Monday, 29 December 2008

Technobabble

Today has turned into 'one of those days'. I had a plan... and the plan has gone awry - fairly predictably.

I got up this morning and took myself down to Woolwich. My plan was two-fold; pay cheques into the bank and buy a wireless adapter for the Xbox 360. The queues in the bank were horrendous... and I decided that I would use the quick deposit point. Great idea, except not a single pen in the entire bank was working, what nonsense! I had to walk to WHSmith, buy a pen, and walk back to the bank. I then I had to walk back up to game to purchase my wireless adapter (and a game) and return home.

I set about the next part of my plan with trepidation. I have (on one previous occasion) managed to connect my Xbox 360 to the outside world. This was the second attempt (the first failing as it wouldn't connect via Windows Vista Home Basic, which didn't have the right 'file sharing' facilities). You think it will all be simple as it is all Microsoft. I wasn't feeling quite so optimistic this time, I knew it wouldn't be simple. And I was right - but for all the wrong reasons.

The instructions seemed comprehensive but that is only because they are provided in ten languages. They are actually brief and not very helpful. I plugged into the router and went into the settings. Everything seemed to go smoothly... the Xbox connected to the network... only it didn't. The Xbox Live Test Settings failed. Network not connected. Useless error code X 8000-0011. What does it mean?! Nothing anywhere.

So I decided to call Xbox Support. They are usually very helpful and even better supply a free-phone number. We went through my problem (twice) and carried out the steps I had already carried out myself. What we wanted (apparently) was the 'security key'. Apparently this required me to call Virgin (internet provider).

I called Virgin. Also happily a free-phone number. I ask them for the security key. They ask me for the make of my router. Belkin I say. They can't help, only Belkin can. I ask if this is the security password I use to connect my laptop to the router... I'm told it is - as we shall later see  there is actually some confusion on this matter. The best thing about calling Virgin is that before they put you on hold they give you five choices of music to listen to whilst on hold! Cute, or worrying (that they think you will be on hold that long).

I call Xbox again. We go through the whole set up again, the assistant assures me that the security key is apparently something different from the password. I really do need to speak to Belkin.

So - eventually I find a phone number on Belkin's website (after two sets of gibberish code). I call the number. It tells me that there are a high volume of calls and hangs up on me. Twice. Now I'm getting annoyed. The third time it doesn't hang up on me but puts me eternally on hold. Fortunately one of the recorded announcements gives me a web address for live support. I hang up on the helpline (which isn't a free call number) and go to the chat.

I am connected to the live chat for twenty minutes, the representative introduces themselves twice and keeps asking me 'Are you there' (four times)... before terminating the session. The next two attempts failed to connect... and then I'm back with the same agent. Time expended on this exercise... 30 minutes with no solution. Why can't this sort of thing be simple. Why can't they send a leaflet in the box so that in the likely event you'll need this information it can easily be found!

I have (generally) no faith in these processes. The last time I used an online chat with HP they concluded that my problem was Windows Vista and 'just one of those things'. That was my scanner that wouldn't work, which randomly started working again the following day.

Eventually after 40 minutes Belkin manage to direct me to the page on the routers own IP where the security key is listed. The security key IS the same as the password. My network is WPA-PSK and PSK stands for 'pre-shared key'. It turns out the only problem I've got in connecting my Xbox wireless adapter is that a) I've muddled the pass-key and typed it in wrong and b) the Xbox doesn't tell me this but just pretends to be connected.

This is not the first time I've wasted a lot of time looking for the routers own IP page... I had the same thing when I was setting up my parents' wireless network for them. Seriously, why isn't the IP address printed in HUGE letters on the box or something?

After all that I'm connected. The Xbox updates itself (again) to a very fancy new dashboard and all is well. Yes, it is great when it works... it is just making it work that is the problem.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Night time

I've had a few interesting night time photos recently.



This first was taken a couple of nights before Christmas in the car park at Sainsbury's on the Greenwich Peninsula. In the distance is One Canada Square at Canary Wharf, with a sci-fi like could over the top of the building. This is caused by the light pollution which is catching the exhaust from the HVAC (heating, ventialation and air-conditioning).



This photograph was taken from my bedroom window on Boxing Day. Just visible above the tree line is an extremely bright celestial body, which research indicates is probably venus. For a good five minutes I thought it was an aeroplane before I finally determined that it wasn't actually moving!

It is amazing what you see if you just look up!
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Friday, 26 December 2008

Retail madness

One of my Christmas presents was the much awaited and much anticipated 'Fable II' for the Xbox 360. 'Fable' was the reason I bought my Xbox 360 and remains to this day one of the very few games I have completed 100%. In amongst all the things about the game they do advertise the one thing that they don't advertise is that you need 10MB of memory to save the game. My Xbox 360 only came with a 10MB hard drive! I've rather got out of the habit in recent years of worrying about memory requirements (or blocks as they always used to be back in the day). I don't think that it is something I have even though about since the days of my PS1 and the Gamecube.

This necessitated a trip out to the shops to buy a memory unit. I decided on Bexleyheath, as my favourite trousers had expired and I needed to visit Evans and/or M&S. The best laid plans...

Upon arrival in Bexleyheath I was horrified to discover that 'The Mall' and associated car park were not offering free parking! Next top Game, no memory units for the Xbox 360. On to Argos, don't even gave the in the catalogue. On to Woolworths - rubber-neckking at the train-wreck; many signs from the ceiling 'Closing Down all stock must go' and 'Total Liquidation, Final Clearance'. The store was decimated with practically nothing at all on the shelves. Bye bye Woolies. On to WH Smith (running out of possibilities now). Total failure. The first floor which used to house the DVDs and video games as with the Woolwich branch has turned 50% into the post office. In a very bad temper I eschew the clothes shop (I won't find anything in this mood anyway) and grudingly part with 70p for the parking.

Next stop is the 'Low Road' in New Charlton and the Stone Lodge Retail Park. This, I have decided, should be a good bet as there is PC World and Curry's to choose from. Major mistake. Huge. There is also Halfords, Carpet Right, Harveys and MFI (although I didn't see if MFI were still open or not). The car park was stationary. Parking on pavements and all sorts. The overflow car park was being blocked by two attendents. Now this was realy stupid. They'd blocked off one access to it and had two staff blocking the other. Surely they ought just have let people drive around it and employed the two staff clamping the miscreants! Luckily as I was about to give up and leave I found a space.

PC World failed me, and I was about to give up in Curry's when I noticed the memory cards behind the tills. A (relatively) short queue and I was back to the car to get on home. Getting out of the car park was almost as bad as getting in.

I don't think the whole experience was helped by Charlton playing at home today... hampered by no service on the Jubilee Line and 'alternate' services on the main line trains. More than the usual amount of people have driven to the game judging from the cars abandoned throughout Charlton!

I'm now adding Boxing Day to my list of days on which one should never (ever) indulge in any retail activity... unless it is online!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Things I love and hate about Christmas

Last night I had to brave the supermarket for the big Christmas shop. Big shop, only because I don't intend to be visiting the shops again until next year and the shopping won't be delivered until next Tuesday.

First stop Sainsbury's to spend my Nectar points that I'd been saving all year. The great thing is that now you can collect them from shopping online and all sorts of places as well as Sainsbury's I had LOADS of points. Enough that the shopping came to 23p after points! It is a good thing I'd only gone to Sainsbury's for the drinks and sweets - the store looked as though a plauge of locusts had just been through. I didn't feel much optimism for Asda.

Asda looked like a Saturday afternoon. The aisles were so full that you could hardly move, but apart from the decimated freezer department the shelves were fully stocked. A few hours later would have benefitted the shopping experience however - manners were certainly not in evidence from fellow shoppers, and I was barged several times by trolleys.  I'll be black and blue this morning. Bad manners and bad tempers were very obvious, and the festive spirit was sadly lacking. Happily I came away with nearly my entire list.

If Christmas shopping is the thing that I hate most about Christmas then Christmas decorations are the thing that I love most. I noticed last night that the area around Charlton has had a sudden explosion of festivity. Clearly most people work on the same basis as my parents when I was growing up that the week before Christmas is the time to decorate. Not true in my house. We love our Christmas decorations and like them up for as long as possible. This means that they generally go up at the beginning of Novemeber, pretty much as soon as Halloween is over. In the case of a well preserved pumpkin it might end up with a Santa's hat! Tinsel, lights, trees, snowglobes, you name it - we've got it. Santa's grotto has nothing on my living room!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

All downhill to Christmas

The amount of Londoners who have started their Christmas break already has had a noticeable impact on public transport. The buses and Jubilee Line were extremely quiet this morning, leading me to wonder momentarily if I was in fact mistakenly taking myself off to work on a Saturday.

The office is also winding down for Christmas. The usual pre-Christmas panic doesn't seem to have materialised this year. Maybe it is the effect of the economic slow-down? Usually, despite the fact that everyone has known it is coming since the previous year the Christmas shut-down seems to take us by surprise... but this year has been very calm and organised. I'm not complaining... although I suppose there is still tomorrow morning for it all to go pear-shaped, so I shouldn't count my chickens. Tomorrow we're having a tidy-up of the office - clearing the decks for 2009.

Tonight it is time for the annual ordeal of the Christmas food shop. Apart from my flying early morning visit to B&Q and Sainsbury's on Saturday I actually managed to keep to my 'no shopping the weekend before Christmas' rule. Sadly the food shopping has to be done. I can't rely on the delivery service to bring meat and vegetables which conform to the dates on which I want to use them, so I have no alternative but to go and choose them myself.

My solution to the overcrowded stores full of panic shoppers (honestly, the stores are barely shut for two days) is to go late at night. They may be halfway through shelf-stacking but at least it is (relatively) quiet. It's late night shopping or run the gauntlet on Christmas Eve, which I have done in the past, and I'm definitely not doing that ever again!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Another garden emergency

I got out of bed on Saturday morning and drew the curtains only to look out of the window and see the heron standing in the pond. Trying, once again, to help himself to his own private all-you-can-eat buffet.

I speedily departed for B&Q to purchase more pond netting. The pond netting gets taken up in the Autumn as when the leaves fall on it they weigh down the netting and then when the pond ices over the netting gets stuck in the ice. Trees have shed their leaves now (pretty much) so the new netting should be safe until we have to take it up in Spring to avoid frog-spawn disasters.

The pond is now safe and the buffet is closed. The heron will have to find his food somewhere else.

Whilst we were in the garden we were visited by several beautiful white doves, who sat on the edge of the roof and watched us for a while before flying off.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Hall of mirrors

For a (very) long time they have been doing construction works just off Piccadilly. They knocked down a rather ugly old office building in order to construct a shiny new office block. We've watched (and sometimes felt the vibrations) as they completed the groundworks and basement, and now they are constructing the frame (today there were three concrete mixers queued up along the road at one point waiting to pupmp their concrete).

The strange thing is that the site hoardings have been given a facelift. Hoardings are usually painted (at best) and sometimes covered with name boards of various consultants for the scheme; sometimes even an artist's rendition of the finished scheme. These take hoardings to a whole new level. Mirrored hoardings.

 
 

Working Hours

So, the great debate has ignited once again over the UK's opt-out from the EU Working Time Directive.  This debate has rumbled on and off since the UK first negotiated exemption from the Directive back in 1993.

Advocates call for the abolition of the opt-out to end the UK's 'long hours culture' and those opposed say that business and commerce require the opt-out in order to remain competitive. Another argument at the moment is that 'people need the hours' in the current economic climate. Not to worry on that score. Even if the UK loses the opt-out changes would take three years to come into effect. A lot of workers don't get paid overtime anyway - so for them it would be a step in the right direction for the work-life balance.

I've signed the opt-out of the Directive at every job that I've had, it has come as part of my Contract - and let's face it a 48 hour week still gives you five days of nearly 10 hours. Plenty enough time to spend chained to your desk.

My favourite article connected to this story was a picture on the BBC website.

Friday, 12 December 2008

At the end of the week

This week has absolutely flown by! The week began with a trip to the hospital to see my MS nurse. Just a regular check-up which was augmented by my complaints of continuing bad skin reactions to the injection (now affecting both arms). She suggested trying different size needles, and gave me a whole heap to take away and try - which might have worked if I had been able to get the attached needle of the contraption that comes with the syringe! The nurse was followed by the obligatory trip to the blood test department, and the expected hour and something wait. Most annoying was that I had forgotten my wallet and therefore couldn't even get a coffee whilst I waited!

Whilst I was out of the office the contractors came and re-lamped the room. Over the past few months more and more tubes had failed around the room until about a third of them were out. I couldn't quite get over the brightness and the lightness of the re-lamped office.

Thursday brought the office Christmas party. Due to the credit-crunch this was much scaled back from previous years. Having been given a budget per head Reluctant Bachelor organised lunch for us at a well-known pub chain. The best thing about the meal was probably the free crackers. The food was inedible, the wine mediocre, the staff indifferent  and the whole place extremely cold (constantly open door and air conditioning (?!)). The crackers were a huge hit, a mini-water pistol amused some of my younger colleagues throughout lunch as they took turns filling it with the tap water provided and squirting it at each other! After lunch we moved on to another well-known pub chain where we had more drinks, including the now traditional and always ill-advised sambuccas (eugh!). 

This morning there were a few sore heads around the office (OK, actually everyone except me). My plan of sticking to wine all afternoon and evening served me better than those who mixed the grape and grain or ventured onto the spirits!

This afternoon I was back at the hospital for my appointment with Women's Services and the ultrasound. Not the sort of ultrasound that you see on TV it has to be said... rather more invasive and painful. I treated myself to coffee and a doughnut afterwards, forgetting the food in the cafe at the hospital is at best indifferent. I then got on the wrong shuttle bus from the hospital to the bus-on-diversion bus stops and ended up on a magical mystery tour round the back of Shooters Hill before ending up back at the bus stop I required.

Looking forward now to a quiet weekend, and readying myself for next week!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

One of those weeks

Yesterday morning I woke up to find that my back had seized up. I'd gone to bed on Thursday night with a hot-water bottle as it was feeling a little stiff, but come Friday morning it was pure agony. The muscles somewhere up near my shoulder blade seemed to be affected and moving just slightly the wrong caused huge pain. I decided to go to work on the basis that moving around might ease things. This proved not to be the case, and the angle of my desk, the computer, everything was not conducive to my pain. My boss agreed that I could work from home, and I set up an office in bed and managed to get into a position that at least wasn't too painful.

In the afternoon I took myself off to the Doctor, who agreed that there was some muscular problem, but didn't elaborate as to what and why. Recommended heat and painkillers. Advice I was happy to follow.

This morning I woke up to find that although still feeling a bit stiff and sore the pain has more or less abated. Thus, as with all inexplicable short term problems I am inclined to wonder if it is yet another random MS problem? Luckily I'm seeing my Nurse on Monday, so I'll ask her.

An odd thing that happened. I was following the 'heat' advice given by the Doctor late yesterday afternoon and taking a bath when all the lights went out. Happens sometimes in our Victorian house when a fuse overloads... but it wasn't just us, but streets as far as I could see! I have very poor night vision, and for a minute I just sat in the bath in the dark (never occurred to me to turn on the battery operated lights around the mirror). I then went onto the landing, which was quite bizarre as my eyes hadn't adjusted and I could see nothing! Rich was walking around with a torch, and opened the front door to confirm that the street was in darkness. I was about to start lighting candles when suddenly all the lights came back on again. Five minute power cut!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

TfL SNAFU (2)

We have a rule in our office, never travel anywhere with Boss-one as all forms of transport hate him and if it can go wrong it will. We could have guessed, therefore, yesterday afternoon that he was back in the country and trying to use the Jubilee Line as a signal failure at Bond Street suspended and delayed it during the afternoon.

Holding out faint hope that it might be running better by the time I left the office at six I was dismayed to find that a further signal failure at London Bridge had once again suspended the line. Options for travel home without the Jubilee Line are many and varied - although some involve a train fare (as my travel card only goes to zone 2 and most of the rail stations are zone 3) and others involve multiple changes to the DLR which still only leaves you in Greenwich. Bus it was then.

This morning I had cause to go to Bank station. This can be accomplished either by changing from the Jubilee Line at London Bridge for the Northern Line or Waterloo for the Waterloo and City Line. As the latter was suspended this morning my choice was made for me. Oh, the horror of the Northern Line (Bank branch) at London Bridge. The platform was so crowded that people were backed up into the central concourse. I decided to go South to Borough and come back, but even then it took two trains before I could squeeze on. They don't call it the Misery Line for nothing!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Two and a half percent

So the Chancellor of the Exchequer has decided that the solution to the financial problems is to throw money at it. He seems to be operating a kind of 'buy now - pay later' tax plan.

The headline grabber is obviously the two and a half cut in VAT down to 15%. Excited yet? Probably not - and there really is no cause to be. You'll save a couple of pounds on your weekly shop perhaps... a few pennies on a tank of petrol... or will you?

No such headline grabbing news is that fuel and alcohol duties are to rise... (dip into the 230 page report for details - if you have the strength!).

So unless you are out there making some big purchases (which I guess is what the Government are trying to encourage) you probably aren't going to notice much difference.

And how, you wonder, will the Government pay for all this generosity? They won't, of course - we (the tax payer) will. The rate paid by the higher tax band will increase (after the next election) and employers and employees NI contributions will rise (again in 2011).

So it really is buy now, pay later.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Strictly not news

As I get ready for work in the morning and eat my breakfast it is my habit to watch BBC Breakfast on BBC1. I have become aware, recently, of a regrettable habit that they have developed of broadcasting 'news' stories which are actually little more than thinly disguised advertisements for their own programmes.

Some of these aren't too bad as the subject matter is at least based in news (Panorama springs to mind). The one that annoys me the most though is their frequent obsession with 'Strictly Come Dancing'. Regular readers will know that I cannot abide so-called 'reality' TV (although what is real about a bunch of C-list celebrities being put into forced contrived situations is quite beyond me). I have been forced to accept though that people do watch this sort of thing and apparently enjoy it. It still isn't news though.

I was disappointed to see the front page of the Lite given over to a story about John Sargeant  quitting the show. Seriously. Front page news? Disappointed but probably not really surprised. If that wasn't enough, though, about fifteen minutes of Breakfast this morning. This was after the weather and sport, and presumably just before the weather and sport came round again.

Oil tankers attacked by pirates? Possible deflation? Spiralling unemployment figures? Why waste time with any of these when you can talk about not-really celebrities and second rate TV shows. The sooner that BBC, ITV (et al.) stop making these shows the sooner they can plough their money back into making real TV (dramas, comedies, sci-fi) and perhaps try to compete with the massive influx of US made shows.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

TfL SNAFU (1)

I arrived at Green Park Station tonight to find total and utter chaos reigning. The ticket hall was jammed full to the point of bursting and nobody appeared to be getting through the barriers. Information, I thought to myself, would be good at this point. Lo, the PA system sprung to life. The cause of the mayhem (it would appear) was some sort of systems malfunction which was affecting the gates and preventing them from letting people into the Underground. That appeared to be working were the recently installed extra wide disabled gates. This meant only fraction of the usual traffic flow was getting through. Oh dear. I fortunately chose a spot right near one of the working gates and soon found myself on the travel side of the barriers.

The despondent station announcer was requesting 'Pay-as-You-Go' customers reconcile their journeys at their destination. I wish I'd had a camera handy - the vacant emptiness of one side of the ticket barriers contrasted with the chaos of the on the other side was quite a picture.

Oh - and for those who aren't familiar with SNAFU's check out Wikipedia's article.

Fire alarms and bus stops

Yesterday afternoon we were all sitting quietly in the office, getting on with things. The tranquillity was shattered by a loud sound... the fire alarm. That's funny, I thought to myself, they're late today (the alarm test usually being at 10am). Then I thought, even funnier... today is Monday not Tuesday... and the alarm isn't stopping. Either we're on fire or we're having a fire drill. The same thought process was obviously happening around the room as one by one my colleagues reluctantly gathered their jackets and we all trooped off downstairs. We gathered on the pavement (which is our extremely safe muster point) and blocked traffic for a while. Once the man in the fluorescent jacket was satisfied each floor was accounted for we headed back to our offices.

I heard one of the chaps from the fifth floor grumbling about having to trek all the way down the five flights of steps. Bah! That is nothing to those of us who have worked in tower blocks and trekked down 30-something flights of steps. Ah, happy memories.

When I first worked in the tower block work was still being undertaken on unoccupied floors, and I think the first month we were there we had to evacuate the building at least once a week. Our muster point was a grassy square a few blocks away (the only place large enough to house a building that size) where you had to go and stand behind the person holding the wooden paddle with your floor number on it. The whole fire drill experience would take the best part of an hour; once all floors were satisfactorily accounted for the building then had to be re-populated in stages. Enough to say on several occasions, after registering our presence, some of my colleagues and I retired to the pub.

Yesterday evening as I was on my way home I found my bus in a queue of slow moving traffic heading past Cemetery Lane. There have been one-way diversions around Cemetery Lane for a few weeks now, and the entire road seems to be affected. Much to my relief the previous threats of no replacement bus stop seem to have been reconsidered as there is a temporary stop just along the road... which is great, as the two either side aren't exactly close.

I had an irritating replacement bus stop experience at the weekend. I decided to circumnavigate the usual annoyance of not being able to find any parking at the library on the weekend by taking the bus... the bus stop being usefully situated right by the Charlton House. Not this weekend. We passed through the Village and sailed through the temporary traffic lights and rapidly onward towards the Standard. Lucky that the road was obstructed by parked vehicles and the bus driver heard me and a fellow passenger complaining and decided to do the decent thing and let us off. That is an even longer walk back from Victoria Way!

The best thing about today, though, is that after labouring under the delusion all morning that today is Wednesday I've just had it pointed out to me that it is in fact Tuesday, so I've just gained half a day! Hurrah!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Little London moments

The other night as I was going home on the Jubilee Line the train driver made the following announcement:

"If I say mind the doors... and the guy on the platform says mind the doors, what do you suppose we want you to do?" (pause) "Mind the doors".

This was after the doors had tried (and failed) to close several times.


This morning our office email wasn't working. Given reason for communications outage. Power cut in Edinburgh. The reason that a power cut 400 miles away kills our email is due to the fact that the Exchange server which processes email lives in Edinburgh and services the whole of the UK (and Europe). I was going to ring the IT guy and hassle him, but after Boss-one rang from overseas and told me he was going to hassle the IT guy I decided that was more than enough for any one person to deal with!

I was feeling a bit guilty this morning. There was a project meeting for one of my projects scheduled at 10am off in the wilds of North (ish) London. The meeting had been arranged about six weeks ago and absolutely nothing has happened on the intervening six weeks (or is likely to in the next six weeks). I told Boss-two that due to an impending deadline I wouldn't make it... he stoically said that he would go (even though he had more meetings to go to in the afternoon). The thing was - six people were attending the meeting from three companies... two from each. Two obviously belonged to the office at which the meeting was being held... two were the Client and two were me and Boss-two. Boss-two called the offices twenty minutes before the meeting (to which he was about to be late) only to find out that the meeting was cancelled. This left me wondering... when exactly was anyone to be told of the cancellation?!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

A whole lot of complaints

Yesterday morning I fell out with the Jubilee Line. First of all there were the advertised 'minor dealys' which meant that three trains came and went before I was able to squeeze on one. I  eventually managed to get on a train and was quietly minding my own business listening to my iPod. This in itself would have appear to have been a mistake. It meant that I missed the announcement (if indeed there was one) at Westminster that the train would not be stopping at Green Park. So the train and I sailed on to Bond Street. Faulty communications equipment was the give excuse for the closure of Green Park. Not a disaster in the normal course of events, just a short walk South from there to my office. However, yesterday it was raining (quite enthusiastically). Superb. Wet and annoyed, what a way to start the day.

Things didn't get any better by the evening rush hour either. I arrived at Green Park to be assured of a good service on the Jubilee Line. Five minutes to wait until the first advertised train and thirteen minutes to the second advertised. The first train arrived and I decided to squeeze on as the next train eight minutes away wasn't likely to be any better. Nobody offered The Stick and I a seat - it didn't really matter, the train was so full it would have taken a special skill to fall over!

I finally arrived at North Greenwich to find that the whole of the tube and bus station had turned into a lethal skating rink due to the wet weather - let's face it, it doesn't take much for the bus station with its leaky roof! The 486 was already at the stop and still had an enormous queue - fortunately the 422 had pulled up behind it, so I decided to get on that. I then spent the next however long crawling through what was almost a traffic gridlock which seemed to have engulfed most of the peninsula. The only good thing was that the rain pretty much held of until I reached my front porch!

Today hasn't been much better. First of all I started suffering from my semi-occasional pain in the side. Every time I worry that I've appendicitis and every few months I go and see the doctor who tells me that it isn't. So, I decided to forgo the usual palava of trying to get through to the surgery on the dot of half past eight and cut the queue and go early. I'll get an appointment before nine for sure I thought. I was wrong. Ten o'clock was the earliest available (this was 10 minutes before the phones opened and five mintues after the doors opened). What do I have to do to get an early appointment I asked, as I'm already late for work. Oh, I was told, you can book a week in advance. I pointed out that a week ago I didn't know I'd need to see the Doctor this morning. Stupid system.

Eventually ten o'clock came (and went) and I saw the Doctor half an hour late. He poked (ouch) and prodded (ouch) and determined that it almost definitely probably surely wasn't appendictis. It obviously was 'something' and he determined I should go up to the hospital for a scan. I was told to present myself to Women's Services (what an awful name). I duly did (after the 486 on diversion attempted to take me off along Woolwich Common). The disinterested receptionist looked at my form and told me that althought the Doctor had written 'urgent' this in fact wasn't urgent but 'routine'. Seriously. Does someone want to buy the NHS a dictionary? Routine "regular course of procedure". Not for me. Urgent investigation required to establish the cause of ongoing pain and discomfort. Appointment set one month from now.

I then had to shchlep off to find where the 486 was leaving from as the road outside the hospital was closed. When are they going to be finished digging up the entire Borough?

The Occasional Tourist

One thing I really enjoy about London (and any city if it comes to that) is how much there is to discover. Every so often I find a new bit of London (and perhaps somewhere else) and write about it here in the "Occasional Tourist" series.

The Occasional Tourist posts now have their very own home -
http://occasionaltourist.blogspot.com/

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Lord Mayor's Show

Today saw the annual Lord Mayor's Show in the City of London. I really enjoy all the pageantry  and afterwards there is lunch at the Livery Hall; so always a good day out.

This year the weather was not on our side. I arrived at Cannon Street to a light but persistent drizzle. I made my way to my mother's office only to find I was the first to arrive. I amused myself watching the parade participants queuing for the Porta-loos; there were soldiers and airmen, a few Roman centurions, some Victorian maids and a girl on roller-blades; they made an incongrous sight!

We went up to Cheapside to find our spot, and I met my friend and her sister - so well had I described our customary spot they had no trouble finding us. It was still drizzling as the parade started, and this became a steady downpour through the entire parade, subsiding just in time for the Lord Mayor's Coach!

Friday, 7 November 2008

More rememberance

I got off the bus by Trafalgar Square this morning as something caught my eye. Was it a new display on the Fourth Plinth at last? No - it was 'Vigil'. This is a remembrance of the First World War. The names of 68,000 Canadians who died in the conflict are being projected onto Canada House - one by  one. This year is the 90th Anniversary of the end of the 'War to End All Wars'.



I also bought my second Poppy today. My first Poppy was affixed securely with a pin to my coat two days ago. This morning I noticed that whilst the pin remained securely fastened the Poppy itself did not. I'd like to think that someone picked it up and gave it a good home, but given the disappointing amount of Poppies I've seen this year I doubt very much that would have been the case.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Remember, rememeber

Last night I was waiting for a bus at North Greenwich station (as I do nearly every evening) and watching fireworks light up the sky (there's a very panoramic view of much of the Borough's of Greenwich and Newham waiting there). "How lovely", I thought to myself, "that the UK are celebrating the new US President". It took me some moments to come to the conclusion that as the 5th November it might be Guy Fawkes Night (aka Bonfire Night) that was being celebrated.

I've never been much of a fan of fireworks. As a small child I didn't like the noise, and as I've got older I just cant' see the point of spending all that money - unless you go to a really splendid organised display. As a pet owner for many years I also dislike the distress that they cause to animals. The thing I like the least is the trend in recent years for fireworks to stretch through the Autumn from Diwali (which can fall up to two weeks before Guy Fawkes night) to New Years and even beyond.

Every year we hear about the terrible accidents that have been caused by carelessly used fireworks. Every year I put up with fireworks at anti-social times of day and night. Every year I wonder why there is no apparent attempt to enforce the law with regards to fireworks. Yes, there is a law. You may not set-off fireworks between 11pm and 7am except on a number of exempted days (5th November, Diwali, New Year and Chinese New Year).

I wonder how many of the fireworks being set off on and around the 5th November this year were done with any thought as to why? It is my long held belief that anyone wishing to purchase fireworks for the 5th November should be asked what it is, precisely, that they are commemorating. That would cut down the pops, the whizzes and the bangs!

As for me, well, I manage a good few free displays courtesy of my neighbours through my bedroom window every year.

Remember, remember the fifth of November; gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder and treason should ever be forgot...

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Brave new world

I've always been extremely interested in politics. I studied British politics as an A-level course for two years and US politics as a minor credit for a year at University. At one time I even thought I might like to be a politician (my family certainly thought I was argumentative enough!).

I therefore took very seriously last night's US Presidential election. I did a great deal of research yesterday lunchtime, and even formulated myself a spreadsheet to track the results. There was only one fly in the ointment... the 5 hour time difference between the UK and the East Coast (let's not even contemplate the West Coast). My solution (as to all late night events) take a nap and get back up again. So, at half past midnight I settled myself down to watch the election results roll (or as it turned out drip) in.

The last Presidential election was (fairly predictably) four years ago; and haven't things changed in that short time. Yes, of course I remember watching the BBC, and possibly occasionally flicking channels to see what was happening with other media outlets. I don't remember using the internet much though. Not so this year! At one point I managed to crash Firefox as I attempted to simultaneously follow CNN, ABC, ITV and the BBC at once. I had Twitter open twice - once to Tweet myself and once to follow the dedicated Twitter election feed. Oh yes, and I was keeping up with other night-owl friends awake on Facebook. Information overload. It gave me cause to ask myself - can one person possibly need that much information?!

In the end it was all to naught anyway, as 3am approached my body gave up and I had to go back to bed again in order to be awake and alert for work on Wednesday. Fortunately the V+ box did stay awake through the night, so I got to see the moment when Obama's Electoral College tally tipped the magic 270 votes.

So, all changed today... a Democrat in the White House for the first time in 8 years... a black President for the first time, well, ever... and an election result which appears to be happily accepted without any accusations of impropriety being levelled. Brave New World indeed.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Hallow'een

Halloween doesn't have a long tradition in the UK the same way that it does in the US. I have very few memories of Halloween as a child... a costume party here and there (mostly my memories are of bobbing for apples) certainly we never went trick or treating. I'm not sure that we'd have got very far in semi-rural Kent knocking on our neighbours doors, I'm pretty certain they'd have been straight on to our parents to find out what we were up to.
However, childhood traditions aside I always do get a pumpkin to carve. I've never managed to work out any recipes for the flesh but I do like to roast and eat the pips. Best hot and straight out of the oven.
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Monday, 27 October 2008

Random moments from a day out at Wembley

There were quite a few strange/random little moments during our day out at Wembley yesterday.

I was wearing my Giants hoodie, such is the tradition at the Wembley game that everyone wears the merchandise of the team they support, not necessarily the teams playing the game. We arrived on the platform at North Greenwich, and I spotted another couple wearing Giants gear. I had barely pointed them out to Rich when the bloke came rushing over and hugged me, saying "Well done, well done". Obviously the Superbowl hangover doesn't end until someone else wins the Superbowl (or the Giants win it again!).

Having complained to Rich when we bought our program that there was no free gift this year we were pleased to find when we took our seats that every seat had been given a free Saints flag to wave during the game (be a Saint). During our discussions of 'worst job in the ground' the person (or more likely people) who had to put a flag on each and every one of 80,000 seats eventually won.

Best of all were the two team mascots that had travelled with the Saints. One was called 'Sir Saint' and rather reminded me of Dick Dastardly from the Wacky Races Cartoon. He had a Saints helmet, a shiny cloak and an ENORMOUS chin. The other was called 'Gumbo' and was a dog. He kept me in stiches for quite a lot of the time as he took to tormenting the stewards. One hapless chap standing on the corner of the field got a good ten minutes of attention, but kudos to him he took it all in good humour.

Rich told me about another of the stewards who was captivated by the Cheerleaders (the 'Saints-sations') and apparently was castigated by his supervisor for not attending to his duties.

There were also some chaps sitting near us who were determined to start a Mexican wave. Determined. They kept leaping to their feet and throwing their arms in the air. It just wasn't catching on, only a few rows and about three-quarters of a block were taking part. Most of the rest of us were falling about laughing at their antics.  A real Mexican Wave did start eventually which actually encompassed all three tiers of the ground. Quite awesome to behold.

There was of course the inevitable queuing to get back to the Underground station. We didn't do as well this year as last as we were a bit further around the ground. Once you get onto Wembley Way (sorry, Olympic Way) you are held at several points by Police barriers (either cops on foot or even better cops on horses). There was (of course) a good deal of barracking of the police officers including the immortal "Que Sera Sera, Whatever will be will be, we'll never leave Wembely, Que sera sera".

NFL Wembley 2008

Yesterday afternoon saw us taking a trip off to Wembley again to watch the NFL. This time the Saints taking on the Chargers.
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We arrived at Wembley Park station and took the walk up Wembley Way (although apparently it is actually called Olympic Way!) . Despite the promises of rain, rain and more rain although cloudy it stayed dry. We stopped only to buy a program, whereupon I comment to Rich "No free stuff this year"... although we were fairly unimpressed with the Dolphins turquoise towels last year.
We arrived in plenty of time, and quickly made our way into the stadium. Technology has progressed since last year as the turnstile operators seem to be there only to make sure nobody gets stuck as you present your ticket into an electronic scanner.
I then had to join the 'ladies search line'. Unfortunately although two turnstiles had been labelled such there was only one female security guard. Bottleneck.
By now we thoroughly deserved a beer. Be prepared to take out a small bank loan to eat and drink at Wembley. £3.80 for a pint of (indifferent) beer and over £5 for a burger. Steep.
We took our seats just in time for the pre-match ceremonies. First of all were a couple of songs by the Stereophonics whilst two mini-blimps with banners were paraded round the pitch.
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Now (at last) it was time for the teams to take to the pitch. The Chargers as the designated 'away' team came out first through the guard of honour of cheerleaders and a bit of dry ice.
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Unfortunately somebody didn't tell the Saints to come out of the same tunnel, and they snuck out the side tunnel - causing general confusion around the ground.
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This was followed by the unfurling of two giant flags (one each for the UK and US) by assembled soldiers. Very patriotic. Very American. This was accompanied by renditions of the National Anthems. Clearly all the spectators watch enough American sport to know just the right moments to cheer at the end of the 'Stars and Stripes'. Joss Stone was on stage to do 'God Save the Queen' which she did well enough, but it really doesn't lend itself to the theatrics she attempted at the end.
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Time at last for the coin toss, and then at last the game begins. I haven't many photos of the game as it is hard to capture the plays, and much more fun to actually watch the game anyway!
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Half time saw a New Orleans type Carnival. This year they went around the track at the side of the pitch, presumably to allow the ground staff full and unfettered access to replacing divots in the turf.
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The second half began - and was over all too fast. Happily the Saints won the game (I was supporting the Saints) and I now tip them to follow in the footsteps of my mighty Giants and win the Superbowl. Reasons 1) the team that won the game at Wembley won the Superbowl and 2) the team that Jeremy Shockey played for in London won the Superbowl. Tenuous, very tenuous.
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Thursday, 23 October 2008

The Occasional Tourist - Part Seven, Charlton

This afternoon I took a healthy walk around my local area. First of all a brisk stroll through Charlton Park where I saw a girls football (soccer) team taking practice and about a half dozen squirrels.

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View looking towards Queen Elizabeth Hospital

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View looking towards Charlton House

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Here are some of the dozen or so squirrels - just after they chased each other up the tree!

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Charlton House - 400 years and counting

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St Luke's Church, Charlton

Although there has been a church in Charlton since the 11th Century this church dates from only the 17th Century. Apparently there is only one bell left now since the bells were removed in the WW2 and only one made it back... the same is true (sadly) for the stained glass windows.

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Here's another famous part of Charlton, the football Club.

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And, nearly the last famous part - the level crossing.

Just down from where I live I Marion Wilson Park - famous in history as a lair for highwaymen. Now famous for the collection of animals that inhabit the various enclosures.

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The herd of deer

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Flock of ducks

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One of the horses

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Goats (complete with magpie friends)

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

More little London moments

This morning I took my (now) customary walk from Whitehall to my office of Piccadilly. I was struck as I walked through Horseguards Parade that the Cavaliers (who at that time of day are generally without horse) had changed colour. Usually they have white trousers, long black boots, shiny helmets and red jackets. This morning the jackets were blue. Strange. Happily there was a handy notice on the wall to explain to me. The Queen's Life Guard (it would appear) is made up of the Household Cavalry (red jackets) and the Blues and Royals (blue jackets). So there it is.
I crossed The Mall and was about to come up the steps to Waterloo Place. My way was impeded by what appeared to be a film crew (and associated facilities). There were lights - and what I presume were actors - there were some people in smart suits just standing... in the trade I think they were 'on their marks'. Waterloo Place itself was full of buses and trailers and all sorts. I'll have to keep an eye on movies and TV and so forth to see if I spot it!
There was strange behaviour tonight on the way back from North Greenwich. Given that Charlton were at home tonight which occasioned more travellers than normal - but there were still an unusual amount of people waiting for buses, and total chaos when they finally arrived and several buses worth of people tried to pile on each. We then queued along to get to West Parkway and the cars continued to queue (luckily the Pilot Busway meant that we carried on!). Then came the turning for Millennium Primary School, and the traffic vanished. Strange.
I got home to find that Rich had already left for football... leaving the back door open (nicely ventilating the kitchen) and a small amphibian friend sitting in the middle of the kitchen. I picked him up and took him back to the Frog Pond. He very happily settled into my hand for the journey, I suspect that he might have been waiting for me!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Some Saturday

Today my broken laptop and I took a trip to Harrow. Our purpose, to decide whether the motherboad was fried or whether a new power jack would suffice. Off we travelled, using SatNav (first time it took us somewhere that we didn't already know). Via Old Street, Angel, Kings Cross and Euston to eventually land ourselves in Wealdstone. Good news, none. Bad news, the motherboard is actually fried. Several hours of bad traffic then ensued to get back to South East London. Home to Charlton and PC World, and a new laptop. It had to be done. Several weeks of no real computer (I love the office laptop, but honestly, it's three years old and it sucks). So... I spent several hundred pounds I didn't (really) have and bought a new laptop. New laptop rocks. Back online from the sofa wihthout several tens of minutes delay. Still really annoyed that one year and two weeks (therefore two weeks out of warranty) the old one broke down, but c'est la vie?!

Monday, 13 October 2008

Online shopping woes

Generally I'm a big fan of online shopping. It means that I don't actually have the irritation of going into a shop and dealing with crowds, unruly children, surly shop assistants, lack of stock and all the other things that blight a shopping experience. It also means that I can sit at my desk (or in bed, or on the sofa, or anywhere else) and not schlep around a several miles of mall. I also find what I want (nearly) every time with minimum  inconvenience and comparing and contrasting is easy. These are the advantages of online shopping.

Online shopping does have disadvantages though. If you buy in a shop you see what you are getting there and then, and (generally speaking) you take it away with you there and then. Transaction completed. If you then (at a later date) have any difficulties you can march back into the store and give a hapless sales clerk an earful... there and then. If you buy online you don't see what you are getting, quite often you have to wait to get it and when you want redress - well, it isn't as easy as you'd like it to be.

Last month I did some shopping on eBay. My reasoning for the purchase (keyboard and mouse) was that a) it was cheaper than I'd find it in the shops and b) given the specialist type shop that I'd need to visit and the timeframes I had available it would probably arrive faster. Faulty reasoning. First of all the PayPal transaction (because eBay own PayPal and pretty much force you to use it) was one of those annoying eCheques (yes, unless you add 'back up funding' they won't do instant transfers anymore). So this took time to clear (just like a real cheque). Fair enough. I then get a 'payment reminder' from the seller. I write to them and politely point out that the eCheque will take time to clear but if they would like to check their records they will see the transaction is pending. Another payment reminder arrives which I ignore (two items were combined under one payment).

PayPal then send me an email to tell me that my payment is cleared. The seller then sends me what I now assume is an automatically generated email confirming that the payment is cleared and informing me that they will contact me when the goods ship. The next thing that happens is that I get an 'unpaid item strike' from eBay. How?! Why?!

Bear in mind two points. The seller has acknowledge the payment is cleared.  I write (several times) to the seller... who eventually apologise and agree that the payment is made and that the 'unpaid strike' will be removed. Nothing happens. I go through the whole process with eBay who remove the strike for me. They won't however let me leave feedback for this transaction because I "didn't participate in the dispute". Whatever. I emailed the idiot seller after the first reminder! Now over a week has passed since the payment cleared and still no goods or indication of when the goods will arrive.

The thing that annoys me the most (it's a tough call on this one) is that PayPal is owned by eBay. It should therefore not be possible if you used their 'preferred' payment system to have an unpaid dispute. The systems should talk to each other. The PayPal transaction uses the eBay item codes. One should look to the other and refuse to let the seller mess the buyer around in this way.

The next thing that is going to happen is that I'm going to file a dispute of my own against the seller for 'goods not received' as this is getting beyond a joke!

Almost Autumn

It is now practically a daily necessity to clear the fallen leaves from the front driveway. Although the weather has been quite mild occasional showers turn the leaves into slippery coatings for the front path. The weather this weekend was amazingly mild (for the time of year) meaning that we must be heading for some bad weather in the next few weeks (especially seeing as my holiday is coming up!).

On Saturday I had my annual flu jab. Not only did I get the jab (ouch, but not as ouch as last year's pneumonia jab) but I also got quantified. Height and weight, because (according to the nurse) the government wants to know. The government got duff info then, as I wasn't required to take off my shoes or anything, so I'm an inch taller and several pounds heavier than in fact. I felt quite ropey for a lot of Saturday after the flu jab, combated by the intake of paracetamol - but according to the nurse this is quite normal and to be expected.

Saturday night's movie was 'Fool's Gold' with Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson. This was a pretty rubbish movie, if we're honest. Pretty much made because they did so well together in 'How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days' I should think. There wasn't really much story, a few funny lines here and there, and some very under utilised actors (Donald Sutherland springs to mind). I wouldn't bother watching this unless you can't find anything better to do. 2 out of 10.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Bad news for Greenwich Park?

My eye was caught by the headline of the Evening Standard lying on my colleague's desk this evening, "Greenwich 'must host' 2012 equestrian events". A government funded report is set to say that it would be 'too expensive' to put the equestrian events at any alternative location.

Little London moments

Yesterday morning I got the bus to work (as I try to do most mornings). Advantages of the bus over the tube is that a) it is cheaper... by quite a bit and b) you have a much better chance of getting a seat. I got on the 53 bus on the downhill bus stop (miraculously restored to its proper position now that the rolling-roadblock replacing London's Victorian water-mains has moved up the road). I sat on the 53 until Deptford Bridge, where a 453 pulled out of the bus stand just in front of us. No worries I thought, plenty of time to get off the 53 and onto the 453. Well, yes - if the 453 wasn't a bendy bus and the driver couldn't see me and the Stick fighting the roadworks trying to get on the back door. Off went the 453 as I shook my fist at it. The driver of the 53 I had just got off then stopped and opened the doors to ask me if I wanted to get back on. I explained that sadly I wanted to go further than his bus was going and I waited another five minutes (not so bad) for the next 453.

My journey onwards was uneventful until we arrived at Trafalgar Square. Here there were an extreme amount of TfL high-vis jacket wearing employees and a fairly large amount of Community Police Officers. The TfL staff were checking tickets, and i can only assume that the CPO's were implementing the full letter of the law against fare evaders. There must have been twenty or thirty people in various uniforms congregated there to carry out this exercise. It reminds me of the days when I used to walk from Blackfriars station to Clerkenwell and under the Holborn viaduct they used to set up road-blocks to check car tax.

Coming home yesterday I was walking along from the bus stop to my road past the rolling-road block that is replacing London's Victorian water-mains (also known as the Littleheath roadworks). As usual I noticed several cars skipping the lights. Not just the 'turning amber so I might just make it' sort, no, the full on 'lights are red but I'm going anyway'. During the moment when no traffic was coming in either direction a car came out of the side-streets (which are informed that traffic on the main road is under signal control). I watched him, he wasn't even trying to guage which way the traffic was going. So, driving along the signals turned green for the traffic coming in the other direction. The car at the front of the queue must have seen this other car turn out from the side street, but decided rather than waiting for the car to pass through the signal control to just 'go on green'. Two cars face to face in single file road amongst the roadworks. Fortunately there was just enough room for the car from the side street to pull over and let all the signal control traffic past. Would it have been too much for that first car to just wait a few minutes to let the other car through?

This morning as I was walking up from Lower Regent Street to my office (just off Piccadilly) I noticed that there was a queue of people outside Waterstones on Piccadilly - some of which had clearly spent the night as there were tents. I idly wondered what might cause such devotion - and a cursory Google search informed me that it was a 'Girls Aloud' book signing. So, now you know.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Grand opening

Today was the 'grand opening' of the newly refurbished toilets in our offices. There are many things which are amazing about this. Firstly they are finished on time (to budget? who knows?) after one month they have finished on the projected day. Unprecedented. Secondly they have learnt from the mistakes of the two previously refurbished toilets.

Mistake one - the toilet roll holders were the spring loaded sort, but rather cheap, and inclined to unspring from their holders if you so much as looked at them leaving toilet paper on the floor. Solution - minimalist toilet roll holders which are just an arm on a hinge... no spring to fall out.

Mistake two - ridiculous wall mounted bin for paper towels with spring lid which either wouldn't open at all or got stuck open. Solution - elegant (?) wire bin on the floor with no lid at all to get stuck.

Mistake three - wall mounted soap dispenser too far from taps and basins leading to unsightly trails of soap over the counter. Solution - free standing soap dispenser (asking to get nicked, but there you go).

Tiny little project, but apparently an exemplar of how things should happen. We all watch and learn!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Not quite marathon

Today was not the weather for being out of the house. As far as I can tell it started to rain sometime around dawn and continued pretty much all day long. You had to feel sorry, then, for those taking part in the half marathon that was trundling around the Borough of Greenwich today. Sony Ericsson's (that's with two S's sign-writers!) 'Run to the Beat' was closing roads in SE7 (amongst other places). Terribly badly advertised it would appear. I saw a great deal of irate motorists trying to get onto Littleheath only to find their way blocked by barriers.

I went out (in the rain) several times to see what was happening. Some irritating drum-and-ethnic type music coming from Charlton Park... a great deal of St John's Ambulance staff... a lot of event organisers on motorbikes... and rain (of course). Just to set themselves apart from the London Marathon the runners were coming from the other direction, eventually. Around eleven some very wet runners finally appeared up the hill from the Barracks. I watched a few of the frontrunners... decided I was wet enough, and went home again. Given the weather there was an impressive amount of people on the street watching... but not many compared to the London Marathon. To be fair, who knew? I don't partake of any local media - maybe it was advertised there, but not much else. The mis-spelt road closure signs (lost amongst all the Thames Water signs) and the plastering of the ticket barriers at North Greenwich - that's it. The annoying music might have alerted you, I suppose.

I've managed a good haul of movies this weekend. Last night was 'My Sassy Girl' - which I almost enjoyed. It was quite cute, but one of those movies where you sit there at the end and say to yourself 'so what?'. There were some funny bits, some touching bits... and it was well written and acted, but it was just a bit tame. Five out of ten.

Today I had a much more satisfying experience with 'Sex and the City' (at last!). This I deeply enjoyed, having missed the TV series since it finished five years ago. If you liked the TV show you'll love the movie... if you didn't like it or never watched it you probably wouldn't get much out of it. Lots of loose ends were tied up - and the end was utterly satisfying for all fans. The only thing you would ask yourself is what is left to put in another movie?! Nine out of ten.

I spent the rest of the afternoon watching 'Paycheck' with the ever lovely Ben Affleck. Superb movie - seen it before, but thanks to my rubbish memory didn't remember much (any) of it, so enjoyed it just as much as the first time that I saw it. Ten out of ten.

I've just enjoyed the 'early' game of NFL on Sky Sports - watching my Giants annihilate Seattle. Mighty Giants 4-and-oh. Unlikely but possible that we could be the annoying will-they-won't-they-go-sixteen-and-oh team. 

Friday, 3 October 2008

The end of the day... the end of the week

It's been another long week at work. The economic slow-down is beginning to bite. The phone doesn't ring so much and the work is getting slower and slower. We're not giving up hope yet, but times are looking lean.

Today was a 'working from home' day. I didn't manage it last week due to the pressures of deadlines; what with that and the set of ten hour days I've been feeling pretty bushed this week. Happily the days have been normal length this week, that and a lot of sleep and not having to do the big commute today, I'm almost feeling 'me' again.

Tonight I'm catching up with the neglected TV and enjoying a glass of wine. Rich is taking a nap prior to the baseball tonight, off on the West Coast so a late start. I'm not participating with the baseball until we get to the World Series, at which point I may have to find a team to support!

This weekend the road up the top of my street is closed as 'Run to the Beat' is passing by - a half marathon sponsored by Sony Ericsson. The thing that made me laugh was all the road closure signs that have been put up have spelt the sponsors name wrong, with only one 's'. Oh dear.

My laptop is still busted. A friend who works with computers took a look at it, and recommended getting the internal power fixed. I'd been hoping he was going to circumnavigate me having to spend any money. C'est la vie. Off to Harrow then.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

All about Sunday

Another Sunday full of sport. This afternoon was the first ever F1 night race in Singapore. Eagerly anticipated and hugely hyped. Also from the point of view of night-time, very anti-climatic. Apart from the reflections on the body of the cars and shots which showed the night sky you really couldn't tell it was night-time. It was actually rather like a cloudy day.

The race itself was pretty good. A horrible crash by Renault's Piquet (amazingly he wasn't hurt) brought out the first safety car of the afternoon. A happy few drivers had been brought in for pitstops as soon as the crash happened in anticipation of the safety car (Alonso included). An unfortunate couple didn't and then had to stop under the safety car but before the pit lane opened as they were running out of fuel. Oops, that's a rule infraction. Best of all was another Ferrari FUBAR with their ridiculous automated car-release system. Yep, again. Massa was signaled to drive off with the fuel rig still attached to his car, almost into the path of Sutil, whose quick reactions avoided an accident. Realising the fuel rig was trailing from his car Massa stopped at the end of the pit lane whilst the Ferrari crew had to run down and fix it. Dumped him right at the back of the pack.

Worse to come though... Massa (and Ferrari) are given a drive through penalty for unsafe release in the pit lane. He isn't the only one though. Both Kubica and Rosberg are given stop-go penalties (like a drive through, but worse as you have to stop in your pit box for ten seconds). This is for pitting under the safety car before the lane opened. This is where it gets ridiculous. These infactions happened around lap 16/17. The safety car came in on lap 19. The stewards started investigating the incidents on lap 23 (a lap after they looked into Massa even though his incident was after these!). In the intervening four laps since the safety car came in Rosberg, leading the race, has had the chance to build up a nice big lead, so the stop-go doesn't even really hurt him that much! Ridiculous.

There is still to be another safety car in this race... after that though it all calms down a bit - apart from the delightful moment when Kimi put his Ferrari in the wall. I like Kimi but I hate Ferrari, so that amused me. Alonso wins the race, but Lewis takes third, to increase his lead in the Championship again. Ferrari manage a total of no points, oh dear.

All in all I'm not a huge fan of this new track. Not enough chances for overtaking, the walls are a bit tight leading to otherwise avoidable accidents... there really are too many road races now, what with this and Valencia added to Monaco. There should only be one, the original and the best... Monaco.

Currently I'm sitting watching the NFL - which is what we do in this house on Sundays during the season from six o'clock onwards. My Giants have a bye week this week, but my Jaguars have managed a win and it looks like the Jets will too. Triumphant!

Baseball is practically in the post-season now. Unfortunately despite my conviction that the Yankees would make an amazing come back to be the Wild Card team I was wrong and they didn't. Happily my second favourite team the Cubbies will be there, so maybe this is the year for them to break their curse!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Technology failure

So... the new Dell charger for my laptop finally arrived. And guess what. It still didn't work. Bah. So I decided to contact their online 'live chat' (after failing to get any progress on the phone and being held in a queue for five minutes on a not free phone line). Eventually, after about 15 minutes, I managed to get onto the live chat... and after another ten minutes it finally connected. The whole exercise took nearly an hour... and included numerous ridiculous exchanges. I'm quite convinced that the people who man the live chat have no technical expertise whatsoever and are merely following flow-chart diagnostic guides. We eventually agreed that there must be a problem with the motherboard (which my rudimentary internet searches had already suggested). As the computer is two weeks (two weeks!) out of warranty I have to pay for repairs, so the agent arranged for me to be called the next day with a quote. £190 - which is about half the cost of the damn machine in the first place.

I instantly started looking for alternatives. Which, to be fair there are. Not only there are alternatives, but it would seem that the equally likely problem could be that the power jack needs repairing/replacing. A much cheaper operation. Would the Dell technicians have checked this or would they have just changed the motherboard and cost me £190 anyway. Sadly the best option for the repairs is out in Harrow (they were the only people I could find who weren't going to charge me just to open up the laptop and see what the problem is). Sadly because Harrow is a very long way from SE7.

I have, however, managed to get an internet connection of sorts (in addition to the desktop). I bought a wireless USB device which couldn't be made to work (of course) but a cable out the back of the router has done the trick and the office laptop can just about manage the job. Back on line... and what a backlog. It's been a busy week at work and I haven't had much time to do anything so I've huge amounts of email and blog to catch up with.

So this is democracy...

I get home from work last night to find a brown envelope. Brown envelopes are generally considered ominous. Few people use them... two I can think of are the Hospital (who I can recognise immediately as they put their postcode in their postage franking) and the Tax man (never a good thing). This one however had 'Courts Service' stamped on the front. Immediately I wondered who was suing me. The reality was almost as bad... a summons for jury service. The fact that I might get called for jury service had never even occurred to me, and I can't honestly say that I'm too pleased by this. Yes, democracy in action - there is no way to get out of it. With really good reason you can apply for deferral... and criminals and those lacking mental capacity are exempt... but that is it.

I immediately sent Boss-one a text message to find out if the company still pays me whilst I'm not working. I knew he'd reply straight away as he's surgically attached to his phone. He has no idea, he's considered the possibility about as much as I have.

The shocking thing is that you don't get compensated whilst you are doing jury service for loss of earning. You get paid an absolutely nominal daily amount (about £30) which covers absolutely nothing in this modern world. Clearly the Courts Service need to adjust their allowances for inflation.

Good news is, though, that my random purchase of a EuroMillions ticket yesterday (due to the immense 'must be won' prize fund) netted me £13. Added to the £10 on last week's lottery draw I'm definitely making a profit.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Late night NFL

Does it get much better than this? Sky's NFL games tonight started with the Giants hosting Cincinnati. Superb - I was quite convinced that the might of the Giants would overcome the Bengals. Maybe... almost... eventually. What a game. The lead changed hands... well I lost count but maybe six times. The Giants finally won in overtime (always a scary way to win). Even scarier for me as I'd made the mistake of choosing my own team in our weekly NFL pool (everyone chooses a winner, the complication being you can only choose a team once during the regular season). I was on the edge of my seat.

Even worse, the second game was Indianapolis (yeah, one of the will-they-won't-they potential sixteen-and-oh teams from last season)... which we missed the start of due to the Giants going to overtime. I didn't have much faith in the Jags ability to overcome Indianapolis and "Eli's big brother" (yep, only a Giants fan has it that way round!). The game started pretty slow, and I complained that this was going to be a let down after the Giants game. How wrong can a person be. Although the Jags started behind (for a good while) they managed to pull it back thanks to big second and third quarters. Just ahead going into the fourth somehow it all got tied up. Now it has to be said, Garrad (Quarterback) wasn't having much of a game. Certainly not in terms of throwing (some excellent running plays). They managed some amazing running drives and the clock is ticking and ticking and running down. But, Indianapolis do the unthinkable and get a touchdown to tie the game. Happily my boys still have time-outs... and they move down the field to be in field goal range (just about). It's fifty-one yards (four from eight I'm told our kicker for field goals over fifty yards). I'm biting my nails, sitting on the floor (I fell off the edge of the seat)... I've seen to many failed field goals to have any expectation. Wait a moment... he makes it... it is good! Jaguars win!!! Jaguars win!!!

So... this weekend, my teams are two for two (so far). The Jets are playing San Diego tomorrow night as the Monday night game, so they're on TV too. In an ideal world I get home from work on time... eat dinner... get a nap and wake up for the game. We'll see.

The Jags endgame was scarier than the Superbowl. I always had faith that the Giants would win the Superbowl (even though it got scary at the end)... let's face it... I bought champagne to celebrate the day before I was so confident. I know that the Jags was only one game (and so early in the season)... but nobody wants to lose - and lets face it, they haven't been that good so far this season!

NFL - gotta love it! Happy until January now, me!

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Tell me why...

... I don't like Sundays.

My laptop is giving me grief. Again. Turned it on this morning to find no AC power (again) running off battery (again). Given that I've not been able to charge the battery since I replaced the AC charger a few weeks ago that wasn't good as the battery power is beginning to run low.

This time the AC adapter appears to be still working (lights are on on the power pack) it is just that the damn computer doesn't admit that the AC power supply exists. Hopefully when the official Dell version arrives later this week that will fix the problem. If not we're pretty much sunk. I've just paid off the Hire Purchase. I own the machine and the warranty has run out. Typical.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Going mobile!

A blog isn't just for sitting at home with your PC (or your laptop) these days the internet is mobile. This means that you can now pick up 'London Calling' when you are out and about (thanks to the good people at Wirenode). To read 'London Calling' from your mobile phone go to this address: http://beansmail.wirenode.mobi 

The Occasional Tourist - Part Six, London Bridge

Yesterday lunchtime I took a short hop on the Jubilee Line from Green Park down to London Bridge. The reason for my journey? World Traders were organising a sheep drive over London Bridge.

Unfortunately my lunch-break happened too late for me to actually witness the sheep crossing the bridge but I did arrive just in time to see the sheep being taken back to their truck for the journey home.

Here's what happened. About 500 Liverymen (and women) from around the City took the opportunity to take turns driving the sheep across the bridge. This is the exercise of an ancient privilege (of hearsay and legend rather than documented evidence) which allowed Freemen to drive sheep across London Bridge (thought to stem from the fact that Freemen of the City were exempt from Bridge tolls/taxes and London Bridge is the oldest and at one time only bridge over the Thames). My parents (both Freemen of the City - as am I) both took part, wearing robes and so I'm told straw boaters (that would be something to see). For more about the Sheep Drive see this report from the Telegraph.

Some of the 15 sheep

London Bridge

Far left - the Corporation of the City of London wash the bridge!

Whilst I was there I took the opportunity to walk across London Bridge to Monument and back. There isn't much to see at Monument right now as the eponymous Monument itself is being cleaned. The Monument commemorates the Great Fire of London and if laid down would reach from where it stands to the site of the Bakery in Pudding Lane where the fire started. The Great Fire of London burned for four days and nights and decimated large parts of old London including the original St Paul's Cathedral and Guildhall along with thousands of homes and 87 churches. Only five deaths were documented but hundreds of thousands were left homeless. The fire did effectively wipe out any remainders of the Plague (1665) and also allowed the redesign of some parts of London - including many of the beautiful churches designed by Christopher Wren, the current St Paul's Cathedral and a new Guildhall.

Monument

Just after crossing the Thames looking east (or west) will afford views of another London curiosity. Some examples of the elevated walkways that populate the City. Part of a post-war planning initiative these were imposed on many developments through the 60s and 70s. Much was built but little was connected, which means that largely these remain unused.

Elevated walkway

I walked back across the bridge to London Bridge to get the tube back to my office. There are quite good views each way from the Bridge up and down the Thames.

The Thames (looking East)

The Thames, Black Cab included (looking West)

City Dragon

London Bridge must be one of the ugliest main line stations in London - probably matched only by Euston and the new frontage of Kings Cross.

London Bridge (including red buses)
Arriving back at North Greenwich in the evening I took the opportunity to capture Canary Wharf with a lovely sunset and some evening shots of the O2.


Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Amphibian friends

It's been a while since I posted pictures of my amphibian friends. Not that they haven't been around - they have been visiting the kitchen (and the other night even as far as the lobby) practically every evening. They've become very used to hopping on my hand and taking the taxi back to the Frog Pond! Tonight, however, they all seemed to be in the pond together (I counted six at one point!).