Monday, 17 December 2007

Hurtling towards year end

Despite the very heavy weekend that formed the subject of the previous post, lessons were resolutely not learned last week. Out on Thursday with mate Phil to see Maximo Park at the newly re-opened Oxford Carling Academy <spits contemptuously in memory of The Zodiac> I was planning to get home early before the gig, line my stomach and not drink much. But an hour of crawling home in dense traffic from Didcot put paid to the first two ideas, and so I reverted to my post-university days of drinking cider and eating crisps to fill me up. Hmmm. Actually maybe it was a good job that there was a jam, as it prevented me from going above 50mph on my spare tyre. Who checks their tyres before they set off on a journey? Not me, especially in the pitch dark and freezing temperatures of Didcot Parkway station on Wednesday night. So it was only after going 100 yards or so and realising something was very wrong indeed that I got out and realised I'd been driving on a flat and hence buggering the inside of the tyre, meaning it needed to be replaced even if all that had happened was that some little sh!te had let it down during the day. You certainly couldn't see a puncture anywhere. So now, I owe Ali some serious ironing time on his shirts, after an emergency damsel in distress call. I don't know how I would have got those wheel nuts off by myself but I'm bloody glad I didn't have to attempt it.

So anyway, Maximo Park. After our ill-fated attempt at seeing them earlier in the year, I was really looking forward to seeing if they'd be better, edgier than Dan's lukewarm review made out. And... they were about what I'd expected actually, not one of those transcendent gigs, just really enjoyable - very bouncy bouncy, all the right tunes in the right order, stonking versions of Limassol and Our Velocity, and a venue small enough to see them properly. Most folk there seemed real MP fans as well, and dead excited to be seeing them in Oxford. The one slightly jarring note was Paul Smith's comment "You might know that we're playing a big arena in Newcastle in 2 days time; well, we want you to know THIS IS NOT A WARM UP GIG - we don't do 'warm ups'". Okayyyy then, right you are mate... We were right at the back (the front seemed to be full of members of the local basketball team, or, as I overheard one girl say, 'they breed them big round here') and I could still see. We did admit that the Carling folk hadn't done a bad job at all with the Zodiac - the downstairs space is now the main venue for bands - a lot bigger than before and screens everywhere. Being new I guess it also hasn't got the residue of years of nicotine, tar, sweat, stale booze and general wear and tear - so it felt very clean. The best thing about it though, is that the promoters are obviously getting bigger bands to play there with no trouble - we're already planning Hot Chip and Elbow outings next year - thus avoiding travelling into the big smoke on a school night. Hurrah!

I had a day off on Friday, but not so's you'd notice. Spent it getting the tyre fixed; running errands; doing chores; and packing for the weekend, at the same time checking work email on my smartphone. Humbug. Still, it was the pre-cursor to a fantastic weekend with Stuart and Alison in Manchester, during which I did my traditional clothes overspend with Alison on Saturday in town, much booze was consumed at lunch and a great meal out on Saturday night was had by all. Hangover on Sunday was a mini version of last week's. Hoh well.

We did buy the Christmas tree when we got home though, which I duly decorated with glee, though becoming mildly crestfallen when one set of fairy lights went on the blink due to a missing bulb which OF COURSE we didn't have a replacement for. The now-routine SCD marathon ensued, all very wonderful as always except for the frankly inexplicable perfect 40 for Matt and Flavia's waltz and the fact that the judges had several screws loose and voted to kick Gorgeous Gethin out. Sob. Matt will go to pieces next week, Alesha will rightly win, but the show won't be the same without a re-run of the salsa of week 9.

And so back to work today, with a load of stuff to do and no pre-Christmas feeling at all, just a slight sense of panic. But! Ali has just texted me with the news that the plumber has magically fixed our underfloor heating, which it seems has never worked properly since it was installed 18 months ago. We may even have a warm kitchen for Christmas! And I've just found a replacement bulb for the fairy lights! Ho ho ho!

Monday, 10 December 2007

The festive fun begins...

Friday night saw the start of the Christmas get togethers, marking the beginning of a weekend of pure indulgence, food-wise (though actually most of the indulgence was booze related....) And tonight it’s another Christmas outing, this time with the agency to Manicomio in Chelsea. So I’m preparing for more yummy Italian food and I would guess a few bottles of Amarone, as it’s my boss’s favourite wine.

Tapas and red wine in Windsor with work colleagues

Brunch: sausage sandwiches + HP sauce. Mmmm.
Early evening 'snack' in cocktail bar par excellence, Raoul's: chips, flatbread and hummous
Drinks: Westons Organic Cider x 2 bottles; Raspberry Collins x 2; Apple Martini x 1
Italian restaurant: half bottle of white; mussels in white wine sauce; bottle of Amarone; lamb steak, roast potatoes, veg; coffee
Pub: post-prandial pint of cider
Home: half glass of red (too sozzled to manage the whole glass. Ali tried to get through a can of Guinness when we got home, god knows why.)

Breakfast: Innocent smoothie (cranberry and raspberry) as hangover cure
Lunch: Half bowl sweet potato and corn soup; slice of sourdough bread
Afternoon: 3 glasses mulled wine; Stowford Press cider x 1 bottle; Rice snacks x at least 2/3 big bag. My hangover had obviously gone by this point!
Dinner: Roast chicken, roast potatoes and healthy green leafy veg
Treat: 1 Bendicks Bittermint

Points? Too many to even think of adding them all up. Pounds put on since last week – I think about 3. Gulp. But I did go to Body Balance on Sunday morning, so that makes me feel slightly better about myself. I wouldn’t recommend doing it with a hangover though, as some of the yoga poses made me feel distinctly dizzy and there were a few hairy moments when the queasiness threatened to overwhelm me while doing the 'Downward Facing Dog' pose...

Monday, 3 December 2007

Time for some new good intentions

Been doing a 'leadership development' course at work recently. I always have trouble with these courses - but only beforehand - it's the idea of spending a whole day or two away from the office, when there is so much going on at the moment that absolutely requires me to be sitting on my email at all times and letting everything get on top of me (because of course that's the mark of a good manager, oh yes...). But inevitably, taking a day to reflect on past activity and behaviours exhibited is actually always a worthwhile experience and makes me feel far more able to take things in my stride moving forward.

Part of the day today was about planning for 2008, and I set myself some pretty overarching targets: attitudinal, business objectives, and personal goals. The personal ones are always the same - more 'us' time for Ali and I; exercise more; go on a proper long holiday. Some kind of fit in with the very loose theme of this blog, in that they are good intentions but might not get carried out very often. But I hope that I will have the willpower to see them all through.

One I thought of but didn't write down was to get more DIY stuff done around the house and garden, and make use of the new toy we bought 2 weeks ago. My mum was in a slight state of shock when I told her we'd got a shiny new sewing machine for me to make things with - after all, I was never what you'd term creative when I was younger. It was the purchase of a stupidly expensive pair of jeans when we were in Edinburgh the other week that did it. Having lost some weight, and also due to the fact that my dearest, best loved and constantly worn Earl Jeans are starting to fall apart from over-use, I splurged on a pair of James Jeans from Harvey Nichols. Size 26!!!!! (sorry had to get that in) but so dear I can't even disclose the price, it's too shameful. Anyway, the smaller size still obviously couldn't make up for the fact that I'm a short arse, and needed about 4 inches taken off the legs so I could wear them properly. The last time I took a pair of trousers to the tailors in Oxford they made a balls up of them and hemmed them too short, so a sewing machine was the clear way forward. Only about 16 more pairs of jeans to go and I might break even. I have to say, although machines have got a lot more sophisticated since I was at school - the one we bought is computerised, and excitingly does all sorts of very posh embroidery stitches of leaves and stars and suchlike - it was relatively easy to get the hang of it and now I have a pair of jeans I can wear with pride without tripping over the extra material. If I get round to making anything more adventurous rather than just sewing hems I'll definitely start posting more photos. Which is another good intention.

Quick SCD update, for those of you who care (and knowing who reads this blog, that's probably only one or possibly two of you, but why should that stop me, it's my blog after all). After Saturday's show my allegiance, hitherto firmly with Alesha and Matt, is now wavering quite distinctly towards bloody gorgeous Gethin. WHAT A SALSA!

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Geoff Vader

Just got this sent to my funwall or sillywall or whatever new wall version is now hip on Facebook. It's been around for a while but brightened up what has been a pretty crap couple of weeks recently, combining as it does Lego and Eddie Izzard. Smashing!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Auld Reekie

I started writing this post in bed last night, as Ali was out on the lash in rain-swept Wantage and there was only so much ironing I could take. I wasn't watching the football, of course (but I did take the opportunity to have an early 90s self indulgent wallow on the Squeezebox. It's been ages since I listened to the Gene album Olympian - some of the tracks have not aged particularly well, but others such Sleep Well Tonight and the title track are still quite thrilling). I did feel slightly Carrie Bradshaw-ish as I lay propped up on pillows, laptop balanced on the duvet; but I'm sure the effect was ruined by the big cardie I was wearing over my pyjamas. More Miss Marple than Sex and the City...

The hallowed Oxford BarIt's been a funny old few weeks really. We had a great time up in Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago for my Dad's 60th. Mum and I had arranged the whole weekend to be a surprise for him, so though he knew Mum and he were booked in for the weekend, he didn't know that Ali and I would turn up (to meet them at the bus stop on Waverley Bridge at 8.30am on Saturday morning, brrrrr...); that my brother and his girlfriend would also be there; that we were treating him and Mum to a slap up meal at the Witchery in the evening; and that on the Sunday 2 sets of their closest friends were also arriving in town to take him and Mum out in the evening. I think all the surprises and emotion of the weekend got to him a bit in the end (or maybe that was the champagne and copious amounts of ale Ali was determined to get him to 'experience' in various Edinburgh pubs). It was a fantastic weekend though - I love Edinburgh and would quite happily move up there for good if there were any jobs available that we could do and that paid us well enough to afford more than a grimy bedsit. Despite the good old BBC online weather forecast predicting heavy rain all weekend, it was actually glorious - biting cold, but bright and crisp with a vivid blue sky and great views from up at the Castle down onto the city.

Since then we've done our Christmas shopping (braving the twin horrors of Oxford city centre on a pre-yule Saturday & John Lewis Home and Leisure store in High Wycombe on the same day. Yikes), put up some pictures (finally) and generally gone about our day to day business much as usual. Up to Hawick this weekend to see the family. It feels a bit like pre-Christmas limbo before the frantic hurdy-gurdy of December. Quite pleasant, really, though a sort of uneasy anticipation about the whole thing. At least we can get the Christmas tree soon and put up the fairy lights! Yay!

( word of the day today is "deipnosophist": one skilled in table talk. Nice!)

Monday, 5 November 2007

Disgruntled from Abingdon

Weekends for me are becoming more and more contented in the run up to Christmas. I think it's mainly to do with the clocks going back - suddenly it's inky dark at 5pm and a good excuse to stop whatever chores have had to be done during the day and settle in front of the fire, or start cooking a luxuriously comforting casserole (we had slow cooked venison, marinaded in red wine, redcurrant jelly, cider vinegar, juniper and allspice berries and lots of woody herbs on Saturday night. Served with mash and cavolo nero, it was YUM). It's started to get cold - still not *really* cold enough to justify a real fire, but I love having one and so my eco-credentials take a bit of a bashing in the winter when the coal bucket and log basket get filled 2 or 3 times a week. Last night and this morning the fog came down, and looking out of our living room window at night when the streetlamps are lit, when all you can see is the yellowy glow contrasting with the white cloudiness, you get a whiff of Victorian Abingdon. The effect is better in the conservation area around Abingdon School and Albert Park, where the streetlamps really are Victorian cast iron (or very good reproductions), the modern cars are parked away in garages and the houses are huge, posh and gorgeous. However if you look out of our window when the lower shutter is closed, the foggy view of terraces in the street opposite ours is almost as good.

November is shaping up to be no different from the rest of the year to date, in that we are busy visiting / being visited. In a couple of weeks we have the second free weekend in as many months (astounding, what's going on??) and this has been earmarked for Christmas shopping ahead of a trip up to the Scottish Borders to see Ali's folks in late November. Which means a few evenings of sitting on the floor, sipping red wine by the fire, wrapping paper all around, random lengths of sellotape stuck to every surface, SCD on the telly (you didn't think I'd let a post go by without at least one mention did you?) and a warm glow everywhere.

So what's with the miffed-sounding post title then? Well, yesterday, we sat down to watch Top Gear at 8pm as no doubt many households around the UK did. Fire going, bellies full, ready to enjoy a last bit of relaxation before the week ahead. I normally don't mind Top Gear, despite the display of laddishness, misogyny, racism, anti-environmental sentiment and homophobia of the three presenters. I think a lot of this (with the exception of Jeremy Clarkson) is put on for the cameras and anyway it's just telly after all, usually entertaining telly at that.

But last night they were on a 'Top Gear Challenge'. What utter bollocks. Driving around Botswana in 3 old bangers, followed by a crew in 4x4s to cater for their every comfort and make sure there was enough hot water after a night's 'camping' to ensure they got a proper shave. I can understand why they'd do challenges in new super-cars - after all it's escapism and I guess informative if you're into cars. But this was just silly. There was a bit of an outcry in July when it was discovered the 3 heroes were going to be trekking over the Makgadikgadi salt pans in totally unsuitable vehicles and there was a scene where they ignored all existing tracks and drove the most direct route through the wildlife to get to the nearest petrol station. I bet there were a few scared monkeys that day. But apart from all that, it's the pointlessness of it that gets me. Yes, OK, there were mildly amusing bits, Richard Hammond's yelps as he sank trying to ford a river being one. But really, what a waste of our license fee. Hence the title - because this level of petty sniping is really best left to Points of View or the Telegraph letters page. And for one who watches a wide variety of both quality and crap tv, I'm hardly one to talk about what constitutes a waste of the license fee...

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Save our bacon

"Careless pork costs lives"

I'm not normally an advocate for reading the red tops, but this headline struck me as really quite witty. For the Sun. It heads an article with news of the World Cancer Research Fund report, saying that eating processed meat like pork sausages, bacon and ham boosts the risk of bowel cancer. Quite depressing really but good on the Sun for making a good headline out of it. (The Mirror's take was "Have a long, healthy and miserable life". Even more depressing.)

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Life post-cheese

No, not literally. By god, that would be unthinkable. A life without cheese is a life half lived, to misquote Strictly Ballroom...

Anyway, my holding post of a few days ago was really just to get back into the blogging habit again, as it's been a while since I posted anything of note; but my recent discovery that I was listed on the Mostly Books blog and the subsequent nice comments from friends has got me enthused for posting again, as I had let work and other stuff get in the way a fair bit. I know that even when I'm really busy, I will always make time to run through my Bloglines feeds and whenever a new post from a friend's blog appears it cheers me up no end - much more exciting than all those industry techie feeds I read and even (dare I say it) more interesting than the newsy feeds on books, music, eco stuff and the like that I subscribe to. So, good intentions poised and at the ready, I resolve To Do Better. (Capitals are great, aren't they? I feel amost Edward Gorey-ish using them, She Said Archly).

So, what's been going on in our world since the fromagery of late September?

A couple of quite alarming and intense work weeks, where I was planning a big project for January. I'm 99.8% sure none of our direct competitors read this, but even so I won't expand further. Anyway, it's something way outside my comfort zone and I was mightily relieved when the proposal I submitted on 12th October to the US got well received. Phew.

In between this, was a drink-sodden weekend where we went to London to meet up with Ali's folks and some friends they were visiting in Caterham. We met up in a pub just off St James' Square, and basically lurched around Soho all afternoon from hostelry to hostelry. This was the weekend of the England victory over the Aussies in the Rugby World Cup and I was the only English person in the party. Luckily despite all the Scots contingent being desperate to find an Aussie pub to watch it in, we ended up in the Glasshouse just off Piccadilly where I had a fine old time yelling encouragement and generally getting very overexcited. Wa hey!

By 12th I was more than ready for a break, my first day off since starting the job back in early June. After a few days of pre-holiday panic, that was it - done. On the first day of our week off, the Saturday, we were back in London to watch Maximo Park play at the Brixton Academy as part of an XFM night. Or not. I was FUMING at the time and could have written reams but step by step:

- Kathryn and Ali arrive at the venue after a day of mooching in town
- Go in, get patted down, buy 1 pint of cider and a bottle of water for SIX POUNDS BLEEDING TEN!!!!!!!
- Look at the set list and realise MP are not on til 10.30pm. Last train from Paddington is 11.30pm. Fuck.
- Have panicked discussion, look at Ali's Crackberry and realise that all trains are cancelled post 9pm anyway due to engineering works.
- Discuss merits of getting the bus home and then give up in disgust, leave the venue (much to the bemusement of security) and watch the second half of England v France (wa hey again!) in a pub in Brixton, then head off to Paddington to chance our luck.
- Wait at Paddington for an hour and half for a replacement bus service to Reading. Lots of swearing.
- Eventually get to Reading at 12.30am for the last train to Didcot.
- Grrrrrr.....

Sunday was a bit more chilled, culminating in a birthday celebration for our mate Chris in the Yummy Thai restaurant in Wantage. It certainly lived up to its name, yum yum.

Our week off was lovely. 3 days in north Dorset staying in the village of Buckhorn Weston at the phenomenal Stapleton Arms. Beautiful room, comfy bed, LCD TV, walk in shower which was the most powerful I've ever experienced in a hotel, organic breakfast grub, great menu, 2 real ciders on tap :-) and log fires every night. Wonderful, and really good value. We did Shaftesbury, Sherborne, Stonehenge, the Cerne Abbas giant with his big willy (and the faint outline of Homer Simpson remaining on the field next to him, hee hee), and a great walk on the coast and Chesil Beach. Then back on Thursday for some R&R at home, a nice meal at the Crooked Billet on Friday night and Rod, Wendy and their 3 kids over on Saturday for a fab get together. Sunday was spent nursing hangovers (Ali and Rod got stuck into the whisky in the wee small hours of Sunday morning...) and as mentioned before, by the time it got to mid afternoon, I was ready for hair of the dog and some pure SCD indulgence.

Back to work now and it's getting intense, preparing for January. It's bizarre not gearing up for the Christmas rush - reminds me of working in the travel industry in a way, but better, obviously.
So that's me up to date, we've got a rare free weekend coming up so I'll be repainting the front door. I'm actually looking forward to it, in a bizarre way.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Ooh the pressure

The lovely Mark and Nicki of Mostly Books have listed me as one of their 'Abingdon blogs' on the blogroll of their own, re-vamped blog. Though flattering to be in the company of domesticali et al, it is slightly worrying for 2 reasons: one, I know a lot of the book trade, various literati, the famous Scott Pack etc etc read the Mostly Books blog, and hence may, in a moment of whimsy, click through to this one. Part of me wonders what they may think and panics slightly; whereas the other part knows deep down that these are all busy important people and have better things to do with their day than read random blogs (or do they...?). Two, I don't really blog about Abingdon per se, though obviously I do live here and a lot of the things we do in our leisure time are done around and about the town. The Abingdon Blogger himself does take loads of photos though, and posts some occasional nuggets of interest that enlighten me about what The People Who Run Things are doing with our town, so I don't feel as much pressure here to blog about what it's like to live in Abingdon.

Also, I'm not sure how many people actually look at the webspace of blogs nowadays (if that's the right terminology) but instead subscribe to a feed. I mean, I've had over 100 visitors to this one since I stuck a site counter up a while ago, and that's lovely to see. I think I know who a few of them are, and to those of you who come along just for the hell of it and don't know me from Adam, I'm really pleased and I hope you don't think it was a waste of your time. However, all the blogs I read regularly are consumed via Bloglines feeds within that interface, and not by me visiting the site itself (and becoming a unique visitor). It means I can get all my reading over and done with blog by blog and also - crucially for an organisation freak - sort the feeds into friends, work-related, books, music etc. themilkman has recently posted about information overload and the difficulty of keeping up with blogs - I don't find this so much of a problem, except with those who regularly post huge long essays which I only have time to read at weekends (sorry dovegreyreader and Stephen Fry). Only 2 people (including me, ha) have subscribed to my blog on Bloglines though, so I'm guessing not many people are reading me as a feed. In which case to those 179 people who have come and visited so far, thank you very much indeed.

Monday, 22 October 2007

A holding post

... until I get some time to write a proper one. October has not been a particularly prolific month for me so far for blogging, for a variety of reasons, but there is quite a lot to talk about when I do get round to it. Hence the appositeness of the cartoon below.

Also, Strictly Come Bitching is blogging about SCD with far more eloquence and wit than I could manage, so I won't be posting too often about autumn's finest show. Suffice to say that with a roaring fire, hair of the dog in the shape of Westons Organic Cider, and the remains of a family bag of lightly salted Kettle Chips, I was in SCD heaven yesterday with Saturday's show on video followed by the results show. Alesha and Matthew to win!!

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Oh. My. God!!

There's just too much excitement out there for me at the moment. I must calm down. Having just read the following sites in quick succession all I can say is how did I miss the preview programme last Saturday (okay okay cheese might have had something to do with it) and HOW, HOW did I come to agree to a day out in London this coming Saturday when the first programme of the series is on??

Monday, 1 October 2007

Mumbling joyful shudders

There are some occasions when, for whatever reason, words just don't flow as well as they ought. My last cheesey post was one of these, I think primarily because I wrote it on Friday night on the train home from work, and it was in full anticipatory mode. Then of course I never got round to actually posting it up until yesterday, by which time I had to go back in and edit it so that the verbs were all in the past tense and I was writing about things which had happened rather than those I was looking forward to. Hence my dissatisfaction with how it comes across - I wish I'd just written something spontaneously after the event which captured the enjoyment of seeing our friends and eating and drinking all too well.

So. Mumbling over, onto the joy. Yes - Radiohead are releasing their new album, ripe and ready for download in only 10 short days, oh wonderfulness :) Plenty of other bloggers, mostly from the Guardian, are talking about the fact they are inviting folk to pay what they think it's worth for the album rather than setting a fixed price; so I won't also comment, other than to say that any true Radiohead fan should stump up at least a tenner. We have pre-ordered the full double CD with vinyl and book, plus access to the download, for £40. Well, you've got to really. We saw them in Blackpool last May where they played some tracks that are now on the album and so we know they're bloody good. Woo hoo!

Finally, the shuddering. Well, Nigella Lawson is ladling out mayonnaise on the telly. Nuff said.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Give cheese a chance

Yesterday, we went off to the Great British Cheese Festival which was serendipitously being held at Millets Farm, a mere 2 villages away from Abingdon. 2 years ago we went when it was held at Blenheim Palace and though the day was cool and drizzly (conditions luckily not repeated yesterday, we even had a few glorious sunny spells) the almost overwhelming varieties of cheese, free water biscuits, real ale tent and general overconsumption meant for a cracking day all round.

This time there were slightly fewer of us going (we missed you Susan...) and the cheese sweats and cheddary limbs were conspicuous by their absence today. Learning from last time we didn't round the day off with the Dil Raj's finest curries, as this was the tipping point from which certain of our group did not fully recover for weeks, possibly even months. Instead we ambled along to Abingdon's finest - or indeed only - Lebanese restaurant for some cleansing salads and falafel, along with the finest of Lebanese red wine (actually quite nice).

At the cheese festival this year current Observer darling Alex James was there, presumably preening about his new found bucolic idyll and launching his Little Wallop cheese via a video podcast. We didn't see this, thank goodness, though Ali did pap him using his unfeasibly large lens. I'll post a photo up soon so you can see his drippy hairstyle and 'farmer's' tweeds in all their glory. We did try the Little Wallop - it was OK - but tellingly the guy that gave us a taste said he had only ever met Alex twice, and didn't even know if he had a dairy herd on his farm... There were so many other, better cheeses than this as well: Lincolnshire Poacher (vintage and non-vintage); endless varieties of soft and hard goats cheese; plus gourmet breads from de Gustibus were consumed with gusto, and the wide variety of real ciders and perries was smashing - amazingly far greater than the single real ale on offer. Ha! In fact the only real disappointment was the lack of free water biscuits, Carr's were obviously cutting back this year.

Bring on the brie!

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

These are a few of my not-so-favourite things...

  • Cyclists who ride on the pavement and assume pedestrians will just skitter out of the way deferentially.
  • Pedestrians who stop dead in the middle of the street with no warning, especially when you're right behind them.
  • Train drivers (or more accurately, First Great Western timetable fiddlers who control where train drivers are going) who announce suddenly 'this train is now the fast service to Slough' when it was until a mere moment ago the stopping service to Maidenhead.
  • People who chew gum noisily, with their mouths open (or any gum chewers at all, in fact).
  • Royal Mail, especially their customer services department. If ever a department deserved to lose that title, they would be my first choice. Closely followed by Vodafone, of course.
  • Running out of screenwash just when your windscreen is full of dead flies.
  • Activex controls buggering up my Firefox browser. What's a dll file anyway?
  • And finally, blogging platforms where all of the commands when you've logged in have weirdly become German. I mean, what's that all about? What's a tastaturk├╝rzel when it's at home?

But on a positive note, the nights are drawing in, it's getting nippy in the evenings (time to bring the lime tree indoors) and that can mean only one thing.....Strictly Come Dancing is coming back on our screens again!!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Books, recommendations, and apprehension

At the last meeting of our book group, we discussed Tokyo Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta. I really enjoyed it – it’s a collection of short stories, loosely bound together by the premise that all the storytellers are stranded in an airport waiting for a flight to Tokyo airport, which is closed due to a snowstorm. Thirteen passengers from a connecting flight cannot be accommodated in any hotels in the unnamed city they end up in, so are reduced to sitting around and telling stories all night. Quotes on the back of the book reference the Arabian Nights, Canterbury Tales etc – although this was rubbished by everyone in our group.

Apart from the last story, which was quite honestly just rather unpleasant and even distasteful in some areas, I thought the book was excellent. The tales reminded me in some respects of a book of Chinese Fairy Tales I had when I was little; and were magical, fantasy-filled, contemporary, intriguing, and full of vividly drawn characters. The style reminded me very much of Haruki Murakami, an author I rate very highly; and I think this may have coloured my view of the book as a whole, as I enjoyed the reading of it so much. I was, however, in a minority (that’s a minority of one) among my fellow book group-ees. A lot of folk didn’t like the style, didn’t think the stories had any point to them or anything to teach us about the human condition; lack of characterisation and plot was a common theme. And everyone loathed the last story of the thirteen.

So it doesn’t bode well for the next group meeting, at which we are discussing the frankly stupendous The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by the aforementioned Haruki Murakami. I recommended this book to the group a while ago; it made it onto the shortlist; and then was selected for October’s read. Last time I recommended this to a book group was a long time ago when I was attending the Blackwell’s Reading Group, and to a man they all hated it. Since then I’ve met a lot of Murakami devotees (and read about more, including the infamous Scott Pack who apparently is a Murakami completist and collects all known editions of the great man’s work. I haven’t yet gone that far) and so am feeling slightly more confident about this next meeting, especially as I know at least one person in the group was impressed when she read it before. However, I am still a little apprehensive about how it will go down (as it's also quite a chunky tome, and so needs a considerable investment of time).

I’m also slogging through The House By The Thames. It's been hard going, which I was slightly surprised by, as the subject matter has the potential to be really absorbing. But it's too focussed on the occupants of no.49 Bankside and corresponding census information (yawn) and not enough on the periods of London history that I find so fascinating. Not a bad read but just not that gripping.

Friday, 31 August 2007

A quiet time

For once I am home before Ali; it is the last day of 'summer hours' in the office today before it's officially autumn (boo) and so as I haven't been able to take advantage of it any Friday before now I thought today ought to be the day. If First Great Western hadn't been their usual incompetent selves and cancelled the train I should have taken, I'd have been home even earlier. Still, there would have been no way I'd have made it home before 4.30pm on a Friday when I was at Virgin, so I'm thankful for this small quiet time on my own. This week has been somewhat manic, at least by my standards. God knows how folk in big cities manage to go out every night and socialise and still manage to get their work done and house organised and time to read the paper.

Tuesday evening saw an impromptu dinner with our agency - very nice Italian restaurant with a whole menu dedicated to ravioli. Yum. As were the bottles of Amarone my boss ordered. Wednesday was a night out with some international colleagues (ooh get me) who were over in the UK, in the Bel and The Dragon pub in posh village Cookham near work. Apparently Ulrika-ka-ka-ka-ka lives somewhere near and it's all very lovely and expensive everywhere. Last night the same crowd went to the Hinds Head at Bray, which is Heston Blumenthal's pub-that-isn't-the-Fat-Duck - somewhere I would have liked to have gone as well if I'd been free. But instead I met up with good friend Jenn in Notting Hill for a chat and a catch up, which was far more enjoyable.

All of this carousing has meant some interesting but probably very obvious developments:
1. It's normally Ali who is out and about during the week so this swap in our fortunes is actually quite nice - not just me eating meals for one at home for a change!
2. Our food budget this week has been quite meagre, as we've not had to buy anything to eat. Hurrah.
3. My diet has crashed and burned - 3 days into my week and already my allowance of treats has been fully used up (mostly by red wine) so it doesn't bode well for stepping on the scales next week, especially as we're off to Lincolnshire tomorrow for a bbq session with friends...
4. I'm far more knackered than I would normally be on a Friday, but in a much more content way.

Right, time to read the paper I do believe.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Musical memories

Ali and I watched a few of the highlights of the Reading Festival during the bank holiday weekend, in between a lengthy gardening session of highly satisfying pruning of next door's buddleias; a great sunny barbeque with some friends we'd not seen for a while (though I did over-cater on the meat and salads front somewhat) and a cycle ride-cum-pub crawl through some of the south Oxfordshire villages near us. This latter was meant to get us out and about in the fresh air - tick - spend some time together - tick - and get some exercise - no tick, could do better. We meandered round some B roads and a few cycle paths, got to the North Star at Steventon, Ali swooned with pleasure at the nectar that was a pint from the White Horse brewery (the name escapes me) and then went to the Cherry Tree for some lunch. Cycling through Sutton Courtenay on the way back, we weren't meant to stop at all, until Ali saw the 'Bank Holiday Guest Ale specials' sandwich board outside the George and Dragon and swerved over to take advantage. It would have been rude not to, as they say.

Anyway, back to Reading. I went 3 times in my yoof (christ how old does that make me sound) - 1995, 1996 and 1998. The first time was with a group of 5 friendly chaps from Cambridgeshire who I used to spend much of my vacation time going to gigs with when I was at university. That first year was amazing - the festival experience became well and truly ingrained into my soul. Highlights were the Foo Fighters' first ever UK festival gig, at which I almost got crushed and nearly passed out from the heat in the NME tent; and seeing Ash, who at at the time were all about 16 and whose official band t-shirt, complete with legend 'three boy hardcore action' on the back, I thought was the height of cool when I bought it. I was even fearless enough to go down the front to the moshpit and go kerrraaaazzzy, something I would rarely dream of doing now in my old and personal safety conscious state. I also (unlike my compadres who were all into US hardcore punk bands like NOFX and Bad Religion) attended Gene's headline slot on the Saturday night in the NME tent and completely fell in love with Martin Rossiter, little realising what a pretentious wanker he was in real life.

Subsequent years were also fantastic experiences and I went to Glastonbury in 2000 which was a whole other level of festival going. I did love Glasto but I do have a special place in my heart reserved for Reading, being somewhat of an indie kid deep down. So watching it on the telly, cider in hand (bad for the diet but that's another story) in the comfort of my own sofa, made me feel quite nostalgic for my mid twenties and the music that was around then.

Having said that, the bands that we saw were a real mixed bag of the good, the bad and the downright pointless. I mean, Razorlight headlining on the Friday night for god's sake. My personal favourites were Maximo Park, mostly because of the tunes, also because I love the fact that you can hear every word of the lyrics really clearly - must be something to do with the Geordie accent - but also (a teeny bit) because the lead singer, Paul Smith, is very fit (ooh what a 90s word). He used to have an atrocious hairdo but has seen the error of his ways and now sports a curly mop topped off with a bowler hat. He's also obviously been in the gym a lot recently...
CSS, Interpol and Kings of Leon were also great, and Trent Reznor doing 'Hurt' was pretty amazing too. Much as I find Zane Lowe a pain in the arse, I did agree with him when he commented that it was good to see NIN 'reclaim' the song as their own from the recent idolatry of the Johnny Cash version, which admittedly does also give the spine a tingle. We did settle down to watch the Smashing Pumpkin (Billy Corgan having roped in a load of jobbing musicians to take over his previous bandmates' roles) trawl through 3 greatest hits before being infomed that the BBC weren't allowed to show any more. Doing it for the fans eh Billy.

Oh, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were shit, as has been the case all too often recently. I love the quote Mandrew has on his facebook profile from Nick Cave: "I'm forever near a stereo saying, 'What the fuck is this GARBAGE?' And the answer is always the Red Hot Chili Peppers."

Monday, 20 August 2007

The internet is evil

I spent an hour and a half doing this last night. That can't be right, surely?

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Time for a bit of a retrospective

Good intentions. Having named my blog thus, I suddenly feel the need to review my intentions over the course of the last 6 (my god is it really 6) months of writing and see whether I'm a wretched failure or actually doing quite well. So...

1. Writing my blog - tick. This is going OK, I feel, in that after the first month of not telling anyone the URL, and keeping it all secret, I'm now quite happy for friends, family, colleagues, all and sundry really, to be reading it. I think this is mainly because I know I haven't let slip any great indiscretions on here, plus also I'm not trying to be the next big literary sensation. A few people have said that it's nice to know what Ali and I are up to. A few have agreed with some of my ramblings. Anyway, no nasty comments as yet, and that's because you are all such lovely people.
2. Body Balance - overall, another tick. I do feel better for doing this class every week, but I have let a few weeks slip here and there. Overall I've managed to get to the class more often than not. It's fair to say I will never develop Madonna-style upper arm tonage though. And the music is still shit.chocolate cosmos - mmmm
3. Cataloguing the garden and photo-blogging through the seasons. I read quite a few gardening blogs and would love to have been able to snap away through the growing and fading of the plants in our front and back gardens. If I'd been that dedicated I probably could have achieved it, however a) it has been chucking it down for most of the summer and b) my summer hasn't exactly been filled with free weekends for me to live out my bucolic dream. We've either been away or had folk to visit on most weekends since Easter, and those times where we've been at home (e.g. this weekend just gone) have been wet. We did go to Millets (our local garden centre) yesterday and I persuaded Ali that the joint account really did need to accommodate the purchase of 2 chocolate cosmos plants, 2 pink Japanese anemones, 3 little perennial plants (a foxglove, a hellebore and an aquilegia) and a weigela shrub with lovely burgundy leaves. I can't wait to plant them all out but the rain has pissed all over that idea this weekend. We also have a squash or pumpkin (we don't know which) growing in a tub which held tulips earlier in the year, the result of our compost bin failing to break down a random seed somewhere and it suddenly germinating about a month or so ago. It's going nuts and spreading all over the lawn at the moment and I really hope we get some good fruits off it. We also have a few leeks donated by our green-fingered friends Cameron and Elaine; and a globe artichoke that's flowering after 2 years of dormancy. The next sunny weekend I will make the effort, take some photos, and post them up.
4. Related to the last post - keeping 50% of our weekends free for some 'just us' time. This is a tricky one as the reason we haven't managed this is because we've seen friends and family so much this summer, and done a lot of cool things. So that's good. On the other hand, our 2 weeks in Italy were so wonderful, when we spent a whole fortnight just having a good time in each other's company, that it's clear we should try and do more of it. Unfortunately holiday allowances and lack of cash mean we can't take a fortnight in Tuscany every 2 months. Oh well.
5. Books I should be reading/re-reading. I've got far too many interesting new books to read to bother about re-reading the bloody Iliad. What was I thinking?
6. Diet. A new one, this. It's partially come about because of my new job, but looking back over my weight since I graduated, slowly, inexorably (there's those cliches again) I have put on about 1 or 2 lbs a year since. So, like howsoonisnow, I am cutting out bread, cheese and mid-week drinking, and I'm using the online diet plan of my new employers. And it's working, admittedly slowly, but it is actually working. Amazing.

So that's my good intentions in a nutshell. Overall I think that it's a good mid-year review, though there is certainly room for improvement in some areas.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Aimless wittering

So there are days when I feel on top of things, and days when my grasp on what's going on around me is sadly lacking. At the moment, for example, I'm writing this on the titchy qwerty keyboard on my new phone (Vodafone came good - ish - in the end) and entertaining a few random thoughts in my brain, including a lot of work stuff but also a snippet of a review of the new Harry Potter book I read the other day. In which the reviewer made much of JK Rowling's cliche-ridden style and derided the massively popular wizarding tales as literary rubbish. So all the way through composing this post, my cliche alert has been heightened. And you know what? It's bloody hard to write anything without reverting to some cliches. If you've read any books, newspaper articles or anything at all really, they seep into your brain and come out whenever fingers hit keyboard. There are at least 3 of them in this post already, or more, probably. Anyway, my fingers are getting numb so a post with more point next time. (I actually really enjoyed HP7, despite not really expecting to...)

Friday, 3 August 2007

Biergartens and mountains

I've blogged before about how lucky I am to work for a company that sends me to nice places. Maybe I did something wonderful in a previous life or something; or more likely my karma will change soon (that's very pessimistic - I don't really believe that). We shall see.

Anyway, on Wednesday morning a few weeks ago the alarm went off at the unearthly hour of 3.15am; Ali had nobly decided to sleep in the spare room so I didn't wake him as I went through my morning ablutions. Luckily the floods had subsided though sandbags were still spilling their guts over the pavement, so the car was able to pick me up at 4am to get to the airport for the flight to Munich.

The main reason for the trip was to plan intensively for 2008, and of course we did that in spades. However round the edges we managed to fit in a trip to a typical Bavarian beer garden, though sadly the suckling pig was no longer on the menu when I came to place my order. More surprising was the discovery that in the summer, Radler is a very popular drink in Bavaria. In essence, this is a lager shandy to you and me, though the quantity of lemonade is not huge. A few of the the team elected not to go for this pooffy drink and have proper Weissbier instead; being a cider drinker I was quite happy with the Radler. On the second night in Munich we visited a restaurant with a cool underground bar and at one point the vodka shots came out. Oddly (well oddly to me) they were served with lime wedges and icing sugar. Ah well. I wimped out anyway and stuck to the champagne.

The best bit of our trip by far was a team bonding session arranged by our boss, Gerd, to the Austrian Alps. On Friday we drove, stopping at the Neuschwanstein Castle (the Cindarella castle in Disneyland) on the way, to a little car park at the foot of a big mountain, just over the border in Austria in the charmingly named town of Nesselwangle. Of course we had stopped earlier to stock up on essential supplies of sausage, more sausage, bread, strudel, and yet more sausage, as well as some bottled water to sustain us on our hike up to the Gimpelhaus - our home for the next 2 nights.

Ali and I thought that some of our walking in Tuscany was quite hard going, and I remember cursing as we laboriously climbed up a mule path to Giglio Castello on our penultimate day's walking. However this was nothing compared to the virtually vertical hike up to the cabin. There was a cable car - we followed the cables up the mountain - but this is strictly for provisions only, and the only way of getting to the Gimpelhaus is to climb for a good 90 minutes. We carried enough clothes, towels, toiletries and sausage for the next 2 days and by the time we all arrived we were exhausted. Cue a round of cold Radlers in huge steins. Wonderful.

The next day we got up at a civilised 9am and set off on our day's hike by 10am. The other occupants of the cabin were mostly climbers and had left at about 7 or 8am to hang off the side of the mountain like lunatics. We were content with hiking up to the top of the Rote Fluh, quite a high peak and only a few hairy moments of clinging onto the rock face. As we had been warned in Munich, this part of the trip was not company endorsed...

It was an amazing moment to get to the top though, and we all felt so proud. On the way back down the 8 of us split into 5 madmen who gravel skated all the way down to the meadow below; and 3 sensible ones who hiked down the mountain path. (Guess which group I fell into...). Another night in the Gimpelhaus (timed 4 minute showers were hard to take) and we made our way back to Munich to fly home the next day, thighs and calves aching to buggery but really really happy we had been. The Alpine flowers, mountain goats, glacial lakes, rugged peaks and astounding scenery are captured completely inadequately here, though I don't have any pictures of the endless card games and Jenga tournaments in the evenings:

When we were back at work on the Monday we all shared photos and began the task of putting together our annual operating plan for 2008. But with much better grace and good humour than we might have done otherwise. I feel a return trip to the Alps in the offing next year sometime!

Thursday, 2 August 2007

More capital Letters

..."It was in the trunk Presumably"

what was???

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Rain, rain, go a-bloody-way

We've had Ali's folks up to stay this weekend - they all went out on a walk yesterday afternoon giving me a small moment to start this blog post in peace. It wasn't the most perfect weekend by a long chalk, and that's nothing to do with anything bad that's happened or us or them having a particularly shit time, but purely and simply because of the rubbish weather. They arrived on Thursday afternoon while I was long range planning in Cookham. When I got home at 7.30ish that evening all seemed well, we ate lasagne, caught up, admired Liam's gappy mouth and wobbly tooth, and had an early night.

Next morning the heavens opened. I drove to Cookham via the M40 and my word it was bad. Maniacs driving at 90mph in the middle lane causing wayyy more spray than was safe, windscreen wipers in a sort of panicky overdrive, thunder and lightning all round, my hands gripping the wheel in sheer terror. Still, I made it in OK, only to hear tales from folk who had been to the office in Maidenhead and seen flood water swirling round all over the place. Apparently someone saw a dead rat floating in the flood waters too. Nice. Leaving at 1pm the weather wasn't too bad at all, and I had high hopes of getting home at 2.30pm, and having the place to myself for a few hours (the Brown clan were planning to spend the day at Legoland). So I left the M40 at Junction 7 thinking I would cut across country and go back to Abingdon that way. BIG MISTAKE. Just as I came out of Chislehampton, the Polo took a drive through a mini lake that the flood waters had left in a dip in the road. My immediate thoughts were along the lines of 'uh-oh' as the Polo is a good 10 years old and hasn't been on tip-top form recently. Still, as I chugged along, things seemed to be going OK, until I got to a hill. Coughing and juddering, the car eventually just cut out. On the incline. On a blind corner. And me with no mobile phone.* Yikes.

A lovely white van driver was directly behind me, however, and instead of making a rude gesture and swearing at the incompetence of women drivers, he stopped, put on a flourescent jacket, and bless him, said he would give me a push to a gateway further up the hill. Even more luckily, a police car came by and a nice policeman allowed me to use his mobile to call Green Flag. 45 minutes later a recovery truck came along, did some tweaking in the engine (not sure exactly what but it did the job) and I was on my way home. Legoland hadn't been an option due to the appalling weather, so everyone was mooching about the house. Still, at least it meant I could go along as the trip was rescheduled for Saturday - hurray!

In the end, it was a good day on Saturday, albeit very wet in the afternoon. A car journey home with clammy wet jeans is not a nice experience. We all pigged out on fish and chips from the chippy round the corner and then felt so bloated and fat that everyone had an early night. All seemed well in the world.

And then we got up on Sunday morning, or to be more accurate, Liam got up at about 6.30am and started shouting 'there's a flood, it's flooded, look at the water!!!' at the top of his voice. The whole of the bottom of Spring Road was flooded (see for pictures etc) but as we are slightly set back from the road and have 2 steps before you reach our front door, the water didn't come in. The houses with front doors directly onto the pavement got the worst of it, and of course nobody came dishing out sandbags until after the flood waters had gone down. The waters are meant to rise again tonight, as the Thames surges at Oxford and causes the River Ock (a tributary) to flood.

All of which meant that yesterday was a very cooped up day, especially for poor Liam. Ali and I waded through the waters to get to Waitrose; they went for a walk yesterday afternoon; and in the evening we made jelly and fairy cakes and cooked roast beef with yorkshire puds. As there are currently no trains running between Reading and Birmingham, the family had to book tickets on a National Express coach for this morning to enable them to get their train on time, which luckily they did. All in all, a very wet weekend. I haven't even started reading the new Harry Potter yet!

*I cannot describe the absolute incompetence and lack of customer focus of Vodafone without getting far too worked up and angry...

Monday, 16 July 2007

good intentions gone to pot - but who cares really?

Since I started this blog there have only been so many blogging hours in the day and inevitably I have missed writing about trips taken, friends seen, experiences had. Luckily (or anally) I keep a spreadsheet to track what we're doing on which weekend, sounds very sad doesn't it but it is actually very useful, especially at times like the present where we don't know what we're doing from one weekend to the next. A large part of this is down to our jobs - mine in particular is shaping up to be a lot more time consuming out of the office than my previous one. I'm off to Munich next week for 3 days of financial planning for 2008, followed with a bit of light relief with some team bonding when we hike up the Alps to a log cabin, drink lots of Bavarian beer and traipse back down again. Good stuff.

Anyway, thanks to the wonders of home_calendar.xls, here's some highlights of the past 4 months or so:

In March we had Jenn to stay and we spent a great day out at Woodstock and Blenheim Palace wandering around the gardens and taking pictures (well Ali and Jenn did) of pheasants and lots of nice plants. Jenn is over on secondment from the US (she works for Urban Outfitters) and has stacked up more travelling within Europe and Africa in the past 18 months than I have managed in my lifetime. She also has a penchant for antique shopping so Woodstock was ideal, lots of little curio shops and a good pub lunch to boot.
We did a return visit to her grand apartment (on Sloane Square, if you please) a month or so later and took a trip to Kew Gardens, which I had never been to before but really enjoyed. Cue more snapping, this time of a very relaxed and gloriously iridescent peacock having a nice sit down near a Japanese garden.

Towards the end of April we went down to Matt and Nickiy's for some cheese, the first Pimms of the summer (expertly made by yours truly if I may say so) and a slide show of Nickiy's photos from her trip to Nepal earlier this year. A smashing early summer afternoon, the product of which was the first draft of a periodic table of the cheese elements. You don't want to know.

In May and June we seemed to stay closer to home, and the weekends round and about our wonderful holiday in Tuscany were variously spent on a pilgrimage to the Shoulder of Mutton in Wantage; a boozy Saturday in Oxford with Mum and Dad (lunch in Carluccios followed by some enthusiastic consumption of ale and Addlestone's cider in the White Horse, then back home for a meal and yet more booze); and a barbeque at Keith and Nikki's new house in Didcot. On that weekend it was absolutely peeing down all day - so we got soaked on our way there from the bus stop - however a strategically placed gazebo ensured that the afternoon went off excellently and our sausages were dry. I don't recommend chucking an empty cardboard Stella box on the smouldering embers of the barbie though.

Finally to the past few weekends - first off, watching Le Tour de France in London and Kent. Saturday we went down to London and as a surprise for his birthday, Matt and Nickiy had organised this for Ali. I don't think it made the news in the end but there was a police escort and a helicopter involved at one point. Susan and I were having a nice time mooching about on the South Bank and then stuffing our faces in Wagamama as it was all happening - much more sensible. Then we watched the time trials from Parliament Square and made our way back to Streatham for a late curry. A criminally early start the next morning ensured that we got to the previously staked out prime piece of grass verge somewhere deep in the Kent countryside before the hordes arrived, thus ensuring a trouble free breakfast picnic, while cheering on any and every car, bike, or trailer that came past. When the peloton came past it was actually quite stunning - we were at the top of a small hill and could see them straining their way up it for quite a while (though clearly nowhere near the heights they've recently climbed in the Alps stage of course) and visually it was fantastic. Matt and Nickiy and Susan between them had done an amazing job getting it all organised and keeping all the planning secret. Three cheers!

Last weekend was a little bit quieter but no less enjoyable - to Hitchin to see Cameron and Elaine and their 15 month old baby Sholto. The weather held out, the company was great (lots of parents and other 15 month olds from Elaine's NCT classes) and the kids angelic. Well, mostly. We ate well, drank well, and managed to get to bed by 10.15 on Saturday night (there's a song in there I'm sure). Totting up the points (more of which another time) I managed an impressive 96.5 points exceeded over my weekly allowance last week. Hurrah for cheese and cider and barbeque food.

So that's me up to date. This weekend we have the Brown family coming en masse to stay and I'm really p-ed off that I can't get to Legoland on Friday due to some long range planning thing at work. Still, expect a pretty knackered blog post some time next week...

Friday, 13 July 2007

The most perfect use of a capital mid-Sentence

The doorbell rang Ominously.

- from The Glorious Nosebleed, by Edward Gorey

Apparently you can buy postcards of the other phrases in the book, such as "They got themselves up Killingly." "They searched the cellars Fruitlessly." "She toyed with her beads Jadedly." "She danced on the sands Giddily." and "She let go of it Quickly." The last one is a bit of an anticlimax, I think, but the rest are ace.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Puppets on music videos

are always a good thing in my opinion. So when bengobaz mentioned the Lily Allen "Alfie" video in his blog, I searched on YouTube and had a look - and despite a previous mildly lukewarm (can you be very lukewarm about something?) opinion of her and her music, I quite liked the track as well. The video is just about long enough for it still to be cute but not too annoying:

I like this Interpol video too though it's a bit darker (well less humorous anyway):

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

So good they named it twice

I can't quite believe I'm here, to be honest. To be in Manhattan, 'on business' (my, that sounds grand, doesn't it - if only I had a ball-breaking deal to be concluded, or a seminar to give, my sense of professionalism would be through the roof by now), purely for the sake of meeting as many of the US team as possible so I can get a feel for the business and who I will be dealing with on a regular basis, and all of this generously funded by my new employers, and I know I am a lucky so-and-so.

I've been emailing and texting Ali shamelessly with new titbits which I know he will partly be seething with envy over and partly dead happy that I'm experiencing it. What a love :) My hotel is in Midtown Manhattan - Madison Avenue between E28th and E29th Street, the proverbial stone's throw from the Empire State Building. Our offices are a bit further downtown just off Madison Park and across the way from the Flatiron Building, and the building is one of those fabulous art deco grandiose structures with a huge marble lobby. It takes up a whole block apparently though we are on only one floor. Today I was taken to lunch here and all I can say on that is 'mmmm...'. I had a green salad with a beautiful soy dressing followed by pink tuna steak on potato and spring onion puree, tempura shiitake and a wasabi glaze. God my mouth is watering just thinking about it. And last night when I got to the hotel I took a trip to Macy's for some light shopping - nothing over the top, honest - but tonight I was out of the office too late to really benefit from any more retail therapy.

Now I'm sitting posting this in my room through the wonders of free wi-fi. I did think about going out and trying to find a nice dinner location, but a) it's 90 degrees out there with about 80% humidity b) I'm on my own c) I'm not hungry in the slightest and d) I'm actually more knackered than I was last night after a 7 hour flight. Bizarre. My boss gets into town tonight so hopefully tomorrow I may have a dinner companion and maybe even sneak out of the office at lunchtime to do some shopping. I have a shopping list generously provided by a certain someone so I have plenty of options. You'd think there was a birthday coming up or something.

BTW, US TV really is appalling. Embarrassingly I have just sat through a home makeover programme with an English presenter doing such a bad job that it makes Kirsty and Phil look like they deserve an OBE for services to television.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Photo album for our Tuscan trip

can be found here:

They are low resolution pics but give a flavour of our trip (though sadly not the real flavours of the foods and wine in smell-o-vision). Enjoy!

Friday, 22 June 2007

Warm and fuzzy

Well, here I am ensconced in new job world. Having worked in entertainment retail for 3 and a half years (my god, really that long??) I took the plunge earlier this year and went for a new job, which I started on Monday. Plenty of reasons, probably not too diplomatic to go into them all here... but 2 pretty important ones were work/life balance and the dreaded 'c' word*; and a desire to stretch myself a bit more, take myself out of the e-commerce comfort zone (those of you who know anything about my time at Virgin will know that it was rarely 'comfortable' but you know what I mean) and specialise a bit.

The new company ticks all those boxes and then some. Being in Maidenhead, I can leave the office at 5.30pm and amazingly be home just a scant hour later. Today, I was on a Leadership Development Course which was over by 4pm - and if the bloody trains and A34 had been running smoothly, I could have been home by 5pm. As it was I got into Didcot just as the heavens opened with a downpour of Biblical proportions, at about 5ish. Then the drive home was so sluggish, that the rain followed me all the way home. Grr. Anyway, I'm meant to be posting about how great my journey home is now!

Everyone at the office has been outstandingly welcoming and helpful - most have said how great it is that I have joined the team - and I get the overriding impression that most people love the company, believe in what they are doing, and believe that the company has their best interests at heart. On the course I've been on over the last few days, the volume of moaning has been minimal and the desire to grow and develop and inspire our teams as great leaders has been palpable. Add to this a spanking new laptop with actual wi-fi that works, a job that is challenging, interesting, moves me away from my comfort zone and where I am learning loads already , and it makes such a difference.

Oh, and did I mention the work trip to NYC next week - 4 whole days in Manhattan, staying on Madison Avenue, and the dollar is at $1.99 to the pound. Oooooohhhhhh. The only sad thing is that Ali won't be with me, as our first ever holiday together was a romantic break to the Big Apple. But I will be going with a list for B&H Photo Video so he will be there in spirit ;)

*commute, in case you're wondering

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Tuscan bliss

We came back from holiday on Thursday 7th - over a week ago - so I really ought to have updated the blog before now. However the task of capturing in words the absolute wonderfulness of our time in Italy seemed a little daunting - we crammed so much into our 8 days of walking and eating and drinking and soaking up the tradition and sunshine and countryside (plus a day either side spent 'enjoying' the delights of Ryanair's hospitality and the insides of 2 highly unattractive airports in the shape of Luton and Rome Ciampino).

We couldn't have asked for more from the holiday company we booked with - Inntravel. They sent us reams of paperwork before we left containing every scrap of info we could possibly have needed, and the organisation of each element, from the transfers to the hotels to the walking guides - was superb.

Our walking covered rolling fields of wheat dotted with poppies; olive groves; rows of vines; fascinating and beautiful medieval hill top towns; the occasional steep and rocky mule track; strada bianca (unsurfaced roads); coastal paths; shady woodland; a few streams and one river; and some scrambling, over rocks or through dense foliage to find our path.

We were really lucky in that we didn't have much road walking either. Overall we were stunned at the variety of the landscapes, the beauty of the environment we were walking in, and amazingly, the peace and quiet - bar a couple of spots (notably Saturnia with its hot thermal springs - apparently a magnet for northern European tourists in Speedos...) we hardly saw a soul as we walked along.

Our hotels were equally wonderful - from a family run organic agriturismo on our first 2 nights, where we were served wild boar, a speciality of the region, through to a comfy hotel in Capalbio where we ate out at a great restaurant in the evening; the Hotel Torre di Cala Piccola in Monte Argentario (pictured left) - with views, prosecco, cuisine and service to die for; and finally the Hotel Castello Monticello on Giglio Island. All were welcoming, and served delicious traditional Italian food, always accompanied by mouthwatering - and cheap - Tuscan wine.

At the end of the Tuscan part of the trip we headed back to Rome and stayed in the 'Franklin Feel the Sound' hotel - glitter ball in the bathroom, drum kit for bedside table, and Bang & Olufsen CD player on the wall. Pure nonsense!

In Rome we were lucky enough to hit upon a couple of great restaurants and a good bar; and visited the Coliseum and Palatine (good) and the Vatican (St. Peter's cathedral wonderful, Sistine Chapel HORRENDOUS as a tourist attraction. I can see that the frescos are just mind-blowing, especially since their restoration, but being herded into a small square room, shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of shouting, camera wielding and generally completely disrespectful tourists, was not my idea of fun. The guards were completely ineffective at controlling the mob. Grrr).

I'll try and get a link up soon to more photos - Ali did take hundreds. They are mostly all fantastic - we were looking at them last night and feeling very wistful. We will definitely be going back to Tuscany - it was one of the best and most rewarding holidays we've ever had.

Monday, 28 May 2007

We're all going on a...

Yes, that's right, Ali and I are off on our hols tomorrow. It's been a busy few weeks, hence the lack of posts, but all the stresses and strains (see previous post) are now over and we can enjoy the prospect of 10 days in Italy.

When I wrote the last post I was in the throes of clearing the decks at work prior to my last day at Virgin on Friday 25th. When I originally handed in my notice, the huge project which had taken up all of my working life since about last August, was due to finish on May 10th with the launch of our brand sparkly new website (and hence I would have seen it go live). However, as is always the case with these kind of projects, the launch date slipped to after my planned departure. So my last few weeks with the company were a bit of a mish-mash of shredding old (too old - 2002!) documents, deleting emails, doing the last few bits of project work, trying to cram in some UAT time, and writing handover notes. Oh and just to make it all more interesting, 2 new starters (one a new team member, and one my replacement for the next 6 months) on May 14th.

But by about Wednesday last week, I was finally relaxing into the idea that yes, I was in fact leaving. A couple of great long lunches with old TUI friend John, and great mate Phil, had brought it home to me that I had taken work far too seriously in the past and should have lunched out a damn sight more. Then on Friday, the day was pretty near perfect - I had already chucked away anything that was worth chucking, so in the morning all I did was read and reply to some really nice emails from the contacts whom I'd told about my impending departure. Lunch was stupendous - with Nigel, who's been such a great friend and support over the last 3 years at work. He had 2 bits of fantastic news (more of which another time) so we had a lovely celebratory/valedictory lunch at the Havelock. When we eventually got back to the office, Rudy started to play some stonking tunes at high volume and in my slightly inebriated state it was just what I needed. Before we knew it, it was time to leave and go to mine, Mark's and Dan's joint leaving do at the Dartmouth Castle. And what a leaving do - loads of old faces from Virgin-past, 3 good speeches(!) from boss Steve, and a general feeling of wellbeing - slight regret at leaving some good friends behind but overwhelming optimism about what the future might bring.

So that's my time at Virgin over. I'll probably blog more about work related stuff as my new job kicks in, but for now it's all thoughts of Italy :-)

We're going to Tuscany on a walking holiday for 7 days followed by 2 nights in Rome, and while the weather forecast isn't that good, at least the rain is accompanied by temperatures in the mid-20s celsius...

As I don't start my new job until 18th June, expect lots of Italy-related posts after we're back on 7th. Ciao!

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Tense, stressed, working too hard

Which is how the Google Mood Ring on my browser toolbar describes my mood at the moment (the black ring). While I know this is all total bollocks and it's just randomly system generated, it strangely does describe my mood at the moment, a bit like reading your horoscope in the Metro and it corresponding exactly with what's going on in your life that day.

I do find the mood description that goes with the blue ring - 'Impassioned, delighted, whiff of romance' - a bit odd though. What is the whiff of romance like? - roses, champagne, oysters (eugh, I hope not).

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Garden inventory - front garden

  • Dark purple pansies along the path up to the front door
  • Tete-a-tete (that has sadly all gone over now)
  • A few remaining bluebells and daffodils left deep underground that sprouted this spring
  • Dicentrum spectabilis 'alba' in the corner under the hedge
  • Clematis cartmanii 'early sensation' climbing up the willow screen hiding the dustbin and water butt.
  • Prunus x yedoensis 'Shidare Yoshino' (Weeping Yoshino Cherry) in the middle of the shingle
  • Hellebore 'HGC Silvermoon' in the border under the window which flopped a bit in the dry spell but seems to have recovered now - interspersed with...
  • ...Euphorbia rubra which is going great guns
  • And finally a climbing rose next to the door, not sure of the variety but it's got peachy flowers tinged with fuschia pink at the edge of the petals.

Pictures soon!

Red face

Ali and I had some 'quality' time together on Saturday, consisting of a bit of shopping in Oxford for stuff for our holiday, followed by a lovely organic lunch in the Vaults and Garden cafe in St. Mary's Church. We'd got the bus in earlier so we didn't need to drive (Ali's suggestion) and consequently felt able to partake of a few cleansing ales in the afternoon. Starting off in the Turf, I declined the offer of a pint of Old Rosie Scrumpy on the basis that I wouldn't have lasted long before falling over; so bog standard Strongbow it was. Ali went on the Dr. Hexters Healer followed by a pint of Goff's Jouster which I chose for him, which he pronounced 'alright'. I think the phrase is 'damning with faint praise'.

It was the White Horse on Broad Street where things started to go a little bendy - Addlestones cider is lovely but potent - and Ali had the joint temptations of Timothy Taylor's Landlord and Deuchar's IPA. By the time we left at 5ish we had had quite enough, so got the bus back to Abingdon. I had the notion that I wanted to buy a book, and I also fancied some nice snacks from the deli on Stert Street. Having tried to get into the closed Mostly Books at 5.31pm while they were cashing up, we abandoned the attempt far too early (I think they were going to let us in eventually) and then nipped to Added Ingredients and proceeded to amiably (drunkenly giggling) bicker over which posh crisps to get. I think they were glad to take our money and get rid of us in the end. It's a good job there weren't more shops open at that time of the evening.

This episode follows the recent bank holiday weekend where we went to the Reading Beer Festival (see the photo for an example of a typical beer/pie dilemma from the day) so I think maybe we should give our livers a rest for a bit...

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Literary intentions

No, I'm not about to start writing a book, though maybe some day....

This is more about books I want to get round to reading, or feel I ought to read (or re-read in this instance). I've been hurriedly trying to re-read Richmond Lattimore's translation of the Odyssey before my next bookgroup meeting, as the book up for discussion is Margaret Atwood's excellent The Penelopiad.

As a former classicist I did read the first 12 books of Homer's Odyssey (and the last 12 of the Iliad) in the original Greek for my 2nd year exams - but these took place in early 1994, a loooong time ago. So of course I've forgotten it all by now, and in an attempt to prove to myself that the degree wasn't a total waste of time I foolishly mentioned to Mark, co-owner of the wonderful Mostly Books in Abingdon (and host of our monthly Wednesday evening bookgroup) that I was going to swot up a bit prior to the meeting. I've actually only got up to book 4 of the poem though and am off to BodyBalance tonight so feel that I might not get any more done by Wednesday night. It's proving quite interesting though, remembering all the epithets ("rosy-fingered dawn" "wine-dark sea") and the stock phrases that I always rejoiced to see in exam translation passages as they repeated themselves with such regularity: "And then they put aside their desire for eating and drinking" being a fine example...

Is it terrible to cheat and do some revision on Wikipedia?

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Cat Power

Last night Ali and I went to the Forum in Kentish Town to see Cat Power play with her band, The Dirty Delta Blues. Mid-week gigs are always a bit of a mental struggle - sorting out how Ali's going to get into town, where we'll get some pre-gig food, and of course either rushing to get the last train home or Ali negotiating late night London traffic to get out of town and back to Abingdon before finally getting to bed at an abnormally late (for a school night that is) 1am. Normally, however, the gig itself manages to transcend these feelings of mid-week unease by being bloody brilliant.

Last night's show would have been the same - Cat Power performed remarkably, her voice strong and the band perfectly pitched to complement her singing. However, she's not got what you would call a lot of loud songs,and whenever a slight hush in the track came along, all you could hear was the drone of about half the crowd talking and shouting to each other. Really loudly. At one point, Cat Power put on a fake Cockerney accent - " 'Allo Landan, nice ter see yer" and someone in the crowd shouted out "Don't take the piss". Well excuse me, but given that she was having the piss taken out of her during every song through half the crowd totally ignoring her, I thought she was quite justified. I just hope that she and the band couldn't hear the majority of the hubbub from their position on stage.

As there was no hope of really getting into the music I ended up people watching instead. As well as the usual gig suspects (older man in a suit and tie, overly affectionate newly-together couple, random punk with mohican) a girl caught my eye who I really empathised with. She was a short blonde, probably no more than about 5'2", and she was standing right at the back of one of the levels at the Forum. She was with a group of 3 friends, who were contributing to the overall noise of the crowd by having a shouty conversation and also clearly not including her in their chat, and she obviously couldn't see a thing from her position. There was the obligatory 6'10 bloke standing a little way in front of her and she was either too shy to move forward or didn't want to leave her friends so resorted to occasionally standing on tiptoes and craning her neck into awkward positions. She wandered off to the loo a couple of times during the gig and eventually left about 2/3 of the way through. I really felt for her. Her 'friends' sort of shrugged and giggled a bit when she left as if expressing a sort of bemused pity for her, but they seemed like idiots to me.

Cat Power - The Greatest
So overall not a successful gig really, we left just before the encore and headed home through the leafy poshness of Highgate and the awful despair of the A40 through Brent Cross, Neasden etc. We listened to Cat Power on CD, as a lot of the people at the gig should have done - at home.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Raindrops keep falling on my butt

Or not, as it happens, because we've had next to no rain for weeks now. We bought a slimline recycled plastic water butt for the front garden at the weekend because already we were having to lug 3 or 4 watering cans through the house to water the new plants (of which a post and photos soon). Having sited it next to the downpipe in the corner, cunningly-almost-concealed by the trellis with the clematis (which is now blossoming, hurray!) Ali installed it. Cue much effing and blinding with the hacksaw, but the downpipe was eventually successfully hacked off and the diverter attached to ensure all the rainwater off the roof goes into the butt. The picture to the left is not our house, by the way (if only we had a greenhouse like that!) but will do until I take a proper one of the front garden.

Monday night was a bit damp, but no water in the butt of note yet. I hope we're not going to have to fill it with the hose, as that would kind of defeat the eco-purpose of it.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Garden inventory - back garden #1

My plan is to list everything that grows in the front and back garden, update with pictures, and keep updating when I a) find out what some of the plants are that are currently a mystery and b) plant anything new or remove anything. Hopefully in time there will be a seasonal diary showing all the blooming and fading.

Starting with the back garden, then, and the pots on the patio. We have:
  • 2 pots of tulips, variety tbc. One is pretty much over and one has only just started flowering
  • 1 pot of unknown (I can't remember what I put in it and it hasn't flowered yet)
  • 1 pot of tete-a-tete
  • 1 small lime tree, currently a bit sappy on the leaves (a gift from Susan)
  • an old belfast sink planted up with thyme, sage and oregano
  • 1 pot of mint, to try and avoid it taking over the garden
  • 1 mini bay tree (more like a sprig)
  • 1 red dipladenia (a gift from Pete and Latifa last year, I really hope it flowers again this year)

Plan for this weekend is to take some pictures and post them up, also to catalogue the rest of the garden.

(Update 23/04/07 - pictures taken - can you guess which one Ali took on his snazzy digital SLR? Rest of the garden is work in progress...)