Saturday 31 May 2008

The Garden Gang are back

One small snail. As a not very enthusiastic gardener I don't mind snails, I think that they are quite cute, and always rescue them from perilous positions (the side of my car, for example). My mother views snails as instruments of guerilla warfare and will happily throw them over fences!

It's that time of year... blue and green jewelled insects take to the air over the pond. Hard to catch as they rest only for moments before resuming their aerial dances.

Look very carefully! Some of the small brown fish that make up Jaw's retinue. Now the various pond treatments have worked there has been an enthusiastic return of the smaller fish.

Sat Nav

My attention was caught by an advertisement on TV last night for Halfords (who sell everything you can want for a car and more) offering up to 50% of SatNav systems. That was excuse enough for me! My navigation is lamentable - even going places that I've been before. Several traumatic experiences have been had going on site visits for work in places as far afield as Worcester, Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds.

No longer though. I have a shiny new Garmin and now I just need somewhere to go to try it out. Superb features include voice directions and the ability to tell you the nearest location of useful things such as petrol stations (many the time I've almost run out of gas in the middle of an area unfamiliar to me).

That is my treat to me this month, after all, last month it was paying for the MOT!

Friday 30 May 2008

Quiet Days

Office days like today are good and they are bad. Boss-one is still abroad, Boss-two was away all day at a meeting, Saffy-bloke was off sick. That left the rest of us in the office with peace and quiet as the phone didn't ring much (I actually wondered if it was out of order for most of the morning).

I left work early anyway as I had to visit the doctor. One of my injection sites was looking a bit unusual. I rang the Betaplus helpline yesterday who were very helpful but decided I really should see my GP. I then rang the doctor's surgery to make an appointment. None left they told me, you have to ring at half past eight. I pointed out that by half past eight I'm already at work some fifteen miles away. You can speak to the duty doctor I was told. I tried pointing out that this was something the doctor needed to see but in the face of immovable bureaucracy gave up and agreed to ring the duty doctor. The conversation with the duty doctor came to the conclusion that really he needed to see me, I pointed out this is what I'd told his receptionist and he muttered something about systems. So I saw the doctor and he said that there was the outside possibility that the site had an infection (although as it wasn't a recent site it was unlikely) or more likely it was fat necrosis which is tissue trauma. Superb. So I'm left with an angry mark on my skin, which will probably eventually fade and a strange little dimple, which won't repair. Too much of this and I'll have permanent cellulite! The doctor gave me antibiotic cream on the basis of we can treat the thing that could be treated.

Thursday 29 May 2008

Reading Material

I've been doing a lot of reading lately. I love to read, but my reading levels fluctuate depending on what reading material I have available. Generally I try mostly to borrow books from the library, although recent shelf rearrangement means that there is a bit more space available for my fledgling library. Usually I only really want to own books that I would read again... I don't see the point of a huge collection of books I have read once, that is what the library is for! Unfortunately Charlton's library is housed in the beautiful Charlton House. In a very small part of the beautiful Charlton House. Charlton's adult fiction section isn't very large, although I assume that with the shifting population of books they must have some stacks somewhere or rotate content with other libraries in Greenwich.

I finally finished 'The Traveller' by John Twelve Hawks. This is definitely a book I'd recommend. Although it focuses on themes of the intrusive surveillance of modern society there is a good dose of action/adventure thrown in which makes it very readable. I'm looking forward to the arrival of 'The Dark River' which is part two of the trilogy. I'm also now reading 'The Book Thief' which is a somewhat strange novel. Set in wartime Germany, although the war isn't the story... and narrated rather bizarrely by Death. I'll let you know how that one turns out.

Time to go to the library this weekend, as I've read as many of the books that I borrowed as I'm going to. My library book selection method is hit and miss; I generally just grab anything that even slightly appeals to me from the shelves without much examination of the dust jacket. I have about a 75% success rate, which as you have three weeks to read eight books suits me fine!

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Strange London moments

If only I'd not been in transit (as it were) and had a chance to take some photos.

Imagine the following...

It's twenty past eight in the morning and drizzling a bit on Piccadilly. Outside Green Park station the Evening Standard seller's stand is folded up until the evening, and just a blue metal box some three foot high. On top of the stand a modern day Cinderella has passed by. There sits a lone black ladies' court shoe. Waiting for Prince Charming to pick it up and seek his Cinderella.

It's half past one and lunch time on Piccadilly. The traffic heading east towards Piccadilly Circus is at a standstill (presumably worse than usual because of various road closures/delays due to the fuel protests). On the South Side of Piccadilly (in which direction only buses and taxis and emergency vehicles may travel) a police van has stopped at the side of the road. Behind the van two policemen appear to be setting up a camera in the road. Is this a speed camera? Whose speed are they monitoring. Buses crawl along towards the bus stops heading west and traffic heading east isn't going anywhere!

It's quarter past five outside the Cafe Nero on the corner of Dover Street and Piccadilly. The tables are full as the rain has finally let up. One table seems to have had an unfortunate accident with the remains of a shattered ash tray on the ground next to it and coffee and food debris all over the top. A lone diner is still using this table though. Sitting on the table enjoying the crumbs (and who knows maybe the coffee) is a lone pigeon, minding his own business amongst the other patrons.

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Fuel rage

The Tuesday after a Bank Holiday Monday is always a confusing day. You feel like it is Monday because it is the start of the week, even though it is in fact Tuesday. This then knocks on into the rest of the week, meaning that Friday is always a pleasant surprise because it seems to have come a day early!

Traffic in London was badly affected today by more fuel protests. Lorry drivers from all over made their way into town (and in some cases parked up on the main thoroughfares into town) on their way to petition Gordon Brown. Apparently the average price of petrol in the UK know is about 114p per litre. More for diesel. Lucky I live in an area where petrol is notoriously cheap and is generally between 111p and 113p (yes, that penny makes all the difference). The stark horror of petrol prices in the UK is tax on petrol generally accounts for something between 60% to 70% of the total price you pay at the pump. Outrageous? Maybe. I'm in two minds. The fact is that the cost of motoring is horrific, especially for those people who have to use a car/truck/lorry as part of their job (truckers and hauliers who were protesting especially) and it is true that they cannot compete against their peers from Europe who pay a lot less at the pumps. It pains me every time I put petrol in my car how much it costs. However, the environmentalist is me says good thing. Maybe everyone will think twice about how much they need to use their cars if it costs that much to run them. After all petrol (oil) is not a renewable resource. Maybe the lorry drivers are right, perhaps some sort of tax rebate for essential users would hit the right balance.

Monday 26 May 2008

Little drops of water

The threatened downpour that was supposed to last the entire weekend finally arrived today. It rained, and rained, and rained. My nearly-mother-in-law's kitchen ceiling started leaking (much to the disgust of the cat), but the inhabitants of the garden pond seemed to be enjoying the weather. According to Metcheck's daily weather forecast that landed in my inbox yesterday afternoon this is the European monsoon season, so we really shouldn't be surprised.

The seasonal downpour coincided, ironically, with my experiment into water-saving showering. Last year I received a free 'toolkit' courtesy of the Mayor of London's DIY Planet Repairs initiative. In addition to a booklet full of handy tips, a car sticker and a mug reminding you to only boil the water you need there was a timer for taking a shower. An egg-timer with green sand. It was duly stuck in the shower... and not used. It's arrival was just as my MS relapse happened and my balance left me and taking a shower became a bad idea. Finally feeling confident enough to stand in the shower, or wedge myself in the corner if need be; I turned over the timer. Four minutes isn't very long when you need to wash out shampoo and conditioner from long hair. By the time I was done in the shower (and happily the egg timer hadn't run out) I felt like I'd won a race!

Sunday 25 May 2008


The Late Spring Bank Holiday. Some things in life are inextricably linked to this weekend at the end of May. Wet weather (usually), the Play-off Finals of English Football and the Eurovision Song Contest. If you are reading this outside of Europe this probably doesn't mean much to you. Let's face it, if you're reading this inside Europe odds are it still doesn't mean much to you, especially if you are in the UK.

Once a year all the countries in Europe (and it really is all the countries) choose a song and enter the Contest. There are so many countries wanting to compete these days that semi-finals have to take place to reduce the number of entries to something approaching manageable. All the songs perform (one after the other) and there is then a voting period. All the countries who entered (even those who didn't make the grand final) have a telephone voting system. The results are then announced country by country. This used to be the fun part as each country in turn said "Hello Belgrade this is London calling" (or whatever). They'd then give out the votes in reverse order. This unfortunately had to stop as forty three countries giving out ten votes would just take too long. Now the first seven votes are put on the screen and only the top three read out. This takes away some of the fun.

Traditionally Eurovision is viewed with some mockery in the UK. We don't take it very seriously any more (which is probably why we come last). Unfortunately we don't have to take it seriously the UK are on of the 'big four' (the others being Germany, France and Spain) who due to their financial input don't have to qualify every year. The other automatic qualification spot is from the previous years winners, who also get to host the contest. This is a huge PR deal and tourist attraction (like I said the rest of Europe takes it more seriously than us) but very expensive. Some years ago Ireland won three years in a row... maybe that explains Dustin the Turkey this year (I didn't see their failed qualifying but I'm told it has to be seen to be believed).

I always like the Eurovision. Musically it generally hits my middle of the road taste pretty well. It's a fun evenings viewing on a Saturday night (especially if you record it so you can fast forward the rubbish songs). It always fun to see if anyone will actually vote for the UK's entry (the dreaded 'null points').

Recently though it hasn't been quite as much fun as it once was. The voting patterns were always viewed with tolerant amusement. Spain and Portugal would always vote for each other... Scandinavia always stuck together... and so on. It's not such fun these days though. The proliferation of entries from Eastern Europe means that even after the qualifying process there are still plenty of Eastern European countries left. They still all vote for each other too. So you need to be pretty exceptional to win. Recently we've been to Kyiv, Helsinki and Belgrade... with a momentary aberration going to Athens. Next year we're off to Moscow.

It used to be a bit of a joke, but now it just isn't funny but rather tedious.

Saturday 24 May 2008

Web 2.0 (again)

I've been Stumbling around the internet this afternoon. That is what I do these days, not surfing anymore. I sit and press the little "SU" button on my toolbar and see where I end up. It is the Zen form of website navigation... like the form of Zen Navigation expounded by Dirk Gently in Douglas Adam's book The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul. Find someone who looks like they know where they are going and follow them. You don't always get where you want to go but you get where you need to be.

Talking of Douglas Adams, which I was in a around about way...
Towel Day :: A tribute to Douglas Adams (1952-2001)

People do the strangest things!

I don't know how I find the time for other places on the net... what with twittering, blogging, my ever increasing Picasa albums, Facebook... ah, the wonderful world of interactivity. For a really comprehensive list of Web 2.0 sites go here.

For a quiet interval with the wit and wisdom of Douglas Adams (one of my favourite authors) go here.

Friday 23 May 2008

Ready for the Holiday

Here we are on the cusp of another holiday weekend... the last until the Late Summer Holiday at the end of August. Rain has been threatened for the whole weekend which will hopefully include all the way down to Monaco. The Monaco Grand Prix is pretty boring unless the weather is bad!

I've no plans for the weekend. Possibly do as much of nothing as possible, maybe enjoy the weather if it is of the type that can be enjoyed.

I finished reading the Nick Hornby book "A Long Way Down" and it was pretty good. Well written in a readable sort of way, and the characters were very believable. Definitely worth a read of you get a chance. I've now moved on to "The Traveller" by John Twelve Hawks. It's got overtones of George Orwell's 1984 and the Matrix movies. So far quite a page turner, and a definite Web 2.0 experience with plenty of interactivity on-line.

Thursday 22 May 2008

Exercise and football

My back was quite sore when I woke up this morning. I decided that I would try sitting on my exercise ball whilst working (working from home day today) and see if that helped. The ball was too low for the desk. So I moved the laptop onto a chair. Probably just about the right height. Then the ball rolled away and I ended up sitting on the floor. End of experiment. Back to the chair and the desk.

I don't suppose we can finish without mentioning last night's Champions League final. A football game being played in Moscow by two English teams. Does it get any stranger. The whole of the country seemed to have worked itself into a frenzy, and nobody would believe that I really didn't care. I did see some bits of the game (whilst eating dinner and passing through)... and I did watch the penalty shoot out. I love a good penalty shoot out.

Just the end of the Scottish Premier League tomorrow and we are done with football until August (seeing as none of the home nations are going to Euro 2008).

Wednesday 21 May 2008

How very strange

This evening I was pleased to arrive at Green Park station without any delays or suspensions in evidence anywhere on the network (or indeed during the previous several hours).

My contentment was disturbed by the higher than usual concentration of British Transport Police and London Underground staff. I decided that this must be due to the football later... and thought no more of it. Until I heard 'Inspector Sands' being summoned to the Control Room. Anyone who travels regularly by tube will know that 'Inspector Sands' far from being a senior member of staff is in fact some sort of code (whether for a fire alert or security alert opinion seems to be divided). Sure enough, the plea for the Inspector was immediately replaced by a wailing two tone alarm.

The thing that struck me as strange is that any where else (probably in the world) should you hear an alarm you would evacuate the premises. Yet passengers in the underground carried on about their business. I kept waiting for somebody to tell me to vacate the premises, but nothing doing! Eventually the alarm stopped, I got on a train, and continued home.

Tax doesn't have to be taxing

The well beloved advertising slogan of HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs) to remind people to file their tax returns on time.

The idea is that income tax doesn't have to be difficult to understand, the problem is that just isn't true. I've never worked anywhere other than the UK so I've never had to deal with any other tax system, but I do find it difficult to imagine how it could be more complex. In an effort to raise revenue and as a side effect simplify the tax system it was announced in the 2007 budget that the 10% (starter rate) of income tax was to be abolished. As nobody understands income tax it wasn't until the measures came into effect and those affected discovered that they were taking home less money that the furore started.

Here is how income tax in the UK works (to the best of my limited understanding anyway!). Everyone has a personal allowance (just over £5,000) on which they pay no tax. There are then several limits at which different levels of tax apply. Formerly the first £2,000 something at 10% the next £30,000 something at 22% and above that at 40%. Confused yet?

The recent changes abolished the 10% rate (also called the 10p rate); which left anyone on a low salary worse off. This paid for the reduction in the general rate of income tax from 22% to 20%. The upper level remained un-changed. So although everyone was affected by the abolition of the 10% some were affected more than others. Sounding a bit like George Orwell? All tax is equal, but some is more equal than others.

The unexpected furore, by-election defeats and back-bench rebellions forced the government to re-think it's position. It was announced that there would be an increase in the personal allowance (your salary on which you pay no tax) back dated to April. This means that on average you'll be seeing about £60 extra in your pay packet come September and £10 thereafter to the end of the year (or so the media informs me). I'm not inclined mathematically to work out if this improves the lot of those worst affected by all this tax smoke and mirrors, but I'll wager not.

It really does seem to be Robin Hood upside down, robbing the poor to give to the rich. I don't usually give tax a second thought (although given the propensity of HMRC to make calculation errors I probably should) but it is that time of year again already and I've just filed my P60 (end of tax year summary) away for safe keeping.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

More transport woes

The biggest London news story today was that concerning the route 188 bus which hit a tree on Tower Bridge Road, killing one person and injuring 18 others. It isn't yet apparent exactly what transpired in order that the incident occurred; although as the deceased was crushed by falling branches from trees along the road it seems likely that trees had something to do with it; even more so when the press are so quick to point out that the trees are owned and maintained by TfL (Transport for London). Although this happened at 9:45 this morning evening rush hour traffic was still being affected.

On a more local and immediate level the traffic situation around New Charlton and what is popularly called "The Low Road" (Woolwich Road) has not improved in the last 24 hours. The situation of the roadworks on the Woolwich Road blocking traffic coming down Charlton Church Lane has now been exacerbated by further roadworks (the signal controlled type) on Charlton Church Lane itself. Add this to the closure of Pound Park Road (which messes up any traffic coming over the level crossing) and the whole area is now something resembling a large car park. Do the utility companies (and I assume the Council) not apply ANY logic when deciding the scheduling of these works?

I recommend that anyone travelling from Charlton towards North Greenwich takes the 422 and not the 486 for the foreseeable future.

Monday 19 May 2008

The years of commuting

I read a story in the paper today (twice in fact as it was in both the morning and evening papers) which said that on average a worker spends FIVE YEARS commuting to and from work. Unless you live in London in which case the figure rises to EIGHTEEN YEARS. Now I know where all my time goes.

Tonight's journey felt like five years all by itself. I'd make a resolution not to complain about the Jubilee Line every day, but I'd break it the next time I got a tube I should think. Another tediously long journey on an overcrowded train which required me once again to go up and back in order to be able to fit on the train. Let's have a new category... instead of going straight from "Good Service" to "Minor Delays" we'll add in "Delays Which Aren't Delays"... the definition of which will be "Noticeable effect on your journey, but we're going to pretend that everything is working fine". Or as the station announcer at Green Park often drily observes "the line is operating normally" - make of that what you will!

It wasn't just the underground that was out to get me today. There are roadworks on the Woolwich Road. These are having an extremely adverse effect on all bus routes. The 486 gets to the bottom of Charlton Church Lane and then gets stuck because impatient motorists on the Woolwich Road heading towards Greenwich (and impatient motorists turning left out of Charlton Church Lane) drive over the junction (just because there isn't a yellow box doesn't mean that it is good manners)... and block the bus from taking it's phase when the lights change. Looks like it might be time to take the extreme measure of the 422 and hope we don't get stuck down Tunnel Avenue.

At least it's a working from home day tomorrow... so my commute is from my bed to the far side of the bedroom.

If it ain't broke...

One of my favourite place near the office to buy lunch is our local Sainsbury's. There are a plethora of available options... ranging from small independent sandwich bars to multiple outlets from the likes of Pret a Manger, EAT, etc. etc. I prefer Sainsbury's as there is more than just sandwiches and/or salad and it is a little more cost effective.

Today Sainsbury's have annoyed me. For no discernible reason they have decided to completely re-organise the lunch part of their store. My usual five minute trip took more like ten minutes as I searched for all the things I wanted to buy!

My only solution is that they have reduced the range they carry, and cunning re-organisation hides this fact!

Sunday 18 May 2008

Movie night

Last night's movie was "Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story". I chose this after watching a trailer, and to say that Rich was dubious about the merit would be an understatement. It was really good though. The humour was a bit over the top sometimes, but generally pitched just about right. Anyone who had seen "Walk the Line" could pretty much figure out what was coming up... but the music was pretty good, and we thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I give it 8/10 (praise indeed).

Saturday 17 May 2008

Old Girls

This weekend I took a trip down to Tonbridge. The purpose... the 100 year anniversary of my school's Old Girls Association. Also the last meeting of the Old Girls as they are now re-branding themselves Alumni and going on-line!

It was quite an experience to go back to the old School. It is 15 years since I left, and about 14 years since I was last there. It hasn't really changed much. Some decorating here and there, some re-naming here and there... a bit of building work; but otherwise pretty much as I remember.

There was only one other member of the Class of 93 present. In fact there weren't very many people from anytime in the 80s and 90s. I guess we are all too much on-line to have need of such things... we I suppose is why the Alumni are now joining the world of the on-line too!

Friday 16 May 2008

Three o'clock and all is well...

...well, not so well.

I don't like being awake in the middle of the night. I don't like that it is quiet. I don't like that there is nobody to talk to (although in the age of digital communication that is never really true).

This morning's nocturnal awareness is caused by side effects of last night's injection. I shouldn't complain really. The side effects were much, much worse taking Avonex, and they happened pretty much after every injection. This is only about the fourth time I've really noticed anything at all in about five months of taking Betaferon. Even better, as I took the injection hours and hours ago this is the tail end of the side effects, a couple of paracetamol and wrapping up warm in my fluffy dressing gown and I'll probably soon be back asleep. Right now, though, I still feel as if I'm getting over a dose of the 'flu!

Thursday 15 May 2008

A good service on the Jubilee Line

If only there had been a good service tonight. I was depressed when Boss-one phoned the office on his way back from a meeting to tell us he was going to be delayed because there was trouble with the Jubilee Line (seriously, when is there not). This was at 3pm, two hours before it was time to go home.

Trouble took the form of suspension between Waterloo and Canada Water due to a signal failure at Bermondsey. Popular place for signal failures... take note Tubelines, and get it fixed!

By the time I left at 5pm the website had downgraded to 'minor delays'. By the time I got to Green Park some ten minutes later there was a 'good service'. Now I think that I've mentioned before that London Underground have some interesting definitions of service levels. As it always amuses me it is always worth reiterating. A good service means 'no noticeable impact on your journey' - thus I feel I should arrive at North Greenwich 23 minutes after I leave Green Park. Minor delays mean 'noticeably longer journey times, but stay with your planned route' - fair enough, but it takes no account of the over-crowding caused by the 'noticeably longer' journey. Severe delays are interpreted as 'significantly longer journey times, consider using another route'. After that comes 'Suspended' - speaks for itself really, but differentiated from a 'Planned Closure'.

I had to disagree (as I often do) with the assessment of a 'good service' last night. I arrived on the platform at Green Park to find that, actually, I couldn't arrive on the platform because it was already full to bursting. I took my usual alternative of going along the line in the other direction. Three stops up is St John's Wood. An ideal point for crossing to the eastbound service. There is no interchange at St John's Wood so it is a relatively quiet station, and there are through tunnels from westbound to eastbound. Lots of other people had the same idea, but happily there was a train waiting at St John's Wood and it was pretty empty. It took an hour from leaving Green Park to get to North Greenwich, even given the twenty minutes spent going in the opposite direction that is still a one hundred percent increase over what would be expected. Good service? I don't think so.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Wednesday wanderings

Today the car had to go and get fixed. The reason the car had to go and get fixed is rather upsetting. The car had to go and get fixed because I hit the front of the house whilst parking last week and broke the headlight. Oops.

Originally I was going to take it to a Ford dealership. This idea was abandoned though on account of a) there isn't one very near me (at all) b) they never called me back and c) their automated phone system hung up on me. So, I took it to a local garage (well, relatively local). This occasioned me to visit a part of Woolwich I'd never been to before, south of the Woolwich Road (or maybe it is called Greenwich Road once it meets Woolwich?) and next to the Thames. It is a fairly vast industrial estate with some incongruous pockets of housing. It is also two bus journeys and a reasonable walk from my house. I probably saved at least 100% of what the dealership would have cost me though, so I'm not complaining.

Having the car back in one piece I went to the supermarket for some bread. The Sainsbury's on the peninsula finally has it's new windmills up. It had been some months since the old ones were taken down. The new ones are pretty cutting edge. Instead of the old vertical faced blades these have twisted blades in a column. This means that the windmill doesn't need to turn to face into the wind, and doesn't need such a long free air corridor to operate. It also allows it to operate at lower speeds. Sainsbury's, however, don't seem to have turned their new windmills on yet!

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Transport troubles

Not my troubles (for once).

Boss-one arrived rather late into the office looking slightly dishevelled, the reason for this... the DLR (well, it is always that or the Jubilee Line). He'd arrived at the DLR station (having missed a bus) to be given a leaflet detailing 'improvements to your service'. He arrived on the platform to find that there was a crowd of people, and a ten minute wait for the next train. Some service improvement! Irony, black humour, or taking the mickey?

Monday 12 May 2008

Leisure pursuits

I've been neglecting the recently watched movies a bit. That isn't because we haven't watched any...

Recently we have had:

"The Lookout" - about a guy with a brain injury and now short term memory. Certainly made me feel that my rubbish memory might not be so bad! It was an OK movie, reasonably paced and just about had a plot line. It was a bit drab though. I give it 6/10.

"The Man" - now this is quite an old film, somehow it slipped through the net. Pretty much entirely Eugene Levy (funny, funny guy) and Samuel L. Jackson... who is one of my highest rated actors, possibly ever. Also, since he started doing the adverts for Virgin Media's on-demand services... I kind of pay his wages!!! Good enough, this movie... a few chuckles here and there. I give it 8/10.

I've also managed to spend some quality time with my games consoles recently. I've been greatly enjoying some of my older PS2 games. I'm still sulking with "Lost: Via Domus" on account of it being too difficult... and Rich discovered that the Xbox games won't play on the 360 without an update. An update which you can only get via Xbox Live. Xbox live which I can't get as trying to connect to the internet via my laptop doesn't work (there is some sharing issue in Windows Vista Home Basic)... and the desktop is too far away... so I need a wireless adaptor or something. More money! Nothing but expense... and that isn't even taking account of the upcoming titles that I shall need to be buying (Indiana Jones Lego... Fable 2... and I'm pretty sure there must be others!).

Somehow in amongst this I've still found time for my library books. Not that I'd recommend most of them... but the one that I've just started "A Long Way Down" by Nick Hornby. I think it is going to be a pretty good book. There aren't many of them. The last really good one I read was "Five People You Meet in Heaven" by Mitch Albom. I read that when I was staying in Kiev last year. I'd like to read it again, as sometimes I think that when you are away from home a book affects you differently... I remember three very influential books I read on holiday in Scotland when I was around twelve or thirteen... "More than Human" by Theodore Sturgeon, "Of Time and Stars" by Arthur C. Clarke and "Go Ask Alice". I've since read the first and the last again... "More than Human" didn't grab me nearly as much and "Go Ask Alice" I still found a very powerful and moving book. I'll let you know how the Nick Hornby shapes up.

Sunday 11 May 2008

More from the Garden Gang...

More tadpoles living in the fish pond

Two frogs in the Frog Pond

Frog sheltering from the hot weather!

Another of the Frog Pond's inhabitants

This guy is just thinking

The squirrel appears to have forgotten where he left his nut stash!

A lot of hard work for a small spider!

Butterfly rests from his dance

Saturday 10 May 2008

If ever there was a time for SatNav...

It may be a cliche, but a lot of women have no sense of direction and can't navigate. I read once that it is because women have no spacial awareness. Possibly true. Definitely true for a lot of women in my family (my mother, possibly, excepted).

Today I was meeting my cousin for lunch. My cousin lives around the South Circular from Charlton in Dulwich. Not too far of a trip; especially as this isn't the first time she has picked me up. She was supposed to arrive at 11:30; at gone 12 my phone rang... "I'm so sorry, the traffic is awful and I think I'm going the wrong way... are you anywhere near Catford?"

I told her to point herself to Lewisham and thereafter to Woolwich (or failing that Greenwich). Over an hour later the phone rang again "I'm in Greenwich, are you near Trafalgar Road?"... there was a pause "Oh, a sign to Charlton!". I suggested that she went with that and sometime later she finally arrived.

I can't give her too much stick because I've had more than similar problems myself. There was the famous occasion of trying to find Worcester off the M6 and repeatedly driving up and down between the same two junctions for the best time of half an hour.

The difference between us is my cousin has SatNav (which she forgot to charge) and I rely on road signs and internet route finders to give me directions!

Friday 9 May 2008

Definition of a Committee

A Committee takes minutes and wastes hours.

That is pretty often my definition of a meeting. Take the one I was obliged to attend this morning. There were ten people attending (with additional apologies). It went on for over two hours. There was nothing that I learnt that I a) needed to know or b) didn't know already. And not even a biscuit to keep body and soul together.

Interestingly at the end of the meeting the date and location of the next meeting was being discussed. When an alternative location (one of the other consultants offices) was suggested the Client vetoed it with "No, too far to travel". There was a pause and then the Architect pointed out "At least you get biscuits in our offices", to which the Client replied "Why do you think I've been coming there for the last ten years".

Thursday 8 May 2008

Garden gang

I went out into my garden at lunch time today for a little sun... and to enjoy the plethora of nature that has arrived along with spring

A water-boatman on the pond

A few of the many tadpoles (fast becoming frogs)

One of the squirrel family up the tree

Molly keeping a watchful eye on proceedings

Pillow talk

Ask anyone who knows me, I like to sleep. I could put it as a hobby on my CV. If it was an Olympic sport I could win a gold.

My quest is for the perfect sleeping environment. As I'm inclined towards a bad back I like to have a firm mattress. This is directly at odds with my desire for a soft and cushioning base. I've tried all sorts of solutions to this. Firstly a rather inefficient mattress 'pad'. This was about two millimetres thick and served no obvious purpose apart from protecting the mattress. Next I tried some more robust mattress toppers. These were feather filled. I bought two in the end, but like a duvet the feathers were always migrating to the extremities and I found myself constantly shaking them and adjusting them. Perhaps if I'd spend about double the cost these might have worked. The ones I bought were divided into 'rows'; I've since seen a variety which are divided into 'cells' which stops the feathers going to the extremities. Maybe one day.

My temporary solution was my feather duvet. I either wrap myself in this (winter and autumn) or fold it double and lie on top of it (spring and summer). No ideal but quite comfortable. My latest acquisition is a body pillow. This is basically an extremely long fibre filled pillow which you lie on. It prevents you from sleeping on your stomach of back, either of which always gives me multiple aches and pains. A definite improvement to my bedtime environment.

Wednesday 7 May 2008

Prohbition on public transport

The big news across town today was the announcement by Mayor Boris that alcohol is to be banned across the public transport network in London. This was met with a mixture of delight and derision depending on the commentator.

The stated idea is to make the network a 'safer place'. Granted it could do with some of that. I do not see the need for guzzling drink on the tube (for example); the smell from an open beer can is quite revolting (although no worse than the people who insist on consuming their burger and chips or whatever). I also do not see how banning alcohol is making the public transport network a safer place. The 'aggressive drunks' to which Boris refers are mostly drunk BEFORE they get onto public transport. Denying them one more drink is hardly going to make much difference.

Who is going to enforce these rules? British Transport police? The underground staff? The thing is, most transport no longer has any guard or conductor. There are no staff on tubes or buses apart from the driver. There is sometimes a guard on overground trains (depending on the company running the train and line) - oh, but wait a minute. Those fall outside the Mayor's direct jurisdiction anyway.

I can picture the scene now. A rowdy bunch of football fans on the way home from a match, maybe they are crossing London on the tube to get to a mainline station and they aren't from London and so not really aware of the ban. They've been drinking for hours and hours, they've all got a can of beer. They are asked to dispose of the beer (how? where?) and do not take kindly to this request. Violence ensues. Making the network safer?

Don't get me wrong. I'm for the idea in principle. It comes down to manners really. Why should people need to drink in public except in an appropriate venue (if it comes to that, why should they need to eat smelly food, chew gum, listen to loud music or any of the other irritating things commuters get up to). Obviously the previous incumbents campaign of little posters with 'wee-me' characters hasn't worked, so it must be time for tougher measures.

This reminds me of something I saw the other morning. Part and parcel of respect for one's fellow commuter. A lady got onto my bus wearing a pin-badge on her jacket. It showed the London Transport roundel and had underneath the phrase 'baby on board'. Is this the only way a pregnant woman can get people to give her a seat? Sadly yes. Despite signs against the most accessible seats on buses (although not on tubes) and the general fact that most of us are brought up to give up our seat to someone who needs it more (aren't we still? I was) this is a piece of public transport etiquette that usually goes unobserved. The Stick and I are probably offered a seat about fifty percent of the time (and more usually on buses than on the tube), and this is not just because I'm younger; I have observed similar patterns of behaviour towards older people and mums-to-be.

Banning alcohol on public transport is an attention grabbing 'quick-fix' type policy. The greater malaise isn't just a problem for Mayor Boris but for the whole country. It is a problem of manners and of lack of respect. Given that this has been a growing trend for decades now, I think maybe it is too late for change now.

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Spring at last

So, it seems it is time to ditch the coat and take my gloves out of my handbag. Time to add instead my hand-held fan and a bottle of water. Spring arrived today with temperatures up in the twenties; which means sweltering on the underground.

The office was sweltering today too. I think that building management may finally have got the message and turned off the central heating. Doesn't make much difference as the sun pours through the windows all day gradually heating the office. The air conditioning was switched on this afternoon; sadly none of the three cassettes faces my desk; I had to make do with the open window and my small fan.

So, dust off your sunglasses - allegedly this weather is going to continue all week!

Monday 5 May 2008

Holiday Monday

Typical English Bank Holiday. We are threatened with thundery showers and torrential downpours and what we actually get is warm, reasonably sunny but unpleasantly humid. Still, it would not have precluded going out and doing things, which were postponed on the basis that nobody wants to go out in a downpour. As I said, typical Bank Holiday.

I've been inside not enjoying the weather. I did go out first thing this morning to find out why the pond was bubbling (literally). For some reason the tadpole population had decided to congregate in the centre of the pond. The water was seething and there was actually a strange popping noise as the little tadpoles broke the surface of the pond. By late morning they were back in their accustomed places around the edge of the pond. Who knows what the reason for the early morning gathering was.

I started the day playing the Xbox 360. Giving Lost: Via Domus another chance. It has been the most disappointing game; given that it was the reason for my purchasing the Xbox 360. My problem is that 1) the graphics just aren't anywhere near as good as the other games that I have played on the 360 (and given that I only own four games that isn't much competition!) 2) the game is just too hard. I realise that not all games can be delightfully easy (or fit my "3+" age bracket preference) but I do think that a game that requires the learning curve to be in the range of a dozen attempts is taking things too far. In the ned I got annoyed and gave up for the day.

I took then to my major project. Scanning a box of family photographs onto the computer. I estimate that there must be around 1,000 photos which encompass the last 25 years or so. A fascinating trip down memory lane. The problem is, once they've been scanned they still have to be captioned. That is probably going to take at least as long again... I've only been at it for about two months now!

Sunday 4 May 2008

Analytics and searching

Earlier this year I read a post by a fellow blogger which discussed Google Analytics. Although I was already using several applications to track visitors to my blog this seemed to have even more statistics for the inner geek.

Not only can you find out where you visitors come from (roughly) you can also find out what brought them to your site in the first place.

I am particularly fascinated to see the search engine strings that have brought people to my various posts. Until a recent Virgin Media debacle which has seen "code 1-90203" become the favourite search term it was "Horst Buckholst" which brought most people to my site. This is strange as I mention him only once in passing yet if you type "Horst Buckholst" into Google my blog is the number one search result. Reason for this? Incorrect spelling of the actor's name (oops!). If you have landed here seeking information on Horst Buchholz I would direct you to IMDb now armed with the correct spelling! Incidentally, we never really got to the bottom of the VM "code 1-90203", it was suggested on several forums that normality may resume at the end of this week once the fable billing upgrade has been accomplished. My email (touch wood) has been working perfectly ever since, although I've not tried the webmail recently.

Saturday 3 May 2008

London is turning Blue

I was all ready to sit up all night and watch the election results come in - before I discovered that London weren't even starting the count until Friday morning. You can find out the President of the most powerful country on earth over night, but not the mayor of London.

I was even more disappointed to find out that they weren't expecting to have a result until after midnight on Friday. No point staying up then.

I woke up about an hour ago after an uneasy sleep with a sore back (really must get the back exercises booklet out) to find that the results were in and Ken's reign was finally over. Boris is the new London mayor. A lot of people I've spoken to don't think that he is right for the job... I just don't think that he can be any worse than what we've had already. I couldn't believe it when Ken Livingstone was elected in the first place, let alone given a second term. I might only have been seven years old when my family moved out of London, but I still remember my Father's rants against the GLC (run by Red Ken as they called him then).

Hopefully these election results are a wake-up call for Labour. Not that I care particularly if they do get thrown out at the next election, but it would be nice to think that they might realise now that an awful lot of people don't think that they are doing much of a job. Seriously, BBC projects have them in third place after the Lib Dems on this weeks polls. Pretty poor, I'd say, in what is always labelled as a two party system.

Annoyingly (although not surprisingly) Labour held the Greenwich vote. However it would appear that on the basis of the Mayor and Assembly London is now a Conservative city. 11 Conservative, 8 Labour, 3 Liberal Democrats, 2 Green Party and 1 British National Party. A BNP Assembly representative? Shame on London.

Anyway, enough politics. A Bank Holiday weekend stretches before us and hopefully there will be some nice weather at some point!

Friday 2 May 2008

It's been a long week

As anyone who has MS knows some days are good and some days not so good. Some nights are good and some nights are not so good. Last night was not so good. Yesterday was an 'every other day' on which I take my injection (or try, I forget about as often as I remember). I took it in the mid-late evening and went to bed as normal. Then I woke up around midnight feeling as though I was getting the 'flu. A common side effect of the injection... but unpleasant nevertheless. Hot water bottles, many layers of bed clothes and paracetamol eventually helped me get back to sleep, although not, unfortunately, to stay asleep.

This on its own would have been bad enough, but despite being a work from home day yesterday was no the idyll of calm and order that lack of commuting normally imbues into a day. Working to a deadline to finish a spreadsheet was fine. My computer and I falling out during the construction of said spreadsheet leading to the need to re-do several hours work was not. Especially not when my was sitting in the office waiting for it. Finally finished at 7:30 feeling exhausted. The only positive, I didn't have to take a tube/bus journey of over an hour to get home.

Speaking of computers (which I was in a roundabout way) the IT guy has been down from head office to our little outpost the past couple of days. Getting rid of the last few behemoths that still inhabited some of the desks with shiny new computers. Even though I already had a relatively new computer I got one of the new arrivals; they have bigger screens you see - which is handy for using CAD and things of that nature. The only trauma, of course, being the loading of all the settings and so forth back onto the new machine. I'm a geek, it's true, and I like my toolbars 'just so' and I need to have all my shortcuts going to the right places. Oh yes, and of course replacing IE with Firefox. In addition to the shiny new machine I also got to grips with numerous other new technologies including operation of the email system spam filter (so now I can go looking for the missing emails which seem to occur every week).

Thursday 1 May 2008

May Day or Mayor Day

Today is finally the First of May. Fellow London dwellers will be relieved that the Mayoral Election is finally upon us.

As if you possibly needed reminding, don't forget to go out and vote. I'm sure everyone has read the instructions on how to vote. Yes, honestly, instructions. Because it is that complicated. Wait a minute, no it isn't. Get papers (OK, yes more than one paper) put cross in box (or a box in each column on the Mayoral paper). Yes, interestingly the Mayoral race is eschewing the traditional first past the post system for something called the supplementary vote. Horrible shades of Politics A-level come back to me, and the studying of the complexities of various voting systems. If you are really interested you can read about various voting systems here. The system being used for the Mayor works like this. You vote for your first choice candidate. You can also vote for a second choice candidate. If any candidate gets 50% of the vote they are declared the winner. If not then the top two candidates are kept and the rest eliminated. Any second choice votes for the top two candidates from these papers are then counted and whoever has the most votes wins. Confused? Well at least nobody has to count them, it is all being done by computer; although disappointingly not until tomorrow morning. We were all ready for a big election night!

The First of May also has a whole spring thing going on. Many other Bloggers have mentioned it, including the possibility of Morris Dancing (I'd love to see that, I haven't seen Morris Dancers in about twenty years!). For more about May Day check out The Greenwich Phantom: The Perils and Pitfalls of Handkerchiefs. Personally I have a nostalgia for Maypole Dancing. I spent a lot of time at Primary School making pretty patterns with coloured ribbons, always so much fun! Maybe that is why years later I found change ringing so fascinating; but that is a story for another day.