Monday, 30 December 2013

I don't feel like dancing

I really dislike weddings.  Well maybe that's a little unfair.  I guess I really dislike wedding receptions.  And it's all about the dancing.

You see the thing is I don't enjoy dancing.  I know a lot of people have an awkwardness about dancing, and need some encouragement - but with me that's not the case - I simply don't like doing it.  Yet at weddings there seems to be this desire to get everyone "on the dancefloor" even if they'd really rather be doing something else - like sitting and talking to people or just sitting enjoying the music.

But no, people hover in packs finding those who've not ventured onto the dance floor and start off by trying to encourage them, then cajoling them and eventually trying to physically drag them onto the dance floor.  And I don't understand it?  Why am I allowed not to go on the dancefloor if I don't want to?  I'm not unhappy to miss out on the dancing, I'm not crying into my glass of bubbly wishing I could summon up the courage to go out onto the floor and throw some shapes.  Quite the contrary, I'm sitting there quite enjoying myself and could do without the the hassle.

And so I hate it.  At every wedding reception I spend the majority of my time trying to fend off people who are trying to encourage me to dance.  Which part of "no" do they not understand?  I don't even dance when I'm totally alone in the house listening to music - it's just not something I ever do.

So, I am generally unhappy at weddings - but that's not because I'm there wishing I could get on the dancefloor and just wanting someone to ask - it's because I'm sick and tired of having to go and find somewhere outside the main area - or go for a walk in the garden - or just get sterner and sterner with my "no".  Just leave alone.  If you want to dance, then great. But I don't.  Just accept it.

Rant over.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Comedy?

I have just got over to the US West Coast, and that means a rather long flight from London.  And it's a daytime flight.  Well it's at the cusp of daytime, but I guess I mean that an "overnight" doesn't happen in either timezone whilst you're on the flight, so my plan is always to say awake.

I realise that just one night into my stay over here, I'm somewhat tempting fate, but I'm quite lucky in that jetlag doesn't really appear to affect me too badly at all.  The first night I usually wake up a few times during the night, but generally after that things click into the new timezone.  The way I do it is to force my sleep into the new timezone as soon as I get on the plane - and for the flight from London over to the US West Coast that means staying away for around ten hours.  And that means in-flight entertainment.  It wasn't that long ago that British Airways used to play everything on a loop, so you picked your channel and sat through it - and only when the longest-running of all the movies finished did they loop around to the start and you could watch it again.  Video on demand has come along since then, but the choice is still generally awful.

On the way over here, there wasn't a single British comedy on offer in the TV section.  I ended up sitting through five episodes of the Big Bang Theory - which I really can't stand - just for something to keep my eyes busy.  It's something I only watch on planes - like I only really drink apple juice or wipe my face with a hot towel on planes - I only ever watch the Big Bang Theory on planes.  Maybe that's because it's so dire that when I'm at home, there's always _something_ more interesting to do but when you're stuck next to a stranger with whom you've no desire to converse for the best part of half a day, anything is better than nothing.

So anyway, my knowledge of Big Bang Theory is based on what I see on planes but this time I noticed a change.  Previously, there were lots of jokes about people who were a little too scientific in their thinking and couldn't really do social things which was maybe a bit too close to home for me to find funny (I just found it cruel) but this time it seemed to be a lot ruder.  It never had sexual humour in it at all before, but every single one of the episodes had a running gag about somebody's bits and pieces.

I did try watching over things on the plane.  "Day Of The Doctor" was on there too - but given I only re-watched that a couple of evenings ago, I didn't think it was particularly worth watching again just yet.  I tried watching "Portlandia" which I just really didn't understand at all. I'm sure it was supposed to be funny (and there was a bit with Matt Lucas selling Stew which I didn't understand either) but it just didn't push the "giggle button" for me.

There was a sketch about a hotel though.  The premise of the sketch was a hotel chain called "Outlet" with the usp that every room had loads and loads of outlets in it.  Far from being funny, I found myself thinking "that would be a great idea".  This hotel room, for instance, is certainly not bad.  It's a rather nice hotel in Downtown Seattle and has lots of nice facilities. But what it doesn't have is enough outlets.  It does have a coffee machine, and much as I don't really like coffee, I decided to make myself a cup this morning.  But where to plug the coffee machine in?  There's not outlet within ten feet of where the coffee machine was, so I ended up carrying it around the room trying to find the ideal location where the distance between outlet and furniture was less than the length of the cord.  It ended up balanced in front of the TV which is not only unwise, but also means I can't see the TV.

The lack of outlets also means I can't plug my laptop in whilst it's on the bedside table if I want to watch Netflix or something to pass the time.  Nor can I leave my phone on charge overnight when I'm using it as an alarm clock - though having the alarm the other side of the room does at least force you out of bed I suppose.  Talking of which - time for breakfast.  I really must write up my review of the Doctor Who episode before everyone's forgotten about it, mustn't I? ;-)

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

I was in Waitrose today.  It's not particularly unusual for me to be in Waitrose, I admit.  I love Waitrose, it's like the other supermarkets; but it's full of lovely things rather than just tins of beans and sad looking vegetables.

Anyway, less of my middle-class prejudice.  I was in Waitrose Canary Wharf earlier buying some cartridges for my fountain pen and also needed some groceries from downstairs.  It turns out that they have changed their till system so it's no longer possible to pay for items from "upstairs" in the grocery bit downstairs.  It used to be one of the pleasures of shopping there that you could pick up a towel or a pair of pants from upstairs and then pay alongside your grocery downstairs - but since they put the new tills in downstairs, it didn't work anymore.  I had to queue twice.  Oh, the horror.

I didn't wander much around Canary Wharf, but I did pop into Gap.  I've reached that age where I feel "a bit trendy" shopping in Gap and wonder whether their clothes are a bit young for me, and whether I'd look a bit sad for wearing trousers with turnups.  Anyway, I noticed that tshirts are no longer referred to as coming in different "sizes" but different "fits".  Now - I always thought those were two separate things - the "size" was how big the clothes were and the "fit" was the shape.  But apparently not - "small" through to "large" are now described as "fit".  Have we really turned into a society where people are going to get offended by having to buy clothes which say "large" on them?  I mean. Really?

In some ways, I'm resistant to change.  Despite working in technology for years, I'm not really one who moves with the modern world.  Yes, I have a phone which does all sorts of things and my music collection is stored on a hard drive rather than a CD rack - but I don't own a BluRay player or read my books on a Kindle.  I still write letters with a fountain pen.  My address book is a real book which lives in a drawer in the living room and when I read a book, I read one with real pages made of real dead trees which turn with a satisfying feel.   Today, for instance, I bought two CDs.  Real CDs with covers and everything.  Surprisingly hard to find them these days, but there's something nice about it.  I will rip them, of course, and listen to the music on my phone, but that's not the point.

Some people used to think it odd when I worked in the mobile phone world that I wouldn't keep my address book on my phone.  I still don't.  There's something in me which likes to write out Christmas Cards by going through the address book and copying the address from one hand-written line to another.  I do so with a calligraphy-nibbed fountain pen, too.  So maybe things don't change that much after all.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

It makes you wonder..?

Today, I was walking up to the supermarket and on the way I saw three women each handing out swords made from those twisty balloons you get a kids' parties.  There didn't seem to be an advertising or other promotion going on - they just seemed to be handing out the swords.   If we lived in the world of Doctor Who then there'd probably be some strange alien power within each of those which would only reveal itself slowly and when someone is looking the other way, or something.

But it makes you wonder doesn't it?

The other night I had a dream.  Nothing unusual in that.  It was a kind of dream I have from time to time - a dream with a narrative.  Usually the narrative doesn't make much sense but every now and again there will be dreams set the same location with a story running through it.  The locations are familiar within the context of the dream, but they're not real places I actually recognise from the real world.  They often recur, though.  There's the secret little town on top of the tall skyscraper,  there's the tall office block with a huge number of lifts, there's the small village with the canal and the bakery by the water.  Even though the cast and plot is different every time, the locations are often the same.

We're all generally happy to talk about our dreams, but we suddenly become coy when talking about whether any "real people" from our life appear in them.  There's nothing weird about it - dreams seem to just be the brain creating a collage from the day's thoughts and events so it's not surprising that other people would feature sometimes.  Sometimes they are major players and sometimes they are just bystanders.  Sometimes there's one person in a dream who actually corresponds to two people in real life - I'm sure Freud would've read an awful lot of codswallop into that particular one.

But much as we'd say "I had this weird dream about rabbits smoking purple cigarettes whilst running around a field made of coriander and a piped band formed of badgers and otters played the national anthem backwards whilst Dolly Parton sang lead" we'd never say to someone "I had a dream about you last night".  It's just weird.

So, it's with some trepidation that I say I did include a colleague of mine in a dream the other night.  Only as a bit player.  In fact, he was in one of the lifts in the office block, he was standing in the lift when I got in, and stayed in the lift when I got out.  We said "hello" and that was it.  A walk-on role really.  I'd never dream of telling him that he featured, though - for reasons I don't quite understand we'd both feel "a little bit weird" about it.  It's not even someone I speak to or work with often in the office.

But it got me wondering -  it could be possible that if your dream includes someone - then their dream also includes you. How do I know that this person at work didn't also have a dream about being in a lift that night, and is secretly rather surprised that I got into and out of the lift in HIS dream.  But because neither of us would either ask the other, we'll never know will we.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Shine On?

Earlier this year I wrote about how James Herbert's last book wasn't that great.  Well I'm afraid I have similar news about Stephen King.

On a recent holiday I read The Shining. I'm sure I must've read it before, but honestly don't remember - so I thought I'd give it a read. I was in the airport in Sydney flying down to Melbourne and the choice in the bookshop in the domestic terminal at Sydney airport wasn't fantastic.  So I picked it up and started to read it.  I then landed in Melbourne and found myself staying in a large, old hotel with long corridors and a very empty look about it.  Spooky.

Anyway, when it came out, I thought, "I'll pick up Doctor Sleep".  This book came out last month, and follows the story of Danny Torrance, the boy from The Shining, quite a few years later.  The premise isn't too bad - there's a group of people who travel around America in RVs living off the "steam" given off when a child with "The Shining" is tortured.  Gruesome - but not a bad start for a story.  Unfortunately, the story itself - and its telling - are pretty poor.

So, from here on in, there will be spoilers.  Sorry.  But the book's crap, so at least I've saved you having to read it to find out what happens.

The worst thing about the book is the Dialogue.  I don't watch many films, but I've watched enough to know what bad dialogue sounds like, and this book was FULL of bad dialogue.  Overblown, overwrought and overdone.  Every time one of the characters spoke, I cringed.  Sometimes physically contorting my face at having to read the terrible words.

Second to the dialogue comes the plot itself.  The characters' credulity seems to come in waves.  When it's important to the plot that someone "just does something" they will do it without question.  Only when not really important do the characters display the cynicism of all the psychic stuff which you'd expect in the real world.  It smacks of laziness.

Finally - appropriately - the ending is terrible.  I won't spoil it completely, but let's just say that it turns out that the nasty people in the RVs live somewhere close to the hotel from The Shining.  What are the chances?  What I don't understand, though, is that these people are supposed to have some in-built ability to locate kids who "shine".  So if they'd drive halfway across America to find the girl in this book, why didn't they find Danny himself when he was just up the road in the first book?  It just doesn't hang together.

As my Mum said to me on Facebook - "did you really expect a crap book to have a good ending?" and I suppose I didn't.  But even by the low standards set by the rest of the book the ending came like the whimper of a slowly deflating balloon.

On my way home from work tonight, I popped into Waterstones in Chiswick.  I was looking around for something new to read, and picked up the recently-released sequel someone's written to "The Woman In Black".  I asked the guy behind the counter... "is this any good?  I've recently read Doctor Sleep and it was so bad it's put me off sequels, really".  The reply was "yes, you're not the only way to say that..." and we had rather a nice chat about how authors can become complacent and just churn out books rather than applying some quality control and only putting out books they are happy with.  It's disappointing that someone who's self-aware enough to have written several very-close-to-autobiographical novels ("The Dark Half" was basically the story of his own struggle with Richard Bachman, his alter-ego - with a few extra supernatural bits, of course) isn't self-aware enough to know when they are churning out crap.

My hopes aren't high for the sequel to "The Woman In Black" but I'm keeping an open mind.  I'll let you know how that goes for me...

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Ten Problems With Being Gay

1. There's the whole "coming out" thing

If you're gay then for every interpersonal relationship you have, you have to store the extra piece of information - "do they know?".  Friends, relatives, people you know at work.  At any given time it's likely that some of them will know you're gay and some won't.  Even if you're completely open about it, and have no issue with people knowing, you still have that rather weird moment when you first drop it into conversation.  You make a reference to your partner by first name, or gender-specific pronoun and then everyone is briefly a bit awkward, and the person you've just told will undoubtedly make some comment just so you know they are perfectly "OK" with it.  Something about gay friends they already have or something, probably.

Even if you do it in a nice subtle way so as to try to avoid making it into a "big thing" then you have that moment of doubt.  "They didn't really react - does that just mean they are super cool with it, or does that mean that they didn't hear me or notice what I said".  And when it comes to awkwardness, if you think someone knows you're gay and work on that assumption - when actually they misheard you and are completely unaware, then there's awkwardness waiting in the wings just ready to jump out on you at any time!

2.  People make so many assumptions

I guess a few years ago, people would've presumed that if you're gay, you like Kylie, probably wear a lot of pink and pay particular attention to what brand your underwear is.  Well, frankly the assumptions may have changed, but the fact that society make them really hasn't.  Even in a world where being gay isn't really an issue anymore, people will presume things about you which have absolutely nothing to do with the gender of the people you are attracted to.

If you are openly gay, you'll find that people presume you must be an atheist, your politics must be left wing, you must know the names of every bar on Old Compton St in order, you must like going to musicals, you probably watch Big Brother, you buy Heat magazine, the list goes on...

Don't believe me?  Try being openly gay for just a couple of days and count the things people will assume about you which have nothing to do with homosexuality.  Won't take you long to get to twenty...

3. Laundry is really complicated

Living with someone of the opposite sex makes it easy to work out whose underwear that is left in the washing machine.  Not so easy when your wardrobes will be functionality rather similar...

4. People become fascinated with personal aspects of your life

Once you tell people you're gay, they will presume to ask questions about aspects of your life they wouldn't dare ask if you hadn't told them you were gay.  Trust me. It's true.

5. Answering the phone is confusing

When you call a straight couple and don't know them well enough to instantly recognise their voices, you can at least tell which is the male and which is the female voice.  Not so easy when both voices are similar pitch...

6. People think they can't joke about it around you

Even the most jokey of people will usually clam up once they know you're gay.  Now maybe I'm just blessed with a particularly permissive sense of humour, but I always find that it's the intent behind a comment I may object to rather than the comment itself.

But tell people that you're gay, and suddenly they won't make any jokes about wearing pink, and they'll treat you as if you're the political correctness police.

I've known several people who've actually decided not to come out at work just because of the effect they know it will have on office banter.  In my experience, though, the ones who are truly the most comfortable around gay people are the ones who still make the slightly off-colour jokes, but do it with a wink and a smile.

7. There's no excuse for train sets and Lego

Yeah, I know gay people can adopt, but the chances are, if you're gay, you're much less likely to have kids, and that means no excuse to fill the house with Lego nor build a huge train set in the loft.

8. Checking into a hotel becomes a whole song and dance

A gay couple turns up at a hotel.  They've booked a double room.  These days, they're pretty unlikely to get turned away, but there will still be that slightly uncomfortable moment when the receptionist tries to ask whether they know that a double bed means they'll have to both sleep in it, and will they be OK with that.

A good tip though - the more you are paying for your hotel room the much less likely you are to be asked this question - five star hotels would never dare to it.  Alternatively, book a hotel room in Sweden - they generally care so little about homosexuality there that you won't even see so much as an eyebrow twitch when you check in together.

9. Formal seating plans are ruined

You know the drill - it's boy-girl-boy-girl at weddings and the such like.  Throw gay couples into the mix and if you know too many male gay couples you find yourself having to bump your lesbian friends from the "maybe" onto the "definite" list just to be able to alternate people around the table...

10. It's just not as much fun as the Daily Mail seem to think

Read the Daily Mail and you'd think being gay is all about parties, drink, clubs and wild excess.  If only..!




Note to those without a sense of humour: I'm not being entirely serious, OK? ;-)

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Confusion

I was driving through North Greenwich earlier today.  I'd just been into the Asda there, which I can say was a truly horrible experience.  For reasons I won't go into, I just needed a few things. I knew exactly what I wanted, and knew whereabouts I'd find them.  It was still like wading through a level of hell trying to get a few groceries and get out again quickly.  I've nothing against Asda, per se, but that one just felt full of people squabbling, pushing and letting their children run riot. *shudders*

Anyway, after that, driving back towards the Blackwall Tunnel, and there was a sign for a new development.  Apparently they are offering a thing called an "uberhaus".  I know enough German to construct what that may mean, but Googling for the word gave me just the link back to that development's website.  This is obviously some horrible made-up word to try to make their offering sound special.  Like "Olay Renegeris" and "Tefal Resistium" (I'm not making it up - I have pans which claim to be made of the latter).

It wasn't the only time today when Googling for something returned me only to the website of the place I saw it in the first place.  We had lunch at a little place near the Tower of London and on the dessert menu was something called "Rosary Cheesecake".  I Googled, and yet again the only thing which came back was the website of the restaurant.  It was - we presumed - actually meant to be "Rosemary" but when it arrived it didn't seem to have any rosemary in it, so the mystery continues.   For anyone reading this who's seen me on Twitter going on about my diet, I should point out that I didn't eat the cheesecake, or any other diet for that matter...

I've spent a lot of this weekend in a bit of a state of confusion.  I'd always told myself that I'd never be one of those people who lost touch with modern music as I got older.  Music is so important to me, that I swore I'd keep up with what was going on.  And so it was I was very pleased when we identified someone on the BBC's Glastonbury coverage as being Professor Green - I even knew a few of the songs.   My pride was punctured when it turned out to be someone called Example, though.  Oops.

Talking of pride, it was apparently Gay Pride in London yesterday.  I said a few things in Twitter which I think lost me a few followers, so I'm not going to rant here - but the fact I didn't even know it was happening until Friday probably says something about my level of enthusiasm and interest in it...

Anyway, let's stop that before I start ranting and I get accused of being homophobic or something (it has happened a few times, actually)


Sunday, 23 June 2013

Cambridge Memories

This weekend I was back in Cambridge.  It's been a few years since I was there, and last time I was there, I didn't go anywhere near my old College.

This time, I was at a Ball - in Newnham College - just over the road from Selwyn, which is where I spent three years of my life around twenty years ago.  Selwyn college itself has grown since I was there.  The one Old Court on the corner has grown and taken over where a few old houses the college used for accommodation used to be.  I've not been into Selwyn College since I left in early summer 1997.  I've not actively avoided it, but my life just hasn't taken me back there.

Lots of people I know feel nostalgic about their time at University, and going back to where they studied brings back the memories of life as it was there.  For the first few years after graduation, I didn't go back to Cambridge much at all.  I didn't live in London at the time, and getting from Worcester over to Cambridge wasn't the easiest of journeys - as my trips the other way for job interviews in my final year proved.  But most importantly, I didn't know anyone back in Cambridge; everyone I knew had moved out; mostly down to London as it happened.

And so life started proper for me away from Cambridge.  University for most people - me included - is the first time living away from home, and having to sort out your own bills and live your own life.  But it's still in such an insulated environment and the independence only lasts for eight week stretches whilst term is happening, anyway.  Life for me didn't start properly until after I had left Cambridge and moved over to Malvern.

My time in Cambridge wasn't unhappy at all, but I don't feel the huge sense of nostalgia for my days as a student which so many people seem to.  Going back to Cambridge this weekend - to Newnham for the ball and wandering around Cambridge proper on Saturday - didn't really stir any memories at all.  I could remember the places I went, and could recall the names of the restaurants and bars where I used to spend my time - but there was no feeling there - no emotions rising up from the deep as I walked past Bangkok City or The Eagle.  The LloydsTSB is still in the same impressive building on the corner, though Robert Sayle has been replaced by a modern shopping centre full of glass, shiny metal and bland high street shops.

The area by the station is totally unfamiliar.  Where there was nothing, there are now apartments and the odd coffee shop. The guided busway wasn't even an idea when I spent my time in Cambridge.  Panther Cabs still prowl the streets ferrying people from town to station and back, though.

So maybe my lack of nostalgia for Cambridge is simply the result of the changes which have happened since I lived there.  Maybe Cambridge has changed and so it's not the town I once knew.  Maybe too much has happened to it, and it's become too unfamiliar for me to recognise as the town I once knew intimately.

Or maybe it's not Cambridge which has changed since then.  Maybe it's me.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

We all do it...

I was on the train the other day, heading back to Wapping, and a guy was talking on his phone.  Despite the fact that he was pronouncing Wapping to rhyme with "slapping", I couldn't help be continue listening to his conversation.  We all do it.  We would all like to pretend we don't, but if someone is talking on the phone on a train we do listen in.

So, he was telling whoever he was on the phone to that he was five stops away.  Everyone on the train at that moment threw a glance at the map and worked out what stop he was talking about.  You can't help yourself, it's just something you do.  

My commute isn't _that_ long but sometimes it can be absolutely horrible.  The days when I do find a seat or a quiet corner to stand in, I quite often lose myself in a game on my phone.  I'm currently playing one of those games where you have to fire the bubbles and burst them all before the time runs out. You know - pointless crap to pass the time.

But there's a thing which annoys me about many of these games, and it's how hard they are to exit.  Quite often, I'll be engrossed in the game and then realise I'm at the stop where I need to get off the train.  So I press the "back" button to try to get out of the game, and what happens?  Well it pauses the game, and then the next press on the "back" button goes back into the game itself.  You actually need to tap on the screen to exit. And then there are inevitably confirmation screens just to check you really do want to quit.  When all I want to do is close the game so I can stuff the phone into my pocket and change trains. I really don't see any reason to make exiting the game so hard. None at all.


Friday, 31 May 2013

So Long, My Friends

Oh, that sounded like I was saying goodbye.  "So Long" is a funny phrase like that, isn't it?  Well I meant it literally - it's been "so long" since I've written in here that loads has happened - just very little of it worthy of being blogged about.  Blogs are like keeping your desk clean - you tell yourself you'll do it every day, but over time it gradually slips and then every now and again you have a big catch up and then do it regularly for a few weeks.  Count this as a bit of a catch up, if you would.

So since I last wrote in here, I'm considerably lighter.   I was never what you're call "fat" but I had a bit of body fat around my middle which is fortunately now starting to disappear.  It took a complete shake up in both my eating and training to do it, but getting lean at the age of 37 isn't that easy, you know.  I've still a way to go, but I'm pleased with progress so far.

One of the interesting things I've had to do is to stop enjoying the sessions at the gym.  I think previously I was putting too much emphasis on "having a good workout" which usually meant enjoying it.  Now, I really don't enjoy the sessions.  Too much pain and too much hard work for enjoyment.  But that's no longer the point.  The same with the nutrition plan really - I'm on hardly any carbs, no dairy, nothing fried, no fruit... it sounds like torture, and the only thing which is keeping me going through watching friends eat lovely desserts whilst I sit there sipping a glass of water is the knowledge that only a few months ago, I was over two stone heavier and wearing jeans in a larger size.  Weight loss isn't really the goal; loss of body fat is the goal.  So I'm probably not going to lose more than a few more kilos at the most... but I'm already buying tshirts labelled "small" so it's not all bad...

So Eurovision was great this year, wasn't it? If only for the amazing Swedish half-time song.  I've always loved Sweden (though it's a little riot-y at the moment, but I'm sure that'll pass) and that song made me love them even more.  Men pushing prams, gay weddings and a huge fan blowing Carola off the stage in the middle of a song. What more could you ask for?  Oh yeah, would've been nice had our Bonnie come a little higher in the standings, but there's always next year.

This gay marriage thing is dragging on a bit, too.  A while ago the Commons voted for it, and that was the start of the process to get it done - but more rubbish and gibberish spouted by bigots starting every sentence with "I'm not homophobic but..." and we're still seeing the bill dragging its arse slowly through Parliament.  Still, it'll get there eventually - it may just take a while.

I genuinely don't understand the opposition of straight people to gay marriage.  That's not to say that every straight person opposes it, of course.  Most of them (according to surveys) are in favour, and almost all of the rest couldn't care either way - but the it's the vocal minority grabbing all the headlines.  Those who think that just because two blokes dress in suits and scatter pink confetti around the place the whole of society will crumble.  All this talk of "well what's next?  Polygamy? Incest?"  - no, neither of those things are next.  Once gay people have the same right to marriage as straight people then that's it.  It's a shame that some of those people can't just be honest and say "I'm not so keen on the gays" rather than dressing it up as some moral crusade.  It's fine - just say you're not keen on the gays - quite frankly, I'm not that keen on you either, Mr Tebbit.

In happier news, we paid a visit to the Olympic Park (or should I say Queen Elizabeth Park) the other weekend.  You can pay fifteen quid to get a bus into the park and head up The Orbit to see what's happening to the park.  On the one hand it's nice to see the housing going up, and really does give you the feeling that the site won't be wasted after it's all over and done.  The new neighbourhoods are close enough to existing ones that it's easy to believe that the world outside the site will just encroach a little and what was the Olympic Park will disappear into the blur of flats and greenery which is East London.  On the other hand, it's sad to see the dismantled remains of what was an amazing summer.  Just as it's sad to take the bunting down after a street party.  The party itself remains in your memory, but the fact that it's all being packed back up into boxes and the recycling packed into green tubs means that all the guests have gone and all there will ever be are the memories.  The running track still has "London 2012" emblazoned across it.  Good memories from a great year for this great city.

Oh - yeah - since last writing I've been to Canada too. Twice.  Although once was just a very quick transit stop to change flights down to the US, but the second time we actually spent a while in Vancouver.  Lovely city.  It reminded me of Sydney a bit.  Not quite a sunny, nor as Australian, but had that laid back vibe about it which UK and US cities just don't have.  Weirdly, I bumped into somebody I know at the airport in Vancouver too; somebody I used to work with was on the same BA flight back to London as me...

I've also been doing some gardening (and contributed my regular posts to http://eastlondongardensociety.wordpress.com/ if you're into that kind of thing).  Looks like the garden may be appearing in a documentary about the history of gardening in London, too.  Guess I'll have to get out there and do some weeding then!

So, there you have it. Caught up to date.  I promise I won't leave it for over a month again. Probably.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Field notes from an 18 hour journey

I've had a long day today. A very long day.  In order to make sure I was across town before roads starting closing for the London Marathon (and in expectation that they may close earlier than planned, thanks to the events in Boston earlier in the week) I was in a car driving away from home at 6.30am this morning.

I've found myself mostly flying out of Terminal 5 from Heathrow recently, and so being dropped off by the car at Terminal 3 was quite a blast from the past.  A blast from the days when I used to take the pre-7am SAS flight over to Stockholm.  Terminal 3 hasn't changed much.  In fact, besides a few of the restaurants changing names, everything seems in pretty much the same place.

Terminal 3 is a weird building.  A million miles away from the huge windows of Terminal 5; there aren't really any windows at all. You need to be at one of the gates or in one of the Business Class lounges to actually see real daylight in there.  It's also not a patch on Terminal 5 for the shopping either.  It's full of those expensive shops which are painted white and seem to have no merchandise in them at all.  And they make up for what little stock they have by charging the earth for it.  The daylight-starved weary travellers flinging their Amex cards around to try to pass the time.  I nearly bought a pair of shoes thanks to the sheer boredom of it; but then I realised I'd have to carry the shoes to Vancouver, Seattle, Vancouver and London and thought better of it.

And I ask you - what exactly is the point of a Ted Baker shop which doesn't sell underwear?

This was my first time flying in Air Canada.  The logistics of this trip to Seattle meant that the best option was to fly via Vancouver.  All in all, Air Canada was rather nice.  Colour-changing LEDs lighting the ceiling of the cabin.  A first officer with a comedy Canadian accent and a lady pilot.  All novel. All cool.

They all had episodes of Bewitched on the entertainment system.  I'd forgotten how brilliantly awful it was.  Though in the two episodes I watched, Elizabeth Montgommery didn't wiggle her nose once; I was rather disappointed by that.  I also watched some episodes of "Man Behaving Badly".  Not a patch on Bewitched, obviously, but it passed the time.

I killed most of the time on the plane reading. I bought myself "Creed" by James Herbert. I thought that by going back twenty years, his books would be better.  And it was certainly better than "Ash" (see the last entry for my thoughts on that).  But much as the story had a climax and build-up much better than Ash, it ended with a fire in a huge building which had creepy things in a cellar.  Exactly the same as Ash.  Honestly, I know James Herbert tries to get references to rats into all his books, but I didn't think every one of his books had to end with a big building burning down. 

Air Canada also threw a lot of food at us during the drip.  Anyone who's spoken to me recently will know that I'm on a pretty strict nutrition and exercise routine at the moment. (8kg lighter, massive reduction in bodyfat, and counting!)  The rules are relaxed slightly whilst I'm away; as staying in a hotel it's not really possible to control your food intake as easily - but I'm still sticking to it as much as I can.  When I turned down the tub of ice cream on the flight the look I got from the cabin crew was one of utter disbelief.  Surely I can't be the only one who doesn't fancy a tub of ice cream whlist flying over Greenland?

To make things easier, you can clear US immigration in Vancouver, meaning that when you arrive in the US you simply stroll off the plane and grab you bags and go.  My checked bagged was checked right through to Seattle and as I was going through security into the "US departures" bit of Vancouver airport, one of the stages involves a man pointing at a picture of your luggage on the screen.   I thought it was quite cool, but was rather disappointed to see that my Battenburg pattern luggage strap had disappeared.  I think the guy asking me if it was my bag could see the disappointment in my eyes.

I know people have horror stories about the things US immigration say and do, but I've never had any problems at all. Although I did get questioned about the fact that all my trips to Seattle seem to come just as the grace period from the previous entry is ending.  It's purely coincidence as the entry period for UK visitors is three months, and I come here once a quarter, but I guess to the trained eye it could look as though I was popping out of the country every three months to reset my grace period.  Must leave it longer than three months next time!

The rain started to pour when I was in Vancouver.  So imagine my disappointment when we are ushered out of the building and across the tarmac and into a tiny prop plane for the flight down to Seattle.  We were warned before take off of likely turbulence and told there wouldn't be a drinks service, just in case.  In the end it wasn't so bad. A few bumps as we went through the clouds, but all in all a rather amazing view of the San Juan islands and Puget Sound as we flew down the coast.

A quick taxi ride from the airport, and here I am. Sitting in my hotel room. In Seattle.  The sun streaming in through the window.  But everyone at home is in bed.  It's nearly two o'clock in the morning there.  It's tomorrow in the UK.  Whereas here in Seattle it's still today. And still sunny.  And with that, I'm off out for a walk to wake myself up again.  Enjoy the future.  I'll see you there soon.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Turned to Ash

I've written about my disappointment with a James Herbert book before and so maybe I should've learned my lesson and not read another of his books.  But this time I thought it'd be difference.

I've said before that "Haunted" is one of my favourite horror books.  It's short, simple and has a rather good ghost story with very little padding.  It's subtle and interesting.  It was followed by "The Ghosts of Sleath" which wasn't dire, but certainly wasn't as good as "Haunted".  And then the third in the trilogy - "Ash".

I had high hopes.  I thought "this could be another Haunted" and so I sat down to read it.  It's a fairly large book - seven hundred or so pages.  And it was awful.  Truly awful.  Oh - just a warning - there will be spoilers in what I'm going to say below - but if that puts you off reading the book, then thank me for saving you from wasting those hours of your life...

So, the premise starts off pretty well.  A secretive organisation has a Scottish castle, miles from anywhere, and people who want to "disappear" can pay a fortune to live out their final days there.  It's a great premise, and I'm sure something really interesting could've been done with it.  But the story quickly runs away from the interesting premise by including lots of references to real life people who have disappeared or died young.  Princess Di, Hitler, Robert Maxwell, Gadaffi, Lord Lucan, ... it all got a little bit silly, to be honest.

There are three fundamental problems with the book.  The first is that it all got a bit "Dan Brown".  Of course, the prose was nowhere near as amateurish as that in a Dan Brown book (although, and I hate myself for saying this, it did come close at times...) but the whole "secret society" and "trying to explain mysteries in the real world" thing grew tiresome really pretty quickly.  About halfway through the book, the premise was almost forgotten as it became swamped in cameo appearances from real-life characters, all of whom aren't around anymore to defend themselves or sue.  It soon moved from a exploration of an interesting "what if" scenario into trying FAR too hard to make the whole thing seem plausible.  Intelligent readers are capable of willing the suspension of disbelief and going with the premise without the need to keep throwing in reference to real-life events.  If anything it made the whole thing seem less realistic...

The second issue I took with the book was that it was written more like a screenplay than a novel.  Rather than slowly unravelling a story, it jumped from set piece to set piece.  It felt as though the emphasis was on how good those scenes would look on film. Explosions.  Falling lifts.  Weapons flying through the air.  It would make a great blockbuster movie - but the dialogue would be terrible.

The final issue is maybe the most fundamental.  And maybe it is a consequence of the other two.  But the ending was terrible.  The story built and built and then about halfway through the book, it became silly.  Silly and obvious.  There was no tying up of loose ends.  There was no clever twist.  There wasn't even really a proper explanation of why the place was haunted in the first place.  It all just ended with a few explosions, the ghost of Princess Di, some spiders and a ridiculous scene with the Queen and Prince Philip.

I guess my greatest disappointment is that I know James Herbert was capable of more.  Some of his books have been fantastic, and I'm sure there was more left.  It's a tragedy that he died earlier this year.  He was one of the great horror writers and some of his books are brilliant examples of the genre.  It's just a crying shame that his final book was quite so bad.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Quest For A Personal Trainer

For reasons I won't go into too much, I'm currently looking around for a new Personal Trainer. You'd think it'd be easy. You may think you'd just put "Personal Trainer London" into Google and take the first hit you found.  If only it were that easy.

Over the years, I've had a few PTs.  I've also spent a lot of hours in a gym over the years, and so have a fair idea what I'm doing.  So you may ask the question  "why do you need a PT?"  and it's a good question.  In thinking what I want from a PT - and whether I need one at all - I've actually spent a lot of time thinking - and here are some of my thoughts

What does a PT do?

A personal trainer is someone who puts together a training plan just for you.  It's personal to you.  At least it should be.  Whenever I mention to anyone that I have a PT, they are likely to have images of someone standing over me shouting at me to lift me, do more reps, jump higher, etc.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Of course, that's exactly what a bad PT will do. They will turn up with their favourite list of exercises and they'll just tell you how many of them to do.  And they'll charge you for the privilege.

But that's not what I want from a PT.  I want someone who will listen to what I like and don't like (everyone will have exercises which they enjoy and ones which they don't.  A good PT will take that into account when designing the sessions, and strike a balance between exercises which you should be doing, and those which you enjoy.  

It's also about encouragement too.  When I'm with the PT, I find myself able to do more than when I'm on my own in the gym.  For me, having someone standing there to convince me I can do really does help.

What do I want to achieve?

Someone once said to me - and it's hard to deny - that from the point of view of a PT, the ideal would be for a client to see results that they notice, but not too quickly.  That way, the client is happy to carry on paying, but the PT gets to keep them for a long time.  I'm sure some PTs do work that way, but I'm sure that some don't.  The trick is the find one who doesn't.

There are many reasons why you may want to have a PT.  For me, it's a desire to get a bit leaner, and to get stronger and fitter.  Of course, that sounds like everyone's reasons.  Except I didn't say in there that I want to lose weight.  I don't really care how much the scales say when I stand on them - for me it's about making things wobble slightly less rather than getting smaller.

The sessions you would need to do in order to get from 120kg down to 80kg are very different from those you'd need to do to get from 80kg with a bit of fat to 75kg of lean muscle.  And the latter is what I'm aiming for.  

One of the reasons I sometimes feel disappointed in a gym session is when I don't feel like I've worked hard.  Of course, the day after a really good session, you're never going to achieve as much in terms of weights and reps, but in my mind, a good gym session is one where you finish it thinking that you couldn't have worked any harder.

Where and when?

Every single gym you go to will have in-house personal trainers.  Some of them are employed by the gym, and some of them are freelancers. Generally, the freelancers pay a very large monthly fee which allows them to bring their clients into the gym without their clients having to join themselves.

Some PTs will come to your house,and some will have their own private studio - effectively a little gym with just one or two people in it.

For me, training at home never worked.  I need a PT to push me harder than I could push myself, and with limited equipment at home it's hard for a PT to do that. You can do cardio boxing (which I dislike with a passion) or you can do push ups - but without weights, bars or rings it's hard to do anything which is going to put on serious amounts of muscle.   If you're someone who needs a PT to motivate you into moving more, then this may work - but it never really worked for me.

The best situation for me was always in the private studio.  Just me and the PT and nobody else around.  It allows for concentration, open conversation (talking to your PT is very important) and no distractions.  But the limitation is, of course, that the private studio will generally not be as equipped as a proper gym.  There will certainly be more equipment than you'd have in your house, though.

Finally, there's the option of seeing a PT at a gym.  Depending on the gym you go to, there may be loads of PTs all trying to train clients at the same time.  Especially if you are going at one of the busier times of the day.  You'll also be surrounded by lots of other people.  This may not bother you, but it does bother me. 

I have settled on lunchtime as my best time of the day for doing to the gym.  When I went before work, I would always spend the entire session thinking about work, and geting my mind into work mode, wondering what email had arrived overnight, and what would happen that day.

Evenings weren't much better.  Given I have a long commute home from work, if I go to the gym after work I am distracted by the fact that I've got an hour and a half home afterwards; and if I go near home, the chance of my getting up the motivation for a decent session after an hour on the tube is pretty low.

And so lunchtimes it is.  I means a slightly longer lunch from work - but one thing about becoming a regular gym goer is that you become a shower and change ninja.  None of this "standing around in the shower" malarkey.  Just a quick shower, quick change and out.  I then eat something back at my desk...

The hard sell

So, I know what it is I want from a PT, but then I need to find a PT who can give me that.  Every PT's website is full of stories of clients losing lots of weight, fitting into their wedding dresses and running faster marathons.  Every PT's website is full of pictures of happy people on treadmills, and people smiling whilst lifting weights.  Of course, that's the public face every PT wants to portray, but it's hard to get behind that and work out whether a particular PT is going to train me in  a way I'll be happy.

A few years ago, I went to see a prospective PT and he sat me down in the office next to the gym and told me how they work.  Firstly he showed me what a kilo of fat looks like.  Then he told me that in order to control my routine, they preferred that the only place I exercised was in their studio.  And of course, the only way to get there was to book a session.

Whilst that was a blatant example of wanting to milk me for more sessions, I've had others do similar.  PTs will tell you that you need to take four days a week off from exercise in order to let your body rest.  They will tell you that running isn't going to help, and that you shouldn't be too strict with your diet.  I've had PTs try to sell me every shade of the "slow results" track which is so lucrative for them.  Needless to say, I've never signed up with a single one who did that.

A good PT will start by asking what you want to achieve.  They will ask how you feel about exercise and what you are doing currently.  They will ask about your current diet, and ask how well you are sleeping.  And if they can't help you to achieve what you want, then they will walk away.  A bad PT who's just in it for the money would never walk away from a prospective client.

The bullshit

Another thing I've found prevalent in PTs is the adoption of the latest trendy fad in exercise or diet.  In the UK, there's no mandatory registration for PTs. Anyone can throw on a pair of shorts, call themselves a PT and charge you fifty quid an hour you make you do stuff in the gym.  And an astonishing number of PTs are just people who's spent a lot of time in the gym who decide to make a living from it.  I know of one PT who's seen a few of his clients in hospital; no surprising given his only qualification was a six week course.

It's easier to bullshit diet than it is exercise.  So many PTs will have their favourite diet.  They will have theories about certain foods stimulating the production of certain hormones which affect how you build muscle.  And the answer always seems to be in the form of some supplements.  Often those supplements made and marketed by the company which produced the research in the first place.  Strange that.

Of course, it's not all rubbish.  If you want to build muscle, then you'll need a high protein diet.  And if you aren't going to be eating a lot of lean meat and beans, then it wouldn't hurt to have a few good quality protein supplements.  Nothing wrong with that bit of theory at all.

There are two fundamentals beneath the whole thing.  If you eat less and exercise more, you will be leaner.  And if you use your muscles more, then will get bigger.  In the effort to make themselves stand out from the market, it seems like quite a lot of PTs have strayed into pseudo-science in an effort to market themselves.

So how am I going to pick one?

I realise I've painted a pretty negative pictures of PTs there.  It's not all bad.  There are some good ones out there.  The problem is finding them.

So, I intend to ask a LOT of questions.  If the PT is offended or dodges are legitimate question, then they are probably hiding something.

I'll ask them what results I am likely to achieve, and if they don't mention somewhere in their answer that everyone is different, and nothing is guaranteed, then it's time to walk away.

I'll ask how long their clients tend to stay with them, and ask for some stories of times when it hasn't worked out with clients, as well as the success stories.

I'll ask what their thoughts on diet and nutrition are.  If they say something sensible, that's good; if they waffle on about supplements and fad-diets then that's bad.

And I'll see what questions they ask me.  If they don't ask about my attitude to exercise, my attitude to food and what I'm expecting to achieve then I won't sign up with them.

Wish me luck, and let's hope I manage to find one of the good ones.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Brits

Time flies, doesn't it?  Especially at my age.  I'm 37 now, and I can feel 40 looming on the horizon beckoning me towards it with promise of expanding waistline and grey hairs.  Although I've found a few of the latter already.

It doesn't seem like four years since I last wrote about the Brit Awards.  Back then I wrote about how they had become "safe" to such an extent that they were now boring.  Last night, we had the 2013 awards and I watched - as I always do - thinking that this year may be different.  This year may be edgy.  This year may be fun.

And so it started.  Rizzle Kicks attempting to interview people on the red carpet on their way in for an hour on ITV2 trying to build the excitement.  Muse promised a huge spectacle, Robbie Williams was his usual self and various winners of talent shows walked past wearing next-to-nothing complaining how cold it was.  Maybe it would've been less cold if they'd bothered to actually wear clothes suitable for a February evening in London.

So 8pm came around, and on came Muse.  Behind them was a scaffolding affair with an orchestra perched upon it.  The orchestra had face paint on.  That was the most exciting thing about the performance.  The song itself was dull.  Muse seemed a bit bored.  There were a few pyros going off in the background, but even that couldn't raise it above a dull cabaret performance.

And then on bounced James Corden.  He's not a bad presenter and to be fair he does hold the show together pretty well.  But anyone is only as good as what they are given to work with, and he was given a joke-free script to rattle through, and even though he rattled through it effectively and affably, the jokes just didn't come.  The only parts of the evening which looked as though they may turn interesting where the parts when he visited the tables and spoke to the celebrities.  Robbie Williams implied that Taylor Swift had slept with a lot of men.  Rizzle Kicks talked about drinking. James Corden called Simon Cowell a "beautiful bastard" and Nick Grimshaw kissed James Corden on the lips.  But if the most exciting the Brits gets these days is a jokey homosexual kiss and a smattering of pre-watershed swearing, then no wonder I was falling asleep.

There were the obligatory presenters who walked awkwardly up a wavy catwalk and then read out a few words from a piece of paper.  They mostly looked slightly embarrassed to be there, and quite a few of them struggled to even manage those few words effectively. "The nominiations are...".   Sharon Osborne made a slightly creepy reference to Harry Styles' penis and Tom Daley actually wore more than a skimpy pair of speedos.  But nobody had a fight, threw anything or appeared to be seriously troubling the running order.  Where's the sense of adventure gone?

The performances after Muse ranged from "disappointing" (Justin Timberlake doing his mumble singing thing behind a curtain whilst a man brandishes a tuba) to "OK" (Robbie Williams with men in camouflage, also brandishing tubas).  It's a shame that some of the acts chose to sing live over a studio backing track though.  It always sounds disjointed, and I'm sure that they could stretch to a band of session musicians for the night.  Yes, Robbie, I mean you.  Taylor Swift had a catchy song at least - and a clever trick with her dress.  But where are t the "once-in-a-lifetime" duets of yesteryear.  A trick with a dress doesn't really make up for that.

And then the awards themselves.  Unlike the Grammys, where they give out so many awards that I think somewhere in an arena in LA there are still Z-list celebrities walking up to a podium doling out the award for "Best Enunciation in a Country-Pop Crossover Single by a Woman under Five Feet Tall", the Brits keeps it snappy.  There aren't many awards to give out.  Yet there were a few extra this year.

Some people have had an extraordinary year.  Emeli Sandé has gone from unknown to ubiquitous.  But she's done so on the back of some serious songwriting talent and a cracking album.  She won a couple of things.  Adele bounced back from being cut off last year to be given an award remotely (she's in LA for the Oscars) but the promised "righting of the wrong" of cutting her off last year never materialised.  Ben Howard (I'm not sure that's even how you spell it) won some things.  I've heard a single by him on Radio 2, but I know nothing about him.  But at least he appears to write songs.

Then the big one.  A new award.  An award invented specifically so that One Direction can be rewarded for their global success.  That's right - the global success of their marketing and publicity machine was rewarded by giving the award to the five pretty-boy mediocre singers who take all the credit.  Adele was in LA preparing to sing a song she co-wrote (that's properly co-wrote - not just changing a word and taking half the songwriting royalties - step forward the Spice Girls...) at the Oscars off the back of a couple of great albums and several years work.  These five clowns were rewarded simply for saying what they had been told to say, singing a few songs written for them and learning how to apply hair product.  They are undoubtedly big stars (when I'm in the US, they are everywhere...) but musicians they are not.

And so there it was.  Emeli Sandé closed the show with true class.  But even that could've wipe the stain of 1D from my mind.  There's rumour of the Brits being extended into a week of concerts and events next week.  If that is the case, then please can we put some of the fun back into it; I don't think I could take a week of the current drivel.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Nothing Ever Happens

It's that thing.  The thing where I don't have anything to say, but feel as though I have to write something in here.  So here is something.

I went to Seattle again recently.  My job is taking me there relatively often at the moment, meaning I'm going to set to see the place in all seasons.  This season isn't a flattering one for Seattle.  It's cold and wet and rather grey.  My time there was pretty much all spent working; I was there to work after all; but I did get to a bar one night.

Bars are like airports, when you're inside one, you could be anywhere in the world.  Then you walk outside and it hits you.  "I'm in America, I'd forgotten that".

There is one way to tell country from country, and that's the toilets.  Don't laugh.  Genuinely, different countries have different shaped toilets and urinals.  In some places they are wide and shallow, in other places they are small and deep.  In some places, then flush automatically, in other places there are buttons.  And in Japan there are washlets (Google it!) with a whole button panel next to you which must be deciphered before you can leave the bathroom.  Urinals are square in some places, too.

Despite all my travels over the years, Seattle is the only US city I've visited.  It's quite a nice one, actually. Quite relaxed and laid back, and European-feeling in some respects.  I can't complain too much that I'm going to be spending a fair amount of time there.

Of course, London isn't all sunshine and tropical breezes at this time of year.  It's slightly colder than Seattle if anything.  I discovered recently that Seattle is actually slightly further south than London.  Surprising, but true.  Well other people have said they weren't that surprised, but I certainly was.

So there you go - that was "nothing". I promise I'll write "something" soon.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Know Thy Neighbour

It's often said that in London, nobody knows their neighbours.  We all live in high rise blocks and dash in from work without so much as a nod of acknowledgement in the lift. We lock the door and ignore all those outside of it.  We wouldn't know the name of the person whose front door faced ours, let alone the name of the old lady who we held the front door open for the other day.

But it's not always true.  Today I went to a funeral.  The funeral of a neighbour.  We always invite our neighbours to parties and they invite us around in return.  We even have a neighbour on our pub quiz team (and a few neighbours are on rival teams, too).  We know at least twenty of our neighbours (in a block with 60 or so flats) by name.

When we went to the funeral service today, we arrived to find other neighbours stepping out of taxis, some already waiting by the church door.  All talking, and swapping stories of Jean and how much we would miss her around the building.  We all sat together in the church, and afterwards chatted over lunch and said goodbye to someone we will all genuinely miss having around in our lives.  Pew after pew in the church was full of people from the building.  Neighbours - and friends.

So, whenever anyone tells you that London life is one without neighbours, and without knowing the names behind the faces you see every day - tell them it's not always true - there's at least one building in Wapping where we do all know each other, look out for each other, and when it comes to it we all work together to make the building a great building to live in.

Jean would've looked around the service today, and seen all the faces she saw around the building.  All there to say goodbye to her, and show that we will all be around to help out the loving husband she leaves behind.

Funerals are desperately sad affairs - the only others I've ever been to before today were for relatives - but in a world where neighbours supposedly don't know each other, there was one church in Covent Garden proving that it's not always the case today...