Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Well, we're in and slowly getting sorted out. Superficially, the downstairs is all squared away and most of what's left to unpack is hidden in the study and will be dealt with slowly over the next few weeks.

We got the kitchen wall painted with only about 30 minutes to spare before the fridge and freezer arrived to stand against it (phew!) and we've got one or two other jobs done around the place. There's still a lot to do and we're coming to the conclusion that things we were hoping to put off for a while will probably have to be done sooner but a nice (not so) little bonus from work should cover any expense.

As for moving day, we started loading the first car at about 9.00 on Saturday morning and finished unloading the van and three cars by 3.00 that afternoon. My family and a friend of L's helped us do it and it was a mammoth effort all round.

We're handing the keys to the Finchley flat back tomorrow so then we will officially have left London for our new life in the Home Counties.

The Orange Tree

Just a short way north and west of Finchley is Totteridge, an area of London that wouldn't look out of place in the middle of rural England. Over the past week and a half we've been driving through it quite a lot as it's a nice shortcut to the A41 which then takes us all the way to Hemel Hempstead.

As you go up the hill towards Totteridge Common, the houses on either side get progressively larger and more ornate, progressively further back from the road and more shielded by trees.

Can anyone say million pound property? (And the rest)

I'm told a lot of the Arsenal footballers live along there and I can well believe it. If you live there I'm sure it wouldn't feel like living in London at all.

Anyway, at the edge of Totteridge village itself is an inn called The Orange Tree, which serves a fantastic menu of traditional English food at very reasonable prices. We've been in there a few times over the last couple of years and went in last Thursday for one last time.

After having Tiger Prawns in a white wine, cream and shallot sauce, fillet steak with a brandy and paprika sauce and grilled flat mushrooms and 'sticky richard', I came home well and truly stuffed but very satisfied.

That's one thing I am going to miss about Finchley. If you ever find yourself in the area I recommend trying to find it. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Moving In

Today is my last day in the office until March, which is a very pleasant thought indeed. At least, it's pleasant until the thought turns to all the physical labour I'll be doing instead.

We're finally moving into the house on Saturday so there are a few busy days ahead. Tomorrow should see off the remainder of the packing (barring the few essentials we'll need before the weekend) and Thursday and Friday will be spent in the new house cleaning, painting, stripping (wallpaper) and taking deliveries of appliances. Then there's the back-breaking work of moving everything in (we're doing it ourselves with help from friends and family) and unpacking. Plus, of course the cleaning that needs to be done in the flat before we hand the keys back and any other little diy jobs that need doing.

I tell you, I'm going to need a holiday after this.

The phone has been connected this morning (supposedly) so I will have internet access but I think the chances of me having enough spare energy to move my fingers across a keyboard are rather slim so there probably won't be many posts over the next week or so.

Please amuse yourselves while I'm gone and I'll come round to see you all when I can.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Am I a Londoner?

I was going to write a couple of posts along the lines of "5 Things..." about what I'm going to miss about living in London and what I'm going to like about living in Hemel Hempstead.

The second of those is pretty easy. There's the fresher air that will come from living just a couple of hundred yards from open fields, the spectacular 180 degree view from our bedroom across the valley to the hills rising on the other side, having a good selection of shops close by without having to go to Oxford Street or Brent Cross, the ease with which we'll be able to go into the town when we want to and escape from it when we need to plus a whole myriad of smaller reasons.

On the other hand, I can't think of much at all that I'll miss about living in London. The only thing that will definitely be worse in Hemel is public transport. It's very fashionable to complain about London transport but when you stop and think about it, on the whole it's actually pretty good. Currently I have various options for getting home which can involve the tube, the train and several bus routes. Generally, it's all reliable, quick and frequent. If there are problems on one route then another is okay. It's also relatively cheap (assuming you have some form of season ticket)

In Hemel, there will be a single bus route that goes anywhere near our house. It will take me to the station and the town centre but only runs every twenty minutes and will cost about a quid a time (even for the three minute journey to the station) so it's pretty much out of the equation for regular use.

Other than that, and a couple of local pubs that I like, there isn't anything I'm going to miss about either Finchley or London.

I guess that means I'm not really a Londoner after all.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Pointless Maths

It being the day where we celebrate the commercialisation of love tomorrow, it was hardly surprising to see an item on the news this morning about some scientists who've come up with a mathematical formula for the perfect marriage that, they claim is 94% accurate.

Now, I'm not going to say anything about how this could possibly work or why, assuming it does, anyone would want to test their relationship against this formula to see whether or not they should get married. No, I'll leave that for people who actually care about answering those questions.

What annoyed me about the report was the liberal use of the word 'mathematical' throughout. Every few seconds it popped up again and every time it did so it trivialised the subject even more. Periodically
another one of these 'useful' formulae appears. We've had one for dunking biscuits in a cup of tea, flipping pancakes and even how to have the perfect family Christmas.

The more of them there are, the more people see the subject of maths as connected with trivial concerns. Maths has never been a popular area of academia, despite the fact that it can be one of the most useful and I can't see reports like this helping in anyway.

The public needs to see how useful mathematics can be, not how it can be applied to unimportant, meaningless things. Only that way can interest in it be raised.


Three weeks ago we ordered the bedroom furniture we're going to need in the new place (2 wardrobes, a chest of drawers and a couple of bedside cabinets). It's nice looking, well made furniture and will look fantastic once it's been delivered in a few weeks.

The thing that we really liked about the wardrobes were the size and versatility of them. They are each 7'4" tall and 4'5" wide and can have shelves and hanging rails put in them wherever you like.

They were half price in the sales and the sale was ending before we completed on the house so we put the order in before we knew they would fit in the room. It was with some trepidation, therefore that we went into the bedroom again once we had the keys and noticed that the ceiling was not that high. I got the tape measure out and put it up against the wall, then let out a the hopeful breath I'd been keeping in a relieved sigh. The ceiling is 7'5" from the floor so we have a whole 1" of clearance.

Then came the next worry. The wardrobes come flat-packed and have to be built in the room (they'd never go through the door pre-built) and they can't be built horizontal and then lifted vertical because they'd jam against the ceiling. Could they be built upright?

I went back to the store yesterday and had a look at the models they had on the shop floor. Phew! They don't need to be screwed together from either the top or the bottom; it's all done from the inside.

So we haven't landed ourselves with a pair of wardrobes we can't use. It's a hell of a relief.

Thursday, February 12, 2004


One of the best (British) comedies on television at the moment, in my opinion, is Garth Marenghi's Darkplace (C4 Thursday, 10.30 p.m.)

Darkplace was a horror series based in a hospital in Romford and filmed in the 1980s. It was written by horror author Garth Marenghi, who also starred in it (as Dr Rick Dagless) along with his publisher Dean Learner. In every episode they have to battle against the evil that comes out of the hellmouth beneath the hospital. The series has never been seen until now and the action is interspersed with interviews with the cast about the show. I'm not going to say any more than that because it probably wouldn't help much.

What I will say,though , is that the script is excellent and the deliberate dodgy camera work and glaring continuity errors really make it a hit. The humour is deadpan and obvious but, because it is intentionally so, it is still funny. The clever use of layers (the interviews, the narration by Dagless and the acting itself) are also very good.

If you can stay awake long enough then I definitely recommend you watch it. If you want to know more then Garth Marenghi's website, which adds another layer to the whole experience by going into some detail about Marenghi's other work, will give you an insight into what to expect as the humour in the show is continued throughout the site.

Episode 3 (of 6) is on tonight.

Channel Tunnel Rail Link

Since the Camden Town Tube crash last November I have largely avoided using the Northern Line to get to work, mainly because of the length of time it often takes to change at Camden. Instead, I currently get the train from New Southgate, which is a short bus ride away. On a good day, going this way can get me into work quicker than the Northern Line ever could so I'm happy enough. It's also rarely as much of a squeeze as the tube.

The trains from New Southgate either go to Kings Cross or Moorgate and since it doesn't make any difference to me which I go to I just take the first train that turns up. This means that two or three times a week I get to see how the work on the St Pancras Eurostar terminus is coming along.

The station itself is being massively extended, presumably with longer or more platforms, or both, and there are large numbers of building contractors all around the place. The rail link turns east almost immediately after the station and goes over the lines coming out of Kings Cross before disappearing into a tunnel and it's here that I've seen most of the interesting stuff.

Firstly, was the construction of a tunnel-like structure off to one side of the Kings Cross line. It was made from a series of oval pieces of steel that were fitted together to form a long, flattened cylinder. It didn't seem to make sense to start with because, where it was situated, it was obvious that any trains going through it would run smack into a road bridge at one end of it. It was only when it was finished did it become clear, when they move the whole thing to sit over the tracks below. Why they didn't just build a normal bridge, I don't know, but that's what it is. The tracks emerging from the end of it now dive down to go under the road bridge a couple of hundred yards away.

Recently, things on the other side of the line has got more interesting with the emergence of the tunnels into which the trains will go when beginning their underground haul across North and East London. For a few seconds there is a glimpse of one of the huge tunneling machines that has been used for the job. It's an impressive piece of hardware, even when just sitting there inactive. I definitely wouldn't want to be caught in front of it when it got going.

Enough has been done now to get a rough idea of what the end result will be once the project (including the complete redevelopment of the Underground station) is completed and I think it's looking good.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004


Staying on the subject of law enforcement, I was reminded yesterday of a sight I saw from the office window last Friday. Given that the office is on the corner of a fairly major junction in the city, the sight of police cars, ambulances and fire engines screaming past with sirens blaring is not exactly uncommon and Friday was no exception. Upon hearing the sirens I looked out of the window to see a normal police car speed across the junction. What was odd was the vehicle that followed it, with one of those removable blue flashing lights stuck on the roof above the driver.

The following vehicle was a white, beaten up, old Mitsubishi minivan, the kind that your local plumber or window cleaner would use. The only thing that could have made it more authentic would have been the words 'clean me' written in the dirt on the back of it. Clearly this van had been in some sort of undercover surveillance operation and now it was speeding through the streets of the City, presumably in pursuit of some crimelord or other. Unfortunately, it very soon disappeared from sight so I've got no idea where it went or whether the end result made it worth breaking cover.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Shopping List

Passed to me by a top whitehall source this morning: the government's shopping list for this week.

2000 Government Sedans, black
5000 Dark grey suits, sombre
5000 Pairs of sunglasses
2000 FBI Specials
5000 Personality amputations

That'll be for the new criminal agency, then.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Blogging Starsigns

It was Pewari's birthday yesterday and in the comments Daisy wondered whether being an Aquarian means you're more likely to become a blogger. As a blogging Aquarian myself, I decided to see if I could find out.

In BW's absense (since she would be the obvious choice to ask, being the fount of all such knowledge :-) ) I thought I'd do some totting up on blogs registered at Globe of Blogs, which lists blogs in various ways, including by birthday. They currently have almost 10,500 registered blogs and 750 or so have birthdays between Jan 20th and Feb 18th (the dates I took for Aquarius). If you assume that birthday's are spread out evenly through the year then the number of bloggers who are Aquarians is considerably below average (which is about 860).

That's as far as I can take it, given that I don't know (and don't have time to find out) what the average spread of birthdays is like but it doesn't seem likely that knowing that would change the results so that they show Aquarians are more likely to become bloggers.

As an interesting aside, however, of the 20 bloggers on my sidebar, at least 3 of them are Aquarians (Scaryduck is the other one I know of) so, around here at least, Daisy does appear to be right. :-)

What star sign are the rest of you?

My First Time

It's odd to think of myself as an anomaly, a quirk, an oddity, but that's what I am at the moment.

You see, I'm a first-time buyer at a time when first-timers are being priced out of the market more and more. The average price tag for a first home has now gone through £100,000, a rise of 22.6% in twelve months. The place we've bought cost considerably more than that, so we've helped to push that average up even higher. And there doesn't appear to be any sign of a reverse in price rises so the situation is likely to get worse, if slower than it has up to now.

The spectre of climbing interest rates will put off many of those who can only just about afford to buy their first home and will give others pause for thought. People in the know may well point to the fact that interest rates dropped to their lowest point for many years in July 2003 and that, prior to that point, rates of around 5% were not considered high. The first-time buyer, however, doesn't have any experience of interest rates. All he sees is the start of a climb, not the end of a trough.

Couple the predicted rise in rates with the (probably smaller than recent) rise in house prices and your average first-time buyer will be starting to think that if he can't get on the property ladder soon then he may well not be able to.

We've been very, very lucky with buying our first place. We found the house we wanted soon after we started looking and sorted out the mortgage with the only lender willing to give us the amount we needed (our options were limited by the fact that we had no deposit) in time to fix the interest rate for three years before the initial rise to 3.75% back in November. So none of the predicted rises over the next year or two will affect us until 2007 and, who knows, rates may well have come down again by then.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Someone's Got To Go

What are the chances of the following conversation having taken place somewhere in London during the last few days?

Tony: "Ah, Geoff, come in, come in."

Geoff: "You wanted to see me, Tony?"

T: "Yes, Geoff. We've got a problem."

G: "What's that, then?"

T: "George has put me in a bit of a difficult position. I'm going to have to set up an another inquiry. This time the target is the Intelligence Services but I don't think we'll get away completely scot free this time. Someone's got to go."

G: "Riiight?"

T: "When the dossier was published, you knew that the weapons being described in the 45 minute claim were just battlefield weapons, didn't you?"

G: "Of course I did. We all did."

T: "Now that's not true. I didn't know anything of the sort, did I?"

G: "Yes you did. I sent you a copy of the report."

T: "But you didn't see me read it, did you?

G: "Well... err... no, I didn't"

T: "So you don't know that I knew, do you?"

G: "Don't you read all the reports you get?"

T: "Oh, I read most of them, Geoff. I usually don't get time to read the ones from Gordon on the Euro thingy or the ones about how students feel about tuition fees but I read most of the rest. However, the point is I don't read them all and therefore you don't know I read this one."

G: "What's going on, Tony?"

T: "Two words, Geoff. Plausible Deniability."

G: "Eh?"

T: "I saw it in the film Independence Day a couple of weeks ago. That Will Smith's rather good, isn't he? Anyway, it's a very complicated concept but basically it means 'what I don't know can't hurt me'."

G: "I still don't understand."

T: "I'm going to tell the House that I didn't know and then you're going to tell them that you did know. I'll have to sack you, of course, but at least I'll be able to carry on. I hear the view from the back benches is rather good. Pity I won't be able to see it myself. Goodbye Geoff."

G: "But. But."

T: "Goodbye Geoff."

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

New Home

It took longer than expected to get into the house yesterday. We got to the estate agents at about 12.30 to pick up the keys to find out that the vendors hadn't quite finished moving out - they just had a few last bits to do. The impression was it wouldn't be very long. Not a problem we said, we'd go and have a pint and a bite to eat in the pub and wait for the agents to phone us and let us know they were out. One pint was followed by a second and it was 2.15 by the time we finished that. At that point we decided to start walking to the area of the town where the house is so that when they rang we'd be able to get there sooner. We got there at 3.00 (it's not really that far - just up and down a lot!) and still no word so I rang the agents. They checked with the vendors and told me that they had now gone.


Either the vendors hadn't bothered to call the agents or the message hadn't got to us. I don't know which it was but I wasn't happy that we'd been kept waiting unnecessarily.

Anyway, we went to the house and let ourselves in. There we were, in our own house for the very first time. We checked it out thoroughly, as much to remind ourselves of where everything was as to check that they hadn't left anything behind. They'd cleared everything out pretty well; the only things they'd missed were a feather duster in the utility cupboard and a trowel stuck through the rafters in the shed. At least they're both useful.

We started to strip the wall paper off in the master bedroom - not in any serious attempt at getting the job done but just to say that we had done something and to ensure that we can't just leave it as it is. We checked out the state of the decorating more thoroughly than we ever had when we came to see the place before we bought it (it's easy to miss something when your eyes can get distracted by furniture and things) and found that, although we'll probably change almost everything, none of it is actually in a state of bad repair so at least we can take our time over it a little. One thing I did notice was that the wallpaper in the living room is not vertical. The whole way round the room each drop leans about 10 degrees to the right. Just enough to be noticeable and once you've seen it it's hard to ignore. We were planning not to decorate the living room for a while but we may find it difficult to live with now.

After about an hour we left and went for another couple of drinks before heading back into London. The ideas for what to do with the place are starting to flow and we're beginning to make plans.

It's all very exciting.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004


Da da da daa dee dee.
Da da da daa dee dee.
Da da dee da da daa daa.
Da da dee da daa daa.

Yes, it's my birthday today. I've got the day off work and I'm looking forward to a fantastic day. First up, presents.

Right, what have we here? Oh, handkerchiefs. Great. Just what I always wanted.

Socks? Why get me socks? I've got loads of socks already. So what if they all have holes in them. I like the holes. I'm comfortable with the holes.

Ooh, things are looking up, this one's cd-shaped. I wonder what it is? Ah, choral music... *forces a grin* Lovely. Thank you so much.

Just one present left. Let's hope it lives up to the quality of the rest. It's certainly big. In fact it's the biggest present I've ever seen. I don't know who wrapped it but it must have taken hours. *does some quick calculations* It's about 3 times as tall as I am and almost as wide!

*tears a small hole in the paper*

Hmmm. Glass. Interesting. I've still got no idea what it is. There's nothing for it, I'm just going to have to unwrap the whole thing.

*furious sound of paper being ripped up*

Blimey! It's... It's a... a house!!!

That's right, not only is it my birthday today but by a piece of cunning design today is also the day we complete on our new home. We'll be spending most of the day in Hemel Hempstead waiting to get the keys then taking our time in looking around the place, getting ideas for colour schemes and decoration.

I'm sure there will be a chance or two for a celebratory drink as well.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Under Pressure

I'm coming under some pretty heavy pressure at work at the moment because part of the project I have been involved in for the last year or so is stalling and my expertise is needed to sort it out. My meeting count and workload have rocketed skywards accordingly, which means I have less time to make my usual daily round of blogreading and write posts for Clear Blue Skies.

On the home front my thoughts are all on packing, moving and decorating, leaving me just enough energy to crawl into bed at the end of the evening. So, unfortunately, blogging is not currently high on my list of priorities. Posts may therefore be sporadic over the next few weeks. Hopefully I'll be able to write something most days but don't be too surprised if a day or two goes by without anything new.

Don't worry, I'll be back eventually, better than ever. Probably with a whole load of dodgy diy and decorating stories to relate. :-)

Finishing Touch

Seen in a mail order leaflet in the middle of this week's TV guide: the perfect finishing touch for your bathroom.

A frilly, rose pink shower curtain and matching bath surround.

You think I'm kidding? There's this picture of a bath completely framed by two tied-back curtains, a valance and a skirt, as though it's some posh four poster bed. All of it in frilly bright pink.


My only regret is that the company doesn't seem to have a website so I can't show you just how lovely it is. Something you should probably be grateful for.