Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Festive Wishes

It was all very quiet on the way in to work this morning. So quiet, in fact that while walking to the tube I could enjoy the dawn chorus almost completely without any traffic noise. Very nice.

So, just a half day of work left before the holidays start. I don't really feel in a festive mood, yet but I'm sure that will creep up on me once I leave the office.

Wherever you're celebrating Christmas and whoever you're celebrating it with, I wish you all joy and peace. Have a very merry Christmas and I'll come visiting you all next week sometime.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Hectic Weekend

Well, that was a hectic weekend of traveling. I feel like I've hardly been in the flat at all. Saturday morning was spent going to the bank and Sainsbury's, to get the few bits we need before going away on Wednesday, and then it was off to St Albans for the afternoon.

Then yesterday we were up and out of the flat by nine to go and take one last look at our new home in Hemel Hempstead before we exchange contracts. We wanted to check that the heating was working and take measurements in the kitchen and master bedroom so that we can start to plan where all the furniture is going to go. It's funny how rooms grow in your mind when you haven't seen them for a while, isn't it? The kitchen definitely seemed to be a foot or two shorter than I remembered, though it's still big enough for our needs. We also tested out the walk to and from the station - about 15 minutes, downhill all the way to and uphill all the way back home.

Then we were back in Finchley for a few hours (mostly spent doing housework) before heading in to Covent Garden to meet up with friends for drinks.

And, of course, it was all done on buses, trains, tube and taxis. If we'd had a car we could have saved a good couple of hours of actual traveling time. Oh well, at least I got a couple more hours to read my book.

Now I've just got to survive two and a half days of work, with evening visits tonight from my parents and brother(s) and tomorrow from L's sister and her boyfriend and then it's off to my in-laws for Christmas on Wednesday afternoon before going to my parents at the weekend. I don't think we're going to get a moments peace until next Monday night.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Am I for real?

Well, that didn't take long. After saying yesterday that I was going to stop searching for inspiration and let it come to me, up it pops up yesterday evening in the form of Horizon on BBC2. It was exactly the sort of scientific documentary I like - talking about outlandish theoretical physics and showing just how bizarre this universe of ours is. The subject last night? Time travel. And not any of your Doctor Who, jump-in-a-police-box malarkey (though the daleks did put in an appearance during the show and the closing titles were accompanied by the haunting strains of the Doctor Who theme), either. We're talking about real time traveling.

The first person to really consider what time was was Isaac Newton. He reasoned that time was constant, that it applied everywhere in the universe in exactly the same way. One unfortunate consequence of this view was that it meant that everything that ever happened was proscribed from the very beginning. I.e. we are nothing more than puppets acting out what was ordained at the beginning of time. Not a particularly appealing thought.

Then along came Einstein a couple of hundred years later and ripped that to shreds. According to his theory of relativity, time slows down as your speed increases. Suddenly, the prospect of time travel became real. If you set off into space and travel near the speed of light for a year before getting back to earth then the people you left behind might be ten years older. You would have traveled nine years into the future. How cool would that be? In fact, there are certifiable time travelers living on Earth, right now. There is a Russian cosmonaut who has spent more than 700 days on the spacestation Mir, traveling at upwards of 17000 mph. When he got back to earth again after his last trip, he had effectively traveled 1/50th of a second into the future. Not much, I'll grant you but he had traveled through time nonetheless.

The problem is, for 'viable' time travel to be made a reality, you would want to be able to travel back in time as well as forward and relativity says that would mean traveling faster than the speed of light, something that Einstein showed wasn't possible. So time travel was still just a fantasy after all.

That assumed that time travels along a straight line from beginning to end. A friend of Einstein's, Kurt Goedel, wondered what would happen if, instead, time looped. If it did then he showed that it would be possible to take a shortcut through spacetime and go back as well as forward. Unfortunately for him, for time to loop, the universe has to be spinning and our universe doesn't spin (though how we know that I've got no idea). His ideas inspired a whole load of other physicists to look for ways to 'get round' Einstein's requirement to travel faster than light in order to go back in time. Many of them have been successful and shown, mathematically, that it would be possible to do it. Again, there are downsides to these theories. The absolutely vast amount of energy needed to make them happen being one, the fact that a time machine wouldn't be able to travel back to a time before it was built being another (though this wasn't explained at all). So we're now in the position where time travel is theoretically possible but just isn't practical.

But there is another way to 'travel' through time. Instead of you going to the past, why not bring the past to you? Not really, of course but in a simulation. If computers continue to improve at the rate they have been doing for the last twenty or thirty years, it will eventually be possible to run a simulation of the past that would be so good it would be indistinguishable from the real thing, Even down to how the people in the simulation think. Of course, if you can run one simulation, you can run billions of them, to see what variations there are. And that raises a nasty question. Are we real or do we just exist in some future simulation of the past? And if it's the latter then are we like the 'real' us at all?

I'd like to think that the real me is the slim attractive one from the simulation next door.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Cry for help

Dear Dave

I've been writing a blog for almost 4 months now and everything was going great for a while but things have been going downhill recently. First of all, I set myself a writing challenge throughout November that I feel was probably a mistake. Then, a week or so after that had ended, I got ill and didn't feel like writing anything. Now I'm just feeling very uninspired and I'm finding it really difficult to write about anything at all. I don't want to give up blogging as I've still got a lot of ideas that I think could be really good but I just don't know what I can do to get me over this slump in form.

Please help,


Dear Dave,

Sometimes finding inspiration is not easy, especially if you don't have a lot of time to devote to searching for it. My suggestion is that you should relax for a while. Stop trying to find things to write about. Let them come to you instead. If you have something to write about then blog it, otherwise leave it alone. Maybe a break until after Christmas will do you the world of good.



Wednesday, December 17, 2003

If you have a problem, maybe you should call...

No, not the A-Team, me!

Yes, I'm still accepting appointments for the CBS Advice Surgery so if you have a problem that you just can't get your head round, let me know what it is and I'll give you some helpful advice on how to solve it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Bah! Humbug!

Dear Dave

I'm utterly utterly depressed, to the point of bawling my eyes out on the underground last night for no reason and then turning up at a friends house for a hug and then leaving shortly after despite kind offers of food and company. I know when I get this bad it's just temporary and will pass. Should I just say 'fuck Christmas' and buy some ridiculously high heeled shoes. Also, despite telling la Mutha that I won't be home for Christmas, she's now putting the emotional screws on me. Should I just say 'fuck Christmas' and lay on my sofa all Christmas day eating Twiglets and ignoring the phone.

Yours, Un-Noel

Dear Un-Noel,

My, you are down at the moment, aren't you? You should be wary of quick fixes like buying shoes. While they may bring temporary relief from the depression, they won't solve the problem and it will come back to haunt you eventually. You need to work out what's really upsetting you and deal with it. Once you have done that you can say 'fuck Christmas' with impunity, because you'll know it's what you really want, rather than just some knee-jerk reaction to something else entirely.

One thing, though. Twiglets? All day? I mean, they're nice enough but after a handful or so they become a bit sickly. Intersperse with peanuts, cheese straws and pork scratchings and you'll be fine.

Hope this helps. Remember, you'll always have friends here in blogland.


P.S. I think BW has a solution to the la Mutha problem in a comments box below.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Croak Croak!

Dear Dave

I have a desire to turn Mummy BW into a frog when she visits at the weekend. She invited herself and I'm very busy at the moment. Is this justified?



Dear BW,

Of course it is all right to turn Mummy BW into a frog at the weekend. As long as you give her some damp leaves to lie in and plenty of flies to eat. Be wary of the Bullfrog from next door, though. If you're not careful you'll end up with Mummy BW frogspawn next spring and I don't think you'd want that, now would you?

Here's hoping you have a nice peaceful weekend. Well, as peaceful as possible with a frog croaking nineteen to the dozen in the background, anyway.


A costly predicament

Dear Dave,

How do I buy £280 worth of Christmas presents for just £12.37?


Overspent of Hertfordshire

Dear Overspent,

You are in a bit of a dilemma, aren't you? Do you disappoint your loved ones or put your life in the hands of the credit company? Not a very appealing choice, I'm sure. Still, there are things that can be done. I can see three possible solutions to your predicament:

1. Teach your greedy kids/girlfriend/mother-in-law what the real meaning of Christmas is. That it's nothing to do with the giving and receiving of expensive presents and everything to do with peace, love and kindness. Then buy them each a Chocolate Orange.

2. Go to your nearest charity shop, buy a whole load of cheap clothes and pass them off as the latest fashions as seen in that mecca of outlet stores, The Hatfield Galleria. It'll work like a charm.

3. Sod them all, buy yourself the largest bottle of brandy you can find and start drinking it on Christmas Eve. By the time they come to open their presents on Christams Day, you'll be so bladdered that you won't really care what they say to you.

I hope you find my advice helpful. Have a merry (hic!) Christmas and don't sober up before New Year.


Let me give you a piece of advice...

People have often said that I give good advice so I thought I'd give it a go on here. So, if you have a problem, be it about relationships, work or getting on with your family from hell at this festive time of year, and you don't know what to do about it then leave your details in the comments or send me an email (if you want to retain your anonymity). You can do it seriously or not, it's entirely up to, but if you want a serious answer then it's probably best to say so.

So, start leaving your problems below and I will answer them over the next week or so.

The Clear Blue Skies Advice Surgery is now open...

Back again

Ah, yes, I remember, I'm meant to write things here, aren't I?

Sorry for the silence that has cloaked Clear Blue Skies over this past week. The head cold I predicted last Monday hit me on Tuesday and was followed closely by exhaustion on Wednesday and a temperature on Thursday. Having taken all three days off I took Friday as well to recover. I now am just left with a cough that will likely last until Christmas at least.

Boy, did it hit me for six. First time I've ever had to take more than a single day off work. I was in no fit state for thinking straight, let alone putting fingers to keyboard and posting anything.

Anyway, I'm all better now but the four days off mean I'm busier than ever at work so posts will remain infrequent for a while, I'm afraid.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Dressing Up and Bowing Out

Well, Blue Witch has finally put her new dress on and very nice it looks, too. It shows off all your curves perfectly, BW. ;-)

And mike has given up blogging, perhaps indefinitely. For some reason, I'm not actually very surprised by this. I've been reading Troubled Diva for six months or so and it has been fairly obvious recently that mike was not getting as much out of it as he had been. Once something like writing a blog becomes a struggle, there really isn't anything to do but stop. He will be missed and I hope he comes back in some other incarnation soon.


Sore Throat,
Tickly Cough,
Aching Muscles,
4 Hours Sleep &
No Appetite.

I'm feeling peachy this morning. The good news is that I haven't got the head-cold, yet - that's a joy still to come.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Shopping Trip

It was with some trepidation that we left the house at 9.30 this morning on our way to Oxford Street to try and make some headway on the Christmas present buying. Not least because at that point I still had very little idea what to get anybody in my family and Oxford Street is not the place to go on a Saturday in December if you're not after something very specific. We had to go to the bank first so it was 11.00 before we got off the tube at Marble Arch and started to worm our way through the crowds that were already there.

However, with trips to M&S, HMV, Debenhams and John Lewis all yielding success, just an hour and a half later we'd finished and we sat on the bus towards Piccadilly Circus (we'd had enough of walking by that point) thinking about where to go for lunch. Better yet, we now only have to find something for two grandmothers and mine will be happy with just a bottle, so long as the contents are at least 20% by volume. Phew, I thought it would take us much longer than that to find much less. We've obviously been shopping on Oxford Street so often that we're masters at it, now.

Not that I'm willing to brave those crowds again anytime soon, of course. I swear, next year I'll buy all the Christmas presents in August.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Christmas Bits

There have been several posts recently in this area of blogland about people that decorate the outside of their houses with thousands of lights and inflatable santas and how nasty and cheap it all is. I've got to say that under normal circumstances I wholeheartedly agree with those sentiments. Then I saw a news item on Breakfast this morning about Leonard Road in Stourbridge where every house is lit up like that and I have to say that it looked beautiful. The difference between this and your normal brash display is that they raise thousands of pounds for charity in the process. Now that's a good reason for doing it, isn't it?


One of the things I like most about Christmas is all the quizzes that seem to appear. There always seem to be a few printed question sheets lying around from the local primary school or church or something. There is one quiz I look forward to getting every year, the hardest one I know. We got our copy of this year's yesterday and it's a corker. Will I be sending in an entry? It's far too early to tell that.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Off Drinking

Right then, I'm off drinking for the night with work so if I don't post anything much tomorrow you can assume it's because I'm nursing a sore head.

Have a good night.

This wonderful city

I was thinking last night about how much I take London for granted these days. I see the tube mostly as an inconvenience on the way to work and I'm blase about all the sights, too. It wasn't always like that, let me tell you.

I was introduced to London almost twenty years ago by my Nan and Grandfather, before he died. From their home in Cheshunt (twenty minutes out of Liverpool Street) they took me to the Tower of London. It was a wonderful adventure, traveling on the train into the big city and I'm sure I was overawed by it all, especially the tube.

In the days before my grandfather retired I remember regarding him with some awe when I was told that he knew exactly where to get on the train at Cheshunt so that he would get off it at Seven Sisters in exactly the right place to go down the stairs to the Victoria Line. I could only have been four or five and I couldn't understand how anyone could know that. Now, of course, I know where to get on at a myriad of stations depending on where I'm going and I do it without really thinking about it.

That trip to the Tower was the first of many that I went on with my Nan. Pretty much every school holiday until I was 13 or 14 I'd go and spend a few days with her and without fail we'd always make at least one trip into London. On the train I would wonder at the names of the stations we went through; Clapton (isn't that near the sea?), London Fields, Cambridge Heath, Bethnal Green etc. From Liverpool Street we went all over the place; on the Circle line to Tower Hill for Tower Bridge or the London Dungeon, to the Piccadilly line somehow to get down to the Museum District, to Kings Cross for the Nortern Line to Camden Town for London Zoo. Plus maybe twenty other trips to museums and attractions across the city. We even went out to Greenwich on the newly-built DLR, past the giant hole in the ground that was later to become Canary Wharf. At that point the DLR only went as far as Island Gardens and we had to walk underneath the Thames through the foot tunnel.

By the time I was ten I was an old hand at traveling in town, something that bothers some adults who have never visited London before. Back then the tube was a magical thing that whisked us around in doublequick time and I used to try and work out the quickest route from one place to another. Stations seemed like veritable rabbit warrens of corridors, platforms and escalators (which I used to love going up and down on) and I had great fun trying to get through the ticket barriers as quickly as possible before they closed on me. I loved those trips and would look forward to them for weeks beforehand.

Now, of course, it's nowhere near as special to go around the centre of London on the tube (though I do still love going out on the extremes of the network along sections of line I've never traveled before) and stations are just places to get out of as speedily as I can. I'd rather walk to where I want to go than get the tube, you get to know London much better that way.

There are still things about the city that I love. The fact that my grandfather worked for quite a while in Mincing Lane in the City, not a quarter of a mile away from where I now sit and somewhere I walk past on the way to our other office, for instance. But I don't have anywhere near the fascination I used to have.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Dear Santa,

I know people usually send you letters through the post but I like to move with the times and don't have your mobile number so thought I'd just post it here for you to read. Besides, I heard the letters all just end up with some spotty git in Birmingham who is neither fat nor jolly and that just wouldn't be right.

Anyway, I have been a good boy this year (well, apart from that  incident in March but nobody got seriously hurt and they were all saying something ridiculous about you not being real so it doesn't really count, does it?) so here's a list of what I want for Christmas.

1. The hungry to be fed.
2. The sick to be healed.
3. The poor to be made wealthy.
4. Peace across all the earth.
5. Goodwill between all men.

Failing that, I will settle for this instead.

If you require more than the usual mince pie and glass of sherry left on the mantelpiece, please leave your order in the comments and I'll see what I can do. Please bear in mind, though, that the mantelpiece isn't very large and is usually covered in candles and decorations by Christmas Eve.

Thank you.


Foggy mornings

I love waking up in the morning, opening the curtains and being unable to see anything more than fifty yards away. It's always better out in the country, where there's nothing close enough to be seen through the mist so all you get is a wall of grey cutting you off from the world but even in towns and cities it can be a lovely sight. That's because fog lends even the most ugly of landscapes a mask of beauty. A nasty concrete tower block is transformed into something other, more solid at the bottom than the top.

One quality of a foggy morning that is more evident in the city is the peacefulness. The only sound when we stepped out of the door this morning was of the refuse truck lumbering slowly down our road. There was no hum of traffic from the nearby north circular or rumble of buses on the High Road. Even once we were on the High Road the normal bustle was muted somewhat.

I think the thing I like most about fog is that it has connotations with a bygone age. We associate thick fog with the peasoupers of the Victorian era and so that allows us to escape from our own time for a little while in thoughts of the past.

The only sight that I want to see early in the morning more than that blank grey wall is a thick blanket of white. But I'll save that for another day.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

What colour are you?

I got this from BW, who got it from another dabbler in magic (and so on).

you are lightcyan

Your dominant hues are green and blue. You're smart and you know it, and want to use your power to help people and relate to others. Even though you tend to battle with yourself, you solve other people's conflicts well.

Your saturation level is very low - you have better things to do than jump headfirst into every little project. You make sure your actions are going to really accomplish something before you start because you hate wasting energy making everyone else think you're working.

Your outlook on life is very bright. You are sunny and optimistic about life and others find it very encouraging, but remember to tone it down if you sense irritation.
the html color quiz

How apt is that? My one and only stab at it and I come up with the colour of a clear blue sky?

Tuition Fees

In last week's Queen's Speech, the plans for legislation that will allow universities to charge students up to £3000 a year in fees were unveiled. In the midst of general uprising and criticism, 130 Labour MPs (a large proportion of the government) have signed a Commons Motion voicing their opposition to these plans. If Tony Blair tries to force the issue through then he will face criticism from his own party and potentially even defeat in the House of Commons votes, the first of which has already been postponed until after Christmas.

His opponents will cry out that the plans go against traditional Labour values of free education and that they will prevent students from poorer backgrounds from being able to choose from the full range of courses and universities, maybe even dissuade them from going to university at all. The NUS will mobilise the current crop of undergraduates, who will never be affected by the proposals and they will march and protest and chant and blow their whistles. Maybe they'll succeed in getting the plans watered down or even scrapped.

Which, if you ask me, would be a shame.

Now, I'm not normally one to agree with Tony Blair. I don't trust him or the way he governs the country. The preoccupation with spin and The Message in the early years of Labour being in power and the way the war in Iraq was handled have soured me to anything that the government and Blair, in particular, says. To me he seems like the boy who cried wolf once too often - he's manipulated the facts so often that when he's telling it straight no one believes him. No, I'd normally be rubbing my hands with glee at the trouble he's facing from his own party, like I did with the rebellion over Foundation Hospitals. But on this issue I happen to think he's doing the right thing.

I mean, why should a university education be free? It's hardly fair on those that are not able to go because they are not academic enough, is it? We have the right to an education, true, but surely it should only be free up to the point that the vast majority of the population can gain anything from it? Going to university and gaining a degree is more a privilege than a right so why should we not contribute towards the cost of it?

The argument that it would dissuade poorer students from going to university and hence make it more 'elitist' than it already is doesn't really hold any water, either. Unless you believe that the employment prospects that they leave university with are considerably worse than those from richer backgrounds. These fees won't be paid up front, like in the current arrangement, which is admittedly wrong and has almost certainly caused some teenagers to change their minds about higher education. Instead they will be in the form of a loan, interest-free I believe, that you only start to pay back post-graduation and once your salary reaches a certain level. With some government help for the poorest students, I don't think this should be an issue at all. Although that won't stop Blair's critics from pounding on about it.

On a more general note, these fees will allow universities to offer a much better range and quality of courses and conduct more cutting edge research than they currently do. That can never be a bad thing, can it? Are there any other sources of income that universities can exploit? Corporate sponsorship could play a part, though that would likely be limited just to subjects worthy of the investment, like biological sciences. Could you see a company agreeing to fund dry, academic subjects like Classics or English Literature, subjects they would get just minimal return on their investment from? No, the only other way the universities are going to get the sort of money they want, and need, is through the government massively increasing the amount they allot to higher education. And that would have to come at the expense of some other equally worthy cause because the electorate will not tolerate a hike in income tax.

It's time we realised that we don't get something for nothing any more. Especially when it's not something that everyone has access to.

Monday, December 01, 2003

What might have been

So, what have I missed while I was on my Floyd marathon? Has anything been happening in the world that I would have otherwise blogged about? Well, here's a day by day account of what November might have looked like on Clear Blue Skies had I not been waxing lyrically, so to speak.

1st - A bus crashing into tree on the High Road in Finchley and showering glass all over passers-by just twenty yards in front of us.
2nd - Tim Henman winning a tennis tournament.
3rd - The news that Alcopop Hooch is to be axed
4th - The demise of Brookside
5th - The Proposed bill to restrict the sale of fireworks.
6th - The Bank of England raising interest rates just two days after we booked a three year fixed rate mortgage. Sweet.
7th - Michael Portillo giving up politics to become a full-time single mum. Or something like that.
8th - My team setting off on a run in the FA Cup having beaten Stockport County 2-1. :-)
9th - Those allegations about Prince Charles
10th - Red Ken possibly rejoining the Labour party, ousting the democratically elected labour mayoral candidate in the process.
11th - Rushing a little too much and not paying attention while shaving and taking a great chunk out of my face.
12th - The debate over whether parents should be allowed to select the sex of their children.
13th - It's official: Guinness IS good for you!
14th - Getting the full report from the surveyors on our new home. No major problems, which is a relief.
15th - American families pay the heaviest price yet as two helicopters crash in Iraq.
16th - Spending the afternoon in the pub instead of doing the housework. A much better use of the time.
17th - A Russian girl getting frostbite after her tongue gets stuck to the inside of a freezer.
18th - Bush arriving in London for the first ever state visit by an American President.
19th - Michael Jackson's Neverland searched by police after allegations of child molestation.
20th - A sickening game of Paper, Scissors Stone.
21st - Newsreaders singing Motown and Simon Cowell being sawn in half? That'll be Children in Need, then.
22nd - The wonderful, fabulous, brilliant right foot of Jonny Wilkinson.
23rd - The 40th anniversary of first Doctor Who transmission.
24th - The news that HIV cases in the UK rose by 20% in a year.
25th - My annual appraisal, which surprisingly opened my eyes to a few opportunities that may come my way in the next twelve months.
26th - Tony Blair setting out his stall for an almighty battle over tuition fees in the Queen's Speech.
27th - My office being invaded by the smell of bad eggs
28th - New look Top of the Pops
29th - Finally getting started on the Christmas present buying.
30th - The last day you can legally drive while holding a mobile phone.

And that's not to mention anything about Mirror journalists moonlighting as palace footmen, more protests against Bush, the trial of Ian Huntley, pointless Northern Irish Assembly elections or the up-coming tube go-slows.

What a month that could have been. Oh well, let's hope December can produce a wealth of topics to rival that.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

No 43.

The show must go on

Song: The Show Must Go On
Album: The Wall

Well, that was Pink Floyd month. Did you enjoy it? I certainly hope so. There was a time at the beginning that I thought I'd bitten off more than I could chew and wouldn't get to the end of the month before I ran out of things to say and lyrics to use but here we are, on the last day of the month and the words have kept flowing.

Thank you to all of you who left comments, responding to what I'd written and the questions I asked. You certainly made it more fun for me.

Anyway, as the cliché goes, all good things must come to an end and so it is with both November and my Floyd lyrics project. There won't be anything special happening here in December, for several reasons. Firstly everyone winds down in the run up to Christmas and I'm no exception to that rule. More importantly, though, I feel like I haven't written anything in the last couple of months except for posts about flashblogging and Pink Floyd so I want to get back to writing about any old stuff again. There will, however, be details in a couple of weeks of the special event that will be taking place here early next year. It will require more input from you, Dear Reader, especially from the more, shall we say, prolific, writers among you. That's all that I'm going to say about it for now so look out for more details.

For now normal service is about to be resumed. Let the show go on.

No 42.

When you're one of the few to land on your feet
What do you do to make ends meet?

Song: One of the Few
Album: The Final Cut

When I first thought about using this lyric I was reminded of the first two lines from Rudyard Kipling's poem, If:

"If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,"

I've got a bit of a reputation at work for being coldly analytical, largely because I don't panic when there's a crisis. Instead I calmly think through the problem until I know what went wrong and what can be done to fix it. I don't mind the reputation too much; if you flip it over it implies that I'm reliable under pressure and that's no bad thing.

Even when, on Christmas Eve last year, there was panic among some of the managers that some of the reports that had to be sent to headquarters in the States were incorrect, I kept cool. This was noticed at 11.30, I didn't get hold of it until gone noon and the office was due to close at 1.00. While one of the directors raged I got to work. I found the root of the problem, fixed it and reproduced the reports by about 2.15. Two hours of work that would normally have taken most of a day. It's wonderful how a lot of pressure can focus you to produce good work, isn't it?

It's not just at work that I'm like that, either. I'm almost always calm and rational. I'm told it can be one of my more infuriating qualities. :-)

I don't know why I'm like this. As a kid I was much more emotional and didn't react very well to pressure at all. It was my brother that was always reckoned to be the laid back, unflappable one. Maybe it's a by-product of the bullying I went through and the way I learnt to deal with it, maybe it was always going to develop as I got older anyway. I don't know. What I do know is that it is one of my more useful traits.

How do you react when the pressure's on?

Saturday, November 29, 2003

No 41.

So all aboard for the American tour

Song: Free Four
Album: Obscured By Clouds

A few days after graduating I went travelling in the United States. I went on my own because I knew that way I could do what I liked. The only definite plans I had were the flight out to New Orleans, the flight back from San Francisco four and a half weeks later and a week long bus tour from LA to San Fran about three weeks into the trip. Other than that I really had no idea where I would be, or when.

I stayed in New Orleans for a few days with a friend I'd met in my first year at university. The Big Easy is a fabulous place. The French Quarter looks like it will fall down at the slightest sign of a storm but it holds a wealth of jazz bars and Cajun restaurants, the best in the world.

From there I took the Greyhound to Houston and spent a couple of days there. Apart from a visit to the Space Centre that was actually really dull so I moved on quickly to San Antonio, a beautiful little city with the lovely Riverwalk, a stretch of canal in the centre with bars, restaurants and nightclubs all along it. Then, of course, there's the Alamo, with about as much history as you get in the U.S. It sort of put it into perspective for the Americans I went along with that the school I went to was founded a couple of hundred years before the Alamo!

I was staying in the Youth Hostel there and found a guy who was going on to San Diego, my next destination, and, more importantly, had a car so I arranged to hitch a lift with him. He drove 1100 miles in a single day to take us from San Antonio to the Californian border, where we stayed in a motel for the night, and we got into San Diego early the next morning. Much better than the 27 hours non-stop it would have taken on the Greyhound!

I loved San Diego. It's such a laid-back, calm city and I felt very much at peace there. I rested up for a few days after the trek across Texas and New Mexico and visited the zoo and the old mission. I then headed up the coast to LA, where I stayed in the youth hostel in Santa Monica, a really tough two-block trek from the beach. :-) I was in LA for three days before I had to join the minibus tour but, apart from taking a tour through Beverly Hills and Hollywood (which you have to do while in LA) I never strayed more than a few blocks from the coast. I walked several miles south along the beach past Venice and just spent some time relaxing and breathing in the sea air.

The minibus tour was a whirlwind seven days taking in Lake Havasu (jet skiing and London Bridge), Joshua Tree National Park, The Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, Las Vegas (just one night but what a great time that was), Death Valley (where it was 116F (about 47C) in the shade, Yosemite National Park and, finally, San Francisco. It was hectic, but great fun, even given the two French girls who just moaned about everything the whole time.

I then had four or five days in San Francisco before my flight home again. Unfortunately, by this point I was getting tired of living out of a suitcase and I didn't enjoy the city as much as I might have done. I did take a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and ride on the trams etc but I was beginning to look forward to getting home again.

That was my tour of America, in brief. Looking at it, I think I could definitely write much more about it so I may revisit the subject in the future and fill in some of the many gaps. I'll definitely be going back there at some point, though next time we'll hire a car so we can truly go wherever we like.

No 40.

And suddenly it’s day again
The sun is in the east
Even though the day is done
Two suns in the sunset
Could be the human race is run

Song: Two Suns in the Sunset
Album: The Final Cut

When this song was written, people till saw the threat of nuclear holocaust as a very real thing and the lyrics describe the moment that the first bomb goes off. With the end of the Cold War the chances of a global nuclear war fell away to virtually zero, so it's unlikely that there will come a point where we annihilate all human life and make the planet virtually uninhabitable. Phew.

That's not to say the threat of nuclear weapons has completely disappeared. They are still around and could conceivably be used. Worse, countries who might not be so inhibited when it comes to using them for their own ends, such as North Korea and Iran, may be starting to acquire them. How would we react if one of them attacked America or another Western country with a nuclear bomb? Could we be restrained enough not to retaliate in a like manner? I don't know.

Then, of course, there is the other threat that has risen to prominence since the end of the Cold War. Terrorism. While terrorists lack the ability to launch large scale attacks on other countries or regimes, they are small enough to be able to move around almost unnoticed and so often have the strength of surprise on their side. Their other main advantage is there is no easy way to retaliate against them, because they can melt into the background and disappear with ease. That was demonstrated with the war in Afghanistan, which was largely unsuccessful in dealing with Al-Quaeda.

So what can we do to rid the world of these threats? I wish I knew the answer to that question. I don't think the hard line being taken by the United States will actually do the job - it will just garner more enmity towards the west even as it smashes regimes and terrorist cells. There has to be another way. I just don't know what it is.

Friday, November 28, 2003

No 39.

And fairy stories held me high
On clouds of sunlight floating by
Oh Mother tell me more
Tell me more…

Song: Matilda Mother
Album: Piper At The Gates Of Dawn

I don't remember being read to very much as a child. That's not to say it didn't happen, it probably did, but as soon as I discovered reading for myself I don't think I wanted to be read to any more. My reading age shot upwards and I was reading books for eight, nine, ten year-olds within just a couple of years.

What I don't know is whether I've missed out on anything by not having any memories of being read to. Were you read bedtime stories? Did you have a favourite? What do you think about them looking back now you're (allegedly) grown up?

No 38.

Remember when you were young?
You shone like the sun.

Song: Shine On You Crazy Diamond
Album: Wish You Were Here

For this lyric I was going to write about how we seem to shine much more brightly when we are young than we do as we get older but I couldn't work out what I wanted to say so instead I'm going to talk about memories of when we were young. Specifically earliest memories.

I don't have a specific memory that I can point to and say that's my earliest but I can remember the house that we moved out of when I was four and a half so that's got to be up there among the earliest. I don't remember that much about the garden or the downstairs but the upstairs was a different matter.

It was a two-bedroom house and the room I shared with my brother (there were only two of us at that stage) was at the front. It seemed huge at the time, although I know now that it wasn’t that big, with two beds sticking out from one wall and the toy chest in the corner. If I remember correctly (and this is a little hazy) we used to play on the floor between my bed and the wall.

The impressions I have of my parents' room are primarily of darkness. I only ever saw it in the morning, when my Mum was still in bed (back in the days when she could quite happily sleep until mid-morning if she was allowed to) and the curtains were drawn. Because of that, going in there always made me uneasy.

There are a few other memories from around that time as well, just fragments really but things that stuck in my mind. Like my last day at the local playgroup before going to nursery school or the morning my brother smashed my cereal bowl because he was trying to wear it as a hat. I even remember going to see the house that we later moved into (and in which my parents still live). That was a grand adventure, walking all that way (about half a mile) to have a look at a strange house. Funny though, I don't remember actually moving at all.

What's your earliest memory?

Thursday, November 27, 2003

No 37.

I woke to the sound of drums
The music played, the morning sun streamed in.

Song: A Great Day For Freedom
Album: The Division Bell

In my year in Germany, I shared a small two-bedroom flat in a hall of residence with a German guy. He was nice enough, though he kept to himself a lot, but there was one thing about him that really annoyed me. He was a fan of heavy metal. Not just any heavy metal, either; he listened to the sort of metal normally prefixed by words like 'thrash' or 'death'. At 7.30 in the morning. Very loud.

Bare in mind that I had virtually no lectures to go to and therefore had absolutely no need to be in any state of consciousness at that time of the morning and you'll understand why I got quite angry about it. The problem was, there wasn’t much I could do about it since he'd had the room long before I arrived and wasn't going to let some foreign guy tell him what to do in his own flat.

Luckily he usually had early lectures so it never lasted more than an hour and I was normally able to get back to sleep after he'd left. I’d much rather have slept right through, though.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

No 36.

Out of the front door I go
Traffic's moving rather slow
Arriving late, there she waits
Looking very angry, as cross as she can be.

Song: Paint Box

I'm a very punctual person – I just can't stand being late for anything – and that, coupled with the rather small number of dates I have actually been on, means that I have never been late when meeting a girl.

I have, however, been made to wait (though never stood up). Once a girl I was meeting for a drink one afternoon was so late that I left the pub we were meeting in and went to my usual pub instead (this was during my year in Germany, when I spent a lot of time in just one pub – I'll save that for another time). She eventually turned up there and explained everything. There was a very good reason, though I can't remember it now, which I was absolutely fine with once I knew but I had still felt angry and let down for a couple of hours. Not a nice feeling at all.

Have you ever been kept waiting or been late for a date? How did you feel and what did you do about it?

No 35.

Looking beyond the embers of bridges glowing behind us
To a glimpse of how green it was on the other side.

Song: High Hopes
Album: The Division Bell

Have you ever looked back at the past and wished that things would go back to how they were, though you knew they never could? Or held up the present or the near future and, in comparing it to the past, found it wanting?

Dwelling on the past in that way is never a good thing to do. The knowledge that life was better in the past leads to being unhappy with how it is at the moment. Before too long you could be caught in the vicious circle of getting into depression, which makes life worse, which gets you even more down. It's not constructive, either. Looking back doesn't help you to improve the present; it just highlights how far you've still got to go.

Forget the lush green on the far side of that burning bridge. Instead, concentrate on cultivating the brown, wilting environment around you so that it becomes as green as you can make it. Only once you are happy in the present should you look back to see if it compares well with the past. If it does, great. If not then, surely, if you've improved things this far, you can keep on encouraging them to grow and improve.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

No 34.

Ice cream tastes good in the afternoon
Ice cream tastes good if you eat it soon

Song: Candy And A Current Bun

Vanilla, Strawberry, Raspberry Ripple, Mint Choc Chip, Bailey's, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough…

In a cone with a flake stuck out of it, on top of hot apple pie or straight from the tub with a spoon. It doesn't really matter.

I like ice cream. What's your favourite flavour?

Do you have any special recipes that include ice cream? When I was a kid and went round to play with a friend, his mum used to make drinks using ice cream. They couldn’t have been simpler, just a block of vanilla ice cream in a glass and then fill with either coke or lemonade. Eventually the ice cream melted and it all became lovely and creamy. Mmmm.

Monday, November 24, 2003

No 33.

Arnold Lane had a strange hobby
Collecting clothes.
Moonshine, washing line
They suit him fine.

Song: Arnold Lane

Stealing clothes from washing lines in the night is indeed a strange hobby. And, I hasten to add, not one in which I partake. In fact, I don't really have any strange hobbies. How about you?

No 32.

A butterfly with broken wings
Is falling by your side
The ravens all are closing in
There's nowhere you can hide

Song: Cymbaline
Album: More

Have you ever been blamed for the destruction of something beautiful? Your mother's favourite vase, perhaps, or a precious photograph. Maybe even a friendship or relationship? Was it your fault? How did you feel?

The work that I am doing at the moment has the potential to be beautiful. It's only an IT system but if I do everything right, then it will be. Its beauty would be in its apparent simplicity, a mask that seamlessly hides the hellish complexity behind it. If it works correctly then it will be the best single piece of work I have ever done.

If it all falls apart then I hope everyone will realise that I've done my best and won't lay the blame at my feet.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

No 31.

I'm holding out
For the day
When all the clouds
Have blown away.

Song: Wearing The Inside Out
Album: The Division Bell

This pretty much sums up the way I react when things are tough. When life is difficult I just think to myself that it won't always be as bad as it is and that if I wait long enough then things will get better. And if I've already dealt with all the shit then I'll be able to enjoy the good times even more.

Believe me, it's not a bad outlook to have.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

No 30.

You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you

Song: Time
Album: Dark Side Of The Moon

Carpe diem. That is a cliché that is trotted out very frequently when someone hesitates over doing something important. As with most clichés, though, it is actually very sound advice. How often have you put off making a decision or doing something that will change your life because you were worried, afraid or just plain lazy? And how often have you looked back later and regretted that hesitation?

I once had a fantastic job offered to me on a plate and I turned it down. The role was to oversee the total restructuring of the business systems and procedures of the British arm of an international distribution company. This was within a year of graduating and, although at that time I wanted to go into Management Accounting, I was seriously tempted. The only thing that stopped me, I think was that the starting salary was not really what I wanted, even if it was likely to go up considerably if I did well. I wrestled with the decision and put off making it for quite a while.

Eventually I decided to carry on along my chosen path instead of taking it. Just two months later I'd got a job with an insurance services company in the city and my hopes of Management Accounting faded away. Even though the job I had paid more than the one I'd turned down, it wasn't nearly as interesting and I regretted the decision until I got the job I now have (which was as a direct result of the work I had been doing for the IS company). Even now, when I wouldn't change a thing (after all I now have a good job with interesting, challenging work, I'm married and buying a house and life is good - would any of it happened had I decided otherwise?), I still sometimes regret that the chance to do something as challenging and unique as that went begging.

Carpe diem is not just about biting the bullet and making a choice, however. It's also about not letting life pass you by. Drifting along, just existing, the days, weeks and months merging together. Do you want to look back at your life in ten year's time and wonder what you've been doing with it? Or do you want to look back and think to yourself, "Yeah, I did all that and I relished every moment of it"?

It's not that hard a choice, is it?

Friday, November 21, 2003

No 29.

Hold on John
I think there’s something good on
I used to read books but…

Song: Not Now John
Album: The Final Cut

There may once have been a time when it was expected that book reading would decline because of the increasing influence of television and computers but I haven’t seen much sign of that happening, yet.

Selling books is big business with branches of Waterstones, Blackwells and Ottakers springing up all over the place. Then there are ideas like Bookcrossing and the BBC’s Big Read which create and sustain interest in books.

All of which is just as well because it would be a shame if we stopped reading. Books spark the imagination in a way that television or computer games could never do. Visual media hand everything to you on a plate, show you somebody else’s vision, and all you can do then is enjoy it. Books, on the other hand, give your imagination much more free rein. With just a bare description a good author can create a picture in your mind but the difference is that it will always be your picture, not the one the author had.

That’s the real power of books, the fact that they affect everyone in a completely personal way. While I sometimes have difficulty recalling what happened in a programme I watched last week, I remember an intensely vivid portion of a book for years.

While they still affect me that powerfully, I’ll always read books, even if it is just on trains and buses.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

No 29.

Got thirteen channels of shit on the TV to choose from.

Song: Nobody Home
Album: The Wall

When we lived in Krapy Rub Snif (read it backwards and you'll find out where) we had cable TV. This was mainly to do with the fact that it was a pretty bad flat converted from a shop and there was no aerial input. But it did mean that we had more than thirteen channels of shit to choose from. We could always find something to watch, even if it was just old repeats of Changing Rooms or Time Team.

I ended up hating the fact that our home life was ruled by the telly. It still is to a certain extent, though it is much easier to switch it off when there's nothing on now that we only have the five main channels. The big problem is that we haven't so far had a large enough flat to give us somewhere other than the living room to sit comfortably and read a book or something. But that will hopefully soon change, once we get our new place.

Finally we'll have somewhere to escape from the TV to.

No 28.

If you should go skating
On the thin ice of modern life
Don't be surprised if a crack in the ice
Appears under your feet.

Song: The Thin Ice
Album: The Wall

The human race has been using the natural resources of this planet at an unsustainable level and damaging the environment for so long that we are in danger of doing some irrevocable damage.

Emissions of 'greenhouse' gases increased enormously after the Industrial Revolution and have continued to rise ever since so that we are now at the point where an unnatural global warming is a very real possibility. And yet huge swathes of rainforest, the lungs of the planet, are being destroyed every day. Maybe we've even damaged the Earth's ability to protect and heal itself so much that there's nothing we can do to stop it any more.

The consequences could be enormous. Global warming could, in theory cut off the Gulf Stream, which would not only plunge us into a much colder climate than we currently enjoy but would also wreak havoc around the rest of the world.

An increased threat of natural disasters isn't the only danger, either.

We extract coal, oil and gas from the ground in a tiny, minute fraction of the time it took to form in the first place and think very little of it. Global reserves of these resources may effectively run out at some point later this century, maybe within our own lifetimes and yet governments seem to pay little more than lip service to the search for viable alternatives for generating power and driving our cars.

And this will get worse before it gets better. There is a lot of money to be made in the supply of oil and as supplies dwindle prices will rocket, pricing humble car-owners out of the market well before stocks are completely exhausted. If there isn't another option available when that happens then everything will grind to a halt.

Yet there is still hope. The Kyoto Treaty, targets for using more renewable energy and the development of cars that can run on hydrogen cells, for example, are all causes for optimism, if they can be made to work. Then there are companies like Blacklight Power that believe they can produce energy on a large scale from new sources at virtually no cost. Maybe one of them will actually be successful and solve all our energy worries at a stroke.

But we can't rely on governments and industry to do all of the work. We need to keep on putting pressure on them and, at the same time, do all we can to reduce the amount of energy and resources we use. We can make a difference. We need to make a difference.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

No 27.

You say the hill's too steep to climb (climbing)
You say you'd like to see me try (climbing)
You pick the place and I'll choose the time
And I'll climb the hill in my own way.

Song: Fearless
Album: Meddle

I was reminded yesterday by a post over on Aprosexic of a time when I went hill walking in the Highlands of Scotland. It was in the summer of 1994, I think, and I was in the area with my venture unit for a couple of weeks of walking in the hills and sailing on Loch Earn. This particular walk took place on the second day of a three-day expedition, carrying everything we needed on our backs. We wanted to do something challenging and spotted a horseshoe of peaks in a very small area about a day’s hiking to the west of where we were staying. The tallest of the peaks, Ben More, was just over 100 feet lower than the highest peak in the whole area and one of the others was not much shorter than that and we decided to climb them all in one day.

Grid 1
Grid 2 (The left hand column in Grid 2 is the same as the right hand column in Grid 1.)

We hiked there on the first day and made a base camp roughly where the triangle is in grid 2. We got up early on the second day and, leaving our tents behind and only carrying the things we would need for the day we set off.

We tackled Ben More first, since it was going to be the hardest bit and we wanted to do it while we were fresh so we climbed 600 metres in about 2 kilometres, which is really rather steep. We went up through the crags where the ‘E’ in Ben More is on the map and the headed off to the left to get to the triangulation point on the top of the hill. The view wasn’t that spectacular because the weather wasn’t great but looking back over the way we’d come we could see the tiny orange triangles that were our tents below us.

Our next peak, Stob Binnein was just a few metres lower than Ben More but in order for us to get to it we had to descend 300 metres to a saddle point and then climb back up again. Saddle points are odd geographical features which are simultaneously the highest point when looked at from one direction and the lowest point when looked at from another. In this case, if you take a north-south line then it is the lowest point between the two hills but if you take an east-west line then it is the highest point between the two valleys. By the time we got down there the weather had cleared up a bit and the views looking down the valleys were fabulous. I’m sure I took some photos at the time but I’ve got no idea where they are now.

By the time we got to the top of Stob Binnein we were pretty knackered but we knew by then that we’d done the hardest two climbs of the day so we weren’t worried. We stopped just below the top (to shelter from the wind a little) to have a late lunch and get our breath back before carrying on.

The afternoon passed much more easily, with us visiting the other three peaks without too much difficulty, though with very tired legs. After the last one (Stob Creagach) we headed straight down to our base camp from the opposite direction to that in which we’d set out earlier in the day. The descent was over 350 metres in less than a kilometre, steeper than the morning’s climb, and consequently took quite some time because we had to be careful in case we slipped and fell.

We reached base camp by late afternoon and collapsed by the stream. After a meal we felt considerably better and would have stayed up chatting if the midges had not driven us into our tents before 8.30. Trust me, you do not want to be bitten by a Highland midge. They were around in the morning when we got up so we hurriedly struck camp and legged it up the hill to the east of the camp before we could get bitten to shreds. They had disappeared by the time we reached the top so we stopped for breakfast and headed back to where we were staying.

The route back took us along about ten or twelve miles of disused railway line that contoured round the ridge we were on and, because it was nice and flat we made excellent time and covered it in less than three hours. Quite something with a thirty-five pound pack on your back.

All in all, it was an excellent expedition with a long strenuous walk out there, some tough climbing and walking while we were there and a speedy long distance trek back. We felt fantastic when we had finished. True, we were tired and we ached but we felt great about what we’d achieved.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

No 26.

Why won’t you talk to me?
You never talk to me.
What are you thinking?
What are you feeling?

Song: Keep Talking
Album: The Division Bell

Personal relationships, whether we are talking about between friends, family, colleagues or lovers can be based on many things; a shared love of football, great sex, the bond of brother- (or sister) hood etc. An equally great number of things can sustain such relationships but if there’s one thing that will eat away at a relationship and eventually break it down completely it’s a lack of good communication.

If you don’t talk about the things that affect the relationship then pretty soon you’ll find that you’re getting more and more irritated about little things. You know, like the way your girlfriend cooks your sprouts or the fact that your husband never changes the loo roll. It won't be long before you enter the realms of not saying anything at all rather than something you know you’ll regret. Carry on not talking and you’ll quickly be on the road to Break-up City. When you get there it will be messy divorces, the painful dividing of the CD collection and a one-way ticket to Singleville.

Surely, if you’d known at the beginning that just by telling her then that you like your sprouts mushy you would not only have avoided all that heartache and pain but probably also have improved the quality of the relationship as well, you’d have done it without a second thought.

So take it from me, it’s far better to talk about something early on, despite how difficult it may seem at the time, than to leave it to fester and allow it to do some real damage. Who knows, you may even improve the relationship by doing so.

Monday, November 17, 2003

No 25.

Getting up, I feel as if I’m remembering this scene before

Song: Paint Box

I think I’ve blogged about this before

I used to get a lot of déjà vu when I was a kid. As much as two or three times a week I’d get that sense of familiarity with what was happening. Almost knowing what was going to happen next and then recognising it as soon as it did. Even the moment when I realised that it was déjà vu was often part of the experience.

I don’t get it anywhere near as much now as I used to but it’s still as powerful as it always was. Do you ever get the feeling that your repeating all your actions?

No 24.

Goodbye cruel world, I’m leaving you today.
Goodbye all you people
There’s nothing you can say
To make me change my mind

Song: Goodbye Cruel World
Album: The Wall

This has always struck me as the perfect suicide note. It doesn’t offer any explanations or express any regrets. Instead it is short and succinct and defiantly lays the blame squarely on everyone else. The words are full of anger and fatalism and there is also a tinge of madness in them but the way it is sung gives it a mournful edge that evokes pity in the listener.

In the film of The Wall, the main character, Pink (played by Bob Geldof) is just about as low as it is possible to get when he sings this. His wife has left him for somebody else and he is slowly losing his mind to drugs.

If you are feeling low, or you know someone who is, don’t let it go so far that you start composing something along these lines. Somebody cares, if you know where to look.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

No 23.

Money, so they say,
Is the root of all evil today.

Song: Money
Album: Dark Side Of The Moon

Money is an odd thing. We take it for granted that money is real but, if you think about it, that just isn't true. Money is purely conceptual. An idea of human construction. A ten-pound note only has value because everyone not only believes it does but also believes it has the same value. If people started to question that then your tenner would just be a worthless piece of paper.

The idea of money came about because there was a need to rationalise trade, to provide a base against which the worth of some object could be measured. Worth is another human concept (there is nothing intrinsic to their natures that makes a lump of gold more valuable than a lump of wood - it's in humans placing a need on each one that gives them value) but I'm going to leave that one for another day. A relatively simple concept, it has spawned one of the most complex systems in the world.

We are in the middle of tying ourselves up in knots with money, borrowing a lot so that we can buy a home, and we'll be paying that back in large lumps very soon. We'll be paying more to protect against not be able to pay and still more that will give us the ability to pay the whole thing back in the event of disaster. The whole thing gets very complicated and that doesn't even touch on pensions, savings or other insurance.

It is truly amazing what we have constructed from the simple concept of money and the desire to protect it and make more.

One last thing, just going back to the lyric for a minute, if money is the root of all evil and money is just a construct of human imagination then evil stems from human imagination. I would say that's just about right.

Friday, November 14, 2003

No 22.

So, so you think you can tell heaven from hell, [clear] blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail? A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

Song: Wish You Were Here
Album: Wish You Were Here

(Requested by Adrian.)

Has your judgment ever been called into question? Have you ever questioned it yourself?

I have to use my judgment quite a lot in my work. I play around with databases and create reports from them and I often have to decide on the best way to get hold of the data I need. At the moment I am in the middle of a project that will require me to make all sorts of judgment calls and it is critical that I get them all right. Usually there is no need to justify why I did it one way and not another but occasionally I do have to and, let me tell you, I don't like it. I mean, I know what I'm doing and I do it better than most so why are other people questioning the way I've done it?

Of course, if I look at it objectively, they are often right to do so. There may have been a better way to do something that I missed. I may even have made a mistake somewhere along the way. Then I just have to swallow my pride and admit (to myself if no-one else) that judgmentent was wrong. After all, however much I may claim otherwise, I don't know everything.

No 21.

She’s often inclined to borrow somebody’s dreams
Until tomorrow

Song: See Emily Play

What dreams do you have for the future? Are they different now to what they were when you were younger?

I didn’t really have much in the way of ambitions when I was a kid. I do remember at one point wanting to be a professional snooker player and I also wanted to play the saxophone really well but neither really came to much. I started to play the clarinet, with a view to switching to the saxophone later but when, after a couple of years of that, I still couldn’t read music properly and the lessons were just boring me, I gave it up.

These days my dreams are much more down to earth. Invariably they involve having a nice house out in the country and raising a happy, close family. Dull and boring really. The only other dream I have is of writing a book.

I have the kernel of a story in my mind and every now and then I toss it about a bit to see what happens. All I need is the time to sit down and write it and the confidence that I can actually do it justice. That’s one of the reasons for writing this blog; to gain some experience of stringing words together in an interesting manner. Thankfully I have some ideas that might help me to do that.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

No 20.

On the day the wall came down
They threw the locks onto the ground
And with glasses high we raised a cry for freedom had arrived.

Song: A Great Day For Freedom
Album: The Division Bell

I quite clearly remember the day the Berlin Wall came down fourteen years ago. All the scenes of people dancing on top of it, attacking the concrete with pick axes and cheering whenever a section of it was toppled. Even if I didn’t quite know what was going on (I was only twelve, had been learning German for just a couple of months and wouldn’t touch the subject in history for another three years), I must have picked up enough from the news reports in the lead up to it to realise that something momentous was happening.

Five years later, in the summer of 1994, I went to Berlin to do some research into the Wall’s history for my A-levels. I went round all of the sights; Checkpoint Charlie, the old Stasi headquarters, the bunker where Hitler supposedly committed suicide, the Brandenburg Gate. There were even a few stretches of the Wall still standing. Huge slabs of concrete with graffiti covering the side of it that used to be in West Berlin. It was all very thought provoking.

Back in ’89 I remember there was a feeling that the world had changed and that it was suddenly a much safer place. That feeling was completely understandable in the light of such a clear indication of the collapse of communism in Russia but looking back on it from here it was fairly naïve as well. The world had certainly changed but there is still far too much strife and conflict in it to be rightly called safe.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

No 19.

Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd (smiling)

Song: Fearless
Album: Meddle

(Requested by Mr D.)

One thing I really don’t like doing is standing up in front of an audience to give a talk. If I know the people I’m speaking to and what I’m speaking about then it’s not too bad but otherwise I get a big attack of nerves. I definitely wouldn’t be standing there smiling fearlessly. Though I would agree with the idiot bit.

When my best mate announced he was getting married I began to dread even being asked to be the best man, because of the speech I would have to do. Of course, that didn’t stop me from asking the same of him for my wedding.  ;-)   Thankfully, they didn’t have the usual reception format so there weren’t any speeches anyway. Even at my own wedding, all I had to do was stand up and thank various people for the things they had done to organise it and I was nervous as hell.

It’s not as if I’ve never done it before. In fact, when I was at school and university I used to do presentations and the like quite often. I just didn’t ever get used to it. Every time I got up in front of people the nerves would kick in. My heart would start racing, my mouth would go dry and I’d start stammering. At least that’s the way it seemed to me. Everyone else would say it was fine, even good but all I’d be able to remember was being tongue-tied one minute and jabbering away nonsensically the next.

Rather like the way I write these posts, actually.  :-)

Do get nervous in front of an audience? If so, how do you get round it? All hints and tips gratefully received (though, if I’m lucky, never tried out!).

No 18.

As I reach for a peach
Slide a line down behind a sofa in St Tropez

Song: San Tropez
Album: Meddle

Behind the sofa is one of the places in a home where all the lost things end up. If you take a look behind yours you’ll probably find a selection of odd socks, three sets of car keys and the girlfriend you thought just disappeared six months ago.

What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever found behind your sofa?

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

No 17.

Bring the boys back home.
Don’t leave the children on their own.
Bring the boys back home

Song: Bring The Boys Back Home
Album: The Wall

Are our soldiers really doing any good in Iraq? Or should we bring them all home? What do you think?

No 16.

With, without.
And who’ll deny it’s what the fighting’s all about.

Song: Us and Them
Album: Dark Side Of The Moon

Exactly 85 years ago the armistice was signed ending at the end of the Great War, the bloodiest conflict in history. So it seems apt to use a couple of Pink Floyd lyrics to talk about war today.

War is seldom about noble causes. Rather, it has more to do with possessions, usually land. The Greeks went to war with Troy because they had kidnapped Helen. The Second World War was started because Hitler wanted more Lebensraum (living space) for the Germans. The Gulf War was over Saddam Hussein’s sudden possession of the Kuwaiti oilfields.

All of this is human nature. We more readily fight for something we own than over a high-minded ideal.

Which is why the reasons given for going to war with Iraq this year rang so false. The assertions that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was ready to launch them at any time is more laughable now than ever and it seems inconceivable that the US went to war solely to remove Hussein from power and free the Iraqi people from oppressive tyranny. That may well yet be one of the outcomes of the conflict but if turns out that America (and its allies) has not benefited commercially from it then I’ll eat my hat.

Assuming Bush wins the election in 12 months time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some form of agreement with Iraq to supply the US with oil at a cut-down price, something they desperately need to fuel the American obsession with the car. Add to that all of the money to be made by American companies now getting a foothold in the Middle East in the wake of the war and you get a pretty large and compelling reason for having fought in the first place.

Monday, November 10, 2003

No 15.

And far from flying high in clear blue skies
I’m spiralling down to the hole in the ground where I hide

Song: The Final Cut
Album: The Final Cut

Sometimes even an optimist like myself takes a bit of a nosedive into depression. I don't always see it coming - sometimes it seems like one minute I'm fine and the next I'm inexplicably feeling down. When that happens I can usually put it down to being tired or having had a bad day at work and I know I'll be out of it almost as quickly as I went in.

Every now and then, however, I can feel myself heading slowly downwards and know there's nothing I can do about it. Very often when this happens I'll come down with a heavy cold or something a few days later but sometimes it just can't be pinned on anything in particular.

Normally, I'm a very stable person so I never get very depressed. I just wallow around in the shallow waters of despair where others would take a dive into the depths. Conversely I also rarely get ecstatically happy, preferring instead to occupy a position of general contentment most of the time.

So I know when I'm heading into depression that I'm not going to be there for very long and that my optimistic nature will reassert itself soon enough.

No 14.

I've got a bike,
You can ride it if you like
It's got a basket, a bell that rings
And things to make it look good.

Song: Bike
Album: Piper At The Gates Of Dawn

This is from one of Pink Floyd's more bizarre songs, written by Syd Barrett way back in 1967.

A silly song deserves a silly post. So, if you had a bike, what things would you put on it to make it look good?

Sunday, November 09, 2003

No 13.

After the service when you're walking slowly to the car
And the silver in her hair shines in the cold November air
You hear the tolling bell
And touch the silk in your lapel

Song: The Gunner's Dream
Album: The Final Cut

I had my first experiences of funerals at a very young age. My father's father died shortly before my sixth birthday. Grandad was a very austere man and at that young age I was far more afraid than fond of him so, even if had understood at the time what it all meant, I didn't really mourn his passing. Then, just two years and four days later, a week before I was eight, my other grandfather died.

Both died on a Sunday and both while we were staying with the same family friends in the Midlands but apart from that the contrast couldn't have been greater. Where I feared Grandad, I loved Poppa. I was his first grandchild (there were five before me on Dad's side of the family) and he doted on me. Many of my earliest memories involve him and it would be fair to say that his death devastated me.

Presumably because of my experience two years before, I knew exactly what it would mean, that I would never see this man I loved so much again, and it really hurt. I cried an awful lot. I only have vague memories about the funeral itself, mostly of me hanging onto Nan and trying not to cry, not entirely successfully.

What I will never forget, though is how I felt on that Sunday, almost nineteen years ago. I quietly mark the date every year and try to remember as much as I can.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

No 12.

Did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter when the promise of a brave new world unfurled beneath a clear blue sky?

Song: Goodbye Blue Sky
Album: The Wall

The phrase 'brave new world' is a well-known one these days, usually signifying some form of marvellous technological innovation that will make the world a better place. At the same time, it usually carries a darker overtone, that this fabled innovation will actually do far more harm than good. Hence the running for shelter part of this lyric.

The phrase originates from the Aldous Huxley book, Brave New World, set in a supposedly utopian future. People are bred in laboratories and are biologically engineered to fit into their prescribed position in society. There are seven 'castes' of differing abilities ranging from the Alpha-Plus intellectual elite at the top to the Epsilon-Minus Semi-Morons at the bottom, bred purely for menial labour.

I'm not going to go into full book review mode, here but I do recommend that you read it if you haven't already. It's an excellent book, written (as so many of the classics from the first half of the last century) as a social commentary but with a very good story to carry the message.

One of the reasons it resonates so well now is because of the promise (for that you may want to read threat - it depends how you see it, I suppose) of genetic engineering. Huxley wrote the book in 1932, twenty-three years before Crick and Watson discovered DNA. He could have had no idea then of the mechanism behind his biological engineering but now, seventy years later we know it only too well. How long will it be before scientists are able to change the genetic make-up of babies so they grow up to be stronger, taller, more beautiful, longer-living, more intelligent? 10 years? 20?

I suspect it will be earlier than most of us would like. And when that day comes will we be responsible enough not to be so taken with the promise of this brave new world that we disregard the potential dangers involved? I hope so, I really do.

No 11.

I could sail forever to strange sounding names

Song: The Gold It’s In The…
Album: Obscured By Clouds

I would like to find
Some peace of mind.
Sitting with you,
Gazing up at the blue
In Machu Picchu.

I would like to buy
A piece of the sky.
Standing with you,
Gazing into the blue,
On top of Uluru.

I would like to live
With nothing left to give.
Lying with you,
Gazing out through the blue,
On the ground in Timbuktu.

Friday, November 07, 2003

No 10.

Breathe, breathe in the air

Song: Breathe In The Air
Album: Dark Side Of The Moon

Just not too deeply if you're in the middle of London, eh? The air quality in the centre of town may have improved since dear old Ken's congestion charge kicked in but it's still not fantastic. However, the streets of London are like a walk in the country when compared to the air on the tube.

There's so much dust on the London Underground that it's hard to believe your eyes when you see the mice that live down there in the tunnels. They're all so black with the stuff that you can’t see how they can breathe any more - surely their lungs must be coated, too. If you blow your nose after a journey, especially after one where you had to wait a while at a subterranean station, you'll get a whole load of blackness in your tissue (my apologies to those faint-hearted among you and any of you who happen to be eating right now). It's truly disgusting.

It's no wonder that it's only in the last three years, since I started commuting into London to work, that I have begun to suffer from hay fever in the summer. I used to get the sniffles for maybe a week or so at the beginning of the season but now I'm sneezing and have runny eyes for a good couple of months with it.

Thankfully, the house we are buying is outside of London and just a couple of hundred yards away from open fields and the countryside. I can’t wait to drink in the fresh air. It'll be great. Maybe my hay fever will even die down a little. Just a couple of months to go, now.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

No 9.

All movement is accomplished in six stages
And the seventh brings return.

Song: Chapter 24
Album: Piper At The Gates Of Dawn

This particular lyric has always confused me. It sounds particularly deep and meaningful, maybe even philosophical but despite being a mathematician (a discipline historically very closely related to philosophy) I can't work it out.

Maybe it's a reference to biblical creation or Shakespeare's seven stages of a man's life. Or maybe it's just something random spewed from a drug-addled mind. Any ideas? What does it mean to you?

No 8.

I'm creeping back to life
My nervous system all awry
I'm wearing the inside out

Song: Wearing The Inside Out
Album: The Division Bell

Do you ever woken up in the morning and find that you just can’t think straight? You know the sort of morning I’m talking about. When you get dressed you put your top on inside out and try putting your trousers on the wrong way round. You shuffle into the kitchen and put milk in the washing machine and fabric softener over your cornflakes before putting the kids out and getting the dog ready for school.

If you do feel that way, what’s your trick for putting yourself back together again? Coffee? Bacon sandwich? Pulling a sickie?

Usually I find that feeling like this is due to an over-generous consumption of alcohol the night before and the cure is a pint of water before I leave the house and a sausage and bacon baguette when I get to work, assuming I've survived the trip on the tube, of course. Then it’s just a case of hanging on to my desk for dear life as the office spins around me until lunchtime by which point I usually feel better.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

No 7.

Jupiter and Saturn, Oberon, Miranda
And Titania. Neptune, Titan
Stars can frighten…

Song: Astronomy Domine
Album: Piper At The Gates Of Dawn

If you could visit any planet or moon in the solar system, where would you go?

For me it would have to be Europa, the frozen moon of Jupiter, for several reasons. I’d like to stand on the surface and look at the Sun so much further away than usual and Jupiter so much closer. I’d also like to find out whether there is life there under the ice, as many people suspect. Looking at a truly alien form of life would be fantastic.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

No 6.

Remember a day before today
A day when you were young
Free to play along with time
Evening never comes.

Song: Remember A Day
Album: A Saucerful of Secrets

Why is it that one's perception of time changes so much as you get older? When you're young time seems to move much more slowly. Weekends and half-term holidays seemed to last for ages and the Christmas and Easter breaks even longer. But they all paled into insignificance next to the summer break. I can remember as a child thinking that the six-week summer holiday seemed like an eternity, full of long days in which there was plenty of time to do whatever I wanted. I'm sure that part of this feeling was due to the knowledge that, once the holiday finished I'd be a whole year older (in school terms) but that's not the whole of it. There just seemed to be more time.

Now weeks flash past almost before I realise they've begun, speeding me towards the grave as if I'm running late and need to catch up. There's always a pile of things to do and deadlines coming up imminently and not enough time to go round. And I find myself wanting that child-like perception of time that I used to have.

Ironic, isn't it? Now that I can actually appreciate having time to spare, I don't have any.

No 5.

Doctor Doctor I'm in bed
Doctor Doctor aching head

Song: Take Up Thy Stethoscope & Walk
Album: Piper At The Gates Of Dawn

Not sure about the aching head but my back is certainly killing me after my sardine-like journey into work this morning. Bloody trains.

That's not what I was going to say, though. I wanted to talk about how infrequently I'm ill enough need to see a doctor.

I get colds several times a year (in fact I think I'm coming down with one at the moment - if so I'm probably only at Stage 2) and there's always a touch of hayfever in the summer but I rarely get anything worthy of a day off work, let alone a trip to the doctor. In fact, if I wanted to see my doctor I'd need to go all the way to Manchester because I haven't registered with one since I graduated over four years ago! I just don't get that sick.

And before anyone says it, I'm not the sort of man who turns into a lump at the first sign of a sniffle, either. I foolishly battle onwards when instead I could be milking it for all it's worth. I'll drag myself into work rather than spend the day at home because I don't believe I'm ill enough to warrant a sick day, unless I feel truly awful.

I wish I knew the secret to my general healthyness - I could make a fortune if I did.

Monday, November 03, 2003

No 4.

New car, caviar, four star daydream,
Think I'll buy me a football team.

Song: Money
Album: Dark Side Of The Moon

It's really quite amazing that, 30 years before it happened, Pink Floyd prophesied that Roman Abramovich would buy Chelsea football club.

No 3.

The memories of a man in his old age
Are the deeds of a man in his prime.

Song: Free Four
Album: Obscured By Clouds

This was the lyric that inspired this project. Whereas many of Pink Floyd's lyrics are obscure and seem meaningless, especially the very early material, this sounds like a wise old saying and has long caused me to think. Hence the inspiration for this post.

So, what deeds would you like to remember in your old age? Something daring and adventurous, perhaps? Or something more kind and gentle?

I don't think that I've done very much so far that I would count as a memorable deed, good or bad, though I have provided emotional support to various friends when they most needed it, which I think they found invaluable at the time. However, I've got a long way to go before I reach old age so there's plenty of time, yet.

I want to run the London Marathon and raise awareness of (and find solutions for!) the problems of the world but I think the deeds I would most like to look back on in forty years or more are to do with raising a happy, close family and providing all I can for them. Soppy, really.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

No 2.

Is there anybody out there?

Song: Is There Anybody Out There?
Album: The Wall

Well? Is there?

There are two ways to see how many people read my blog: comments and stats. Of the two, comments are much more meaningful because they allow interactivity with the readers.

However, it appears that more people visit the site than comment on it. So if you don't normally comment, why not introduce yourself and tell me what you think of Clear Blue Skies?

I won't bite, I promise.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Pink Floyd Month - No 1.

His blood has frozen and curdled with fright
His knees have trembled and given way in the night

Song: Sorrow
Album: A Momentary Lapse Of Reason

This seemed like a good choice to kick off this series of posts inspired by the lyrics of Pink Floyd, given that it was hallowe'en yesterday. (Great party, by the way, thanks to every one that came along.)

This is supposed to be a very scary time of the year. It's getting dark earlier and earlier but it's not late enough in the year for our uneasiness to be soothed by all the Christmas lights and merriment. The weather contributes to the feeling with winds whistling through the towns and rain lashing against our windows. Add to that all the hallowe'en tales of ghouls & goblins and the bangs of fireworks and it's hardly surprising that some people don't like this time of year at all.

Not me, though. I'm not a very fearful person. I'm not afraid of spiders or mice - I've quite happily caught both in my bare hands in order to remove them from the house - and I don't mind the dark or open spaces or being alone or other things that people have phobias about.

That's not to say I'm completely fearless, however. I'm wary of walking home late at night through the woods and I sometimes get quite claustrophobic when I'm in a very busy pub. But they don't scare me - I wouldn't walk through the woods at night or go into busy pubs if they did.

Not having any deep fears may sound great but it can bring complications with it. If you're not afraid of anything then it can be hard to be understanding of the fears of others. After all, if you can see that a spider is just a little creature trying its best to get away from you and live its own life why is your boyfriend or girlfriend, wife or husband stood on top of a chair screeching as if their life is in danger? It's hard not to laugh at them for being so silly but you have to remember that, irrational though it may be, their fear is a very real thing and needs to handled with compassion.

What are you afraid of?

Friday, October 31, 2003

Welcome Flashbloggers

Welcome to the Clear Blue Skies Hallowe'en party.

Please, park your broomsticks outside and hand your cloaks to my servant Igor.



Take these cloaks to the dungeon and then make sure the cauldron of punch is bubbling nicely.

"Yesss Mussster."

Don't mind Igor, he's pretty harmless, really. Please, follow me.

We have a variety of games for you to play. There's bobbing for apples in the Great Hall and a game of Web of Fate taking place in the ballroom shortly. Get there quickly if you want to find your soul mate (last year we matched up an aging vampire with a young virgin - they're still happily together twelve months on!).

If you care for refreshments at any stage, the dining room is just through here. We have toffee apples, gingerbread men, roast chestnuts and all manner of pumpkin dishes created by Chef. We also have a range of punches and brews for the thirsty among you.

Before you join in the fun and games, I need to ask you a few questions. Just post your answers in the comments and enjoy the party:

Who are you?
What's your blog called? Tell me a little bit about it.
Who invited you to the party?
Describe your costume so everyone knows what you're wearing.

Right that's it. Go on in and enjoy yourselves. If you require anything, please ask my butler, Lurch. In the meantime, make yourselves at home.

Ale of the Month

November's Ale of the Month is a little bit unusual. It's Fuller's Vintage Ale, a bottle conditioned ale that can be left to mature like a good red wine.

Also, there are only 50,000 bottles available. I'm going to try and get hold of a few tonight and I'm going to drink one and then leave the rest to age. I'll drink one every six months or so to see if it really does improve.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Flashblog Finale

Details have been sent out for tomorrow's grand finale to Flashblogging Month. If you haven't got them, let me know.

Recommended Reading

Since I began writing this blog just a couple of months ago, it seems to have become something of a mission of mine to introduce my (few) readers to new, interesting blogs.

Which is why, when yesterday I stumbled across a blog I'd not seen before, I knew I'd have to tell you about it. It is, quite simply, one of the best blogs I've seen, and I've seen quite a few.

It's called ...she's a flight risk and it has everything going for it. It's beautifully written, serves a clear (and unique) purpose and is really well designed.

The following passage is from the beginning of the very first post, on March 20th 2003:

On March 2, 2003 at 4:12 pm, I disappeared.
My name is isabella v.
I'm twentysomething and I am an international fugitive.

I'm still not completely convinced it's genuine but that doesn't really matter. I strongly recommend you go and take a look. Click on the 'where to begin' link and just read on from there. I doubt you'll be disappointed.