Sunday, 30 December 2007

Quiet Days

It is the quiet time of year. Those days between Christmas and New Year when you can kick back and relax, and prepare for the drab and dull month that is January.

Christmas Day went the way that it usually does. I was woken at the crack of dawn by my other half (who is a big kid when it comes to Christmas). I'm not exaggerating the early hour... 6am. So we did the present thing... which occasioned wrapping paper everywhere. Even the cat was not forgotten, although generally she is more interested in balled up pieces of wrapping paper than the actual gifts she gets!

The highlight of the day (apart from the presents) was lunch, of which, as always there was far too much. Nobody really seems to cater for two person households when it comes to food... which I find bizarre as there are plenty of us out there! Somehow in amongst all this I still managed to fit in two naps! There is always time to sleep!

The next couple of days were spent very quietly. Eating, drinking and so forth. We were off to see my folks on Friday. This in itself proved to be an unexpected debacle! The car hasn't been feeling that wanted the last few months. The whole time I wasn't well I didn't drive at all. The first occasion that I decided to take the car out once I was better it was discovered that the battery was flat. This little episode drove from my mind the reports I had read about possible fuel protests (as there were back in 2000). I had meant to fill the car up with fuel at that time and never got around to it. So, Friday morning we are off to my parents (who live around 40 miles away) and there is no petrol in the car. We go to the BP garage on the Woolwich Road. As we pull in the first pumps we see all have their unleaded pumps out of action. In fact it turns out that all the unleaded pumps are out of action. Next stop Sainsbury's on the Peninsula. As we draw in we notice signs up stating that there is no unleaded. Oh dear. Next stop Asda. Same story no unleaded. My imagination is beginning to run out - most local Petrol stations have shut down and been turned into blocks of flats. We slip onto the A2 and run up to the Sun-in-Sands where I irritate all the traffic by suddenly turning left as I remember that there is a petrol station just near the eponymous pub. Hurrah. They have unleaded... at the frankly horrifying price of over a pound per litre. Argh! So I fill the tank and we make it down to Kent (where the petrol is even more astronomical prices).

It is soon going to be extremely uneconomic to run a car (especially an older car). What with road tax (which I'm sure the Government will soon be raising) and MOTs and insurance and petrol. Using an Oystercard to get the bus has never been a better idea!

Monday, 24 December 2007

'Tis the Season?! (Part 2)

The other thing that always happens around this time of year is an influx of gadgets into our lives. This house particularly, and this year is no exception.

Gadget no. 1 - the new iPod.
I've always been one for music on the move. Ever since my first Walkman, through several incarnations to the portable CD player (so not portable) to my first MP3 player. The first MP3 player was a disaster. Chunky to the size of a Walkman, irritating volume limiters that wouldn't switch off... I hardly used it for the year that I had it. Then I got my first iPod. I think it was a nano... small and pink. We had an excellent relationship until the battery fritzed about 8 months ago. Thereafter it was virtually impossible to use. Charge to full power, switch on to play music and up came the message "no battery power remains, please connect to power". ARGH! It got to the point I couldn't use it. So gathering together Christmas money I decided to upgrade to the latest iPod. 80 glorious gigabytes (of which I've used a very small percentage so far). Plus a colour screen. If I was so inclined I could watch TV and videos on it. And it came in a nice bundle with a beautiful flat panel speaker. The only annoying thing was that it appears to be one of this Chrismas's must have gifts... and all the shops I wanted to reserve and buy from were sold out. Eventually I found one available in the City at PC World. I was dubious having reserved from PC World before and seen them go to the shelf to fetch my 'reserved' product. However, whether because it was Christmas or it is a new policy... all the reservations had been put aside!

Gadget No. 2 - the V-plus box.
Ever since I first heard about TiVo I've been hankering for a box that watches TV for you. A flurry of advertising from Virgin Media about the reduced installation for their V+ decided me that it might be a nice Christmas present for ourselves. I rang up... paid £75 (half price installation) and arranged a date for them to come and install the box. The date duly arrived... and the engineer phoned. Could he come in the morning instead of the afternoon as arranged? Sure we said. An hour passed. The engineer phoned again. There had been some sort of confusion and the installation hadn't been booked properly. He wasn't sure if he could come at all, but he was going to check and call us back. We waited an couple of hours. Nothing. So we called Virgin Media ourselves. Oh dear. The guy who took my payment hadn't booked the installation, so it couldn't be done today. In fact, not until 5th January (!?!). Fine. Time passed. The phone rang again. The engineer. He'd be there in 5 minutes. So the box came and was installed and the old box was left behind... oops, without a power cable. We found a power cable and the old box took up residence in the bedroom, and the V+ box delighted us with its amazing abilities. Then a couple of days later a courier arrived... with a shiny Virgin branded box. A new 'V box' (just your regular cable box). Smaller than the old one, shiny and silver (to match the TV, video and DVD player upstairs - cool). Two gadgets for the price of one.

A word on V+ (or similar approved systems). It rocks! The ease of use (even for somebody like me who can barely operate a video player) is superb. The picture quality (even without an HD TV) is amazing. The ability to watch heaps of rubbish TV you might otherwise miss... priceless!

Sunday, 23 December 2007

'Tis the Season?!

Every year I make myself the same promise. Here is the promise I make myself - I will have nothing further to do with the whole shopping experience once we pass the 20th December. Every year for one reason or another I break this promise to myself. This year I was fully prepared to have nothing at all to do with the shops whatsoever in the last two weeks before Christmas. What with internet shopping and all, and the joy that is buying groceries online. Sadly my plan fell short. I left it too late to book the delivery slot for grocery shopping (nothing available until 27th December... so it was fine for the following weeks shopping!). So... my nearly-mother-in-law and I decided we were to brave Asda for our Christmas food. In the end we decided to go late in the evening on Wednesday. The whole experience wasn't too terrible - apart from the irritation that our visit appeared to coincide with the supermarket starting their shelf stacking, which meant that most shelves were blocked by enormous trolley which had to be circumnavigated in order to reach any products! I also dropped by Sainsbury's to spend my Nectar points (note: these are loyalty points which you collect at the till every time you shop in the store or at selected online partners). This year I had managed to accrue £35 worth which bought the festive season alcohol collection!

Even worse than having to go food shopping was the fact that I managed to forget to buy some items. This necessitated a trip out on Saturday morning. Sheer madness. I have come to the conclusion that there should be 'peak' periods during the year during which you require a special licence to drive a car (or any vehicle). Some of the bad behaviour on the roads was beyond belief... overtaking and undertaking at inappropriate moments... getting cut up all over the place, double parking in the car parks. Lunacy. My brief trip to Asda (twice in a week!) was only improved by the fact that everyone was shopping for huge amounts and the 'basket only' queue was virtually deserted. Seriously. The supermarket is closed for ONE day... it is open again on 26th... not like when I was a kid and they did close for the best part of a week. One day!

Despite all of this I still decided to go out again this morning. On the bus this time. Because I went early it seemed everyone else was still in bed (or maybe gone to work). Not at all a bad trip... I visited about five stores and was still home within the hour. At lunchtime I walked to the Village to go to the Chippy. On my way I saw buses headed towards Woolwich... and in the forty minutes it took me to get there and back I saw five 486s... three 422s... two 54s... and only one 53. Remarkable only because the 53 is supposed to be the most frequent of all the routes. Go figure!

So. Here we are all ready for Christmas. Presents are wrapped... the house is tidy, and the lights are increasing our carbon footprint exponentially!!! Beautiful. Our living room is delightfully like Santa's Grotto (just how it should be).

Monday, 17 December 2007

7 shopping days 'til Christmas...

It used to mean more, counting shopping days until Christmas. Now that the shops are open all the time (especially on Sundays) all the days until Christmas are shopping days!

So. Much has been going on for me since last I had time to sit and take stock... not least a great deal of Christmas festivities.

Last week I met up with some friends with whom I used to work. We get together every six months or so and remember 'the good old days'. On this occasion we were to meet in the Old Mitre which is somewhere near Hatton Gardens. This is a delightful, if very small establishment. There are three small areas inside, and the assembled crowds tend to spill into the alleyway and anywhere else they can fit! I arrived late. I knew I'd be late anyway as I'd come from home and not the office, but I then had to deal with London Underground (sigh) which delayed me even further! My entire travel experience had started badly when I arrived at North Greenwich to find Carol Singers in the ticket hall. I have no objection to Carol Singers... but only if they are doing a good job. I was unimpressed with the quality of this lot, and even less impressed that they seemed to want paying!

Finally arriving at the Mitre I couldn't find my friends ANYWHERE. I checked the two downstairs bars and took my life in my hands to check the upstairs bar (very steep stairs!). Eventually I sent a text message, and received the reply that they were 'past the gents'. This took alleyways to a new meaning! However, once having found them an excellent evening was had by all. By the time I got back to North Greenwich it was late enough to justify a cab home. The amount of cabs available at North Greenwich has been extremely adversely affected by the advent of events at the O2. There was a big queue and a lot of offers of cab sharing going on. Lucky for me there was a lady from the next street down to mine - so not only did I get a cab faster, but when I offered to split the fare it turned out hers was on expenses, so a free cab ride too! 'Tis the season!

Talking of festive music making (which I was briefly) , don't think that I am a miserable scrooge type. I love Christmas, and I love the spirit of Christmas (peace on earth, goodwill to all men). However. If I am expected to be parting with my money (even if it is for charitable purposes) I expect the people who I are trying to part me from it to make just a modicum of effort. Take my shopping trip to Bexleyheath the previous weekend. The Salvation Army were out with their brass band playing carols and rattling buckets. I had no hesitation in giving them my change - they had obviously been practising and were pretty good. Further down the street was a colourful bus with a stereo outside blaring out Christmas CDs. I did not give them any money. I could have walked into anyone of a dozen shops and had the same racket for free!

On the not so festive front I decided to take my car out last week. This was to be the first time since I hadn't been well, as I was finally feeling the my legs and balance were up to it. The car however had different ideas. I turned the key in the ignition and nothing happened (well, some coughing and whining, but nothing significant). So. I had to call the AA out. It turned out that the battery was done. Excellent. Just the time to be spending £60 on a new battery!!!

Friday was the office Christmas party. As the balance of staff are in Scotland we fly up there every year. Some of my colleagues stay over, but I like to come back the same day. City Airport in the morning was mental. I met two of my colleagues who were on an earlier flight in the departure lounge as they had been delayed. Should have taken this as the bad omen that it clearly was. The flight was late boarding, and when I finally did board we just sat on the runway for ages (and ages). If it had been some more accessible type of transport I'd have gotten off and made alternate arrangements! The most fun bit of the the whole flight up was probably for my walking stick which had to go through the baggage scanner before it could come back and take me through the metal detector!

Lunch was excellent (as ever) and large (probably too large) amounts of alcohol were consumed. The cab ride back to the airport was easy as the company fortunately has a taxi account (I think we should get one of those in London). I was unconvinced by the flying back though. As regular readers will know I am not a happy flier. In fact, I hate flying. Usually I will get tranquillisers to calm the panic, but I hadn't got around to it - and figured I could probably last the one hour flight. I always forget how much flying terrifys me! The plane I was getting back was small (for some reason I don't trust small planes). The smallest I've ever been on. So small that it didn't need steps wheeling up to it as the steps were integral to the door which folded down. It seated 32 to people. A single row up one side of the aisle and double seats down the other. No food as the plane was too small for a galley it would seem. Excellent bar service though. The steward should get a customer service award. He was the only crew (apart, obviously from whoever was flying the plane), but nothing was too much trouble for him. He served drinks to everyone and took his time... he helped people with luggage seats etc. and was generally charming and polite. Full marks to the cabin crew.

All this exertion left me pretty exhausted for the weekend. This was fine as most of the activity of the weekend involved sitting in front of the TV watching a variety of sporting events. 1) Charlton losing to West Brom on Saturday (oh dear!) 2) half of Callie playing Celtic (I fell asleep) at which point Callie won (hurrah!) and some American Football... the match I saw was Cleveland hosting Buffalo in several inches of snow. Not much fun to watch really... couldn't see the pitch, couldn't see much of the players. Apparently the only thing that stops the NFL is lightning. I think they should build more stadiums in domes then! The game I would have like to have watched was the Jags beating Pittsburgh... other notable events - well Miami finally got their first win of the season, ensuring that they did not suffer the ignominy of going 0-16. Personally I thought it would show a rather nice sense of synchronisity coming 25 years (or however long) after their Perfect Season when they went 16-0. Ah well. It was bound to happen. At one point I also though that the Jets were going to beat the Colts... however they didn't quite manage that. I didn't manage to stay awake for the late game - the Giants (my favourite team) playing the Redskins (Rich's favourite team). Good thing too, the Giants lost.

I was quite early leaving for work this morning. Lots to do, could do with the extra time. Ha! Hadn't bargained with the Jubilee Line. Bearing in mind that I'd been watching the news before I left home - and the only reported problem on the Underground was the Central Line. So, I wasn't prepared for the chaos at North Greenwich. Sever delays on the Jubilee Line due to a failed train at Baker Street. The crowds on Platform 1 (westbound) were six deep. So I waited, and waited and waited. I thought to get the train from Platform 2 (occasional westbound). Good plan. When it eventually left some 20 minutes later. We stopped and started our way up towards central London until we got to Waterloo. There the driver suddenly was informed that the train was being taken out of service and going back East! Whatever. No way I was joining a trains-worth of people to try and squeeze onto another already full train. I decided to get the Bakerloo line. Couldn't remember the stops, but knew that eventually it got to Baker Street which is just a bit further north from my office. I forgot what a hike it was to change from the Jubilee line at Waterloo (it involves travelators if that gives you an idea). So I got the Bakerloo line to Piccadilly Circus and the Piccadilly line to Green Park. 1hr 40minutes journey time. Bah!

So. Just this week left until the Christmas break. It's mental here (of course). Christmas has been on the way for the whole year, but still everyone seems very surprised to find it just a week away. Both the partners are now out of the office (which happens every year) and heaps of 'urgent' estimates have suddenly turned up which need to be completed this week (which also happens every year). Oh well, it really makes you appreciate the holiday when it comes!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Inland Revenue

Yesterday I received a dreaded brown envelope from the Inland Revenue... oops I mean HM Revenue and Customs as they go by these days. In my experience letters of this nature have never been good.

In the past it has always been a case of miscalculation of my income tax contributions - which date back to several years previously, but will now be collected by adjustment of my personal allowance. I would dearly love to be able to explain all this mumbo-jumbo for overseas readers... however, I have never really understood it myself. I always spend hours poring over the booklets and then end up asking Rich or one of my colleagues to explain it anyway! It's always worth checking though. The time before yesterday when they were adjusting a previous miscalculation it was the same miscalculation that they had recouped the previous year. Personally I think that if more than a year has passed before they get around to checking these things it should all be water under the bridge!

Anyway. Back to yesterdays missive. It wasn't Income Tax on their minds this time but National Insurance contributions. According to them for the year 2005-06 (yes, that's right, nearly two years ago) my contributions fell short to have it considered as a 'qualifying year' by... wait for it... 52 weeks. No build up (which always arrives with such tax letters) just a note that I needed to pay them £382 by... wait for it... 2012. I couldn't even be bothered to begin to understand this, so I just called the telephone number with my P60 for that year ready to hand (oh, I am so organised).

After giving all the details they could think of to ask for to verify that I am in fact me we got down to business. How could I owe 52 weeks I asked, that is an entire year? Was I in full time employment that year, they asked? Can't they tell, having presumably looked me up on some computer! Yes, I confirmed. Oh... they said, they were still in the process of updating their accounts for that year (yes, nearly two years ago) so the letter had been automatically generated. They would contact me again when they had finished updating their accounts. All well and good. Although, what if I had been an older person... what if I had been about to retire... what if the letter told me I only had 29 of the 30 years of qualifying years that I need to claim my state pension. Would I have rushed out the next day and paid the money, trusting that a Government department must know what they are doing. Maybe? Although after some recent news stories concerning various government departments, maybe not.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Transport troubles and cold weather

It seems that winter is most definitely here. The weather has been either absolutely freezing, or as an alternative, bucketing down with rain.The later has engendered leaking roofs and small inundations; the former has necessitated me finally buying a winter coat (£60 in Evans, wool blend, what a snip!).

I've been busy doing battle with TfL, pretty much everytime I go out of the house. Take last Tuesday. I arrived at North Greenwich Underground station to discover that the bus lane (and station) were closed (again). I couldn't see any activity at all and it was all rather irritating as it is a bit of a hike (with a walking stick) up the steps from the temporary stops. In the evening the bus lane was still closed, and by now the station announcer was informing passengers that the bus lane was closed for repairs (I did see two men digging a small hole on my way past) and would be open again at 4pm on Thursday. Down at the temporary stops (which are actually permanent but not usually used by all routes) chaos reigned. Although the three stops were designated for various routes this fact was being roundly ignored by all the drivers, who were pretty much stopping wherever they pleased - causing chaos for those of us trying to board! It was cold standing around waiting but it did afford some beautiful views of the Dome and Canary Wharf by night!




This morning was the pinnacle of rubbish transport. There had clearly been some incident affecting the north bound traffic through the Blackwall Tunnel. Sadly I didn't notice this as we crossed by the Standard, but I noticed as we passed Westcombe Park, and took several minutes to round the Woolwich Road flyover. I decided not to get off at the old hospital, but to stay round the corner and see what Tunnel Avenue (or whatever it is called) looked like. Stationary. Oh dear. At this point I did get off the bus and decided to head on a 188 to Canada Water where I could again pick up the Jubilee Line. I'm not sure that all that messing about ultimately saved any time - but at least I felt like I was getting somewhere!

I took a trip the other week to the newly re-opened Sainsbury's on the the Peninsula. Already one of my favourite supermarkets the refurbishment has only improved matters. They fortunately haven't made the wide aisles any narrower, and they have moved around some of the shelves so that the units face the same way - there is better traffic flow around the vegetables and the annoying dead end in frozen food has been done away with. All good.

On the subject of shopping I took a trip to Woolwich at the weekend. This is not something I do very often as the depth of shopping available there doesn't usually suit my needs. As usual a great deal of shops had opened and closed since my previous visit. Still the same healthy mix of bargain shops, estate agents and mobile phone shops. The whole area was frantically busy as though the 1st December had kick-started everyone into a Christmas shopping frenzy!

Saturday night I took a trip to Greenwich to catch up with some friends. This took two bus journeys as there is no direct route from where I live to central Greenwich. I felt extremely old as the bus was full of youngsters who were sporting short skirts, skimpy tops and no coats (and it was REALLY cold on Saturday night). From where I was sitting they didn't look old enough to drink - but like I said, I guess I'm just getting older! We went to the pub called Gipsy Moth (which is confusingly located adjacent to the actual Cutty Sark). It wasn't too crowded for a Saturday night and has the advantage of being easily located in central Greenwich. I got to enjoy the Christmas illuminations in Greenwich which are tastefully understated, as you would expect.




Thursday, 22 November 2007

Physio and turkey

So, after a weeks break today was Physio. My phsyio is delighted with my progress... standing up from sitting without falling over, piece of cake. Walking down the corridor, no problem (although I did hit the door frame on my way back in, which spoiled the effect). Daily exercises, can do - without holding onto the sink! This led to the necessity to 'score' my progress. Neuro types are big on this scoring stuff (I discovered on a letter from my neurologist that the physio isn't just a common or garden physio but a neurophysiotherapist!).

So, the scoring. First of all I am required to stand still and close my eyes. A few weeks ago that alone would have been impossible. Then I am required to move my arms and head around... not too much of a difficulty... raise your arm, look over your left shoulder etc. etc. Then comes to the stand on one leg. Try this with your eyes shut... even if you have perfect balance I'll wager you find it quite hard. Which leg, I ask, does it matter... no, says the physio, either will do. I choose to stand n my right leg as I find that much easier. Almost instantly I topple over. Not to worry, says the phsyio, we'd have kept going until you fell over. Ah, says I, so it was a destruction test... I never could win.

Next he tries to push me over. That isn't very friendly, I observe. So he starts gently trying to push me over... backwards, forwards, sideways... trying harder to push me - so that I really have to concentrate. You are gritting your teeth, he observes. I manage not to get pushed much for quite a while. When we are done I observe, that was like hard work.

We agree to meet again in two weeks, and the physio tells me that if I continue to do so well he will be signing me off. Hurrah!

I toddle off to meet Rich in Woolwich after this. This should be quite straight forward, but something appears to be up with the ferry. For those who don't know - the Woolwich Free Ferry is one of the quaintest things in South East London. Running between Woolwich and North Woolwich there are two boats which carry cars and passengers over the river. I think that the problem this afternoon might have been that only one of the boats was working. What happens then is that the overflow car park fills up and the lorrys start queueing on the road, and round the roundabout and gridlock and chaos ensue. The bus driver lent out of his cab and addressed the bus, telling us that we might be stuck for a while and that he would let anyone who wanted to get off out here.

A small amount of shopping ensued, and then home for a well deserved rest. Storing up for Thanksgiving. Even though we aren't American we celebrate Thanskgiving... we watch the football games and have our lovely turkey dinner... including sweet potatoes topped with marshmallow. Sweet potatoes and marshmallow were introduced me back last century (ha ha!) when I visited New York and spent the weekend with my godparents and had a Thanksgiving meal with them. Not that the football has been up to much this year so far. Mis-match number one with Green Bay and Detroit (which we knew as we only saw Detroit playing the Giants last weekend). Mis-match number 2 Jets playing Dallas. We know this because the Jets have only won two games all season, and we saw Dallas playing the Redskins the other day. Mind you over ten minutes have passed and the Cowboys are only up by 7.

Talking of football I suppose we should give a mention to the Euro 2008 qualifiers last night. We didn't watch the game (on account of me not caring that much and the other half of this house being Scottish)... but we did see about 20 minutes or so. What rubbish. All I can say is if that is the best England have to offer no wonder most of the players in the Premiership are foreign! I was quite pleased to see the exit of all the home nations from the competition - I don't rate international football of any type.

So, I'm settling down to watch the rest of the Thanksgiving offerings - and then it is all downhill until Christmas.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

London sights...

This morning, as I was coming up the escalator in Green Park Station I heard the strains of a bagpipe... I was convinced that there would be a chap with a kilt standing in the 'buskers area' on the middle concourse. Sadly the chap was wearing jeans and a pair of shades... but that didn't detract from his absolutely superb piping. The partners in my office (Scottish both) apparently gave him money they were so impressed!

Right now at the Dome (sorry, the O2) there is a pyramid in the plaza. I assume that it is advertising the Tutenkahmun exhibition. I don't think it is much of an advert though. It is probably about 3 or 4m across and in height... white with primary coloured pictures drawn on it... they look a bit like the logos you get for the Eurovision or something.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Weather and some sports

Yesterday I was talking to my Gran on the phone... "It's really cold," she told me "and it has been raining all day - really it is rather like November". There was a pause "Probably because it is November" she added. I couldn't help but agree! Last week I ventured into the garden to add the two footballs to the pond to help with the ice situation, Rich and I spent an afternoon a couple of weeks back clearing leaves from just about everywhere around the house. Winter really is here.

Another 'quiet' weekend in our house. I've been glued to my new computer games... first there was the complete Lego Starwars (all six episodes) for the DS - it isn't quite like playing on the PS2 - easier for one thing - but the levels have been redesigned to be playable within the constraints of the DS graphics. It really is much easier, but this is made up for by added 'side games' and as mentioned slightly re-programmed levels. My other acquisition was SimCities Societies. I am a huge Sims/SimCity fan, and was only bemoaning the lack of recent additions to the SimCity genre the other week. Lo, in the Lite the other evening there was a review of this new game. I decided to take the plunge and buy it. Plunge that is because the last time I bought a PC game it was a total trauma! We had gotten out of the habit of purchasing PC games as our old PC ('Harry') had become extremely idiosyncratic and quite often refused to do just about anything, especially graphics heavy/processor heavy operations (such as games). The new PC and my new laptop however have no such issues. BUT the last game I bought for some reason just wouldn't work on my laptop. All the specs matched, I don't have the graphics cards that 'might cause problems' it just didn't run. Bah! I was extremely worried that this might be the case again. The game installed just fine... and started up OK... and I played for about an hour, then it started crashing. Microsoft found a 'solution' which turned out to be a broken link. I think I could find out a download myself if Intel's website wasn't so confusing and I knew a bit more about what was inside my laptop. I guess I'll set Rich on it sometime! Eventually I managed to get the patch from EA's website to run (usual download difficulties and this is not a Win32 file nonsense using IE - why do I bother). Managed nearly two hours gameplay this afternoon without a problem. Hurrah!

Watched an excellent game of NFL yesterday... the mighty (!) Giants beating the Detroit Lions... in fact rather surprisingly all my favourite teams won yesterday even the much maligned Jets (and it isn't just me that maligns them). The best bits of the weekend's games were: in the Cleveland @ Baltimore game... right at the death... Cleveland are down by 3 points. They kick a field goal, which is ruled not good... players start leaving the field and Sky's pundits give the score saying that it hasn't actually come up as final yet. Then something strange happens. NFL.com change the score to 30-30. Nobody is sure what has happened. What happened, it turns out, was this... the ball is kicked for a field goals, hits the upright, crosses the goal, hits the stanchion and bounces back out again... the decision is reversed and the field goal is ruled good. Cleveland then go on to win with another field goal in overtime. Too bad for Baltimore!

The as yet winless Dolphins briefly led the Eagles by 7-0. The Eagles went on to win by 10 points. I thought it was rather mean when the commentary team said the Eagles had 'come from behind' - whilst technically true it implies that Miami had more than a brief flurry of scoring with a touchdown at the start of the game! So... Miami are now 0-10 and looking extremely likely to go without a win all season. Ah, too bad. Shame we never got to see the replay of Miami missing a 1 yard field goal!!

There was, of course, regular football this weekend too. Not being a huge fan of international football it didn't register on my radar... in fact I just had to go to the BBC to find out how England did and whether or not they are qualifying (answer, not yet decided). I did, of course, know how Scotland did. I don't think that anyone within a half block radius of our house could have failed to know... sadly they lost to a last minute goal by Italy. Rich, obviously, was gutted... I'm quite sad as a lot of my colleagues are Scottish (working for a Scottish company and all) and also, I do love a bit of Schadenfraude and to see a fancied team not make the finals. Ah well, maybe another year.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Scratching the suface of the WGA strike...

So the WGA (Writers Guild of America) has gone on strike. So what, a lot of you ask? I don't live in America... it doesn't affect me. Oh, but it does.

Everything that is produced in America is written by members of the WGA. That is TV and movies. Big movie projects are being pushed into accelerated production or shelved altogether until the strike is resolved. Far more disrupting for most of us though is the TV. Think about it... how many of your favourite TV shows come from the US? If you're anything like this household the ratio is about 95%. Lost... Prison Break... 24... Atlantis... the list goes on and on. Very few shows have finished shooting their current seasons... a fair few are not even half way through. Most shows only have a few un-shot episodes before they are out of scripts. What happens then? Some shows go on hiatus... some shows have alarming 'contingency' plans to bring their seasons to a premature close. For us here in the UK... even worse. Who knows if the January starts of shows such as Lost and 24 will still happen if a full season isn't available. Maybe the TV companies will just wait until the strike is over to begin airing. Whatever happens transmission in the UK will be affected as due to the wonders of modern technology we are only ever a few episodes behind the US in terms of viewing (except when some Channels which shall remain nameless decide to 'sit' on the shows for a more auspicious (or something) starting time). Rumour has it that the shows had been looking abroad for substitutes to fill in during the strike, the obvious choice being the UK (seeing as how we speak the same language and all). The WGGB (Writers Guild of Great Britain) has however called on it's members to support their American colleagues... so not much hope down this avenue.

Last time the WGA went on strike (in 1988) it lasted for 22 weeks... so I guess we all need to be prepared for re-runs and reality TV, and over here in the UK some quality British TV (?!).

So, as usual, when anyone anywhere goes on strike... the question that not a lot of people know the answer to is "why are they on strike?". Well... firstly because their contract expired, the difficulty arose in negotiating a new one. The contention lies, apparently, with 'residuals'. As far as I can understand this is to do with monies paid for airing of the shows on mediums other than TV. DVDs for examples, internet broadcasts (including when TV companies use clips streamed on their websites) and so on and so forth. The problem appears to be that if the WGA are given more money for residuals then this has to be extended to the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild. Doesn't seem very likely, does it?

Anyone who knows me knows that I don't agree with striking. I do not see what it achieves. If there was any public sympathy for whatever cause the strikers are striking over it is pretty quickly eroded once the effects are felt by the general public. Take the recent postal strikes in this country. Public sympathy reached absolute rock bottom by the time the strikers eventually went back to work. A key here may be that a lot of us work in jobs where there are no unions and no calls to go on strike... we simply cannot emphasise with the culture.

If you are concerned about the fate of your favourite shows (yes, it is amazing how much TV we watch and how it dominates our lives!) Digital Spy have an excellent page where you can get all the latest news.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

There's a mouse, where?

I suppose that it must be the time of year, as the weather gets colder wildlife adjusts to a new lifestyle. Squirrels get ready for winter by burying their nuts (mostly in the middle of our lawn it would appear, although on one occasion Rich found one attempting to dig a hole in our kitchen floor!); wasps go into hibernation (to my alarm all over the parasol I discovered when I came to take it down, fortunately so sleepy that they just fell to the ground when poked and didn't attack me); frogs seem to take journeys (when Rich was mowing the lawn last week we had to take about a half dozen away from the peril of the mower blades and back to the safety of the frog pond); ladybugs (as discussed previously) go and live in our bedroom. So, apparently, do mice.

I was sitting on the edge of the bed on Wednesday afternoon when I heard a scratching sound. Odd nosies are not uncommon in our house, and especially not in our bedroom. Sometimes things get into the sealed chimney and make noises, the aerial on the roof is loose and when it gets caught by a breeze the noise travels down the chimney... we are partially under the roof here with no loft and sometimes squirrels (or whatever) run across the roof... so odd noises are not so odd... when they are coming from above. The scratching seemed to be at my feet. Maybe it was me sitting on the bed. I sat still. There it was again. I did what any self respecting corward would do... I called Rich. He dismissed it as me creaking the bed. No, I insisted it was scratching. Obligingly there it was again... and then out ran a mouse! ARGH! I hate mice. Even when we were at school and kept all manner of pets including rats, hamsters (of various breeds and sizes), gerbils, guinea pigs, rabbits and mice it was only the mice I couldn't bear. They are so small and they will scuttle. And the tails. Ugh. This explained in part the visit of the cat to the bedroom the night before... clearly she had a scent of the mouse. We went and fetched her, and she stayed for about two minutes before leaving. Rubbish mouse catcher.

The story doesn't end here though. Apparently last night she was 'playing' with mice downstairs, one in the hall and one in the living room. I live in hope that one of them was the one that had been in our bedroom! Probably not though.

This is not the first time that our house has had mice. We had one that inhabited our kitchen for a while. Traps were set (to no avail) and the cat proved largely ineffective. Eventually one day she did catch the mouse, and triumphantly took of to show my nearly-mother-in-law her prize... whereupon she dropped the mouse in my nearly-mother-in-law's kitchen! I told you my cat is a rubbish mouse catcher!

Flu jabs and other things

MS is one of the list of illnesses which demands that you go and get an annual flu jab. Annual because the flu changes every year. I had one last year with no ill effect, so off I went again on Wednesday for this year's dose. The nurse decided that as I was there anyway we might as well kill two birds with one stone and do a pneumonia jab at the same time... one in each arm. The flu jab didn't hurt at all, I think that the pneumo jab might have had a bigger needle as that one did sting a bit. Didn't give it anymore thought and went home again.

Thursday saw another dose of physio. My Physio is very pleased with my progress... he's given me some new exercises and we experimented with one of those big rubber exercise balls... I got one several years ago, just need to find the pump for it now. We agreed that I could try going back to work next week. Just a couple of days with reduced hours, which is exactly what my Nurse said. I had to assure them both that I would follow their advice, as the last thing that I wanted was to undo all the good work and end up back in bed again!!!

After Physio I met a friend for lunch... we had a very nice afternoon, after which I had to go to Asda and pick up all the things that they had missed from our order or given unreasonable substitutes for. Seriously - if you ask for screw cap lightbulbs why would you be happy to receive lightbulbs with a bayonet fitting? It was drizzling a bit when I got there, but by the time I was going home it was chucking it down. Question - with a stick in one hand a shopping in the other how do you hold an umbrella?

I don't know what brought it on, a combination of the after effects of the flu jab (I don't care what the doctors say... there are after effects) and getting caught in the downpour but on Thursday night I was not well. I felt like the first time I took Avonex and had the side effects... all flu-ish. Shivers and aches, temperature the whole enchilada. Passed a most unpleasant night, and felt only marginally better in the morning. Continued to improve through the day... although still quite feverish. The oddest thing was, and most people who have MS will tell you this, symptoms get worse with heat - exercise, hot baths, hot weather... fever; and suddenly I could almost feel my nerves being fried... symptoms that had almost gone away were suddenly back - I had no feeling in either foot or my right hand! Thankfully as soon as the temperature started to go down the feeling came back. Weird, huh?

So, back to going back to work. I'm obviously quite excited. My brain has been slowly stultifying this last month or so... and I'm sure my readers are eager to have something other than my four walls to read about!!!

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Baseball and the World Series

On Sunday night the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. They swept the Colorado Rockies in four games. As a Yankees fan I was nominallly supporting the Rockies... although it must be said not terribly enthusiastically. It is somewhat of a tradition in our house... the Fall Classic. Every year we take holiday so that we can stay up all night and follow the games... although it has to be said, since the first year that I watched in 2000 the Yankees have not won the World Series, and I'm beginning to feel like their own 'curse'. The following year in 2001 the Yankees lost to the Diamondbacks (leading to my oft repeated statement when anyone mentioned Arizona "I spit on the Diamondbacks"). In 2002 the Yankees didn't make it to the World Series, and both Rich and I supported the Anaheim (as they were then) Angels... and the Angels won. In 2003 the Yankees lost to the Florida Marlins (squish the fish!) and that was the last time the Yankees made it to the World Series! In 2004 the Boston Red Sox finally broke the 'curse' and won the World Series for the first time since 1918. Rich is a Red Sox fan... so he was absolutely delighted! 2005 and 2006 were a bit of a bust as neither of us really had a team to support and we just nominally chose one of the two teams. I was quite pleased for Rich, therefore when the Red Sox won again this year... although, obviously, not as a Yankee fan!!!

There has been more than just the World Series going on in baseball though. After Joe Torre's departure as manager of the Yankees there was the search for a new manager. The choices came down to only a few... and the final choice is Joe Girardi. That isn't all for changes at the Yankees though. Alex Rodriguez (popularly known as A-Rod) with his massive contract had the option to opt out of his contract this year. Would he? Wouldn't he? He's been a pretty good addition to the Yankees line up (even though I never wanted to sign him at the time) but he's never been all popular in New York. In a coup of mis-guided publicity seeking he and his agent decided to announce his free agency during game 4 of the World Series. Not at all cool. Whether or not the search for even more money pays off for him has yet to be seen. The Yankees have stated that they will not have anything more to do with him. You need a lot of cash to take on A-Rod... and there aren't that many teams who will throw that sort of money around... so where will Alex land next year... I'm sure that will keep us entertained over the next few months. For amusement there are a couple of interesting articles from CBS here and here.

It doesn't stop there though. A-Rod is one of five Yankees to file for free agency - the most notable of the others being closer Mariano Rivera and catcher Jorge Posada... hopefully they will re-sign with the Yankees! First baseman Doug Mientkiewicz and pitcher Jose Vizcaino are the final two players who have already filed for free agency. It doesn't stop there though as there are a whole host of others also eligible: Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Ron Villone, Bobby Abreu and Jose Molina. So - we could be seeing a lot of changes down at Yankee Stadium next year... and if it means that it is 27 (World Series Titles) in '08 then it can't be all bad, I suppose.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

NFL Sunday

Despite our various afflictions Rich and I made the long, long journey up the Jubilee Line to North London on Sunday. Our destination? The new and improved Wembley stadium. Finally the much anticipated day had arrived... the first regular season NFL game to be played outside the continental Americas.

We left nice and early to ensure we could enjoy the full experience... setting out at half past two. This turned out to be very lucky as there had been some sort of 'incident' in the Blackwall Tunnel which was adversely affecting all the traffic on the Peninsula. We got to the station in the end and hopped on a train... where we were joined by lots more NFL gear-wearing fans as we went up the line. Some time later we finally arrived at Wembley Park. It was quite impressive to get the first glimpse of the stadium and the arch from the train. It was even more impressive when we got off and walked up Wembley Way. We stopped to buy a programme... £10 was a bit steep, but it had to be done!

We arrived in the stadium just in time to catch the pre-game show... or in my case buy myself a Giants baseball cap (to go with my hoodie which finally arrived from the Reebok store, only just in time). We got our beer which we were allowed to take to our seats... this is very strange for people who are accustomed to going to football matches where alcohol is not allowed in sight of the pitch! After the 'show' it was time for the national anthems... I was impressed by the Star Spangled Banner... I didn't think that God Save the Queen was quite as impressive... although there was much crowd participation in the latter. Then came the coin toss... attended by assorted celebrities... John Terry who got massively booed (?!) and Lewis Hamilton who got massively cheered.

Finally the game was on. I was worried that without commentary I would find it hard to follow... but I actually found the stadium announcer just as enlightening and without the inane chit-chat. The game was easier to follow as well being able to see the whole pitch and not just the selected camera shots. It was a bit annoying for me (as a Giants fan) that the Dolphins were the 'home' team. I got particulary fed up with the stadium announcer and the info board everytime the Dolphins got a 1st Down with the whole rigmarole "It's another Miami Dolphins..." and the crowd all joined in "1st Down". Rich joined in too, just to annoy me!

The first two quarters passed way too fast... although I was very happy that the Giants were 13-0 up at half time! The half time show was great as the Band of the Royal Engineers came on and marched around... starting out with the Rocky theme. Odd. I do like a good marching band though!

The second quarter wasn't as much excitement (well not for me) as the Giants didn't get any more points and the Dolphins got 10. Still... it wasn't enough and after much noting during the game of the fact that 35 years ago the Dolphins had the perfect season and went 16-0 they are looking in very real danger of doing the opposite and going 0-16!!! With a minute and a half left on the clock the Giants had possession and all Eli had to do was kneel 3 times... for which he got roundly booed by the crowd! Poor lad... only doing his job!

We were lucky that the location of our seats and the fact that a lot of the people around us had already left meant that we got out of the stadium quite fast... and joined the stream of people heading back to Wembley Park. About 70,000 of the 80,000 it seemed! The police were excellent though. Crowd control was impeccable... we got to the station quite fast and onto a train, and a mere hour and 40 minutes later we were home! Superb.

An excellent day out (although exhausting) let's hope they come back next year!!!





Sadly the pictures aren't as good quality as normal as my camera chose to die the other week and has returned to it's makers to get fixed. Never mind!

Friday, 26 October 2007

Out and About

After another week in bed I was up and about this week for a veritable buffet of medical appointments.

On Wednesday I visited the hospital (which is usefully situated a mere half mile from my house) for an appointment with my Neurologist. As I hadn't seen him for about six months this necessitated a lengthy and thorough examination. Neurologists have a battery of seemingly random tests which I assume measure various functions of your brain... as I was already clearly having trouble with balance we dispensed with the tests which involve walking along a line on the floor and standing with your feet together and eyes closed (all good as both of these would have undoubtedly culminated in me falling down). We did however have the full set of reflex and sensation tests... these involve being poked with sharp objects and prodded to see if you can feel equally on both sides of your body. It tuns out that sensation is mostly not too bad, but reflex is not at all good. Also I embarrassingly failed the test where you put your arms out to either side of you and then bring your index fingers to the tip of your nose, I lost my nose!!!

It would fascinate me to discover what exactly it is in terms of brain and nerves that all these test measure!

My Neuro decided that my DMDs (disease modifying drugs) clearly aren't up to the task. The interferon that I take is the weakest of the available options, and that I should therefore change to a different drug. The drug I take is injected intra-muscularly once a week - chosen at the time due to my not being keen on injections. However, since I've been taking it I've got over the needle thing so now I'm changing to a drug that is administered every other day. This is subcutaneous and so should hurt less... so that at least is good. (I love that my online spell checker can spell interferon, intra-muscularly and subcutaneous!).

After seeing the Neuro I was introduced to the Physio. He is going to help me with my balance and so forth. This involved more lying on tables and being assessed. Lucky for me he had a vacancy the following day, so we arranged for an appointment straight off.

Lastly I had to see the MS Nurse so that we could arrange the details of changing my Meds. This involved more confusion because the reception staff thought that she was waiting to see the Physio and didn't realise it was me sitting in the waiting area that she wanted to see! D'oh.

The whole morning was very positive. I arrived feeling quite bleak as I'd walked to the hospital after missing the bus and realised that whilst I had thought at home I was getting better this was just because at home I wasn't actually doing much except staying in bed, and once I got up and about I wasn't feeling so better at all. Positive input from the Dr and Nurse and Physio though meant that I left in a much more optimistic frame of mind than when I arrived.

Yesterday saw me take a trip to the Physio. I found the Health Centre behind the old Hospital site in East Greenwich... which is still sitting vacant. This was an absolutely fascinating session... as I learned a great deal about how bits of the body work (or in my case don't work) together. By the end of the session I could actually stand up quite efficiently without falling over! It's not so much exercise as therapy... learning to listen and adjust to your body, and improving awarness of yourself and your surrounding. I do however have a daily exercise program - which seems to largely centre around the kitchen sink!!!

After all of that exercise and being out and about I'm quite glad to be tucked up back in bed again today!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

World Series is upon us...

Suddenly before we know where we are it's October... and the post season is upon us. I managed to stay awake for the whole of game 1 (it doesn't always happen). It helps when I keep the scorecard... which was pretty much a nightmare tonight with the Red Sox totally beating up the Rockies - 13 runs to the 1 scored by the Rockies. Not looking good for my adopted team this year.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Big finish in Interlagos

Well. He almost did it. It just wasn't Lewis's afternoon. He started from a great position, but right at the start of the race the two Ferarris and his own team mate managed to get in front of him... Lewis ran wide which dropped him a few paces, and then even worse Lewis had trouble with his car (we think) and ended up pretty much at the back of the pack. To his credit he drove a great race, passing up through the pack - but at the end of the day it just wasn't enough. Another page from the book of strange McLaren pit-stop/tyre decisions meant that Lewis had to make another pit-stop he really could have done without which meant he just couldn't get enough points to beat his rivals in the World Championship.

Ah well. If Lewis couldn't be the winner then it did really need to be Kimi. Most people would rather not see Alonso as the Champion after the season he has run this year. His general attitude towards his team mate and his own team has been a bit lamentable this year to say the least.

Other notable moments this afternoon? Well... four cars are under investigation by the Stewards after the race for various 'incidents'... not least Fisichella driving across the track back at the start of the race and taking out one of the Spykers... Jensen Button admitting that the Honda had issues with 'speed and reliability' (!)... the unfortunate Nakajima in his Williams mowing down two of his own mechanics, we are assured that the two gentlemen aren't seriously hurt, kudos to them both for doing their part of the pit-stop before hobbling away!

There was some spectacular passing this afternoon... hats off to Lewis and to Kubica for some great moves.

Slow news... no news

The problem with being stuck in bed is that it severely limits your life experience! My interaction with the world has been limited to Rich, my nearly-mother-in-law and the cat... oh and of course my mobile phone and the internet... what would I do without technology?!

I was alarmed to find out whilst watching BBC's "Have I Got News For You" last night that there is a plague of 'killer' ladybirds infesting the country... and even more alarmed after doing a bit of reading on the internet to discover that some of the bugs recently spotted in our garden are in fact these interlopers! What I thought was a young ladybug with not fully developed colours in unusual black with red spots is in fact an invader from the Far East!

My laptop and I are now very well acquainted having spent so much time in each other's company... I managed a personal best of around 9 hours uninterrupted computer time yesterday!!! I had an extremely long and involved 'discussion' with the Microsoft website whilst I tried to download an add-in for Office 2007. Here's the trauma of incompatible computer systems! At work we run Windows XP and Office 2003. At home we run Windows Vista and Office 2007. For reasons best known to themselves Microsoft decided to make entire new file formats for Office 2007 and the .doc and .xls formats have been replaced with .docx and .xlsx. This is generally fine as you can choose 'save as' and use the old file formats... however there are some parts of the new improved Office which can't be 'backwards' saved!!! Here's what happened. I had a document I had done in the office. It was a Microsoft Publisher document. The only programme that can open Publisher documents is Publisher. However... most of the content came from emails and other files... and what didn't could be extracted as text from a PDF of the Publisher document. I then spent hours putting the document back together in Word. However... when I tried to save as a 2003 file type it couldn't be done as the formatting wasn't compatible. The file was therefore only available to open with Word 2007... which we don't have at work... so the file can't go back to work. I didn't have a programme to make it into ANY file type that could be opened at work... until I eventually persuaded Microsoft's website to let me download the add-in. It didn't like Firefox... it didn't want to go through the 'verify my Office' process... the first download didn't work... there were no instructions on how to use the add-in when it did download... what a rigmarole. Anyway, at last. Shiny new PDF... sent back to the office!!!

Friday, 12 October 2007

Greenwich Council and the Environment

Yesterday my nearly-mother-in-law brought home Greenwich Time Magazine. The reason for this was that there was a large wrap-around feature from the Council regarding new recycling/waste collection facilities. Yep. They've been at it again... the last that I heard about their 'schemes' were various rumours about new 'red top' bins (for garden waste and so forth) and the idea that rubbish would only be collected fortnightly (as it is in a lot of other parts of the country). It was quite surprising to therefore read about their new "Green/Blue/Black" intitiative.

What I totally (and always) admire about the Council is the great lengths they go to carrying out comsulation on these really important issues that are going to affect all our lives. Wait a minute. I don't think that they did. Certainly not in this house. Read the summary and see how you would like to try and sort your rubbish like this - bearing in mind that I am coming at it from the point of view of generally supporting anything which reduces pointless rubbish to landfill exercises.

Collections will generally be made weekly from two different wheelie bins. The blue top bin will be for recyclable rubbish (as per the Council's guidelines). This is an increase from the current fortnightly collection... all well and good. The green top bin will be for food and garden waste... also weekly - with me so far? Sounds good? No! This must not be put into plastic bags. So. Food scraps etc. etc. have to be collected in a caddy in your kitchen and emptied into the wheelie bin (probably after every meal). There they will sit and rot with nothing to protect them until they are collected. GRIM! So. What is the good of my lovely kitchen bin now? I guess it will be for the recycling. I guess the recycling bin will move to somewhere else in the house and be replaced by the caddy (which the council will provide). Will they provide a decent caddy with a carbon filter to prevent smells? Probably not. It will probably just be a cheap plastic pot. The final part of this is 'black'. There is no bin for black. The bags will be collected fortnightly for all remaining rubbish. Great. No food so I'm sure that the clever, clever foxes won't bother to split the bags open to investigate? No... they'll just leave them sitting on the kerb, I'm sure.

We shall see in 2008 how this pans out... but I'm yet to be convinced.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Online Living

My enforced stay in bed these last few weeks has led me to spend even more time than normal on the internet. Let's face it... there isn't a lot else you can do when you are lying down except read, watch TV and surf the net. I'm still waiting to find a book to grab me and keep me turning the pages... and as for daytime TV... let's not even go there! So the internet it is.

Thank goodness for email and for social networking sites. Thank goodness for the BBC and thank goodness for the 100-something sites that Rich had recommended to me and I'd put in a folder to 'check out later'.

Is it possible to use up the internet? I mean... technically there are a finite number of pages out there... it just seems like an infinite number because they constantly evovle, get edited, get replaced etc. Does anyone even know how many pages there are... it is quite opressive actually... like worrying about reading every book in the British Library (or similar).

I digress. The good thing about the internet is that it seems to allow me to accomplish pretty much everything from right here in my bed. Communication? Check. Leisure activities? Check. Grocery shopping? Check.

Rather than send Rich off to Asda to shop and then need a taxi back we decided that we would give the 'home delivery' a whirl. Now just completed the second week... it is reasonably successful. Advantages: well, you don't have to shclep around the supermarket; it is reasonably easy to find things that sometimes you can't find in store (with a few irritating exceptions); there is no 'impulse' buying so it saves at least £10-£20 and some things do seem cheaper than in store! Disadvantages: the 'alternative product' isn't very intuitive and sometimes you get something else all together than what you wanted; the dates are sometimes a bit limited compared to those I would pick if I were in store and they use WAY (way) too many carrier bags. I don't think we can begin to estimate how many each week... but for example, this week the ketchup came all by itself in a bag! At least I recycle my bags I suppose, but even so... they should use cardboard boxes or paper bags or something... I'll bet not everybody recycles their bags and any ecological gain from the delivery route rather than X number of separate trips by shoppers is being negated by this horrible waste!

Ladybug world

As mentioned the other day our bedroom had a massive (and fairly inexplicable) influx of ladybugs... possibly here for the winter, who knows?

This afternoon I ventured briefly into the garden (just to make sure that my legs still work after all that time in bed)... and there was an absolute plague of ladybugs all over the outside of the house. They were obviously enjoying the sun on the back wall of the house (which is painted white). I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that there were probably at least 20 or so crawling all over that elevation.

But where are they going, and what are they doing... I'm afraid to say that I shall probably be finding their corpses next spring.





Saturday, 6 October 2007

Bug World

For reasons unkown our bedroom seems to be the destination of choice for hibernating ladybugs. At least, I assume that this is what they are all doing in here. There are currently about 3 or 4 of them crawling around on the ceiling, and another couple on the outside of the window (which is currently closed, due to it being extremely cold) waiting to come in. This happens every year, and come spring there are a few around to be let out and a good few corpses to be swept up. I can only assume that they are hibernating as there are no plants in the bedroom, so nothing to eat! I know, there should be some plants to balance all that unhealthy electro-magnetic fields and whatnot... it has been tried. There was Yale the Yukka, but he grew too large and now has to live in the garden as he approaches the size of a small tree... then there was the Bonsai, unmitigated faiure, died of some nasty bug infection (maybe it was the ladybugs?). So no plants in the bedroom and no food for the holidaying ladybugs!

Thursday, 4 October 2007

MS and other things

Maybe you know and maybe you don't, I have MS. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis back in 2002. I'd had repeated incidences of Optic Neuritis (imflamation of the optic nerve) in first one eye then the other. I'd seen doctors and opthamologists and all sorts... and the general consensus was "It's just one of those things". I didn't believe that this could be the case (incidentally, you never should... always press for a concrete diagnosis). So after some more appointments with all sorts I was finally referred to a Neurologist. After an MRI scan his conclusion was 'probably' MS. This was until another few relapses... that changed it to a positive diagnosis.

My Neuro introduced me to the MS Nurse. Apparently it is a bit of a postcode lottery on whether you even get a Nurse... but mine is the greatest. She provides help, support and advice... and is much easier to get an appointment with than the Neuro.

So, things pottered along. Occaisionaly I had a relapse, but fortunately they were usually more irritating than anything else... I'd have another dose of ON or I'd lose the feeling in parts of my body. Until last year. In a space of a few months I had an unreasonable amount of symptons; losing the hearing in my left ear, another bout of ON and losing the feeling in my right foot, then my left side... settling finally to losing the feeling in my left toes (still hasn't come back). This cleared up by the summer, but was followed in the Autumn by a nasty episode of 'wobbliness'. My legs were weak and feeble and I took to using a stick to help me walk.

The outcome of all of this was that the Nurse and Neuro brought up the subject of Disease Modifying Drugs (DMDs) again. I'd always strongly resisted this, primarily because the medication is given by injection and I have a terrible fear of needles! As I'd never been bothered much by my symptons I'd never given it much thought, but the events of 2006 made me decide that it was time to think again. There are four therapies available in the UK, differing in mostly in how often they have to be taken. I chose Avonex as the injection is weekly, and therefore I'd have to have less interaction with the needles! A Nurse came to my house and showed me how to inject myself. The pride I felt after I managed this is probably equalled by the first time I managed to reverse park my car! Injections quickly became pretty routine, although the regular blood tests to monitor my progress can still make me pass out, go figure!

That was last October... and apart from a few moments here and there I'd been pretty much OK. Relapses that did happen hardly impacted on my life and came and went before I had much chance to take notice. Until last week.

Suddenly I started feeling dizzy. No worry I thought. I'd had a bit of that a few weeks previously and it had gone away pretty fast. Work was beyond busy and pretty much every day was a twelve hour day, so I was a bit stressed... which can impact on MS symptons. However, after a few days there had been no improvement and if anything it was getting worse. My trusty stick came out again to stop me falling over. I went to see my GP who gave me a thorough MOT and could find nothing other than MS that could be causing it. He wanted to sign me off work... but I explained to him that I had a pretty major deadline looming and it just wouldn't be very covenient. We agreed that I'd see one of the GPs the following week if nothing improved.

Fastforward to Tuesday. Deadline successfully passed. Back to the GP. The GP insists that I am signed off work and that I make an appointment to see the MS Nurse, which I duly do. She gets the Neuro in and I am prescribed steroids. Steroids can speed up the course of a relapse... so it gets better faster.

So this where you find me now. Stuck in bed until next week with six tablets a day to swallow... and my, they taste bad! This is the first time that a relapse has really impacted on my life in such a major manner. It upsets me a little, as I was doing a pretty good job of ignoring my MS most of the time!!! Still, I am still lucky - there are many, many people who have a far worse time of it than I do.

Nobody knows what causes MS... and there is no cure. Keep an eye out, there maybe some fundraising messages on this page in months to come.

Technology changes the world

I have been thinking how technology has changed our lives over the last few years.

1. Mobile phones (or cell phones if you prefer). The technology in these has increased pretty much exponentially. I had my first mobil around 8 years ago. It didn't do much except send and receive calls. These of course weren't the very first mobiles - my dad had one of those in the Eighties, size of a brick! They were the firt explosion of popular mobiles though. I was wondering the other day, what it must be like living in Halls of Residence now that technology is so rampant and affordable. Everyone must have mobiles. When I lived in halls there were four phone phones in the building covering 5 floors and about 125 rooms! If you wanted to talk to someone you used the payphone. If they wanted to talk to you they called the payphone and whoever answered it came to find you, and if you weren't there wrote a message on the sheet of paper tacked to your door. Its quite sad to think that this doesn't happen any more!

Don't you wonder, as well, sometimes how anyone ever made arrangements for anything before the popular use of mobile phones. How did we arrange to meet friends, and then tell them we were running late, or find out we should be somewhere else where something exciting was happening... we managed for years, but it is hard to remember how!

2. Computers. When I first had a computer I knew what every file on the computer did. Actually that isn't quite true, when I first had a computer it didn't even have a hard drive... or a disc drive... it used a tape and you saved any programmes you wrote (back in Basic). The next computers got slightly more sophistacted (but never less expensive). No internet back then... and the size of their hard drives... well I have files bigger than that these days!!! When I was at Uni nobody had their own computer (well only the very lucky) we all used the computer labs... and had special 24 hour access cards. When I first started work we didn't really have PCs we had screens connected to a PICK system... and two PCs which you had to book time on! Can you imagine!

3. The internet. I first met the internet when I was at University. I took to it like a duck to water and spent obscene amounts of time in the Computer Lab surfing the net, reading email and talking to people via Telnet. When I first started work we only had one computer with email and it was dialled up twice a day to check for mail. Oh, the excitement when we first got email at our desks... which sent and received once an hour! I cannot imagine now how on earth we ever worked without computers and email!

So now, I sit here with my laptop which is miraculously connecting to the internet via our very own wireless network. My laptop and our desktop downstairs put together still cost about half the price of the first computer that Rich and I bought! It is quite amazing to imagine what might come next!!!

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Upset Weekend

After watching the video tape of the Grand Prix I'm sitting here with NASN on... watching last nignts college football.

They are showing the Huskies playing USC... they are doing quite well, although Rich has spoiled it for me by telling me that they are going to lose by 3.

This has been a good game. Possible favourite moment was when they were showing the Huskies mascot, who is an actual dog and was being very cute and barking at the camera... and the commentator said "You can't fool me, thats a Malamute - not a Husky"

However a lot of the top 10 lost last night. The top 10 being totally subjective as they are chosen by flippin' journalists who are convinced that USC and LSU are 1 and 2 no matter what. The top teams are chosen by poll - how unfair is that. My Gators won the whole of the BSC last year and they still didn't start out as number 1! Gators lost last night in amongst everyone else. First time this season.

Numpties!

I had never heard this term before I started working with a bunch of Scottish people. However, as I am sitting here watching TV I just saw a Norwich Union advert which stated "we can't protect from the numpties".

It means idiots (or whatever). At one point it was word of the week in our office as the Boss kept referring to people on projects as numpties!

ITV just having to apologise again for Mark Webber saying the "F-word" live on Sunday morning TV! Poor little Sebastian Wettel. He's only a boy... and they are making him relive it all over again. He is devastated! Word has it that he was crying in the garage earlier.

Wet afternoon at Fuji

So another amazing afternoon at the Grand Prix. I didn't stay up to watch it... but I'm now watching the video tape. I did have a 'live blog' going – but I knocked the screen on the laptop and the laptop went to sleep... and I've not managed to work out how to wake up the laptop when it does this, so I accidentally switched off the machine and lost everything that I'd written. D'oh! Rookie error.

It was raining big time in Japan as it had been yesterday in qualifying. So the race started under a safety car, and the safety car stayed out for about 20 laps.

There were a few strange happenings... both Ferraris had to come in and change their tyres as they had started on intermediate tires instead of extreme wet tires. This had been an instruction from the race director. The team later claimed that they didn't know that this was the case, even though every other team and the ITV commentary team knew. Lots of teams at the back took the risk of bringing their cars in and filling their cars with fuel to the end of the race. There were very few accidents or even cars spinning off... so the safety car did the job. There was worry at one point that the safety car itself might run out of fuel... but apparently there is a spare fully fuelled ready to go just in case!

Even though all the drivers were complaining that the visibility was nil the Race Director brought the safety car in and the race finally started.

One of my absolute favourite moments was when a car in the pits (I think it was Sato) caught fire... and he drove off anyway. Fortunately it was raining hard enough to put it out straight away!

Ups and downs. The Ferraris fought their way up through the pack... the McLarens took a healthy lead and were basically 30 seconds in front (which equates to a pit stop). Alonso came in first and rejoined in traffic. Hamilton came in and got out just in front of the traffic. However, both McLarens tangled with BMWs.

Then in another shocking turn of events Alonso spun off the track! However all the cars in front of Hamilton pitted and he retook the lead of the race.

Several more incidents, including one which saw Vettel take out Webber (and some very bad language on live TV from Webber!). This is unfortunate as they both drive for Red Bull teams... almost as bad as taking out your own team mate!

"Another why did they do that moment from Ferrari". When Ferrari had to change their tyres back at the beginning of the race everyone assumed that they had fuelled to the end of the race... but however it would seem not has Massa had just made another pit stop and put in fuel.

We are now wondering if the laps will count down or time will expire first!

Hamilton takes the chequered flag... some race he had this afternoon! Kovalainen takes second and Kimi is third.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Ugg boots and other things

I'm never one to be up with the latest fashions. I don't buy any womens magazines... and usually I only find out things when I read about them in a book! The other day I was reading one of those 'chick lit' novels (popular fiction written for women, often with a romantic focus). The outfit of the main character was described (presumably to help you get a feel for what sort of person she was, didn't work for me!) and the outfit was topped off with Ugg boots. Ugg boots. How strange I thought, and then as I wasn't anywhere near Google to look it up completely forgot about it! The other day at the bus stop I saw a woman wearing some beige boots. To me they looked like a pair of slippers I own... I probably wouldn't even have wondered but she was wearing them at the bottom of a business suit! Luckily I had my glasses on... and lo, Ugg was written on the back.

Now, maybe they look very nice with a pair of jeans or a pair of combats (although I'm unconvinced until I see it)... but definitely not with a suit! Definitely looked like she'd gone out wearing slippers! Ugg boots? In this case more like Ugg-ly!

I met a friend last night for drinks. We decided to go to the Dome (sorry the O2) as it is quite equidistant from our respective homes. We chose the Slug and Lettuce as we had liked it a lot the last time round. It was still pleasant and uncrowded... weather this is because nobody knows it is there yet... or it is too much of a trek in the week... at one point the bar staff started up table service though! I was a bit perplexed when we had to teach the barman how to make a white wine spritzer! I felt that should have earned us a discount.

The newspapers seemed surprised this morning that the grainy blurry photo of the small child which the tourist who took it was "certain" was the missing little girl who was snatched in Portugal turned out to be a completely different child. I was not. My colleagues insisted it looked 'just like' her yesterday - but as I pointed out... if you do not know a child well one small blonde girl looks pretty much like another... especially in a photo of that poor quality!

Friday, 21 September 2007

Fashonista? Fashionasty!

I was reading in the Metro this morning (and indeed the Lite last night) about Jen Hunter.

Jen Hunter is a lovely looking girl who featured on one of those reality TV shows… find me a model, make me a model… something like that. Jen is noted because she refused to take any notice of the judges opinions that she ought lose so weight… and although I don’t believe she won the competition she still got a modelling contract.

Jen is in the news now because she has moved modelling agencies… she wasn’t getting the work she wanted so she has moved to an agency who specialise in ‘plus size’ models. So how large is this ‘plus size’ model. Size 18? Size 16? Size 14? Nope. Size 12. Which I believe I still the average size for ladies in this country (oh, to be size 12 again).

It is a pretty twisted world when a gorgeous curvy model… who looks to me like the aspiration of us all has to go to a ‘plus size’ agency to get the right sort of work. I’m not a size 12… nowhere near. I can’t shop in most High Street chains as their idea of an upper size is a 16, an 18 if you are lucky. I wouldn’t want to anyway.

The whole ‘size 0’ debate came from one place. The fashion designers. The reasons that models want to be size 0 is that is who the clothes are designed for. Goodness knows why. That isn’t the shape that most girls are, or the shape nature intended us to be! Who wants to look like an ironing board with no bust and no hips.

Bring back the 50s silhouette, that is what I say. Celebrate the fact that women’s’ figures don’t look like pre-pubescent boys! The problem is though… that is what clothes are designed for. Straight up and down. No discernable difference between waist and hips. Fashion chains with their catwalk rip-offs (or celebrity designed ranges) just proportionally increase the size of clothes as the size goes up. That means if you are a curvy size (bigger than a 10 usually) you will get a dress, or a pair of trousers which will fit you at the hips and gape at the waist. You will have to wear a belt to keep up your trousers which then bunches the material in a most unattractive manner! Or you’ll have to dress like a hoodie with your trousers unattractively sited at your lower hips!

I celebrate Evans and M&S. They admit that a woman has curves and design clothes to match. Trousers fit and the hips and the waist! I shun the likes of Top Shop and New Look (not least because they don’t stock my size) but because they only pay lip service (if any) to the idea that a woman should not be a size zero ironing board! We have campaigns for about everything else these days… so how about one for bring back the 50s figure… women – take back your curves

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Reconstructing London

The street outside our office is a busy place at the moment. There are no less than 3 building projects happening! Down towards Piccadilly an old 60s office block is being refurbished (or something!). The noise is quite amazing sometimes... as are the vibrations which can be seen to shake unsecured items sitting on my desk! The first time we felt them (yes, sometimes you can feel them) we though an earth quake was happening! Now there are two more sets of scaffolding toward the Berkeley Square end of the street. These are managing to cause traffic jams with their deliveries and rubbish lorries and all sorts. Several times today the traffic has ceased to move up and down the street and taxi drivers have sat and sounded their horns!

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Day of meetings

Yesterday I had to go on a course. This was good because it got me out of the office for the day and accrued me 7 valuable hours of CPD. The only down side was that it was in Watford. Managed to accidentally take a slow train on the way out so that the 15 minute journey promised on the timetable actually took more like 40!!!

So. Today was my first day back in the office since Kiev. Had to sift through 200 emails to find actions and important stuff and save stuff to the server. Then I had to go to a meeting. I was hoping it might take an hour (especially as it was only three blocks away). Sadly not. More like 2. The high point was when the electricity went off and the client asked if there was a Services Engineer in the room... there were two - I guess you had to be there!

Made it back to the office... only had an hour and then it was lunch and I had to go argue with my bank about the continued missing statements. The I had half an hour and I had to go to ANOTHER meeting. This time in Holborn... once again 2 hours. Why can't people talk less! Or invite less attendees, either would suit me!

So. That leaves me with impossible Wednesday and far too much to do (as usual). I have cheered myself up by arranging a lunch date with my friend and here daughter... we are teaching her to become a lady who lunches at an early age!

Something else I noticed recently... has anyone else had their blog start talking to them in a foreign language? Mine has suddenly started speaking German! After I finish a post it keeps asking me "Blog anzeigen (in einen neuen Fenster)"!!

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Back to London Calling!

Home at last! Got back to City on another one of those little Fokker 50 planes. Extreme turbulence. The Co-pilot came on at one point saying that the fasten seatbelt signs were staying on due to the turbulence... they'd requested a new altitude but it hadn't helped. Lucky for the tranquilisers otherwise I'd have been in a right state expecting the plane to drop out of the sky or something!

Ended up getting a cab home... which was a bit expensive in the rush hour... but I just couldn't face schlepping with all my bags and things! Of course the cab had to fight through the rush hour traffic around the Blackwall Tunnel. We were sitting in the queue just off the docklands roundabout and I was talking to my Dad on the phone "Cheeky bus" I said to him "Just cut the queue by going round the side". "I think I'll try that" said the taxi driver... so we cut the queue and probably saved ourselves 20 minutes and a good few quid!

Got back and had a happy reunion with Rich.

Molly didn't deign to come and see me until later... whilst I was having my much awaited bath. She looked a bit terrified as Rich held her out for me to say hello to. I think she was worried we were going to bath her! This was after my much needed tea. Nobody ever offered tea in Kyiv, only coffee. I had some tea on the plane, but I felt like Arthur Dent on the Heart of Gold in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy... a liquid "almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea".

Also back to my lovely new laptop. This was only delivered on the Friday before I went to Kyiv... and we only got the wireless router the Sunday before I went. We were massively unconvinced that the router would even work. We tried one with wires once and the two computers wouldn't even admit that each other existed. No such problems with the wireless though. Just having to get used to the English keyboard again. Having trained my fingers to find the '@' key above the number 2 whilst in Kyiv I have to get used to it being back where it belongs now! At least I can understand my computer again though! :-)

Kyiv Calling... going home

14 September 2007

Hotel, Kyiv - 7:55am
The window in my bedroom wasn't properly closed last night and fell open during the night. No wonder I kept waking up cold!

So. Last Kyiv breakfast. I decided to investigate under the silver lides today. So in addition to my usual bread/cheese/meat combinateion I had some omlette (very good) and what appeared to be pancake stuffed wiht cream cheese (very weird). All quite nice.

Thought I should eat well today as the airplane food wasn't up to much on the way out.


Independence Square


Monument in Independence Square


The founders if Kyiv.

Borispol Airport, Kyiv - 11:00am
So a couple of my colleagues took me on a very energetic sightseeing tour of Kyiv. We saw a statue of King Vladimir who converted the city to Christianity... Independence Square (along with it's subterranean shopping centre)... the back of the House of Chimeras, the Presidents office and a lovely old palace, also a 10th Century Monastery. (see photos above)

Back in the queue for passport control!

Schipol Airport, Amsterdam - 2:50pm (local time)
The terrifying Borispol experience is at last behind me. Very few of the signs there seemed to be dual language. I never had any idea where I was or more importantly where I was supposed to be. I was one of the last to board the flight!

Schipol is less terrifying as the boarding card I got in Kyiv actually told me the gate from which my flight would depart here! Yay.

There are some comfy lounge chairs here, which is good as my flight isn't for ages!

Schipol is huge. I went to the main shopping bit and the departures board there gives walking times to the gates... one of which was apparently 22 minutes away!

I did a bit of shopping, never had much of chance in Kyiv. Just a few silly souvenirs. Very bizzarely also saw a Mini Cooper decked out in the Union Jack and a Williams F1 car. The latter
particularly weird as surely it should have been a Spyker as they are Dutch?!

Soon be home now... looking foward to English language and driving on the right side of the road... and seeing Rich at last!

Kyiv Calling... day 4

13th September 2007

Office, Kyiv - 7:41pm
So my Kyiv adventure draws to a close. Could have doiwn without the monster workload - I'm sure that some stuff has fallen through the cracks! But anyway, now me and the boys know each other... and that is an important 1st step!

Hotel, Kyiv - 9:25pm
I had dinner at the hotel tonight. Steak andm chips and a (very) small glass of wine. Equivalent price £10. The steak was a bit over cooked for my taste - either the Ukrainians eat it cooked like the English or they assumed I would want it cooked like the English!

I'm going for a sightseeing tour before my flight tomorrow so I get to see a bit more of Kyiv.

It was quite sad saying goodbye to all my colleagues... they were all after my ICQ address so they could ask questions. I had to explain that we don't use ICQ in the London office!

I've sort of packed my case... it is open on the other bed with stuff all over the bed. I wish I could pack better!

So, my Kyiv adventure has been fun. Busy, but fun... and I've made lots of new friends!