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Showing posts from 2011

Staying home for Christmas

The word "home" has two meanings around this time of year.  To illustrate this, consider the two following conversations: Person A: "We're going away for Christmas, what are you up to?" Person B: "Nice.  We're staying at home this year" Person A: "Are you going home for Christmas this year?" Person B: "Yes, travelling up Christmas Eve and back the week after" For me - "home" always has the first meaning.  Home for me is the place I live, not the place I used to live.  I guess maybe it's a sign of age that the place where I grew up no longer is no longer synonymous with "home" in my mind. Forgive me if I seem rather grumpy, but Christmas seems to do that to me.  I don't know why, but as December progresses, I feel my grumpiness levels creeping up.  I very nearly had strong words with a woman who stepped in front of me when I was buying houmous in Waitrose a couple of days ago (*) The franti

Free thinking

Although it may not entirely seem like it, when I write a blog post I usually have a good idea of where it's going before I start to write it.   Usually I've seen something, or read something, and it's made me go "oooh" (maybe even out loud) and so I write some words.  Not tonight. It's been an age since I last wrote in here, and so I've been thinking for a few days that I should write something but I just couldn't think of anything worth writing about.  I could think of a few small things, but no common thread to link them other than "things which I've thought in the past few days" and that's tenuous at best. But the way I see, a rambling and rather haphazard blog entry is better than no blog entry at all and so I'm going to start writing, and let's see where this goes.  Your guess is as good as mine... I was coming home on the tube last night after a run and dinner with a couple of friends.  It wasn't the world'

A garden in September

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A while ago, I wrote a  post  about how we'd created a roof garden here in Wapping, London.  That was almost a year ago now, and so I thought it time to write a little more about what's been happening in the garden this year and what I've been up to in the garden over the past few weeks. Generally, this time of year is quite dull in the garden.  The tasks at hand are dead-heading and tidying and all the showy summer blooms are coming to an end.  We still have a few roses and fuschias putting in a last flash of colour, but the whole thing is starting to fade to green as autumn creeps on. A few things, such as the mixed tub of cornus and abelia above, as coming into their own at this time of year though.  The last few abelia flowers go wonderfully against the mixed foliage.  As autumn fades, the cornus leaves will fall, leaving the bright red stems which will see through the winter until growth starts again in the spring. Fuschias haven't proved a hu

Staycation

This week, we've been hanging around in London. I believe the modern word for it is a "Staycation". The idea is that you treat your home town like a holiday destination - get up at a sensible time in the morning, spend a full day wandering around museums and tourist attractions and then head home in the evening. Of course, London is the ideal place to do this - there are more museums than you could visit in a month, let alone a few days. So, we wrote out a list of all the museums we'd never been to and thought looked interesting and groupd them together into similar areas of town so we could get around a group in a day. By Wednesday (when we finished the staycation and headed out of town for a couple of days) I did feel a little museum'd out; I had grown tired of looking at things in glass cases with little display labels - but it was good tired. The kind of tired you feel after a long but satisfying day - the kind of full you feel after a delicious but

A week off. And I mean REALLY off

I am off work next week. In fact, slightly more than that. I am officially unemployed. Well, given I'm being strict in what I say, I should say - I am officially under contract with my old employer until next Wednesday but have a couple of days holiday booked. Then the contract with my new employer kicks in a week on Monday. A week off between two jobs is the ultimate in relaxation. With the old job behind you, there's no stress about what will be waiting in the inbox when you return. With the new job not yet started, there's only the excitement of a new job and no stress yet. Last time I tried this, a year-and-a-bit ago, fate intervened and my Dad died at the start of the week and I spent the week organising his funeral (and other paperwork) then made a dash to London at the end of the week and drove back to London just 36 hours before starting work in the new job. But this next week I intend to relax completely. Of course there are people and places I&

Bats in the cemetery

This evening we went up to Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park for one of their bat walks. The park itself was, until 1966, one of London's big cemeteries to rival Highgate and Brompton. But with no burials since the mid sixties, and years of greenery growing over the gravestones, the park is now the archetypal cemetery typical of any 80s goth music video. I must admit, until today, I didn't even really know the park existed - let alone just how interesting it is. This evening, after reading about it on the park's Facebook page we decided to go along for one of the organised bat walks. I have to say, it has been one of the most fun evenings I've spent in London. The cemetery takes on quite a spooky feeling after dark - if I believed in mad things like ghosts, then it'd probably be a fairly scary place to be. As it is, it feels like walking through the set of a horror B-movie. And that's without the bats. After a short talk from Ken (the ever-enthusi

Homeward Bound

Over the past year and a bit, my job has taken me to and from Manchester on a regular basis. I've grown rather used to the sight of Euston station at 7am and standing around waiting for the shops and the lounge to open so I can grab a cup of coffee to rid me of my slumber before falling onto the train and shaking myself to life before I get to Stockport and need to give directions to the cab driver. I've spent time in Manchester before. A previous job used to bring me to Birchwood, taking a taxi from Warrington Bank Quay, on many an occassion. This time, it's been a cab picking me up from Stockport and taking me over to Ashton Under Lyne. But it feels the same. In both cases, I would repeatedly switch between staying at a hotel close to the office, and a hotel in the centre of town. I'd stay close to the office, and then be sitting in the hotel thinking to myself "this is boring" and so next time I'd get myself booked into a hotel in the centre

A step too far...

This morning, I was in the First Class Lounge at Euston station ("ooo, get me!" etc) and popped to the bathroom before my train was due to leave. I opened the door, and the gents was dark. So, I thought, maybe it's one of those "motion detector" arrangements where the lights come on in response to somebody jiggling about in front of a little magic eye. So I gingerly stepped into the gents and flung my arms around trying to get the lights to come on. I didn't want to move so far away from the door that it would close behind me, as I wasn't sure I'd be able to find it again in the dark. Still nothing. So I wandered around to the front desk, and asked if they could switch the lights on. I was told to walk in there, and the lights would magically come on. In fact, the guy from the front desk came around with me and walked boldly in. He had to walk in at least 10ft away from the door before the lights came on - did they really expect anyone v

Why I'm not running the marathon

If you follow me on Twitter, then you’re probably familiar with my frequent tweets about running. I was never much of a runner until recently, but in the past year or so, it wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that I’ve become addicted to running. I aim to do a 20 mile+ run every Sunday, and try to squeeze in a couple of gentle 10km jogs during the week, too. Almost every time I write something on Twitter after one of my long Sunday runs at least one person will ask if I’m training for a marathon – and if not, why I don’t consider doing one. The answer to the first question is a simple “no”; the answer to the second is a little more complex. A few years ago, I did consider entering the London Marathon for charity. I told family and friends I was going to enter and then never did. At the time, I think a lack of self-belief that I could ever run that distance was a large factor – but looming equally large over my decision not to enter was the knowledge that people would be

What a week to live in Wapping

It's not every day that you walk out of Waitrose to see a red Range Rover sweep past you and get back home, switch on the news and find out that an embattled Rupert Murdoch was in the car. I'm no lover of other people's pain. And I'm no lovers of blood sports. But to watch the underdogs of the Guardian and the Indy slowly ripping the jugular out of News International like two enraged and tenacious pitbulls does put a smile on my face. There is no doubt in my mind that Rebekah Brooks should resign because either she was party to illegal hacking or she should resign through incompetence if she didn't know what was going on. Either way, she certainly shouldn't still in be her job right now. It would be too easy to sit back and celebrate the demise of the News Of The World. It's certainly true that a world without that horrid rag is a better world than one with it; but there are still other horrors lurking in the British press. An easy way to see which

Why I don't like politics anymore

Over the past few years - and in the past year especially - politics has taken a turn into a direction which leaves me feeling cold. It's got nothing to do with the particular policy, but it's to do with the quality of the debates and discussions which have been happening. Whichever party had won the election last year, there would be difficult decisions to make and steering the economy back into growth is not an easy thing to do. So now, more than ever, we could do with some clarify of explanation behind the decisions being made, and more importantly to have the alternative options presented in the form of a reasonable argument rather than partisan ranting. Take the AV referendum for instance. Both sides of the discussion resorted to rhetoric and soundbites to make their case, rather than presenting a logical argument about why they did (or didn't) believe AV to be a fairer system than first past the post. I would much rather hear an eloquent speech from someone with

Childhood Memories Revisited

I remember, as a child, walking up the steps of the Laxey Wheel and thinking "that is a big waterwheel". That was around 25 years ago and just this week I was back at the Laxey Wheel for the first time since. No less fascinating this time around; the sense of childlike wonder at the size of the wheel still intact, but now joined by a sense of the beauty of the 100m long rod, moved by the wheel which in turn moves a rocker, which in turn lifts a rod inside a shaft up and down which was used to pump water out of the mine. We were due to visit the Isle of Man a year ago exactly, but circumstances conspired to mean that holiday was cancelled at the last minute. So this year, to allow some time to reflect on last year and to relax, we did the same holiday we had planned. It wasn't quite the same holiday - last year we had planned to come over by plane, and stay in Central Douglas with a hire car. This time, we drove from London up to Liverpool (via a few family visits) an

It's not difficult!

Sometimes in life, you see people struggling with things which are easy. I don't mean that you should judge someone harshly for failing to grasp the quickest way to solve a differential equation or not being able to name a Mozart symphony from the first few notes - I mean things which are really not difficult and which form part of every day life. For instance, there are times in our lives when we are faced with finding a particular seat. On a plane, in the theatre or even on a boat (which is where I am as I write this, as it happens). Usually, you're faced with a ticket which may "23 A" or "Row X, seat 76" on it. If it's really complicated then maybe it will say "STALLS ROW A SEAT 2". But in any of these cases, it's not difficult to find your seat. Though I often wonder, when sitting in the theatre waiting for the show to start or sitting in my seat on a plane waiting for others to board, whether I have some super-human ability whic

Writing in Tippex

Yesterday, I wrote a length about pigeonholes and cats . But did I get carried away? Much as I hate to presume that you've read that post - I don't think this is going to make much sense if you haven't... I'm not the kind of person who lets a blog post fester and evolve before posting; I'm the kind of person who will write a blog post and stick it up immediately. Publish and be damned. Having read back yesterday's post, I wrote the following: "Of course, given so many years, the genes of Henry IV will have spread themselves wide throughout the population and so many of us will be distantly related to him. But the only way to prove that would be to take DNA samples." I got lost in my own words when writing this and there are two distinct problems with that short assertion. The first is to suggest that DNA samples would prove relationship to Henry IV. I must put my hand up here and admit that I slipped between the idea of mathematic proof and th

Putting the cat amongst the pigeonholes

The pigeonhole principle is such an obvious statement that few people realise that it's actually useful. However, a few people (who should know better, given who they are) actually get a bit too overly excited and try to use the pigeonhole principle to demonstrate the truth of things which simply aren't true. Before getting into the pigeonhole principle itself, it may be interesting to muse first on the nature of truth. Mathematical truth is a strong concept. Things are not "true" in mathematics simply because we can't find couter-examples - things are only "true" in the mathematical sense when we can show via a structured and logical argument that there can be no possible exceptions to the rule. Of particular interest here is the difference between an events which has a probability of 1 and an event which has a probability of "very nearly 1". In every day life, the two things are considered the same. "99%" sure is pretty much

A guinea pig couldn't become a dentist

This morning, I was at the dentist. Whilst in the chair, with my mouth numb, and one woman scraping at my teeth whilst another held a small hoover in my mouth I had some time to think. And I started to think about mirrors. Today I had a filling in one of my upper right molars. In order to see what she was doing, the dentist had to hold one of those little mirrors on a stick in my mouth and looking in that to see where she was poking. We tend to take looking in mirrors for granted. Doing up a tie or buttoning up a shirt in a mirror is normal( * ). If we have a bit of food around our mouth and look in the mirror, it's obvious what we need to do with our hands to achieve what we want, taking into account that we're looking at a reflection. But not all animals can do that. There've been several experiments over the years which attempt to ascertain whether certain animals realise that seeing something in a mirror puts everything the other way around. The experiment, in its simpl

Rounded corners

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I stay in a lot of hotels. Well, more specifically, I stay in the same few hotels quite often. It's an artefact of my job, and I don't mind it as much as sometimes I may protest. Until recently, whenever business brought me to Manchester, I would stay in the Palace Hotel in the centre of Manchester. It's a lovely, big imposing hotel with an enormous lobby which gives a great impression. My first stay at The Palace was great. The time before last I was in a room which had a great view of the trains going in and out of Oxford Road station. So great a view, that I could see which newspaper the commuters were reading as they went past on the morning trains. And freight trains can be noisy things... My last stay at The Palace wasn't particularly nice. A fire alarm going off just after I'd got into bed, and then a horrible bout of food poisoning overnight didn't give me confidence in the hotel restaurant, so I decided not to stay there again. So I'm stayin

Science. Again.

About a year ago, almost to the day, I wrote an entry saying how much I loved Brian Cox's book. A year later I return to the subject of science. Well I say "science" - but what I'm actually writing about today are the articles which appear in The Metro and pretend to be science. Every Friday, The Metro has a science column. It's a double-page affair with lots of graphics and lots of snappy little paragraphs talking about science. All good. Except for the fact that it's mostly gibberish. I love science, and I love popular science. It's possible (but admittedly hard) to take the complexity out of science but maintain both the interest and the integrity of the writing. The Metro certainly manages to remove the complexity, but also seems to disregard any respect for scientific truth in the process. Almost every Friday I feel the need to take a red pen to the science articles and correct them, but I've got better things to do with my life (*). Un

Flying

Recently, I've not taken as many flights as I did in previous jobs. It means that when I do take a plane anywhere, it's less routine and I actually think about it more. There was a time - when I was flying back and forth to Stockholm on a stupidly regular basis - that I could literally have found my way through the appropriate terminal buildings at both ends blindfolded had I been so challenged. I noticed today that I'm really quite a grumpy traveller. Sitting next to me on the plane was a woman who had put her handbag into the overhead locker, and another passenger managed to knock her bag out and onto the floor and she smiled and said "that's OK, don't worry about it". Had it been my handbag, I would've been furious. Metaphorically speaking, of course - given that I don't tend to travel with a handbag. Today I chose a seat in the emergency exit aisle. It means that in the event of an emergency, you have to remove the door and "be ab