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.