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.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Pictures of the Trip to New York

OK, if you want to see pictures of the New York trip, here they are!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Chorus Line on Broadway

Today has been another long but good one. The benefit of being on London time is that you can wake up as usual, have a couple of hours’ lie-in and still get up in time for a 06:30 breakfast! The hotel includes a continental breakfast that isn’t bad so we have been taking advantage of it.

This morning we didn’t have any firm plans and decided to spend the morning doing some photography. We headed down to Battery Park on the far south-western tip of Manhattan and I got out my long lens to see what I could make of the Statue of Liberty. (Not a lot as it turned out.) From there we took refuge in a Starbucks for half an hour to recover from the bitterly cold wind before walking up the east side of the island to the Brooklyn Bridge, which we’d originally intended to be at for sunrise as you can apparently get some spectacular shots of the city at that time in the morning. Because I confused the hours of sunset and sunrise we were too late for that, but I figured we could still check it out for a visit tomorrow and maybe get some nice pictures before the sun went too far around to the west.

This we did (I’ll not post them until I get home – to many to sort through!) and then caught the subway back to Chelsea to have brunch in a café-bar recommended in the Out Guide to New York. They did indeed have lovely food and a welcoming atmosphere and, because it was Easter, they were all wearing bunny ears: Great fun.

From there we went on to the theatre where the revival of A Chorus Line is playing. They have a lottery for cheap tickets a few hours before the show and Brett won us a couple of tickets for $22 each. (Not bad, considering the normal ticket price is in the $80-120 range!) So for about £11.50 we got to see a second Broadway show! Unlike Company though, I understand that little has changed in this revival production from the original one and, while it was enjoyable enough, it didn’t grip or stir me nearly as much. Sitting on the front row though, gave you a really up-close and personal view!

Tom met us again after the show and we had a snack in the Edison Hotel Café a few blocks from the theatre before again heading home to bed.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Company on Broadway

Wow! Company was riveting; an excellent production. The set is quite austere and open; lots of Perspex and crystal, there’s no orchestra; the cast play all the music, but the acting and singing is superb. Raul Esparza as Bobby knows how to use silence and deadpan and Heather Laws, who played Amy, did a stunningly clear job of ‘Not Getting Married.’ The show felt modern, it was engrossing, it was serious and fun and heart-wrenching at times. I started to well up as Bobby sang ‘Marry Me a Little,’ to close the first act. If you get a chance, go see it – even if you have to fly to New York for it!

So that was the highlight of Saturday and it definitely justified the trip. We had spent the morning in Central Park just strolling from north to south and taking occasional photographs. We finished up at the boathouse restaurant where we each lunched on a truly delicious roast beef and cheese sandwich. I’d been thinking of a fairly fancy lunch but we decided we weren’t really dressed and didn’t have time for a full lunch so settled for sandwiches from the café area instead and it was an excellent choice.

From there we went to the theatre for the show and afterwards met up with Tom, an old university friend of Brett’s who has a play due to open in June. We went for Tex-Mex at Chipotle and they did some catching up over dinner.

After dinner though we were both pretty weary, having decided to stay on London time for the weekend it was past our body clocks’ midnight, so we said temporary farewell to Tom and headed back to the hotel and bed.

Friday, April 06, 2007


JFK was extremely unwelcoming when we arrived. In the immigration hall the non-US citizens’ queue consisted of several hundred people and was serviced by four officers. The queue for US citizens never exceeded fifty people and was serviced by twenty officers; every booth on that side of the hall was staffed. I spent an hour and a half watching Americans arrive and breeze through the process whilst we all edged our way past posters telling visitors how the immigration service pledged to offer us a fast, efficient service and a cordial welcome. The disparity in numbers servicing the two queues wasn’t even because the immigration people on that side of the hall were unqualified to deal with foreign visitors; when the US queue was empty the next person at the front of our queue would be directed along – but only until the next Americans came along. Clearly it is no longer the US Government’s view that all men are created equal – and it was made abundantly clear to the rest of us who the unequal ones were.

When I had finally been processed (no cordiality or welcoming at all, merely a demand for my two index fingers and to look at the camera) I found Brett sitting on our luggage waiting for me and we went on through customs. I hadn’t booked a transfer at this end as all the services I could find online were hideously expensive even by London standards, so we got a yellow cab into the city.

The cab driver was so exactly what you expect a New York cab driver to be that he was almost a caricature! He had the broadest accent, drove like a maniac and swore roundly at anyone who got in his way. After the interminable frustration and injustice of the immigration hall it was rather refreshing and helped improve my sour mood somewhat.

After checking-in at the hotel, we headed upstairs to explore the roof terrace only to find it is closed for renovation. We gave up and went to bed.

Proposal - Part Two

21:50 GMT/16:50 EST

Actually, I expected being officially ‘engaged’ to be more earth-shattering.

Instead there’s just a warm glow of rightness and the world is a very contented place.

If you, the reader, have done this properly, you will already have read the post I composed back in January and published just before this one. If you haven’t, go back and read it now before I fill you in on what has happened since.

So, I booked a hotel not long after writing that; it was a bit of a fuss as there are so many hotels to choose from in New York and hence many variables in the decision. I decided not to splash ridiculous amounts of money on a fancy suite overlooking the park – we’re only there for a few days and most of that will probably be spent out and about. However the mid-priced, midtown hotel I picked does have a roof terrace with ‘fantastic view of the Empire State Building, one block away’ and is close to a number of Metro stations for getting around.

Since then, work has gotten a little crazy and I had to be prompted to invite people to dinner and then realised that I was fast running out of weekends when I was free to go ring shopping.

In the end I spent a Saturday along Old Bond Street with Ping. I think we walked the length of it at least twice, going into the various jewellers to check out their offerings. It’s amazing how many variations there are on ‘a simple, classic wedding band in platinum.’ In the end, when I got to see them in person, it turned out that I didn’t really like the designs of the Cartier rings and they had a fairly limited stock. It came down to a decision between almost identical rings by Asprey and Tiffany and in the end I plumped for the Tiffany one and came away with an incredibly camp looking little blue/green bag containing a gift-wrapped ring box.

The camp bag rapidly got disguised in a Boots carrier bag and shortly thereafter was secreted in my desk drawer at work, ready for retrieval last night.

Again because of work, it turned out that I gave very little thought to the actual proposal until the morning of the big day itself when it suddenly crystallised in my head that today was The Big Day and I should get something lined up that would bear repeating and not sound too much like a moron stumbling over expressing his feelings. In the end the fates were kind to me; Thursday afternoon was lovely, sunny and warm so, as I rode the train home from work, I determined I’d propose going up to the Common to enjoy the last of the sunshine and celebrate the start of the long weekend. Brett was not averse, having spent most of his day at the computer, so we headed out towards the village.

He did throw one fly into the ointment; he’d lined himself up with an informal interview for Friday at noon in the Liverpool Street area – exactly the time that the car was booked to collect us from Wimbledon. Nothing was going to stop the juggernaut of my best laid plans though so I hoped that, for an occasion such as this, a telephone interview might work or a rearrangement could be had.

Anyway, we strolled up the hill and picked up some fruit juice at Tesco’s. I spotted they had fresh strawberries too, so I grabbed them and popped some thick double-cream into the basket. We picked a spot on the Common not far from the pond, laid down on the jackets we’d brought (primarily because I had the ring in the pocket of mine!) and enjoyed the moment.

The strawberries were nice, but it turned out the fresh pineapple chunks that Brett had bought went better with the cream, so we worked our way through those until I found a suitable moment to say ‘I love you.’ I followed up with telling him why, and how I felt we fit so well together and ended up presenting him with the box and asking if he’d marry me. He said ‘yes’ and we kissed and then just lay there in the afternoon sun, eating pineapple and cream and feeling good.

We talked a bit about ceremonies and dates but didn’t come to any firm conclusions. It turned out that the proposal was not totally unexpected; Brett had felt some kind of marriage vibe from me when we were back at my parents’ place for Christmas – which is indeed when the whole proposal plan was coming together in my head.

We couldn’t spend too long lingering on the Common though as we’d invited people for dinner and needed to get ready.

The dinner was excellent; Lydon’s does do good food and they had champagne on ice for us when we arrived. After it had been poured but before we’d gotten around to toasting anything, I admitted that I had something else to do and handed Brett a plain envelope for him to open. It contained the confirmation of our tickets for ‘Company’. He didn’t spot the date though, so asked when we were going to New York and was quite blown away when I said, ‘tomorrow.’ It definitely had the desired effect.

The rest of the meal went well; both the food and wine were excellent and the company was congenial – although to be honest I have limited recollection of the over dinner conversation beyond occasionally wondering what Rod and Jess were making of some of the more explicit gay banter. (I didn’t get much chance to talk to them as they were sat across the (round) table from me, so I’ll have to organise something smaller when we get back.)

This morning started just right; not too early and not too late. We got up and breakfasted, did the usual morning routine of checking emails, reading the news then showering and dressing, then started packing. The timing was perfect and we were sorted just a little ahead of the car arriving.

Things went smoothly at the airport. Despite my fears to the contrary, Brett didn’t spot the fact that the boarding pass said ‘Club World’ rather than ‘World Traveller’ and accepted my explanation that I’d splashed a little extra cash to get us into the lounges (which was actually perfectly true.) We missed the complimentary facial at Molton Brown’s because we needed to reserve a time and didn’t go down to investigate until too late, but we still had the luxury of fast-tracking through security and a comfortable place to relax and enjoy refreshments before boarding.

Just as planned, Brett was gobsmacked again when we boarded the plane and got directed to the left rather than the right.

British Airways have recently started refitting their Club Class seating and, sitting in the central two seats, we are virtually in our own private cabin. We accepted the pre-flight champagne and toasted ourselves while settling into our little cocoon. In the end we were especially glad of our luxury, as the plane went technical before we pushed-back and we were delayed for three hours while they replaced an engine management unit on the number two engine. As we waited we helped ourselves to sandwiches from the Club Kitchen and the stewards served drinks while we enjoyed the new onboard entertainment system; a wide selection of video and audio on demand.

We were airborne exactly three hours after our scheduled departure time but I really don’t feel any the worse for it. I’ve watched a documentary on the Incas, they served us dinner as soon as we were up (oh, yes, fine cuisine it was too!), we’ve spent a while reading and now I’m blogging away as Brett reclines beside me.

Life is good, enveloped in that warm glow of ‘rightness’ and I am contented with the world as I hold my husband-to-be’s hand, 38,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean.

Proposal - Part One

Saturday, 27 January 2007

Okay, this is probably not going to be published until April when all the surprises have been revealed, but I wanted to blog it now, as it’s happening, as it is the run up to one of the pivotal moments of my life.

I have long had a bit of a fear of commitment; I am quite cynical of human nature and how people change over time and so am wary of promising anything absolutely. Hence Brett and I have been living together as partners for nearly three years and I have never felt comfortable proposing marriage to him.

Sometime before Christmas that feeling changed. I can’t really say when, how or why it happened, it wasn’t the result of a particular train of thought, rather there was some kind of subconscious emotional shift where it began to feel right to say ‘Yes, I expect to spend the rest of my life with this man and I want the world to officially recognise that fact.’

So that’s how it began.

I have something of a reputation of an all or nothing man that is not unjustified. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Any actual marriage celebrations will be a joint project and I have seen enough of them to know that the day is far less for the bride and groom than it is for their guests. So I wanted to make the proposal a special, hopefully romantic event that we will both look back on fondly in the years to come.

To me romance is not the Valentine’s Day commercialism of red love-hearts, chocolates or flowers and a candle-lit dinner, it is doing something together that you know your partner is going to love for no other reason than it makes them happy. I don’t claim that my motives are entirely that pure though, as I am certainly going to get an amount of selfish enjoyment out of springing the series of surprises on Brett, but I justify myself with the knowledge that they are all going to be pleasant surprises for him and should provide both a happy and enduring memory of my proposal to him and the days thereafter.

The first thing I considered was the ring. After scoffing a few months back at John & Rich’s suggestion that one could easily expect to pay £1,000 for a wedding ring, when it actually came to buying a ring for Brett there was no question that I wanted to buy the best I could possibly afford for him. I looked at Garrard’s and Asprey’s websites but they are first and foremost jewellers rather than metal-smiths so, while they do some exquisite ladies’ engagement rings, they don’t do plain wedding bands. In the end I came to the Cartier site and found a number of rings I liked the look of.

The Stephen Sondheim musical, Company, has figured often in the development of our relationship; I first really noticed Brett when he sang the solo as Bobby in the title song of the musical at my first Chorus Concert. Another song from the show, Marry Me A Little, describes how I think marriage should be; a close and committed, considerate partnership but without any subsumption of the individuals’ identities. I think he and I have managed to build that kind of relationship these last few years. The show’s finale, Being Alive, while not an especially romantic number is just heart-rending and whenever Brett sings it, it brings a tear to my eye.

Company has recently been revived on Broadway and we’ve spoken several times of going to see it. So I figured I would surprise Brett, first with a proposal of marriage and then by flying him to New York to see the show together. As it’s a special occasion I thought we should take advantage of my (our) accumulated loyalty miles with British Airways and get upgraded seats on the flight (after all, Economy class seats are hardly intimate or a good venue for romance!) Then, as Brett is close to his family and we were going to be Stateside anyway, I thought it would be worth pre-warning his family to see if any of them could be in New York to hook up with us while we were there.

The whole idea was nearly still-born; after looking up rings, I started planning the trip to New York and balked at the price of upgraded flight seats. Alternatives, such as a weekend in Paris were considered, but none of them really felt as good as Company in New York with his family around. It was ultimately a lunch with Oz that spurred me on; he reminded me of my own oft given piece of advice about seizing the day because you never know what’s around the corner, so I went back to the BA website and played around with options and eventually took the plunge and booked theatre tickets and Club Class flights to New York over the Easter weekend 2007.

And that’s how you find me today; I haven’t booked a hotel yet, or organised transfers, but I’ve got the flights sorted, the show tickets are bought and Chris C has been charged with the mission of briefing the family and co-ordinating any family trip to NYC in complete secrecy. If all goes according to plan, we’ll have dinner with friends on the evening of Thursday 6th April where I will do the actual proposal and reveal that we are flying to New York the following day. I won’t tell him about the Club Class seats until we board the plane, although he may well guess when we make use of the BA Lounge and Spa before boarding. Hopefully the presence of the family in New York will be a final surprise on arrival.

I am still undecided about whether to do the actual proposal over dinner or before. While I am fairly certain he will say yes, it is not the kind of decision one should feel pressured into and, being surrounded by his friends (who will all be expecting him to say yes), would certainly count as pressure. Maybe I should do the proposal before we leave for the restaurant so we have time to talk some before joining the group. That should ensure the integrity of the decision. (I know that doesn’t sound at all romantic, but if for any reason Brett isn’t entirely sure he wants to marry me just yet, I don’t want him to be forced into it by circumstances that I’ve arranged.) When he says ‘yes’ to me I want him to be as sure of the decision as I am.