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Thursday, June 29

Mental Busy

Yesterday was a difficult day. I have a lot to do at work at the moment, and the pressure is really on. I arrived in the office at my usual time minus a bit. It was about 9.45. I worked until after 7pm with minor breaks to wolf down a sandwich at lunch, grab the occasional coffee, or drain my body of various components of these items.

In some respects, it's quite a lot of fun to concentrate so hard that you keep wondering why the the music has finished, and can only conclude that it's because the last 45 minutes whistled past. Anyone who thinks that locking oneself inside headphone and really going for it is a bad thing is a total moron. It's nice to occasionally break into a mental run, and that's exactly what I've been doing. If I could get all this software to actually bloody work, then I'd get the big hit of job satisfaction that I've been saving up for.

Emerging from the office like an over-wintering animal emerging from a long period of hibernation, feeling slightly unsteady on my feet and slightly blinded by the light, I jumped into the car and sped back home. I was immediately called upon to go out to get some food - mmm... nutritious chicken...

I just re-read that and thought it said "Notorious chicken". Mmm... no...no..no...notorious.

Anyway, this isn't just another tale of some food I ate. It's the start of an evening's adventure. No really it is. Remember that I'm moving to Reading, and remember that I had put some of my stuff into my car. Well this stuff had remained there and needed shifting. Also, the bed in my girlfriend's room has been getting shorter (well, it feels that way) and we're both suffering from aching backs from being cramped together in it. So, we set about preparing the room for an official move in.

After a bit of preparing, we gave up and moved my stuff into a different room in the house where it's piled, rather than unpacked. This is fine for now, but not forever. However, the giving up was a mere waypoint on the journey to the main event. We made our second trip in a few days to Ikea in Wembley. This was born out of a decision to just go ahead and buy a bed. We pretty much knew what we wanted, but had to consider things like mattresses and colour. So, off we went.

Bear in mind that it was 10pm when we set off. However, the Ikea is open until midnight, so it seemed possible for us to travel there, lounge around in the seemingly-over-appropriate-for-the-time-of-day bed section and then even buy the items. This wouldn't be the first time this year that I bought a bed from Ikea. In February, I ran into the Gateshead store, bought a bed, picked up most of it, and drove it back to my Newcastle house - with a minimum of fuss (apart from finding the warehouse where I had to pick up the larger bits). However, I had a van with me. No van this time, so we also needed to arrange delivery.

Now, I admit that turning up to a big shop at midnight on a Wednesday and expecting to be able to choose a bed and get it delivered by the weekend might sound a bit like a tall order. However, I didn't quite expect that. I did expect to be able to choose everything, pay for it, and have it come at some point in the not too distance future. That's what the likes of Ikea have you believe. Theoretically this should have been possible. It wasn't going to be easy, though.

I suppose that matters were not made easier by the fact that we were dealing with two members of the low-paid night staff. When I say we, I mean me. When I say low-paid night staff, I can only assume that these poor unfortunates, one of whom was quite new, were low-paid. They were both immigrants and the British employment ethic involves exploiting immigrants wherever possible. I don't condone it, but I do observe it. Anyway, we got off to a rocky start with the two, I shall call them "Moussaka" (for the girl) and "Slade" for the bloke. That's close to their names, but then, like a lot of stuff in Ikea, the exact names were hard to remember, so you remember a word that's close.

By this name substitution system, I wanted a "Mallam" bed with a "Hasselhoff" mattress and a "Gran Turismo" mattress protector. We were dealing with Moussaka. We went through the system and put everything on the order, except for the mattress, which was marked as out of stock. Bear in mind that all I wanted to do was pay for the items somewhere and have them magically turn up at my doorstep at some point. I didn't care how their system worked and I didn't care how they made it happen. However, I was soon to learn how to care.

Firstly, I was told that I would have to come back to the store when the mattress was in stock if I wanted to order it. I wonder whether anyone else would have put up with that and said something like "Oh fair enough then, see you in a few days." especially, if they lived some 40 miles away. The people serving me already knew that I'd traveled from Reading as we discussed delivery first. Don't get me started on their delivery charges. The more expensive the items you buy, the more they charge for delivery. Surely, they stand to profit more on more expensive items and so could subsidise the delivery? Apparently not. They'll deliver really cheap stuff for £30, rising to £70 if you spend enough with Ikea. I guess that some of the extra charge is insurance against them knackering something expensive, but I wasn't impressed. It felt like punishment for spending more with them. I told you not to get me started on the delivery, and now look... back to the problem.

Once we'd established that I didn't want to keep popping back 40 miles from the house, they came up with the inventive idea of telling me to try another store. They debated whether Croydon would be nearer me than Wembley. This is an interesting question, but hardly covered the issue of the petrol I'd already spent coming to the store. It's again worth pointing out that I wasn't expecting them to magic a missing mattress up and give it to me there and then. I wanted to pay someone to amass the items and bring them in a van when they had them all. I didn't care where they came from. Let their delivery driver go to Croydon if he wanted to. It didn't make a blind bit of difference to me.

Having been told that I couldn't order something that wasn't in stock, I was prepared, grudingly, to go hom with the shopping list and phone in the order or internet it, once the items were in stock. I was told that orders can only be made in person and paid for in person in the store... with the 70p credit card surcharge, which makes sense when you're paying the Ikea tax (approx £15-£30 worth of shit you have to buy most visits to justify having turned up), but seems a bit tight when you're spending, say, £600. I was starting to get a bit pissed off at all of this. I wasn't prepared to keep coming back and I told them to find a way for me to order what I wanted for it to be sent when it was all ready.

"Slade" had one of those Michael Caine in the Italian Job moments. He said something like 'ang on, I've got an idea and started frantically pushing buttons on a screen and collecting my address. He was doing an order from the central warehouse. Bingo. Then he started trying to discourage me. "You do know it won't be delivered until at least July 7th". I had a tool against this, I hailed my girlfriend, who was relaxing on a nearby bed - "July 7th okay?" she nodded. Then he tried again "That's July 7th at the earliest, it could be later." and I demonstrated my indifference with the girlfriend trick - "How about 10th July?" - another nod. Why should this be a problem?

Then "Slade" pull the masterstroke of the night. He explained that the this order could only be for the mattress. While they can order from the central warehouse anything that's out of stock, they can't order stuff that's in stock. So, I might be facing the items coming from two different sources and two delivery charges. GENIUS!

However, while we were doing this and I was having the limitations of the system patiently explained to me, and while I was marvelling at how little they understood the impact of what they were telling me - i.e. "You run around after the holes in our system and maybe we'll let you spend £600 at the end of it, if you can still be bothered." - "Moussaka" was playing a blinder. She rang the hub. This is the place in Ikea where the stuff is kept. She just asked them to have a look to see whether they had a mattress of the sort we wanted - incidentally this is Ikea's most popular mattress and more were due in that week, anyway... which only made it more frustrating for me.

Result! the hub person, let's call them "Pastrami" - I never heard their actual name - discovered three mattresses. "Slade" asked them to check that they were in saleable condition (good idea). There were no problems. Then "Moussaka" rang a chap called Marcus at the delivery place and explained to him that we'd be appearing with paperwork which seemed to suggest we couldn't have the bed, but we could. She also told me how to explain to the people on the till that they could sell the item to me. Ok.

We went to the till and I paid a lot of money, plus my 70p. Then we went to the home delivery place, waited a while, spoke to someone who seemed just as capable as Marcus of dealing with my slightly complex delivery issue. Then we left the store at about 12.15am.

The bed should be with us on Friday.

I'm not going to hold my breath. Friday is still a day away and I'm no David-Blaine-breath-holding-champion-actually-not-so-good-at-it-as-I-thought.

That was needlessly stressful. I hope reading about it isn't.

Tuesday, June 27

Dog Gone

Sad news - it seems that Frazier's dog Eddie died.

Excuse this random posting. I'm writing an article for a computer magazine and I've bored myself into not-so-random web browsing.

Whirlpool

Sometimes I counterbalance the general apathy and indolence in my life with a day where a lot gets done. Such an example can be seen in the brief and yet painfully over-detailed writing of this day last year.

Well, just over a year later, I can safely report that I had a busier day. Here's the rundown of my whirlpool of activity. I'd say whirlwind, but since I suck at many things, perhaps whirlpool is a better definition.

The run down of the day:
  • Work
  • Haircut at lunchtime and trip to the house to check stuff out
  • More work
  • Back to the house, packed up a few choice items
  • Drove back to Reading and bought some supplies
  • Back at the Reading house, sorted out some shelves, which I'd started to make and which needed surforming into a shape where they fit the alcove they go into
  • Ironed over dozen shirts and a pair of trousers while watching a movie
  • Went on the computer and sorted out some gig stuff
Actually, it felt like more work than it reads like. As a result of my exertions, my back now aches quite a lot and I have various abrasions on my hands, which lack in skill what they also lack in resilience against the sharpness of tools.

I'm trying to get a bit of a grip on life at the moment. July already has some nutty moments planned and August will be a whole month of silliness. Before August arrives, I need to move out of Farnborough and have a plan for where I'll be living after August. All of this is in progress... watch this space.

Monday, June 26

Weekend Antics

We decided to go away this weekend. Originally we'd decided on one destination, and I'd even gone to the trouble of reserving a hotel room at that destination, but then we changed our minds. I had to call up the hotel where the reservation was made and cancel. Given that the booking was made at 12pm that day, and I called at 7pm that day, the clerk's request that I give him 3 days' notice for the cancellation or be required to pay the first night's accommodation was somewhat unfair. I pointed out that I'd paid a booking deposit, which I expected to forfeit, but that he couldn't possibly expect to enforce an impossible booking policy. He said he understood my point, but that he'd had the room reserved for me all day, so it was tough luck.

I asked how he planned to get this first night's stay fee from me. He said credit card. I turned into Basil Fawlty forbidding Sybil to open the bag containing Lord Melbury's "valuables" (which turned out to be bricks). I repeated a couple of times "you do not have my permission to take that charge from my credit card". I don't really know where I stand legally. I haven't taken any services from them, and I'm fairly certain that you can't just charge someone's credit card without their permission. Even if the law says that you can, sometimes intimidation is all it takes - he seemed to back down and told me that I should definitely not use his hotel again, and, in some sort of last-ditch attempt to maintain his hotelier aspect, wished me a good evening. I thanked him and wished him the same. Weird.

Anyway, we made a last minute booking at a hotel in Boscombe, which is near Bournemouth, and went there instead.

Traveling to Boscombe
The sat-nav was behaving, but I wasn't. Somehow I kept missing its exits. This was because the sound was off. It's odd. I used to be able to navigate the country without the sat-nav. Since I've had it, I've effectively turned off any sense of direction or purpose when I'm driving. Unless I'm on familiar roads, when I use memory to guide me, I just sit and wait to be told what to do next. With a silent sat-nav, it's hard for me to think for myself.

Anyway, after a couple of false turns and recalculations, we got where we were going, and went down to the beach and for a walk along it. Ditching the shoes (leaving them in the car) we walked along the sand and seafront until we reached Bournemouth. This was hardly a major achievement, they're about 10 minutes' walk away from each other. Then, shoeless and in Bournemouth (like a retired tramp), we walked around a bit more. Then back to the car.

Asda
The idea of getting some late night sustainance came to us and so we went in search of a 24 hour shop. The big Asda in the area was soon discovered, but we had to circle it a couple of times before finding an entrance. Then, parked in the car park, we had to negotiate around an awkward series of barriers in order to gain entry to the store. It was almost like they were trying to keep the customers out. However, once in the store we found plenty of low-fat snacks to take our fancy. Some of these were bought and we were set for the evening. Then it was back to the hotel for some low-calorie snacking, some reading and then some sleeping. Not a raucous night out, but a relaxing one. A chance to unwind.

Oh, and I got the Micro Mart with the second instalment of The World's Worst 100 Websites in it. I read it and I was generally pleased with how it came across.

Weymouth
On Saturday we went to Weymouth. Weymouth is a picturesque small resort with a lot of fat people enjoying themselves in it. We got lunch at a sandwich shop near the sea front and the neighbouring table was soon occupied by a fat leathery smoking woman and her leathery rumplestiltskin of a husband. Both were clearly old. The woman had spent so long tanning her flabby body, that her chest area was not so much made of skin, as folds, which grouped together to make a scaly sort of evilness that almost put me off my salad. Her smoking was not attractive either. Still, either the skin or the lung cancer will get her, so she'll not be bothering people for much longer.

At the beach we hired a pedalo and set out to sea. The sea is very shallow, so we amused ourselves with our sea-faring, without actually ever reaching a point where, had the boat capsized (as it threatened to do with my excessive weight pushing down on one side of it), we would have been able to walk (not wade) back to shore. In fact, is it possible for a boat to capsize if it can't roll far enough to roll over? Who knows. The pedalo was fun and good exercise. I haven't cycled in a while and I was worried that I wouldn't have the leg power. However, I think that the recent weight loss has left me with the leg muscles required for a larger gentleman than I am, so I had some spare pedaling capacity in them.

Despite wearing crop shorts, which I'd also rolled up, I still managed to end up getting them sodden. The water splashing into the seat didn't help. It was fun. The seaside is meant to be wet.

Back to Bournemouth
Finding the crazy golf to be closed, we headed back to Bournmouth where 18 different holes of crazy golf awaited us in the wake of the bandstand. The bandstand was playing host to the Bournemouth University Big Band, who, like many amateur music groups, even had a CD on sale. Don't buy it. Their lead singer, for 3 of the songs, had clearly been given more Ella Fitzgerald CDs than singing lessons, and the rest of the playing in the band was passable at best. However, despite occasional fluffing and an overall sense of poor tuning, their tones were never quite offensive, which was something.

Golf was accompanied with popcorn and 3 hole-in-ones (two by my girlfriend).

The genuine Italian-owned restaurant provided genuine Italian food. The waiter even spoke to us partly in Italian, which I understood (partly) but was too embarrassed to respond in.

Overall, Saturday was a good day.

Sunday
Sadly, Sunday was a bit of a washout. Almost literally. The morning-wake-up was coupled with the discovery that the rain was coming down with enough force to drench someone who was, say, simply moving a suitcase into a car. We cut our losses and went back to Reading.

Back in Reading there was some eating, some watching of the football, some more eating, some movie watching - Hide and Seek (very good, especially young Dakota Fanning's performance) and Shark Attack an utter stinker (a made for TV movie which sucks a big dog's cock - read the sarcastic review on IMDB, though... funny).

Weekend fun?
I think we had enough excitement to last the entire weekend. What started with a serene walk along the beach, ended in watching cheaply made entertainment where young people in padded bras contend with occasional red aquatic explosions cut in with footage shot in an aquarium.

Future planning
During the weekend, I decided to go and see a play. A friend of mine has written this play, which he is taking to the Fringe in August - Falling For Grace (see it if you can). I had the pleasure of reading some early drafts of this piece and I'm really pleased for him that he's getting a production together. I wanted to support his efforts, but it's in Dundee. That's a big but. Dundee is indeed a long way away. When I lived in Newcastle, I could have almost have driven it (on a school night) but now I'm in the south, I can't. I also cannot afford to take 2 days off work to go either.

But... I don't like to be beaten. It shouldn't be "my friend has a play but it's in Dundee". It should be "my friend has a play AND it's in dundee". So, I got on the old interweb and booked a combination of plane tickets and a hire car, allowing me to get to Edinburgh, pick up the friend with whom I'll be staying (for about 3 hours) on the night of the play, take them to Dundee to see the play with me, drive us both back, get the sleep before the 5.20am car return and 6am flight back to the South. Sorted!

All of this is on the 4th (and a bit of the 5th) of July. I have a headline spot at a gig in Blackpool on the 3rd... so that's going to be a busy week (next week, in fact), especially since work is also busy at the moment.

However, I'd rather be busy that sitting on my arse gathering dust.

Friday, June 23

Bloggery

I've recently been reading the blog over at BurberryAndBroccoli.blogspot.com. One can only assume that this is a satiric view of the Agile movement and its impact on software engineering. Although I can easily relate its heavily sarcastic tirade to my experiences at my last company, I can't agree with its viewpoint. The writer assumes that all Agile is bad software engineering and that its only purpose is to be a fad which sells consultancy and books.

This is a classic example of paranoia. There's no doubt that any dogmatic application of even a sound set of principles will result in much resentment. However, there's no real evidence that Agile software engineering is based on dogma. As Kevin Rutherford explains at Silk and Spinach, dogma is inevitable, but not necessarily the intention. I think Kevin is right to point out that he doesn't really understand the psychology. If software people had better people skills, they'd probably not be software people.

The sad fact is that some processes are beyond saving if you focus only on the process. Having moved on from my life Newcastle, and found myself missing a number of the things we used to do in my last job (as well as definitely NOT missing many of the others), I can see why Agile is good and why it turned out so bad for us in Newcastle. Almost all of it was down to people problems. Where Agile intends to mould itself around the existing people and requirements, it only works when people equally want it and trust each other and management, and where management feel the same. This wasn't the case in the failing company I left. I think that matters have improved since I left, so maybe I was part of the problem.

These days I'm part of the solutions to stuff, working in a new environment using newer (although fundamentally the same) tools.

I shall watch the Burberry and Broccoli blog unfold with interest, but it seems a bit like sour grapes to me.

Busy couple of days

It has been plenty busy for the last couple of days.

Wednesday
On Wednesday I went back home via B&Q Farnborough, where I picked up various bits and bobs, including some wood and some tools. Wednesday evening was then spent labouring on some shelves. Before I started the labouring, though, we went to B&Q Reading (yes, two B&Q shops in the same day, mental!), where we bought a free-standing shelf-unit.

The labouring then involve sawing some lengths of wood to use as supports for the shelves and then putting them up. It's a tricky job to put shelves up in an alcove supported by lengths of wood at their end. Get one side slightly wrong and the shelf will rock or go exceedingly out of alignment. The alignment was pretty good when we were finished. This was partly down to luck.

DIY items bought included:
  • Orbital sander - much cheapness
  • Mitre sawing block and saw
  • Surform for taking the excess of the shelves
  • Screws
  • Wood
Smashing!

The free standing shelf erected, we sat down with popcorn and watched Hellboy.

Thursday
It was only a matter of time, with all the DIY and talk of setting up home. We went to Ikea. It was the first time that my girlfriend and I had visited the Swedish temple of the flatpack together. Apparently that's a milestone in our relationship. It's certainly a bigger deal than it used to be when I lived in Newcastle a mere 5 minutes from the nearest Ikea. The nearest one to Reading is in Wembley, so there was much driving to do to get there. Given that both of us are trying to lose weight, we couldn't even have the obligatory celebratory hot-dog when we were finished.

However, despite the fact that we only went in order to look at possible future furniture purchases, we still managed to emerge having paid the "Ikea Tax", a fee of approximately £15, which is levied against the random shit you have to buy in order to get out of the store. Normally this is something to do with tea-lights and maybe some decorative sticks. Yesterday, it was glassware and hangers.

Some late-night reading and it was time for the sleeping.

Wednesday, June 21

I think I'm Turning Soft

On the more manly side of things, I watched the England game last night and felt genuine excitement when the first goal went it. It was a stroke of masterful play by Joe Cole. So, [clears throat in a manly way] I'm a man's man, right.

However, after the match, more TV was watched. While perhaps nobody would blame me for getting further into the totally mysterious Lost, which was on later on, I have to admit rather enjoying a bit of a chick-flick.

The movie in question was Jersey Girl, a rather odd title for a movie. It has some classic chick-flick formulaic writing. A guy, whose wife dies in childbirth, brings up his daughter, meets a girl and then finds out what's important to him. It even involves a bi-partite character journey involving two meetings with Will Smith. However...

...I liked it. J-Lo's appearance is thankfully brief. The performance of the child actor in the role of the seven year old daughter is entrancing and funny. There's some neat comic writing, and it both follows and challenges the stereotypes of chick flicks. Liv Tyler as the love-interest for the widower is a really good character - she's slightly dangerous and they fall for each other over a conversation about porn.

Although there's a standard "dad returns to be in the kid's school play" scene, they also send this up, with every other parent/kid in the school show doing "Memory from Cats" where they've chosen to do a scene from Sweeney Todd. Perhaps it was this latter detail which sold the movie to me the most. The performance of a seven year old girl in the role of Mrs Lovett, convincingly executing the rather difficult Sondheim piece had me entranced. If I ever father a daughter, I hope she's as keen/capable.

I'm a sentimental old fool.

Other softness issues
I'm still over-padded, but losing weight. Not as much as I'd hoped. However, the jeans which fit me last August fit me again... so that's a good sign.

Tuesday, June 20

Work and Fear

Yesterday
Yesterday I worked really hard. I was still in the office at around 7pm. This is because there's a lot to do, I'm enjoying doing it, and I think I've nearly turned the corner and broken the inertia.

It's still going to be a long journey. I hope that the dividends will be great when this is all done, though. I won't bother explaining it as it's boring and hard to put into words anyway.

After work I zoomed home, via Tesco for sushi, and had a very relaxing evening. It's sort of the calm before the storm. At some point soon, I'm going to have to think about moving my stuff from Farnborough. The gig diary will also get busy again, and that's going to take me away from things. In addition, I'd quite like to get out and about. I've been a bit sedate of late.

Highlights of yesterday evening include playing the Itbox at the local pub and getting a long much-needed shower.

Lunchtime Bank Appointment
As I'm arranging a new mortgage, it's only natural that I should fall prey to the vultures who are insurance brokers. Today was my appointment with such a broker. Nice chap, though he was, putting me at my ease before launching into his pitch, I'm reminded of Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary when it comes to insurance:
INSURANCE, n. An ingenious modern game of chance in which the player is permitted to enjoy the comfortable conviction that he is beating the man who keeps the table.
INSURANCE AGENT:
My dear sir, that is a fine house -- pray let me insure it.
HOUSE OWNER:
With pleasure. Please make the annual premium so low that by the time when, according to the tables of your actuary, it will probably be destroyed by fire I will have paid you considerably less than the face of the policy.
INSURANCE AGENT:
O dear, no -- we could not afford to do that. We must fix the premium so that you will have paid more.
HOUSE OWNER:
How, then, can I afford that?
INSURANCE AGENT:
Why, your house may burn down at any time. There was Smith's house, for example, which --
HOUSE OWNER:
Spare me -- there were Brown's house, on the contrary, and Jones's house, and Robinson's house, which --
INSURANCE AGENT:
Spare me!
HOUSE OWNER:
Let us understand each other. You want me to pay you money on the supposition that something will occur previously to the time set by yourself for its occurrence. In other words, you expect me to bet that my house will not last so long as you say that it will probably last.
INSURANCE AGENT:
But if your house burns without insurance it will be a total loss.
HOUSE OWNER:
Beg your pardon -- by your own actuary's tables I shall probably have saved, when it burns, all the premiums I would otherwise have paid to you -- amounting to more than the face of the policy they would have bought. But suppose it to burn, uninsured, before the time upon which your figures are based. If I could not afford that, how could you if it were insured?
INSURANCE AGENT:
O, we should make ourselves whole from our luckier ventures with other clients. Virtually, they pay your loss.
HOUSE OWNER:
And virtually, then, don't I help to pay their losses? Are not their houses as likely as mine to burn before they have paid you as much as you must pay them? The case stands this way: you expect to take more money from your clients than you pay to them, do you not?
INSURANCE AGENT:
Certainly; if we did not --
HOUSE OWNER:
I would not trust you with my money. Very well then. If it is certain, with reference to the whole body of your clients, that they lose money on you it is probable, with reference to any one of them, that he will. It is these individual probabilities that make the aggregate certainty.
INSURANCE AGENT:
I will not deny it -- but look at the figures in this pamph --
HOUSE OWNER:
Heaven forbid!
INSURANCE AGENT:
You spoke of saving the premiums which you would otherwise pay to me. Will you not be more likely to squander them? We offer you an incentive to thrift.
HOUSE OWNER:
The willingness of A to take care of B's money is not peculiar to insurance, but as a charitable institution you command esteem. Deign to accept its expression from a Deserving Object.

Anyhoo, the guy was trying to sell me critical illness cover. His pitch went along the following lines.

You, sir, are a very fat man who will inevitably get a hideous disease and maybe, if you're very unlucky, die of it. If this happens, and it will, we can give you an amazing lump sum, for free, to pay for everything you could possibly have borrowed on mortgages etc. Then you'll recover and be ill from laughing about how good a deal it was.

He tried to scare me, appeal to my sense of greed, and also shame me into taking out his policy. Great salesmanship - perhaps I shouldn't be so cynical... or perhaps I'm now old enough and wise enough to see through things like this.

Monday, June 19

Sunday

Sleeping late
Finally, I got to catch up on some Z's. I slept until I was done.

Shopping
Sleeping should be followed by shopping... probably. So, we headed into town and went to the Oxfam bookshop where I found book two of Dean Koontz's Frankenstein, book one of which I'd recently devoured, in the sense of reading it, rather than eating it.

Then we went to the pound shop and I bought Billy Connolly's biography. For a pound. I wouldn't work in the pound shop. The wages are terrible. £1 an hour... probably.

Then we found Holland and Barrett where I predicted we'd be able to buy some popcorn - just the corn, no salt, sugar or butter. We have an air-popper-popcorn maker. I reckon that popcorn is a fairly good food to eat in its plain form, and since we're both on diets, it's worth a go.

We had lunch too, in the form of Subway's healthiest sort of sandwich. If it's good enough for that chap from Supersize Me - the one who lost the weight - then it's good enough for me.

On the way back, we bought a pinboard and, joy of joys, a whiteboard, which I attached to the kitchen wall.

A movie
For evening entertainment, we decided to rent a movie. Actually, we wanted to rent the entire series of Lost, but owing to a rather odd excuse on the part of the video shop (that some people return some but not all of the discs of the multi-partite TV series) they don't stock it. So, we opted for Broken Flowers, a Bill Murray movie which looked like it might be good.

The popcorn, made for the pleasure of having with the DVD, is made by pouring the raw corn into a duck-shaped device which has the mechanism of a hairdryer in it. After a while of hairdrying, the smell of popcorn appears, and then it fires seeds at you for a bit. Then a few (well, a bowl full) pieces of the inflated corn, appear and you're laughing.

We laughed.

The movie was confusing. It's hard to know exactly who was doing what. It was more a character-journey sort of a movie. I liked it.

And that was Sunday.

Action Packed Saturday

Early To Rise
Despite the fact that we weren't early to bed, we were early to rise. D'oh. I was given a lift to the railway station at around 10am, which was far too early to be arriving at a railway station on a weekend. My girlfriend and her sister were off to see their younger brother at his university accommodation, where he should have been busy revising. I was off to see a musical. The plan was to hop on a train into London, mooch around a bit, see a matinee of a show, buy a tie and then come back in time for an evening out at a wedding we'd been retrospectively invited to the evening do of. That makes a sort of sense.

Arriving early at the station with no breakfast inside me, I made it my business to buy something edible. Then I bought a ticket and went to the platform for London Paddington trains. Platform 5, Reading Station (in case you were wondering).

The Early Train Was Late
The 10.19 (or something like that) was on the platform at 10.22. I reasoned that the earlier train would get through the tracks sooner, and that it was worth jumping on this train, rather than waiting for a later one. In fact, I don't think this logic holds up. While I think that later trains should technically follow behind the earlier one, something tells me that a train that's running to schedule may have more chance of arriving on time, than one which is already running late and may have to wait in order for sections of track it has missed to become available. It may be the case that the later train gets through sooner.

However, this was moot. After about 45 minutes the train ground to a halt. Both engines had failed. We weren't going anywhere. We were within sight of Southall station, but we couldn't go there as both engines were knackered.

Not Kicking Off
It was a hot afternoon, I'd not managed to get a seat on the train, so was standing near the toilet in the little foyer at the end of the carriage. I was surrounded by strangers and my day out in London had ground to a halt. However, I kept my temper. I had Jerry Springer The Opera on my personal mp3-player-eo, having been inspired to listen to it by the fact that the previous evening I booked tickets to see it in Brighton in July on what appears to be the closing night of its tour.

The cast of people surrounding me on the train was odd. There were a couple of French speaking types - no idea whether they were tourists or simply immigrants who were speaking in their native language. We had a couple, one of whom was a scot from Ayrshire (I found that out later) and his wife was antipodean in some way - I reckon she was a Kiwi. With a young family in one corner and a studenty dude in another, the only other person in this reasonably cramped foyer was a wiry dirty-looking fellow, who smelled of booze and has no fingernails left.

He was biting at the ends of his fingers and engaged in other nervous habits, which made me uneasy. His twiddling of his mobile phone was annoying, but it also looked like the prelude to something more ominous. As it happens, his agitation turned to muttering and then swearing (a bit) and general anger with the situation. It turns out that he doesn't like going on the train, even less does he like paying for the train. His comment on the value of the (broken down) train was that "I could have bought a train for what I paid for the ticket". I couldn't stop myself asking how much he'd paid for his ticket - £15. Luckily, my self-preservation instinct stopped me from telling him that the train probably cost more than that, and I, instead, quipped that it was worth only £14.

I was a little frightened of this guy, he turned out to be a builder and undoubtedly was able to cause more trouble than he was worth (or even than his ticket was worth). So, I engaged him in conversation. Talked his irritation out of him. He started joking. He was going to light a cigarette. Then he decided to do it out of the window, so as not to inconvenience the young family (I think he may have been a decent bloke deep down, even though he was mainly a fare dodger/boozer). He joked that they might throw him off the train for doing this, which was what he wanted, given that he was feeling claustrophobic and we were only actually a 1 minute walk from the next station.

The mood lightened and we all bonded. It was almost fun. It was also a long delay. They managed to drop off two engineers off from neighbouring trains, and each worked on a separate engine. We only needed one of them to start in order for us to be able to shuffle along to the next station.

Given that I'm not still on the train, I think it's fair to assume that somehow we made it.

Southall
The next station was Southall. We had vague instructions from the train manager about what to do next. He'd even suggested that they'd be diverting following London trains that would normally not stop at that station to pick us up. He mentioned something about getting refunds on our tickets if we filled out a form at Paddington. However, most people were just glad to get off the train we'd left. It had been hot. We had had access to free drinks - the buffet car gave its drinks away, which was nice. I hadn't bothered taking them up on this. I was quite content with the awkward conversations that I started.

Anyway, I headed off the platform in Southall without any clear idea of how I was going to proceed. I wandered over to the ticket information. I arrived just in time to see some posh late middle-aged guy turn on his mobile phone headset and say "Hello, I need a taxi from Southall station to Buckingham Palace, urgently." - excellent!

Hearing some vague rumour about a train to Paddington from some platform or other, I knocked myself into action, saw a sign in the small station which explained that the London train was usually found on a particular platform, one where there was a train waiting with "London Paddington" written on the front, and I got on it.

The train was air conditioned and appeared to take no time to get to Paddington. My day had had an awkward start, but now, like Evita Peron, I was off and rolling.

Leicester Square
Arriving at Leicester Square (which I did on foot, the tube only taking me as far as Piccadilly) I discovered that there was some sort of West End festival going on. Bonus. I like the West End. That's why I was in town.

Anyway, first things first. I wanted a ticket for Whistle Down The Wind. I found a ticket booth that wasn't busy and it sold me a good stalls seat for the show for £20. Bonza. Last time I saw the show, in Sunderland Empire, I ended up in a similarly good seat for £17, though I had to shuffle into position having bought a lesser seat. This show wasn't in Sunderland, though (thankfully). It in the Palace Theatre, the place where Les Mis played for 19 years, where Woman in White closed after a couple, where The Sound of Music and Jesus Christ Superstarplayed... and so on. Yes, I'm Andrew Lloyd Webber's bitch for seeing shows in his theatre, especially those which he wrote. I don't care. I like being his bitch. It's fun.

So, cheap ticket in the pocket and with time to kill, I got myself a Starbucks-a-china-rino, and hung out in the actual square from which Leicester Square got its name.

Eventually tiring of this, pausing only to collect a bag of free shit, I headed off in the direction of the theatre to make entertainment for myself before the show started. I wandered up to Dress Circle - a shop of musicals shit - and then back down Shaftesbury Avenue.

The Old Balcony Routine
Walking along Shaftesbury Avenue, I saw a party of school children waiting to cross the road opposite the theatre. They were calling to someone hanging out of the window of the theatre. They called his name. I recognised it as the name of the guy in the show whom I know. He's the brother of a friend of mine. The last time I saw him in December, he was watching me do a gig in Newcastle. Now, the tables were turned. Not only that, but here he was, hanging out of a theatre that I would be too shy to ask for a backstage tour of. I called to him.

We met at the backstage door. He knew that I might be coming and I'd been recommended to go by his brother, who had seen me whinging about musiclas on this blog and given me a shove Palace-Theatre-wards. We arranged to meet for a post-show coffee.

Whistle Down The Wind
I arrived at my seat in the stalls as the first person in the theatre. It wasn't to be a busy house, but I was early to my seat anyway. Through good fortune, I managed to bag myself a seat that was a good distance from the stage, yet in good proximity. I was also smack bang in the centre of the row and had an empty seat either side of me. Nobody bothered me in the slightest during the show.

Another bugbear of mine is that British people often talk over the overture of musicals. ALW had solved that one for me by having the opening number start about 4 bars into the show. A bit like the opening mime from some musicals, this number expressed in movement the backplot (some kids whose mother had died recently living in a small-town atmosphere of religious fervour), while simultaneously providing an evocative mood of music to get things going.

I've seen Whistle Down The Wind twice before. Today's performance was excellent. The opening number felt really big. Despite there being a small house (about 4-500), there was no dead atmosphere and the first number was barnstorming.

Flaws there may have been, but they didn't spoil the show for me.

Post Show Costa/Pizza Hut
After the show, I met its cast member, who had been understudying the part of the Deputy. We discussed the show, other shows, living the dream and anything else. We were in a weird Costa. It was weird because it was also a Pizza Hut. That's never happened to me before.

Back to Reading
I was going to listen to a musical on the train back to Reading, but ended up chatting to the guy next to me. He was a stonemason. We talked about masonry. If I ever go to Longleat and see the big fountains they have there I will be able to remakr - "I met the guy who made them".

Into Wedding Mode
Picked up from the station, perhaps later than I should have arrived, I got myself into wedding mode. This was largely a case of putting on a shirt and some aftershave. Then we went to a wedding. Evening do.

The wedding was my girlfriend's cousin's. It was pleasant enough. As we were leaving, they played music from Dirty Dancing and I wanted to to "the lift", but we didn't.

I drove my girlfriend's mother's car back so as to ensure that neither of her parents would take the wheel while potentially over or near the alcoholic limit set by law for driving. I hadn't drunk anything myself.

That was a fairly fun filled day.

TekCheck

Here's a bit of advice. If you want to get a job in IT, be honest about which skills you have and which you don't. You can't bluff a computer into believing you know a tool you don't.

When I applied for my present job, I wanted to be able to tell people that I knew .NET and C#. They were the tools/technologies being used to great effect by some of the teams in my last place. It was clear from looking at the jobs market that if I had these skills I'd be more employable. Friends told me that I could learn it pretty easily, and I'd done a bit of background reading about it. It looked easy enough and I reckoned I could get away with bluffing some interview questions on it. But I wasn't stupid enough to claim it as a skill. I could even have spent a few evenings doing some self-tuition and gotten away with passing a rudimentary programming test in C#, but I DID NOT CLAIM IT AS A SKILL.

Why am I emphasising this?

It seems that my wisdom in not lying on my CV was very sensible. I got the job on the skills I claimed I did have. The employer, though wanting me to program in this new technology, reckoned that if I could do what I claimed to be able to do, then I should be able to train up. So they tested me on the stuff I said I knew.

I passed the test. It was a pernickety and bloody awful test to take, but I did well enough to impress them. I interviewed well too and wanted the job by the time I left the building. Had I not passed the test enough I wouldn't have gotten the interview.

I got over 80 in the test, I'm not saying how much over 80. The test is measured in percentile terms. So 80 would mean that only 20 percent of the population could do as well as you did getting 80. 90 would mean you're in the top 10 percent and so on.

On Friday I was revved up to do the personal interview of someone who was in for a junior development role. He claimed to have loads of skills and technologies under his belt. He was an MSc student and seemed, from his CV, very keen.

He scored under 10 in the test. That's equivalent to the level of an aubergine.

DON'T LIE ON YOUR CV FOR TECHNICAL JOBS. TESTS CAN FIND YOU OUT!

Friday, June 16

Self referential is the best referential

I sometimes point you to my own writings, dear reader, and today is such an occasion. I found a blog entry that I started and didn't post, so I've whacked it online. I wrote it back in September, and it's filed where it would have gone had I posted it on the day. You can read it here, though I wouldn't get too excited about it.

It's a Documentary

Just as these chronicles are the documentary of my life, so The Da Vinci Code is a documentary about the church. Surely it must be!? It's all true. We went to see it on Wednesday night as part of the "thank Christ that the degree is over" celebrations. It was fun enough, but the reviews were right. It's a fairly empty experience with tons and tons of flashbacks and imparting of information, desperate to convey the sense of wonder at all the symbology that makes the book such an airport departure lounge read.

In the end, the show-not-tell necessity of film-making wasn't up to the job of making this an interesting film. With the exception of Ian McKellen's scene with "The Last Supper", most of the data in the film was just dull, or seemed less believable. It was a bit like the scene in Independence Day when they said "Hey, let's go to Area 51", thus weaving in the alien conspiracy stuff into an already overblown and unbelievable scenario.

Any film featuring Audrey Tatou is going to have its moments, and this film managed to keep our attention... just.

Working Like...
I've been working very hard this week. Coupled with two hand-in deadlines that have deprived us of sleep, it's no surprise that Friday finds me exhausted and stressed. I'm pleased to be so passionate about work that I'm prepared to stay in the office until 8pm. I'm also not pleased that I am facing some huge compromises in what I can realistically deliver. I still have the belief that any computer program can be written in a frenetic 48 hours of unbroken effort by one person.

Eviction
I found out last night that I'm going to be evicted from my rented accommodation in Farnborough? The landlord isn't following fire regulations and cannot justify spending the money to achieve them. So, we're out. This news came on the same day that I arrange the valuation for my house in Newcastle, which will enable me to remortage it in such a way as will cost me much less than the current mortgage (per ounce of borrowing) and will enable me to think of buying somewhere to live in this part of the world.

However, my plan to be resident in a new place in October seems to be at odds with my forthcoming explusion from my rented rooms.

To be honest, though, I've never really lived in Farnborough. I've kept my stuff there and had mail sent there. There were a few weeks when I did my washing there and even ate a couple of meals a day in the place... but I've spent virtually every night at my girlfriend's place. It's time to face facts. I'm wasting money pretending that I live in Farnborough. I can save more to put towards the house if I stop pretending.

Life Plan
I don't have one... I haven't had any sort of plan since that day in November 2005 when I said to myself - "Hey, why don't I quit my job and move 300 miles away from Newcastle".

I have felt a series of aftershocks. I think I'm the sort of person who takes the stability of life for granted. I just set up some stable things and assume they'll always be there. I want stability, indeed I need it. However, I don't work to maintain it. So, when I jumped headlong out of a window (metaphorically) last year, I didn't stop to consider how much adjusting there would be to do.

I think I have a plan emerging. It's this:

June - Do some gigs, relax a bit.
July - Do some more gigs and prepare for Edinburgh.
August - Camden Fringe (week1) , Edinburgh Festival (week3), back to reality.
September - Holiday (middle) and househunting
October - close a deal on a house
November - Be sorted out in a new home and life a year after I ran away from the last lot.

It's possible.

Wednesday, June 14

Musicals I Want To See

It's an exciting time for musicals at the moment. There is loads on in London, or coming to London, and I live close enough to go and see it all without it costing the earth in transport fees. Here is my list of things I'd like to see:
  • Avenue Q - a Sesame Street for adults style offering, I've loved this show since I first heard it. I foolishly left my CD of it in Newcastle and don't have it on MP3. I was prepared to travel to New York to see it. It's in previews in London already
  • Whistle Down The Wind - I've seen this a couple of times and enjoyed it each time. It's at the Palace Theatre, where Les Miserables was for many years and where The Woman in White opened and then closed. The theatre is due to play host to Spamalot soon, so I'd better be quick if I want to catch WDTW
  • The Sound Of Music - coming to the London Palladium later in the year. I am not a huge fan of Rodgers and Hammerstein, but I'm curious.
  • Evita - coming later in the year too. I like this show a lot and it will have been tweaked for its new production. Given that I've never seen it performed live, it would be nice.
  • Sunday In The Park With George - one of Sondheim's more curious works. I've got a recording of it, but it's playing live, so better to go and see it than try and fathom out what's going on from the CD
  • Jerry Springer: The Opera - I've seen this show plenty of times, but I want to see it again before it closes. Looks like Brighton in the first week of July is the time to do it
  • Guys and Dolls - I've been meaning to see this since it came out. I've promised a friend of mine that we'll go and see it. I think it may even have Patrick Swayze in the cast... it's gotta be done.
  • Dirty Dancing - if and when this hits the stage, I'll have to see it. I've seen the movie about 9 times recently and I will enjoy seing a stage version of it simply to amuse myself with all the dialogue that I remember by rote.
  • The Producers - I want to see this again. It's superb.
  • Phantom Of The Opera - I would like to take my girlfriend to see this. I think she'll like it. Seeing it a third time won't do me any harm either.
I think that's enough for now.

It's never enough.

That Mitchell & Webb Sound

I first heard Mitchell & Webb on April 20th this year. I delayed my exit from my car at the supermarket because I was so enthralled with the excellent delivery and high quality of script writing. It was inspiring stuff, but I wasn't sure whether I'd see or hear from it again. Incidentally, on that same day I also heard the Lee Mack show.

On my next trip to a purveyor of entertainment goods, I found myself buying both Mitchell & Webb and the Lee Mack show on CD. While both are good in their own way, Mitchell & Webb keeps coming to mind.

I would heartily recommend giving this stuff a good listening to. Highlights include the snooker commentators, sketches about loan consolidation, the nanny state, the way that media bring victims in to comment on public policy, and TV's obsession with programmes that show coverage of everyday things.

I wish I'd written it.

Tuesday, June 13

Some random links

Here are some sites to visit, based on today's browsing.
  • Online Conversion - a handy tool for converting weights and measures and pretty much anything
  • eBay - why do I spend so much money through these people?
  • Ninja Burger - not remarkably funny, but funny enough to include
  • Wikipedia - the best online encyclopedia ever. I've even recently made a change to their text - a spelling error, fixed!
  • My own trip to Dublin which I read a part of today. In fact, the key thing to note is that it was in April 2002 that I suddenly discovered that I was losing my hair. My passport shows a hairy man (it's a ten year passport with time still left) and I'm now remarkably smooth of head, considering
  • And another link today, three years ago also on this site. This was long before I knew what it was like to be a comedian. This was also the first time I met the person who called me on the phone last night to talk about a gig we'll be doing together at the Fringe this year(my 3rd Fringe as a performer).
  • Quite a good article, interviewing Stewart Lee, who cites Edinburgh Fringe as a reason to live... wow
That'll do for now. The idea of a weblog is to tell people about sites I've visited. Sometimes I think people should find their own sites.

The Final Straight

This is it. The last few hours of my girlfriend's degree. She has a hand-in tomorrow and then it's just waiting for the results left, and there's nothing we can do about the results after the last hand-in, so there's no pressure.

It feels a lot like life has been on hold for the last few months, which I think is very normal for someone taking a degree. Had I written this blog back when I was at university, perhaps I would have some written record of how I felt in 1995 when my degree was coming to an end. I remember diverting from it a lot - I applied for a Sabbatical post in December 1994, didn't get it, so applied for a different Sabbatical post in Feb 1995, which I did get. When I say I applied for the post, both were elected position. The first was the UJS Education Officer role, a post which would have put me in London for a year. The second was the Newcastle University Student Union Sabbatical Secretary role, which involved much more canvassing and which I won. I don't know exactly how I won it, but I'm not going to worry about that now.

In some ways, the sabbatical roles shaped my life the most. I also stood for another UJS role in December 1995 (Chair) and didn't get that. Not getting that role had a similarly significant effect on my life. Staying in Newcastle hadn't been the plan after university, but the Sabbatical Secretary role, and the relationship it introduced me to, which was not threatened by the UJS chairship, was what it took to put me in Newcastle for a further 10 years.

I have no regrets about staying in Newcastle. I have plenty of regrets about the mortgage I'm presently paying on my house there. The rate just went to over 7%. For what I'm paying on this mortgage, I'll be able to remortgage for a much higher amount, the wheels of which are presently in motion.

But I digress.

So, in 1995, my degree was coming to an end. In February of that month there were the first set of final year exams, and then the madness started. Somehow in that time, I managed to win a competition as a stand-up comedian (albeit in a very limited sense) and also arrange a comedy gig, and be in a band (all in the space of about a month). By the time April came round and I'd missed more of the degree than perhaps I should have, it was really too late to do much to avert the disaster that was my results.

I got a third class degree. Had I handed in a bit of coursework which I meant to but couldn't be bothered to, it would have become a 2:2. It was that close.

I now work as a senior software developer in the field of my degree. I've done a lot of growing up since then and I'd like to think that I'm quite good at what I do. Back in June 1995, I was sick to death of computers and never wanted to work with one again. It was like waking up every day and finding it to be Friday, but the weekend never actually started. Tiresome.

So, as of Wednesday, it's all over for my other half. Hopefully, the next few months will see her shake off the stresses of the last few, will see me lose some more weight, and will see a damned good start to a fun summer.

Having worked hard all year without so much as a half day off (excepting public bank holidays) I could really use a break.

Weight a minute

Well, I started losing weight sometime in April. I reckon it was the start of April. I've been measuring my weight periodically in May and I lost a lot before I started. Usually, you lose more in the first couple of weeks, but I've run the line of best fit as a straight line back through the points:

Wow

This graph suggests that I've lost 12 kilograms. That's 26 and a half pounds. Today I crossed a stone boundary, the first time I've properly done that since I've been measuring (the first measure was exactly on a boundary).

I'm very heavy, but it's going the right way.

Monday, June 12

A Weekend of Virtually Bugger All

If I could list my achievements this weekend, then I would be a better creative writer than I am. I've done very very little this weekend. I have relaxed and rested, avoided the heat, eaten and... well virtually nothing. I've been present for moral support for the girlfriend, as she comes to the last straight on her course. This is not fun for her, and we'll all be glad when it's over. However, the occasional bit of help here and there doesn't explain how the time for the weekend passed. Here are the three top things that I did, which I might remember the weekend for had it been memorable:
  • Reading
  • Watching football
  • Going to a music shop
In typical Ashley-fashley-fashion, I shall write a little on each of these, and then we can call it a day (well two days). Right?

Reading
Every so often I rediscover reading. I'm back in a reading mood at the moment. I whipped through a Dean Koontz book (Frankenstein Book One) which I think I finished on Friday night. Then I whipped through Bob Monkhouse's autobiography - "Crying With Laughter".

This is the second time in the space of just over a week that I've read a book by someone who has been involved with showbiz in some way. Where "Laughing Matters" (Steve Jacobi) was by someone who interviewed the real stars and had a go himself, "Crying With Laughter" was by someone who had really "been there" and "done that". From blagging his way into showbusiness to working his way through countless years of doing it, Bob's self-portrait gave me additional respect for the man.

Note to self: autobiographies almost always make you look good. Write one.

Watching Football
I don't make a point of watching football most of the time. It holds only minor interest for me, and I cannot be bothered with learning enough about a single team to follow it.

However, world-class football is always worth watching. I sort of care whether England does well, though I'd be disappointed if England were to win the World Cup. We're a nation of losers and our national identity would not recover if we actually won an international competition.

I saw about three matches this weekend. I didn't impress anyone when I called the referee of the England game a "knob head", but he was.

The Music Shop
Back in March 2005, Saturday March 19th to be precise, I went to a guitar shop which really impressed me. It was immense, full of guitars and just lovely. Given that it was in Glasgow, I didn't think I'd be impressed again that often (perhaps I'll drop back there if I'm ever staying a weekend in the place). I've been to several music shops since, bought various bits of kit, looked at items on the internet and generally felt like I couldn't be impressed again.

Then I went to Dawson's music in Reading. Oh. My. God!

The shop is huge. It has guitars, keyboards, PA equipment, computer equipment, classical instruments, books... it's a musician's heaven. The visual effect of seeing walls covered in hanging guitars is astounding. I think that a guitar is crafted to look like a symbol of power. Seeing hundreds on display in one space is quite something.

All I wanted was some strings, but I was in the shop a full half hour, and came out with some extra gadget or other that might make my gigging life a bit easier.

Final note
Watching live music on TV last night, I noticed that lots of people are playing Telecasters. Perhaps my Telecoustic is going to make me look like I'm "down with the kids".

Thursday, June 8

What a Condition

I scooted out of work into the borrowed red Mazda 323F (M-reg and quite nippy) and sat-navigated my way back to the garage. They'd called me at 3.30 to tell me that the car was ready except for the brakes, which they'd not investigated because they couldn't get the wheels off due to the locking wheel nuts. I told them where the locking wheel nut removal kit could be found and they were charged with sorting out the jammed front brake - which had been giving me some bother, jamming on and causing vibration when I applied the brakes.

As I arrived at the garage, my car was coming out of the workshop and heading for its road test. I hung around, paid for the work (expensive at plenty-of-pounds - about 1% of my gross annual salary) and then scooted off to my gig. I sat-navigated the country-roads route to the M40, rather than go on roads which I'd been hearing about on the radio traffic news on the way to the garage.

The first thing I noticed about the car was that it ran a bit smoother, but there's still a vibration - I believe that that can be attributed to the fact that all four tyres are knackered. Oh dear. More expense.

However, the big thing I discovered is the pleasures of air conditioning. I've had air-con (not to be confused with crap Nicholas Cage movie - Con Air) in the car since I bought it, obviously, but there's a difference between having the controls and having an air conditioner with fresh gas in its system. I was chilly, straight away (indeed on the way to work this morning in a car which was baking hot when I got into it, it was only a minute before I was really cooled down!). This is a great development and well worth the 100 pounds it cost.

So, the drive to the gig last night was pretty reasonable fun. I listened to the radio, including David Baddiel's "Heresy" on Radio 4. I drove on some slightly congested, but non-threatening, country roads. I zoomed along the motorway at barely legal speeds... and some desperately illegal speeds.

Wolves
I arrived in Wolverhampton at about 7.30pm, which was 45 minutes before I'd been asked to. I parked outside the pub where the gig was to be held. I used my gig radar to decide whether it would be a busy night. Few people on the streets, few people already in the pub, our survey said it was unlikely. I then checked out the room of the gig - presently empty and dark - a nice music venue with a high stage. I changed my trousers, got a drink, played on the pub's electronic quiz machine thing, and eventually collected my guitar and went back upstairs.

I found the organisers miraculously present in the room and I helped set up the sound. In fact, I more set up my own sound, then helped them with theirs. For some reason, my guitar came out of the main loud speakers on first attempt, despite the fact that there were several connections and settings involved, but I was only able to get the microphone to come out of the monitor speaker, despite trying several different permutations.

However, I got to play with a big 24 track sound desk, despite clearly not knowing enough about it to get around this odd limitation, which was nice.

There was a good cast of people to play the gig, with two comperes and the organiser doing a set himself - he usually comperes. I couldn't remember agreeing a fee for the gig. In fact, I distinctly remember agreeing to do it for free... and for 10 minutes only. My expectations were slightly exceeded when my time slot was upgraded to longer and I was put on last. This turned out to be a mixed blessing. My gig radar hadn't really let me down. The room wasn't throbbingly busy, but a pleasant crowd of 20 or so turned up (including the 8 acts). It had a really nice atmosphere and some of the acts were good and some were developing nicely. It was fun.

Going on last had problems for me on this occasion. When it was working, it was great. However, I took to the stage at 10.50, and the audience had seen 7 other people performing before me. They'd also witnessed a long-winded joke competition, a hard-to-follow compere (the wonderful Johnny Sorrow) and... well, from the moment I stood in front of them, I felt that they weren't going to be easy. I had to work for it. If I was being loud and brash, they went for it. At some moments, it was magic. However, if I dropped my energy levels, they dropped with me.

I've said it before, the walk up is deceptively important. You'd think that an audience wouldn't form an opinion until you did something, but the way you appear on the stage is one of the things that they see you do. It's very important. I didn't do it well enough and had to compensate. However, what feels like a lifetime on stage actually last about 9 seconds on the recording, so it didn't seem like I was really struggling when I played it all back.

I tried a few new lines, which was nice, some were spoken, some were sung. I think I need to write a new national anthem, which overlaps something Bill Bailey has already done, but since his was "Portishead sings Zippedy Doo Dah" and mine would be something very different, I think I can safely assume that I'm not copying him... and that maybe his "national anthem" thing was just a convenient way of setting up the Portishead parody.

Stand-up
I really like some of my songs and I enjoy them.

But I really want to be able to make the amusement without the guitar. It feels like it's holding me back. Perhaps if I write some jokes - I've got ideas for them - maybe I'll be able to do them and make people laugh that way. Without a regular gig to use as a place to experiment, it's going to be hard. D'oh.

Maybe the nail in the coffin came last night when a comedian told me that they liked my musical stuff and then named the only other musical act they liked... an act that I simply cannot stand! I don't even consider this person a musical act, which is a shame, because they play guitar very well, but just includes one (terrible) song in their set.

I think we all know that I'm going to remain a musical act for the foreseeable future. Still, I can dream.

Instructive
Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. This isn't universally true, but when I've seen someone fail miserably at something in front of me and then later found out that they teach that thing... well, perhaps it's made me chuckle. Perhaps there is a big difference between practical knowledge and academic appreciation. Still, the best teachers CAN.

Wednesday, June 7

I Quite Like Wednesdays

I think I've always liked them. They're nicely in the middle of the week, they have an interestingly spelled name, they seem happy and smiley. Much better than Thursdays, which are evil. I was always very impressed when Douglas Adams put something along these lines into the head of Arthur Dent in the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. I suppose it's not surprising that I should feel this way, given the position of Wednesday in the regular working week - i.e. the middle. Thursday is halfway between the middle and the end - it doesn't know where it is. However, I'm not the sort of person who finds work to be a bind that he tolerates all week long with the hope of a weekend as his reward.

My work is what I do. My weekends are also a part of what I do. In between times I gig. I used to rehearse for musicals (I'm starting to miss that a lot). That's how my life works. It should all be good. If something isn't good, then it should be changed. This is true for software as much as it is true for life. If you have the power to change it, then you should. I guess I was right to make the changes in my life in November when I hated the environment in which I worked. I was right to hate it. It was failing me and it was failing itself. I was probably a part of that problem, but a bigger problem was the fact that I was being professionally-emasculated by all around me. As a result I was very unhappy.

I'm happier now.

It's Wednesday. The sun may or may not be shining (I'm here in front of a screen and not facing a window). I lost weight again this week (sometimes I think that my entire week is just a prelude to the Tuesday evening weigh-in), taking my grand total of weight loss to the value of X. I don't know what X is, but it's good. I'm still much heavier than the low weight I attained by January 2003. It only took me from May 2002 to January 2003 to get to a really splendid shape (for me). I started in April this year, so if I'm good, I might find myself similarly shaped in December. We'll see. I'll have to replace trousers along the way if this happens. I'm prepared to do that if necessary.

So, things are goodish.

Sadly, my car is in for service. This can only prove to be expensive. On the up side (there's always an up side with me) the air conditioning is being serviced too, so the hot weather will have an antidote for me. On the down side, I'm fairly certain that they'll want to replace two tyres and some brakes. I don't know whether the car will be ready in time for me to take it to Wolverhampton tonight. I currently have a loan car, which I can drive to my girlfriend's house and then borrow her car for Wolverhampton, but I'd rather take my own car. I've a funny feeling that the leads I left in its boot will prove rather vital for tonight. I remembered to put my guitar and stand into the loan car, but it's always the thing which you could have brought but left behind that proves to be the one thing you need.

So, the service and the possibility of wiring difficulties (and traffic caused by delays in getting on the road properly) threaten to turn this happy Wednesday into a Troublesome Thursday-esque day, or possibly the equivalent of a Manic Monday. A Funky Friday would be too weird, so let's leave that out.

Tuesday, June 6

Seven Flavours of Humour

Having recently read a book on comedy and having mused for several years on this subject, I thought that I'd now try to itemise the things which make us laugh. I've been thinking of these since August 2002 - before I became a stand-up comedian. Actually, I'd been a bit of a stand-up for a few months while a student, but only within the confines of the student movement and nowhere near in the same way as I am one now.

So. Here is my list:

1. Wordplay
2. One upmanship
3. Pain
4. Surprise
5. Recognition
6. Twisting reality
7. Taboo

I'll go into more detail on each. It's worth pointing out that these are not enough to make a joke from, nor are they necessarily enough to describe a comedy moment. Often it's a mixture of these flavours that makes us laugh, but I think these are the primary motivations to laughter.

Wordplay
Reaction: Oooh, that word is like that other word, even though the concepts are totally unrelated

The basis of most clean humour, the pun is a strong tool in English comedy. Wordplay can also be a matter of putting something in language which it is not normally put in. Describing something with a flowery term, or in a particularly accurate fashion that someone hasn't heard can be a good example of wordplay.

Wordplay can also be a gateway to revealing other comedy emotions.

One upmanship
Reaction: Oooh, so and so is about to win this battle of wills
Reaction 2: Oooh, I get that, which makes me smarter than the average person

Some sense that there's a challenge going on and that you can either observe it, or be a part of it, safely in the confines of your seat, can be amusing to the point of humour. I think a lot of the comedy comes from the pain (next flavour) but there is a smugness factor which is not to do with pain. If, for instance, someone cracks a joke with a French punchline and you understand enough French to get it, part of the amusement comes from a self-congratulatory competitive streak.

Pain
Reaction: Oooh, that hurt, thank goodness it wasn't me

This is the man with the plank turning round and smacking his friend in the head joke. It's the heart of slapstick, but it's also the heart of schadenfraude.

Surprise
Reaction: Now, I wasn't expecting that to happen

Often used as the set up into wordplay. This joke is the heart of the pull-back and reveal. Magicians do it. They claim to be able to make a bunch of flowers and reveal a duck. We laugh in surprise. So also, this is the heart of the 1-2-3 reveal format. Example. My car is brilliant, it's got a great stereo, big engine and no wheels. Surprise!

Recognition
Reaction: You're so right... I've noticed that too... it's funny because it's true

A very basic level of humour, which I think appeals to the lowest common denominator somewhat. It's about joining together to agree violently about opinion or shared experience. It's not wit. It can be just shared joy. It's entirely what Peter Kay does.

Recognition, I think, can work well when joined with the next one, twisting of reality.

Twisting reality
Reaction: That think which I recognise, seems somewhat foreign when you describe it like that

This is where we do the emperor's new clothes sort of thing, pointing at something that is accepted and recognised and showing it in a new light. Perhaps it's purposely twisted into a ludicrous shape. Perhaps in this form it's cast into a more realistic light showing insight. Either way, we laugh at the result.

For example, "the thermos keeps hot things hot and cold things cold... how does it know?".

Taboo
Reaction: I'm embarrassed, but it's ok. Oooh, you shouldn't say that, but it's only a joke.

This relies on bringing up things which are normally not spoken about, but doing so in a way that allows the audience to trust you, thus allowing them to suspend their sensibilities and, thus suspended, laugh their bastard arses off at that which is not allowed to be thought of or spoken of in that way.

Antagonism

As I have mentioned in the past, I have a low tolerance for stupidity. The few times I make actual verbal jokes in my set, they tend to be about stupidity, either intentional on my part, or in other people. I can't be happy about inadequancy, in myself or anyone, it's not something I'm programmed to turn a blind eye to. Actually, we're all programmed to turn a blind eye to our own inadequacies (at least in Western culture).

Anyway, the other thing which has always bothered me is an unjust telling off. In other words, if someone asserts their temper at me and whatever they're having a go at me for is not my fault, or if they are actually in the wrong themselves, then I really resent their attempts to make me feel small over something which I don't deserve to be made for feel small about. A simple example of this is one of the guys at work, who has a look about him which sometimes make you want to punch him in the mouth. People who have met me might recognise this as a description of me, but believe me, there are others. It's the way he permanently appears to be smirking. Again, I realise I have this problem too. Anyway, at some point, I said to him something like this:

Ashley: You sent a message saying it was fixed. I tried it and it's not.
Him: The change hasn't propagated yet, why did you test it?
Ashley: I just forced a test.
Him: You mustn't do that. If everyone did that there'd be loads of tests queued up. It will test itself when the change has propagated.

Seems like a reasonable exchange. Except that it is not possible to queue up these tests, it's either running or it's not. And the propagation isn't instant. By pressing the button the moment I found he'd made the change, I forced the propagation. In fact, he'd not added his change to the system yet. So, it was his early report which was wrong. My action was reasonable, if perhaps slightly impatient. I took it on the chin rather than arguing. When I have a big battle, I'll fight it. Sometimes keeping the peace is better.

So, you get the idea. I'll get very peeved if someone has a go when I don't deserve it. Sometimes I want to take revenge. I'll present two further cases.

The Witch
Mindful as I am that people from work might read this, I shall try to avoid turning it into a battle in real life. I was trying to work with someone who has their own perception of how our software works. In their view a particular feature should be provided in multiple ways with a fall-back version if the alternative ways were not available on a particular machine. As an analogy, let's use the example of colour schemes. Let's imagine that for every user's choice of colour scheme, the software can either provide its own complementary colours, or drop back to the default colour scheme, if the user's chosen colour scheme is not one of the ones we support.

Now, this makes sense so far, I think. The question came about the distinction between the default colour scheme - the one provided by the system - and the colour scheme that we use in our office. Let's say in our office we use the colour scheme "reds". So while making the software we make everything with "reds" and also provide a default, which happens to look the same as "reds". The person I was talking to was arging that, despite the fact that these are the same - i.e. the default colour scheme happens to look idential to "reds" - they're not the same. One is the default, and one is "reds". This is a hard argument to follow, but I agreed with her. This is the difference between conceptual models and actual models. In concept, the default is the default, accessed by default when, for instance, someone chooses "blues" and we don't support "blues", so we drop back to "default" which happens to be red, but that's irrelevant. It's default we drop back to.

However, and this is the tricky bit. The conceptual model is just that. The code we write uses the actual model, which allows the conceptual model to come into existence as planned, but which can actually work in a different way. My problem was that I knew how the code actually works. In the code, you don't actually have any difference between "reds" and "default". They're one and the same. However, they're accessed through different avenues. In trying to explain that there was a difference between conceptual and actual model, I got a mouthful. I explained that the conceptual model could be satisfied if, secretly, "default" were an alias for "reds". I got a furious faced conversational partner. I was flummoxed, especially since I knew too much about the code and knew that it just didn't work the way the conceptual model wanted to pretend.

There was a good reason to make the distinction between "default" and "a specific set". The good reason is that the "default" might remain immutable while each specific set gets customised (so, the default might be deep reds like the original "reds", even if the "reds" are changed to lighter tones). However, this doesn't actually happen (another difference between conceptual and actual - conceptual allows for more possibilities that don't happen).

So, I kept the peace, backed out of the conversation explaining that I needed to research it and swallowed my pride. Most of all, I tried to avoid questioning why I was getting a mouthful of bitterness from someone I work with. I don't shout people down like that at work, and I don't expect to be shouted down in that way. I'll admit that there are times for empassioned arguments, but they're not to be directed with venom, just fervour. I was getting genuine anger. As though I was stupid.

I am not very stupid. A little, perhaps, but not very.

Well, I have found the punchline of this tale. Where I thought that we, perhaps, aliased an existing scheme to get "default", the answer is more delightful. We have a concept of "default". In that we do things the way they look to us - i.e. "reds". However, we don't actually provide a "reds". Instead, when the user chooses "reds", the system falls back to the default which happens to be all red. Nobody is any the wiser.

This is perverse and alien to the conceptual model. We don't provide the one specific scheme that we appear to suppose. It's beautiful. I want to ram it down the throat of the person who shouted at me...

...but I'm too much of a gentleman.


The Boy Racer
The car driving behind me last night was behaving in an aggressive and odd manner. I suppose the car wasn't behaving at all, the driver was to blame. A lad in his twenties with an attitude problem. Strangely, I think we perceive the union of car and driver as one. Anyway, the problem from the driver behind's point of view was that we weren't going very fast along the roads. In addition, he seemed to have someone following him, so I think he was concerned about the car behind. He was an arrogant little twat, either way.

At some point, he was throwing his arms up at me, suggesting I should go faster. I would gladly have done so, but there was a car in front of me and I didn't think it safe to overtake. The car behind got into the overtaking position - well, he flung his car into that position - as though to prove some sort of point. I tried to helpfully point to the car in my way and shrug it off. He remained a dick.

When the car in front got out of the way, I put my foot down and put some distance between me and the knob-end. Soon, however, a line of traffic was in front of me and the imbecile reappeared in my rear view. He appeared to be waving me and willing me forwards with his fingers. Occasionally, he shouted. It was partly comical and partly intimidating. I reckoned that I had the weight advantage, power advantage, age and maturity advantage, and bloody mindedness to survive. I took to driving at the speed limit. Where we had to slow down for obstacles in the road, I did so very deliberately... so as to piss him off. I also positioned my car in such a position which hampered his opportunity to overtake. It was a minor series of revenges.

I enjoyed the revenge.

It made me look at my own behaviour, though. I can drive up close and impatiently. I'd like to think that I do that when the driver in front is in the outside lane when they should be on the inside, or is driving at ludicrously low speed with an empty road in front of them. Either way, I shouldn't behave that way. Though I would add that people who are not so much as drivers as moving obstacles should probably find other modes of transport.

So perhaps I'm just as bad.

Monday, June 5

Waking up

I seem to have spent a lot of the weekend asleep. As a result my head is woozy and my back aches. However, it's Monday morning and I was on the road to work at around 8am, which is impressive. It is less impressive when you factor in the fact that I was in bed long before 11pm. Owing to traffic, I didn't manage to get into work before 9. However, it wasn't a horrific drive in and I wasn't entirely with it - I was probably using my spider-senses to drive with. I am not Spiderman, but I think I still have spider-senses. It's my spider-senses which allow me to drive with my subconscious and also allow me to solve coding problems while I'm not thinking about them.

The problem which had plagued my last couple of hours at work on Friday evening was fixed with a small and subtle change, the nature of which had revealed itself to me while I wasn't directly thinking about it over the weekend. So, before 10am, I had changed the landscape of my particular set of problems. Not bad for a zombie.

Dirty Dancing
Although I don't have a huge amount to report about the weekend, I'll have a go. For a start, the movie Dirty Dancing was played a couple more times. I didn't ask for this, and I didn't watch it very much. My girlfriend appears to need it to be played, though, and if it helps her get through the day, then I have no particular objection to it. I think that Dirty Dancing has everything. You name any sort of movie genre, and it has it. I'll demonstrate:
  • Chick flick - duh!
  • Comedy - it's bloody hilarious, with lines such as "My mom kicked me out when I was 16 and I've been dancing ever since" - it's going to be a joke
  • Musical - it's definitely a musical. They use song and dance scenes to advance character and plot and there are moments when an entire crew of people suddenly seem to know all the moves to a piece of music - see the "everyone walking down the aisle to 'Baby' on the stage" scene
  • Horror - this is one of the scenes they cut. When the abortionist is working on Penny (Swayze's dance partner) using "dirty knives and a foldaway table", Johnny's cousin can "hear her screams all the way down the corridor" but despite trying to bust in, he finds his way barred. Imagine that shown in graphic detail - it's a horror/slasher movie scene for sure.
  • Cop/Crime movie - another of the sub-plots. In this case, it's the old couple who go around the resorts stealing wallets. It's down to "Baby's" "detective work" that this couple are apprehended. Indeed, if it were not for their undercover operation, dancing mambo at the Sheldrake hotel, Johnny and Baby would never have found the clues to indicate the old couple. The original tag line for the movies was going to be "She's an ethically minded future member of the Peace Corps, he's a dancing meatloaf - together they fight crime".
  • Western - yeah it's a western! They're up high on a mountain, right? In the wilderness of America. Who's down below? I'll tell ya who. Indians! Thousands of 'em.
  • Ghost movie - Swayze's not really alive...
  • Martial arts - some more off-screen action there. During some of Swayze's high-kicking dance steps, Jackie Chan is just off screen getting them in the face.
See. I'm wondering whether this might not work as a party-trick on stage.

Or maybe not.

A lack of G strings
The hilarity you might create with the phrase G string is your own lookout. I'm a professional. I don't giggle at talk of G strings when I'm thinking about my guitar. When I'm thinking of ladies' underwear, I am, of course, a snickering wreck. It doesn't even have to be any particular sort of ladies' underwear. Just ladies' undergarments in general.

Anyway, the problem I set out to solve on Saturday was caused at the gig the other day where my guitar string snapped during my "ditty". I still need a name for this ditty, but that's important right now. I like to have a couple of spare sets of strings with me - this means that I can break a string during the soundcheck, replace it, break the replacement, and still have a chance of having 6 of the right strings on the guitar during the performance.

I don't go round purposely breaking guitar strings, but my supply has managed to dwindle. Bizarrely, though the B and E strings, which are the thinnest on the guitar, are supposed to be the most breakable, I usually break the A, D and G strings. Mainly the G. These are the thickest of the strings with the exception of the E string at the top of the guitar, which I seldom break. I don't know exactly what I do that breaks these strings, but they break. G mainly.

So, my G's had run out. I had to find a guitar shop. I had to find one which sold strings individually (I begrudge paying £6 for an entire pack of strings when I need only one of them). I also needed to find one which had the G's - or bronze-wound acoustic 0.24 as I like to call it to avoid saying G-string and to avoid getting one that's of the wrong thickness for my thick fingers.

If you want to find a guitar shop somewhere you've never bought guitars, you have to wander aimlessly and look out for two things:
  1. A guitar shop - obvious really
  2. A guitarist - noticeable by the guitar on his back
In this case, I found the latter. He pointed me to a shop that was "100 metres down the road". Metres! What the hell? I didn't realise that we'd really gone metric. Young people!

Here's a tip. To get an idea of the quality of a guitar shop, look at the guitars in the Window. If they're Fender, Ibanez, Martin, Taylor or Gibson, then you've got a good guitar shop - they stock good guitars and they advertise the fact. If the guitars are mainly Squier, Stagg or Encore, then you have a guitar shop that sells shit and is proud of it. Not that Squier guitars are that shit. I have two Squiers, both of which I'm fond of, and would swap for their equivalent Fenders if I had the money or used them enough to warrant it.

Both guitar shops I visited were good. They had some good guitars in the window and a good selection of instruments inside. Despite this, I managed to get only spares for my A and D strings, the G strings being out of stock in both places. In the first shop I got excited and started looking at guitar cases too. My guitar bag is in reasonably poor condition and I would like one which can cushion the guitar and also provide space for leads and the other assorted crap I carry with me. I didn't find a case - the fact that the shop had a Telecoustic guitar like mine in stock helped me find that they didn't have a bag that fit it. I did, however, buy a neat little fold-away A-frame stand. I may be able to carry this stand around with me more easily than I can carry my other stand. We'll see.

Other in-town missions
I'd walked into town this Saturday with the idea of getting some exercise, getting some guitar strings and a haircut. The strings mission had failed. The exercise had worked in as much as I was on my feet for a couple of hours and some of that was the walk into town. The unspoken mission to get lunch was also successful as Subway provided me a salad - though it took a lot of effort to explain that I wanted this standard item from the menu.

Ashley: Can I have a chicken teriyaki salad, please.
Man: What bread?
Ashley: No, a salad?
Man: (pointing to the bread and speaking slowly, like I didn't know what I was doing) Which roll?
Ashley: (miming a round bowl) No the salad... in a bowl.
Man: Salad?
Ashley: Yes.

That was unnecessarily complex.

The haircut didn't happen either. I had a hot head and couldn't be bothered waiting in the shop. I bought a smoothie, though, which was near the hairdresser's and was a good consolation prize.

Sadly, my missions were all a failure. I didn't have the energy to walk back to the house - the hot day and the aimlessish wandering had pretty much done for my legs - so I called my girlfriend and got a lift.

Laughing Matters
Over the course of the weekend I also read the book Laughing Matters by Steven Jacobi. As I mentioned in a previous post, I bought this book somewhat narcissistically as I thought it might mention me. It did, and I had a few moments of amusement out of that. However, the book is not about me... as such. It's about the experiences of someone, who feels himself to be ill-equipped to be a stand up comedian, trying to become a stand-up comedian. If you want a fairly accurate view of the book, read the link on its name, as I agree with a lot of the reviewer's comments.

However, despite not being a particularly illuminating book, and without any particular story arc to follow, or indeed any major events to get excited about, this was an enjoyable read. I suppose it may be something to do with the fact that it occasionally mentioned people whom I know (like me, but not just me), places I've been and places I ought to go. The interest in the subject of comedy was genuine and came from a rather detached point of view. A lot of what he said was accurate. A number of the questions he raised I arrogantly believe I could answer.

More importantly, this book was quite similar to the sort of book I might have written myself if I'd stopped after a handful of gigs. The only difference between Steven Jacobi and myself is that he seems to have managed to get a back-stage pass into some places I would never have imagined attempting to go. Even now, I could not imagine requesting an audience with Ken Dodd. Conversely, I would definitely bore my reader with the excruiciatingly detailed descriptions of my days out (see this entire blog) even listing which drinks and muffins I'd had alone the way. You need only read my fringe diaries to see this in action.

So, an odd read, but a brief one.

Barbie but no Ken
The heat seems to have sapped my strength. After sleeping in late on Sunday I managed to do very little. I went to get some drinks from the garage - an expensive hobby. Then I inspected the barbecue we were to cook lunch/dinner on (one meal fits all), decided we needed some long-handle barbecue equipment, went out to find some, failed, came back, lit the barbecue, cooked everything and then felt very tired.

I slept in the middle of the day and also went to bed early. All I managed in between was a couple of board games. I don't know why I was so tired. Perhaps smoke inhalation? Perhaps the heat of the day wears me out. Perhaps I've been saving up some huge need for sleep. I don't know.

On the up side, though, I had managed to barbecue the food from raw, which was not what the instructions on the food had demanded. What sort of a nanny state do we live in when it becomes necessary for food to come with instructions that require you to oven cook the food before giving it to the barbecue chef? What right has TV chef Gordon Ramsay to suggest that men should not be allowed to barbecue food? This is just plain rubbish. I'll be honest with you, barbecuing all but burgers and steaks (which tolerate being eaten half-raw) can be risky. Indeed, sausages and chicken can be particularly poisonous if cooked incorrectly. Particularly chicken. However, wings are not too bad - not much flesh on them - and anything marinated is equally fairly easily cooked. You just have to know what you're doing.

I whole-heartedly object to the nanny-state principle of "well, you can have a god, but do everything the safe and dull way first". It's like the adults of the nation have been reduced to the equivalent of a child given a rubber hammer and told to knock nails in the final millimeter with it (when in fact all the nails have been put in by a responsible adult). The idea of cooking on a barbecue is just that. It's not to "give the food a barbecue flavour after it's been cooked". If you want to do that, then why spend money on charcoal and firelighters? Just borrow some ash from a neighbour's barbecue and put it under your nose while you eat the oven-baked food! I am a barbecue purist in the sense that I think food should be cooked by the heat from the coals.

I am not going to get all eggy about what sort of charcoal to use, or whether lighting with firelighters is cheating.

I did a reasonable job of the cooking. A few things looked a bit cremated, but I sampled everything and nothing tasted burnt. I had made a mound of coals which was thicker in the middle and sparser on the outside to give me different speeds of cooking and different temperatures. It would appear that I'd made the middle too hot to do anything especially useful, so I think I probably made a mistake there. However, perhaps I didn't, as the whole thing burned long enough to do the job and I had the option to flash fry something if it needed it. The chicken was kept off centre. It was very nice.

It's odd, but barbecuing is important to me. Simple as that. I like it to be done properly.

The process of getting the thing going is still a bit arduous. I would like to learn some better techniques. My method seems to involve a lot of fanning and blowing. I had a piece of cardboard cut from the box of an electric fan we bought on Saturday night - this seemed strangely appropriate for the job in hand.

Blethering
Apologies for the long and blethering nature of this post. As I mentioned at the start, it's Monday morning. The plan for the morning was to sort out the problems from Friday evening and then connect my work with everyone else's - reintegrate as it were - in preparation for this week's work. The process of reintegration takes a while, during which time I can't do much else. I have to wait it out. This particular reintegration should go wrong. At least, I expect it to. In addition, I had to reinstall some software to make it possible to do the reintegration. So, step by step, I've been waiting for a computer, while simultaneously emptying my head of the thoughts about the weekend.

As always, this blog bears the brunt of my desire to brain dump. Perhaps, like Steven Jacobi, I could try to get some sort of book deal and tell the readership about what I've eaten, where I've driven, what traffic I encountered and who I met. However, I think you have to be established in order to be given your own head to do something like that. I sometimes wonder whether I shouldn't try to write some sort of a "here's my adventure" book. I would like to write about The Musical! which remains a part of my life I'm still amazed by. Perhaps the story of that isn't over, though?

The week ahead
Outside of work, the week ahead looks fairly straightforward. I have a gig on 7th. I also have a service booked for my car on the 7th, so there may be some jiggery pokery to get through that day ok. Apart from that, there's nothing. Perhaps I'll find another book to read. I've just bought Crying With Laughter, Bob Monkhouse's autobiography, so maybe I'll read that.

I think the first part of The World's Worst 100 Websites is published this week, so maybe I'll read that - my voice always looks different in print.

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