Wednesday, December 30, 2015

It's that time of year

It's the time of year when everyone seems to look back at the past twelve months, and quite often attempts to draw a line in the temporal sand, step over it and make their lives better.

I doubt, no matter how long I live, that I'll ever have a perfect year.  That's probably true for most of us.  Nobody is ever doing to look back at their year and name all the things which went too well and resolve to make them worse, so it's only natural that we hear so many people talking about how "bad" the past year was, and how they will move on in 2016.

My 2015 hasn't been bad.  I've had worse years and I've had better.  I had an amazing holiday which I doubt I'll ever repeat in either the sense of retracing the route nor in scale.  Yet, I find myself about to leave a job which I've enjoyed for the past four years.  I've not lost the weight I had planned to lose in 2015, but I have vastly improved my French.

I've certainly not written in here as often as I had planned.

But yet I head into 2016 without resolutions.  I've always found that priorities work better for me than arbitrary goals, and so I head into 2016 with priorities rather than resolutions.

In 2015, I went through the job interview process for the first time in a while.  It's a strange process, and probably going to be the catalyst for a few entries in here.  Job interviewing has also brought me back into contact with recruiters - now there's a profession with a bad name. Another few entries lurking in that thought too, I think.

But mostly I head into 2016 positively.  My house isn't flooded. My city didn't suffer terrible terrorist atrocities.  I have a roof over my head and enough food to eat in the fridge.  I don't feel that my best option in life is to take a potentially life-threatening journey across the sea only to find myself demonised by many people when I get there.  My 2015 wasn't perfect, but I'm not going to complain.


Monday, November 23, 2015

It's been a while

It's been a long while since I've written in here. Probably so long that I should consider this a new blog rather than just skipping over the gap like nothing happened.  Well not much has happened.   Well not in my life anyway.  Oh, well I went on a really long holiday, but not much besides that.  The holiday wasn't the length of the whole gap away from this blog though.  So I don't really have an excuse.

Anyway, like many people, last week I updated my Facebook picture to include a French flag.  I didn't use one of the in-built overlay things; I found a picture of a French flag in my own photos and used that.  But now I'm stuck with it.  It's made me realise when I never usually do these things.  No Pride flag, no Red Ribbon on World AIDS Day. It's not because I don't care, it's to avoid the awkwardness of when you take it down again.

It's a bit easier when it's a particular day.  You can take it down as soon as that day is over. But I put up a French flag in order to demonstrate solidarity with French friends. To show them I care.  So how long should I leave it up. If I take it down now, am I showing them that I no longer care?  If putting the flag up with to indicate that I'm thinking of how difficult this must for them, does taking it down mean that I've given up thinking about the attacks in Paris and gone back to pondering who's going to win Strictly this year?

Of course not, but it's the dangerous ground you step into when you do this public show of support.  I should just rely on the fact that my friends know I'll be thinking of them.  But now I'm stuck with a French flag as as Facebook profile picture and have to think of a delicate way to remove it.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Disappointing dreams

I find dreams interesting.  Not in any sense of believing that they reveal innermost desires, nor that they can in any way predict the future or wander into the distant past.  I've always found my dreams to be a strange mix of real things from the day, and other things which have wandered into my mind from books or from snatches glimpsed from whatever is on the TV.

But sometimes my mind will come up with something rather lovely, and it can be a disappointment to wake up in the morning and find that it was just a dream.

Last night I dreamt of a Victorian building in Belfast.  It was a brick building with huge arches along the front in yellow and red brick.  Inside was a long hallway, looking like a brick-built canal with a viewing gallery along the side.  Crowds would gather along the edge and wait for the tide.  When the tide came into the harbour, a series of tunnels brought the water up and a rush of water would fill the canal violently throwing waves over the crowd who roared with delight.  It was just like being at the seaside.

There was something rather lovely about it. I'm just disappointed to wake up and find that this isn't a real thing.  I've also never been to Belfast.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Shopping

I enjoy shopping.  I enjoy the process of going and looking at nice things and coming home with more nice things than I had before I left the house.  I guess I'm a bit of a magpie.  Although not everything I buy is shiny.

Many things are shiny though.

Today I went over to Canary Wharf.  I remember years ago when nobody was there at weekends and there was a Tesco Metro and a few sad-looking shoe shops.  But these days it's a proper shopping centre.

I thought I may look for some new shirts.  I don't actually need any - in the traditional sense of the word - but it's always nice to add a little more variety into the wardrobe.

But shirt shops are so intimidating.  Why do they need quite so many staff?  Why do the staff always follow you around silently, hovering just out of sight waiting to pounce if you should show any interest in a shirt.  I don't tend to buy "plain" shirts, and so it often takes me a while in shops to find the small section where they put the shirts with patterns.  I'm not really interested in owning a wardrobe full of identical "slightly blue" or "slightly pink" shirts.

So wandering around shirt shops in a area which sells mostly to people who work in the financial sector can mean quite a search to find a shirt which isn't plain, or has more pattern than just a subtle stripe running through it.

Twice today I left shirt shops because of an assistant following me around silently like a creepy stalker.  I ended up in Waitrose - at least the staff there don't follow you around the place.

After successfully getting a shirt with enough pattern to keep me interested, I popped in JD Sports to pick up some new tops for the gym.  I find with gym tops that I get through them pretty quickly.  They get worn and through the wash so often that they don't tend to last all that long, so I like to get new ones from time to time.  Anyway, I was paying, and a guy came in having called in advance to reserve a pair of trainers.  Is that something people do?  I don't really get the "designer trainer" thing, but it surprises me that someone would call ahead and ask for a particular pair of trainers. Maybe I'm just too old to understand.

Despite the intimidation, I can never get as excited by shopping online as by actually going into a shop and looking at things.  I think I enjoy spontaneous shopping more than researched shopping.  Of course, if you're buying something expensive then research is good.   But if you're buying a shirt, or a suit, then I find that spontaneous shopping with a limited budget is actually more fun.  It's more fun to say "I'm going to go out and spend up to X on a shirt today".  Much more fun than trawling the internet to save yourself every last 50p...

Talking of which, it's Eurovision in the not-too-distant future - I must start buying stuff...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Dreams

I never really remember my dreams, and so it's unusual for me that I do recall quite some detail about last night's dream.

I was in my office.  Not my real office, of course. But there's a tall, square-sided glass building which seems to function as my office.  I was looking out of the window at the planes flying overhead.  The "dream" office is definitely in London, although not in Chiswick where my real office is.  More likely in Edgware Road where my first office in London was.

And then I saw a missile fire up from amongst the low buildings and into the sky.  Suddenly, the engine of a plane came drifting down. Yes drifting - not falling - and hovered outside the office window for a few minutes. It was close enough that the office was shaking.  The flight number (SK996 for those who care) was written on the engine.

And so this concerned me, as I was flying to Las Vegas from Heathrow that evening, and I wondered whether the airport would still be open.  It was at that point that I found myself in a huge underground shopping complex in Uxbridge.  After walking for what seemed like miles, we ended up at the Hammermith and City line platform and got the train to Heathrow. Which was open again and planes were flying.

I find this interesting.  Not in any supernatural, prescient, sense of course.  Just because I can remember this dream in much more detail than normal. It's fairly normal for me to remember dreams in quite a lot of detail as soon as I wake up, but then over the following hours the clarity fades and by the time the day is growing old, I forget even the main thrust of the dreams.

But there are locations which come up again and again in my dreams.  There's the tower block with the garden on top. Which I think is the same building as my office which keeps recurring in my dreams.  Most of the time the building is in London, but it has been in Beijing once, next to a hotel with an amazing foyer and huge lush green gardens with tables amongst the trees where you can eat the most amazing Chinese food.

Dreams are odd.  I guess that's what I'm saying.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A sad loss to the guinea pig world...

We lost one of our guinea pigs recently.  My lost, I mean "she died" of course. We didn't put her down somewhere and forget where we'd put her.

It's a strange situation when a pet dies. Obviously there's an emotional connection, and it's sad. Although at the same time, it's important to retain some perspective.  It's OK to feel sad, but I'm not going to be taking any days compassionate leave from work to grieve.  Which is why it is strange that we did manage to give a complete stranger the impression that we were grieving heavily.  Let me explain.

So of all our guinea pigs, Marmalade was one of the special ones.  She had an operation for bladder stones around two years ago.  Guinea pigs don't cope well with general anaesthetic   She recovered well initially but then her weight started to drop. With guinea pigs, this is a bad sign.  So we were hand-feeding her and eventually even giving her daily injections of subcutaneous fluids.  At some point during all of this, when she was very weak and not eating for herself, she managed to do something to her back leg and dislocate it.  She was nowhere near strong enough to go through the procedure to reset the leg and - in all honesty - we thought she was so ill that she may not make it through anyway.  And she seemed to be coping OK with the wrongly-angled leg.

Then there came a point when we spoke to the vet and agreed we'd just withdraw treatment.  She wasn't showing any signs of getting any better, and so we decided we'd withdraw everything except the pain medication to keep her pain-free and some regular water to make sure she kept hydrated.  Then she surprised us by deciding to eat a biscuit.  The first thing she'd eaten of her own accord for over a month.

And over the coming weeks, she ate more and more and put weight back on, and eventually was back up to full weight.  Except now of course she had a slightly dodgy leg.  She was getting around fine, but we did wonder whether there was anything we could do about it.

It's normal for most vets to put guinea pigs under general anaesthetic for an X-Ray - just to keep them still - but there are some vets who can wrap the guinea pigs up to keep them still and do the X-Ray without the need to knock them out. So we had that done, and sure enough the leg was indeed dislocated.  So much so that it probably wouldn't "go back in and stay there" particularly successfully.

And so she plodded on with her three working legs and "slightly at the wrong angle leg" for another two years.  She even got into a battle for dominance with a young, fully fit new guinea pig we introduced her two.

But in the past few months, she started to lose weight again.  We took her back for another X-Ray and the bladder stones were back.  So faced with a decision - if we didn't put her in for an operation, she would just fade away over time - or if we did, we'd run the risk of a bad recovery again. So we had no real choice other than to put her in for an operation.  Despite a brief rally afterwards, she ultimately wasn't strong enough to recover from a general anaesthetic again.

And so what to do with her.  We have a roof garden here, and so we have quickly run out of space to bury guinea pigs in a traditional way. And we didn't really just want to throw her away, so that left us with the option of cremation.  So last weekend we found ourselves at a pet crematorium out in the Essex countryside.

We turned up, with her safely wrapped up and boxed up.  The receptionist said to us "you can go straight through to the chapel".  Chapel.

So we went into the side room, carrying the guinea pig in the bag.  It was a room painted white, with a large red cushion on which I guess one is supposed to lay out your deceased pet to say goodbyes.  And there was a little book in which to write a message.

And so we stood there. At this point, we were entirely sure what we were supposed to be doing. And so we waited.  We were slightly early for our appointment time, so we expect that come 11am they'd come into the room and we could do the paperwork.  And so we waited.  Past 11am. Past 11.10am.

By now we'd been standing in the room for half an hour.  Eventually we plucked up the courage to go back out and ask the receptionist whether she had forgotten us.

"Oh" she said "we were leaving you to grieve"

And so there you have it - the receptionist had it in her mind that we had spent half an hour grieving over the loss of our guinea pig.  She was a lovely, adorable and very amiable little pig.  But I don't think we're going to spend half an hour crying over her in a chapel.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Expectations

From time to time, I find myself descending into a spiral of clicking on Wikipedia.  You go to look for one thing, such as "what's the name of the brewery who own the Queen Vic in Eastenders?  I can remember the one from Corrie but not the one from Eastenders".  And so, I find out that the brewery sold the pub many years ago, and it's passed through the Mitchell family lots and is now owned by Danny Dyer. Apparently.

But then curiosity takes me into clicking on the production of Eastenders. Ever since I was a kid I've had a fascination with how TV shows are produced.  Back in the day, I went around Granada Studios Tour in Manchester several times.  I wasn't interested in the immersive parts - you know, the bits where an "East German Guard" got on the tram and everyone had to pretend to be scared. I found that all a bit silly, and embarrassing - but I absolutely loved the parts where they showed you cameras and told you how things were made.

So anyway, when presented with a Wikipedia article on Eastenders, I'm obviously going to read about how it's made, whether the Queen Vic has an inside and what's beyond the railway bridge.  And in doing so I came across this paragraph - don't worry, you don't have to read it... skip past if you want...

"Although episodes are predominantly recorded weeks before they are broadcast, occasionally, EastEnders includes current events in their episodes. In 1987, EastEnders covered the general election. Using a plan devised by co-creators Smith and Holland, five minutes of material was cut from four of the pre-recorded episodes preceding the election. These were replaced by specially recorded election material, including representatives from each major party, and a scene recorded on the day after the election reflecting the result, which was broadcast the following Tuesday.[48] The result of the 2010 general election was referenced in 7 May 2010 episode.During the 2006 FIFA World Cup, actors filmed short scenes following the tournament's events, that were edited into the programme in the following episode.Last-minute scenes have also been recorded to reference the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War in 1995, the two minute silence on Remembrance Day 2005 (2005 also being the year for the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar), Barack Obama's election victory in 2008, the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review, Andy Murray winning the Men's Singles at the 2013 Wimbledon Championships, the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the birth of Prince George of Cambridge, Scotland voting no against independence in 2014, and the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War."

To summarise, Eastenders is usually filmed weeks in advance - but sometimes they film last minute scenes to reference breaking news events and slot those scenes into episodes at short notice.  They've done it for the following:

2006 World Cup
2010 General Election Result
50th Anniversary of the end of WWII
Two minute silence for Remembrance Day 2005
Barack Obama's Election Victory
Death of Michael Jackson
2010 Comprehensive Spending Review
Andy Murray winning Wimbledon
William and Kate's Wedding
Result of the Scottish Independence Referendum
100th Anniversary of the start of WWI

And something struck me.  I can understand why an election result isn't known that far in advance.  But the 50th or 100th anniversary of something is surely something the producers can plan for and write into the script in advance?



Friday, January 2, 2015

In My Liverpool Home

To the untrained ear, my accent sounds Liverpudlian.  And to a certain extent, it is.  Whenever anyone asks me where I'm originally from, if I'm giving the very high level answer, I tend to say "near Liverpool". Which isn't untrue; it's just maybe a bit vague.
Accents in the North West of England are very specific.  In the distance from Liverpool to Manchester, you cross many different accents and all in the space of 40 miles or so.  But if you're not from the area, you tend to just think of accents such as mine as "Scouse".
Of course, growing up I didn't think I had an accent.  Just as growing up in a family where every household was a smoking household you become immune to the smell of cigarette smoke.  Nowadays I can smell the smoke on my clothes long after leaving the smoky place, but back then it was just normal and as everything smelled the same way, I never noticed.
But nowadays I hear the accents up here, and then sound Liverpudlian to me.  I'm sure that years of living Down South have tempered my accent and knocked off the rough northern edges.  But to anyone who meets me from the first time, they guess I come from Liverpool.
The truth is, though, that Liverpool is nowhere near home for me.  I've written before about the fact that I don't tend to have great attachment to the place I grew up; for me, London is "home".  But Liverpool wasn't ever "home" for me. Despite it being the nearest big city, it's not somewhere I know well at all.
I came here a lot as a kid.  Usually brought to visit the Museum with my Dad and feed my fascination for dinosaurs and the collection of geological specimens which used to be there. I used to buy little samples of stones and had a green baize shelf at home with little labels where I'd collect all different types of rock.  Unlike my coin and banknote collection, neither the collection nor the fascination with the subject have followed me into adult life.
We used to come to the theatre in Liverpool.  I saw the stage show versions of both "Doctor Who" and "Allo Allo" at the Liverpool Empire, and would annually go to the Rock and Roll Pantomime at the Everyman Theatre with my Mum.
Sometimes we used to wander around the shops. I remember a fascination for a little book shop just outside Central Station and a music shop where I used to go and look at the pianos in wonderment.  This was long before the shiny malls had taken over the streets.  I once got lost in Lewis's as a young kid and was given some sweets by the lady in the cafe whilst waiting to be found.
But since moving away, my visits to this area of the country have mostly been to The Wirral as I'd stay with either my Dad or my Grandmother when visiting family.  Trips to Liverpool were rare, and I think I've only walked through the city twice in the past ten years.
But now - with both my Dad and Granny having died in recent years - I find myself staying in a hotel in the City Centre of Liverpool.  And it feels strange.  I've stayed in hotels in many cities - rarely in the UK - and never before in Liverpool.  The thought that I must investigate the WiFi at the hotel to avoid running up huge bills on my mobile is driven by my habitual experience that hotels as usually "outside the UK".  I don't think I need to tell Vodafone in advance if I'm just visiting The North, do I?  I haven't brought my passport with me either, for that matter.
To a certain extent, my knowledge of Liverpool is still that of myself as a child.  It's the magical big city with the revolving restaurant in the tower overlooking the shops, and the bombed out church at the top of the road.  It's the place where the ferries leave from and where the trains run one-way around an underground loop.  James St station with it's strangely un-renovated platform.  Dark and forboding across from the well-lit modern plastic platform.  The ghostly iron steps and closed grilles across the passageways, as though glacing across the tracks is like looking back in time.    Central Station with it's escalators down to the deep world of the Northern Line.  The line which - for me - ran from Liverpool Central out to Seaforth and Litherland and occassionally out as far as Southport.
And the other way, of course, those trains ran to St Michaels and the Liverpool Garden Festival.  Back in 1984 (I think) it was transformed into a world of waterfalls and toy trains and the yellow submarine (or sumbarine as I used to call it) raised up on a hillock overed in pansies and daffodils.  I remember going there quite a few times - including one school trip where I got to meet Roland Rat and too cheese sandwiches with me.  Driving from the airport towards the city centre, there's a road which runs right through what used to be the Garden Festival site.  Some of the buildings still stand.  In decaying, part skeletal form.  Rusting shadows of the gleaming heyday of tulips and turf. 
And so for me, going back to Liverpool isn't going home.  I may be going to the same place I used to go to as a kid, but in order to get to the Liverpool I know, I'd need to somehow step back around thirty years, too.