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...)

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Good Intention #2

So, last night I went with Nerys to a Body Balance class at the leisure centre in Abingdon. I started the year with a desire to tone up and get fit, as the post-Christmas flabbiness was getting a little out of control. So I bought a Yogalates DVD and probably did it about 5 or 6 times before petering out mid-February. It did, however, make me feel more toned and less slump-y so I've been meaning to pick it up again, though never quite getting round to it (good intention, poor execution).
When Nerys said she had been to a couple of these classes and did I want to go with her each week, it seemed like a great way to keep motivated and keep going. They are a mix of yoga, pilates, t'ai chi, and something called Feldenkrais (no, me neither) and while slightly different to the DVD I've got - not as much focus on the correct breathing, and no resistance band to tone arms etc - it was still well worth it, if only for the realisation that I'm not quite as inflexible as I thought I was. Long may it continue! (though the music was a bit varied in quality, I hope they get rid of Snow Patrol on the tape next time). I may even do a proper yoga class as well if I get any good.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Easter weekend and beyond

Easter weekend had the potential to be fantastic - we were travelling up to see Ali's brother and sister in law in Manchester, Ali's Mum, Dad, sister and nephew were also to be travelling down from Hawick, and the only foreseeable blot on the horizon was that Stuart and Alison's new bathroom wasn't due to be fitted until this week, so we were showerless for the weekend. We were both really looking forward to having all the family together and enjoying a spring weekend full of chocolate, catching up and generally having a ball.
On the Wednesday prior to us travelling up however, I came down with the nastiest bug I've had for ages. I took the day off work on Thursday and hoped that by dosing up with Immodium (nice, hmm?) I could recover before the weekend and not put a dampener on things. Not to be though - it took me til Tuesday evening to properly feel better and keep some food inside me, and til Friday last week to feel even 80% of my usual self.

The weekend wasn't totally ruined however - I still managed to spend a reasonable amount of money in Manchester's finest shops on the Saturday (every time I go shopping with Alison I always manage to find loads of perfect things that are just right for me and that I can also scrape together the money for - she's either a curse or a blessing, that one) while 'the boys' took Liam out to a farm park. Sunday was the inevitable choc-fest, for everyone else apart from me anyway, and Liam very generously shared out his eggs to those of us not fortunate enough to receive one from our loved ones, are you reading this Ali........ All that and a brand new Dr Who episode on Saturday evening where Liam hid behind the door at the scary bits (evoking happy memories for those of us who remember being similarly scared in our childhoods) and overall the weekend was excellent.

Back to work on the Wednesday after still being ill on Tuesday, and nothing else of note to report til this weekend just gone. Went to see Midlake at The Zodiac in Oxford on Friday night (Friday 13th for those with supersitious natures) with Phil and John and 2 mates of theirs. The band were amazing, the atmosphere just right, and we had a good old moan beforehand about the imminent change over to the 'Carling Academy Oxford' and 'remodelling' of the different floors of the venue. It just won't be the same, corporate bastards, etc, etc. To top the evening off Ali and I had a quick drink in The Bear before getting the bus back to Abingdon, and what beer did they have on but his favourite, Timothy Taylor's Landlord. Pretty near perfect evening.

Ian and Gayle came up for a visit on Saturday night, and it would have been criminal not to sit in a beer garden by the river, so we got off the bus at St. Aldate's and managed to find a table at the heavingly busy Head of the River. Ian and Gayle had great fun critiquing the rowing style of some novice crews out in the early evening sunshine, before we all went off to sample the delights of the cocktail menu at Raoul's. I'll save the eulogising about this place (the best cocktail bar IN THE WORLD, EVER) for another time. Calamari and steak at Branca before wearily wending our way back home on the bus for an earlyish night.

Breakfast outside on Sunday morning in the beautiful, beautiful warm weather, and after Ian and Gayle had headed back to London we paid the ritual weekend visit to Homebase to buy a strimmer (rock and ROLL) and then I pootled about in the garden potting up herbs and mowing the lawn etc. A quick G&T in the evening with Nerys and the weekend was almost over.

Two absolutely top weekends, then.

(Word of the day today on is 'efficacious'. A really good word.)

Monday, 16 April 2007

First good intention slipping a bit

A whole 11 days since my last post (though to be fair I did do 2 at once on 5th April). It's not even as if nothing has happened in the last 11 days, as there's been Easter, a week at work, and a nice sunny weekend with friends since then, so lots to write about.
I think my blogging style is going to become a bit of a mish mash of diary-style entries and random musings. No different from the millions of other blogs out there then, I hear you cry, but at least I won't be trying to shoehorn myself into a particular theme or topic each time I post. As my Blog roll signifies, I can loosely group my favourite blogs by topic - books, music, e-commerce and 'misc' but it's always the ones by the individuals that I know, posting about their lives, that I read first in the morning above all others. Maybe one day someone will add me to their list of favourites, who knows, but until that day I'll blog on in (relative) anonymity.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Volo, Velle, Volui

On Monday the train pulled in, on time, (amazing) to Didcot at 7.06am, and carriage B was a Volo carriage. This doesn't normally happen on this train, they normally save it for later services, so you can imagine the raised eyebrows and faint intrigued murmurs of 'ohh' by those who didn't want to draw any attention to themselves by commenting any louder. Due to where I was standing on the platform (same place every day, seeing the same people exhibiting the same thinly veiled desperation to be among the first to board the train when it comes in to try and grab a spare double seat...) I ended up on this carriage. Quite apart from the most uncomfortable seats I've ever encountered on any public transport, obviously designed for 6' skinny blokes not 5'4" chubbier girls, the notable thing about the carriage was the absence of the 'entertainment centres' they shout about on the outside of it to entice you to choose to sit there. At every seat there is meant to be a flat screen where you can pay some cash to watch different TV channels, play a game, watch the news or listen to radio channels - a bit like in-flight screens. However, they had all been unscrewed from the seat backs so there was nothing there - not even a pull down table (although there were a couple of grubby cup holders a bit further down).

It got me thinking along 2 lines - first, what did they do when they removed them - just take them all out one night and not tell anyone? Were they being vandalised or did they just not work properly? Heaven forbid, were First Great Western unable to take any payment through them so they became uneconomic to run? As far as I could tell there were no signs explaining their absence throughout the carriage, so there may (possibly) have been some people, maybe families with young kids, who wanted a bit of entertainment on their journey, forgot the portable DVD player and iPod, and actually chose to sit in the carriage for a reason. How disappointed they must have been....

Second, working as I do in marketing (don't tell Ali) and a consumer of various trade magazines and industry websites / blogs, it struck me that train companies don't generally do all that well at marketing themselves. There's loads of posters up on platforms and on the trains themselves, and once I actually got a bit of direct mail from FGW exhorting me to travel to Bristol at the weekends on my gold season ticket, but overall you don't tend to see what else they are doing to promote themselves to the public. Is this because their marketing budgets are tiny? (probably). Do the public hate the train operating companies so much nowadays that any more overt marketing would just fall on deaf ears / eyeballs? (also quite probable). I don't recall seeing any online ads, press ads, TV etc when they launched the Volo entertainment service, and likewise FGW have both my home address and my email address so they could easily have launched with a bit more of a fanfare. My guess is that their customer base is already travelling on their trains, so they don't have to spend any money acquiring new customers. Instead they upsell on the platforms and the trains themselves, banking on your average commuter / someone taking a trip upgrading to first class for a tenner, or eating a delicious meal deal at an extortionate price, or using the Volo screens.

The verb 'volo' means 'I want' - an odd choice for the service maybe. Entertainment on demand, maybe - "I want to watch The Incredibles NOW!"

Up and down the City Road

A mixed week so far, but preceeded by a very pleasant weekend all round. It started with Alex's birthday party on Friday night, in her enormous and very nice flat near Liverpool Street. I'd had a great chat at work the previous day about how much I love London and its history - don't get me wrong, I hate commuting to it every day and don't think I would want to live there either. But there are periods in the city's history where London really comes alive for me - Tudor London, the Dickensian slums, the 60s - and areas of the city which just seem steeped in history and richness. The City area is one of these, and even though loads of it got bombed in the war, there are enough old buildings and streets and pubs and character in between the office blocks and concrete to keep me happy.

Alex's flat is in a building called the Exchange. Round and about it are your usual offices etc but there were also gems of run down-ness such as a drearily grubby looking shop selling just 'Shirts and Blouses'. There was also a pub called the Commercial Tavern where Ali and I pitched up (as we were a bit early) for a pint or 2 before the party. I think it's been done up recently and while it was very pretentious - random vast chandeliers everywhere, old wallpaper depicting what looked like 1920s cyclists, full of Shoreditch/Hoxton meeja types being all trendy - it wasn't a bad place to get a drink. They had Black Sheep Ale and Old Rosie Scrumpy on draught so we were both happy, anyway. The only downside was that as soon as we walked in I thought I would have to walk straight back out again due to lack of oxygen - there was so much smoke in there I could hardly breathe. Upstairs was a bit better than downstairs so we manfully sipped our pints and pretended not to be tourists (a bit difficult with all our overnight bags and Ali's mountains of camera gear under our feet) but left stinking of smoke. Eugh.

The party itself was great - good to see old friends and meet new people - and we got to sleep in one of the hugest comfiest beds I'd ever slept in, 7ft x 7ft. Next day we met up with Jenn for lunch at Jamie Oliver's restaurant Fifteen which was about 20 minutes walk away. It is in Shoreditch and round that area is a pub called the Eagle, which has the old nursery rhyme painted large on the external brickwork:

Up and down the City Road
In and out the Eagle
That's the way the money goes
Pop! goes the Weasel

Fifteen was fantastic - as we walked in there was a huge table all dusted with semolina flour fresh from making pasta; massive bunches of chillies hanging from every available hook; antipasti in big bowls and a very welcoming atmosphere. We were booked in at the Trattoria upstairs which I was pleased about - cheaper than the main restaurant downstairs, you could see out (and it was a lovely day), and all very rustic. We had antipasti to start - as the waiter was describing what each luscious morsel was, our saliva glands were working over time before we were able to dive upon it; I then had roast belly of pork with fennel and extra roast potatoes. Proper crackling, and superb taste, but the portion itself was too enormous - I couldn't finish it, and even had no room left in my special pudding reserve for any afters. Well worth the money though (for London anyway) and a great experience all round. All hail Jamie!

Back on the train afterwards and we had a quiet Saturday evening, watching the Irvine Welsh new drama - Wedding Belles - on tape. Michelle Gomez at first was too reminiscent of Sue White (the mad HR lady she plays in Green Wing) for me to totally relax into watching her as a different character, but in the end she was the best actress in it, though Shirley Henderson ran a close second. It was good, but a little bit predictable.

Before this post turns into a massive 'what I did on my weekend' essay I'd better curtail it - suffice to say on Sunday I spent a very enjoyable day in the back garden tidying and clearing and surveying my domain, and bemoaning the lack of greehhouse / decent perennial plants / proper upright fence on one side....One day all those things will be there, just not yet. I guess I could divide the sedums (sedi? seda?) and just replicate them all the way down the borders, but that would be a bit boring. I'll post some pictures soon.