Saturday, 18 December 2010

Snow, and the Healing Power of Chicken Shit

So, I spent a fun and exciting day vacuuming up brick dust over at the house. David and Robin went off to Ikea to load up on about £8million worth of household goods. We got about four inches of snow today. The various transport bosses actually had the chutzpah to say they handled the snow well this time. Hmm - lets see - nothing was salted, so all the smaller roads are skating rinks. The airports are closed. The trains aren't running. I managed to fall flat on my ass, and Robin got the van stuck. Fortunately, we have a very large bucket of chicken shit pellets. David was pretty sure that cardboard under the wheels would get the rear-wheel drive van unstuck, but nope - it was the chicken shit.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Packing Sucks Donkey Dong

And not in a good way. There is nothing quite so soul destroying, I think, as depersonalizing a house, or realizing that one's entire life can fit into boxes. I suppose it's better than before. I used to be the master at cramming my entire universe into the back of a hatchback. A small hatchback. We're moving most of the stuff tomorrow and Sunday, with the remainder on Weds (the day the fridge arrives). We just had the kitchen redone (in 5 days), and will be getting a new bathroom in January. Until then, the three of us (four over Xmas) will be taking a number for the one toilet, which, blessedly, is separate from the sink and tub. David and Robin will be heading, with rental van, into the Ikea maelstrom in the morning, whereas I get to go pick up a carpet steamer, which I'm going to get to schlep a mile back to the house (nothing like taking a carpet steamer for a walk through a shitty neighbourhood to make people think you're normal!). My task tomorrow is going to be cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning. Unfortunately, all this kitchen construction, plus the demolition of the kitchen chimney, has left a coating of brick dust on every single surface in the house. Yuck. Still though, I'm not sure which is worse - cleaning all day, or dealing with the mad hordes of pre-Christmas Ikea. Of course, Ikea does have Swedish meatballs, but I'm not entirely sure they would make up for the screaming "But Mummyyyyyy!!!!!!" (And that's just David!).

Ooh, and just for fun, it's supposed to snow tomorrow. London's general snow policy seems to involve about six grains of salt being laid down at strategic intersections. It does vary through from borough to borough. The City, this time, went completely apeshit with the salt - no snow there! Hackney though, with the same amazing advance knowledge that it was going to rain, then freeze, and then snow, put its snow emergency plan into effect. The snow emergency plans pretty much consists of strategic future warming, which, most often coincides with the temperature going above freezing. Last time though, I'll give them this one, they were out salting the walks in front of the council building the afternoon before it was supposed to warm up (about three days after it snowed). Better than nothing, I suppose. So, anyway, it's supposed to snow. It snowed today, about an inch in Hackney (a cm or less in South London), which, combined with the pristine, salt-free roads, made for a really fantastic evening commute (on my bike). Nothing like limping onto the train with one's bike, tail between one's legs.

Kitchen before - last summer when we were looking at the house:



Kitchen at present (dirty and not furniture, but gives the idea...):

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

God Save the Queen!



I pledge allegiance, to the queen, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, and to the monarchy, for which she stands, one woman, under gowns, indominable, with lager and jam sandwiches for all.

Well, almost like that. David and I had our citizenship ceremony yesterday, down at Southwark Town Hall (just down the road from here). Robin and Paul were our guests. So, we wandered on down there about 1015am and found ourselves in a room of, well, foreigners. Lots of Africans, Middle Easterners and Chinese. Not so many North Americans, Aussies or Kiwis. Welcome to Southwark! Picked up some paperwork, got our nametags, got a nice little plasticated paper flag. We all milled around in there for a while, then were shepherded off, in smaller groups (with guests) to a smaller room for some more milling around, this time with biscuits and tea (or coffee) (and biscuits being cookies, don't forget). After about half an hour, guests were asked to head to the visitor's section of the council chambers, and those of us taking part in the ceremony were seated around where the councillors would normally sit.

Two very boring speeches, both of them essentially about being nice to one another (one of them was by an ex-Mayor of Southwark, resplendant in her gown), as well as some community organizer type guy (Irish - couldn't they have gotten a British one? Whatever). Anyway, boring speeches finished, we were asked to each say "I, [Name]", in turn, after which we recited two pledges.

This was the non-God ceremony - the afternoon one had swearing to God. This one just had affirming. We also had the handshake or no handshake option. I chose handshake. Anyway, it's worth quoting the pledge, and comparing it to the US Oath of Allegiance, and US citizenship ceremonies. Rather different!

UK: Oath of allegiance
I (name) swear by Almighty God that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors, according to law.

(or)

Affirmation of allegiance
I (name) do solemnly and sincerely affirm that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors, according
to law.


After the oath or affirmation, you will make the citizenship pledge:
Citizenship pledge
I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.


The Mayor, or the Mayor's representative, will then present you with your citizenship certificate and a gift.


At the end of the ceremony the new citizens listen to the National Anthem.


Photographs are taken with the Mayor to round off a special, meaningful and enjoyable occasion.


US:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.


How different.

I have to say I don't think I could have ever become a citizen of the USA were I not already, b/c I sure as hell would never say that pledge!

Anyway, we filed up then to get our certificates and get our pictures taken, and I, being a complete spaz, managed to drop mine on the floor. Great. Auspicious start. I did manage to say something about wanting to provide the entertainment, but, truthfully, I wanted to just die right there - poof, little pile of ash! Sigh - well, this just goes with the Doug territory I guess.

And then we all stood to listen to the first stanza of the national anthem, which is, rather conveniently, sung to the same tune as 'My Country 'tis of Thee...'

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.

Probably the funniest part of the whole thing, other than me making a dumbass out of myself, was when we were walking home. Set the scene - four silly queens, generally dressed nicely, walking up London street. Three of us are white, with generally shaved head. One is black, but wearing a hat and gloves. (This is relevant). We're walking along with our flags, which is not a normal thing to do here. For the most part, one only sees flags at official occasions, sports events, and being used by white power groups. Anyway, this guy pulls up in a car, leans out, and asks, "Are you guys English Defence League"? (skinheads). Yes, with our new black member. Dumbass! Ah, my fellow countryman...

It was a bit of an anticlimax then to head back to work, though I was, to my amusement, greeted with a flag and cutout of the queen on my monitor. Who said Hackney didn't have class?

Anyway, lots of other stuff, but I'm mostly too tired to mention it at the moment. Maybe tomorrow. We're in the process of getting the kitchen done, have travelled numerous times to Ikea, hardware stores, builder's supply stores, furniture stores, etc... We're moving most of the stuff on the weekend, then actually moving in the 22nd, when the fridge arrives.

So tired.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Hope Floats, and Beware the Hamsters of Doom!

So, David and I went to our first ever spa-related event. Or, rather, we went to one of those floaty tank thingies - sensory deprivation kinda thing you know really? Sorry, my brain seems to have imploded. Anyway, he got me gift certificates last Xmas, which we have to use up by this Xmas. I got him to go along b/c, even though it was originally my idea, I thought the whole thing sounded a bit weird. This impression was not helped any by our visit to the place. It was on a back street in south London - behind this building, along an alleyway. We rang a bell to get in, then tromped down into the basement. Fairly non-descript looking place, with a girl, early 20s maybe, working behind the counter. Hmm - many bongs methinks have been partaken by her. Anyway, she gave us the schpiel about the various sensations people feel, that some people hallucinate, float through space, etc. I think, "Love, that's only if you take ecstasy first". But hey, I'm willing to try most things. We make our appointments (apparently the place is quite popular) and head back there Sunday morning, after a hard Saturday of hanging out with friends and watching Harry Potter (which is so tedious I thought I might have to poke my eyes out with canteloupe spoons, just for sheer entertainment). Anyway, I digress. We showed up for our appointment Sunday morning and got yet another schpiel, this time from a (admittely rather cute) male pothead. David was led to one room and I to another. In the room there was a shower, a chair, and this very large pod, with a lid, full of extremely salty water (epsom salt I think?). I take off all my clothes and lower myself into the skin-temperature, slightly slimy water. Ooh, very odd sensation. I lie on my back and float immediately to the surface, like a cork. How strange. With one button the lid clanks down (not very relaxing), and I'm treated to five minutes of ethereal music before it goes silent and I switch off the light. OK, apparently there is no way for me to sink, which means I can relax, which means that maybe I can get rid of this stiff neck. I lie there, in the pitch black dark and silence, thinking about relaxing. RELAX! Yeah - something I'm really good at. Much to my surprise, I do finally manage to relax all the muscles in my body, and float there, thinking I probably look a bit like someone being abducted by aliens (the floaty part, before the probe). Hmm... relax. Thoughts of Shamu... Relax... Bump! Oh, it's the side. There were, much to my great surprise, moments when I did actually feel like I was cartwheeling through space, and the hour goes by, it seems, in about 15 minutes. Just before the end, the music comes back on (which makes me feel like I suddenly am spinning forwards - very weird) and the (dim) lights slowly begin to glow. However, my reverie is broken, rather suddenly, when the lid creaks open. Hello, world! Apparently though, I was quite relaxed, because I nearly fell over when I stood up. I've got one more gift certificate - I'll use it before Xmas. Too bad I don't have any pot brownies handy though... Hmm.

Speaking of pot brownies - recurring dreams.

I've had these recurring dreams for years when I've been stressed. There is a dream about fire when I am really really stressed. There is a dream about being along the Mexican border. One about tsunamis. One about trying to take the subway to somewhere absurd. And finally, one involving hamsters.

Perhaps I need therapy.

Had a subway one recently - I was walking through New York, barefoot, and had to take the subway somewhere. One train was going to Romania, and the other to Mecca. Which should I take? The subway dream, I've figured, out, is me feeling like I'm a bit stuck in my work life - trying to get my somewhere far away and exciting with my public sector job (the subway).

The fire one is feeling overwhelmed and consumed - but, at the end, realizing that things will be OK (I am always OK at the end of the dream). Fire dreams can range from mild - thermostat turned up a bit high, to extreme - nuclear bomb - depending on my level of stress.

Tsunami - same thing - haven't had one of those in a few years though. Last time, I had a tsunami go through my apartment, but then realized afterwards that I just had to dry the carpets a bit.

Mexico - I have no idea - I've not figured that one out yet. It's always me travelling through some very large, open space, just north of the Mexican border - it's always a bit of a wasteland, and I am always on my way somewhere.

A few night ago I had a dream that combined fire and Mexico - or, rather, burned chaparral hills and the Mexican border. Not figured that one out yet.

An finally, hamsters. This is a recent addition to the weird-dream collection. I'm always carrying a hamster and it's squirming out of my hands. I'm trying to get it back to its cage, where it will be safe and not run away. Obviously, I feel like my life is slightly out of control at the moment, what with the whole house purchasing and wait for citizenship, etc. Oh, the last one also had some sort of vague monster that turned into a sunflower. Not figured that part out yet.

Yeah, therapy.

The good thing is, I tend to have entertaining dreams and usually remember them, but my God - it would be nice to have some normal dreams like showing up in class in my underpants or something... (I've had that one too, btw...).

Next door - still no idea why the place caught on fire. It's boarded up now though. I'd be super-pleased if I were buying this place and discovered the next door house had burned down and was now boarded up! A few more cracks have appeared in the bricks here as well - probably nothing to do with the fire, but still worrying. Ah, the wonders of creaky old houses!

And that's the news from Lake Dougbegone.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Oh, and on a Lighter Note...

So, I've been out for almost 19 years. I think of myself as generally able to handle myself in most situations. Anyway, I walked into the locker room at the gym just the other day and there is this absolute Adonis of a naked man who actually does a double-take as I walk by. He smiles and just stares. What do I do - introduce myself, calmly and cooly? I've done this sort of thing before? Oh no, I drop half my items onto the floor, and can't even manage to make eye contact - quick, look only in the mirror or you might turn to stone!

That was a serious gay cruising fail that was.

Sad but true.

You'd think I was a 12 year old Japanese girl or something.

Giggle!

And in Other News...

OK - there have been mucho many things happening of late, beyond last night (next entry).

For starters, David and I completed the house purchase on the 9th. We met the estate agent at the house at 230pm to pick up keys. To my great embarrassment, David insisted on having the estate agent make a video of us walking up to the door, unlocking it and opening it. Oy vey.

Anyway - first time to actually poke around the nooks and crannies of the house, which, up until then, had people and furniture in it. Ooh, and the first things we discover that aren't quite up to snuff! Oven fan vents to nowhere. Oh well - part of the fun of owning a 120 year old house, I guess... We'd already had the bathroom designer out (for adding the 2nd bathroom). The evening we completed (after popping off to Sainsbury's for £99 worth of cleaning equipment, Robin showed up with a bottle of champagne. Yay, champagne on a school night! We had the kitchen designer showing up about 730 - this late middle aged Polish woman. I'm sure she had no idea we were all a bit tipsy by that point. (Yeah, right). Three hours, and many measurements later, she presents us with drawings of what the kitchen will look like, and the rather astoundingly large bill to get it to that point. Well, we'd already been hosed with the bathroom bill, so we did manage to talk her down quite a bit. I'm sure we still got hosed, but less so.

Wow, a house in London! We've been spending the entire time on weekends at places like B&Q (HomeDepot), appliance stores, paint stores, etc. I now own my very own hedge trimmers. It's a Bosch - got it for only £49 on sale. I never thought I would own a hedge trimmer. But, this being England, we have a hedge, and it needs to be trimmed. David wanted a chainsaw, but I managed to convince him that we probably didn't actually have any need for a chainsaw for our tiny little postage stamp back yard - esp a gas powered one. How boring of me.

So, lots and increasingly more lots of work to be done - all these things I'd never thought about moving into a very old house. "Oh yeah, we can take out the remains of the chimney in the kitchen. Legally we have to support it with steel beams, but if we add some wood to the rafters, it will be fine". Ooh, a leak here! Strange electrical connections there! What the hell is that thing with the numbers on it over the door? They really used horse hair in the plaster? Eek! The pipe covered with hessian - what is it - water? Gas? Oh, it's gas, and looks like it's as old as the house! Hmm, the slate tiles seem to be a bit wavy - in fact, the entire roof is wavy. But then, so are the other houses, and they haven't fallen down yet. Yet.

Ah well, I suppose that's part of the adventure.

Meanwhile, our bitch-troll landlady announced that she wanted us out of current flat by 3rd December so that she can complete her sale by the 10th. Survey says, wrong, b/c we have this cool thing called a contract that you signed and you have to give us two month's written notice. So, I served her with our notice first - ha ha! We're planning on moving before Christmas, but as our rent period goes from the first, we have until the end of December to get the place spic and span and get our deposit back (which, fortunately, is held by the estate agent, who thinks that aforementioned landlady is, essentially, smoking crack, or at least not entirely in tune with her obligations drawn from the contract). That also gives us time to deal with the little, um, furniture issues. When we moved in here, the place was furnished (normal here). Cheapass landlady wouldn't store anything for us, but we could, at about £150/month. Yeah, right. (This is the same landlady who deprived Robin of a working shower for four months after it leaked so she could get the same tile installed, made by a factory in Italy that didn't work over the summer) and us of our shower for several weeks while she tried to find someone suitably cheap to fix it. There was the leaking roof that took, oh, almost three years to get sorted as well. So, we were initially going to try to help her out with her sale, but, to leave early, David would have had to cancel a trip to the USA to visit his mom. So, he asked landlady if we could work out some deal, as he would have to cancel £500, non-refundable tickets. But no, she thought she was being very reasonable by lowering our astromomical rent to something slightly less astronomical for the three months when dozens of people tromped through this place looking to buy, and she feels that David has her up against the wall and is trying to blackmail her. Hmm - lesson 1 - don't mess with queens with a contract. So, David actually did cancel his trip so that we could be out (at a time of our choosing though). We do, however, have a missing couch to figure out (it was broken to begin with, but had an unfortunate encounter with the ground when we shoved it off the roof, having decided that the council could come pick it up. We did shrink wrap it before we put it up there, you know - it may have been white trash, but it was classy white trash). There is the awful wicker chair that has been living on the roof, getting more plant like by the day. Some glue and a lot of lacquer will fix that. There was a bed that went to a friend and then to God only knows where when he moved. Ebay! And there are what were once oil stains and are now slightly bleached patches on the wall-to-wall sisal carpet (I mean, really - what kind of idiot puts in non-cleanable carpet in a flat?). I'm hoping that strong tea, or perhaps coffee can fix the little bleached bits where I cleaned. So yeah, we have a little conniving to do before we move out, I suppose, but all will be as it was when we moved in (actually, probably a lot cleaner than it was, as the girls who lived here before us were complete pigs).

Busy then.

Thank God for Brick

Well, I actually have many many things to write about, it's been a very busy few weeks, but I'll put the majority of them into a separate entry. I think last night deserves its own. For once, we got to bed at a reasonable hour - thought maybe today I wouldn't be wandering around as a sleep deprived zombie. Wrong.

About 230am, I woke quite suddenly. I could hear what sounded like furniture being moved around and shoved into walls, also unusual popping sounds. My first assumption was that the neighbours were just being annoying, as they have occasionally woken us during the night, but something told me I should look behind the blinds and out the bedroom window. We live on the third (British second!) floor of a brick rowhouse, and the bedroom faces the back yard. There is an attached house to our left as we face back, where the noises were coming from. Anyway, I looked out the back window and was confronted with flames shooting out the back of the house on the left, right up to rooftop level, and a huge plume of black smoke. There was a faint hint of smoke in our bedroom, but not enough to set the alarm off. I woke David, who is a much sounder sleeper than me, and we ran around to grab passports (don't want to lose those in a foreign country) and the hard drive containing the past 11 years' worth of photos. Robin is in Amsterdam at the moment, so he missed it all. As we're running around grabbing our things, throwing on jackets, shoes, etc, someone is ringing the buzzer incessantly, then pounding on the door. I run down to get it, to let the neighbour know we are awake and leaving. A cop rushes up the stairs to tell us we need to leave immediately. So, everyone ends up down on the street - eight people from our building, three (I think) from the one on fire, and two from the one adjoining it on the other side. There's black smoke pouring out the front of the house.

I count, on our very small street, five fire engines, a cop car, an ambulance, several fire support vehicles, and at least a dozen fire fighters. They get the main bit of the fire out within about half an hour (they were there pretty quickly - traffic must not have been very bad), and it takes about another half hour before we're told we can go back in the building. They're in there until about 530 or so, ripping out walls and throwing them into the back yard - they've got a generator set up in the road out front and God only knows what's going on next door.

David and I sat around for quite a while - had some camomile tea and something to eat and eventually went back to bed. The bedroom smelled terrible, though I've managed to get rid of most of the smell today running the fan all day with the front windows open. Took me ages to fall back to sleep, and I've just had this horrible, leaden feeling all day today. It's funny - both Jonathan and I were exposed to all sorts of things burning down, growing up in CA. He has managed to, in a way, embrace fire, to tame it, possibly even vanquish it, whereas I am completely repelled by it - find it the most horrible thing in the world (though, I suppose, strangely fascinating). When I get really stressed out I have a recurring dream about fire (I have other recurring dreams as well, but when I have a fire one I know I'm really stressed). The only other time I've felt this same awful feeling was when Avi's flat burned down - a friend of his flatmate died in there, or, to be more accurate, died shortly after being in there. Passed out from GHB while holding a cigarette. The bed smoldered, turned the room into a kiln. It never flashed to an actual fire, but it was hot enough to melt the TV, and coat everything in the entire flat with greasy ash. I helped Avi move his stuff out of the flat shortly after it happened (Avi, fortunately, was not at home when this occurred). I stood in the other bedroom and looked at the mangled bed springs - where the guy lay there unconscious and cooked. I didn't see him. Didn't know him, and, I think, had never met him. But that was still, I think, probably one of the worst things I've ever seen. I used to think it was the post 9/11 barbecued flesh smell of the World Trade Center that was the worst, but, in a way, that was so mind-numbingly huge that it was overpowered by this single, and amazingly stupid bedroom tragedy. Anyway, thankfully, no one was injured last night, but I have exactly the same awful feeling again today.

So, we slept, rather badly, until about 10 this morning, and then headed towards work. I made it a whole 1.3 miles before one of my gear cables snapped. Fanfuckingtastic - really what I wanted to have happen today. Just about at the end of my coping capabilities, I walked the bike 1.5 miles to the bike store, and booked it in tomorrow to get the shifters replaced. But no, they don't have the shifters - it will be 5-7 working days. I walk down the street to the next bike store and buy the shifters myself. Walk them back to first bike store. There you are - shifters. Install please. Had lunch with David. Booked ourselves in for a 'floating spa' appointment on Sunday (sounds relaxing - I think we need it), then headed home to 'work from home', which means I actually managed to do about 5 minutes of work today, if that.

Yeah, it's been a really super cool day.

But, on the plus side, at least our flat is still together, and hopefully it will stay that way. I do feel quite badly though for the neighbours, and very much hope they have insurance.

This is the view out of the back of the flat, from Robin's bedroom (next to ours, which would be towards the right, away from the flames).



Front door of the house - ours is out of view on the right.



This is the alleyway between houses - it scorched the backyard on the left, but, fortunately didn't jump the alleyway.



That's the state of the ground floor flat - not much left.



This is from the back of the building - we are on the left, with the curly stairs - the burned building is on the right.



Oh, and just to make things weirder, David just got home, and his gear cable snapped in the same way as mine (fortunately, just after ghetto-trash tried to steal his bike and he was able to get away).

Yeah, all fun and games round these parts today!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The World's Most Inefficient Meeting

So, yeah, yesterday I went to a meeting (well, really more of a project launch) in a stone building, in the middle of a field, in a town called Hope. Well, actually, it seemed a bit hopeless, at least to begin. I woke at the ungodly hour of 445, made my bacon, eggs and beans, and pedalled rather wearily towards St Pancras station. The train, the 637 to Sheffield, was delayed by about 20 minutes, for some unknown reason. Unknown for a while, anyway. Pulling out into the gradually brightening northern suburbs, we crept along and eventually stopped. Then started. Then stopped again. Ah, signalling problems. Or perhaps the wrong kind of air. You just never know. Fortunately, to make up for the late departure, the conductor announced that the train was actually going to end at Derby ("Darby"), about 40 miles south of Sheffield. This meant we could take the next scheduled service to Sheffield, which was running on time, and therefore arrive at our destination on time. Cool trick - I should try that when I'm running late! This also had the unfortunate effect of making me miss my connecting train to Hope, the result being that I was over an hour late to the 2.5 hour long meeting.

Now, me being me, I brought my bike along on this trip, knowing that I could make use of the rest of the afternoon to poodle around on my bike, in the Peak District, on company time. Also a good trick. The bike was also quite handy, as the company hosting the meeting was about 1.5 miles from the train station, up this absurdly steep road, in the aforementioned stone building in the middle of a field. Very pretty - not hugely efficient though travelling what turned out to be over four hours north for what then turned out to be a 1.5 hour meeting (as I missed the first hour). Again though, on the fortunate for me front, I got to the thing just as the guy was actually getting around to talking about the product, which, as it turns out, isn't something I think we'd want. So, one coffee, a few cookies and several questions later, I was freed to cycle off into the gathering grey.

I had this great plan to cycle back to Derby, about 45 miles, then get the train back. All tickets were bought and collected, and the ride was planned out on my Garmin. I didn't, however, take into account the rather large hills (it's not called the Peak District for nothing, you know...). Anyway, I didn't make it far - too many places to stop and admire the view, not to mention that I kept having to stop and piddle around with my gears - turns out the indexing was off - always a good thing to find out when one has to shift every 3 seconds. Decided on a loop ride back to Sheffield, which meant I had to buy another ticket back to London. £59.50. Ouch. Work, however, is going to pay. They sent me off to the ends of the Earth for this silly meeting for a useless product they won't buy. Anyway, I need to head back to the Peak District on a day when I have a lot more time - it's the perfect cycling place - tiny little empty roads, climbing, for no apparent reason, up and over ridiculously steep hills. Might pick a day with slightly better weather as well - weather that doesn't test the GoreTex in my new jacket (which actually works pretty well). Anyway, ride was lovely, and pics to follow. The train ride back though was almost as lovely as the ride up. Sheffield Station was heaving with students, heading off for the weekend. The train was packed and I got yelled at for putting my bike into the disabled space (because of all the nonexistent disabled people on the train). We sat for a good 40 minutes, unmoving, south of Sheffield, b/c some dumbass had pushed something onto the tracks. So, that made about seven hours of travel for 90 minutes of sitting in an overheated room with a bunch of other nerdy types, listening to a rambling presentation about a buggy, not-yet-completed piece of software that costs more money than the department has to spend. Nice bike ride though, and, as we all know, that's what matters... :-)

Anyway, David and I spent the day today talking to a bathroom designer, who managed to sell us a complete new bathroom for a giant amount of money. Looks very pretty on CAD. Read some bad reviews about the company though, so, of course, not I'm worrying. Sigh - I'll be very happy once we're moved and settled. Tomorrow we're off to the furniture store to look at sofas. Wee!

Ooh, pretty field and hill, just to the south of Hope.



Almost the Grand Canyon - just give it a few more years (and fewer sheep).



The first of many climbs.



Stone walls in fields - I have no idea how old those are, but they are old enough to be covered in lichen - must have been a lot of random slate lying around these parts!



Aww, it's the town of something-or-other - very scenic, anyway!



Larch plantation - there are quite a lot of replanted areas around here, but, like the rest of Britain, the original forests were felled years and years ago for fuel, ships, etc.



It's the town of Chewandswallow (I might have made that up) again. Fantastic long (though unfortunately bumpy) hill heading down towards the town.



Beech trees - one of my faves.



Ah yes - rain. Wouldn't be a British autumn ride without rain.



Looking east across the moors. All we need is some Sherlock Holmes mist and we're good to go!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Exchange!

OMG we own a house in London! We exchanged contracts today, which means the purchase is now official. We 'complete' on 9th November, and looks like we will move in early December. It's only taken since early July!

Anyway, I'm exhausted and heading to bed. David and I stayed up watching Coraline, which is one of the strangest movies I've ever seen. Someone has taken a lot of drugs, I think... Good movie though.

I also managed to snarf my way through half a very large bar of Lindt Chocolate, one large chocolate chip cookie, and a small banoffee. I feel like a manatee. Moo. Must do lots of cardio this weekend!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

This is the Dawning of the Age of Austerity...

It was a bit like waiting for and then watching a slow train wreck. Today was the Comprehensive Spending Review, where the government announced all the cuts it intends to make over the next four years. The average cut seems to be about 20%, which, I suppose, isn't as bad as was feared. Sales tax (VAT) is going to 20%, from the current 17.5%, and they estimate that 500000 jobs are going to disappear from the public sector (though the 'natural wastage' over that period of time is nearly 400000, so the actual number of jobs lost won't be as bad as it seems, I suppose...). The French, when presented with a similar scenario, have decided to trash the country, as have plenty of other Europeans, most notably the Greeks. The British and the Irish, on the other hand, seem to have engaged in a collective shoulder shrug. This is particularly true of the Irish, where things have been really terrible. I read somewhere that the general train of thought there is that life is generally difficult, and that there was no way the good times would last. How very Irish. Wonder how long that attitude will last?

Hackney's already announced cutbacks of about 25% over the next few years - we had this huge all-departmental meeting - a 'road-show' - where the borough CEO announced, the blandest tones possible, that 'tough decisions' would have to be made, 'efficiencies' would have to be effected, and various other English words would have to be tortured. Wonder how much it costs to pack several hundred people into the Town Hall (lost productivity!), feed them croissants, fruit, tea and coffee, and tell them nothing they couldn't figure out for themselves? Anyway, so far (fingers crossed) things seem like they will be OK, but I do keep looking for private sector jobs. If the Tories have their way, we'll have no government left - just businesses - like the Republicans without the whole religion garbage.

Ah yes, good times. Glad the bankers are doing OK, and their bonuses are back up. I was very concerned, you know.

Anyway...

I used the new shower today at work - it's so small I can only shower facing one direction, or my arms hit the side. It's supposed to be 'disabled accessible', being on the ground floor, and with little foldable seats and everything. Problem is, the showers and changing areas are so small I seriously doubt a wheelchair bound person, or even someone slightly overweight could possibly use the showers. Ah well, I suppose it was the thought that mattered.

And in my current and general list of gripes - people who insist on putting their entire life to music. What's with the whole wearing headphones in all circumstances thing? Personally, I like to actually hear things around me - especially when I'm cycling. My cycling jacket actually has a place for headphones. Unbelieveable...

Blah, anyway, I should make my lunch and get ready for bed. Pretty exciting...

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Frightfully Middle Class...

I looked at furniture again today, with Robin. Wandered around Heal's (a furniture store) looking at outrageously priced sofas, tables, fitted kitchens (all the rage here) and silly looking toilets. We actually saw one of those Japanese toilets the other day - the kind that heats your butt, pipes out (non-poopy) fragrances, chirps like a bird and goes out to take itself for walks when you are away. Those Japanese will think of everything, apparently. Lots of bidets. I do not, honestly, see the point of a bidet. I mean, really - that's why God created toilet paper! I remember my 6th grade teacher had a funny story about his first encounter with a bidet - he thought it was a urinal. Seems sensible. The only real problem came when he flushed. Oh dear. We have kitchen and bathroom catalogues strewn all over the living room as well. It's actually been kind of fun (as we've not actually had to do anything yet). Of course, we've gone and looked at all the sensible options, but, strangely, we've also gravitated to the specialist stores in the West End - the kinds where they don't list prices on anything, as it is all built to order, and if you have to ask, well... One of my faves was a sink where the water sort of pours out the top of it like a waterfall. I couldn't help but wonder, what happens, for example, if the water was turned off, and you get lots of air in the system - wouldn't it be a bit like having Old Faithful in the bathroom? And, of course, this being, technically, part of Europe, there are any number of possibilities for wet rooms, rather than normal bathrooms. The Swedes seem to like those. I stayed at a hotel in Sweden, and the shower was just sort of built into the bathroom. Everything got wet when I took a shower, and then I had to use the little squeegee to wipe down the walls and the toilet. It is actually quite interesting, the differences in how different countries go about their business. Don't get my started on squat toilets in France. Silly French people!

As for kitchens, the British really like everything to have a smooth surface, to blend into one sort of whole. They even will incorporate the fridge and the dishwasher into the decor of the kitchen, hiding them behind cabinet doors. The washing machine also goes in the kitchen, and, being a small European front loading type, takes 3 hours to wash clothes and sounds like a jet about to take off when it spins. I miss a proper American washing machine that will wash a family of 5.

Anyway, just winding down on Sunday evening - David is watching Buck Rogers (oh dear - to think that I used to think that was a cool program!) and Robin is watching some ridiculous Tom Selleck movie. It's all thrills and spills here in the capital of the world, eh?

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Sweety, Darling...

And once again a whole bunch of time passes and I don't actually write anything. It's getting so I can't write at work, b/c I actually have to do work (imagine), and then I'm tired and grumpy when I get home and it's time for bed. What's a silly little boy to do?

Anyway, David, Robin and I spent today in Chelsea looking at furniture and kitchens. How very extremely middle aged and middle class! We had a lovely lunch of eggs benedict at the in-store brasserie at the department store while we flipped through big, beautiful kitchen and decorating catalogues. It did feel a bit of an AbFab day (minus the big lines of coke, traffic tickets and general mayhem).

Hopefully hopefully hopefully we'll actually exchange contracts next week, and complete the purchase on 9th November. Considering that we first saw this place sometime in July, it's been a bit of a slog. Still though, we're getting excited about decorating stuff, though God only knows how we're going to afford this sort of silliness. Oh well - we'll manage I'm sure, somehow. (I'll find a nice street corner... ;-)

Went out last weekend to a leather/rubber type dance club, held in a car park underneath South London railway arches - a bit sort of rave-esque. There were two dance arches, one 'chill out' arch (complete with a tea/coffee/hot dogs booth - ick), with the punishment cages right next to it (the normal place to put those sorts of things, I am sure). Big smoking area outside, full of trashed queens (leather daddies are usually actually big opera poofters when it comes right down to it - fastidious and ridiculous and unable to see that they are actually grownups playing dress-up games). And, of course, there was the naughty room, complete with a parked car so people could do things in the back seat. Kind of an amusing place I have to say (went there with Robin and Avi - David had more sense). And then there were the toilets - oh God. Put several thousand people, mostly men, add nowhere near enough portapotties, none of which seem to work properly and you get, well, you don't get any surfaces you would like to spend my time anywhere near. Next time I think they need to improve the toilet situation, b/c I'm really surprised no one went away from that place without cholera. But, overall it was an amusing night, though it does, once again, demonstrate to me that I am just far too cynical to take any of this sort of thing even remotely seriously - even when I am running around in clunky big army boots and a rubber surfer suit. Very fashionable. Not very comfortable. Honestly, I don't know how guys go to these things and spend the entire night in head to toe rubber and don't, quite literally, die. I did ask a guy once, and he said you just get used to it. I suppose people ask me the same thing when I say I ride my bike 100 miles. If it's your thing, you just do it, and you figure out how to deal with the difficult bits.

Anyway...

It's definitely autumn. Nights are getting worryingly long, quite quickly, not to mention cold. The leaves are sort of beginning to think about turning vague shades of not green (London is not known for its autumn colours), and I think the trains may have already altered their schedules to make up for the 'wrong kind of leaves' being on the tracks.

Oh, and in a sure sign of the apocalypse, 2.5 years after it was requested, they actually put showers into my building at work - got rid of one of the women's toilets, which is good, b/c we don't want women using the toilet - they might start getting silly ideas about voting or driving cars... ;-) Still can't lock my bike in the building though, as it is a 'health and safety hazard' (you know - they catch fire, bite people in the leg, carry rabies, that sort of thing), so I still have to lock it across the street in the Town Hall basement. How I suffer.

Right, I'm getting random now, so I will probably go. Robin has just fished a CD out of the DVD player, which he has set up in the kitchen, over the sink. Just another Saturday evening in our happy gay household, it seems.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Sunny South London...

So, I hung out this evening with my friend Nick, outside Caffe Nero on Old Compton Street (good place for discussing the state of the world and making rude comments about passersby). Anyway, it started to rain and the temperature dropped. As we were sitting outside, it got a bit nipply. The exciting part was that I managed to cycle back through the cold front on the four miles back to South London - it was warm and hadn't rained yet. Anyway, I thought it was exciting.

And I had something else exciting to say, but the great big TV is on, meaning my ability to actually have independent thought has gone the way of the proverbial deer in headlights.

Shiny TV!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Run, Forrest, Run!

Haven't been doing much cycling lately. Obviously, I couldn't very well in the US, but I've not had hte time for a long bike ride since getting back. I did, however, run a very nice 10 mile run today through north London. Both David and Robin think I'm certifiably insane, which is probably true, but I have to admit I actually enjoyed the run. Ran up through Hampstead Heath, which is the closest one can get to running through the English countryside and still be inside central (ish) London.

Hung out with friends today as well and generally BSed and whined about the state of the world - so, all told, a good time.

Anyway, have to make dinner now and cut my hair - it's getting fluffy, which generally emphasizes the grey. Can't be having that!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

All Hail the Ginormous TV!

Yeah, so, once again, and suprisingly, I am sure, my sad attempts to actually sit down and write things on a daily basis on the USA trip came to a grand result of absolute diddlyshit. I suppose I was just too busy doing things to take a step back and contemplate. Actually, it feels like I've been so busy I haven't had a chance to think or fart. Fortunately, farting doesn't take much thinking, or I'd really be in trouble.

Anyway, USA trip was fantastic - 2.5 weeks of pretty much non-ending coolness. I spent the first few days in San Diego, and, for the first time (possibly ever?) a few days in SD on my own. I'm going to have to make a habit of doing that, b/c it gave me the rare chance to actually sit down and have a proper talk with Poppa - sort of one of those life, the universe and everything talks, that is not at all possible when there are crowds of people there and he puts on the happy mask. (I suppose it doesn't say much for my overall powers of observation that it has really only been in the past few years I've fully understood this - I suppose that's sort of one of those 'growing up' things). I think that one of the things that really stands out is the degree to which people (probably subconsciously) end up treating him like he's a delicate piece of china - he might break at the slightest provocation. I mean, really - the guy's been around 93 years and has seen a few things. True, his vision and hearing leave a little to be desired (we had a very exciting conversation at In and Out Burger when he didn't bring his hearing aids), but, not surprisingly, it really irritates the shit out of him that people treat him like he'll break if confronted with the various truths of life. Anyway, I can't overstate how much I really appreciated the time to just sit down and talk.

I did get the chance, this time, for the first time in years, to visit El Cajon and Spring Valley. El Cajon, I have to say, was about as I remembered it (a bit trashy), but, save for the houses that had burned down, and the attempts to gentrify downtown (unsuccessful, I might add), about the same. Spring Valley, on the other hand, had just gone to hell, and that's putting it nicely. The overall impression was one of decay and ruin, with hints of danger (gangbangers hanging about and such). I drove up to see the old house, or, rather, the location of the old house, and found the garage - listing a bit in the shade of the grown eucalyptus - the overgrown remnants of the plants planted by Mom and Dad, and a hideous, half-built monument to greed - a McMansion - in place of the old house. Parked in front were some number of half-dead cars, and taking the place of the garden was a fenced in enclosure containing various types of industrial debris, trucks, etc. I suppose the Szuch's house was still there, greyed with time, replete with the usual 'Keep Out' signs, but, to be honest, the whole experience was heartbreaking. I wish I had never gone back there to see a childhood memory trashed.

That's enough of that.

The wedding was really nice, and I don't use 'nice' in a bland, blah kind of way. I thought Debbie was just about to explode with happiness when the two of them were standing up there in front of Brian. I have a pretty groovy family, I have to admit (weirdos and all!).

After San Diego, I drove up to LA with Mom and Katherine in Katherine's new car. I figured it would be easier if I just tried to find the place we were going while driving, rather than attempting to get one of them to navigate through big bad LA (which, on a Sunday, was pretty dead). We met Robin at this little French bakery right near downtown (I'd been there a few years ago and had a fab omelette, and the French waiters were really dishy). The omelettes remained amazing, but the French seem to have all been replaced by Mexicans. I suppose Mexicans can make omelettes as well... Sigh. So, Mom and Katherine drove off into the sunset (OK, the early afternoon), and Robin and I headed in the rental car out to the Huntington Garden for some serious plant nerding. There is something really refreshing about wandering around a place like that with someone who is about 100x nerdier than me! Robin was a bit jet-lagged, and hadn't gotten much sleep after a crappy flight, an interrogation by the border control (as he is a notorious homosexual), and having lost his luggage. Fortunately, he found solace in the arms of some nice young thing he found on the internet.

Plant chat finished, we drove out to West Hollywood, where we stayed in a fairly astonishingly pink Ramada. I have to say, WeHo is the most ridiculous place I have ever been. I mean, it's so gay that even the police cars have rainbows on them - one can be screwed by the gay boys in all sort of ways in West Hollywood, I suppose. I know - bad. I had a very nice morning run out to Beverly Hills - ran down Rodeo Drive and everything. I managed about a block on that street and had to leave - I was afraid I might be overwhelmed by the number of late middle aged women who had had so many facelifts as to have given themselves a beard (yes, I lifted that from somewhere), not to mention the squirrel dogs, and the roving hordes of tourists taking their pictures. No recession there! Rather cleverly, Beverly Hills had signs up advertising the upcoming 90210 Festival, which started, wait for it, on 9/02/10. Classy.

Anyway, after our run and gym (we have priorities, you know), Robin and I headed out to Century City, to get me onto the car agreement, and then it was time to head north. I managed to convince Robin to let me drive through LA - he is way the hell too timid in LA traffic. I've done that drive back and forth from SoCal so many times I can pretty much do it without thinking - I don't think Robin was terribly pleased about how long and boring it was though - and we even took I-5, which isn't half as bad as 99. We stopped somewhere around Goosefart or Chickenwhistle for dinner, which consisted of something that may well have been a burrito. Note to self - putting two boys who have eaten sketchy burritos into one car and closing the window is a bad plan.

Had a few days to chill then in Sacto. Met Angus, the world's most laid-back enormous dog, did some shopping, collected bugs in Mom's pool (while ostensibly tanning) and went up to Coloma. We also got to hang out with Chloe a bit more, who, I have to say, is a damn cute kid. Probably cuter given that I've never had to change a dirty diaper (thank God), but still, pretty cute - and smart as well. Lots of words, and she's cottonned on pretty quickly to the fact that cuteness will get her a long way (read the umpteenth book to you? no problem!).

Sadly, Robin did not have any boy adventures while in Sacramento, though not for lack of trying. I wasn't sure how exactly I was going to explain to Mom why he needed to take the car out to Elk Grove to visit his long lost cousin that he hadn't known about until five minutes ago...

We did, however, have some very yummy salads and cookies at a lesbionic cafe in midtown Sac. I'm sure that nearly made up for it. Also exchanged the rather wobbly Nissan Altima for a less wobbly, but noticeably dirtier Camry. (I also had to inflate all four tires, which didn't impress me much).

And, Robin tried his hand at being the Marlboro man on Shylah the horse. Of course, I had to take as many pictures as possible, with the hope that one of them might make the grade and end up butching up his Gaydar profile. Anyway, many pictures were taken as he rode around the ring and the sun went down (I should point out that he was shirtless). It's possible though that the pictures more conveyed something along the lines of Lady Godiva than Marlboro. We can but try.

I sent Robin off to SFO on the Amtrak and headed up to Shady Cove, OR, for more family excitement. Fortunately for all, Robin was able to make up for his poor boy-hunting performance. I, on the other hand, had a yummy milkshake in Corning and had an uneventful and suitably pleasant drive 350 miles north to what may be one of the redneckiest towns I've been to on the West Coast.

I would be lying if I said that I hadn't been worrying about that reunion. Well, not about the reunion itself - I love family reunions, but about the fact that this was going to be the first reunion Mom had been to since the divorce. I think she'd managed to work herself up pretty well before then, which, of course, stressed out all the kids, but I have to say that it was fine. Mom talked to Jan, ignored Dad (pretty effectively, to an almost comical degree), and everyone had a good time. We sat around, bullshitted, ate lots of food (including way too much cake), and everyone came out of the experience in one piece. I kind of feel like that may have been a bit of a sea change in the ongoing Mom/Dad drama - God I hope so! (I suppose if the family can move beyond the days of 'Moron Valley' (Morongo Valley), there is hope...

Didn't get much sleep there - the first two nights were in a hotel, shared with Mom and Katherine (I won't make any mention of any sniffing, coughing or nose blowing that went on during the night), and the 3rd night was on an inflato-bed at GP Plumer/Jere's. This would have been fine, had they not an electric, faux-Westminster chimes clock outside the door of the room, which happily announced the top of every hour (without ever actually chiming the hour). Waking up once an hour, every hour, is not generally good for one's overall night's rest. Anyway, having survived the 1000% white, tea-party-loving charm of southern Oregon (well, except for Crater Lake, which, as we all noted, seemed to have been taken over by the Indian subcontinent), I hopped into the car and headed southward and westward, towards Arcata - possibly the world's hippy-dippyest town.

Hung out with Jen there (I'd not seen her since we met at a motel for an evening of bullshit and crap wine in the meth-heavy lovely burg of Ukiah a few years previously). We sat around on the beach, watched the sun set, froze (this is the north coast we're talking about), and then (as one does), capped the evening off with some bad Chinese food (the only thing open on Labor Day).

And you think this might be the 'and finally', but it's not... Made a brief sojourn through SFO, where I dropped the car and met Robin (fresh from yet another boy-venture). Spent not enough hours sleeping in a room with a gorgeous view near Union Square (complete with minor earthquake), then headed the next morning to NYC.

It's kind of hard to get one's brain around San Diego/West Hollywood/Sacramento/Shady Cove/Arcata/SFO/New York - a typical Doug trip. I think, by the time we got to New York, it felt like we'd been gone about a month, but, to be honest, I really didn't feel at all ready to come back to normality, work, routine. I kinda like nomading around.

New York did, and does still feel like home. Robin doesn't much like it - finds it too neurotic and shallow (well, duh?), but there's something about that city I really love. I think it may be the hardest place to go back to, because it really does feel like I'm coming home, more than another other place except here (possibly equal to here though). I've never understood why that city feels as it does - I suppose one just accepts those sorts of things and is happy that there is a place in the world that does actually feel like home.

We had a day to spend in New York - wandered around downtown, walked along the river, ate good food, saw a friend of Robin's and two of mine (Ray and normal-John). Robin spread the love around that city as well (do we notice a pattern here?) and I had a lovely run along the river.

Will have pics up as soon as I can get them together.

I always feel a little out of sort after these trips for a week or so - I've managed to move my life halfway across the world - and it's a little emotionally overwhelming to drop myself back into the extended family, and things from childhood. I wouldn't miss it though. As I said, I have a pretty cool family, and am always happy to schlep my ass across the ocean to see them.

Oh, the title of the blog? Suppose that's b/c David has purchased what may be the world's biggest TV - 63 inches (and 3D). The box would fit a Smart Car (well, almost). However, as he is quick to point out, it's very energy efficient and only weighs 38kg without stand. It's going to get mounted above the fire place after we move. We may need planning permission, as I'm pretty sure it generates its own weather.

So yeah, back to normal. Will try again, as usual, to do this more frequently, which might be easier when I'm not trying to recount several weeks at once.

Ha.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Sunny, with a chance of more sunny...

That is the beauty of SoCal at the end of the summer... I flew in yesterday to San Diego. My arms were very tired. Sorry. Anyway, I was up way before the crap of dawn yesterday, at 430. Took the bus to the train to the Gatwick plane. Sat my but for 9 hours to Atlanta. Got a 'randomly selected' (my ass) full body scan at Atlanta and was then patted down because of a 'male anomaly'. Excuse me? I managed to get to San Diego about 6 last night and was met by Karen and Bob at the airport. Deliriously tired conversation in the car, then had a shower and brushed my teeth. Ah - a new lease on life! K and B and Poppa and I all went for dinner (I'd been eating all day, but hey, what's more food?) and then Poppa and I stayed up and talked. I've had very few chances in my life to sit around and talk to just Poppa at length. It's kinda funny how everyone seems to assume he's delicate and can't cope with difficult family news items. That is so very far from the truth. I mean, the guy's 93 and has seen a lot - it does always make me wonder why people seem to assume that old people will break if they are let in to all the various gory details of life. It's not like they haven't experienced it themselves!

Anyway... I suffered surprisingly little jet lag today. I managed about 7 fitful hours of sleep, then got up, ran up to the top of Mt Soledad (823 feet up, not that I checked). I love that run, even though I think I had a heart attack and a hernia, or perhaps my heart attack had a hernia. Had a perfect afternoon - nice gay gym, walked around downtown San Diego, went to Horton Plaza and bought - wait for it - socks. (I tried, but that's all I could find on short notice...), and also wandered around Seaport Village, which, I have to say, is pretty damn kitschy - it was adorable when I was like 10, whereas now I just think OMG... Oh well. And finally, Poppa and I finished out with the perfect dinner - burger, fries and a milkshake at In and Out. I will be running again tomorrow!

Oh, and something I always notice but have never understood... US grocery stores, particularly in CA, are always beautiful inside - it's all about the presentation - esp in the produce section, even if the actual quality isn't all that great. In Europe, they just sort of throw things in boxes and you rummage. I really do wonder why there is such a difference in presentation...

Anyway, I might actually get to bed at a reasonably early hour tonight. How strange...

Monday, 23 August 2010

Grammar Patrol...

Amusingly, I seem to have taken on the unofficial role of grammar patrol for the department. I 'grade' all of my boss' essays before she hands them in for her Master's course (I will never to an MBA as long as I live after this...) and I'm always pointing out bad grammar usage by the council. All this as a bloody foreigner in this supposed land of the English language. Innit!:-) One of my continual pet peeves is the inappropriate usage of the apostrophe. I never thought I would say this, but I do actually believe that Americans, as a whole, might well have better grammar than the Brits.

Anyway - the cause of all this - two car ads that have irked me. One, an ad for a Volkswagen, blathers on about how cheap the car is, and then concludes with 'Eyes on the road please'. Hello? How about 'Eyes on the missing comma, please'. But the real winner of the bad grammar award, produced by the 'We Speakum Good English' ad company, is an ad for a new Alfa Romeo. It has a picture of some vaguely tarty woman on it, wearing too much lipstick, and says, 'Giulietta. I am the stuff dreams are made on.' Oy vey, mamma mia! Where the hell did they come up with that slogan, first grade? That ad is on billboards all over London, and I have to say, it really frosts my muffin.

Unless, of course, they are being coy and talking about having sex on the car, which I suppose is possible.

Oh what a crotchety old thing I will become...

I've got one more day before CA trip, and about a million things to do before then. So, off I go to do.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Microclimate!

So, I went for a bike ride yesterday after work (I usually do). Part of my ride goes up Highgate Hill, which is the highest hill in North London (not very high, about 300 feet). On occasion, the hill seems to attract weather. This was the case yeterday, when it was raining quite heavily on the hill, but none at all back on the south side, towards central London. How exciting! And squishy. Today's ride was slightly less fun. Some of the nice little ghetto shits, I mean, children in Hackney decided it would be fun to shoot my leg with some sort of plastic bb gun - this on the same street where I had a tennis ball thrown at my face. Perhaps I should avoid that street. I could wish death and destruction on them, but that will probably come later when a drug deal goes bad, or someone doesn't give someone else the requisite amount of 'RESPECT'. Ooh, did I say that? How very un-pc of me. Tsk!

Anyway - how exactly did I get from microclimate to shitheads? These things happen, I suppose. Not a lot else at the moment, really. I got two job rejections in one day, just before I was told they are cutting our capital budget by 40%, so that made for a pretty groovy day. But I should probably take some solace tha the financial sector is picking up and the bankers are making huge boatloads of profit again. How nice that we all get to suffer now while they go back to doing lines of coke off their desks. Or maybe they just did that in the 80s? Unlikely.

Ooh, I am bitter today! I suppose I should go have a shower and eat a bowl of cereal. Life often looks a bit better after a bowl of cereal, I have discovered.

Grumble...

Sunday, 15 August 2010

A Country Ramble...

Well, the weather was pretty crapalacious yesterday, so I didn't get to go cycling. I did go for a long, hilly run, for which I'm paying today, as well as going to the Gap, hanging out with Paul, and generally farting around in town, so, not a bad day. Avi came over last night and we ate junk food and watched Terry Pratchett's 'The Colour of Magic'. Needless to say, I had some pretty wacked out dreams last night...

Anyway - today we had a big way walk in the countryside. Met up with Adrian and co this morning at 1030 at Paddington and took the train about to Cookham, about an hour west of London, in the Thames Valley. The Thames Valley is kind of a strange place - it has several small cities in it - Slough, for one - most of them horrible. The countryside though is very genteel, as are most of the small towns. Lots of Range Rovers these parts - not a pickup truck to be found. So, we tromped through the woods for about 10 miles. The great thing about England is that there is, codified in law, a 'right to roam', which means that you can walk across just about any private land - fields, forests, etc, as long as you stay out of cultivated areas and stick to designated public rights of way. Very different from the US! Anyway, you get six notorious homosexuals in one place, add a long walk, bugs, nettles, and a pub with good food and alcohol, you get a lot of creative carping that goes on. I'm not entirely sure the other pub goers appreciated our clever wit, but I'm sure it was good for them... ;-)

Pictures of the day:

I'm not sure I can come up with a politically correct comment for this one, so I will refrain...



Ah, another silly sign...



Don't we all look like we are having a good time? I think this is when Adrian was trying to figure out where we were supposed to be going...



Beech trees are cool.



David in the forest...



The village of Marlow - apparently Britain's 'Best Kept Town'. Much excessive cuteness... (and lunch).



Pretty view from Makeout Point (not actually sure what it was called, but it seemed appropriate).



Enormous willow in the Thames floodplain... Lots of mud!



David holds up an English Oak...



Lone oak in a field...




'Mos on the move (handbags at the ready!) ;-)



The Thames in Cookham - lotsa money here!



I have decided this is going to be my house - not entirely sure how, but that's beside the point!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Excitement at the Gym...

Well, there was a little bit of drama at the gym last night, which demonstrated exactly how oblivious people really are in that setting… I was just finishing my workout, and this (very young) guy was on a machine, directly across from me. Quite suddenly, he just sort of rolled off the machine, struck his head on one of the bars, fell on the floor and started convulsing. I ran across the room to see what happened. By this point he’d stopped having a seizure and was lying on his back on the floor. Almost straightaway the guy regained consciousness and I helped him reposition himself on the floor so he wouldn’t bang his head again (he was still pretty confused, and totally shocked at what had happened). I probably should have yelled for someone else to come over, but there was no one else at my end of the gym, so I told him I was going to run to the front desk and have them call an ambulance. I ran downstairs and told the girl at the front desk, then ran back upstairs. Amazingly, despite the commotion, and the fact that there were several other people in the gym, the guy was still lying on his back, on the floor, by himself. Don’t these people notice anything outside their little mp3 world? A trainer followed me upstairs and, trying to be helpful (but being, as he was, thick-as-shit), offered a glass of water. Um, hello, the man needs an ambulance, not a drink… So then the manager appears, asking what was happening. I ask if she’d called an ambulance. No, not yet – she has to ‘assess’ the situation first. Um, excuse me? Not much to assess – man falls, bangs head, has seizure, says this has never happened before – sounds like a pretty clear-cut case for emergency services to me! Fortunately, he has the presence of mind to request an ambulance directly (he’s pretty much OK at this point – just looking a bit green). I mean, I understand why large corporations have policies where they ‘assess’ the situation, even after someone says that an ambulance is needed, but in some cases, one should just trust what the person is saying, b/c to not do so is to, possibly, risk someone’s life. Anyway, I will be writing a letter to the parent company of the gym… (My God, how middle-aged am I getting? Writing concerned letters, complaining about the youth of today, getting a mortgage… Gack!)

Sunday, 8 August 2010

A Lovely Day for a Bike Ride...

So, I'm sitting here trying to pay attention to the computer (difficult when David and Robin are watching 'Allo 'Allo repeats). Just making late dinner on a Sunday night. I was supposed cycle 100 miles today, but, as luck would have it, I got a flat tire, which wasted a good hour. Blah. I did manage 68 miles - decided to pick random roads, which is always an adventure in a city with as silly a road system as this.

David and I spent the day yesterday looking at kitchens and bathrooms - ooh how very domestic (and very expensive)!.

Anyway, not much exciting to say at the moment, but I do have some pics...

It's generally rude to make fun of other people's fashion choices, so I will just put this picture here and let you make fun of them...



Greetings from the planet purple!



My lunch spot on Box Hill, about 25 miles south of London - that's the lovely town of Dorking (giggle) below...)

Thursday, 5 August 2010

I'm surrounded by nerds...

So, one of the fun things about living in a house with two big nerds, I mean, IT professionals, is that the appliances talk to each other (and not just if I've drunk too much). There are five working computers set up in the house - four of them in the living room (two of them on the dining room table), and many an evening passes with us all tippety typeting away in our own little universes. Sometimes David and Robin will speak nerd to each other, and I can only but hope to catch a word or two - 'delviating the ramafram, BRD'. Occasionally, I've even messaged Robin across the room, which tends to result in something being thrown back the other way (usually sarcasm). There is another computer in our bedroom, and, oh, I forgot to mention, a server sitting on the shelf behind the sofa. Both TVs are connected to the computers as well, and I'm waiting for the toaster to strike up conversations in the next little while. (That said, we seem to have an enormous collection of movies and TV shows, all of them perfectly 100% legal I am sure (of course!), and all the computers are named after Muppet characters, so it can't be all bad. Actually, at the moment we are all on different computers - David is ordering a new computer, Robin is transferring data from one computer to another (both of them 'borrowed' from work - must be nice to be an IT manager at a big company). Our happy little very strange household...

Oh, and David and I got the mortgage approved today - woohoo - we are going to be London houseowners! How very posh! David is already picking out new bathroom fixtures - how cute.

David related his very exciting story of cycling derringdoo when I got home today. Some motorist in a big shiny new Chrysler 300 cut off him and a number of other cyclists at a light, so David 'accidentally' left a huge scracth along the side of the car. Big scary car driver makes a big thing about threatening to run over David and says he'd better pull over, blah blah blah, so David pulls over, plays all sweet and dumb and innocent, and gets away with it! Ha ha! I admire the ability to do that - I wouldn't have managed to keep my cool. (Just yesterday I had an altercation with a motorist who honked at and nearly hit me - I caught up with him at a light - he's shouting and honking and making a huge scene (he was a bit of ghetto trash), so I shouted into his open window that 'I have the right to be anywhere on the road I goddamn well please, so f*ck off!', and then planted myself right in front of the car (making sure he doesn't actually get out of the car, doesn't have a gun, and that I know my escape route, of course). Ooh, the excitement of urban cycling! I think I need a Maalox.

Not much else - I'm still sleep deprived, tired and crabby - I should probably go to bed early tonight - that's what I skipped the gym for today, after all. Hmm.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Of Rain and the Coming Republic of Bikelandia...

Yay – it rained finally! We’ve been having a pretty serious drought this summer. Granted, it doesn’t rain much in London – only about 22 inches, but the rain is usually spread out fairly evenly. With climate change, however, this evenness seems to be being compressed into much shorter, heavier rainstorms. The summers are tending to be either storm-filled or entirely dry. This has been a dry one, though, fortunately, not so hot as the rest of northern Europe. London in a dry summer is not very pretty. The parks all turn to straw, the trees look unhappy, and the general level of crud and birdpoop on everything increases exponentially. But, this afternoon, the heavens opened, and there was at least one anaemic burst of thunder (it doesn’t thunder much here).

I’ve been tired and headachy today – I always seem to be tired and headachy. Wonder what it is like to be awake and alive and alert? Our new intern seems quite bright though, which is good, as he’s been made my responsibility. It does mean though that I can’t just hunker down behind my desk and ignore everyone. Ugh – the burden of responsibility! ;-)

Oh, and in bike news, I saw someone cycling up Mare Street on a double-height bike (a bike attached to the top of the bike), sans helmet. Not sure if that was brave or stupid, being up there six feet above the ground like that, weaving through the busses? Oh, and I learned that the UN is trying to take over the world through bicycles. I am very proud to be part of the revolution, and I’m not even wearing my tinfoil hat! Anyway, seeing as how I am at work and probably should be working (hah), that’s it for now. Trying to be more regular about this though… Oh oh – and finally – more evidence that this is a strange little country (in case that wasn’t inherently obvious already).

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Oy vey and a half (Indeed!).

Well, I've not been at this in a while. You'd think that as life got more stressful, I'd want to write more, but the actuality is that I get home from work and the gym, feel like a big braindead blob, and park my butt in front of the TV. We're still mid-throes of buying a house. What a big pain in the butt. And not in a good way either.

Robin just got home - he's complaining that they sent him the wrong colour blades for his hair clipper (he got replacement blades). Oh major tragedy ensues...

Anyway, back to things I care about... The house buying process in England is a little bit more fraught with uncertainty than in the US. For starters, the prices in London have not gone down at all, and make New York City look almost affordable. It was my job to find the place, as, after 7 years, David still can't find his way out of a paper bag in this city. So, while unobserved, I looked at several hundred places online, and we actually went out to visit about 12. Each place is listed by any number of 'estate agencies', and the estate agent works for the seller only. This means that it is very very much a 'caveat emptor' type situation - you can't trust the estate agent much farther than you can throw them. Much research is needed to make sure the house isn't actually a big piece of crap and is being sold for a (semi) reasonable amount. Once we decided that the place is, indeed, a good house, we put in our first offer. Rejected. Wait a few days - put in a 2nd offer. Wait. The offer is accepted. However, nothing is legally binding. Now comes time to apply for a mortgage (they now require 25% down payment for a decent rate), and hire a solicitor, who is responsible for talking to the seller's solicitor, as well as checking the local planning permission, the title, etc. The house has to be valued by the bank as well. As it dates from 1893, we're going to get a full 'building survey', to make sure it's not going to fall down. Once this is all completed, we exchange contracts with the sellers, after which it becomes legally binding. Finally, on an agreed date, we meet with the sellers and the estate agent and receive the keys. The offer was accepted about a month ago - we don't really expect to be moving until about October. I don't want to be doing this again any time soon!

So, lots of stress, not much sleep - general blahness.

On a completely unrelated note, London just started its bike-hire scheme last week. 6000 or so big, clunky blue bikes that you can check out and drop off, all over central London - 24/7. A brave new world of numbnuts, toodling about on 45lb behemoths. The very first one I saw being used was, appropriately enough, being run through a red light. Ah well - some things never change.

TfL Bike Hire

I'm sure there have been lots of other things to have happened, but I'm too tired at the moment to think about it - plus I have to fix a few things on my bike.

How butch.

I suppose I will try to be a bit better about this (hmm) - so many times I think 'Oh, I should write this down', and then I don't, and I forget...

Sigh.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

No, not the comfy chair!

Oy vey. So, we've been looking at places to live. Just had our second weekend of looking at houses. Avoid anything that is "cute", "quirky", "good condition", "cozy", "can be expanded", etc... Utter and total crap. Very expensive utter and total crap. The funny thing is, the places we have been looking at are all quite small - around 1100 ft2, and obviously designed as the "affordable housing" of 100 years ago. Not affordable anymore! I suppose there is a small part of me that is vaguely curious to go into other people's houses and see how they live, but mostly, I find the whole process depressing - it's amazing how a tiny little shithole nothing of a place can be made to look magnificent through the power of a fisheye lens. But, we knew this was going to happen - London is just about the most expensive city in the world. Blah.

Not a lot else really - I didn't manage a bike ride this weekend, as there was no time, and my bike had yet another problem. Once I get that fixed, the front derailleur, the handlebars, and the pedal cranks will be the only original parts left on the bike. Frankenbike. I did go for a very nice bike ride last weekend though (pics below). And we went to Avi's garden party today - 50 or so people - about 1/2 gay. Funny thing is, quite a number of them are in a gay motorcycle club, so, of course, they were all there in their leathers. What a bunch of queens! David and I chatted with this one guy (who seemed to have a bit of a thing for me (blush!)). Anyway, he was trying very hard to give off as butch of an image as possible, but they he started talking about his bike, and how his gear has to match his bike - even his earplugs match the colour of his bike. Oh dear.

Back to work tomorrow - yuck. Still no hint of another job - stupid crappy economy! And Tuesday is the new national budget, so if things are looking bad now, I don't think they are going to look any better after that. Sigh.

A valley in Kent, just on the southeastern outskirts of London...



Now here's something you don't see very often... The funny thing here about flags is they only tend to appear around sporting events (such as the World Cup) - for the most part, people don't give a ratcrap about the flag, or American-style patriotism, but get a sports event involved, and the flags appear everywhere and people suddenly get very nationalistic. Not sure if that's better or worse - but, they do say that sports are ritualised warfare, so maybe it's one and the same... Hmm. So, with this jerry-rigged flagpole, one might assume that it related to their choice of teams, but as the American flag was flying on top - you just never know.



The view from the North Downs - I would have gotten a slightly bigger view, but there was a couple dry-humping on the other side of the trees, so I thought that might have spoiled my view a bit... Blech.



Hydroponic strawberries. Never seen hydroponic strawberries before...



Wheat fields of Kent... They do grow a lot of wheat these parts...



You just can't make up some of these names...



Bike plus phone box... Is it art, or kitsch? Not sure.




You just can't complain about roads like this - perfect cycling road...



The slightly depressing thing about this ride was that I took the entire afternoon to cycle the 70 miles out to Ashford, and then the shiny new, 140mph train gets be back to town in 38 minutes. Maybe I should cycle faster? Hmm.