Monday, 25 July 2005

Green Fingers

Quite a quiet weekend, didn't get out much but got lots done. Saturday, we lost track of the time and I ended up being shaved, showered and dressed in just ten minutes, so we could get to Alice's end-of-term ballet class. For the final class of the term, parents are allowed to watch. So, we rushed off complete with camera. In fact, it really is an eye-opener to see Alice at these classes now. She actually listens and does as she's told, rather than just doing her own thing. You can see why the school have claimed she's progressed so much this year.

Off out to the shops - Hockeys then Sainsburys, and then on to the garage to pick up my car. Fortunately the damage was just an oil filter, which in the grand scheme of things is basically trivial. Very relieved since my car is now of an age where maintainance can be expensive...

Once home, I got out into the garden, where lots of things required "trimming". I took the hedge trimmer to the bushes along the boundary of the property and cut back anything overhanging onto the road. Typical garden work - the cutting took fifteen minutes and the tidying took a couple of hours. Still, the garden looks all the better for it. Far more to do, of course - I must trim the other side of the bushes (I only trimmed the parts that face the road), and the largest task, to cut back the magnolia tree.

These tasks were planned for Sunday, but steady rain all day put paid to any work in the garden. Instead, I had a nice lie in, and then tidied the back bedroom in preparation for my mum's visit later in the week. In the end, the cleanup was very successful. I ended up with a very small pile of documents I need to keep, a slightly larger pile of documents I'm going to scan and then shred, a still larger pile of documents to go straight to the scanner, and an enormous pile of miscellany which can just be left out for the next waste paper collection.
Spent a lot of time, therefore, shredding things. So much so that the shredder cut out about three times (it cuts out when it gets too hot), and I had to wait for it to cool before continuing. At the very end, I think I might even have broken it, but I'm not sure - it may just have been acting funny since it was hot. But basically I had a bin bag and a half to shred, and there will be more to come... Hope I haven't broken the thing!

So that was it, really. Lots of tidying in both the garden and the house. Meantime Jacqueline ran the hoover round and cleaned the kitchen, so everything looks very respectable at present.

Must say something on the events of the last few days. The last time I really mentioned anything in the news was a couple of weeks ago, after the bombs went off in London. Very quickly, it seems, the Police managed to identify the (suicide) bombers. All four were disgruntled Muslims, all four were ostensibly "home grown", i.e. had UK backgrounds. Very concerning.

Last Thursday I was invited out for a lunchtime beer, it was Lesley's (client) birthday. As I was sipping my shandy at the Blue Posts one of the chaps received a phone call to say that there were reports on tv of further explosions. I got onto the internet and sure enough, Sky's website was reporting the same. Incidents at Warren Street, The Oval, Shepherd's Bush and a bus in Hackney. As these things do, over the course of the afternoon events became clearer - it would appear that every device failed to explode. The detonators exploded, but did not set off the explosives themselves. A lucky escape, and this was made all the more interesting because the current reports are that the explosive was the same as that used in the bombs of a couple of weeks ago. There were further reports of one guy laying star-like on top of his bomb as he thought it was about to explode, and of one guy looking very hacked off when his backback failed to detonate. So, no explosions, but all four of the guys managed to escape. Obviously everything went into a state of high alert.
Friday, we started getting reports that a guy has been shot by Police at Stockwell. Of course, everyone is quick to make a link between this and the explosion at The Oval. Plus, there were eyewitness reports very shortly afterwards which gave the impression of almost a "hit" - the guy was running from the Police, who caught him, got him on the floor, and shot him five times at very close range. Obviously this guy was dead, although the news reports were at pains to say that they tried their best to revive him.

Very mixed feelings about this - on the one hand you feel that this is no more than these bombers deserve. Yet on the other hand, in a civilised society the Police would need to have absolutely rock-solid reasons for behaving in this way. This kind of behaviour has got to be the exception rather than the norm. I even argued with Jacqueline over this on Friday evening - her stance was that by not stopping when challenged by the Police, he deserved to be shot.

My concerns were borne out on Saturday, when it emerged that the guy who had been killed was a 27-year-old electrician, just going about his business. Of course, nobody knows why he ran away when challenged by the Police, but the fact remains that by running, he sealed his own fate. And this is the real problem we have - it is all very well to say "shoot 'em all", but it is a whole new ball game when it comes to identifying who "they" are. Can the Police be allowed to shoot people who run away when challenged, as a matter of course? Of course they can't.

Now we hear that the victim's family are intent on suing the Met. Don't blame them, I would do exactly the same.

I suppose all this does is to prove what a fine line the Police need to tread. In the cold light of day it is easy to see things as "right" or "wrong", but in the heat of the moment things become a lot more complicated. And, of course, we need to be satisfied that the guy firing the gun is behaving as rationally as possible under the circumstances. I wonder whether this is always the case?

Thursday, 21 July 2005

Car woes

Very fed up again yesterday. Funnily enough quite busy at the client's, I've build some enhancements onto one of their systems and it is due to go be finished soon. Ended up staying in town until gone 7pm last night, didn't get home until 9:30pm.

Found out yesterday that the clients are recruiting again, and it did cross my mind that it could well be to replace my services. We'll see I suppose. At least that would have a galvanising effect, even though it might mean financial hardship until I could find some more clients.

To top it all, as I was driving home last night the Oil Pressure light went on in my car. Fortunately I was about a minute's drive from a petrol station, so bought some oil and poured it in the engine. I looked at the manual for the car and it basically said to stop the car immediately if this light went on. Still, once I'd fed the oil in the light stayed off, and although I was a little concerned about making the journey into Salisbury this morning (travelling with 5 litres of engine oil in the boot at the moment!) I got to the station without any mishap. I'm taking it over to the garage later tonight for them to look at tomorrow, so it hasn't got to struggle for much longer. Can't help thinking that something pretty fundamentally bad has happened to it, though, which obviously means expense. Last time I took it to the garage the bill was £2500, and I just can't afford this kind of money at present.

Maybe, as Jacqueline says, the time has come to sell the car... But what to buy in its place?

Monday, 18 July 2005

Insolvency

Getting very lax with entries once again. Back from an interesting weekend. Beautiful weather, I spent a lot of time either gardening or clearing out the garage, resulting in lots of waste. I took a trip to the tip last might to get rid of the garage waste, but there is still easily a skipful of garden waste on the driveway. And there's more to come - I've only cleared the patio and the driveway so far. The plan is to tidy the front garden - including the Magnolia tree - and the back garden also. Plenty of work ahead...

In other things, work with the clients hit a new low last week, when I found that they'd forgotten to pay me. Fortunately they corrected it, but in the intervening week all of my accounts went overdrawn, and I had a letter from the bank on Saturday saying that they'd bounced a direct debit and had charged me £25 for the privilege. You can't even blame them for it, since it is just the rules on the account. It is purely the client that has caused the hardship.

When I found that the client hadn't paid their invoice, I decided not to go up to town that day to work out what to do. Trouble is, you're only really penalising yourself, because you know they will pay, even if it is a bit late. So staying away doesn't really mean much more than a day's lost fees. Still, spent the day gardening instead.

We went over to Mottisfont Abbey last weekend. Beautiful weather and a lovely place. On the spur of the moment Jacqueline decided to enrol us in the National Trust for the year. So, you can guess what we did this weekend!

Yesterday, I was up early to clear out the garage. We'd already decided to go out for a picnic (bought lots of nice "picnic food" on Saturday), but I left it entirely to Jacqueline to decide where we should go. She just told me to be ready for midday (which I almost was). And so we left, very organised (Jacqueline even did an Autoroute route map), for Stourhead Gardens, over toward Warminster. Again, lovely weather and a really beautiful place - very "Brideshead Revisited". Excellent picnic under some trees (surrounded by ducks), followed by a decent walk around the gardens (we followed a 2-mile trail).

At the end, however, the day was spoilt. Right at the end of the walk there was a pub, and on such a hot day I was looking forward to a nice pint of shandy. Unfortunately as I was at the front of the queue Alice had other ideas, and started messing with my camera. I got a little stressed at seeing my expensive camera being pulled apart, and hurriedly returned to the table to rescue it, thereby losing my place in the queue. I certainly wasn't going to queue again (several people had entered the pub just behind us), so I ended up walking out of the pub, very annoyed. I didn't speak to either Jacqueline or Alice for the rest of the day (Jacqueline, of course, takes Alice's side when I start getting angry with her, so as far as Alice is concerned she hasn't done anything particularly "wrong".) Unpleasant journey home. Hot and thirsty.

Anyway....as you have to as a family I eventually let things slide, although Jacqueline is still hacked off with me.

Have finally completed backing up DVDs to the computer - a massive 150GB later. I've put the files on a network drive, and although Winamp has a bit of trouble playing movies over the wireless network, the dedicated DivX software had no such problems.

Finally sent off MicroCrest's Annual Return today, about a month late. Wonder if anything will come of it? Would have done it a week ago, but as I've said I couldn't write their cheque since even the company account went overdrawn.

Finally, have discovered an oil leak on my car. Must book it into the garage. More expense.

Friday, 8 July 2005

Into the Lions Den

Have been lax for a couple of weeks, mainly because not a lot has been happening, but felt I had to write something today after the events of yesterday.

What have we been up to? Well, we booked Alice's birthday party, for which invites have now been distributed. Also, we celebrated Jacqueline's birthday with a low-key meal at a Brewers' Fayre restaurant. (Great for Alice, though.) Last weekend we headed over to Stockbridge for a Sunday-afternoon drive, and had just about the worst afternoon tea we'd ever had. Small, extremely dry scones, a very minute (and carefully-rationed) amount of clotted cream, all complete with a Fawlty-esque character who was presumably the proprietor. I have forgotten the name of the placer but it is somewhat immaterial - we shan't be visiting again. It seems typical of these tourist-trap villages where proprietors know that they can peddle any old rubbish and still make money. In fact, I suppose we are quite lucky since another village we know - Burley in the New Forest - actually has a rather nice tea room, despite attracting tourists by the coachload.

For Jacqueline's birthday, Alice bought her some stuff on eBay - heaven knows what but something "crafty", and I have yet to buy her a Light Box. I'll buy it after payday, but its not as if she needs it right now in any case! We also got her some nice smellies from Fortnum's, and a small box of chocolates from Charbonnel et Walker.

Still on the subject of Jacqueline, she's got a new job. Somewhat out of the blue, since she wasn't even looking. The new practise contacted her, and she moved forward with it on the basis that it might offer some extra hours on top of her existing job. But it was sufficiently more hours, and the role obviously had sufficient positives, that she has now decided to take the job instead of her current job. Far better hours, since for the most part she is working mornings which means that the "picking Alice up from school" chestnut for the most part is resolved.

DVD backups are still in full swing, in fact almost complete. Another week will see it through I think. I've also bought some DVDs lately too - mainly some French language stuff but also the Indiana Jones and Back to the Future trilogies. A bit disappointed since a lot of Alice's DVDs appear now to be unplayable. I have just replaced Mary Poppins and it would appear that Sleeping Beauty and Robin Hood have gone the same way. Of course, this is really the first time ever that I've effectively collated the DVDs - and of course the whole process of getting them onto the computer will mean that she does not touch the actual disks again.
Had to visit the DVLA earlier in the week, my car tax had run out and I hunted high and low, without success, for the registration document. Ended up having to request a new one, of course in exchange for a disproportionate fee.

So, yesterday started off fairly normally. I happened to take the later train in and was just going down into the Jubilee line at a quarter past nine. There was a train waiting in the station, but not going anywhere because of a "power surge" at some stations. They let slip that the whole Tube network was affected, and of course when you stop and think about it, this immediately raises suspicions. Still, no trains going anywhere so in common with everyone else got overground once again. Since I was in the midst of thousands of others at Waterloo, there was no point waiting for a bus or trying for a taxi, so just started walking...

Fortunately, the first thing I did when I got to the client's office was to phone Jacqueline to tell her what an awful journey I'd had. Whilst we didn't know at that stage what had happened, she did at least know that I was safe and whining like a good 'un. Then, of course, web sites started breaking the news. Explosion at Liverpool Street, Bus blown up etc. All very piecemeal and, at this early stage, unconfirmed. Different web sites saying different things. For the rest of the morning it was clear that something had happened, but not yet what. One of the guys who works for the client had been in contact with his wife, who works in Fenchurch St, and who said that they had all been evacuated into the centre of their (bomb-proof) building. Another report of a suicide bomber being shot at Canary Wharf.

As time progressed events became clearer, although not the travel situation. We heard that the whole of the travel network was suspended, yet at the same time South West Trains were reporting that Waterloo was open and that services were running. So, getting home may still be an issue... As the afternoon progressed, there were continued mixed messages, and I pretty much decided that the only way to find out what was happening would be to walk across to Waterloo and see for myself. As it happened, I left the office early, at four o'clock. There were lots of people on the streets, but Waterloo was indeed behaving as normal. My train left on time and I duly arrived in Salisbury - somewhat earlier than I had intended, to boot.

I would have to say that I felt a huge feeling of relief once I stepped off the train at Salisbury - a definite feeling that my destiny was back in my own hands somewhat.

When I got home, Jacqueline was surprisingly stressed about all of this, far moreso than myself. I suppose there was the worry there that something might yet happen - we had spoken several times during the day but the fact that the mobile networks were out meant that we couldn't necessarily speak "at will". Plus, Jacqueline has said several times about how she fears my working in London for exactly this reason.

Phone calls from several people, including Isabelle, to make sure I was Ok.

Nice early-ish night last night and back into town this morning. Train quite empty. Wore some trainers - if there's one thing these bombs have reinforced it is how dangerous it is to travel by public transport, especially to somewhere that is walkable anyway. So, an enforced fitness drive!

Plans for the weekend - possibly a visit to Mottisfont Abbey, weather permitting (weather pretty lousy today, not at all July weather). Plus I think Jacqueline has booked a shift in A&E on Sunday.