Sunday, April 30, 2006

At my buddies' house

Following a few hours on-line going through my buddy's latest assignment, the wonderful K picks me up and following an excellent tea of K's amazing Ragu. Favourite Niece K produces an amazing Malteaser Birthday Cake that she has handmade for her Aunty L1z. All the more appropriate as she occasionally enjoys the nickname Malteaser when she's having one of her 'brown on the outside, blonde on the inside' moments.

Yum, yum, yum!

Then Stuart and I knuckle down, proof-reading and slimming down his essay and then producing a Powerpoint presentation to go with.

I'd like to think I played a supportive role as he did the latter, but I rather fear that some of my suggestions were maybe a little too creative as a result of the two bottles of White Zinfandel that K and I have made our way through.

Still you have to do what you can to make Jeremiah 29 exciting...

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Things you stumble upon on the internet

IM leaves mid-morning, which leaves me with plenty of time to play with my new toy.

Hundreds of subscriptions to switch email addresses on, new programmes to download, fun to be had.

And then Messenger pops up and Steve holds my hand and introduces me to new worlds like free audio calls and...oh well let's be honest lots of amusing animated 'winks'. emoticons.

Then more tours of blogs etc, with no need to keep an eye on the clock.

ANd then...I kid you not...I stumbled upon a link to a blog entitled Conclusive Evidence that Dave Cullen Existed.

Well I had to click didn't I?

You know, the photo suggests it's not him, but the description above...

Friday, April 28, 2006

Hope not Hate

The Bridgewater Hall is not the normal sort of place I go to gigs at. Large, smart, clean, all feels a little strange.

Still the acoustics are wonderful even up in the gallery (I think that's the stage down there...), which makes it all the sadder that the sound mix for Seth Lakeman was rather poor, with the vocals swamped by everything else.

Despite this he filled the boots of the support act extremely admirably, with highlights like Kitty Jay filling the whole auditorium in a way that you wouldn't imagine one lad, a fiddle and stamping foot should be able to.

The ability to hold a stage is something he holds in common with the headline act, Billy Bragg. Whether pouring out his heart in a ballad, rallying against the system in his between song polemics or delivering some of the most wonderful lyrics of recent times, his charisma just cannot be contained. Nor does it flag, which with a two hour long set is quite something.

One of his anecdotes tonight reflects on one his heroes Woody Guthrie and the slogan that he bore on his guitar "this machine kills fascists"; if it were down to pure passion alone then the tour's aim to Stop the BNP should be well within this Essex troubadour's grasp.

Stuart, before you ask, no I didn't get you a T'shirt...I was too scared in case I got the wrong size...

Thursday, April 27, 2006


Well it's installed and working pretty much ok.

In fact the only problem so far seems to be that I'm struggling to be able to send emails from my old email account (using Outlook Express).

It will send emails to it's own email address, but seemingly not to any others.

Any ideas welcome!

Information Overload

At last someone has published a theory that really get's to the heart of problems like my recent TB experience.

It's arrived!

So a package has arrived at the office for me from TB Broadband. Hurrah!

OK it doesn't have everything I ordered in it, but you's a start. It seems N as good as her word did send out a second bundle (ok I did specifically mention about not forgetting the extra microfilters but...).

And what's this the mail room tell me? Another parcel from TB, but with no name?

I check the mailing number and lo it's the original order.

And yes that has the full set of kit in it.

So now I just need to get the extra bits back to TB.

Oh and connect everything up. That's bound to be easy peasy though right?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


As we head into the preview screening of Confetti we’re greeted by security gentlemen, who search our bags and confiscate our camera phones. I’m not entirely sure how much they think we’re going to achieve with a camera phone 2 days before public release, but…

Still they’re very organised, little bags to put your phone in and a numbered label to enable you to reclaim your phone at the end…it’s only as we head to our seats that it occurs to me that we just kind of assumed they were legit. Pushing thoughts of local news headlines reading “audacious thieves make off with 50 mobile, in cinema phone con”, to the back of my mind we settle in to enjoy the film.

It’s only once S and I are fully ensconced in the Filmworks theatre number 16, that I confess quite how I had come by 2 free preview tickets.

S’s response is that she wants a label to wear making it very clear that she’s not a reader of Heat magazine…

The film was ok. Somewhere between Love Actually and Wimbledon (but much, much better than Wimbledon). It’s not the sort of film to change your life, or make you rush out and get it on DVD, but it’s amusing enough and a pleasant way of spending a few hours.

The basic premise is a wedding magazine competition to pit three couples against each other for the most 'original' wedding. As the magazine proprietor Jimmy Carr (sorry I can’t remember the character name, but he’s just very ‘Jimmy Carr’ anyway) puts it: “Of course it’s not everyone who wants their special day ruined by an unusual theme…but some people do”. And so we have the 1930’s Musicals Wedding, the Tennis Wedding and the Naturist’s Wedding.

The couple for the latter are first introduced to us riding a tandem in their birthday suits.

S, an occasional tandem rider, whispers to me “oh look, I’ve never seen a tandem with a cross bar for the bloke at the front, but a dropped bar for the woman at the back”. I remark that only S, could watch a scene of two naked people on a tandem, with bits bouncing un-restrained, and make a remark about the sodding bike construction.

Still we both enjoy (quite possibly for different reasons) – it’s a good enough film for a night out with the girls.

P had turned down the opportunity to join us (hey if he’d known about the bikes, maybe…), but we meet up with him afterwards and endeavour to cheer him up. Work reorganisations are causing him stress as he watches as his job and all the initiatives he’s set up (so successfully) look to disappear due to changes in Home 0ffice funding (no good doing good projects if the results can’t be easily quantified in a spreadsheet table eh?). He really is about as low as I’ve ever seen him.

Café Rouge is full, so we pick Pizza Express. For once we go for desserts and P disappears behind a large toffee fudge sundae thing. Suddenly his mood lightens and he’s bouncing and laughing again. He’s the first to acknowledge that he must be about as shallow as a puddle if a bowl of ice cream is all it takes to switch his mood like that.

As P heads off to pick up his bicycle, S and I head for the car and discuss our concerns for P. As S puts it, she doesn’t think their freezer is big enough to hold the litreage of ice cream that would be needed to keep him happy at the moment. Stupid Home 0ffice, they know not what they may be about to lose.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Well after two years of decidedly unreliable service I have indeed binned off Squawkbox in favour of what will hopefully be a more reliable commenting service.

There’s only so much you can put up with. Especially when numerous free services now provide the functionality that I was paying for with a Squawkbox Pro account.

The final straw was a combination of the system going down for several days yet again and the news on checking the Squawkbox website, that they themselves are planning to withdraw the service at the end of the year.

I guess dropping their subscribers an email would have just been a bit too much like customer service…something that along with quality they seem to regard as out-moded concepts.

If you’re sitting comfortably then I’ll begin...

Once Upon a Time there was a young woman who wanted to get broadband.

Her time was precious, but she asked for some advice (oh how those geeks love to go on...) and did some research, and found out about deals and kit and service quality etc and got thoroughly bored by the whole shebang.

One trusted geek, offered a winning argument to help her decide: “TB [initials altered to provide anonymity] really aren’t that bad, and at least if you go with them I can help out if it goes truly pear-shaped – or at least translate what they’re telling you.”.

So slightly against her better judgement she settled down on the 17th and ordered TB Broadband.

Things started to go awry on the 18th when she discovered her phone line was completely dead. It did occur to her that it might be something to do with them doing something to the line to prepare it for broadband, but she could get no sense out of the call centre from distant shores:

Customer: “Could this be due to my ordering broadband?”
Call Centre Muppet: “The fault is at the exchange not in your house”
Customer: “Yes, I understand that; my question is whether this could be connected to the fact that I ordered broadband from you yesterday. Could they be doing something to the line because of that?”
CCM: “Your broadband will come back on when your phone line is restored”
Customer: “I don’t have broadband yet. I ordered it yesterday. Could that be why my phone line is down”
CCM: “Your broadband will come back on when your phone does”
Customer: “I’m not asking about that, I’m asking if this problem with my phone line could be because of preparations they need to make for the broadband”
CCM: “You will need to talk to another department if your broadband isn’t working” Customer: “ I don’t have broadband. I ordered broadband yesterday. I’m asking whether the problems with my phone line could be connected to that?”
CCM: “You will need to talk to another department if your broadband isn’t working”
Customer: “You don’t understand the question I’m asking do you?
CCM: “Your broadband isn’t working, but I can’t help with that.”
Customer: “Shall we end this farce now? I know you’re doing your best, but….well…thanks anyway…bye.”

Phone line comes back live about an hour later.

Text message from TB informs that an engineer will look into the problem on the 20th…

Perhaps at this point our heroine should have listened to those nagging voices of doubt that started to whisper in her ear.

Still those lovely folk at TB did keep texting her through the week: “your TB Broadband line will activated by 8pm on the 25 April. Any equipment ordered will arrive by 1pm on 25 April”.

And come one minute past noon on the 25th “Welcome to TB Broadband, your service is now ready to use. Please follow the instructions in your welcome pack”.

But 1pm came and went and no equipment arrived. So our heroine tracks her order on the TB website:
Stage 1 We started to process your broadband order - 17 April
Stage 2 Work has begun to enable broadband on
your phone line - 18 April
Stage 3 Along with your Welcome pack, your broadband modem and any other equipment have been dispatched - 24 April
Stage 4 Your Welcome pack and equipment arrive and your phone line is broadband enabled – 25 April
Helpfully TB also provide the Royal Mail dispatch reference number so you can track your equipment delivery with them. So our heroine dutifully enters the reference number…only to find that Royal Mail still have no record of this (which means it certainly wasn’t with them by last night).

Heavy of heart she rings the TB help number and gets through to J, who may not be the smartest tool in the box, but he’s helpful and can at least understand the questions. Trouble is he can’t phone out, so our weary maid is left listening to symphony after symphony of hold music whilst he bravely speaks to Royal Mail and various TB departments.

After about 30minutes of this we have established, that Royal Mail scan the reference number barcodes when they pick up the parcel, so as far as they’re concerned the parcel has not actually been dispatched by TB. Internally within TB J is struggling to get answers, the best he has is that there has been an “activity hold-up”. When asked to translate what that means he scurries away to make another phone call. As a result he informs our girl that “the problem occurred on the 18th when the payment wasn’t authorised”.

Errr very unlikely replies our maid (aware of her ridiculous credit limit that the kind credit card people keep raising). So why, she asks, does the order tracker say everything is going ahead? Why have the texts said everything is going ahead? Why did the text at noon tell her the line was activated? Why has no one been in contact to say there is a problem? Why does the system say the equipment has been dispatched and provides a delivery reference number?

Is this what the lovely geek meant my saying he would translate their strange explanations?

J needs to make another call, but our heroine has had enough of the hold music. She thanks this gallant knave for his efforts, but suggests that given his hands are obviously rather tied, perhaps he could transfer her to someone who does have the ability to phone back?

And so we move on to N, who agrees that it doesn’t stack up. She can’t see that there can have been a payment problem, she’ll look into it after lunch and phone straight back. Our wise lass takes a name and phone number just in case.

Her cynicism is repaid as 3 hours later the phone has not rung.

Ringing C she comments jokingly that TB must have very long lunch breaks. N laughs and said she wishes, she can only apologise, she’s very tied up with customer’s issues. “Good service is it then?” replies our girl. “I can’t answer that” replies N.

There are still no answers re what has happened, but N will order a new batch of equipment (“ok and welcome pack – have you not received that either?” and will ring back tomorrow. She also promises to ensure there is no bill for a service that can’t be used.

So…should she bin the order and go with another provider? Or should she hold fast and give them a chance to sort this out?

Vote Now!
Bin 'em off. If they're this much trouble before you even go live...
Stick with it lass. They're all as bad as each other and you've put up with this much pain now.
Free polls from

Monday, April 24, 2006


Oh what a start to the week. Less than 60 seconds from leaving my house, I’m turning out of a road, when whomp the car behind ploughs into the back of me.

Surprising little damage to either car (small cracks to bumpers is about it) and no one hurt, so I guess it could be worse. Plus the other driver is friendly and apologetic and we just calmly swap details and wish each other a better ‘rest of the day’.

Let’s hope the week gets better from here on in eh?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The realisation that your personal identity may have been subsumed by your professional life...

When my neighbour P enquires whether I’ve been graffitifying the pavement outside his house, my first impulse is to explain that it is the common shorthand for lighting column and that it is a setting-out marking relating to the recent new street lighting on the close.

It takes several minutes for the penny to drop as to why P was suggesting that I specifically, might be responsible for this tag.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Lazy Days

A lazy day, a bit of shopping, a spot of lunch, drinks in the garden and then pizza in front of the FA Cup semi-final.

IM (a scummy Man U supporter – is it any surprise I have reservations?), does at least have the decency to (grudgingly) join me in support of the true mighty reds.

The 2-1 result sees Liverpool through to the final and serves as a perfect end to my birthday celebrations.

House back to myself I settle in for a quiet evening in front of the telly and a little bit of remote gig attendance courtesy of a phone call to Sally.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Birthday Celebrations

The day starts reasonably well, but hits a rather stupid, entirely self-imposed work-related hiccup just after 4pm.

What you need at that point is a good friend that you can talk to. A friend who will hear your worries and understand, a friend who will help you think more calmly and help you find a route to resolution.

Fortunately, just such a friend was at the other end of the phone, and I make it home rather later than planned, but in a relatively unstressed state.

After last night’s adventures in cuisine, I decide that Tapas would be a safer option for this evening (bowls of small bits of food, no power tools required etc).

Accordingly IM and I head to Dimitri’s where I am treated to a fine birthday feast of food and wine. Next we head to Atlas bar and enjoy drinks out on the terrace.

IM however is keen to see more of the city, so we move on and head towards Rain Bar (the building is an old umbrella factory). Unfortunately on the way, IM is seduced by a flyer advertising free entry and cheap drinks at Aqua Bar. Despite all my protestations of “it looks crap and completely dead”, he insists we check it out.


Let’s just say, it’s very clear he’s better at choosing wonderful bouquets of flowers than drinking places. If it were a restaurant you’d be expecting Gordon Ramsay to turn up any second and go ballistic.

It kills the mood of the evening and despite our rapid moving on to Rain Bar the atmosphere never really covers and before too much later we’re wending our weary way home.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The disconnect between the adventurous impulse and the foreseeable implications...(or why I should really think things through more)

P has the rather dubious honour of sharing his birthday with a salubrious collection of famous people from the past: Hitler, the former Emperor of Japan and Napoleon III.

Just when you’re starting to spot a theme however, you realise that on 20th April 19 a certain Benny Hill also made his debut into the world (one would hope the midwife took the opportunity to adminster a playful slap to the new-born’s baldy head).

‘Born-today’s’ for myself are rather thinner pickings, Her Maj Elizabeth II and Iggy Pop basically ( and before you ask, neither my given or in-family nickname* are actually as a result of this connection to these two parties, however coincidental that might seem).

Traditionally P and I have a joint birthday celebration, which this year is decided as being a meal out for P, S and myself at a restaurant of P’s choosing on the 20th.

Accordingly we head to Livebait for some quality seafood.

Now I had a fairly basic upbringing; on the culinary front pasta shapes, lentils, split peas and the like were art materials not food-stuffs, and accordingly I’ve never eaten lobster.

It feels like it’s one of those things you should do at least once though. So feeling adventurous, whilst S opts for Lemon Sole and P for Swordfish Satay, I decide to push the boat out and go for a lobster half.

It’s only when they bring across a bowl and ‘implements’ that I really think through this rash choice. How the f*** do you eat a lobster?

As the colour drains from my face as I realise the bind I’ve got myself into (this doesn’t feel like the sort of place you could ask for advice in), P&S start pissing themselves laughing. Oh Ha ha they say – Liz is having one of her blonde moments – can’t believe you ordered it without realising the implications etc etc.

S’s contribution was particularly memorable “well I did think it was a bit brave when you ordered it, but then I thought oh you’re a southerner, you probably know what to do with lobster”.

It’s the age old northern misconception, southern equals posh.

Let’s be clear, my parents grew up in the Eastend of London, the only fish they knew their way round particularly well was eel.

We rack our brains for someone we can ring who might possibly be able to give advice. We reflect that it says something about the circles we move in that we can’t think of a single party.

Still, how hard can it be right?

Well the answer is not very really. Cracking the claw with the nutcracker type thingy-me isn’t too bad (at least, my handling might not have been the most elegant but I did get it open ok and without hitting any neighbouring diners with flying shrapnel). Fishing the meat out of the opened claw with the pointy end of the other, letter opener type thingy-me is fine, and after some futile attempts at cutting the meat out of the main body in situ, I twig that the other end of the letter opener type thingy-me acts as a perfect scope and the whole mass of flesh comes away with one easy moment.

Now I have no idea if the above is the correct way of eating a lobster and if there are bits of the above you’re not supposed to eat, then I can say with reasonable certainty that they don’t seem to be life threateningly bad for you.

So on the whole I think I got through the whole experience reasonably well in the circumstances. Indeed, should I ever face the same situation again I would proceed with a small degree of confidence. Sadly however this new string to my bow, is unlikely to be of much value as the primary thing about lobsters that I discovered this evening was…I don’t overly like the taste.

Still you only live once.

And if you’re very lucky it doesn’t end with you being boiled in a pot.

* yeah right, like I'm going to tell you...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

If I were...

...a computer geek hacker type:

I'd hack into those word verification checkers on websites, reprogamme them to say 'amusing' words and wait for someone to notice.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Should You Touch a Hamster's Head?

Apparently someone found this blog the other day by googling: “should you touch a hamster's head?”. Unfortunately for them the post it led them to reads:

"Taurus: You know you should really stop hurling fistfuls of hamsters out the window of your speeding car, but they’re so darn cute."
Which highlights once again how very short this blog falls as an advice shop.

So it’s probably rather overdue, but it feels like time for Aunty L1z to once more dust down her magic eight ball, swing open the doors of guidance and address the world of agony that has led unsuspecting googlers to these shores of late:

  • roughest areas of manchesteroh it’s safe as houses round here mate; there are a few dodgy bits…here, let me hold your bag, whilst you get out your AtoZ and I’ll point them out to you...
  • tom cruise albanianno he’s a scientologist. An easy mistake to make I appreciate, however only one of the groups encourage pregnant women to give birth in silence, as far as I know. There is of course another term that springs to mind for people who think like that, but it would probably be libellous to repeat it.
  • nights out radiographers ooh sounds wild, do drop me an invite!
  • busking outfit well it depends what effect you’re going for – the Dexy’s style dungaree look is always good for a skiffle outfit, whereas head to toe black lycra is more traditional for mimes. Of course few people look good in head to toe lycra, but don’t worry, people will generally be too busy shouting “learn the fucking words, you lazy fucker!” to notice overly.
  • Ooops (from UK google)well what a very strange word to search for, but none-the-less it seems fitting that I feature highly in google for it.
  • Ooops (from Romanian google)ok I’m getting suspicious now – is this a rude word in Romanian or something?
  • albanians living longs1ght I suppose there probably are some, but I don't think Tom Cruise lives there, if that's who you're after?
  • rusty cogs wallpaper sounds…errrrr…lovely….no really, quite delightful…
  • exchange square manchester diagrams - well ok it’s not exactly a square, but do you really need a diagram?
  • add set in san fransisco with coloured balls rolling down a hillyes it’s a lovely advert isn’t it, but rather than spending your day watching pretty little balls bounce down a hill, perhaps you could use the time more productively learning to spell?
  • need help finding funny christmas family newletters to put in christmas cardswell you certainly need help…. Look, for the love of all that is holy, just understand that those round robin things are evil incarnate. If you fail to appreciate this, then I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that you need help on the humour front, but really, plagiarising an amusing tale of how “darling Molly accidentally flooded the kitchen, fusing the electricity, but not before little Joshie was given quite a 'shock' (ho! ho!)” is really about as low as you can get. For the sake of the kids, put them up for adoption so they can truly disown you. Why not do it on Christmas Day? That way, on the off-chance this stuff is hereditary, hopefully little Molly and Joshua, won’t ever feel festive enough to pass on the hell to future generations.
  • how do you get anti vandal paint out of cotton?ok there are two options here: either you’re the proprietor, but were too stupid not to put on old clothes before painting the fence/wall/whatever; or you’re a toerag who was climbing something you shouldn’t have been. If it’s the former, then a spoilt outfit may serve to teach you to engage brain in future. If you’re the latter, well snaps for leaving the synthetic fibres behind for a day, but really, let this be a lesson to you. Either way, you’ll be getting no advice from me you muppet!
  • movement of muscles used for shooting in netballand you need to know this because?
  • Uninvited Guest Shaun CopeShit! How unwelcome to you have to be, for someone to do a search like that?
  • is cheltenham racecourse car boot on this weekendprobably. They often have excellent giraffe on wheels you know. Apart from on August Bank Holiday Weekend, when they don’t…have anything…at all…nada…I’d stay away if I were you…
  • how shakespeare makes act 1 scene 5 of romeo and juliet dramatically effectivestop cheating and do your own bloody homework! Sheesh kids today…
  • a little bit of torture and a touch of execution hmmmm a pleasant country walk and a nice cup of tea can be quite invigorating as well you know…
  • draining carbuncles videoeuwghhh! People like you shouldn’t be allowed on the internet
  • incredibles elastigirl butt - pervert
  • diagram nappy changeoh you’ve so come to the wrong site. But can I advise on the excellent properties of gaffer tape?
  • mutant giraffeoh you so have come to the right site my friend!
  • reach out and touch greenbelt blogwho are you? What do you want? Why are you looking for me damnit?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Life in a vacuum

So my current vacuum cleaner was bought second hand from a colleague for about £15 some 8 or so years ago.

The fact it is about as much use as a chocolate teapot hardly encourages me into better housekeeping.

So working on the premise of 'better motivation through gadetry', I've at long last given in and replaced it with one of these:

Let's just say it's a bit of a worry how much extra dirt is being lifted by some decent suction.

That said, having coughed up the dough, it is at least satisfying that it is patently doing a better job. I'm also impressed that everything I'd heard about Dyson functional design appears to be true.

Oh and delight of delights, all the instruction booklet diagrams have male figures doing the cleaning!*

So what with the offer of a free car cleaning kit (though annoyingly you have to send away for this) and 5 years warrenty instead of the usual 2 (yet another form to fill in and send off) if I bought it from John Lewis in April...well how could I say no?

I wonder if I could switch that 5yr coverage to a mileage based concept though...I'm realistic enough to know that the novelty will only last so long and then I'll be back to my slovenly ways again.

[sigh] Where did my mother go wrong?**

* I presume there's yet another form somewhere in the box that enables you to send off for the bloke...
** oh yeah she told me to go out and have a life

Saturday, April 15, 2006


Now I'm a hard-hearted cow really; I didn't even cry when Bambi's mother got shot (maybe it was because venison featured large in my upbringing - long story); but every now and again you read something that just gets you.

Courtesy of Dave E, this is one of those things.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Manchester Passion

Manchester and passion are two words that sit quite well together. The music from Manchester’s fine pop heritage and the story of Easter are rather good bedfellows as well.

Albert Square is packed and the atmosphere is buzzing as this rather unique take on the passion play unfolds.

It really was rather good. A few naff bits aside (ie the interviews with people in the cross procession – “so you’re a punk and a Christian then?”), the play itself is really well executed. There’s even a few nice lighter touches, Anthony H Wilson chatting to Peter and the guy behind the hot dog stall (and provider of last supper barm) reads the Da Vinci code as Jesus ponders his fate at the counter.

Occasionally the lyrics needed a very slight twist to fit, but generally the music was used really effectively. The last supper accompanied by Love will Tear us Apart and Judas and Jesus facing each other at the moment of betrayal with Blue Monday were really moving. Tim Booth even just about rescued the slight comedy moment when everyone realised his regret filled Judas character was breaking into Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Know.

The ending however was what made it great. Truly spectacular live, I’m not sure the power of the moment translated as well to TV.

Having just described the tortuous means of death by crucifixion and having announced Jesus’ passing, Keith Allen appeared to wrap things up and it seemed things were ending on a Good Friday-esque down and anti-climatic note; suddenly a voice is heard singing out the classic Stone Roses line: “I am the resurrection and I am the light”. It takes the assembled crowd a second or two to work out where it’s coming from and then it spreads as face after face turns upwards and arms point. Right up on a balcony under the Town Hall clock face, the Jesus character has quite literally risen.

Quite a climax. Quite an event.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


Further deveoplments in my new work role, have me completing my first 'early' project review as technical leader.

I'm rather nervous (will the designer resent me doing this etc), but it seems to go really well.

The poor recipient even states he's found it really useful. I hope he means it, but even if he doesn't the fact he felt keen to lie and say something nice, feels positive enough in the circumstances.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

It'll be a Wednesday then

A pitiful text from S: “Alone with no food in the house. Fancy a curry?”

Oooh tough call.

Punjab. Good conversation. Fine grub. Laughs. Depth. Best friends. Sweet Lassi.

You know the score by now.

It never grows tired as a blessing though.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


It’s been back to work with a bang these last two days, with a presentation to some of our design teams marking the first public outing of my new technical leader role.

It’s rather daunting sitting there facing my colleagues; my all male colleagues. I’m convinced they’re thinking “so what’s this girly-girl going to teach us eh?”.

As we go through the key elements we need to get better on, I fear I’m teaching some at least how to suck eggs. However, when I ask some key questions like “be honest how many of you are checking incoming flows for supercriticality?”, only three hands raise.

The same three predictable hands raise each time, I feel embarrassed going through this stuff with these three – they have tons more experience than me, but if nothing else I hope it identifies them to the others, as parties to go to for assistance. I don’t work in this office and I can only get across so often so they need to know whom amongst them to go to.

For the others, I hope the presentations helped. Hopefully it reminded/informed them of what they need to be doing, what tools and guides are available to them and so forth.

Encouragingly as I head upstairs after the meeting, I find one very experienced, but fairly new to this particular programme, Eng1neer, printing out a couple of the key guides I was pushing. So I must have got something through at least.

Which is a relief as it’s hard to make this stuff interesting in a presentation.

Or a blog for that matter...

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Duke's and Canal Walk

S rings to arrange to pick up her bag etc from last week. With P away I reject her suggestions of taxis and say I’ll drop it round.

Triumphant from her Palm Sunday procession (complete with donkey from the local sanctuary), she suggests we take the opportunity for a pleasant Sunday afternoon. We head to Dukes for a very late lunch and then walk it off down the canal.

Fortunately we manage to time the walk to fit the beautiful sunny spells between the hail storms (weird, weird weather).

I’ve never seen the canal so full and flowing so fast. When a canal boat passes through the locks, the sudden release of flow to the downstream section is enough to cause the canal to over top and the towpath to flood.

One doesn’t usually expect to have to time one’s walking of sections to avoid the ‘tides’!

Being responsible citizens we also check on the well-being of the ducks and geese we pass on the way.

We’re suspicious about the tendency of these ducks to hide their beaks under their wings. Avoiding the chilly wind or wiping a snotty beak – you decide.

We enquire after the health of some Canada Geese we come across, but they don’t respond. S suggests that they may be French Canadian. We try in French, but still no joy.

We tell them they’re doomed (they may have preparations they’d like to make) and we move on.

April Showers

For the love of God, it’s April – should we really be having extreme hail storms still?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Old Neighbours

I’m woken by a ring on the door-bell.

Half asleep I charge down the stairs and open up to find old friend and former neighbour Z on the doorstep.

Would I sign her son S’s passport photo? Of course I will (I’ve known the family 12 years I think that qualifies!). She hands me the form and photos and says she can’t stop now, but she’ll call back later.

Heading into the lounge, I feel relieved she didn’t accept my invite to come in for a coffee. Better tidy up before she returns…

Z split up with her husband a few years back. He still lives on the close, but Z moved to north Manchester and whilst I still see the kids occasionally when they visit, relations with her former spouse are strained and she is rarely about.

This evening when she returns, she has 3 of the 6 kids in tow. Typically she also insists on plying me with a container of Biriyani.

They all come in to the now presentable lounge and within minutes we’re laughing raucously as if no time has passed at all. So good to catch up, I realise how much I miss her being on the close.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Skipton, Howarth and beyond

We start the day with a walk around Burnsall and along the river. It truly is a beautiful spot.

Then we head to Skipton and tour the town and the market, admiring the fabulous cheese stalls as we go.

Next on to Howarth for the usual mixture of Bronte-themed tourist attractions, weird sweet and apothecary shops and disappointing tea rooms.

Finally, a brief tour up to the moors before I drop S early evening at Keighley, where she’s meeting up with P.

Heading homewards I call in at old friends P and R’s, who I haven’t seen for far too long.

It’s wonderful to catch up with them and the kids. I’m reminded why I like them so much – I really mustn’t leave it so long next time.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Farndale and Pickering

We make our best attempt at the fabulous breakfast, but after last night’s blow-out even the mantra of “get your money’s worth” can motivate us to doing it justice.

We set off for Pickering and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (slightly further away than we realised) stopping on the way for a lovely riverside walk at Farndale’s National Daffodil Reserve.

The signs aren’t entirely clear as to whether the penalty would extend as far as injured feelings, if so I fear our comments about “not exactly a sea of gold is it?” may have upset the odd bloom and landed us in jeopardy of censure.

Still of course what we really needed was Nicky Mc to show us how to process a daffodil properly (don’t ask…actually do, she’ll be delighted to explain ;-) ).

Pushing on, we catch a splendid steam train (I believe the technical description is choo-choo) and revel in the ‘authentic 60’s’ décor of the carriages. The sandwich picked up at Pickering station is also doing it’s best to recreate the splendour of authentic British Rail cuisine.

Cuisine aside however, it feels like we’re caught in a real life version of a Thomas the Tank Engine adventure. First the engine slows so the staff can check out reports of a fire in a field (all under control no need for alarm) and then the train comes to a complete halt due to the eagle-eyed driver spotting a sheep trapped and distressed in the mire by the stream to the side of the railway.

Train staff alight and with rope and dedication the poor beast is dragged clear. Whether it will survive is another matter, but they’ve done all they can (though not according to the women in our carriage who opines that they should have wrapped it in a blanket and brought it aboard the train…

With the sheep as attended to as is practicable the train moves on and soon we reach the end of the line at Grosmount. After an hour and a half walking around the village we catch the train back.

No little adventures on the return leg.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Time away

S and I head off for a girlie spring break. Booked at the last minute we’re none the less hopeful that the Red Lion at Burnsall will be an improvement on last year’s booking in Alnwick (beautiful hotel, shame about the rancid fruit).

Initial impressions are favourable; the light is starting to fade, but there is enough twilight left for us to see that the setting is excellent, the bedrooms are luxuriously wonderful, the log fires in the bar and lounge roaring and the food...ah the food!

Just look at the words from the menu: Wood Pigeon, Chorizo, Venison, Wild Mushrooms, Mustard and Potato Rosti, Home Cured Gravadlax of Salmon, Dill and Coarse Grain Mustard Sauce, Locally Shot Pheasant and Partridge Terrine, Cumberland Sauce, Whitby Crab Risotto, Fresh Hake, Tapenade, Vine Tomatos,Goat’s Cheese, Confit of Duck Leg, Blackcurrant Sauce, Garlic Crostini, Free Range Calves Liver, Tuna Steak, Ginger and Spring Onion, Wharfedale Lamb, Redcurrant Sauce.

And as for the puddings...S’s Chocolate Fondant Pudding with raspberry compote and vanilla ice cream is positively obscene in its decadence and my rice pudding with apricot and sultana is creamy heaven, none-the-less neither of us can even make it half way through our respective dishes before we have to admit defeat.

Overfull we sit in front of the wood burning stove with our tea and coffee and fight off the tiredness.

This is a good kind of over-tired.

A good start.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Thanks to John Davies for spotting this Guardian piece from last week.

Confirmation of what we long suspected...working at Greenbelt is excellent preparation for months of captivity in hostile conditions...

Gruelling as four months in captivity must have been for the recently released
peace activist Norman Kember, and delighted as we are that it is over, it seems
that if he managed to survive the ordeal more or less unscathed, he can thank -
at least in part - some particularly rigorous physical and mental preparation.
Barely two months before the 74-year-old medical physics professor left for his
heroic mission to Iraq, we learn from the Church Times, he was attending the
Christian community's annual Greenbelt Festival on Cheltenham racecourse -
where, according to Sue Claydon of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, "he walked
around the site dressed as a tree, getting people to stick things on him".

Monday, April 03, 2006


Another half day’s leave to enable me to make another Greenbelt Management Group meeting.

I work on the train the whole way down (well except for the times when I’m attempting to have phone calls with Stuart and Steve (the full signal-no signal-full signal absurdity of the Manchester to London route continues to entertain), have a pre-meeting for the hour before the main event and then the meeting itself.

I’m tired and probably it’s showing.

Whilst I’m never going to be a nodding dog style participant, there’s probably a middle ground that I’m missing at the moment.

On the plus side, the work the staff and all the volunteers are doing is fantastic. The programme is fantastic, it’s being showcased on a website that’s never looked better, the site plans are looking amazing (some real changes this year that I think people are going to love), ticketing seems well in hand and things like ordering of wristbands is way ahead of the usual schedule, across the board everything is becoming more professional and better managed.

No time for a pint, if I want to make my train (and getting home at 1.30am is quite bad enough, if I miss that it’s an indirect service, with a 5 hour wait at Sheffield arriving around 7am….hmmm maybe not).

As the train pulls out of Euston I think to myself “I really want to talk to someone”, but calling people after ten pm is not good ettiquette. Happily at that very moment my phone chirps into life and it’s the lovely Sally asking if I’m on the train and I’d like a chat. What a star.

Of course our conversation is similarly punctuated, until we both give up in despair and laughter.

I mean tunnels and cuttings I understand, but sitting stationery in Milton Keynes Central, my Orange signal continues it’s 0% 100% dance unabated.

So I turn back to the laptop and continue working, until my favourite service manager (oh yes I am a regular now!) comes and sits with me for a chat about the state of the railways. After that I polish off a few more emails and the like and we’re at Macclesfield. I tidy the work away and read for the last half hour.

I can barely keep my eyes open in the taxi, and stumble into the house, up the stairs to bed.

Switch the light back on and set the alarm for 6.45am.

I do this because?...

Sett of badger, burrow of voles and eye of newt...

I get back from Leicestershire, unpack, catch up with phone calls and head to bed.

Up bright and early this morning for a department briefing (bacon butties all round which is grand, unless you’re vegetarian…or a Muslim, which two of our number are – cultural sensitivity would be too much to ask for...).

My new role is announced...and explained at some length…and I just want the ground to swallow me up. What expression is one supposed to adopt in such circumstances? I have no idea – so find safety in staring at my feet.

Happily we move on; to a refresher session on key ecological issues (breeding patterns of great crested newts, nesting patterns of birds, habitats of the water vole, behaviour of your average badger and so forth).

The legal situation is set forth as well.

For example did you know that you need a licence to even handle one of our newt friends, and it’s a criminal act to kill even one of the critters or restrict their travels?

With badgers and water voles, the legislation has more to do with their habitats.

Which leads my colleagues to speculate that it’s ok to step on a badger* or a water vole should you come across one in the middle of a site, but newts must be waved through unimpeded (“no, no – after you Mr Newt, I insist!”).

I’m hoping that somewhere beneath all this the key messages about impacts, responsibilities and timings are sinking in. We can but hope.

*Though it probably isn’t advisable.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Spring Meeting and Knights Templar

Another weekend away – this time Leicestershire for the Spring Greenbelt Operations meeting.

It’s an intense and packed day sandwiched between socialising with some of my favourite people on the planet (though one party sadly missing).

On Sunday morning, whilst my wonderful host does the church-thing, I head off home, calling in for a cup of tea with D and Sally at Rothley Court.

A fabulous, but at the same time rather weird place. Defying the weather we trapse around the grounds and encourage the far more sensible peacocks out from their rain proof, shrubbery hidey hole. One of them appears to take a liking for D. Well I say a liking – it’s not quite clear whether it’s following him or hunting him down.

Tipped off by Nicky, we explore the chapel…errrr sorry ‘temple’. This it transpires is the home of the Knights Templar and the memorial plaques, tapestries, notices and decoration are quite intriguing. It clearly also now doubles as a conference room. I’m not sure the patio heaters are a great addition to ecclesiastical architecture.

Still next time I fancy suggesting we settle a workplace matter with a joust, I’ll know where to come for the equipment...