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.


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!