Tuesday, 8 November 2005

Maisie and the Mint Matchmakers

Before I forget this, I must mention that we found out at the weekend that Maisie likes mint-flavoured Matchmaker chocolates. Unbelievable.

Further rioting in France, spreading to both Rennes and Nantes, both of which we know well and like immensely. The French government is bringing in curfews, it appears. A shame really that France is not governed by New Labour, which seems intent on giving the Police the power to hold people without charge for up to ninety days. That would sort out all these rioters, wouldn't it? Absolutely disgusting.

On the same subject, there are posters on the Tube at the moment by the TV Licensing people, to the effect "Use your computer to visit our site before we use our computer to visit your site". Very Big Brother-esque. And I couldn't help noticing when we were in Wales that daytime tv was running ads to the effect "Make sure you eat less than 6g of salt a day". This really is invasive, who on earth do these people think they are?
I wonder what Orwell would have made of all this? I wonder how strong the comparisons are with 1930 Germany? This really worries me since it shows the state getting larger and larger, stronger and stronger, to the detriment of individual liberties.

I must tie a knot in my handkerchief to write Isabelle to get her take on what is going on in France.

Monday, 7 November 2005

Places

Right, have forced some time to write an entry. Very interesting news from France currently, where there have been riots in some of their poor suburbs for the last four or five nights (BBC). Of course one knows about some of the really slummy areas on the outskirts of Paris (and indeed this is where most of the trouble seems to have taken place) - they are the parts that everyone knows about but nobody sees - but there are reports of trouble as far afield as Marseille (perhaps not surprising) and also Toulouse and Dijon (both of which stagger me). Toulouse is one of my favourite cities and is does seem alien to me that people would riot there.

I suppose in reality there is a part of every city that is known about but never visited, regardless of the country. In the UK we know about certain parts of certain cities - and not just London - where you simply wouldn't want to be. I'm sure France must be the same, its just that this kind of news doesn't normally make it across national borders.

On the subject of favourite cities, this is something I don't think I've ever discussed in this blog. Places that have most impressed me include Toulouse, as I said, also places like Montpellier, Avignon - it would be lovely to imagine finally settling somewhere where all three of these cities is accessible (along with the Med). After I left college I lived in Oxford for five years or so, and I would say that this too is a beautiful city (in terms of architecture). Again, though, where I lived I saw quite a lot of crime and was regularly the victim of it once I bought my car.

In the mid-nineties I lived for a while in the USA, starting off just outside Washington, DC (a place called Chantilly). Terrible place, not my cup of tea at all. Long highways punctuated with either shopping malls or housing estates. We did of course visit Washington itself, but again my memories are somewhat nondescript. We moved on to Tampa, which was far more agreeable. The climate alone almost made me feel as if I were on holiday (although I was working). Not much of a "city" atmosphere though, except for the old part of Ybor (which was excellent). My overriding memory is that one of the intersections there is called Malfunction Junction. Onward and upward (well, northward) to New York City, which I have to say I loved. Especially as a single chap, at the time. But what a bustle!

I actually got the opportunity to live/work in New York for good (I have the US immigration visa sitting in my filing cabinet), but on reflection I'm glad it fell through. The original offer was that the job was to be based in Tampa (less than half the cost of living as NYC). The salary offered would have been enough for a nice sports car and a beachfront apartment, who could ask for more? Unfortunately the employer decided that it'd be better to set up shop in NYC instead - and offered me the same salary which would have barely bought into a houseshare, let alone a place of my own. But as I say, in the three years after returning from the US I'd met Jacqueline, we were happily married, and Alice was on the scene.

Anyway, enough musing. Quite a quiet weekend. We headed over to Southampton Saturday to catch the lunchtime showing of Nanny MacFee. Alice enjoyed it lots, but more of a kids movie. We stayed there afterwards and had a bite to eat at TGI Fridays, then did the weekly shop on the way home. Back home in time for Alice and I to head straight out to the Downton firework display. Not bad - smaller than the one last week but a third of the cost also.

Sunday the only activity of note was that we met up with Simon and went to Serendipity Sams, followed by a MacDonalds run. First time we've been to MacDonalds for months. Come to think of it, first time we've seen Simon for months. He's embarked on a career as a contractor and seems to be surviving, although he's currently working away from home during the week (Hemel Hempstead) and staying over. Definitely not to my taste, though I suppose lots of people would look at the amount of time I spent on trains and question my sanity!

I expect more nonsense this week about the contract with the client. I'm currently in the middle of a two-week extension of the old contract, and although the signs are encouraging there's nothing on the table as yet. No news about any new contracts.

Thursday, 3 November 2005

Autumn at Last

Very much back into the groove with respect to the clients. Been juggling around four or five issues since I got back into their office. On the plus side, it appears that there has been a breakthrough with the contract, with the client seemingly recognising the difference in the reality between inside- and outside-IR35 relationships, and saying that they are willing to structure the paperwork accordingly. I suppose that whilst all these negotiations are a hassle, they do drive out the issues and it does protect me against typical IR claims that clauses in contracts are "shams", if ever there is an investigation. So there is currently only one sticking point, with the agency and to do with parity between us in terms of termination clauses etc. Hopefully they will give way on that and we can get on with the work.

Having said all that, the marketplace seems very active at the moment, so perhaps we'll be talking about contract negotiations again sometime shortly...

Weather has turned autumnal. The Weather Station I bought, and subsequently had to return to Germany because it was duff, has still not been replaced. Very slack. It highlights the dangers of buying from eBay, really. Whatever saving I made from buying it through eBay rather than from a bricks-and-mortar shop have pretty much been wiped out by the fact that it cost me £30 to send the bloody thing back. Plus it is now something like six or seven weeks since I actually "placed the order", which of course is totally unacceptable these days