Saturday, 28 February 2015


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, 19 February 2015


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, 7 February 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, 1 February 2015


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?