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Pay What Now?
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When to quit
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Monday, March 16

Spare Night?

A rare spare night, where I'm not gigging, spending time with the girlfriend, working late, or being away, goes something like this.

I drove away from the office and went to a soft furnishings store where I bought 6 blinds. 3 were roman blinds for the bay window in my living room and 3 were venetian blinds for my housemate's bedroom bay window. I was using measurements which had been drawn by him, photographed on his camera phone and then emailed. This is the modern world and also a product of a busy man who had spent less than 30 minutes in his own house in the last 12 days. (I had dropped home from the airport on Friday night long enough to get depressed about how much needed doing, get a shower, shout at the empty house and then drive away for the weekend.)

Following time in the girly soft furnishings store, I headed to the manliest store I know - Screwfix. I needed screws. Of course I did. I needed number 4s 30mm. Yum. I also wanted to buy a concealed door closer in the hope that it would contain the tool necessary to keep the existing door closers at bay as I refitted them. This it did, which was handy.

Then I went home and started the DIY. The order is not completely important. Here's what I did, though. I trimmed the bottom off 8 doors, two of which were room doors, the other 6 were wardrobe doors. All of these had been removed either by the carpet fitters or, in the case of the wardrobe doors, by myself in an attempt to make carpet fitting possible a few days ago. The fact that the house moved forward by carpet, but back by doors being on their hinges had been bothering me. Trimming the bottoms off the doors involved use of the circular saw, hand saw (to get the last few mills off the door in the case of the room doors, since the circular saw wasn't quite wide enough), and sander to stop the ends of the wood catching on the carpet after cutting.

The doors were rehung, a two man job in the case of the room doors. Done with two men, I should point out.

Then I hung the venetian blinds, discovering to my chagrin that the roman blinds were not long enough.

Then I attached the new thermostat to where it should belong.

Then I prepared my own bedroom for use again - vacuuming the new carpet and moving the bed back into place, along with other furniture.

Finally, I was able to restock my DVD shelf and collapse into the bed to watch "Doctor Who: The Movie" - a shocking insight into how bad Doctor Who would have been if America had been allowed to turn it into Star Trek.

Somewhere in the mix, I found time to grab a salad from M&S.

That's my life at the moment. Busy, fun, but draining.

Friday, March 13

Back from the dead

I got an email today asking whether I had driven my car into a ditch. This was from a concerned friend who had noticed the absence of entries in my blog and even the lack of update to my gig list. It seems that my online presence can be missed and that some of what constitutes my actual existence in real life is judged on the basis of my apparent existence in cyberspace. All of this tells me that I should get back into the habit of writing on this blog, and since I’m on an aeroplane with nothing to do right now, I’ll do just that.

As always the explanation for the “radio silence” has been the totally ludicrous amount of stuff that has been happening. I will, as I sometimes do when I get into blog “catch up”, try to write some specific events up, backdating the entry to a point in time that makes sense. However, there are various things that I cannot quite pin down and I will list them here. Needless to say, life for me is a constantly changing sea, and I have been overfilling it even more than usual recently, leading to much stress, which in turn has lost me my will to stay thin (easy excuse), as well as a general sense of moving forwards in a good way.

In life, as in business, staying in the same place is akin to dying. I believe you have to fill your life with as much diversity and wealth of experience as you possibly can. Bizarrely, though we humans are adaptable to change, we’re also averse to it. Though we enjoy novelty, we seem to prefer the familiar. The brain is excited by change, but forms self-reinforcing pathways too. I’m not a neuroscientist; I’ve no idea if that’s nonsense. Indeed, I’m not a philosopher either, nor a wise man of any calibre. If you can, try to ignore everything I’ve just written.

So, it’s a good thing that my life has kept me away from my blog, but it’s also been hard going. Rewarding. But hard work.

I’m on this plane coming back from just under a whole week in Budapest. In the last few days I’ve been working with my Hungarian team. It’s been a blast. We’ve had highights, minor lowlights, and a general sense of normality to go with the process. It’s a plus to me that I can breeze into an office many hundreds of miles away from my world, sit down and do a day’s work with a team of people, recruited my me, working in a way that I partially influence. A plus. Some people would be impressed. I just take it for granted. It’s how my life works. I’ve no idea whether worthiness comes into the equation or not; I prefer not to know.

Tonight I will land, pick up a rental car, drive home, repack my case, drive to my girlfriend’s flat, stay the night and then get ready for a weekend which has me doing some work on her flat, us both going to see a London musical, and then going up north somewhere the following day for a big gathering of people. I’ll next see my home (after my minutes-long sojourn of tonight) on Monday night sometime, when I hope to pick up the task of getting it finished. Nearly there.

Diversity in life is good. I will admit that I can feel the pressure way too often. Bizarrely, though, the week in Budapest has relieved some of the pressure that preparing for it and also recovering from it has created.

Thursday, March 12

A day in the Budapest Office

I walked in again this morning. This was a lot easier as I did not have my bag with me, having left it overnight in the office to enable me to travel light to our evening out. The walk along Margitsziget – also known as Margaret Island (though my mind tells me to call it Monkey Island) was pleasant and bright. It was still long. If I were eating healthily and light while here, I’d be getting fitter and healthier. I’m not, though. I’m also not using the island as a jogging track, the way everyone else seems to.

The day was filled with software testing, which is nobody’s favourite task, but it needs to be done. In the end, I stayed late – a bit of a desperate bit to move things forward, though I think we are making progress enough to be comfortable with. Things are consistently running late at the moment, which I’m not 100% happy with. This is something to tackle with the team as soon as possible, but it’s the sort of thing which takes practice to get right. I know we can do it.

The sad fact about a week of working abroad is that the work starts to be the only thing you can think about. While I started the week relaxed, watching DVDs and staying aloof, the work has increasingly got under my skin.

We also conducted a job interview and the candidate managed to give a few answers which equated to “Hello, please sound the alarm and throw me through the trap door out of the building”. I’d give tips on how to avoid these things in interview, but I’ll not bother.

Eventually, I left the building and went in search of something to eat. I also had half a mind to find some DVD or other to watch. I was feeling tired, run-down, and fuzzy. I took the tram across to the Pest side of the Danube and then walked past various restaurants, in the direction of the railway station. I decided to go American. I headed into some sort of Bar/Grill. The waitress told me that it was reservation only. When I asked if there was another room in the place, she deferred to a man who explained that I was in a comedy club and that it was booked up. I asked what sort of stand-up comedy they were doing. He told me it was in Hungarian, so no use to me. Shame. Thrown out of a comedy club.

Though there was another room round the back, it looked rubbish, so I mooched on. I did a lot of mooching. I was in Budapest with no agenda. When I’ve got no agenda (and it happens) I can be dangerous. I can find myself organising and completing all manner of absurd tasks… Ashley + no agenda = all manner of outcomes. Except… well, in Budapest, I’ve got very few reference points for what I can actually achieve. I couldn’t generate many nonsense objectives for myself because I couldn’t think of anything that was nonsensical enough to try.

So I mooched some more and ended up in a shopping mall. I might have bought a simple dinner from the food court and then gone home, but the smallest denomination note that I had about my person was a 20,000HUF note, which is the equivalent of about £60. This will make the majority of shopkeepers in Budapest throw you approximately 90 miles out of their door. I didn’t like the idea of such displacement, so I hit on a plan. If I find a restaurant that is expensive enough, this note will be a reasonable thing to pay with.

Logical.

I ended up in a moderately expensive restaurant. I bought myself a meal that was a little more expensive that I would normally buy, but was enjoyable for it. The soup course! Oh my goodness. This was billed as “Marzipan soup”. I thought that sounded suitably weird. It was described as a strawberry-cream soup with almond. Also suitably unusual. When it came… it was COLD! Cold soup. Ok. That’s done. When I ate it (drank it, actually) it was very much like someone had melted a home made strawberry ice-cream with a dollop of something sweet in the middle and topped it with toasted flakes of almond. The perfect combination of smoothie, ice-cream, dessert and starter, all in a bowl. A bowl! Gadzoooks!

I think I’ve suitably raved over this enough now. I’ll skip the raving over the other courses, a steak with pasta verde and sweet something or other which put me on a sugar high. It was a good evening meal to end my stay in Budapest with. Obviously, I’d be eating some more in the place, but no more big meals out. My stomach and my waistline will be relieved.

Back in the hotel, I took a bath and then spoke with my girlfriend until sleepy time came.

Wednesday, March 11

Outing

After work today we went out for a meal in the South of Pest. The meal was very pleasant, though it had many dumplings. I like dumplings. I became full of them. We also had some beers and a little Whisky. There is a lovely Hungarian expression for being ill through alcohol, that it causes “the folks to come out”. Thankfully, we kept the folks where they belong.

We talked the night away on the subject of jokes and it was very relaxed and good humoured. I think my life is improved by having people from another culture to share such an evening with. Somehow my employer will end up paying for this outing too. Bonus.

Tuesday, March 10

Okay Day

The day was devoted to a workshop that I ran on the subject of “the whole of everything”. We tried to understand how we got to today, what it meant, what we cared about, what we want and a little about how to get it. The result of this is that I have some notes about what we need to do and what we can measure in the future. I think that this was quite a good way to clear any air that needed clearing, as well as an interesting exercise for me, as a team leader, to step aside from the role for a bit and see what I could learn from the people I’m supposed to be leading.

After work, I headed out for dinner. I didn’t know where to eat, but I found a restaurant near the station called the “Okay Italian” restaurant. I chose to eat there. Later, my girlfriend asked me how the food was (I admit, I told her to ask me, since it sets up the response that’s to follow). “It was okay” I told her. We nearly laughed.

I tailed the evening watching a Doctor Who episode on DVD. It was the one with Kylie in – “Voyage of the Damned”. She was very good. It was very good. So good, was it, in fact, that I then watched the DVD extras. They provided me with spare time enough to watch the DVD extras of the other two Doctor Who DVDs that I’d brought with me. This is how Doctor Who fans behave. I am still not qualified to call myself one, though I can completely understand how people become one, and plan, one day, to achieve this high status.

Monday, March 9

First Day Back

Back at work after what seemed like a long weekend, it was different. It was different because I was going to work in a different office in a different country with a different view of how I should be conducting my role. I also had a different wake up time.

Yes, I was awake at “yuck o’clock” in the morning so I could take my girlfriend to the airport, enabling her to get to work for the second half of her working day. I don’t much like this time. I would much rather have had a lie-in, with the lady in question of course, and forgotten all about the whole going to work, going home thing. But no.

We got the concierge to order a taxi for us and were amused when the man at the reception desk summoned me to ask why I was leaving for the airport with my girlfriend and a suitcase when I had clearly not paid them and was also booked for a longer stay. A few words of “I’m staying, but she’s not” seemed to relax him somewhat. Ah the misunderstandings.

Anyway, with her on a flight, I took a taxi to the office and got an early start on the day. In fact, the start was so early that I went to a nearby coffee house/smoking room/bar (not sure what exactly) and drank tiny cappuccinos, costing 170HUF (or about 50p) while I wrote notes on a workshop I planned for the following day, and got my mind woken up.

Then into the office. The day was not too long, sped up by long conversations where I tried to turn command into introspection and understand what a particular member of my team was asking from me, rather than oppose some of his views on the basis that they did not look like mine. This proved to be a good combination of learning and peacemaking. I have learned a lot.

In the evening, I got a quick dinner at a Turkish café, where they put the food from a hot-plate into a microwave and managed, somehow to make it colder (I think their plate was spinning the wrong way around). I lacked sufficient language skills to complain, my only Hungarian being the words for “thank you”, “cheers”, “street”, “bridge”, “island” and “stapler”. I ate it anyway.

Then back to the hotel, which involved a very long walk across a very dark Island, with the sense that I might be being followed by bandits out to get the phone I was using to talk to my girlfriend along the route. There’s nothing like the paranoia regarding marauders to make you speed up and get more exercise on a nice healthy evening stroll.

I got to my room, got a shower, and then settled down to watch Doctor Who DVD number one – a classic episode called “The Three Doctors” in which Doctor Whos 1 – 3 are united to tackle a common enemy – “Omega”. This is a fun episode indeed, and showed the adult me how enjoyable Patrick Troughton was in the role. I followed this up with the episode “The Five Doctors”, which is also a bit of fun, though flawed in a number of ways and a bit of a cheekily named episode, since one of the five – Tom Baker’s 4th Doctor Who – doesn’t truly appear in the story. Still, it romped along, as such things do, and I managed to unite some of my childhood memory of originally watching it in 1983 with the present tense of my 35 year old self actually watching it in 2009.

I love the fact that I was watching a DVD that was released as the 25 year anniversary of an episode that was, itself, part of the 20th anniversary of a programme. That’s a whole load of anniversaries.

I got to sleep late. DVD watching makes the time pass.

Sunday, March 8

End of the weekend

This was our last day in Budapest together. My girlfriend would be leaving in the morning. It had been a lovely trip and we were resolved to make the most of it… including the lie in which kept the morning as a place of relaxation.

Around lunchtime we tried to get into town and took a route that can only be described as “rather unsalubrious”. Still, it showed us a part of town you wouldn’t normally visit – there’s a good reason for that too. If you get the chance to go from the Arpad Hid to the Margit Hid on the Pest side of the Danube, my advice is to politely decline it – unless you’re in a car. On foot, it’s not cool.

Because I know how to show a girl a good time, we had lunch/breakfast in the food court of a shopping mall near the station. This is not cool either, but it was functional.

Then we went off in search of the House of Terror. My advice: don’t bother. Or if you do bother, try not to learn anything. Part museum, part modern art, this tries to show you something of what happened to Hungary as a part of the various occupations and political upheavals that resulted in a lot of bad stuff being done to its population. There’s no doubt that this is a moving and important subject. Unfortunately, without understanding Hungarian, so you could interact with this exhibit, a lot of it is lost. They offered an audio guide which we took. This audio guide is radio operated so it tells you stuff relevant to the room you are in. It’s very very very very very verbose and seems to miss telling you much about the contents of the exhibition. It’s like the history lesson from hell.

When they offer you the audio guide they say “do you want the guide in English or German” what they mean is “do you want to be bored in English or German”. It wasn’t very pleasurable to be honest.

On the plus side, we did manage to find Café Mozart, which sells cake. Lovely lovely cake. So that was a plus.

For dinner we went to the posh hotel that neighbours our spa hotel on the Island. We had very good food and a band serenaded us. That’s a good end to a weekend away, definitely.

Saturday, March 7

A Grand Day Out

We had breakfast in the hotel which was expensive but pleasant. It was also an excuse to get ourselves out of bed early. This gave us plenty of time to go and explore Budapest, which we attacked with gusto.

However, owing to a miscalculation on my part, we ended up diagonally opposite where I was expecting us to be. I had no idea that there are two bridges that connect with the Island we were staying on – Margaret Island (or Margitsziget). As a result, I had the impression that something was up, and it was. We were on Arpad Bridge (Arpad Hid) not Margaret Bridge (Margit Hid). This became clearer when I Google Mapped us and the phone, with a new found GPS accuracy of 50 meters (normally I get 2000 meters “accuracy”) basically said “you’re wrong”.

Still, we learned quickly how to piss off the kiosk man with a hugely high-value note offered against the purchase of some very cheap stuff, and then we learned how to use the train and maps, and the tram.

Visits and highlights of the day included looking around St Stephen’s Basilica (Szent Istvan for Hungarian speakers out there) and the Opera House. We also fulfilled one of my ambitions and went up a special tram-car arrangement near the National Gallery where the potential energy of one car at the top of the hill is exchanged with another at the bottom of the hill to create an energy efficient transfer. What excited me as much as this was discussing it with my girlfriend. The pleasure of having intelligent company is great. Note: she explained the physics to me. Cool.

For dinner, we took a recommendation from a guide book and booked a taxi to take us to the restaurant in question. I’d tried to ring them but was getting no luck with the phone call. It felt like the person on the other end wasn’t being helpful – perhaps a bad line. It turned out that the restaurant was closed. Not cool for a Saturday night. I’ve no idea why. Luckily, though, we’d bonded with the taxi driver who, by chance, happened to have lived in England, in Reading, about 10 minutes from my house. So we chatted about the local area and we’re now mates – though I’ll probably never see him again.

Faced with empty stomachs, we asked him for a recommended restaurant. He took us somewhere nice and expensive. I could tell by the uniform of the doorman that this would not be cheap. Then I remembered that I was bringing my girlfriend to a far-away city for a nice weekend together and that I didn’t care if it was cheap or not, so long as we enjoyed it.

We ordered from the menu in where it was indicated by Hungarian flags to be more typically Hungarian fayre. The wine was also from a Hungarian grape. We listened to a Hungarian restaurant band play music and it was very pleasant. At one stage, the violinist came close to our table and played some poignant music directly in our faces – to him it was poignant, to us it was the music from the Stella Artois advert – so be it. In the end we allowed them to sell us their CD because we’re obedient tourists.

It was, indeed, a lovely end to a good day’s exploring. I can’t think of a better way to unwind after what had been a pretty tough week preceding.

Friday, March 6

Off We Go

In short – a day’s work, well almost. Then off to LHR to drop off my car (the car dropping off software worked, so I was relieved). Then I met my girlfriend, rather close to the “it’s getting late” mark, but not too late. We boarded a plane and ended up in Budapest. That’s how a day goes when you travel – not much more to do but arrive and get some rest, ready for a weekend away together.

That my life can contain such weekends is a big benefit. Work sends me here and this time I’m wise enough to make good use of it.

Technically, I sent myself here, but the wisdom of doing so will withstand deep auditor scrutiny, so I feel like it was work doing the sending THROUGH me.

Thursday, March 5

A Wale of a time

A gig tonight in Wales. The absence of the Sat Nav was a problem. My mobile phone made something of a stand-in, but the battery threatened not to hold out.

It was interesting how the phone managed to grip magnetically to the Sat Nav holder. That was handy. It was frustrating that the reason I couldn't use the Sat Nav was something so stupid as a failing-to-function 12v power outlet in the car. What was more disturbing, though, was the description of how this may have been caused to fail - essentially, one of my fellow comics suggested a sequence of drug-ridden events that might cause the problem. It's a car cigarette lighter, why does it have to end up being drug-related... oh yeah... tobacco is a drug. Sometimes I forget. In our smoke-free culture, I forget.

The gig itself was curious. That's the best way to describe a night which had me guessing at the route to a venue, worrying about a mobile phone battery going flat. Unable to work out where the hell I really was with the tin-pot GPS that is inside the phone, and then arriving at a venue where the sound system hadn't been set up and the audience were virtually in single figures.

Then they destroyed the first act... with kindness. They tried to help and find him funny, but the chemistry just wasn't there. It all ended up being a little awkward and funny off the beat. One particular audience member took the dialogue-based nature of stand-up a bit too much to heart and piped up with suggestions to join in. It was very odd indeed. There was amusement in the room.

I did something on stage while the first act was rushed to the station - largely to make his train, rather than because he was so keen to leave Wales. I think I enjoyed what I did, so that was good.

I scored good points for remembering to bring my mobile phone charger with and remembering to plug it into the phone to try to get some juice for the return journey (remember, the cigarette lighter is knackered so the normal in-car-charging route is a no-no). However, I lost those points (and some) by knocking the plug of the charger slightly out of the socket so no actual charging happened.

I'm not still in Wales, so it can only be concluded that I worked out how to get out of the place.

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