Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Bloghunt Reminder

A final reminder that Bloghunt Month on Clear Blue Skies starts tomorrow lunch time. I'll be reposting the rules and points system then but I'll just say now that there will be a few awards during the months for things like 'fastest link found' and 'most creative entry' so you may want to bear that in mind when playing.

Again, please let all your readers know about the event. Bully them, bribe them, cajole them, whatever. Just get them to come along and play. ;-)

See you here tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

About Time I Did That

This morning I did something unusual. Well, it was unusual for me; to my knowledge I've only done it once before.

Yes, this morning I went to register with the local doctor. Just the usual checkup of height (less than I thought, though not much), weight (more than I thought, though not much) and blood pressure (about right) plus medical and family history etc.

I was registered at the surgery just four doors away from my parents house until the middle of my final year at university, five years ago, when a possible bout of tonselitis caused me to register in Manchester. Despite having lived in Stevenage (again), Finsbury Park and Finchley since then, I could never be bothered to get it sorted out.

I very rarely get ill enough to need to go to see the doctor so I think I felt it wasn't worth doing, given that each of those places was only a temporary stop along the way. Maybe, now I'm more permanently rooted, I can see the point in only having to travel a few hundred yards rather than two hundred miles to see my doctor. Maybe because I'm getting a little bit older I don't think my health is as unassailable as once it was. Maybe I don't want to be lazy any more. I don't know.

At least now, on those rare occasions when I need to, I can seek treatment without too much hassle.


Thank you and well done to those of you who took part in Friday's Bloghunt trial run. I promise it won't always be as easy as 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' proved to be when the competition starts on Thursday.

So, make sure you come back on Thursday to take part in Day 1 of Bloghunt Month. The first hunt details will be posted between 12 and 1p.m. (BST) and you will have until 12p.m. on Friday to take part in it.

Don't forget to mention it to all your readers, too. The more people we can get taking part, the better the competition will be.

See you on Thursday!

Monday, March 29, 2004

House Prices - A Double-Edged Sword?

Further evidence of just how lucky L and I have been in buying our first home this year. Apparently, Hemel Hempstead is the least affordable place for first-time buyers to get on the property ladder, with houses costing an average of almost 12 times the income of a first-time buyer. Granted, working and living in London, our income when we bought the place was well above what we could have got in Hemel itself but not to that sort of extent.

Of course, the real picture is much more complicated than this statistic implies. Hemel does have quite a lot of property at more affordable levels but the town also has areas that push up the average considerably. Areas such as the old town and Boxmoor, which pre-date the New Town build of the sixties, are more desirable and hence more expensive and the new developments alongside the Grand Union canal at Apsley Lock.

In the last couple of weeks, looking through the property section of the local paper, I've seen a couple of similar properties to ours for sale, both of them for more than we paid for ours. By my reckoning, if we were to put it on the market again now, less than two months after completion, the asking price would be 10k more than we paid for it, at least. That is, more truthfully, a reflection of the increase in prices since we agreed the price we bought at back in October last year but is still a good return, if you ask me.

Hopefully, prices will continue to rise so that, when we come to sell in a few years, we'll have a bit of capital behind us to take into our next home. However, this could be a double-edged sword. The property is not suitable for large families so the target market when trying to sell it is that of the first-time buyers and couples with young families. If first-timers are priced out of the market completely, then we may find it more difficult to sell when we come to it.

That's all well into the future, though, and we're not going to expend any effort worrying about it now. No, we just want to enjoy the place for now and work at making it our home. Whatever tomorrow may bring, we'll cope with it when it arrives.

Help Needed

Everything is sweetness and light in one little corner of Blogland at the moment. Well, I say everything but that's not quite true.

You see, a couple of bloggers recently met in The City That Never Sleeps and fell hopelessly, madly in love. Reading their respective takes on it, everything looks great. However, there is a problem: krissa lives in New York but Stuart lives in Hatfield, in leafy Hertfordshire.

There are many factors that can put love to the test and distance is one of the major ones. But, hopefully, the distance involved here will only be temporary as Stuart wants to up sticks and move across the pond. Thing is, he doesn't really know how he's going to go about doing that and has asked for help. So if you know of any jobs in New York for a Mechanical Engineer, then let him know, won't you?

Friday, March 26, 2004

Looking Back

I was reminded last night of something that happened in my first year at university.

I had a ground floor room in halls that looked out over a courtyard and I'd sorted the furniture out so that my desk was right under the window so I could gaze out of it while kidding myself that I was actually working.

One night in April or May I was due to go out drinking with my then girlfriend and some other mates and I was sat at my desk, all ready to go, just writing up some notes or something until one of my flatmates was ready to go, too. As I was sat there I saw two of the lads from the next door flat come round the corner with a football. Now, ball games weren't allowed round the courtyards because of the propensity for glass windows to get smashed upon contact with a fast moving ball but that wasn't going to stop them having a kickabout. They'd just started playing when Paul, my flatmate, popped his head round the door and said he was ready. So we left, nodding to the lads as we went past.

I can't remember now where we went or what time we got back but I do know that I was none too steady, either of mind or on my feet when we did. As we approached the flat I could see something was wrong with my window, though I couldn't focus too well, but it wasn't until I got closer that I could see that it wasn't so much a window as a large piece of hardboard.

I rushed inside and unlocked my door. It opened on to a complete mess. There was glass everywhere. In my (slightly) inebriated state of mind I ran into the living room to interrogate the rest of my flatmates.


I didn't exactly get a clear answer but then, that's probably because we couldn't understand each other at the time. I spent the night at my girlfriend's house, sleeping off the worst of the alcohol before going back to my flat in the morning. I was hung over and only stayed long enough to get changed before heading in for lectures.

My lectures only lasted until midday and by 12.30 I was back in my room, clear-headed and ready to survey the damage. A glazier was just finishing off replacing the shattered window so at least I could see what I was doing. My memories of the previous night weren't wrong; glass was absolutely everywhere. There were shards the better part of a foot long that had almost reached the back wall, eight feet from the window. It was all over the bed, the floor, the shelves, my books. It took ages to clear it all up. My alarm clock, which was sitting on my desk had several gouges taken out of the top of it by flying glass. Even weeks after the event I was still finding little bits of glass in amongst my papers.

I found out later that day what had happened. By then, of course, I'd worked out who was responsible; it was clearly the work of a football kicked in error by one the lads from next door. What I hadn't realised, though was that it had happened pretty much as soon I was out of earshot round the corner. Less than two minutes after I had been sat at the desk in front of the window.

It didn't take long for me to start playing the What If? game. What if Paul hadn't been ready when he had? What if I hadn't been going out at all? What if I'd been sat there when the ball hit? Would I have come out of it cut to ribbons? Maimed? Blinded? Would I even have come out of it at all?

I have never felt quite so lucky as I did then.

I still have the alarm clock with the gouges in it and every now and then I notice them and cast my mind back to what could have been but, thankfully, wasn't.

Bloghunt - Trial Run

Because this is just a trial run, I'm setting this bloghunt off early, to give you all plenty of time to have a go at it. Remember, you have to go out into blogland and find a post from within the last month with the phrase below in it and then put a link to that post in the comments.

For today only, I'll let you find as up to three posts, but you're only allowed to put one entry in until 2.00 this afternoon, to give everyone a chance.

If you haven't seen the rules for bloghunting then you'll find them here.

The phrase for this trial run should be a nice easy one, to start you off gently; 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' (I will accept WMD, too)

Good luck and happy hunting!

Thursday, March 25, 2004

A So-Called Rant

On the so-called back of the so-called Plain English Campaign's so-called vote for the so-called 'most detested tiresome expressions', I'd like to suggest one that I think should have been on the so-called list.

So-called is a word used, it seems to me, for two reasons. The first, more legitimate use, is to express disbelief in the status or aims of something: "The cowboys who installed my double glazing gave me a so-called guarantee but it turned out to be useless", that sort of thing.

The second use, the one I take issue with, comes mainly from people in the news media to emphasise that a new popular expression is not deemed official enough for them to use it.

I recently heard a news report about a marine who was killed in Iraq by "so-called friendly fire". Hang on a minute, I thought, friendly fire was being described as 'so-called' back in the Gulf War thirteen years ago. How long does it take for a phrase like that to enter into accepted language? I would argue that most people would understand exactly what is meant by friendly fire and that it has, therefore, already entered the realms of acceptable English. Why, then, isn't it used by the news media without this verbal distancing of themselves from it? And if they're reluctant to do so then why have they not invented a phrase that's more acceptable to them?

Friendly fire is by no means the only phrase to be given this treatment, though it has perhaps been the most prominent in recent times. It's not really that long since the internet and world wide web were subjected to it and you still see things like 'so-called weblogs' today.

We create new words and phrases all the time as new technologies, industries and political and social situations demand them. This reluctance to embrace them on the part of the news media only serves to show how they are distanced from the culture that invented and use them.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004


Since I'm in the mood for recommending reading matter, can I also point you in the direction of the etymological World Wide Words?

It's a website that traces the origins of English words and phrases and documents their meanings and mis-use. It also has regular reviews of books about language, longer articles and sections for topical and weird words, all of it written by Michael Quinion.

So, if you have ever wondered why we say things like "It's raining cats and dogs" or where the word flummox comes from then why not pay a visit and find out.

Reading Matter

With a sudden influx of visitors from three different places (thanks guys :-) ), I thought I'd better post something for you all to read.

Then I thought of posting about something for you all to read, instead. (D'ya see what I did there? D'ya?)

Last night on the train home I finished reading The Well Of Lost Plots, the third book in the Thursday Next chronicles by Jasper Fforde. And I loved it.

I'm not going to do an in depth review or anything (to be honest, I wouldn't know where to start) but I will say that if you like the sort of 'nonsensical' books that Douglas Adams' wrote then you'll probably like these, too.

The basic premise is that the distinction between the real world and the world of fiction is not quite as solid as you might think and that it is perfectly possible for a real person to enter Bookworld and vice versa.

The books are extremely well written with lots of characters from other books popping up here and there and plenty of literary in-jokes. Wonderfully funny and inventive, I think you should drop whatever it is you're doing right now and rush out to your local Waterstones to buy all three (the first is called 'The Eyre Affair' and the second 'Lost In A Good Book'). You won't regret it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Bloghunt Details

As I said last week, April will be Bloghunt Month here at Clear Blue Skies. This is how it will work.

On each of the twenty working days in April (i.e. Monday - Friday not including Good Friday or Easter Monday) I will give you a word, phrase or theme and set you off to hunt down blogs in which it has recently been used. Points will be awarded for the example you come up with and the person with the most points at the end of the month will be the winner. Though, note there is no prize, just the pride at being bloghunting champion.

The number of points you get will depend on how recent the post you come up with is, relative to the date the hunt is set:

Yesterday - 10 points
Within the last week - 7 points
Within the last fortnight - 4 points
Within the last month - 2 points

A discretionary bonus of up to 7 points may be awarded if you find a blog that is connected to the word or theme, either through its title or the theme of the blog. So, for example, if the word was 'diamond' then you could come up with the blog belonging to our favourite geezer or if the phrase was 'alcohol' then you could choose one of the new additions to my links list, The Bottle Shop, since it is about working in an off licence. Get it?

There are a few rules for you to note and adhere to (penalties will be harsh and may even sting a little ;-) ):

1. Only one entry per person per day. By which I mean you can find one post or one blog, not one of each. This is to give everyone a chance to win.
2. Your entry must be from a blog you do not own or contribute to.
3. All entries are to be put in the relevant comments box.
4. Hunt details will be posted between 12 and 1 p.m. and entries must be in by midday the following day (i.e. entries for the first hunt next Thursday must be in by 12p.m. on Friday, etc.)
5. Points will only be awarded for the first example of a particular blog or post left in the comments so you'll each have to find a different one.

There are no rules regarding tactics so how you conduct your hunt is entirely up to you. However, if you're thinking of using Google then I would suggest getting to know the advanced search better might be of some use. :-)

There will be a trial run here this Friday so why not come along and see how you do? And don't forget to pass the message along, will you?

Monday, March 22, 2004


It's been a little strange being a proper commuter again, after more than two years of traveling within London. With just four trains an hour and only one route home it's taken some getting used to.

The journey to work starts with the mile-long downhill walk to the station. There is a bus that could get me there in less than five minutes but even at that time of the morning, buses are few and far between so we walk. It's better for me, anyway - I think I'm already feeling a bit healthier because of it.

The train journey is largely a dull slog through the cuttings of north-west London but there are a few things that are worth looking at along the way. First of all, just yards after going through Kings Langley station, the tracks go under the M25. At this point the motorway is a flyover, heading down across a valley, and as the train pulls away from it, I like to look up and see all the stationary traffic. It's nice to know they're delayed while you're speeding onwards.

Soon after that we get to Watford and the view across the valley to where the town centre rises on the other side. At the top of the hill the Harlequin Centre dominates the skyline. This is a much more impressive sight in the evening with the sun setting behind it but even in the morning it's not too bad.

Then we're into the outskirts of London. At some point off to the east I catch sight of what looks like a nest of cranes surrounding what will eventually become the new Wembley Stadium but apart from that, it's a fairly boring view of suburban houses, crumbling tenements, sixties tower blocks and freight yards.

A couple of miles out of Euston, the train goes into a tunnel under Primrose Hill. Looking backwards when leaving the tunnel yields a view of the wonderfully ornate tunnel entrance. This is no ordinary brick arch and buttress structure. The tunnel portals are built from stone with elegant towers that I'm sure were built because of the Victorian desire for beauty as well as function in their engineering projects. Although it has since been extended, with additional tunnels, this picture of the original construction shows this quite well.

All of a sudden we're arriving at Euston and having to fight through the crowds of people trying to get through the barriers at the end of the platform. It's then a trip round the Northern Line as far as Bank and a short walk to the office, where I arrive about an hour and a quarter after leaving the house.


I was a contender!

Somehow I got all the right words in the right order and elicited a laugh from her witchiness. At last! One point nearer that jar of honey. By my calculations, if I carry on at the same rate that jar will be arriving at some point early in 2008.

Well then, I'd best be off to put the toast on...

Friday, March 19, 2004


I've been working from home today and sitting at the table looking out of the dining room window, I've seen a lot of birds valiantly attempting to fly into the wind.

All of a sudden it's as if they've hit an invisible wall as they become stationary, despite them furiously beating their wings. I've even seen a few battered mercilessly to the ground as they've been attempting take off. They hop to their feet again, looking a little bit ruffled, and give themselves a shake before trying again, sometimes with much the same effect.

The wind has been howling around the hills here today. It spent most of the morning hurling rain at our front windows in a vain attempt to water the carpet before deciding that the birds and the just-emptied wheelie bins were easier targets. Now it seems to have pretty much blown itself out and has settled down to a stiff breeze. I reckon it's just resting, gathering all it's energy together before its next assault on our walls tomorrow morning.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Special Event

It's been a while now since the heady days of October last year when we all went flashblogging so I thought it was high time I organised another special event month. I was meaning to do something at the beginning of the year but moving house sort of took precedence.

I've got various ideas for things to do (or things to get you to do) so it was a little difficult deciding which one to use but after much deliberation and hand-wringing I went for a late outsider of an idea. Thus, April on Clear Blue Skies will be...

Bloghunt Month

Is that a cry of "What's Bloghunting?" I hear at the back of the room? Well, if you give me a couple of seconds I'll explain.

It really is a very simple concept. Every day (probably every weekday,actually), I will post a word or phrase or theme and it will be your job to go trawling through the blogosphere to find recent (i.e. between a day and a month old) posts that contain or are about said word, phrase or theme. The idea being, as usual, to hopefully introduce you to blogs you wouldn't normally read. So, for example, if the word was 'Budget' you could come up my second post from yesterday (and probably hundreds of others out there).

This will be run as a competition, with points being awarded for how recent the example you come up with is. At the end of the month the person with the most points will be ajudged the winner. There is no prize beyond pride itself, though if anyone out there with some artistic talent wants to come up with a little graphic that the winner can display on their blog then please feel free (there might even be bonus points if it's particularly good ;-) ).

A full set of rules, such as there are, will be given next week and there will probably be a test run as well before the competition starts on April 1st.

There is no need to register for this one, just turn up in April and play along. Of course, if you like the idea and want to join in then a little blogvertising over the next couple of weeks would help make it all the more successful.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Queue at the Bank

Coming back to the office at lunchtime, I walked past the Bank of England. I also walked past a great long queue of people that snaked along the side of the B of E up Cornhill and round the corner between the Bank and the Stock Exchange. There must have been a few hundred people in the queue, both men and women, mostly in suits but with the odd motorcycle courier thrown in for good measure.

My first thought was 'what the hell?', which was quickly followed by the revelation that it must be something to do with the Budget. That, however, is where the revelations stopped and I'm none the wiser as to why all these people were queuing up round the side of the Bank of England.

Any of you have any ideas?

False Economics

Whoever is responsible for maintenance in my office building has recently decided to change the brand of toilet paper they buy. I guess it's because the new one is cheaper than the old one so they think that it'll save 10, 15, 20% on the loo roll budget.


There's a good reason why the new stuff is cheaper than the old stuff. It's not as good. It's so much thinner than the old paper was that you end up using twice as much as you did before, thus creating a false economy.

It's a problem that I've seen time and again in various offices and companies. Someone thinks that cheaper is automatically better for the balance books and makes a decision that ends up costing the company more. The same applies at home, too. Why buy cheap batteries if you have to replace them so often they end up costing more than the expensive ones?

As I'm sure BW will tell you, if you want good value, you have to look at quality as well as price.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

New Makeover Show

Inspired by Blue Witch's post about future trends in TV programmes, I was going to put this in her comments but it sort of grew a little too large for that so I thought I'd post it here instead.

What's that I hear? Me? Stealing other people's ideas? Never. I was inspired.

Anyway, I saw the following at the end of a largely forgotten BBC press release about maintenance budgets or something:


Coming to the BBC2 schedule this autumn, the hottest new makeover show for years. 'Makeover Show Force Invaders' will follow a group of programme creators as they spruce up tired, old makeover shows. The team, lead by Andi Peters and dressed in brightly-coloured jumpsuits, will have just over 27 hours and a budget of £450 to transform the old formats before they surprise the presenters of the show on their next filming day.

In the first episode, the Force Invaders tackle Ground Force. Watch as they make Charlie, Tommy and co film the show in the dark while dressed up as garden gnomes.

"We thought doing up the gardens in the dark would present more of a challenge and give the show a bit of 'edge'. Dressing them up as gnomes was just a bit of fun, really." says Andi.

In other episodes in the series, Kim and Aggie are forced to do How Clean Is Your House using only their tongues and a pair of brillo pads and in Home Front, the team swaps things around so that Diarmuid creates the garden in the house, complete with concrete and steel 'monolith' and Laurence builds a new living and dining room outside.

At the show's launch party, attended a dazzling array of D-list Cable TV celebs, Andi said, "We feel we've been given a mandate by the BBC to create new, innovative, pioneering, ground-breaking makeover shows. Hopefully, the changes we make will stand the test of time and become the standard of makeover shows yet to come."


What makeover show would you change and how would you do it?

Monday, March 15, 2004


My maternal grandfather died the best part of twenty years ago. Poppa, as he was known to my brothers and me, was a talented amateur carpenter. He built their kitchen from scratch and made numerous other bits of furniture and toys for Mum and us boys. He was a diy man before diy was invented. He took such care over the work and enjoyed it immensely. Even now, practically a quarter of a century since he last used them, his tools are still in perfect condition, so much so that my father is using them now instead of his own.

So it was that I came to wonder yesterday, as I was fitting some shelves in our larder, what he would have thought of my efforts. Was he looking down at me as I was taking those first few steps down the diy path? Did he smile knowingly as I made mistakes and nod to himself when I learned from them? Would I have got the thumbs up from him?

I can't say I'm anything other than a beginner at all this and I very much doubt I'll ever reach the standard that he maintained. I just hope my work is good enough to pass muster.

As long as L never needs to call in these guys then I reckon I'll be okay.

Spanish Election

This is a sad day for democracy. Far from not allowing Thursday's train bombings in Madrid to affect life in Spain in any way, the Spanish electorate yesterday rose up and ousted the centre-right government in favour of the socialist party. On Wednesday evening last week that seemed like only the remotest of possibilities. Last week's act of terror has changed the direction of politics in Spain.

Al Qaeda will, of course, see this as a major victory. After all, who's going to say this wasn't one of their major aims? The timing of the attacks, just days before a general election, is hardly likely to be coincidental. Al Qaeda has gained its 'revenge' on the Spanish government that supported the war in Iraq to the extent that the prime minister-elect has said that one of his first actions will be to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.

It can be argued that Al Qaeda don't really care about the war in Iraq and are only using it as a means to justify their acts of terror. That may be true but in the end it's not really important. What is important is if Al Qaeda think they can affect the democratic processes in western countries in this way, they may well try it again.

Friday, March 12, 2004

In the News

This story has caught my eye this morning. Apparently, 40 manhole covers have been stolen from roads in Gloucester.

"Police believe they have been stolen for scrap, as the value of heavy metal has rocketed recently."

Oh come on. What possible use would manhole covers be in the heavy metal industry? Heavy duty cymbals, perhaps?

Proper Winter

Over the last few years winter has been largely mild with the odd cold snap and snow shower every now and again. This year has been different.

We may not have had really deep snow that stayed with us for days amid sub-zero temperatures but then, the childhood memories that tell me we used to get winters like that a lot are probably unreliable anyway. At least this year we have had snow that has settled on several occasions and it has been bitterly cold more often than not. A proper winter, I'd say.

My legs are aching from walking down the hill to the station without slipping over in the slush and my ears are only now starting to send nerve impulses to my brain again. Despite all that, I like it when the weather's like this. Even the most desolate landscape takes on a facade of beauty when it's covered in snow. We could have done with another half-inch or so to make everything look pristine in Hemel but I'm not really complaining. The view over the snow covered rooftops this morning was just lovely. It's a bit of a shame it won't be there tomorrow when I'd have more time to enjoy it.

That's right, this is another short-lived snowfall as temperatures are set to hit double figures over the weekend (in the 50's for those of you that work in Fahrenheit). This may even be the last blow of the season, it is the middle of March after all. Come the morning we may well have said goodbye to winter for another year. I hope it's at least as good as this year has been.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Sport in Crisis?

Everywhere you look at the moment on the back pages there seems to be another story about some sort of off-the-field problem in one sport or another.

This week, the football headlines have been full of the three Leicester players currently being held in a Spanish jail for the alleged sexual assault of three women near La Manga but in recent weeks there has also been a lot in the news about Leeds United'sfinancial problems and trouble within the Man Utd board.

Horseracing has also taken a battering this week with the row over betting exchanges and Kieren Fallon and Sean Fox being accused of throwing away winning positions. The integrity of the sport of kings is in serious danger because these issues are rooted in the central source of funding for the whole sport: betting. A lot of the money going into racing could dry up if further allegations are made, let alone if any of it is actually proven, as punters decide to stop gambling on a sport tarnished as 'fixed'.

There are worries that not all the venues for this summer's Olympics in Athens, the home of the modern Olympic Games, will be completely ready in time for the start of the games in August. Chief among these is the glass roof over the Olympic stadium itself. Elsewhere in athletics, drugs are taking their toll once more as the row over THG continues. Can an athlete really be held responsible for having a designer performance enhancing drug in his body when he isn't aware of the drug and at the time it's not even known about by the authorities? Dwain Chambers is sick of the whole thing and is quitting athletics completely, probably for a life on the other side of the Atlantic in the NFL.

Drugs are also still making waves in the tennis world with Rusedski finding out in the next few days what his fate will be after testing positive for Nandralone last year. There are calls for a boycott by players if he is found guilty.

Lastly, I present that most civilised of sports, cricket. The ECB are once again caught between a rock and a hard place over whether to tour Zimbabwe or not. On the one hand, the British Government is urging them not to tour, because of the problems with Robert Mugabe, but on the other they have a fine of over £1m and possible suspension from the ICC if they don't. The whole problem would be solved if the government actually came out and instructed the ECB not to go as that would be accepted by the ICC but at the moment they are only going as far as giving 'advice' and are leaving the decision up to the ECB.

So why is it that all of a sudden all these problems are coming to light? Will they escalate any further and, if so, what else will come to light? What, if anything, needs to be done to solve these crises?

I don't know the answer to any of those questions but if I come up with anything, you'll be the first to know.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Toilet Rage

I'm sure you've all heard the adage about how bad an idea it is to synchronise your beer to piss ratio with a complete stranger when you're in a pub, haven't you?

What you may not be aware of is that there's an equivalent one for the workplace. Just substitute beer with tea and complete stranger with middle-aged, Eastern European cleaning lady and you'll begin to see what I mean.

The problem is, the men's toilets are shut while she's in there cleaning them, which means you have to go traipsing upstairs instead. If it happens to you a few times a day it gets more than a little annoying. Looking at the timesheet in the toilet, they are cleaned 7 times each day between 8.30 and 4.30 and she takes just over five minutes to do it each time, which means that the men's loo is shut for almost 10% of the working day! No wonder she always seems to be in there just when I need to be.

Absolute madness. It's not as if they need cleaning that often. This is an office full of city types, not building site full of construction workers (apologies to any brickies out there ;-) ).

I would rant more but I've got to go...

Monday, March 08, 2004

Sing when you're losing

I'm going to break one of the unwritten rules of this corner of blogland and post about football. Well, football supporters to be precise.

I was watching the Portsmouth v Arsenal FA Cup game on Saturday evening as I was cooking dinner and I was amazed by the behaviour of the Portsmouth fans. They were all singing their hearts out as though they were the ones leading by four goals instead of the other way round. They didn't even falter when Arsenal's fifth goal went in. They just went right on singing the theme from 'Great Escape' and chanting 'We're going to win six - five' at the tops of their voices.

I've been to a lot of football matches and seen several where the scoreline has read more like a one-sided rugby result and almost invariably the supporters of the team on the wrong end of the scoreline are as quiet as mice. Especially if they are at home. There's something galling about seeing another team come to your ground and play as if your team weren't even on the pitch. You don't really feel like being a vocal supporter at that point - about the best you can do is mutter quietly to yourself or hurl abuse at the other side's fans.

So, for the Portsmouth fans to be in full voice, supporting their team, players and managers in the face of the Arsenal onslaught is highly commendable. Highly commendable indeed.

Friday, March 05, 2004


Six years ago today I went up to Manchester to stay with my uni mates. It was the middle of my year in Germany and I had an eight week break between the two semesters so I decided to spend a large part of it kipping on a sofa in the North West.

Anyway, it being a Thursday afternoon, I knew exactly where they would all be so I went straight from the station to Jabez Clegg, where my mates were with a load of sixth formers, giving them a taste of what Manchester University was all about.

While I'd been away they had become friendly with some of the new crop of first years (as was their wont) and one of them was with them in the pub. She was six foot tall and very attractive, despite her fringe making her look younger than she was. We hit it off straight away and flirted outrageously for the next couple of hours or more. I had a great time - I hadn't flirted like that in ages and had forgotten how much fun it could be.

But at the time, that's all it was, a bit of fun. Once we had left the pub and gone our separate ways I didn't really think much more of it. I saw her again a few times while I was there but as far as I was concerned, I didn't want to get involved with anyone (since I was due to head back out of the country) so I didn't push it any further.

Had anyone said to me as we were leaving the pub that four and a half years later we'd be marrying each other I'd probably have laughed at them. Life is a funny thing, sometimes.


I didn't quite know what to expect. Going into a pub I don't know to drink with people I'd never met before is not something I do very often. Getting on with people online is one thing but that doesn't necessarily translate into getting on with them in 'reality'.

I mean, what if Witchy turned out to have a boil on the side of her nose that it would be impossible to tear your eyes from? Maybe the geezer had an nervous twitch that would be the cause of long uncomfortable silences and bouts of floor gazing. What if everyone else had something against baldness and refused to talk to me? Perhaps...

Just as well I'm not the paranoid type.

Anyway, having spent the day at home doing various little jobs and waiting for some furniture to be delivered, I duly trooped down to London late afternoon and got to The Chandos before anyone else. Not that I knew that, of course. The pub was full of people and any of them could have been who I was looking for. Not wanting to go from table to table asking awkward questions and getting strange looks ("Eh? What's blogging?") I sat down with a pint and got out my book, which was also doubling as a red rose in the lapel so everyone else would know it was me.

NiC came along first with Eloon/Elsie/Elaine hot on his heels and we were off. The beer was flowing nicely and by the time dave, dg, Blue Witch and Steve had all arrived we were chattering away.

Having been inaugurated into the KKK, frustrated BW by not being in tune with our energies and artfully arranged our 'special objects' for a photo shoot, the evening drew to a close. I stumbled back to Euston in time to get the penultimate train.

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. One that we'll have to repeat some time.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004


This news strikes me as a good thing. There has been a lot of bad press in recent years about home insurance premiums rising because of threats of flooding and anything that can narrow down the areas at risk can only help. The question I've got, though, is will somebody be making this technology available for the public to check whether they live on a flood plain or whether a property they are buying is on one?

Kerry Victorious

So, John Kerry looks certain to gain the democratic presidential nomination for November's election. Has he got any chance of winning? From where I'm sitting, I'd say 'not really'.

Kerry, from the (admittedly limited) coverage I've seen, seems to be everything that Bush is not; intelligent, honest and full of integrity. Plus he's not backed by oil companies (I don't think), which can only be a good thing.

I hope he does win because I think he could put right a lot of what's wrong with America at the moment. I just don't think he's got much chance against Bush's money and connections.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Driving to work?

Seen driving around the city this afternoon....

... an office desk!

Yes, I am telling the truth and no, I didn't have any beers at lunchtime.

I happened to glance out of the window at the right moment to spot this vehicle seemingly made from two L-shaped desks put together to make a 'C' come round the corner. The desks had phones and computer screens on them and various bits of paper were strewn about. The vehicle had a few chairs attached around it, with a guy at the front (inside the C) driving and two girls sitting at the back (outside the C). They were all strapped in but even so, the chairs they were sat in were hanging out over the road so I doubt it would have felt all that safe. They all seemed to be enjoying it, though.

It went by too quickly to catch it all but it was advertising some sort of company that sells or leases office space, I think. If it comes round again I'll let you know.

Room With A View

Our house is near the top of one of the hills in Hemel and faces south out over the valley below. As I think I've said before, the house is actually a maisonette and covers the top two floors of a three storey building, along with three other similar places (the bottom floor has one bed flats in it). In front of the building, each flat has a short front garden beyond which there is a patch of open ground that extends all the to the road 40 yards away. On the other side of the road are normal, two storey houses.

Because the ground slopes away from our building, the houses opposite are considerably lower. So much so that from our living room on the first floor we can see clear over the top of them. From the bedrooms upstairs the view is even more spectacular because we can also see over the tops of the houses to the side, giving us close to a 180 degree view of the horizon.

We look out over the rooftops across the valley to the green and wooded slopes on the other side of the railway line, towards the village of Bovingdon. The only thing to mar the landscape is the A41 bypass that cuts through the hills but it doesn't spoil it too much.

One thing I noticed last week was that I was spending much more time staring out of the window than I had before, letting my mind drift. Even to the point of ignoring TV programmes I wanted to watch. Come the summer, with its light evenings, I'll probably ponder the view more than I do the television screen.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Back to Normal

Today was my first commute into work via Silverlink trains and I can't say that it was too bad. We didn't know the train times this morning (since the weekday timetable we had was in a bag I left on a train last Friday) so the 90 minutes it took door to door included a ten minute wait on the platform for the next train which won't usually be the case. On an average day, I reckon the time spent traveling will increase by half an hour or so when compared to what it was from Finchley. Not too bad but more than I thought it would be.

I don't have a lot of inspiration for posts at the moment as my head is still full of trying to get the house sorted out and stuff but I will at least be able to post more regularly than I have over the last couple of weeks. I've had a look at my stats for February and it was by far the worst complete month so far in terms of visitors, an indication of the number and quality of the posts. Things will get better around here. At some point.

I'm thinking about running another special blogevent in a month or two but at the moment I'm not sure what to do (I've got several up my sleeve) so keep an eye out for an announcement over the next few weeks.