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!