nights here still need a bit more work for them to go really well. It’s looking increasingly like I might be able to get a small table together from work as well though. I wonder if I (and Rosie and Brett!) could handle two poker nights a month?!

Anyway, after all the excitement we had a really quiet day on Sunday. I spent most of it online and watching the Kyle XY marathon to see if it would be worth watching the second season which is showing now. (Probably, but it won’t be at the top of the ‘must watch’ list.) Friday night’s Dexter was good though!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Fleeting Moments

Sunday morning. Lazing on the sofa. Empty glasses, beer and wine bottles. Nearly empty bowls of crisps and nuts. Poker chips piled on the table. The squirrel scampering along the garden fence. The sun beginning to break through the morning overcast. A spider web glinting in the light.

The leather of the sofa warming beneath me. Comfortable, becoming cosy. Maybe I got out of bed too early. Time to doze a little more.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Day at Eltham

Had another lovely day; after a bit of a lazy morning we took the short drive over to Eltham Palace. I’d been there before, a few years ago with Rod & Jess, but it was the first time for both Brett & Rosie. It’s an interesting combination of a Tudor Great Hall and top-notch Art Deco design. The weather was lovely so we had a nice wander around the gardens too (photos here). A good day out.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sofa slingshot

Saturday was bright and sunny but I was a complete slob; spent pretty much the whole day on the sofa reading Ringworld, watching TV and surfing Facebook. Wasted life.

The thing happening today was Trevor’s summer party. Last year’s was a great success, but left a lot of clearing up the next day. This year his neighbours weren’t going on holiday so he couldn’t have a late-night party, and had a more select, afternoon do instead. It was a pleasant way to spend the day though; they’re in a fairly rural location and it felt like we were sitting out in the countryside somewhere. Moderate amounts of alcohol, plenty of well-grilled meat and a selection of catch-ups with choristers later, we headed home.

Tomorrow, I think we might head down to Eltham Palace; can’t stand the thought of another day on the sofa.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"But there's nothing you can do when you're next in line"

Today just completely got away from me. It started okay, but finalising the copier contracts (which have been the bane of my life for the last six weeks!) and copying them and then getting them biked over to the over-anxious supplier took forever. It put me behind schedule for my second meeting (about our report templates – which look like being the bane of my life for the next six weeks!!) which in turn overran and made me late for the third meeting with the contractors who are going to be building our new datacentre.

The whole morning felt like one of those domino-toppling events, where one thing knocks-on to another. Before I knew it, it was 4pm and I hadn’t started actually doing anything yet! (Meetings don’t count as doing; at best they’re just deciding.)

This evening has been relaxing though; Brett had a chicken casserole in the oven when I got home and the chicken was both tasty and tender when we ate. It looks like he’s going to be setting up a Limited Company for his contracting work, rather than being paid through an umbrella organisation, as it gives him more flexibility to work for himself as a designer in future.

Later on we were going to do the couch-potato thing but, for all that Sky has hundreds of channels, showing every conceivable type of programme, there was nothing on that we wanted to watch. Instead Brett went off to do coding and designing things on his Mac whilst I stayed and organised a couple of poker games for the coming weeks.

It still hasn’t quite sunk in that this time next week, he won’t be here. Not sure how I’ll handle that.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Down Henley Street

It’s been a good week, albeit a long one. I’ve been trying to get in to work earlier but haven’t been getting out earlier too, so by Friday I was knackered. We went out for dinner with Ping after work and I pretty much sat there like a lump. There was good news from Brett; he had been in Stratford-upon-Avon for a job interview that morning and had been called back on the train into town to offer him the contract. So he’s got three months worth of programming work; the downside is it’s in Stratford, so he’ll have to get lodgings up there which will cost money and keep him away from home all week. Still, it will mean we have a bit more spending money when we head out to Sitges in a few weeks for a break.

We went to see The Bourne Ultimatum last night at Greenwich and rather enjoyed it. The much-touted handheld camera work brought a lot of realism to some of the face-to-face scenes but tended to make me seasick in the fight and chase scenes. I think Matt Damon might have a point about James Bond being a bit anachronistic; I identified more with Jason Bourne than I ever have with 007.

Today has been quiet and domestic.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Where to?

So, the question is; what job involves you travelling and spending quality time getting to know your destination? By ‘quality time’ I mean not going from airport to hotel to meeting to airport, I mean learning at least some of the history and culture of the destination. I don’t mind doing research in advance to help me along; I like to know enough about a place before I get there that I don’t appear to be a complete tourist.

The second question is; why am I so lacklustre lately? Haven’t been doing much of anything meaningful, just moping around wishing my life was more… [insert adjective here.]

Quite pathetic really.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Ruth and Chris came over for dinner. We had enchiladas and smoothies and played Trivial Pursuit late into the night; a very pleasant conclusion to a day of household and gardening chores.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Swarm Intelligence - Better Than Mob Rule!

Because of a cock-up in my forward planning today, I had to buy something to read on the train and plumped for a copy of National Geographic. The article on swarm intelligence that I’d picked it up for proved interesting enough. However there was one paragraph towards the end which struck me as especially worth sharing with you;

“Crowds tend to be wise only if individual members act responsibly and make their own decisions. A group won't be smart if its members imitate one another, slavishly follow fads, or wait for someone to tell them what to do. When a group is being intelligent, whether it's made up of ants or attorneys, it relies on its members to do their own part. […] the bottom line is that our actions matter, even if we don't see how.” [Shamelessly lifted from the NGM website; please don’t sue me!]

We humans can learn a lot from nature. Go read the article.


Is it just too wierd of me to admit to quite fancying one of the shop-window dummies in Austin Reed? Hmm... I guess I just never realised that metallic grey skin (and hair and eyes) were my fetish.
It's amazing what you can learn about yourself while going to see a man about a photocopier!

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Full House

The weeks do seem to fly. Only notable thing about work this week was my boss’ performance in the taxi on the way back from a meeting. We had been visiting a prospective supplier and after the usual sales pitch they showed us around their offices. On the journey home we were comparing impressions and Ian (the said boss) sat there and estimated the company turnover, profit margin and directors’ salaries just by extrapolating what we’d been told about company size and the sales targets we’d seen displayed on a whiteboard in their sales area.

Apparently this is what accountants do subconsciously…

The weekend has been very enjoyable. We were couch-potatoes on Friday night but Saturday we had invited a few friends around for a bit of a house party. It meant lots of cleaning on Saturday morning (which was no bad thing to be honest) but the afternoon was spent with Rod & Jess and Ruth & Chris. R&J headed off towards early evening after a game of Trivial Pursuit which we ended up abandoning because we got so few questions right and it was becoming tedious. We ordered pizza and Ping & Uwe turned up just in time to partake and then join us for a friendly game of poker.

Normally when you are just playing for fun, people tend to be a bit reckless with their betting and the game is over quickly, but I think because neither Ping nor Uwe had played before they were more cautious. Anyway, the game continued until about 1:30 Sunday morning when Uwe finally collected all the chips. It was a most enjoyable game, although I rather get the impression that Ping (the first player out) was a bit bored and Chris was just sizing us up for the game we’re organising for cash in a couple of weeks…

Today was the inevitable clearing up after the party, but we all three pitched-in and it was done in no time. Brett and I headed down to Bromley to do some shopping. It was a targeted trip and we were done in an hour – which, given some recent shopping trips (which have lasted all day and still not purchased everything on the list!) was pretty good going. As a result we had plenty of time to enjoy a lazy Sunday afternoon reading and watching TV. One of the new shows we’d recorded was Dexter which looks interesting, if a little morally ambiguous. The other one, Jekyll, we didn’t even get past the first ten minutes of before we gave up – although that may have had something to do with my mother ringing just as it started…

This evening, we headed up to The Dome to watch the new Harry Potter movie. We’d chosen the Dome as the venue to see what they’d done to it. It was a bit tricky to find as the signposting was minimal and generally too late unless you were really eagle-eyed. Once we got there we sat in a line of traffic until we could be charged £5 for the privilege of parking the car, which I thought was bloody cheeky as there are acres of parking and it hadn’t said anything about parking fees when we booked the tickets.

Once you get into the Dome itself the signage isn’t any better – although we did realise on the way out that there are a couple of floor-plans in the main entrance hall that we’d missed. It’s laid out like a circular street with lots of pavement cafés and restaurants (in fact, looking at the floor plan, that’s pretty much all there is at the moment; the arena, the cinema and a dozen restaurants and cafés!) So we bumbled our way around to find the cinema, the ticket machines weren’t working so Rosie had to head off somewhere else to get the tickets printed, then we joined a queue to get into the auditorium, only to find that a portion of best seats were cordoned off. We still managed to get good seats though, just behind the closed rows, and then we realised why they were roped off; the giant tent isn’t waterproof!

There was a constant flow of water down from the ceiling into big buckets balanced on seats in the roped off section. Luckily the constant ‘spit, spat’ sounds weren’t too distracting from what turned out to be quite a good movie.

I haven’t been desperately fond of the earlier Harry Potter movies; several of them seemed to be just long video-game commercials. This one felt a bit more substantial though; definitely got the more ‘adult’ feel to it that a lot of the pre-release hype suggested. Maybe the next couple will really be worth watching.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Atta boy, Husky

After doing my usual tea-lady role at the Chorus rehearsal tonight I went up to listen to the second half of the rehearsal. They were doing the March of the Toreadors from Carmen Jones and they sounded really good. The last time I heard them rehearse the piece, it was undistinguished, but now the voices are confident, the diction is clear and the choreography, instead of just looking daft, adds to the story of the song.

I was whistling it all the way home and am definitely looking forward to the shows! (1 & 2)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

I’ve been in a funny mood this week; generally pissed-off with the world. No apparent reason for it, that’s just how I’ve been feeling. It’s meant I wasn’t very productive at work towards the end of the week but I got through it and the weekend has been enjoyable; Mark S, one of Brett’s friends from years ago, was over for a brief visit (mostly for Wimbledon) and was staying with us.

Friday night we went to hear Brett sing at the National Portrait Gallery gig, part of some scheme to get Londoners singing and afterwards we had dinner on St. Martin’s Lane with Dan L and an old flame of Mark’s. Saturday we lazed until mid-afternoon; Brett had got tickets for a matinee of Avenue Q which Mark hadn’t seen (I think it’s my fourth or fifth time seeing it!) so we did that, grabbed a drink in the now smoke-free Halfway To Heaven before coming home for dinner. Mark left late to head to the airport for a (very) early morning flight to Eastern Europe where he’s about to start a choir tour.

This morning Brett and I were up early to go into work. It wasn’t really for work, but the office was opening for staff to watch the Tour de France go by and I’d volunteered to be the nominated First Aider. They’d laid on pastries and bacon rolls and lots of coffee which made it bearable, although it turned out there was an awful lot of waiting around and watching support vehicles before the bikes actually turned up – and then disappeared again within a minute. I was busy with the office camera but didn’t get anything remarkable as they sped by.

Ah, well, at least it was a nice sunny day, in contrast to the recent weeks of endless ‘showery’ rain and floods. This afternoon I’ve done some more tweaking of my Facebook profile and finally gotten around to inviting a few friends over for a board games and stuff next Saturday.

Other than that we’ve been couch-potatoes watching TV all afternoon & evening. I fear we are watching too much TV; our spare time is becoming like an episode of The Royle Family (except without the humour.) What happened to our dreams?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Week In Summary

This week was a bit stop-go. I took Tuesday off work as time-in-lieu of the full day I’d put in on Saturday. I spent most of the day reading or commenting on a couple of blogs in between some TV watching.

In the evening I went out for dinner with Ping while Brett was at the Chorus' Steering Committee meeting. Ping’s just back from Malaysia again, where he’d been summoned to his grandmother’s death-watch. We dined at an over-priced steakhouse on the river by Canary Wharf and had to change tables after the first course because we had a group of extremely loud American bankers sitting behind us who made normal conversation impossible. Once we were seated in the pavilion out front though, it was more pleasant. Our over-dinner chat was as eclectic as ever, ranging from funeral customs to sexual etiquette. We ducked out after the steaks though and had dessert and coffee at Carluccio’s and watched all the young, beautiful people (Ping likened it to Logan’s Run!) go about their evenings’ entertainments.

Wednesday I was back at work and dealing with an Internet outage in our Leeds office caused by the severe flooding that’s been happening in the north (103mm in one day in Fylingdales!) Floodwaters in Sheffield swamped both the primary and backup systems of our ISP and left the office offline for the afternoon.

The rest of the week was solid with meetings, mostly to do with the projects we are starting but there seemed to be so many meetings I didn’t really have time to do any work.

Friday I got an out of the blue text message from Chris C in Dallas asking how Brett and I were, which seemed a little out of place as usually he emails. It wasn’t until later on, when I saw that the car-bomb discovery was getting coverage in the States, that I connected it. It’s nice to know that people care about you.

That evening was leaving drinks for a couple of guys from work; Mark R from Finance and Maurico S one of the consultants. I’m sad to see them go as they were both distinctive characters in the company. Mauricio had a great sense of humour, very wry and understated and he was always fun to chat to. Also tended to wear distinctive red Merrell trainers as a kind of trademark. Mark, somewhat more plain spoken, was always direct in what he said and was an interesting guy to be around. He always seemed more well-read on topics than anyone else and he too had a distinctive brand of clothing; on dress-down Fridays he invariably wore a bright pink t-shirt for no other reason than because he could. I will miss them both.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Here's To Dreams

I came across this on one of the blogs I read. Like them, I’m not watching the ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ show but this clip is certainly an uplifting indicator of what they can occasionally find. Apparantly the singer is a chap called Paul Potts who works for the Carphone Warehouse, earns a bit extra stacking shelves at Tesco and has always wanted to sing opera. Here’s to dreams! (And here’s to hoping he can sing more than one song that well!!)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Being Alive

Well, I think it’s a while since I’ve griped to my blog, so you are probably overdue a dose of self-pity. I’m feeling run down lately and could really do with a holiday. There’s outstanding issues with both the old and the new landlords which just feels like it’s never going to end. The finances are still in a state from the move. Work seems to be a never-ending list of important things that all need to be done as soon as possible.

I didn’t help myself yesterday either; there was some work taking place at the office and I went in with Rob & Gaetan. I shouldn’t have really; Rob was more than capable of running the day, which is what I let him do so, while I got some useful thinking and planning done, it was really a long, wasted day. I also missed hearing the Chorus sing at West End Live.

Friday night had been a bit more enjoyable though; Mike G from work had invited us along to the ‘First Anniversary’ of his housewarming party. He has a lovely house between Greenwich and Deptford; quite modern, built over four floors with a room on each floor and large windows to front and back. The party was on the roof terrace where he’d laid out food and fired up a barbeque. It was quite chilly, but the food and drink were good and it was nice to socialise with people from work a bit. I don’t do that enough.

Today has been all about taking it easy; It’s taken me all day to wash all of the dishes that were stacked in the kitchen. Admittedly I didn’t do them all in one session, but there were quite a few of them because one way or another I just haven’t gotten around to doing any this week…

In between times we’ve been watching West Wing DVDs and surfing blogs and Facebook.

I need a holiday.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Vertical Farms

A farm that provides;
  • Year round crop production in a controlled environment
  • All produce would be organic as there would be no exposure to wild parasites and bugs
  • Elimination of environmentally damaging agricultural runoff
  • Food being produced locally to where it is consumed
Once you've covered the environmental impact of building the thing, it might just work...

See here for more.

Monday, June 18, 2007

We Are the Champions

Feeling good today. We eventually made it to Vinny’s party around 3pm on Saturday and that was all very pleasant; a good mix of choristers, his singing students and friends. The feature of the garden was a massive fishpond heavily stocked with coy carp and giant goldfish – although it did have a little metal bridge across it which made me think of a James Bond villain’s hideout…

We got pleasantly drunk and then got a phone call from Rosie saying they’d watched the Heroes finale at Ruths without us, so instead of going on there we headed home. We pigged-out on pizza and ice cream for dinner. (Classy!)

Sunday wasn’t such fun though; I woke up with the beginnings of a migraine episode, realised I didn’t have any of the preventative pills left and had to make do with damping the symptoms while moping around listlessly all day.

Today I was back at work and the leftover fatigue and nausea cleared out by late afternoon. Our new Helpdesk guy, Maliq, started work today – although I only got to chat with him for a short while in between triaging my inbox after a week away. Then tonight I was at Chorus and feeling healthy again. All went smoothly, had a nice chat with Martin B (the German one) and later Paul G. After we’d cleared up and I was heading home I left with the sounds of We Are The Champions ringing in my ears; so much better sung live by a hundred men than on a CD by a few!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Packed Social Diary

What is it about Saturday, 16th June?

It seems to be the day when everyone is planning something. Brett and I have received no less than four invitations to events today, we have the parents down to help with the garden and I hear on the radio that three Premiership footballers plan to marry today. I don't know about the footballers but compared to a normal weekend, that's a lot of stuff happening.

In other news, I am qualified to provide First Aid again - must remember to do more frequent refreshers this time so it doesn't expire again. The whole process seemed easier this time though, despite a few nerves in yesterday's assessment.

Next week at work sees my new Helpdesk guy starting with us. It's taken a while to get to this point and I'll be glad to get the whole team together finally - although it turns out that Gaetan is on a training course Monday/Tuesday so he'll miss the welcome lunch (something which I'm sure he's going to groan loudly about!)

Brett is currently suffering from a bad back. Unlike me after moving house, there was no obvious cause for it and I'm still not convinced that it's muscular in origin rather than being a disk problem but I think we're giving it a couple more days on Ibuprofen before getting the medical services involved.

Right, off for breakfast and thence to B&Q and thence to Vinny's birthday party and thence to Ruth's barbecue and thence to Tom's performance...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Butterfly Effect

For the rest of the week I'm on a First Aid course in Islington. Whilst out exploring the area at lunchtime I came across buildings belonging to City University and was reminded that I'd applied for a place there many years ago. I eventually took up a place in Dundee and spent six years based in Scotland instead but today I wondered what I might have ended up doing if I'd gone to City instead.

It's the unanswerable question of course, but it did make me realise how much of my life turned on the decision to go to Dundee rather than City. I would never have met Rod or Jess and the chances are that they may never have met each other either. I would never have met Simon or Bruce, so Rosie would never have met (or married, or divorced) him either. I would never have gotten involved with Saga and so likely would not have travelled nearly as much as I have. That travelling had quite a major effect on my outlook on the world and I think broadened my mind considerably.

Who would I be in that universe? Would I have completed the electronics course I applied for and gone straight into industry? Would I have joined the Chorus earlier? Would I have joined it at all? Where would I be living today and with whom?

The whole thought process really only occurred because we watched a movie called The Butterfly Effect on TV the other evening. It’s unnerving is all, to think how foreign my life could have been from this standpoint…

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Aftermath of the Relocation

Unfortunately, the second half of the move didn’t go quite as smoothly as the first; on day two they realised that the van wasn’t going to be big enough for all our stuff and asked for a transit van to be sent from their depot. Somehow it got sent to our new address rather than the old one which caused a couple of hour’s delay. When we finally cleared out of Wimbledon, Brett and I drove over to the new place to wait for them… and wait for them… and wait for them. It transpired that the big van had broken down. The smaller van arrived in due course though and they unloaded its contents. The subsequent two hour wait was made only marginally more bearable by the eye-candy provided some of the very well-built movers, relaxing in the sun…

An unfortunate clash of dates that we couldn’t change meant that we had tickets to the previews of Drowsy Chaperone on the night we moved but as the time approached there was still no sign of the van, so we decided that Brett should go into town to hand out the tickets to our group and I would join them as soon as possible. In the end this meant I joined them for aftershow drinks, but at least by then everything of ours was in the new flat and mostly in good shape.

I took the next day (Friday) off work and, as it was a Bank Holiday weekend that meant we had four days to get the place in shape. Even so, as I sit here a week later, while we may have everything out of boxes, there are still piles of things lying around waiting to be found a home. Compared to Wimbledon, the bathroom and kitchen are very small and lacking in storage space, consequently we have made several trips to various furniture outlets looking for shelves and cabinets with quite specific dimensions. Hopefully by the end of today we will have sourced the right combination and can begin to shift the piles lining the hallways.

In between all of that I had arranged to take some pictures of Richard S (ex-chorister Martin N’s partner) for his website, so he will be turning up shortly too. Oh for a weekend off to enjoy the sunshine!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Half-way through the process now and it all seems to be going well. The movers left around 4pm with about half the flat in their van. (Who knew the place had so much space?!) Rosie and I ran some essentials over to the new flat while Brett was at an audition in West Dulwich and then met up to give him a lift home. I need to be in work tomorrow morning so will be meeting up in the afternoon to help supervise the unloading in Grove Park.

Right now I want a shower before bed as feel grungy as f**k.

And So It Begins

Today is the day; up as usual and then into the organising of stuff so there’s some hope of finding it after it’s all been transported. Only panic so far has been work-related; the Helpdesk texted me at 9am to say '[Main File Server] offline. Won't reboot.' The network support team is stretched pretty thing today, what with me at home, Rob in Leeds and Rav on a course. Luckily Barry arrived in the nick of time and sorted it out before I had to go in myself.

The van arrived around 9:30 and after a brief tour and agreeing what was to stay tonight, they set to work packing up our lives.

I think we’re all feeling a bit like spare parts now; there’s not much for us to do but stay out of their way. I’m breaking down all the electricals so that we’ll have all the four-bars and extension leads we need in one place when we get there. Just now I’m waiting for the Mac to finish backing itself up to my file server before I power them both down and disassemble the office area.

Will be glad when it’s all over.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Moving Day T -1

I’ve taken a half-day off from work this morning to do some of the clearing up and organising ready for the movers tomorrow. I alternate between relief that someone else is going to be doing all the hard work and panic at the amount of organisation that we still need to do. Rowan is off all day today, so I keep reminding myself that between her and Brett and my part contribution, we’ll get it done.

Still there’s a lot to do – and it isn’t helped by having to go to a Chorus meeting tonight. Just what I need!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Moving House

It’s Sunday morning and there’s lots to do. We eventually got the lease signed on our new Grove Park flat on Friday and yesterday we went over there to complete the inventory and do a bit of cleaning. I took a day off work on Thursday primarily to make sure that all the utilities knew we were moving and were switched on at the new place. I also managed to prepare most of my own Change Of Addresses ready to send once we’d signed (which I actually still need to get around to!) As ever there’s something on the web to help you out; a site called came recommended by the Royal Mail site and includes a change of address generator; you select all the people you wish to notify from a series of lists, enter the relevant details and it will either (depending on what the recipient will accept) send the email for you or generate a letter to print out and send. It’s quite a clever idea and I like it – especially since I assume that, having set up the list and entered all my details, they’ll still be on file the next time we come to move.

On our way back from Grove Park yesterday afternoon we called in on Rod & Jess and had coffee and arranged lunch for today in Wimbledon. They’ve just bought a horse at the livery stables here, Jess is back at work full-time now and has had to mothball her online book business. Rod is working four days a week and enjoying the extra freedom it gives him.

Anyway, back to today, I think it needs to be about tidying up and organising things; we’ve booked movers to do all of the packing and actual moving of our stuff but I think everyone would benefit by us making sure that things that need to be together are together when we move. Books, papers, clothes, DVDs all need to be gathered up. I also need to back up the data on all our computers to protect against the almost disk failure(s) that will occur as the machines are moved…

…And it’s such a lovely day out there.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Weekend Again

Another week gone. It went pretty much as expected.

Although a cock-up at Chorus on Wednesday meant a wasted trip up to Camden for me and also meant I was on the train to work on Thursday – a trip which ended up taking me an hour and a half!

Rob S is doing okay at work; he’s hit the ground running and is already getting stuff done. The future looks bright.

I’m feeling pretty down on the world though and don’t really know why, especially since it’s been a great weekend; Brett and I had dinner with Joe R on Friday night. We dined at Iguana next to the Royal Festival Hall and then had a drink at the National Film Theatre’s new lounge bar area. Joe and Brett ended up trying to out-geek each other over Sondheim lyrics…

Saturday afternoon I was at another photographic tuition session. Don’t think I’ve mentioned them before but they emerged through the Out Photographers Group I got involved with a while back. So far I’ve done two sessions, both on working in a studio with lighting. This one was about photographing the male nude and was equally interesting. A lot of the shots I took were crap, but I know why they didn’t come out well which is what learning is all about. A couple of the better ones are here.

At the start of the session we had lunch with the people who’d been there in the morning doing a straightforward shoot and one of them was Michael C from the Chorus. We chatted some and talked about sharing the costs of a studio session in future. We also talked a bit about me photographing the Chorus in action during their show at Cadogan Hall in July which sounds like great fun.

Rosie messaged me as the session was coming to an end to ask if we wanted to head down to Greenwich for a barbeque with Ruth and Chris who’d been over last weekend. We also had an offer of dinner at Ping’s place, as he is recently back from Malaysia and wanted to catch up.

In the end we headed over to Notting Hill for dinner. It was actually Simon R from the Chorus who was cooking as he and his husband Matt V have been staying in Ping’s house until their own house purchase completes. Ping had also invited the chap he’s been seeing for a while, Uwe, a German guy who runs a business in Vauxhall. He turned out to be lovely too; very engaging conversation. So the evening was a great success; the food was good and tasty, the company was convivial. I got to show off my photos and take a few more and then it was a single tube trip back home again. Marvellous.

Today has been less energetic. I spent a while this morning struggling with Brett’s Mac trying to make it let me write to the portable hard drive I keep my photography on. It used to work fine but for some reason now will only let me read from it. Very frustrating and I think that’s what darkened my mood. Other than that it’s been a day of surfing the web (am liking Facebook more and more as a proper social website, designed for keeping up with your existing friends rather than finding new ones) and watching TV (we now need to buy West Wing Season Six, as we’ve just finished Season Five…)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Wasted Day

We’d planned to go to the local Merton Hall where they were having a country fair this weekend but we slept late and then it started raining heavily, so we abandoned the idea. Haven’t done much more than be a couch potato this weekend and, apart from yesterday feel it’s been a rather wasted time.

Tomorrow I’m back at work. Rob S starts as my Assistant Manager this week and I am a little worried that I am pinning too much hope on him being able to come in and take a lot of work off my shoulders. Maybe I’m just feeling down because of the weekend’s inaction.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sunday with Ruth and Chris

Saturday was fairly domestic; laundry and washing-up being done, then some shopping. I spent the afternoon and evening upgrading my laptop to Windows Vista; I want to see how it works with our systems at work as suppliers are beginning to supply machines with it installed by default and I need to decide which will cause us the least pain – giving people the Vista laptops as they arrive or retrofitting XP to those machines.

The upgrade experience went fairly smoothly, although it took the best part of three hours to complete; two hours to do the actual OS upgrade and a further hour of mucking about to get my VPN client to work and try and get the Windows Server 2003 Admin Pack reinstalled and working. (I’m still not actually sure about that last one!)

While waiting for the upgrade to complete we watched the latest West-End reality competition show (Any Dream Will Do) and I read some more one of my old favourites; The Riftwar Saga. It’s rather disappointing though; when I was a teenager reading it for the first time it was a stunningly good story, but now that I’ve (finally) read The Lord of the Rings so many of the stories I enjoyed as a teenager are clearly derivative. Admittedly I only started re-reading Riftwar because I couldn’t find the first two books of the contemporary Empire series

Today Rosie had invited two of her friends, Ruth & Chris, over for brunch. While I had not been desperately enthusiastic to begin with, once I got out of bed I kind of got into the swing of things as we prepared the food. It turned out that they were very pleasant company; they were happy to make themselves at home and I didn’t feel like we had to be on our best behaviour or entertain them at all. We had a pleasant meal, chatted some and then played Risk for most of the afternoon.

We ordered Chinese for dinner and settled down to watch a couple of DVDs, Primer and DeLovely. Primer was a real head-fuck with, according to Wikipedia, no less than nine interacting timelines to deal with. I managed to follow a lot of it, but still had to read the plot explanation online before I totally understood what was going on. DeLovely was just a pleasant movie with some great tunes.

Ruth and Chris headed off shortly after the movies finished; a lovely day.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Open The Pod-Bay Doors, Hal

An article caught my eye on the web this weekend that may be of interest to you (or, at least, it’s of interest to me which, on this blog, is all that really counts! J)

The article is from the BBC and reports the partial simulation of a mouse’s brain on a computer. For someone who’s always had a fascination with artificial intelligence and the concept of ‘mind’, this is incredibly exciting! “Researchers say they have seen characteristics of thought patterns observed in real mouse brains.” How cool is that!?

It’s clearly still early days in the field; the simulation is incomplete, imperfect and, let’s face it, mice aren’t great thinkers but the concept has been proved; it can be done! It will take time and more research and experimentation, but computing power continues to advance, as does our understanding of the brain.

There will eventually be the skill and capacity to replicate a human brain in a computer – and if you think we’re having a tough time with the ethics of stem cells and cloning today, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

Other than that things have been mundane. Today was chores and then viewing a flat that we have our eye on over in Grove Park and cheeking out the local area. Home in time for tea.

Am cycling to work tomorrow. OMG, how long has it been! Hopefully I’ll remember to disengage shoes from cleats at appropriate moments and not topple over like a complete loser…

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Small Ginger Furry One Celebrates

It hasn’t been a bad week, but it’s been rather frustrating. Stuff getting in the way, meetings being put-off and put-off again, more stuff being added to the mix. There were also endless leaving parties; my former boss is taking a leave of absence and jetting off to the Far East for ten months so on Wednesday we (the IT Team) went out for drinks and food with him, then on Thursday there was a lunch for him (and Vicky from HR who is leaving on Friday too) with the Corporate team and finally on Friday night, food and drinks in a local pub to finally see them both off.

The only notable moment was saying goodbye to Vicky as I was leaving on Friday night; she is a short, motherly woman who is quite loud and quite a character. I hadn’t been especially moved by her leaving until I actually came to wish her well and I realised that I really would miss her. She then topped it off by giving me a kiss and a hug and wishing Brett and I well in our life together. I hadn’t even known she knew we were engaged! I was feeling quite teary and sad all the way home; usually a good sign I need some time off.

At home I spent an evening chilling with Brett and then today spent the morning surfing. This afternoon was going over the finances. We are in the process of looking for a new flat to move to at the same time that Brett is out of his redundancy money. It turns out that we are still solvent, albeit in for a few austere months until the moving expenses are behind us. Once that was done I got my bike out from where it’s languished all winter, gave it a wash down and freshened up the chain ready for cycling to work on Monday; commuting on the train costs me £85 a month which I can save easily by biking it regularly.

Tonight we tubed it up to town for Nick B’s 40th birthday celebrations; a pleasant evening with Chorus boys, netballers and Nick’s work colleagues.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


After some relatively ordered days of late, today was a mess; Chorus politics at its pettiest and lots of distractions in the office.

Upsides were a very lucrative market research session after work; an hour talking about how I use the Internet at home and work. Then when I got home I finally got to play with my new copy of Adobe Lightroom and finish off George’s CD of ‘prints’ from the shoot last month. All good fun.

And now to bed.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

View from the 16th Floor

This should really be a post about how my life is calming down again, allowing me time to write blog posts again. Perversely though, I am writing this from a Leeds hotel room in the middle of what is going to be a busy weekend.

A confluence of events came to a head for me at the start of April; all year our company has been preparing itself for a major internal reorganisation, which kicked-in on the first day of the month. As part of that, I have taken over my boss’s job while he has gone on to take a client-facing role. In the month immediately before the changeover though, he took a three-week holiday in Asia which meant that, as well as managing the department, I was left organising our departmental budget for the coming year without his experience, in liaison with a group of Business Heads who were similarly still fleshing-out their new corporate structures.

To add to the stress of it all, we suffered three major outages in the space of two weeks; something which was also hugely embarrassing and, while it has had the ‘silver lining’ of more leeway with our infrastructure budget, it has certainly been a public relations ‘cloud’ that has blighted recent weeks.

That said, my new role has proved invigorating. I think I hadn’t properly realised quite what a rut I was in until I was pushed out of it, but now that the department is entirely my responsibility I am suddenly inspired by the new challenge and am thoroughly enjoying it.

I’m not sure that Brett has been enjoying my new role quite as much as I have though, as I am frequently working late or making early starts where I previously had a fairly relaxed routine. Consequently the job of finding us a new place to live (for when our lease expires in May) is falling largely on his shoulders when he really wants to be finding a new job of his own.

The dust does seem to be settling though (hence the inclination to blog again) and things are looking up as I have a new assistant manager starting in a couple of weeks which should, in turn, reduce my workload further. In the meantime though, I still seem to have an endless list of things I want to be getting on with both at work and socially.

This morning I drove east with Brett & Rosie to view some properties around Brockley and Honour Oak before going north for a photography class and then catching a train to Leeds ready for the fourth or fifth (I am losing count!) instalment of trying to get the Leeds Office firewall upgraded. The flat viewing resulted in the clear thought that we would do a lot better without all the furniture we have, as we could comfortably live somewhere smaller (and hence cheaper) if we didn’t have to plan for all the chattels. It would also probably reduce the moving costs

Strangely I don’t feel any nostalgia for the furniture. A lot of it has been with me for years but none of it has any real sentimental value; I’ll want to keep some of the art and a lot of the portable contents of things – but the furniture itself? No.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Last Day in New York

So the last day in New York started early; I woke up on UK time and spent a few hours sorting photographs and blogging before breakfast. After breakfast we packed, checked-out and took a walk down Fifth Avenue to the Empire State Building. We’d walked past it on Saturday and the queue stretched out of the front doors and around the building. This morning there was no queue so we headed in.

It turned out that there was a queue – and endless miles of zig-zagging rope lines – but we still made it to the top in only about forty minutes, constantly shepherded by uniformed attendants who either wanted to tell us how exciting the SkyRide was, or wanted us to take the elevators on the left. The visibility was fairly good so there was a view across the island and beyond; not much noteworthy though from that height. I got the obligatory pictures of the nearby Chrysler building, long shots of the Brooklyn Bridge and Financial District and a semi-obscured view of the park looking very un-green.

After all the photography and freezing winds we found it a lot faster to get out of the building than get into it, although we still had to queue. We took the tube up to the Rockefeller Centre in search of lunch and more holiday snaps. After lunch we carried on along Fifth Avenue towards the park. The first stop was Tiffany’s, for Brett to buy a ring, then on to the Abercrombie & Fitch store. We didn’t buy anything there (too crowded, dark and noisy!) just marvelled at the décor. They have a curious mural running the height of their staircase; done in a quasi-religious style (even to the extent of it extending over the ceiling – very Sistine Chapel!) of lots of guys in a kind of 1920s gym setting, all wearing simple white shorts and working out on ropes and bars; kind of stylish and certainly in keeping with their increasingly homoerotic advertising styles but, frankly, nothing to do with their products…

After Abercrombie we carried on northwards and called in at the Apple Store (a Louvre-esque underground store beneath a glass cube) and the nearby FAO Schwarz where I found some fascinating magnetic-mecano kind of stuff and spent ages playing with it. I very nearly came away with a box, but restrained myself to just noting down the manufacturer’s URL so that when I get home…

From there we went on into the park. It seemed appropriate for the last half hour; we just sat and enjoyed the moment in the wintery sunshine.

And then we were travelling again; back to the hotel to collect luggage and change clothes, into the shuttle bus, through the rush-hour (at 4pm!), then check-in (fast-track again, oh yes!) and into the lounge.

We luxuriated a bit here, making sure to book into the Molton Brown Spa as soon as we arrived we both had a nice relaxing facial scrub and massage, followed by a laze on their recliners sipping green tea. Then a light snack from the buffet and reading before our flight was announced.

The return flight was clearly more heavily booked than the outbound as, when I had checked-in the previous day, most of the seats were already occupied and I couldn’t get us the cosy central seats. Instead I booked us a pair of adjoining seats on the upper deck which seatguru reports as quieter and with better service than the main deck.

Sure enough we had a pleasant flight; the flat-bed is a definite plus-point and I slept for all of four hours – which isn’t bad on a seven-hour flight considering I took full advantage of the two meal services.

Heathrow was busy on our arrival; lots of queues in immigration, but fortunately not much waiting at this side. I was through in twenty-minutes and once again, Brett was waiting for me on the other side. The luggage took forever to come through – there were several announcements asking us to forgive how long it was taking…

Then, at last, we were through Customs and into the car, heading for a relaxing day in our own home.