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???