52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

I know we'll make it anywhere

The Ultimate Olympian and I share some triathlon training tips at his 30th birthday party on Saturday night....

As you probably worked out, I had more or less decided on Friday that I would do the London Triathlon in August this year. All I need to do now is to complete the application form, which I'll probably do next week, and then get on with some training and trying to raise some sponsorship.

It's a pretty big deal:

1500m swim in London Docks (yuck)
40km Bike Ride
10km run

I'm not altogether sure that my body will survive the strain. Still. Months to go yet, but already I feel like I have something worthwhile to train for. I don't want this blog to become just a tedious list of the exercise I have been doing, but to show I mean business:

Saturday morning: 40 minute run (I reckon it's about 5 miles - burning off nearly 700 calores according to my heart rate monitor)
Sunday Evening: 64 lengths of the pool - that's 1536m

I'm knackered - although possibly that could be something to do with the excellent party I attended between those two sessions.... (happy birthday mate! I'm pretty sure that vigorous dancing to classics like 'Ghostbusters' and 'Dancing on the Ceiling' probably counts as an exercise session in its own right, no?)

I don't know if any of you lot would be interested in sponsoring Team Ultimate Olympian at the Triathlon this year, but we're looking into how to put up a page that will enable us to take online pledges and stuff.... it's for a great cause.

Watch this space, I suppose.

Friday, January 28, 2005

From the mountain to the air

Just as an antidote to the whole U2 ticketing fiasco, today I bought some tickets to see Thirteen Senses at the Nottingham Rescue Rooms in March. If you were a lazy journalist, you'd probably say that they were a cross between Coldplay and Keane and, perhaps because of this, they've been tipped in various places as being destined for stadiums. There's certainly some similarity with those bands - there's a lot of piano on the record - but the comparison that springs to my mind is Mercury Rev, mainly because the singer has a similar sounding voice: slightly dreamy and otherworldly.

The Rescue Rooms are a pretty small venue just next to Rock City, and can't have a capacity of more than a couple of hundred people - I'm actually off to see The Dears there next Sunday. Some bands are meant to be seen in stadiums (and I think I'm happy to count Bongo and crew in that number), and other bands it's nice to get to see in a more intimate setting.

The main reason that this is a welcome change from buying tickets to see U2?

It's costing me £9.
That's a few bands I've got lined up for 2005 now: The Dears, Athlete, Thirteen Senses, R.E.M. and U2.... Glastonbury tickets are going on sale in April, and fingers crossed they're a bit less stressful to get hold of than they were last year, eh?
I hope y'all have a good weekend. I'm off to help the Ultimate Olympian celebrate his 30th birthday at an exclusive (ahem) black tie dinner in Oxford. Hopefully we'll lay some plans for the London Triathlon (it's in August and I've decided to do it as part of Team Ultimate Olympian - just me and John so far - to raise money for the Sobell House Hospice charity. Watch this space for shameless sponsorship begging). We also need to do some talking about getting stuck into the various canoeing and kayaking disciplines. The National Water Sports centre is in Nottingham and I had a brilliant phone conversation with the slalom coach of the GB canoeing team earlier this week (as you do), and it looks really hopeful that we'll be able to sort something out for later on this year.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

We Live In A Beautiful World (Yeah We Do, Yeah We Do)

Tonight I thought I was going to pass some comment to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Army. The Holocaust was surely one of humanity's darkest hours, and I wanted to take a deep breath and point at some of the other things happening in the world today that mankind might also do well to feel ashamed of; I was going to make some smart remarks about the foundation of the state of Israel in the aftermath of the Second World War. I was going to talk about the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. I was going to talk about George W. Bush and his "War on Terror", the brutalisation of civilians in Iraq, the imprisonment without trial of hundreds of people at Guantanamo Bay.... I could have gone on, and on.

But today I just can't do it.

I can't get the images of the gates of the camp in the snow out of my mind, with that slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei", Work Makes Us Free. I shut my eyes and I can see that slow motion piece of camera footage, those first images of the inmates as they were liberated by the Allies, huge eyes blinking at the light as the doors of their huts are opened. I've been reading stories about how the surivors have been traumatised by their experiences, how they have been plagued with guilt just because they lived where thousands of others, millions of others, had died. I read about one woman in her 80s in a specialist home in Canada for Holocaust survivors who started babbling incoherently in German because she heard the same piece of music playing that the Nazis used to play when they made her dig graves. The song? The White Cliffs of Dover.

As usual, the Urban Fox has written a lot more intelligently on this subject than I can, so I suggest you head over there if you want to read some more (and I stole Fox's picture too - so go and see it in its original setting)

We must never forget.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

And you want me to go without

This is a bit of a long one (again. I am so verbose) Bear with me though, I've a couple of questions for you to answer at the end, a quick music related survey, and I'd quite like hear what you've got to say. If you get bored easily, you might want to pop down to the end and answer the questions right now.....

Still here?

Ok. On with the post.

Tickets for the European leg of U2's Vertigo Tour go on general sale on Friday morning. In spite of the fact that they are playing enormous stadiums (as usual), I imagine that competition for tickets will be fierce. I'm sure more than a few people will be slyly hitting the 'refresh' button on their internet browser at work whilst pretending to be incredibly focused on a fiendishly complex, macro-filled spreadsheet.

So how come a search on Ebay.co.uk ("U2 vertigo ticket") brings up 42 results? Retro-Boy has searched Ebay.com and reports that 855 different people are offering U2 tickets.

How does that work?

Actually I know how. I've been going to concerts with my mate John for absolutely years (I think our first gig together was probably metallica at the Milton Keynes Bowl in about 1992. When we ticked R.E.M. off our 'must see bands' list in the summer of 2003, we decided that U2 were probably the last really, really big band that we still wanted to see live, and hadn't yet seen. You have to be organised about this kind of thing, especially when tickets are likely to be hard to get hold of. Pretty much as soon as we knew that U2 were about to release an album, we formulated our strategy and both signed up for membership of the U2 website. It looks as though bands increasingly set aside a number of tickets for a pre-sale for the subscribers on their website. I'd already benefitted from this in 2004 by getting advance access to tickets for both Snow Patrol and Morrissey in small-ish venues. I thought U2 might just do the same thing. Almost right.

A few weeks ago, I had an email from U2.com telling me about a special club. For $40 you could join the U2.com club. The benefits? A shiny keyring, a discount from the online U2 shop, and early access to specially set aside tickets ahead of the general sale. I resisted at first because it just seems ridiculous. Then the band looked like announcing a tour, and the sheer horror of the thought that I might have to spend hours and hours on the phone and hitting f5 simultaneously... John and I decided we would split it and share the 4 tickets we would be entitled to.

Sure enough, when the tickets went onsale to club members on Tuesday at 10:00 GMT, I was able to get onto the Ticketmaster site and use a special code to buy 4 Standing tickets to the Twickenham date. It wasn't easy - the site kept crashing under the load, and it took several attempts to get through. I then did it all over again to get Lord Bargain's tickets for the Manchester date using his code (poor old Lord Bargain having spent the week in Luxor and being sadly unable to get to the internet in time). Some of my other friends, Statue John and the Ultimate Olympian are still fighting to get their tickets a whole 36 hours later (in a race against time before the general sale starts.... I bet that $40 doesn't feel all that well spent to them at the moment.

And of course, within minutes, hundreds of tickets were appearing on Ebay as people seek to make a quick profit. It makes me cross. I hate this attitude that sees people buy more tickets than they need, or as many tickets as they can for a concert they have no intention of going to, just so they can make some money. The NME tour was in Nottingham on Sunday night, featuring bands like The Killers, Bloc Party and The Futureheads. Out of interest, I had been monitoring Ebay all week and seeing people getting £75 for a pair of £17.50 tickets. The worst one was the one that I saw on the Friday night: some bloke had one spare ticket, and was offering to meet up with someone in front of Rock City to hand over the ticket to the winning bidder, as there wasn't enough time to post it. Bidding started at £50 for that one ticket. When I was in a similar position at The Hives gig I went to a couple of months ago, I gave the spare ticket to someone who was about to buy one off a tout. It cost me nothing, because Statue John had already paid for the ticket, and hadn't been able to make it, but I had no thought of selling it, and just wanted to make sure it wasn't wasted. The attitude that sees people put profit before everything else, the sheer greed of it... ah! Well, it annoys me.


I know Bono has got a world to save, and everything, but, really - how much were they charging? On top of the $40 I laid out for membership, I paid nearly £250 for 4 tickets - £55 per ticket for those standing tickets - plus ticketmaster's pound of flesh. Lord Bargain's seated tickets for the Manchester date were priced at £84 each. I'm sure that giant Lemons aren't cheap, but....that's a lot of money. Can I criticise St.Bono for that? Is that allowed? It's not like U2 need the cash, is it? Is Bono aiming to pay off third world debt personally?
Right then: the questions.

As I was listening to my Ipod at work this afternoon, I was reflecting that the first song you pay to download *must* say something about you, mustn't it? The very first song that you download, the one that persuades you to take out your credit card and enter a whole new world.

Mine was actually "Vertigo" by U2.

When I first got my Ipod, Itunes wasn't available on the PC, so I had downloaded all of my music into a completely different application (Media Centre) and when Itunes had arrived, I had no incentive to move, even after they had opened the music store. Apart from all the inevitable hassle I assumed would result when I tried to move my music library, the idea of downloading anything from the internet wasn't really on my mind, legal or otherwise. My Ipod was purely filled up with stuff ripped directly off my own CDs. It was probably the advertising campaign that did it in the end, and I'm sure "Vertigo" would be the song cited by thousands of others as their first paid download. Once I'd done that, the dam was open, and I have been buying all sorts of stuff since then (although I haven't downloaded a whole album yet - I still like to pick them up on CDs).

I'm curious though (and here come the questions....finally.....)

What was the first song you paid to download?

Or if you haven't done it yet, what song would you pay to download?

If you can be bothered, I'd also be interested to know what the first CD you ripped onto your PC was.... mine was "A Rush Of Blood To The Head" by Coldplay. What was yours? That probably says something about you too. Was it your favourite album?

Answers on a postcard (or in comment) please.....

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

now is the time for your friendship to end...

I've read a couple of posts recently on the subject of immigration - Major Dad & Retro-Boy, and they've got me thinking.

Refugees. Asylum Seekers. Economic Migrants.

What exactly are they?

They're in the news all of the time. If you were foolish enough to ask him, the "man in the street" would probably tell you that they are certainly a bad thing, that they come over here and take our jobs and live in our houses, and that they don't even bother to learn the language.

If you want to see what I mean, how about this from Migration Watch UK:

"In 2002 net foreign immigration was nearly 250,000 while 91,000 British citizens left the UK. If immigration continues at these levels, our population will grow by 7.6 million by 2031 - equivalent to seven times the population of Birmingham, of which nearly 90% will be due to immigration."

Goodness me, eh?

It seems that the Conservative party have been listening. There is likely to be a General Election in the UK in May this year, and Michael Howard has put immigration at the centre of his party's strategy by advocating "controlled immigration" - putting quotas on the number of immigrants allowed into the country, including Asylum Seekers.

"Some people have said this is racist. It is not. It is common sense."


What about the Labour party? What do they think?

Despite the fact that a Conservative win in the election looks about as likely as a snowstorm in hell, it looks very much like the government are running scared, and see this latest move by the Conservatives as revealing a vulnerability. The Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, today announced new policies to speed up the removal of failed asylum seekers, and to limit the number of migrant dependents arriving in the country.

It's probably the man on the street again. Or white van man. His views are important:

No to Europe. No to the Euro. No to Asylum Seekers. Yes to the "war on terror".

Any politician worth his salt wants their vote.

Labour and the Conservatives aren't about to let the fact that these people are also the core constituent of the UK Independence Party and the BNP get in the way of lobbying for their vote.

What's the policy of the British National Party on Asylum Seekers then?

"On current demographic trends, we, the native British people, will be an ethnic minority in our own country within sixty years. To ensure that this does not happen, and that the British people retain their homeland and identity, we call for an immediate halt to all further immigration, the immediate deportation of criminal and illegal immigrants, and the introduction of a system of voluntary resettlement whereby those immigrants who are legally here will be afforded the opportunity to return to their lands of ethnic origin assisted by a generous financial incentives both for individuals and for the countries in question. We will abolish the 'positive discrimination' schemes that have made white Britons second-class citizens. We will also clamp down on the flood of 'asylum seekers', all of whom are either bogus or can find refuge much nearer their home countries"
[Source: The BNP website]

In case you aren't familiar with them, the BNP are a racist party from the "England for the English" school of thought. Polite society usually only notices them when we are appalled to see that they have won seat on a local council somewhere we would never dare to go. Places like the Isle of Dogs, or Bradford. More amusingly, they've also been in the news recently because they accidentally hired a black DJ for their Christmas Party. It caused a lot of confusion and a few walkouts. A BNP spokesman made the immortal public comment that "The DJ sounded white on the phone".... we should give these people as much publicity as possible so as many people as possible can see them for the racist goons that they are. For God's sake don't ban them.... anyway.... I digress.

That immigration policy isn't exactly a million miles away from Michael Howard's comment about the number of immigrants entering the country each year being equivalent to the population of Peterborough, is it? Not far enough away, certainly. He's playing on the same fears - that our green and pleasant land is being overrun by foreigners.

What's a refugee then?

The UNHCR's 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is generally considered to be the key definition (although I see that Michael Howard thinks it is outdated and needs replacing). It outlines what a refugee is, what their rights are, and what a state's legal obligations towards them are.

"A refugee is a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country..."

The UNHCR reckons that there are currently about 17m people worldwide "of concern".

The UNHCR includes Asylum Seekers in their definition of 'refugee'. These are generally people who are fleeing persecution and need our help and protection. How many is too many? Where do you draw the line? Is there even a line to be drawn?

Britain is at the top of the table in terms of asylum applications, but we aren't talking hundreds of thousands of people:

1. Britain -> 61,100 (mainly from Somalia, Iraq, China, Zimbabwe, Iran & Turkey)
2. USA -> 60,700 (China, Colombia, Mexico, Haiti, Indonesia)
3. France -> 59,800 (Turkey, China, DR Congo, Russian Federation, Algeria)
4. Germany -> 50,600 (Turkey, Serbia & Montenegro, Iraq, Russian Federation, China)
5. Austria -> 32,400 (Russian Federation, Turkey, India, Serbia & Montenegro, Afghanistan)
6. Canada -> 31,900 (Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia, China, Costa Rica)

Source: UNHCR 2003

The Home Office tells us that in 2003, the UK allowed 139, 675 people the right to stay. 66,000 of those were joining their families, 29,000 were allowed to stay after working in the country, and 21,000 were asylum cases. So from the 61,100 cases, we allowed 21,000 to stay. My aren't we generous? (and let's not ask too many questions about why one of the largest countries of origin for asylum applicants to the UK is Iraq, eh? What might they be trying to run away from at the moment? Are they seeking asylum from the USA?)

This is a political football: being seen to be "tough on immigration" is a vote winner, but it obscures the reasons why some of these people are trying to enter our country....

Not 6 months ago, Michael Howard stood on the stage at his Party Conference and boldy made political mileage out of his family background (his Jewish father escaped from Romania before the start of the Second World War, fleeing persecution by the Nazis):

"Britain has always offered a home to genuine refugees and to families who want to work hard," he said. "I know - my family was one of them."

So what would have happened if we had immigration quotas back then, eh? Would Mr. Howard have been packed off back into the hands of the Germans and told to try again next year because this year's quotas were full?

Ridiculous nonsense.

I've had a bit of my faith in the 'Great British Public' restored since their spontaneous generosity in the wake of the Tsunami embarrassed the government into digging deeper into their pockets to produce a bit more cash. Let's hope that the same thing happens again, and that we don't let 'The Man in the Street' or any of these idiot politicians close our borders and our hearts against people who really need our help.

*for reference this post is brought to you from my living room sofa, my bed, and finally from my desk. I suppose I should also credit the swimming pool - not because my laptop is *that* good, but because that's where I was when I chewed over some of this stuff as I ploughed up and down....

Wireless is good - although I'll admit that although we were in the same room for once, C. may not have found my conversation scintillating this evening. Especially when blogger blew up halfway through my first draft of this.... grrrr.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

(pragmatism not idealism)

Just a very quick post to say that I decided to take the plunge.... and I am typing this on my beautiful new PowerBook from the comfort of my sofa*

* well, not technically from my sofa. Actually from right beside where my PC is as I try and work out how to transfer my ITunes files across to the mac. But that's only a temporary thing and I am wireless, albeit pointlessly so when I am sat about 30cm away from my cable modem. Still. The whole thing was an awful lot less painful than I had feared - router, airport, file sharing, the works.


[update I -> about 10 minutes later.... now I AM on my sofa. Watching Desperate Housewives, as it happens]

[update II -> about 2 hours later.... I've now got the Ipod working. Hurray!]

Friday, January 21, 2005

That summer was stolen away...

This photo was taken by my grandfather in the back garden of my mum and dad's house. According to the handwriting on the back of the picture, it was taken in September 1981. It was one of those long, hot childhood summers that we all seem to remember so vividly.

Later that same month, I was dressed up in a suit, with a white shirt and bright yellow tie and put into the car with a big trunk full of clothes. I was then driven to the start of my first term at a boarding school.

I was seven years old.

Dreams aren't what they used to be....

I'm happy to be able to tell you that one of my friends appears to rapidly be becoming something of an internet celebrity. Statue John started "Stand By Your Statue" on January 9th this year, and as of last night has overtaken the number of hits I have received on this blog since about October last year. This is partly due to mentions on places like Yahoo and Metafilter, but is of course mainly down to the fact that it is a brilliant idea: when on holiday, take pictures of yourself and your friends standing next to statues. That's it. Simple, yet brilliant. Already featured on the site are the Statue of Liberty, Rodin's Thinker and a headless statue of Lenin in Parnu in Latvia.

If the fact that it's a great idea isn't enough to get you over there to have a look, you might be interested to learn that his most recent post features a certain SwissToni doing his most ferocious "tiger" in front of a statue in Copenhagen. Frankly, who could resist that?

I'm sure everyone has photos like this, and as it happens, Statue John is looking for submissions.... see blog for details.


Whilst we're on the subject of friends.... I've mentioned him here before, but get yourself over to The Ultimate Olympian. He's aiming to compete in all of the 136 Olympic events he qualifies for before the start of the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing. He's just done some of the clay pigeon shooting events, and I think he now 'only' has 128 events to go, including some of the harder ones like the pole vault, the synchonised diving, the marathon, the madison.... He's not just doing this for his own amusement, he's doing it for an extremely worthy cause - the Sobell House Hospice Charity - and he needs your support.

He's just asked me if I will do the triathlon with him in August. That's a 1500m swim, 40km cycle and 10km run. Sounds like hard work to me, but I'm actually thinking I might do it.... anyone care to sponsor me as part of "Team Ultimate Olympian"?


Wednesday, January 19, 2005

It matters what you say, it matters what you do

Three British soldiers are on trial this week at a court martial, charged with abusing and sexually humiliating looters they had detained at an aid camp in Basra, southern Iraq, in May 2003. 22 Photographs of the soldiers abusing naked and bound detainees have been released by the court.

Well, I can't say that I'm surprised, this has happened in this conflict already - most notably at Abu Ghraib prison. This time around though it's a little bit closer to home because it is British troops involved, and not just Americans. We British have always taken enormous pride in our armed forces. For a small island, this country has a big military history, and although we no longer have an Empire, and although it's been a fair while since we could last claim to have ruled the waves, we Brits like to think that we have one of the best armies in the world. It has been interesting to read about the role of the British army in Iraq over the last 12 months. British Units like the Black Watch were initially based in Basra and had a mainly peace-keeping role in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam's regime. The approach that they took was widely applauded (at least by the British press) for winning the hearts and minds of the locals, and compared favourably with the more rough-house tactics of the US forces. This view seemed to be endorsed by the Coalition high command, when the Black Watch was moved up from Basra to the troublespot at Fallujah to help the US troops take a grip on the city.

Turns out we aren't so wonderful after all. Tony Blair says that the pictures are "shocking and appalling" and added that:

"The difference between democracy and tyranny is not that in a democracy bad things don't happen, it is that in a democracy, when they do happen, people are held to account. That is what is happening under our judicial system."

I'm sure I must have said it before, but I'll say it again:

I don't approve of this behaviour - I deplore it - but HELLO this is a war. These soldiers are trained killers, and they have spent the last 12 months fighting tooth and nail against an enemy that simply won't do the decent thing and wear a recognisable uniform so that our vastly superior forces can roll them over and install a new government. What do you think soldiers do in a war? I disagree with this war. I do not think we have the smallest justification for being there. We went in with only the vaguest notion of a strategy ("Get Saddam!") and now we are stuck in a mess largely of our own creation. The Tsunami can only distract the public for so long.... the killing is still going on and we seem to have no strategy for making it stop.

Do I approve of the abuse of prisoners? No, of course I don't.
Am I surprised to find out that it is happening? No - it's been happening in places far closer to home than Iraq - Guantanamo Bay for starters, and I should think it's happened in every war we have ever fought in. I think you are naive if you think otherwise.

Selective morality, I reckon. Let me see if I've got this straight, because this is a tricky area, let me see if I've understood where we've drawn the line: It's okay for us to send our troops over to kill an ill-defined enemy in the name of an poorly defined cause, to shoot unarmed civilians in the street, in a mosque, but it's not okay for those same troops to tie up and humiliate their prisoners?

Personally I think that both are deplorable. I choose to draw my line a little further back.

I was also interested to see that the defence offered by the soldiers on trial was simply that they were "obeying orders".

Sound familiar?

"It was my misfortune to become entangled in these atrocities. But these misdeeds did not happen according to my wishes. It was not my wish to slay people. The guilt for the mass murder is solely that of the political leaders....Once again I would stress that I am guilty of having been obedient, having subordinated myself to my official duties and the obligations of war service and my oath of allegiance and my oath of office" Adolf Eichmann (chief of the Jewish Department of the Gestapo, and one of the prime architects of the Final Solution)

The 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Extermination and Concentration Camps is on 27th January this year.

It isn't only the other side who do bad things.

Have we learnt nothing in the last 60 years?

Monday, January 17, 2005

I never never want to go home

Ok. Enough talk about politics, music and which computer I'm going to buy.... let's get down to the good stuff.

I've mentioned before that I started attending a boarding school when I was 7 years old. Initially I was only a what's called a "weekly boarder". That meant that I got dropped off at school first thing on a Monday morning, at about 07:30, and stayed at school until after games on a Saturday, when I was picked up by my parents - usually about 16:00. My Saturday evening routine was pretty fixed: home & beefburgers for tea in front of the A-Team. Nice. I didn't get homesick, but I'm not sure that this separation from my parents was entirely a good thing. I've never told a living soul this before, but I went through a phase when I was 11 or 12 of hurting myself intentionally, or of pretending to be ill. I was thinking about this again fairly recently, and wondering why I did that, and I can only think that must have been a cry for some attention, a plea for a little affection.

Anyway, when I was 13, I moved to another school and began to board properly - which is to say that I was dropped off on a Sunday night at the beginning of term, stayed at school until half-term about five or six weeks later, stayed at home for a few days, and then went back to school for the rest of term. Apart from two weekends a term, called"exeats", when we were allowed to go home, that was it. The rest of the time I spent at school.

I'm not sure how familiar you are with British Public School life, so I'll try and explain some of it here, although as I left school in 1992, I may be a bit rusty on some of the details:

As you might expect, the routine at was pretty busy, and very regimented. We generally got woken up at about 07:15 for a roll-call at 07:45, Chapel was at 08:30 and lessons began at 9am. We had lessons from Monday until Saturday. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays we had no lessons after lunch, and the time was dedicated to sport, or some other worthy organised activity. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays we had lessons all the way through to tea at 17:30 (and another roll call). After this roll call, the houses would be "locked down" and you would only be allowed out if you sought permission and signed yourself in and out. Our homework, or "prep", took place in our houses every night after tea, then we would have a final roll-call and then we would pretty much go to bed.

On Sundays we had a lot more time to ourselves, but we still had a routine. Breakfast was an hour later, so we had a lie-in for an hour, but then we usually had to get into our suits to go to chapel. It wasn't until after chapel that we were really free to lounge about and do what we wanted (obviously, we still had to obey the school rules and stay within the school bounds!)

I don't know how that sounds to you, but it actually isn't so bad. It probably doesn't suit everybody, but I got on okay with it. You tend to know exactly where you stand, and as you get older, you work out what you can and cannot get away with. You learn how to stay up as late as you want, where to sneak off to have a pint or a cigarette, and so on... all the little things that help to make the routine a little more bearable as you get older.

We used to eat enormous quantities of food. Here's a typical day when I was in the sixth form:
07:45 Breakfast - sausage, bacon, fried egg, fried bread, baked beans, mushrooms, toast
11:00 Break - a huge turkey and mayo baguette packed out with crisps (from school tuck shop)
12:30 Lunch - a meat pie with veg followed by a pudding with custard
15:30 Break - a piece of cake or coffee and jaffa cakes with Des in his study
18:00 Tea - egg and chips
22:00 Late night snack - a kebab with chips and a coke

Amazing, and yet we got away with it because we were walking several miles a day between lessons as well as taking vigorous exercise (rugby, hockey, cricket, cross-country running etc.) three or four times a week as well as spontaneous games of football on the back lawn after tea. I think you only really start to suffer from this kind of diet when you leave school, go to university, start drinking more beer and doing less exercise.... but I digress.....

As I've said before, there were very few girls at this school, and none in my year until I got to the sixth form. Even then, they were still hugely outnumbered by the boys. It's a weird and extremely artificial environment, and I think it inevitably shapes the way that you interact with women. In fact I would go as far as to say that it damages you. I think it damaged me, anyway. I was really confused when I was about 16. I knew I wasn't gay, I knew I wanted a girlfriend, but I had absolutely no idea how to talk to a woman, nevermind do anything else. As far as I was concerned, they might as well have come from the moon. I suppose it's hardly surprising really. Between the ages of 7 and 17 I had almost no interaction with any girls of my own age. Is it any wonder that when I began to see girls appearing in my A-Level classes, I was at something of a loss about how to talk to them? I'm not a complete moron. I did manage to speak to a few of them, but I don't think I could ever say that in all that time I really befriended any girl whilst I was at school. I just had no idea.

Ridicuously, I prided myself on being "normal" in my approach to the girls - normal in the sense that I felt that I tried to treat them as though they were human beings. The vast majority of my male colleagues seemed to treat them like shit: they existed either to be insulted, ignored, or treated as a sex object (or all three). I hated that, and tried to be different. With hindsight I was probably just occupying the opposite extreme. I still saw women as something "other", but instead of howling abuse at them or complete blanking them at the dinner table, I put them on a pedestal and got all tongue tied when I tried to talk to them. I think I blushed a lot. At least I wasn't being rude (well, not all the time), but they must have thought I was an idiot.

This was tremendously frustrating. I was your average 17 year old guy - which is to say that I was a mass of raging hormones, and I was desperate to get some, um, practical experience as quickly as possible (we talked of not much else, and there were always a couple of guys who came back from their holidays full of boasts about how far they had got with various girls). I just had no experience with girls at all. I think my last girlfriend had been when I was about 6 and had lasted for less than a day. Maybe I'd never got over her....

So. In summary: I was desperate to get a girlfriend and had absolutely no idea how to get one.

This lasted until I was 21 years old and in my final year at university. I have had a couple of long-term relationships since then, including the one I am lucky enough to be in now. I have never once in my whole life worked out how to make a move on a woman. Every relationship I have ever been in has been down to dumb luck or (in the case of C.) persistence in the face of my complete failure to notice her interest. Some of my schoolfriends have not had my luck - at least, not yet.

And I'm still pretty rubbish at talking to girls too.

Or maybe it's got nothing to do with my schooling at all, and women ARE just weird.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Moi j'aurais bien aimé un peu plus de tendresse

I haven't much to report from this weekend really. Went shopping and picked up a few more CDs to add to the 2005 list:

The Ramones 'The Chysalis Years' - a triple CD and an absolute bargain at £5. Inspired by this post and the fact that I have a Ramones t-shirt and know the words to Psycho Therapy thanks to Skid Row.

Embrace 'Fireworks (singles 1997-2002)' - this will no doubt make Lord Bargain chuckle, as I have held forth long and loud many times about how I think Danny MacNamara honks like a sealion. I blame Chris Martin. Also £5.

Next Brel - a compilation of various cover versions of Jacques Brel songs, by people like Dusty Springfield, The Divine Comedy and Scott Walker (and a brilliant, completely mental version of "Next" by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band). Brel is kind of hard to describe - he was a a sort of Gallic Bob Dylan, I suppose - but the passion and humour with which he sang his songs is spectacular, and from what I can make out of them, the lyrics are cutting, sad, funny and always splendidly evocative. Superb. You should give him a try. Brel's rough-hewn voice sounds a million miles away from Scott Walker's honeyed bass baritone, to be honest, but that's how I first found him. Scott Walker did a number of covers of Brel songs - most famously "Jackie" (which was later covered by Marc Almond) . It's hard to imagine someone, Brian McFadden say, walking out of a boyband and stepping straight into songs about existentialism and death, via a period of hiding in a monastery. That's what Scott Walker did though in 1967 when he left the Walker Brothers. He's hardly been prolific, and his last album was 'Tilt' in 1995, although I hear he has a record contract and might put something out later this year, which would be amazing. Anyway, I'm rambling. That one was also £5 (god bless you FOPP)

Rufus Wainwright 'Want One' - very highly rated and I've been meaning to pick this up for a while now. On first listen I had 2 thoughts: firstly that he reminds me a little bit of Billy Joel (which is a good thing) and secondly that I didn't know that it was him who sang "I Don't Know What It Is". This one cost me £10.

All in all £25 reasonably well spent, I thought. Not exactly thrifty, but not too extravagant.

What else happened in my not-very-eventful weekend?


Oh yes. We had a dinner party for some friends, during which C. managed to nearly slice her finger off in a food blender (we patched it up as best we could and carried on cooking - possibly to the mild consternation of our guests, as her apron was now covered with blood....)

Anything else?


Ah. We bought a kitchen, but I can't really bring myself to tell you about that tonight. Or possibly ever. It's not a very interesting story.

Nah. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Drink it away, every tear is false

So, Prince Harry dresses up as a Nazi and makes news across the world.

Stupid, ignorant little prat (although as it was a natives and colonials party, he was bound to be wearing something offensive - I suppose we should be grateful he didn't black up as a fuzzy-wuzzy or something, shouldn't we? Was the Afrika Korps the safe option?). There's more than a little waft of hypocrisy in the hysterial coverage this is receiving though.... they had experts from all sorts of places passing comment on this on the radio this morning, ranging from experts from centres for Holocaust Studies through to the actor who played the comedy gestapo officer Herr Flick in 'Allo 'Allo. Lots of people have pointed out the double-standards that let us laugh at Nazis onstage in "The Producers" (a huge hit in the west end at the moment), and a song like "Springtime for Hitler":

Springtime for Hitler and Germany
Rhineland's a fine land once more!
Springtime for Hitler and Germany
Watch out, Europe
We're going on tour!
Springtime for Hitler and Germany...

Look, it's springtime
Winter for Poland and France
Springtime for Hitler and Germany!

If you wanted to, you could get all stoked up about that, couldn't you? It makes light of the invasions of Poland and France, doesn't it? Ah, Mel Brooks is Jewish so that's okay? Well isn't Harry partly german?

One listener to Five Live sent in a text to the programme asking them if he should be criticised for wearing a Nazi uniform to a performance of "The Sound of Music" (and to the great credit of the expert from the centre for Holocaust Studies, he laughed out loud when he heard that).


All this on the same day that we hear that Jean-Marie Le Pen is quoted as saying that the Nazis were “not especially inhumane”. Not covered in your newspaper? Probably wasn't room after they had dealt with Harry and Celebrity Big Brother - it's been a busy news day.

Both of these events come at a time when Europe is marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. There's
even some talk of Harry attending the commemorations as some form of penance.... just as he was made to go and visit a drug rehabilitation clinic after he had been caught smoking a little bit of cannabis.

Seems like something of an overreaction to me.

We should make Le Pen go instead. This is, after all, a man who is infamous for referring to the Gas Chambers of the Holocaust as "a detail of history".
This is a man who has contested the French presidency in 2002 and has in the past polled upwards of 17% of the popular vote in France.

Which one should we be more worried about do you think?

One final thought: if you are going to wear a Nazi uniform and bring a storm of inevitable negative publicity down upon yourself, why would you go with that half-arsed little number? Surely you'd go the whole hog and wear a black SS uniform, jack boots, the works?? In for a penny, in for a pound and all that. Everyone knows the Nazis had the best uniforms.

What did I see? Can I believe?

You may or may not be aware that Elvis Presley is the proud holder of the current number 1 single in the British chart with 'Jailhouse Rock'. You may also be aware that the next record to make it to number 1 will be the 1000th to do so since the chart began.

whoo-hoo. Who cares?

If the standard of the vast majority of the last 999 are anything to go by, it will be shite. Since when was getting to number one the foolproof stamp of musical genius? Lest we forget, Mr. Blobby sold over a million records, 'Vienna' was kept off number one by "Shut Uppa Your Face", and the majestic 'Common People' was kept off the top spot by Wet Wet Wet and a very smug cover version that they had the cheek to strip off the original's redeeming kazoo solo.... (although, to be fair, it did fund a lot of research into crop circles)

Mind you, as I was sat watching 'Top of the Pops' this evening, I thought that by the standards of the British singles chart, this is a pretty good chart week:

U2 are at number 30 with 'Vertigo'. Interpol at number 18 with 'Evil'(check out the freaky video). Green Day are at number 9 with 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams". Kasabian are at 8 with "Cutt Off". Hell, even Iron Maiden are at number 3 with "The Number of the Beast" (huh?).

I can't bring myself to celebrate though.

Something terrible has happened, and I'm not talking about Morrissey (4 top 10 hits in 2004) dropping out of the top 40...

Oh no.

Today is the day the music died.

Busted have split up. For good. No. They mean it this time.

Still. I'm very much looking forward to Fightstar... the 'band that broke up Busted' (tm). They sound like they're going to be great, and I'm sure they'll be taken very seriously indeed by all the music press and will find new fans all of their own. Some will be able to come to gigs without their mum OR their dad. One thing though - perhaps they could have chosen the name a little more wisely; isn't 'Fightstar' a little close to Dogstar - that band with Keanu Reeves in it?

Mind you, now I think about it there are some similarities......not the shiniest pebbles on the beach, are they?


Maybe I'm just not down with the kids anymore.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

I don't know what to do. I need a rendezvous

Forget about the sacking of this blogger; what I'm about to tell you is heresy where I work. Seriously, I honestly think there may be some small-print in my contract that would enable them to burn me at the stake for saying this....

I'm thinking about buying an Apple Mac.


I spend pretty much all my working day in front of a computer. I work 50-odd hours a week (well, I'm at work for 50-odd hours a week anyway - they definitely get their 37.5 hours). When I get home, I often shut myself away in a room and spend hours messing about on my desktop PC.

Not for much longer. I have seen the wireless light, and I am going to get me a laptop and a wireless network so I can spend that time sat downstairs on the sofa with my lovely girlfriend AND spend hours messing about on my computer.

Hurray! Who says I am lacking in social skills?

Anyway. I had been planning to just get hold of a reasonable laptop PC with a Centrino chip [DING! bong-bong-bong-bong etc.] and a little network. Then I looked at a mac, and what follows is probably exactly what Steve Jobs is hoping to hear people say..... Now, I've had my Ipod for 18 months (3G 30Gb, 4000-0dd songs, most recent:"The Blowers Daughter" covered by Snow Patrol) . The Ipod is the most fantastic thing ever and I love it to bits. For pretty much this reason alone, it didn't take me long to think of having a look at their laptops. I know they look great, but I actually went and had a look at what people say about them performance-wise, and started to research how I could hang a PC and a Mac on the same wireless network.

Apparently you can.

I need strange and worrying sounding things like a router.... but it is certainly something I am thinking about. My initial thoughts are to go for something like a 15" G4 1.5GHz powerbook together with an airport for wireless access and a router to make sure that I can split my NTL cable broadband properly. I would then be able to run an ethernet cable from my desktop PC to the router, and connect to my work laptop (coffee repairs permitting) and my new PowerBook wirelessly.......

That's the plan anyway, although as always with this kind of stuff, there's a very real risk that I will buy all the stuff and completely fail to make it work.

I'm off down to London next Saturday, so I might pop into the Apple Store on Regent's Street and have a look about and to have a chat with an expert at the Genius Bar (it's handily just next door the RM Williams store - I need to pick up some shoes from there whilst I'm at it)

Oh... it sounds so easy, doesn't it? Plug and play? Work straight out of the box?

You just know this will bring me pain. It will cost an arm and a leg. I will spend hours trying to connect the router and reboot the cable modem. I will curse and swear at the airport and why I can't make it work. I will spit and scream at the unfamiliar Mac OS and the single button mouse. I will tear out what is left of my hair trying to work out how to move my Itunes library from the PC to the Mac and to reformat the Ipod itself....

If you think this post is boring - boy - you just wait until I blog about THAT (and hopefully quite quickly thereafter the first entry I post from my sofa using the mac.....)

Any thoughts on macs in general, and all tips about setting up a wireless network with a mac and a PC on it.... please share!


And don't mention this to my employer.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Who’s that gut lord marching?

I made a terrible error of judgement today.

I'm something of a creature of habit, and because today is a Tuesday, I left work and headed off to the gym at about 18:30.


It's January.

It was heaving - I had to wait for a space to park the car.

Why do people do this to themselves? Full of good intentions, they either join up at a gym or make a resolution to start going more regularly to the gym they have been paying hundreds of pounds a year for the pleasure of their non-attendance. Many of them have taken advantage of the shop on the premises to kit themselves out in the produce of some of Asia's most exclusive sweatshops.

By February many of these virgin acolytes, currently attacking the gym apparatus with the sweaty zeal of the newly converted, will have lapsed. They will then continue to pay the gym their subscription in the belief that they really will start going regularly. Really, they will.


Just listen to me! What a fantastically middle-class whinge this is!

"oooh, I couldn't park at the gym, and then it was full of sweaty fat people!"

I do apologise. Perhaps this should be part I in an irregular series entitled "Things That Never Trouble Billy Bragg"

Mind you, whilst I'm moaning - there I was, sat in the sauna minding my own business and two blokes started talking about SAP! Don't they know the unwritten guidelines of the Man Code? Conversation in these situations should be limited to one or two words (and ideally limited to one or two syllables). For example:




I don't want to talk about the weather. I don't want to talk about where you are going on holiday. I don't even want to talk about football. I certainly don't want to have a conversation on the merits of a German Enterprise Resource Planning system.

What's next? Conversation at the urinals? (there are rules. If you think you know them, take the test)

Is nowhere sacred?

Monday, January 10, 2005

She said "no more" (She said "no more")

I have discovered a guilty pleasure. I'm actually a little ashamed to be talking about it. I feel cheap, a bit dirty....

Okay - here goes nothing. I'll share it with you.

I am a fan of Desperate Housewives.

I never meant to watch this. I'd read a fair bit about this in my Sunday paper, in advance of the first episode last week, but was fairly sure I'd not bother. Surely this kind of thing doesn't appeal to someone like me? When the series premiere went out last Wednesday, I was busy writing a post on the interest accrued on third world debt, for heaven's sake.... I even made a comment about it over at Exploring Arvavis (feel free to have a chuckle at this point Aravis)

Sadly for me, when we got home from Worthing on Sunday night, we flopped out in front of the TV to watch the first episode of the new series of ER (I'm going off this a bit, but C. remains a big fan - I think she only likes me because I look a little bit like Dr. Mark Greene). The first couple of episodes of Desperate Housewives were on straight afterwards, and we made the classic mistake of staying for the first five minutes. We watched the whole of the first one, and taped the second one to watch tonight.

It's great. It's really funny and quite wry... not at all what you might expect from a major US network like ABC (this kind of stuff is usually associated with HBO isn't it?).

Early days, to be sure, but I think I can kiss all my high-brow pretensions goodbye.

Then again, if Germaine Greer can appear on celebrity Big Brother, perhaps all things are possible, right?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

that damp and lonely Thursday years ago

Just back from my younger brother's wedding in Worthing. Bravely, he had the stag do on Friday night, so I took the day off and drove the 200-or so miles down to the south coast to take part in a bit of go-karting and to have a curry. The karting was a "team endurance race", which meant that we were split up into teams, and it was the team who completed the most laps in an hour who were the winners. This is only the second time I've been karting - the first time was at my friend Mik's stag do in Newquay and was on a huge outdoor track. This time it was a smaller track and it was indoors, but it was still pretty good fun. I thought I drove pretty well during my stint, but my lot came last..... an unfortunate black flag put paid to our chances when we had got up to third, and after that we were knackered (no, I wasn't driving at the time).

The curry was also pretty good. It's a bit weird going out to an event like that with a pile of my brother's mates from university, and it's all made a bit weirder by the presence of my dad. Dad was on good form as it happened (he actually ended up staying up for an hour longer than the groom did, and didn't haul himself out of the hotel bar and to bed until 4am. Big up to my dad! I went to bed at 01:30....)

Anyway. At dinner I ended up sitting next to a bloke who I soon recognised as someone that I knew from University Radio Warwick.... I didn't like him much then, but in the circumstances I was somewhat forced to chat with him. About halfway through the meal, he realised that he recognised me, but wasn't quite able to place me - as far as he was concerned at this point, we were just swapping stories and trying to work out who we knew in common. A bit later, the penny suddenly dropped, and he realised EXACTLY who I was. I had to laugh. He knew I was the brother of the groom, he knew my christian name, and he knew I had been involved with the radio station at university at the same time as him... so you can understand why I found it a little amusing that it took fully two hours for everything to click into place. That was pretty much the end of our conversation. I thought he was a dick at university, and no doubt he thought the same of me. I'm sure we've both changed since then, but why pretend we want to get to know each other now? I would have been happy with small talk (and indeed, as I recognised him immediately, that's exactly what I had been doing) but he seemed happy enough to leave it at that. Fair enough.

Wedding was alright. I struggle with organised religion and I couldn't look at the vicar without thinking of Peter Cook as the "impressive clergyman" in The Princess Bride....

"Mawidge...mawidge is what bwings us togewer today...Mawidge, the bwessed awwangement, that dweam wiffim a dweam..."



Reception was also alright - took place on the Worthing sea front in a place called "The Dome". It's an old style cinema (still functioning) and the reception took place on the first floor. Meals always confuse me at weddings; I know the main meal is called "the wedding breakfast" for some reason, and I know you eat at weird times, but when I sat down at about 5pm, I was not expecting to be served a cream tea. Hmmm.

Anyway - we had a hot buffet a bit later on, and the rest was the usual combination of some beer, some conversation with family, distant relatives and so on. Naturally, given that my elder brother was married in August, and this was the wedding of my little brother, much of the "amusing" conversation centred around when I was planning to tie the knot with my good lady. I can sort of see where they are coming from, because C. and I have a relationship of longer standing than either of my brothers and their wives (nearly 6 years now) but what really gets on my nerves is the insinuation that somehow I am being difficult about the whole thing, and that I am unfairly keeping C. waiting. This is insulting to both of us, frankly, it's now just getting boring. Having said that, I did enjoy one comment: I thought that the cake was made by the same person who made my elder brother's cake.... as I was confirming this fact with his wife, one of my dad's old schoolfriends piped up with "yes, they got them on three for two...."

Anyway. I survived.

The hotel made me laugh. I found one of these in the bathroom:

Yes, I know what it's for, but I loved that lovely little drawing of "a lady".... which obviously made me think of Emily Howard, the rubbish transvestite from Little Britain:

"I'm a LADY... I don't have any... what do you call them? Testy-clays"

Back to work tomorrow, for a full 5 day week. I have to say, I am not looking forward to this in the least.


Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Well how can we ask for more?

Over $3b has been pledged to those states affected by the devastating Tsunami . That's pretty impressive, and we've come a long way from those early days when we were moaning about how the £15m from the UK and the $35m from the USA was totally inadequate (the British public has now pledged £76m and are likely to top £100m, with the government saying they will match the final figure, and the US have now pledged over $350m).

I've been interested in some of the things Gordon Brown has been saying about trying to get the G8 Nations to suspend the debt owed to them by the countries affected by the Tsunami.

Get this:

The external debt of each of these countries:
  • Indonesia $132.2bn
  • India $104.4bn
  • Thailand $59.2bn
  • Malaysia $48.6bn
  • Sri Lanka $9.6bn
  • Somalia $2.7bn
  • Seychelles $560m
  • Maldives $270m
according to the World Development Movement (WDM), which campaigns for debt relief, the annual repayment costs on this debt are:

  • Indonesia $13.7bn
  • India $13bn
  • Thailand $17.9bn
  • Sri Lanka $653m
  • Maldives $20.8m

Based on those figures, the WDM said that the $3bn donated by the world to the victims of this disaster "will cover one-and-a-half months" of debt repayments for the five countries most affected by the tsunami disaster [this data stolen from the BBC]

Ah - that rains on our parade a little doesn't it?

Well done world, we've covered six weeks worth of debt repayment with our outstanding and noteworthy generosity. We should probably pat ourselves on the back for that. We rock!

With that in mind, I think we should cautiously welcome this overture by Gordon Brown to look at persuading the rich nations to suspend this debt to help fundamentally improve conditions in these countries by removing this albatross that they will never be able to pay off.

Brown's plan would be worth $5b a year to these countries. That's not small beer (assuming we can try and make sure that this money ends up with the people who need it the most, and not just in the pockets of local governments and adminstrators.... and that's easier said than done)

Hang on though.... What about the rest of the world? Have we forgotten about the millions of displaced people in Darfur? Have we forgotten that people are suffering elsewhere in the world?

No - apparently not.

Gordon Brown said:

"What my discussions with the IMF, the World Bank, the US treasury secretary and other financial leaders over the last few days have shown to me is that we never want to be in a position again where we have to choose between emergency aid and tackling the underlying causes of poverty. The world ought to be able to do both.

"That is why I will also be putting forward proposals for a new Marshall Plan for aid, trade and debt relief for the developing world to release sufficient resources through debt relief and through additional money to be provided by the richest countries and for trade justice so that we can deal with the underlying causes of poverty in Africa and else where as well as providing the aid for reconstruction. That is why 2005 will be a critical year for development under the UK's presidency." [quoted in The Guardian]

Oh. Hang on a second - he wants the debt repayments FROZEN. He's not saying the debt should be dropped.

The Jubilee Campaign and the World Development Movement have described the plan as "welcome but inadequate" - the debt must be cancelled altogether, not just suspended for an unnamed period of time.

The Jublilee Debt Campaign said in a statement: "In countries where preventable poverty was killing thousands daily even before the waves struck, debt cancellation – 100% debt cancellation for the poorest of these countries – was already necessary. Debts must be dropped – but there will still be a need for substantial emergency aid to deal with the impact of this disaster and prevent it claiming even more lives."

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, remember that 30,000 people are dying EVERY SINGLE DAY from preventable or treatable illnesses. If we remove the burden of the ridiculous debts that they owe us then we can really begin to make a difference....

I don't want to make too big a song and dance about this though. I actually think it's quite refreshing that a politician is stepping forward and putting these kind of issues up for serious debtate. Sure, the charities are arguing that the debt should be dropped entirely and not just suspended, and of course they are right.... but we should also recognise that when the British government talked about using their term with the presidency of both the EU and of G8 to really try and stamp out world poverty, for once it may not have all been spin. On the one hand, I'll believe it when I see it, but on the other hand it's brilliant that this issue is up for debtate at the table of power.

Labour get a bad enough press at the minute, and I'm personally still pretty pissed off with them about Iraq, but this feels like a positive step to me, and I welcome it..

What are you going to do to Help Make Poverty History in 2005 ?

Satellites contain us, traffic lights control us

I should have known it was going to be one of those days when the guy who came to service our burglar alarm took loads longer than expected and I didn't get into work until about 10:15. That's okay, I still have time to get a nice big cup of coffee and check on a couple of things before my 11am meeting. Check in with a colleague about some information I had left on his desk the other day (and also about the compilation I made him the other day... he especially loved the Scott Walker). Saunter back over to my desk with a couple of minutes to spare, and promptly tip my still-nearly-full coffee over my desk.


Not to worry. I have 2 laptops on my desk (click here to see a photo), and it seems to have missed both. I'm also clumsy like this on a regular basis, so I keep a big roll of industrial tissue paper at my desk, and do a bit of mopping up before heading off to my meeting, where I am bought a replacement coffee (excellent!).

An hour or so later, I get back to my desk and find that one of my laptops has crashed and won't load - the coffee appears to have been soaked up through the bottom into all the hard drives and the battery.

So. To cut an already-too-long anecdote short, I have spent much of the day faffing around trying to work out how my company will get my laptop fixed for me (basically I had to ring a call centre in India, who rang a guy in the Nottingham office, who rang me to get me to come and give him my laptop. I nip into the car and pop to town to go and give him my laptop. He then rings me later to tell me that I needed to ring India to get my Lotus Notes -email- ID file sent to my boss for security reasons, so my boss could send it to someone sitting near me (my boss is based somewhere else), so I could put it on a USB key and take it over to him tomorrow so he could build me a temporary laptop to use in the 6 weeks it is likely to take my company to decide it is cheaper to give me a new laptop than to repair the old one - we make the bloody things, after all).


On the plus side, when I popped into town to hand over my deceased laptop, I was running early, so was able to visit Selectadisc and open my 2005 CD buying account:

Thirteen Senses "The Invitation" - being widely tipped as "the next big thing" and sound very widescreen... lots of lush sounding piano with a singer sounding vaguely like the guy from Mercury Rev. You'll probably know the song "Thru the Glass" - I was surprised to discover that I did, for some reason.

Damien Rice "O" - I caved in. I like this kind of stuff, and was only thinking how I ought to give this a go when I was listening to Nick Drake and some Devendra Banhart last night. I instantly hated the annoying tv advert for this album (I hate record companies telling me how brilliant their own product is. It's always "the fantastic album", isn't it?) and have been avoiding buying the it ever since. Lord Bargain has been singing its praises but I have managed to avoid it. Well, now I guess I'll see. - I'll probably find that by now I know half the songs through some kind of process of osmosis.

On the subject of music, I've also booked up some more gigs for this year (R.E.M. are already lined up for July and I'm all poised to get some U2 action as well)

The Dears @ The Rescue Rooms on Feb 6th
Athlete @ Rock City on March 9th

Hurray !

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

We are standing on the edge....

Mike from one of my regular reads "All Right Here" was in Thailand over Christmas and has just put up his first-hand account of watching the Tsunami rolling in. Read it here.

As I've commented over on Mike's blog, when I was at home at New Year, I bumped into some neighbours of my Mum and Dad when I was walking the dog - a nice lady who had taught at my primary school and her husband. It turns out that her daughter had flown out to Thailand on Christmas Day. When news of the Tsunami broke, they had spent 48 hours with no news of her.... 48 hours.... I can hardly begin to imagine how awful that must be, as you try to find out what is going on and all the while watching the terrible pictures on TV and see the death toll rising. She was okay. She had been in the water when the wave hit, and had been washed away, but was unhurt and was able to find her friend, who had a head injury, but was alive.

Two separate stories about people I have never met, but that have somehow made the tragedy feel that little bit closer to home. These two have happy endings. Thousands of other similar stories did not.

Awful. It makes me shake just thinking about it.

I'm pleased you and Ella are okay Mike.

Monday, January 03, 2005

done, done and I'm onto the next one

Well, that's 2004 over and done with. Here's for a decent 2005 for everyone...

For a total change of pace and tone, I'm going to revert to telling you about my own life, instead of hectoring you and demanding your money.... at least for now.... I'm not making this a resolution or anything - I don't believe in them - there may well be more politics to come. For now though, I present for your enjoyment, another stressful episode from my life....

My elder brother and his wife are coming up for dinner tomorrow. They live in Prestwick in Scotland, and have been spending Christmas and New Year with my parents. My younger brother is getting married this weekend in Worthing on the south coast, so rather than head back up to Scotland, they are hanging around this week so they can go directly to the wedding rather than up to Scotland and back down again (they must have more patience than me to spend this long with my mum and dad - I went stir crazy after 3 days back at home).

They got married in August 2004 but as the bride is from South Korea, there will be another ceremony in Seoul in May this year. The good news is that the Koreans take family very seriously, and so my presence will be expected. Shame, eh?

The trip is still five months away, but my dad seems quite anxious to get the dates of our trip to Korea and the flights and everything sorted as quickly as possible. Just before C. and I headed off back up to Nottingham on Sunday night, I was compelled to show my dad the best places on the internet to hunt around for cheap flights (well, no one made me, but seeing my dad groping blindly around on the KLM website forced my hand). A quick scoot around places like travelocity, cheapflights.co.uk and expedia and I soon decided that the best deal was to be had from travelbag.co.uk- which is where C. and I booked our trip to Australia last January. Seeing what was available only made my dad more eager to get it all booked, so with my dad's anxious presence over my shoulder, I checked out the various options travelbag had for flying out to Seoul in May. My dad is pretty internet and computer literate for someone approaching his 60s (he has a wireless LAN and about 3 computers) but he seems to have a fear of internet commerce, for some reason, and was keen to have me around when we made the transaction. Anyway, we had a close look at the KLM flights via Amsterdam, but settled on the Lufthansa flights via Hamburg. So far, so good. My brother and his wife would be flying out in advance, so I was looking to book 6 tickets: 4 going out for a fortnight (my mum, my dad, me and C.), and 2 for a week (my younger brother and his wife-to-be). I booked the first 4, and it all seemed to go through alright. Excellent.

Then I had a closer look at the confirmation. Shit. Shit. For some reason, the system had decided to book up the KLM flight instead of the Lufthansa flight I wanted (I had the KLM details open in a different window, and I think it was something to do with the session cookie being transferred as I completed the transaction, but to be honest, I could also have confirmed in the wrong internet explorer window...). Bugger.

Not the end of the world, as the flight was going to the same place for basically the same price, but was mildly more inconvenient and anyway, we had settled on the Lufthansa flights... no joy with the helpdesk though because it was a bank holiday and about 8pm in the evening.

My dad of course was anxious - that was £2000-odd worth of flights....

We left to come back to Nottingham, reassuring him that we had a travelbag store in town, and would pop in on Monday and sort it all out (we are covered by the consumer credit act, which means that we should have the legal right to cancel the transaction). Today we popped into the shop, only to be told (relatively rudely, I thought) that they had nothing to do with the internet site and we would have to call them. Sigh. Had to ring my dad to get all the confirmation numbers and things, and then rang the number, which turned out (inevitably) to be a call centre in India. Explained my story.

"Sorry sir. Nothing we can do"
"Well there must be - it was your website that made the mistake"
"Well, the Frankfurt flight must have been booked up, so it picked an alternative"
"No - I checked the Frankfurt flight and it was fine"
"well, your booking with KLM is fine"
"but I don't want to fly with KLM, I want to fly with Lufthansa"
"let me check"
"I can cancel it for £175 per person"
"That's ridiculous"
"That's not us - that's an airline charge"
"Can you put me through to your supervisor please?"
"She'll only tell you the same thing"
"Well, I'd like to hear it from her"

After a short pause, I was put through to the supervisor, who simply said she would cancel the card transaction with no fee. Excellent. I decide to complete the rest of the booking with a person in the Travelbag shop - only to discover that they were charging £100 extra for the same flight. Internet it is then.

Sigh. Fine - I'll look for an internet cafe. Apparently Nottingham is not blessed with them. Try Debenhams and find 2 terminals (one broken). Queue to buy a token, to be told that they don't allow online transactions (why on earth not?). Apparently the only other option is McDonalds (huh?). We buy a token there and then discover it doesn't load the travelbag page properly. This is great.

I'm getting a bit pissed off with this. I can't get these bloody flights booked, I want to do some other shopping (joy of joys, we're buying a kitchen..... as if my day wasn't going well enough already), and my dad keeps on ringing me to ask me questions. Decide it can wait until I get home. I didn't want to get tied up in this in the first bloody place, and now it is causing me aggravation.

A couple of hours later, I get home and park myself in front of my PC and broadband connection. The price comes up the same as it did on Sunday night, and I check it through with my dad and, in spite of some background noise from my mum ("have they cancelled the other one yet?") make the transaction. Finally. Now I can go for a swim and have my tea.

oh hang on.... wishful thinking....

"Can you book the flights for your younger brother and George?"
"What, now?"
"yes please?"
"But the credit card holder has to be one of the passengers" (he and his wife-to-be are planning to come back on an earlier flight)

Turns out there is a form you need to fax to travelbag to let them complete the transaction - so I email the form to my dad to fill out and talk him through what he needs to do. I then book the flights for my younger brother, and ring my dad with an update.

"Done it. But I've booked George [his wife-to-be, allergic to nuts] a standard meal as nut-free wasn't an option. She'll need to ring them and change it"
"Could you ring her and tell her"
"but I don't have her number...."

and so on, and so forth.

I am very much looking forward to getting out to Korea and embracing my new family and their culture, but if this is a glimpse of what it is going to be like being cooped up in a plane for 15 hours and then spending 2 weeks in close proximity with my family.... well..... I'm a bit nervous.

Thank God for my IPod and my noise eliminating headphones.

Ah well, back to work tomorrow - that'll bring my blood pressure down.


I've just made a compilation CD for a colleague of mine at work, who was kind enough to do the same for me just before Christmas. Sounds like an odd thing to be doing, but we have been chatting about music for a while now and I have just helped him get all sorted with his new IPod. He's 40-something, but he is a mancunian and has impeccable taste in music - bands like Joy Division, the Buzzcocks and The Cure.

I opted for:

Walk Idiot Walk - The Hives
Helicopter - Bloc Party
Cut Your Hair - Pavement (but only because "Range Life" wouldn't fit)
It's A Sight to Behold - Devendra Banhart
Lost In the Plot - The Dears
Freakin' Out - Graham Coxon
Boulevard of Broken Dreams - Green Day
Black Dollar Bills - Hope of the States
PDA - Interpol
Reason is Treason - Kasabian
Come to Me - Mark Lanegan feat. P.J. Harvey
Your Sweet Voice - Reindeer Section
Mathilde - Scott Walker
Hounds of Love - The Futureheads

His CD to me was full of older classics - the cure, Lou Reed, Joy Division etc. I was aiming to get a more contemporary feel without scaring him off. I've already turned him onto The Kings of Leon and Snow Patrol this year, so I hope he likes some of this stuff.

What do you think? I like it, but I'm biased. Reckon it works??