Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Eve - PS2s and Pooping Penguins

With IM suffering the blues and me distractedly worried about Mum and Dad, neither of us are in the mood for raucous celebrations. Happily the wonderful Radcliffes provide a wonderful and comfortable soiree that we both end up enjoying hugely.

K has cooked up a storm (as ever – the woman truly is a domestic Goddess), S battles a headache to set off the fireworks, the kids are delightful as ever and everyone else chills out, chats, laughs and gets sucked in to the mother of all music quizzes on S’s prize new PS2.

On top of all this I get pressies. A fabulously mad Mandle Candle from the Radcliffes (it’s a candle that also has a battery operated light show within it – triggered by the flame – utter madness, but the effect is great!) and from the wonderful Sally…well how can I put this delicately…it’s a clockwork penguin that shits cola flavoured droppings:


All in all a grand way to see in the New Year, with fine company.

Oh and did I mention Favourite-Niece-K and I trounced the opposition on the PS2? We are the queens of the music quiz – hear us roar!

Friday, December 30, 2005

A Land of Ice and Snow

Today’s plans for getting away from it all and going for a walk somewhere (possibly the coast), were always subject to the weather.

The forecast threatened that the snow would reach us and we woke expecting to look out over a white landscape.

As it turns out the weather did put pay to our rural excursion plans, but not in the way we expected. Drawing the curtains revealed grey not white and as the rain continued all morning indoor activities looked decidedly more attractive.

Accordingly we swapped the countryside for the Showcase and took a chance on Narnia.

I was in two minds about whether to give it a try…there just seems to be so much ‘baggage’ accompanying this film. Does it do justice to the books, would old Clive have approved, will Disney have ruined it, why are the bloody evo’s hopping on the bandwagon, has Polly Toynbee got a point or is she over-reacting, and does the slaying of Aslan conform to a tired old PSA view of the crucifixion.

Fortunately the film is captivating enough to make me leave such questions behind.

It’s not at all bad.

The Beavers are fab, Tilda Swinton makes an excellent Ice Queen and the children suitable flawed and not too stage-school on the whole.

The CGI is really something, which makes the moments of exceptionally bad blue-screen superimposing all the more puzzling. You can make a beaver look completely real, but Peter in front of a mountain landscape looks like something from the 60’s.

What happened? Did the money run out? One Minotaur too many and cut backs had to be made in other areas?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Worrying news

Dad rings first thing and I know that means something is wrong.

His phone call yesterday afternoon and my subsequent conversation with mum, forewarned me that she’d gone majorly downhill since I left, but today things have taken a serious turn for the worse. Almost complete shutdown.

Dad and I are both in tears and I take on the job of trying to hold it together enough to ring my brother.

The doctor calls mid-afternoon and Mum, unable to speak, move or even really open her eyes for long, is admitted to hospital.

This is bad.

But there is also much to be grateful for. Mum’s GP was on leave, so we were expecting someone else from the practice. However, her doc happened to pop into the surgery, heard about Mum and took over the home visit on her day off. Accordingly Mum is seen by someone who knows the history and shows concern and care for both Mum and Dad above and beyond the call of duty. Not many GPs would I guess have given Dad their home phone number and insisted he rang later to let her know what happened.

A cracking letter from her and some judicious making of phone calls and we even manage to get Mum a bed and consultant in a small private hospital (we’ll worry about the cost later) rather than the big local monstrosity that would truly freak Mum out right now. I know I morally disagree with private health care, but when it comes to my mother I’ll happily confess to being a complete hypocrite.

She also got what is supposed to be the very best consultant at this stage and his early diagnosis is that what is going on is an acute episode of existing problems and nothing new and whilst we’re looking at a long road to recovery, it should be treatable and there is a road back.

It’s an emotional roller-coaster right now.

With my mind elsewhere I fear my hostess skills are left somewhat lacking.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Getting a shop in

I suppose it’s a good sign if even in the early stages of a relationship you feel comfortable enough to not find the energy to get a shop in before they arrive and both parties are happy with the prospect of going to Tescos as early evening entertainment.

Well it’s either comfort, or I can’t be arsed to make the effort…let’s go for the former option shall we?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas 2005

Well I’m back oop north and recovering from Christmas with the folks.

We celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve, in order to fit in with the plans of my brother, sister-in-law and my niece and nephew.

With Dad still recovering from his hernia op and Mum decidedly below par, this year we did Christmas-lite. The local butcher provided a (huge!) rolled turkey breast, stuffing was pre-made by Sainsburys, sprouts were purchased ready prepared and Christmas cakes pre-cooked and iced.

The reduction in work load, both on the preparation and clean-up fronts, was impressive and whilst it might not be the most homely or environmentally friendly way of celebrating the festive season, with circumstances as they are right now it was a most welcome approach. There is more than enough physical and emotional effort required in other areas without doing the full Delia…

Happily the low-maintenance style did little to impede our enjoyment of the day and with the kids excited as ever to tear open their pressies (and those of anyone else who hesitated…) it was a day full of fun and family.

Christmas Day itself was by comparison a quieter affair, with just myself, Mum and Dad. For the first time in 20 years or so we had no non-family guests (traditional visitors now sadly passed away or in care homes) and with Mum clearly struggling, it was a very quiet low key day.

Monday and Tuesday are similarly quiet and having spent time with the folks and kept my promise to get up horribly early everyday to get Mum up and generally give Dad a break, I return weary (physically and emotionally) home (only 6 hours of motorway hell!!!).

Just time to get in some sleep and a vague attempt at tidying the house before my New Year’s houseguest arrives.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Happy Yule Y'all!

Happy Christmas everyone!

As I look back over the year (hey a blog makes that easy right?), my over-riding memory of 2005 is how blessed I am to have such great friends (at least some of whom are visitors to this blog). The start of the year was pretty rough and the end pretty good, but throughout it all, the constant is you guys.

So if you're reading this and you told me a joke that made me laugh, let me cry at you over the phone, sent me a 'girlie night-in' in a box, took my side without question, took me out and cheered me up, looked out for me as only a buuurrrdddy can, helped celebrate the good times, scoffed chocolate together, had a right good gossip, let me persuade you into doing something foolish with me, grinned like a loon at the best gigs ever, told me you loved me, laughed at my pathetic jokes, sent me a text hug, didn't get upset when I took the piss, or trusted me with some of your preciousness and shared some of your pain...all these things and more have meant the world to me this year.

So here's to 2006 my friends! I don't know where the ride will take us, but I'm glad we're taking it together (oh and I'll make sure we have plenty of tissues with us just in case any of us start sobbing again ;-) ).

Right. Enough of this sentimental tosh. Anyone get any new shoes for Christmas?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Pedants Revolt

It appears a pedant is stalking the toilet facilities at my office.

The words 'get a life' spring to mind...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Cute Overload

Steve Lawson, blogland's resident benign narcissist, offers this website as a Christmas gift to his readers.

I want to hate it so bad...but I can't quite make myself.

I feel dirty.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Deck the halls with glowing virgins...

It appears to be a fairly reliable rule of thumb, that the less affluent a neighbourhood is, the more money they waste on tacky Christmas lights, inflatable Santas etc etc.

Somehow P&S and myself have become increasingly obsesssed year on year by the lengths people will go to, to cover their abodes in the most revolting tat imaginable.

Tours of neighbourhoods are undertaken to track down bad offenders and last night, acting on a tip off, our journey home takes in a detour as we go in search of "really, really tacky - with a biblical twist".

At first we miss the biblical elements, the downstairs windows it is true are filled with very gruesome illuminated figurines, but it's all Santa and snowmen.

Then P looks just the right moment when the vertical blinds, give up the treasures they are obscuring.

Three kings and a stray shepherd all beautifully glowing down at us...and yes in the small window around the corner we find...Mary and Joseph and the 'ickle baby Jesus'.

This photo in no way does justice to the full horror of this freaky show, but it was taken in haste and surreptiously as one party in the car is known to the owner of the house in question and feels being spotted laughing hysterically at his oh so worthy tableau might not go down too well...

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Cedar Tree

Time for ‘pre-festive season social encounter’ as S puts it. Accordingly P&S introduce me to their new favourite restaurant (anyone with shares in the Punjab may want to sell! sell! sell! at the potential consequences of this shift in loyalty).

The Cedar Tree in Manchester’s Northern Quarter is indeed worthy of their praise. Excellent Lebanese food, laid back service (“our credit card machine isn’t working – if you don’t have cash, come back and pay another day”) and slightly surreal décor (the photo is of one of the walls that runs the length of the restaurant, we believe that at some time this may have been a huge water feature, but it looks for all the world like some dodgy set design for a sixth form ‘Monsters from the Swamp’ style home movie).

The owner persuades us to try one dish that he particularly recommends. On arrival he insists on us tasting it and telling us what we think. At this point he mentions that the recipe is over 150 years old and was passed down to him by his granny.

So no pressure there then.

Fortunately there is no need to fake delight – it’s fantastic.

I think I too will be returning soon.

Well I need to settle that bill for one thing…

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Oz at last

Another lazy morning and afternoon. IM isn’t feeling great, so settles for watching me wrap a mountain of presents. I can’t imagine gift-wrapping is much of a spectator sport, but he seems happy enough.

Later on we put the Wizard of Oz on in the background and from behind my mountain of paper, ribbon, bows and sticky tape I see it from start to end for the first time ever.

Now I know it will come a s a shock to you to discover that anyone can get to my age and not have seen the Wizard of Oz, but that’s just the way it is. My parents didn’t really do TV on Christmas Day so…

Anyway, with this childhood wrong now corrected we go on for an evening snuggled up in front of The West Wing and 100 Greatest Christmas Moments accompanied by reheated tagine (the dish that keeps on giving…).

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Keeping Mum

Lazy, lazy Saturday – all plans for walks and art galleries are shelved for some R&R.

A late brunch of a bacon sarnie, disproves last nights “we’ll never eat again theory”.

Late afternoon we head to Showcase to see Keeping Mum.

It’s not a bad film, it’s just not very good either, which is a real shame given the potential of the cast.

IM and I agree that the strongest impression it leaves us with is “I wonder where that café with the fabulous view, that the characters meet up in, is in real life?”

Sponsorship by Isle of Man films makes me think it maybe somewhere there, but if anyone knows the answer…

Chorizo in a red wine, shallots and cherry tomatoes sauce served on char-grilled polenta to start and a scrummy chicken, butternut squash, almond and apricot tagine with lime cous cous for main…see you don’t always have to eat out to experience culinary delights. Once in a blue moon I can do a passable impression of a domestic goddess.

When I can be bothered.

Friday, December 16, 2005

That Cafe

A wonderful meal at That Café (thank you Stuart I can here you from here…) tonight.

Fabulous food and being Christmas it’s a set price for three courses. Mind you I wouldn’t otherwise have had a pudding on top of the starter of Stilton, chestnut and artichoke brulee and the main of Breast of pheasant with a Cointreau soaked apricot and thyme stuffing on lightly spiced bulgar wheat with almonds and sultanas served with a port gravy, but seeing as we’d paid.

Trust me the food is as good as it sounds.

Happily IM agrees and is well impressed by his first visit to this culinary haven in Levenshulme. It’s always good when new friends like the things you like.

Don’t want to eat for a week mind, but good all the same.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Juggling Hedgehogs

Ah bless, this Christmas card arrived the other day. Those most excellent purveyors of juggling equipment at Balls-U-Like sent me this:

I just feel bad that their excellent customer service won’t result in repeat business from this most irregular of jugglers. But hey maybe if I put words like juggling, balls, poi, clubs, LEDs, fire sticks etc in this post, some hopeful shopper will find this blog and take their business to

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Very Nearly and Early Night

Sanctus1 tonight and we’re looking at ‘Practising the Presence of God’.

Good stuff and food for thought.

Pub afterwards and for once I’m a good girl and remember it’s a school night and I’m tired and I head home before closing time.

Of course once home I then spend 90mins on the phone, but hey it’s almost like sleeping…

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Blogs that lighten the mood

Dave Walker’s Advent Cartoon Blog is so good it deserves another plug.

Life is stressful right now and sites like that and Sally’s tales about keyboards make life a little brighter.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Secret Advent Angels

Well based on comments and emails, it seems my post about Advent Calendars has hit a nerve; too many of us it seems are living a deprived existence, devoid of daily chocolate scruminess.

So my suggestion is this – next year we operate a Secret Advent Angel scheme.

Register in the comments below if you want to partake (if I haven’t already got your email then leave it in code – eg use AT instead of @ or something) and I’ll make sure that come next November, everyone signed up is given the name and address of one other party who they need to anonymously send a lovely advent calendar to.

The only rules are that a) I need to know you already in some vague way – this is not some scheme for any Tom, Dick or Harry who passes by looking for a map to the Punjab restaurant or something!, b) the calendar you send must contain chocolate and c) don’t spend more than £5.

Any takers? Register below…

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Dukes and Wizards

A beautiful sunny day, and IM is feeling brighter, so yesterday’s walk gets transferred to today.

Lunch at Dukes 92 and then a lovely wander along the tow paths along this hidden route below the city centre.

P&S call for me in the evening (I’m still not used to them having a car) and the three of us head to the cinema to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In my opinion the best HP film yet. Quite dark at times and the acting is definitely improving.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


I’m starting to feel better at last, the cold went as quickly as it came, but it left me feeling tired and nauseous for a few days.

Sadly however IM is now well and truly in the throws of a cold of his own (intense sore throat suggests it may be a different bug to what I had, though I’m feeling guilty all the same).

Circumstances therefore switch today’s plans from going for a walk into a day in with the papers and DVDs. We give up trying to find a copy of Crash to rent and driven by a sense of “dear God can we please not spend another hour in Blockbuster trying to find something else”, I decide shelling out to buy a copy is a preferable option.

Fortunately, it turns out to be money well spent. A cracking film that lives with you after it’s finished. Definite shades of Magnolia at times, but then that’s no bad thing.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Just another manic Friday

It’s been one of those days when you just rush from one thing to another. The phone doesn’t stop, new meetings spring up and the item of work that you started on first thing in the morning is still there staring at you as you call it a night.

Dad had his hernia op yesterday and all went well. I guess the difficult part comes next as we try and work out a way that Mum can be cared for that doesn’t involve him lifting.

Mum is in a care home for a few days, but she’s not happy. She’s stressed and anxious and it’s kicking the MS in big style. Confusion reigns and the people at Orange aren’t doing much to help when they make it so difficult for me or my brother to put credit on her phone. Honestly, how hard do they want to make it for you to give them money?

Home via Sainsburys with a quick dash in for some basic provisions and then home and a quick tidy up. By the time IM arrives, I’m just a little bit stressed. Not good.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Duck visits and advent calendars

S rang last night, a tough situation having just got somewhat rougher. With P busy this evening I suggested it was a best mate’s duty to step into the breach and take her for the night out of her choice.

As it turns out P’s commitment is cancelled and so ‘Operation Cheer Up S’ now has two main protagonists for tonight’s undertaking.

A trip to the Strawbury Duck is decided on as the perfect tonic and given how tired and post-cold I am, it’s a pleasure to have P driving (I’m enjoying getting used to this new phenomena).

Unlike the old days the pub is almost entirely empty and the food decidedly average (these two facts are surely no coincidence…), but P is on top form and if S enjoyed the evening even a shade as much as I did then it will hopefully have done the trick.

In the course of the evening the subject of Advent Calendars comes up. We all bemoan that this year none of us have personal ones (I feel bad, I quite often add one to P&S’s collection, the year I don’t…).

S is less unhappy on the basis that there are calendars for her to open at both of her churches.

The one at St Thinga-me’s she tells us is particularly good.

“Does it have chocolate in?” P & I ask.

She tells us it’s based on a cathedral design and is quite splendid.

“Does it have chocolate in?” P & I ask.

Apparently it has several sides and folds back on itself to form a structure.

“Does it have chocolate in?” P & I ask.

Apparently the doors and windows open in cunning ways and reveal a stain glassed window design behind each one.

“Does it have chocolate in?” P & I ask.

"No it doesn’t!" P and I are told quite sternly. We look slightly crestfallen.

“What’s the point in that then?”

S counters: “You can put a nightlight in the middle of the structure and then the light glows through all the stained glass windows creating a beautiful effect”.

P & I pause to consider and agree (a little grudgingly) that it does indeed sound quite wonderful despite its confectionery shortcomings.

Of course I’m actually quite impressed by even the simplest of advent calendars, given I grew up in a household on a tight budget, where the same (non-chocolate – they didn’t do that then) calendar was shared by my brother and I, year after year for many, many years. Each year my father simply closed the doors back up, ready for reuse next year (though of course they never close properly really…).

“Oh look – day 15’s an angel again this year - what a surprise…”

Once P&S stop laughing at this news of my deprived childhood/skinflintishly pragmatic father, they have the good grace to extend their sympathies. A bit.

Of course this year, I may not have a personal calendar, but I am enjoying the wonderful Dave’s cartoon advent calendar – check it out, it’s fab (even without chocolate!).

Stocking Shocker

Brrrrr was it cold this morning or what? The cars were iced outside and in.

The sooner my garage is back in use, the better (it's gone from useable with dodgy roof, to new roof, but "oops sorry we had an accident and broke the whole door/frame out and can't seem to fix it cos we don't know what we're doing, cos we're roofers really you see...").

Must be well and truly winter.

Christmas around the corner and all that.

Seasonal food for thought via the ever excellent John D's blog.

The art student behind this billboard in Glasgow states that "the project is about how children are trained to become consumers from a very early age and how Santa plays a role in that".

Of course my own personal history suggests that Santa gives even less to four year old younger siblings of older blabber-mouthed brothers, who have fathers who say things like: "well now you don't believe anymore, obviously he can't leave you a stocking anymore...".

It took 25 years of complaint and ridicule of my paternal scrooge figure, before a stocking reappeared.

And then he'd 'amusingly' filled it with out of date food stuffs and freebie tat.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Starting to Feel better

A good deal better today, but not fit enough for work.

IM (what a sweetie) drives across to resume Florence Nightingale act.

I may yet not die ;-)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Cold Progress

My dose ibs bery bunghed dup, but ab least I’b dot vombiting…

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Welcoming Baby C

Well it seems it was the day for irregular attendees to make a trip to church.

My reason? Karen, myself and the younger two of ‘my favourite nieces’ are joining proud parents M and R in celebrating the Christening of little baby C.

Now you know I don’t really ‘do’ babies (ugh! give me a puppy any day!), but even I have to admit she looked like a bit of a poppet. And it’s hard not to smile at her propensity for pulling M’s beard at every opportunity (who as K remarks is the cleanest and sprucest we’ve ever seen him – even the fingernails are dangerously close to being free of engine oil!).

In the course of the service I start to sniff a bit. By the time we leave church I’m aware I definitely have a cold coming on.

IM suggests he still comes across in the evening for DVD and pizza, even though I warn him I’m an unattractive bundle of snot.

I suddenly take a turn for the worse around ten and IM retreats from the ill-person. Half an hour later, my temperature is sky-high, my nose streaming and top bonus, I’m chucking up again.

I feel like crud.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Plan 9 from Outer Space

Well it's a strange food and film night round at P&S's. They remain TV free, but a DVD player and projector have turned their lounge into a mini cinema.

Tonight's title is Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Written, directed and produced by the infamous Ed Wood, it's a black and white science-fiction marvel.

The headline star Bela Lugosi is only in part of it, the rest of the time his character is played by another actor, with a cloak over his face.

Previously we had assumed that Mr Lugosi had passed away part way through the filming, but the accompanying documentary tells us otherwise. Basically it seems Ed Wood got a small amount of funding, enough for one day's shooting and just took some random footage of his friend Bela Lugosi, coming out a house and wandering around a cemetery. Following Bela's death, Ed raised funding for a full film and basically just hammered out a script around the footage he had of Bela. Weird.

Some of the acting is hilarously bad ("ah! Plan 9!") and the effects are indeed 'special' (you can see the strings on the flying saucers at times and creases in the backdrops).

So bad it's good.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Oh What a World...

For the last six months Stuart and I have been hardly able to keep the secret. On regular occasions through this period Karen has mentioned how “one day” she’ll get to see Rufus Wainwright live, or lamented that his Manchester date sold out in a matter of hours. We’ve commiserated obviously and managed not to let slip that not only did we manage to get tickets, but we’re in the centre, third row.

By the time her birthday came around we were just about fit to bust and it was just as well the truth was out at last (although apparently she nearly missed the tickets that Stuart had tucked in her card).

So expectations for tonight are high. I spent the early part of last night chucking up, so I'm, frankly relieved to be fit enough to make the gig. But adrenalin comes to my aid and Karen and I are like giggling schoolgirls as we make our way to our excellent seats whilst the Guillemots play (not a bad band, but it’s all very impressive that the guitarist has found a way to make his instrument do an impression of a screaming seabird, but enough already).

“There’s a lot of people here” comments Stuart, with a smirk “…behind us”.

Not long after eight, Rufus and band take to the darkened stage and the unmistakable harmonised hum of Oh What a World kicks in. It just gets better from there for the next two and a half hours.

The music is sublime and Rufus the ever-charming showman. He clearly laps up the live experience, flirting outrageously with us and stunning us with his beautiful music. He makes it look so easy, the lips barely move as he drawls out lines so endued in passion as to make you cry. At times he seems as delighted at what he can make his voice do as we are. To say the man has charisma would be a major understatement. In fact as we arrive at the Apollo Stuart commented in a faux paranoid manner “do I look butch enough?”, but leaves saying “well if ever there were a man that could make this straight man turn gay…”.

The set-list is predominantly from the two Want albums, plus a couple of older numbers, a few new songs and a couple of Leonard Cohen covers (Chelsea Hotel No 2 and a version of Hallelujah that might not quite meet Jeff Buckley’s superlative version, but leave’s Rufus’ own version on the Shrek soundtrack standing).

It’s amazing, one of best gigs I’ve ever seen. Our fabulous seats make it even better as we catch every expression, every knowing glance, every little nuance.

It’s also the first seated gigs I’ve been to for ages. Well seated until the end that is; I think there were four standing ovations in total, the audience weren’t about to surrender him without a fight.

The first ‘encore’ sees Rufus and the band return in white robes and undertake a Britney style dance routine, you had to see it, but trust me people were crying with laughter. I’m not entirely sure why Rufus was then stripped to a blue tunic, had a sparkly mask, crown of thorns and red lippy applied and ‘crucified’ by two roadies dressed as roman centurions, but I’d loved to have been there at the moment the idea was first mooted to the hurly bearded pair.

Subsequent encores find Rufus in a dressing gown…and socks. A look he alone in the world can pull off.

Beautiful songs and charm personified – we weren’t disappointed. I’ll be buzzing off this one for ages.

Oh what a world it seems we live in...sigh!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Chronicles Volume One

Book Group tonight and we’re discussing Bob Dylan’s Chronicles Volume One.

Not many of us have got more than halfway, but the consensus seems to be positive. Interest levels clearly follow people’s previous level of relationship with Dylan, but there’s plenty of food for discussion.

Parts drag a little and seem little more than an exercise in mentioning names etc, other bits are pure poetry and have me reading tem again and again.

Of course Chronicles Volume 2 can be read here.

As the wine and beer flow (or J2Os for drivers like myself), the conversation moves on and into one of those excellent pub banter sessions. Tim as ever is instigator of quality talking points, with his characteristic frank questions like “what’s the cruellest thing you’ve ever done?".

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mrs Henderson Presents

Mrs Henderson Presents is pretty much everything you would hope from a comedy drama featuring Bob Hoskins and Judy Dench.

It’s not a film to change the world and it lacks a punchy ending but it passes the evening pleasantly enough for P, S and myself; a nice tale and some quality one-liners.

And let’s face it no one can say “oh do buzz-orrff!” in an upper class accent in quite the same way as Dame Judi can.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I have nothing to say...

I suggest we all make the most of this most unusual of circumstances.

Why not take the time you would normally waste reading my drivel and use it to do something nice?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Light a Candle

Sometimes you need to take a moment.

A time to reflect, to remember, to mark your cares.

Thanks to Maggi, for the link to this excellent site...the candle lighting is just that little bit more interractively satisfying than 's prayer wall.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Bouncing Balls

Often enough I have a winge about crap advertising, so in a break from my Grinch like norm, can I record how fab the Sony Bravia ad featuring thousands of colourful bouncing balls is.

Most impressive of all, apparently they really did fire 250,000 multi-coloured balls down streets in San Francisco and no CGI was used. The effect is mesmirisingly beautiful.

You can view the advert on Sony's website. Play it through and you'll also then find an option to view an extended 2 minute version, which also gives a better idea of the scale of the operation.

Occasionally, very occasionally, adverts can be art.

Monday, November 21, 2005

After the sun comes fog

In a cunning piece of planning I had a site visit to complete just a few miles from Dalesbridge and so Monday morning is a comparatively leisurely affair, affording me the opportunity to enjoy the spectacle of David and Sally attempting to work together and cook breakfast.

Sally’s blog records that the fun didn’t end there and their little whirly-gig of chaos continued down into Derbyshire and beyond. You may find the theme tune to Benny Hill starts playing in your head by the end of the tale…

In contrast I scurry off to the site and spend the morning surveying small settlements in Yorkshire. It’s a stunning morning, very cold, but bright blue skies and brilliant sunshine.

Which makes it all the more surprising when 20 minutes into my commute back to the office I hit this:

One minute sunglasses on, next minute can’t see your hand in front of your face.

And so the trauma begins.

A huge crash on the M6 means the southbound carriageway is closed around jn26, the queues that result form a ripple effect back up the motorway as crash after crash occurs as people pile into the back of the stationery traffic.

Traffic reports tell of a second full closure, so I take the advice and turn off onto the M61.

Of course the next traffic report informs me that there’s now been a major crash on the M61 and it’s closed up ahead as well.

So it’s off at the next junction and I weave my way through the byways and sideways of Lancashire, slowly, slowly southwards.

It’s so late by the time I reach Winwick, that I decide to take my bosses advice after all and turn left for home. I arrive back exhausted. A two hour journey has taken me nearly five exhausting, nail-biting hours.

What purpose does fog serve anyway?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Greenbelt Planning Weekend pt 3

Why oh why oh why didn’t I go to bed before 4am last night?

It’s not big, it’s not clever and I have to facilitate a session this morning.

I pretend to be awake and think I just about get away with it.

Whilst Programming Group, continue to slave away and have soup, bread, cheese etc on-site, the Ops team finish up and head to the Gamecock in Austwick for Sunday lunch.

In comparison the service is fantastic and perhaps more to the point ‘friendly’.

They cope with a big group just fine. Some among us need to get away sharp, “no problem” the staff tell us “we’ll put their orders through first” and sure enough it arrives fast as anything.

By the time we get back to Dalesbridge the Programming Group are long gone (though their dirty dishes from lunch are not tsk tsk!). ETA dubious mitigating evidence has been provided by the divine Ms Dean in the comments, but I remain unconvinced...

A few of us are forming a private party, stopping over one more night as a chance to catch up with good friends away from the hustle and bustle of the wider group.

Having cleared up the meeting rooms (and done that washing up ;-) ), we collapse in front of the log fire and chill out.

Silly parlour games and much laughter ensue and all accompanied, by the rather fine selection of food David and Sally have brought up from their local ‘French market’.

A fine evening, with some of my very favourite people.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Greenbelt Planning Weekend pt 2

Obviously we all went straight to bed after the pub last night and are all up bright eyed and bushy tailed for the meeting Saturday morning.

The two groups get together for a bit of an ice-breaker session, where we all draw images that represent Greenbelt to us.

I’m slightly disturbed by how many people draw rabbits.

Can’t imagine why…

After that it’s on to the serious business and with the two groups breaking off into separate areas, it’s meeting after meeting all day (a Safety team meeting does away with my chance of a couple of hours off in the afternoon).

It’s good to be in this place, hearing people dream dreams and scheme schemes.

We end the day’s work element with a joint session looking at how we develop the site/festival in coming years.

After a buffet tea and an early start on the drinking duties, Sally and David present yet another classic pub quiz (with their able scoreboard assistant Maria). Much silliness ensues.

Then someone brings out a truly cheesy Karaoke DVD.

And someone else starts bringing out tambourines, triangles and other things that can be struck and rattled in annoying ways.

In a way it’s touching to know someone like Sally, who still sees and hopes for the best in people. Even people like me…

Item after item she hands over in response to my appeals of “oooh Sall can I have that tambourine please?”.

It takes a while for her to twig that our group are strangely lacking in percussive activity, despite the number of items I’ve relieved her of. Slowly the realisation dawns that far from it being a case “ah bless, even L1z and co are keen and joining in”, it’s more a question of ‘L1z and co have decided to embark on a disarmament programme – taking the weapons of mass disruption out of circulation'.

Steve S shoves some up his jumper, others get hidden under the coffee table and Shaun does a fine line in stuffing a few down the side of the sofa (a bit too far down as we realise, when we need Rob the Doctor to perform elbow deep surgery to reclaim the triangle…).

People are probably right, I’m a bad person.

Eventually the cheesiness of the karaoke becomes too much for certain of our group to bear and I’m persuaded to join them in a schism to the main house (log fire, more booze, no Village People covers…it’s a tough call).

Somewhere around 3.30am Steve S makes a plaster cast of Geoff’s face (photos to follow).

A fabulous way to round off the evening.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Greenbelt Planning Weekend pt 1

Having made reasonable time across to Settle (Rob is very forbearing of a spectactular piece of driving on my part, when I forget the double roundabout layout of the Tickle Trout junction and manage to leave the northbound M6, only to rejoin it 30 seconds later), we arrive at Dalesbridge for the newly combined Greenbelt Operations and Programming Group planning weekend.

Walking into the main house it feels like coming home...not so much due to the surroundings (though after three years they do feel familiar), but because of the people.

This is family.

Of course any good family reunion needs a recurring theme and it seems we are not spared our particular signature nightmare – the appalling service of food in a local hostelry.

Sally has called ahead and spoken to them about whether they can handle our requirements, so there really is little excuse for the shoddiness that ensues.

To give you some of the highlights:

Evil Harv (he tells blatant lies you know, not to be trusted…) and Joe, arrive well over an hour after the first group of us ordered…and get served first (smug bastards!). Explanation from the waitress: “well we did them ahead of the large order”.

When our food does eventually arrive it’s missing Martin S’s steak. Waitress response: “well it’s not on your bill anyway…” . Apparently this means we shouldn’t therefore mind (you’ll note the lack of apology, trust me it’s not the thoroughness of my reportage that holds the fault in this).

My plate is passed to me by the waitress, without any warning that it is nuclear hot. My squawks of pain and the smell of burning flesh from my thumb merely receive a vague shrug and she simply walks away. Again you’ll note the lack of apology/offer of medical care etc…

At length, Martin’s steak eventually arrives. With potatoes when he’d ordered chips. His remark to this effect is met with the classic line “well he’s done potatoes now”.

As Martin S boils like a volcano about to blow, the ever marvellous Martin F finds the landlord, ‘has a word’ and a bowl of chips arrives.

Of course this act of small amends is slightly undermined, when the bill arrives and we discover that not only is Martin’s steak now well and truly on the bill, but we’ve also been charged extra for the boil of chips.

Out of a party of about 25 people, we leave a tip of around 75p.

But as I’m feeling generous, here’s another tip for the New Inn at Clapham: your food is good, your beer fine, your bar staff lovely, but that waitress (you know - the grumpy, surly, misanthropic, rude, finger burning one) needs some serious training in customer care.

And hey, it’s not just us that think so...a couple of strangers approach our main table having finished their food. The woman enquires if we’re staying over at the inn. Fearing the worst (we might be a touch rowdy for some I guess), we assure her we’re not. “that’s a shame” she remarks with a conspiratorial glint in her eye “...we were hoping for safety in numbers at breakfast!”.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Evolution/Intelligent Design

Well it’s all been kicking off again in Kansas (much one presumes to Dorothy’s horror).

This victory for the Intelligent Design/’let’s get confused about what science is’ supporters, can surely only been seen as a chink of light for other groups such as the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Their open letter to the Kansas School Board is worth a read. As are some of the responses from members of the Board...

Apparently some supporters claim that introducing Intelligent Design into the science classroom is about encouraging a diversity in science education. As at least one wag has commented, this is a bit like saying that teaching that 2+2=5, is encouraging diversity into mathematics.

Of course you can trust The Onion (who brought us the wonderful “Christian Right Lobbies to Overturn Second Law of Thermodynamics”) to have wise words to celebrate the news from Kansas. Wisely they have recognised that the teaching of the scientific laws of gravity is all part of an Atheist plot,; so allow them to present: Intelligent Falling.

Maybe this parody makes it a little easier to understand the nervousness many in the scientific community have about the whole Kansas hooha. I mean would you want to work in a tower block designed by a Structural Engineer trained in Intelligent Falling, or a plane designed by someone from the Intelligent Falling school of Aeronautics?

But I'll give the last word to the Spaghetti Monster crowd:

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Constant Gardener

Well I guess I was never going to be a regular, but my visits to Sanctus1 have become slightly embarrassingly sporadic. Something always seems to crop up. Tonight though I’m determined to make it…even though I’ve been out almost every night for weeks and have a busy week ahead and could really do with a night in.

So I just need to squeeze in that Greenbelt telephone conference early evening and all should be well.

Then S texts mid afternoon, tempting me with thoughts of Orange Wednesday film nights. She’s suggesting The Constant Gardener, which frankly I’m not too desperate to see, but I’m aware I haven’t seen her for a week and I’m away this weekend as well. Somehow spending time with my best mate feels more important tonight…so I switch plans.

The Constant Gardener is surprisingly good. I suppose it was the John Le Carre origin that was putting me off rather, but it’s not at all like his older stuff.

It’s a beautifully told tale set in Africa, involving the corruption of pharmaceutical multi-nationals in collusion with the FCO. However, told through the eyes of a minor diplomat who’s wife has been murdered, the tale is essentially a personal odyssey, with the political ruminations secondary to the examination of emotions and relationships.

It’s tender, beautiful and achingly sad. The plot in retrospect is none too complicated, but the personal angle makes the unfolding of the truth completely compelling and gets a powerful political message about the continuing abuse of Africa across, without ever once shouting.

It makes Richard Curtis’ well-meaning, but ultimately mis-firing drama The Girl in the Café, look like amateurish agit-prop. The Constant Gardener is political drama at it’s best - I highly recommend trying to catch it before it leaves the big screen.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

End of the Weekend

Two visits to the Punjab in three days is good going even for me.

The food is hard to beat though, so why go elsewhere, we’re only disappointed when we do.

OMG is it really Monday tomorrow?

Sleep Deprived

I may have had one or two late nights of late and the odd vodka or ten last night, but it really isn’t my fault that I’m still in bed at lunchtime.

Having fallen into bed exhausted last night, I was woken up an hour later by the upstairs smoke alarm ‘peeping’ in that ‘my batteries dying’ manner.

Groggy and bleary eyed I fetch a chair, clamber up and reach out over the stairs to open up the offending beast. I can’t have been that drunk because I do remember having the very clear thought of “this probably isn’t such a great idea after all those vodkas”. Still it wasn’t going to shut-up so I had little option…

Back to bed and I can’t fall asleep. Eventually I drift off only to be woken up again about an hour later, by the heating switching on and making a rather strange noise.

Up again, I go downstairs to investigate…the pressure is low, so I top it up and head back to bed.

Another hour to drop off again (why is that? I’m dog tired) only to be woken up by a text message from a friend at the airport (to be fair it’s not ‘that’ early anymore).

Back to trying to sleep and…the landline rings. It’s I, who proceeds to abuse me for being still in bed.


He’s starting to stress out about finding the restaurant tonight.

I so don’t do other people’s problems when I’m tired…

I also don’t do:

  • Housework
  • Paperwork
  • Tidying up
  • Writing emails
  • Reading reports
Which is a shame really as they where the things I was supposed to get done today.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Saturday Night Out

Jo is a bad person who leads people astray and makes them drink far, far too much.

(it has been commented recently that I have a tendency to blame others for my lack of will-power when it comes to such matters…an unfair criticism I’m sure you’ll agree)

As a last minute addition, we’re joined by Jo’s very new partner. I approve heartily and only the best would be good enough for our Jo.

After the three of us share a pre-dinner drink and then a lovely Thai meal in Koh Samui, we meet up with K, S and J and head to Gaia for more drinks. We then move on, leaving J with other friends and head to Via Fossa, where eventually G, K and assorted friends also track us down.

An excellent night.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Friday night in/Friday night out

Sometimes friends just ring at the right moment, with the right suggestion. After a stressful week I was all set for a quiet night in, with a plate of pasta, Friday night telly and an early night.

Then Stuart rings with the opener “What are you doing?” .

“I’ve just started eating my tea” I reply (hopefully in a tone that successfully conveys “I really want to speak to you, my wonderful, valued friend, but just for 5 minutes, because then my pasta will be cold”).

I am a little taken aback by his response of “Stop!”

But sometimes I guess you need to be stern with your friends. And the occasion of taking them out to the Punjab for a curry probably qualifies.

Half an hour later he and Karen call to pick me up (lifts and everything…I’m truly being spoiled).

In gratitude to their extreme kindness and excellent friendship, I will refrain from mentioning the first words out of each of their respective mouths…let’s just say sometimes comfortable friendship can cross the line into the realm of ‘two much information’.

Back home another late night phone call means my plans of an early night also go for a Burton.

Still there's a nice plate of cold pasta in the fridge for tomorrow - yum!

Creative Process

The utterly fabulous Caroline has posted here about how great moments of art (be it music, literature, whatever), can offer us glimpse of the divine. She writes:

"I harbour a bizarre image in my head where all the music, all the phrases, the melodies, the lyrics, the novels and the poems are actually floating around in the ether, already written and composed by God and the 'composers', 'musician's', 'lyricists' 'poets' gently run around with finely tuned butterfly nets and are gifted with ability to faithfully reproduce what they catch."
I know what she means about those songs, novels, poems, paintings etc that just seem to open up views of something 'other' to us.

I suppose my theory as to how the process happens is a bit different though, less butterfly nets and more about getting truly in touch with the part of "being in the image of the divine" that is about being a creator.

Just as when you are on the receiving end of love and compassion you can catch in those acts echoes of aspects of God, so it is for me with great moments of art. A reminder of the shared image, a reflecting bowl on a heavenly ancestor...

So I suppose the difference is that I tend to see the creative skill as being more contained in the artist, a characteristic that reflects our heritage; rather than the skill being that of a capturer of something external.

Hmmmm food for thought...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Nanny McPhee - a review in three words

It was 'alright'.

Visited Countries

Steve Lawson mentioned this site on his blog, and given I've nothing better to blog myself...and anyway the old narcassist will apprecaite the link ;-)

So...this map shows the countries I have visited:

It's a bit deceptive really, I've only ever been to East-coast US and half the others it's been a case of sticking a toe over the border...

Even so apparently I've only visited 7% of countries. Woefully pariochial, or eco-logically responsible - you decide.