Monday, January 31, 2005

Coffee Morning

In the end, I did go along to the coffee morning to meet Tony McWalter, the Labour MP for Hemel Hempstead. He gave a brief talk about what his job entails, focusing much more on the dealings he has in the town and how he represents us in Westminster rather than the jobs he has had in the Government. He then took questions for over an hour.

I was probably the youngest person in the room and certainly two or three decades below the average age. I almost turned round when I got to the door and saw that but in the end I went in and sat down and I am glad that I did.

I have met several MPs in the past; mostly high-profile and all of them Tories (my grandmother used to be heavily involved with the Conservatives where she lives and I went along to a few events), but I wasn't sure what to expect on Saturday. While the others were all a little bit removed from me, because they were either pushing a new policy or firing up the troops before an election or because they were simply aloof, Tony McWalter was nothing of the sort.

He spoke intelligently and honestly and was passionate about the things that affect life in the borough, like the proposals to close the hospital (which he is set against). When he didn't know something he admitted it rather than blustered his way through it.

The questions people asked were all about local issues, with the exception of one (slightly ill-informed) rant against the Mental Capacity Bill, and it was very interesting to find out more about the area we moved into almost a year ago.

The impression I took away from the meeting was that our MP is just the sort of person you want to represent you in Parliament, ready to help you regardless of your or his political leanings. And that creates a bit of a problem for me in the upcoming election. There is very little chance I would choose to vote for the Labour party in an election but there is now a very real chance I would want to keep the MP we already have. A bit of a quandary, that.

The other thing I gained from the meeting was more content for Clear Blue Skies. I had planned to write a series of posts before the election taking a look at what the Government has or has not achieved in the last few years and to help me in this, I have got a great handout called '50 government achievements since 1997' upon which to base it. Fantastic. That will come along in the near future but first I've got another short series of posts I want to write.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A Common invitation

I got home from work last week to find a letter waiting for me with the House of Commons stamp on the back of it.

"What on earth is this?", thought I.

Inside the envelope was a letter from my MP inviting me to a coffee morning being held locally this Saturday to discuss 'local issues and concerns'.

Could it be that I was picked at random or did someone in the local Labour party ranks think to themselves "Here's someone new to the area, let's see if we can persuade him to vote for us in a few months' time"? Hmm.

As yet, I'm still undecided whether I will go or not but it's likely laziness will take hold and I'll just stay in bed instead. It has, however, made me think about the local issues that I would want to bring to the attention of my MP. The fact that there's not enough residential parking around our place? The kids that cause havoc on the green in front of the house? I doubt he'd do anything about them so what's the point?

Anyway, if you had been invited to see your MP, what local issues would you want to bring up?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Cause and Effect

Well, more effect than cause, to be honest. Cause will follow later in the week, if I'm lucky.

The symptoms I described yesterday are having quite an effect on my life at the moment. Feeling weak and tired means that you tend not to get around to all those non-essential jobs you've been meaning to do for ages. Like painting the stairs, for example. I started that a few months ago but haven't been up to doing any more of it since then. The list just keeps on growing.

That's probably the most obvious effect this is having but there are others, too. I'm finding it difficult to concentrate at work for long periods of time so my productivity is down. That is only going to be exacerbated when the other guy at my level in the team leaves in less than four weeks' time. After that I will have even more stuff to do and be under greater stress than currently. We were already one person short so we know need to recruit two and it will be at least six months until they have both been recruited and trained and are up to speed with our systems and projects. Six months of me being the senior programmer in the team. Not what I need.

My mood is getting progressively bluer, too. Normally, I am very stable, emotionally-speaking, but the defences that keep me upbeat are slowly failing and with an unknown illness or problem hanging over me, I'm slowly sinking into depression. The situation at work won't help that, either.

I don't surrender to it easily, which can be a problem. If L was fully fit and capable of picking up the stuff I'm having trouble with, then maybe I would just give in and do less but her physical condition is not much better than mine and sitting in front of the TV while she is struggling in the kitchen just makes me feel worse. Maybe the couple of days off I've booked for next week will help.

What will definitely help is finding out what is wrong with me. I've got my suspicions but to know for sure would be a great relief. The problem is, I just don't know when that is going to happen.

Monday, January 24, 2005


I've said more than once in the last few months that I've been feeling tired and run-down and, now that things may be coming to a head, I thought I'd write a little bit more about what has been going on. This will probably take a few posts so bear with me.

Two weeks ago, I was finally talked into going to see the doctor about why I'd been feeling so crap for so long. Until that point I'd been happily (well, not so happily, actually) ignoring it and hoping that it would just go away. Head in the sand - that was me. Anyway, the appointment was made for the 13th and I had to start thinking about how to describe what was wrong with me.

Before I go into that, a bit of background. In the first couple of months after we found out that L was pregnant, she suffered quite badly with morning sickness. With her, though, it occurred mostly in the evening and meant that she wasn't up to doing much around the house. So, for I was spending at least a couple of hours on my feet every night, doing all the jobs we normally share. Quite naturally, this made me pretty tired. After our holiday in September, L started to feel better and to do her share of the jobs. The problem was I didn't begin to feel any better and eventually I felt worse. For this reason, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly when this all started.

So, what is actually wrong with me? Mainly, it's just the tiredness. It's a physical tiredness, felt in the muscles and bones, rather than a mental or emotional one (though it does have a knock-on effect in those areas). There are times when my legs feel like they could give way beneath me at any moment. The slightest exercise (like going up and down the stairs a couple of times) leaves me feeling hot, a little breathless and causes my heart to pound. I get up in the morning and feel like I've just been out for a run or come back from a hard work-out in the gym. Having remained feeling roughly the same for several months, in the last week I have felt much more tired than I had been, though this may be as a result of having to concentrate all week in a training course. My energy levels are consistently low.#

What else? There have been other symptoms that have popped up occasionally and may be merely incidental. Headaches; a little nausea; some quite bad heartburn; gradual weight loss despite me eating a lot (of course, that could be due to the fact that I'm not drinking anywhere near as much).

The doctor sent me for some blood tests: U&E, FBC, Glucose, LFT - the usual Casualty terms. Then last week I got a call telling me to pick up another blood test form as there was something they wanted to check out further. This time it was FBC and ESR and the form said I had a low white blood cell count (from the FBC test). I still don't know what the results of the other tests were.

Tomorrow, I'm going to write about the effects this has been having.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A Trip to the Circus

Last night L and I went to the Royal Albert Hall to see Dralion, the Cirque du Soleil show that is currently touring Europe.

The critics haven't been terribly kind to the show and it is true that there isn't much flow between the different acts - no obvious story that ties everything together. However, that's the only thing I can find fault with. Of those shown on the website, the only acts that didn't perform last night were the Double Trapeze and the Foot Juggling.

The other acts were extremely good and my jaw spent most of the performance hanging open in amazement. The juggling routine, especially sticks in my mind because I can juggle and know just how difficult it is to do so to watch this guy use his feet, head, back and legs in a free-flowing routine with three, four and then five balls was spellbinding. For a few brief seconds at the end he even had seven balls going round in the conventional style.

I winced as girl in the Hand Balancing contorted herself around the arm she was balancing on and the Aerial Pas De Deux was passionate and incredible. Other highlights were the Hoop Diving and the Aerial Hoop. The clowns came on between many of the acts and brought a little comic relief to the proceedings but they did seem a little out of place amongst everything else.

The music was very good, if a little strange at times (try marrying a Spanish guitar with oriental singing and see what you get), and there was a great little percussion track, which was played softly on a loop before the performance and during the interval, that had some excellent improvisation around the basic beat. It got into my head and stayed there all night, I think.

Overall, despite the guy in front of leaning forward so I couldn't see part of the stage, I enjoyed it immensely. I could say more but I'd run out of superlatives long before I could do it justice so I'll stop here. If you can get hold of tickets then I would definitely recommend going to see it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

New Links

Today's post by BW has reminded me of a couple of links I've been meaning to add to my sidebar. You can see them over there in their own section called Language.

World Wide Words is a brilliant site, written by Michael Quinion, 'about international English from a British viewpoint. It is full of articles on the origins of words and phrases (from up to the moment new phrases to archaic words that are no longer used). Plus there are longer articles on more general linguistic themes and reviews of books about the English language. He writes a few new articles every week, usually published on a Saturday and there is also a weekly newsletter that you can subscribe to, if you want.

It is well worth a trawl through the various sections as they give fascinating insights into the development of English. For instance, you might want to know where the phrase 'At sixes and sevens' comes from. Or maybe you get really riled by the misuse of apostrophes in greengrocer's signs. If you are at all interested in the language then pay it a visit.

The second of the two links is the sort of collaborative project that the internet was made for. The OEDILF, or Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form, is exactly what it says in the title - an attempt to write limericks to define every word in the dictionary, starting at A and ending at Z. It has been going for almost six months and has hundreds of contributors around the world.

So far, they are up to At- words and it could take decades to finish it, but the enthusiasm for the project is very refreshing. Go over there, have a look around at everything and see if you want to join in.

I'm off to the circus tonight, so that's tomorrow's content sorted already...

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Nobel Prize, perhaps?

I made a startling discovery last night. One that could amaze physicists across the world.

This year is the 100th anniversary of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which shows that time slows as you near the speed of light, and it is fitting, therefore, that my discovery should expand a little upon that most famous of papers.

In a nutshell, my new addendum to Einstein's work is this:

"The closer you are in relation to a pregnant woman, the slower time becomes."

The only difference between them is that in my case, you actually notice that time is running slowly whereas in Einstein's you don't. It is therefore clear that time only slows down around you, leaving you completely unaffected.

My proof is taken from my own senses. I mean, nine months has never passed so slowly before, I swear. Further, I am certain that the following nine months, once I am no longer in close proximity to a pregnant woman, will pass much faster than I would expect and, indeed, want. What further proof do you need?

Monday, January 10, 2005

Customer Service

On Sunday, BW wrote a post about how customer service at John Lewis is worse than it used to be. She also recounted the adage that someone who receives good service will tell one person about it whereas someone who receives bad service will tell twenty.

Well, I was in John Lewis on Saturday and got some very satisfactory service and if I only tell one person, then it because I only have the one reader. ;-)

About two and a half years ago, we bought a BT cordless phone in the Oxford Street John Lewis. Over the last year or so, the buttons have slowly stopped working. First it was the 1 and the 9, then the 2 went and now only a couple of the others still work. We had kept the receipt, because whoever served us when we bought it had written on it that it had a five year guarantee. At the time that had seemed like far too long but I wasn't going to question it.

So, we took the phone back to the Watford branch, went to the service desk and were told that it should only have had a one year guarantee. Then the guy went into his office to check it out. We were preparing to argue our case when he came out and said that, although the number on the receipt was a mistake, they would honour it and gave us a debit note for the value of the phone.

We then picked out a new digital cordless, with an extra handset, and paid just £25 for it. Bargain.

Looking at the receipt for the new phone, the space for the guarantee period has been left blank...

Friday, January 07, 2005

Random Thoughts

Isn't it odd how a room looks bare after the Christmas decorations have come down?

Why did I feel guilty about walking past the Underground staff collecting for the tsunami appeal fund when I've already given plenty of money to it?

It's very annoying that the Silverlink County trains don't have about two inches more space between the seats as it makes it difficult to avoid touching knees with the person opposite.

When are we going to get some snow?

You can't do your job properly when the objective keeps shifting.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Back The Bid tube trains

Coming up through Monument station this morning, I saw one of the Circle Line trains that has been repainted in support of the Back The Bid campaign. The rear carriage was red and going forward from there the next was green, then black and yellow. I assume blue followed that but it was round the corner so I couldn't see it. Does anyone know what colour the front carriage is? Is it a mix of the five Olympic colours? White? Something completely different?

Anyway, given that London's tube trains are mostly a standard dull grey (apart from coloured doors etc.), it was a pleasant surprise to be greeted with a feast of colour alongside the platform. I say, keep them painted this way even after the bid has been won or lost. They could really brighten the tube up.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Thoughts on the Tsunami

I have spent much of the last week wondering how to broach the subject of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the resulting disaster. It doesn't seem right to ignore it completely but where do you start with something like that?

The scale of the whole thing just beggars belief. You can try to make some sense of the numbers involved by giving them 'understandable' equivalents, such as the population of Bedford having died or everyone in London being made homeless, but that won't give any sense of the anguish and suffering that has been afflicted on so many. Even the images we see in the news reports aren't enough for us to grasp it as we are unable to imagine the same level of destruction along thousands of miles of coastline

In fact, the only thing that matches the scale of the disaster is the scale of the response from the rest of the world. The amount of money pledged for aid from governments, corporations and the public is truly astounding. Billions of pounds have already been given and there is no sign yet of the supply tailing off. Applied efficiently and correctly, that sort of money could work miracles.

For once, there is a sense that everyone is aware that long-term investment is needed and that many are prepared to give it. Attention will ultimately pass from the affected areas as the media circus moves on and the events of the last two weeks fade into memory but hopefully enough momentum will have swung behind the efforts to rebuild the devastated towns and villages by then for it to carry on long after the reporters have gone home. With sustained investment and help the rebuilt communities could be stronger than they were before. Who can deny that that is the right thing to do?

If you want to contribute anything substantial and you are a UK taxpayer, then don't drop it into a collecting bucket outside the supermarket or anything. Go to the DEC website and donate online instead, remembering to tick the 'Make my donation Gift Aid?' box. Doing this means the government will pay back the tax on your donation, giving an extra 28p for every pound you pledge. Make your money go further.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


In the spirit of the god for which January is named, what follows takes a brief look at what the past year held for me and what 2005 may have in store...

2004 turned out to be quite a momentous year, all in all. Buying our first house, getting a car and relearning to drive were all fairly major milestones in my life. Then, of course, there's the decision we made to start a family at which point our lives started to develop in a completely new direction. This year, of course, will always be the year our first child was born and that alone makes 2005 a pretty big year before we're much more than a quarter of the way through it. Everything else that we've got planned pales into insignificance besides that one moment.

Physically, I have had more time off work for sickness in the last twelve months than I think I ever have had before and I finished the year still feeling out of sorts. Hopefully, this year will see me get to the bottom of this general malaise and work my way towards recovery. Of course, given the sleepless nights due to us over the spring and summer, that may be a hope too far.

From a professional point of view the last few years have all been good and it's unlikely that I'll find 2005 to be any different, though in many ways it will be harder. The year may even bring a return to study and exams as I begin to work towards a professional qualification. Then there's the new role that I'm taking on, which will require me to master a whole set of skills that I've never encountered before; changing nappies without throwing up, singing lullabies and understanding a language made up of nonsensical sounds. That will certainly be the hardest thing I have to do this year.

And what about Clear Blue Skies? Well, I'm afraid the baby is set to dominate my thoughts for much of this year, just as it has done for the last few months, but I hope 2005 will see a return to the sort of stuff I was writing and organising early last year. That would make it a good year, indeed.

New Year, New Me?

New Year Resolutions have never been my thing. I don't think that simply entering into a new year is motivation enough to change the way you live. And, if there is enough other motivation to do something different, then why wait until the beginning of January to do it?

Having said that, I do want to write here more regularly than I have been doing over the last six months or more. There have been times recently when I have deleted half-written posts for no reason at all and spent my lunch hour with my nose in a book rather than think about writing something else instead. I can't see that I will be able to post something every day - that would be asking too much, I feel - but two or three times a week would be better than it has been.

So, I'm making a resolution to write more. Not because it's New Year. Because I want to.