Monday, 31 July 2006

Little Angels

Alice looked cherubic this morning, lying asleep on the sofa having (as is her wont) got up from bed very early only to put the tv on in the lounge, climb on the sofa and go back to sleep. Who could possibly guess that this was the same child who caused mayhem yesterday?

On Saturday night she started by leaving a tap on and almost flooding the bathroom. Fortunately there was a plastic bag lying under the sink, so when I heard the distinctive sound of dripping I went to investigate. Luckily there was no serious damage, the bathroom floor being covered in dirty clothes which absorbed most of the water.

On Sunday we had a report that she had been seen pulling Carlo by his tail. Although I am convinced that in her own mind there was no malice involved, obviously if what she is doing is harming the cat then it needs to be stopped. It turns out that she was in a group of children, and had taken Carlo out to play. He'd decided "enough is enough" and run off under a bush. Alice, apparently goaded by her friends, went and pulled him out. By his tail? That part remains unclear, unfortunately - Alice knew she was in trouble and was blubbing away by this time.

So basically Alice has been totally banned from picking Carlo up. The main thing that worries me is that she is so gullible - in a group of kids messing around, I can guarantee that she will be the one to get caught. I fear this is going to be a hard lesson for her to learn.

It wasn't over. Alice later asked if she could phone her grandma. No problem, I even showed her what she had to do to make the call. When speaking to Grandma she decided to go outside, where she starts faffing around. Next thing, we here a "crack" and the phone has been dropped onto the patio. She tearfully brings the phone in - display completely blank and Grandma well and truly cut off. At this point I can cope with things, telling her that she would need to pay for a replacement phone. But when she just muttered insolently that she didn't care, I flipped and lost my temper. How dare she treat other peoples' things with such contempt! As it happens I got the phone working again simply by removing and replacing the batteries, but the attitude that it didn't matter was simply unacceptable.

This is turning into a rant so I will stop now. I only hope this behaviour gets better soon.

On to other things, Alice and I went out on a bike ride yesterday. Only around the village, so I could take some photographs. I had an idea for a new banner for the family web site, and it required getting some shots of the village. I photoshopped it last night and the finished article is exactly what I wanted. It will make it onto the top of the Blog pages in the fullness of time (a comprehensive update to the blog site is planned, but I shan't promise anything just yet for fear that motivitis will set in).

Been reading some more of Petite Anglais's blog, though in parts I felt quite uncomfortable. She has committed such intensely personal, intimate stuff to it that it feels like ...difficult to describe... it feels like what she is saying is something you'd say to your closest friend rather than publishing it for complete strangers to read on the web. Plus there is the added dimension that although it is very real, it is not real time - the entries I read about took place a year ago so so even though she sounds pretty screwed up, her situation is probably completely different today. All in all left me feeling rather melancholic, and reflective on the times (fortunately now long since) when I have felt screwed up. Now I just have an errant child to deal with!

As I awoke this morning I heard the patter of rain outside. Probably just enough to spoil the washing we'd forgotten to bring in last night. Sunny now, though. The guy sitting opposite me on the train has just cleaned his glasses, and ever so meticulously folded the cleaning cloth, very neatly, in half, then quarters, then eighths, then sixteenths. Wonder if he is a surgeon? Ah well, another week toward paying the taxman!

Saturday, 29 July 2006

In the doghouse

Scene - walking past the Guild Hall in Salisbury this afternoon, a wedding just finished:

J: That's a great place to have a wedding, its so lovely in there

P: Yeah, I suppose if you've got to get married it might as well be somewhere lovely

Our House

I'd just like to wax lyrically about Google Earth. Wonderful program, if you haven't yet tried it.

They obviously concentrate on towns rather than the countryside (one field probably looking the same as any other to the untrained satellite), so our current house resembles a splodge of ink, but we could clearly see the place I lived in in New York, my mum's house and Jacqueline's flat.

Not so good France either (apart from central Paris) - both Brittany and La Sologne (where we holidayed recently) are quite poor quality. But this will only get better as time goes by.

Perhaps there is a role for global corporates after all???


Our house from 5000ft (somewhere)

My old apartment in NYC from 5000ft (obliterated by a giant pushpin!) Note the proximity to the WTC site, which I used to walk through every day on the way to the office. 9/11 probably freaked me out more than most...

Centerparcs?

(stumped)

M U G ???

Spoke to my mum yesterday. She's just bought herself a new computer from Dell, one of these less-than-£500, all-in deals. Looked quite good.

Only thing is, they're no longer specc'd with a built-in modem (she connects via ye olde dialup). She didn't notice this (and in fairness she asked me to go over the spec before she bought it and neither did I), so when the computer arrived there was no way of her getting onto the web.

Rather than phoning me (just as well since from my perspective she asks such silly questions, and from her perspective I am very short with her!) she phoned the ISP. All I can say is that I hope when the support people actually worked out that the reason she couldn't log into her email was because there was no phone connected to her computer, they had a good laugh!!

Still, to most people this wouldn't have been a big problem (would it?) - her old computer still had a fully working modem in it (albeit an internal PCI jobbie, so screwdriver required). So when she finally did phone me my advice was simply to swap it out. I seem to remember that it is a fairly recent moden - she got some guy round to fit it when the old one went bang - and of course the PC will be state of the art, so I figured if she could just get it in the slot then plug'n'play should take hold.

Anyway, this advice was received as though I'd told her to build the thing from scratch - raw metal, silicon and solder! Next thing, she'd made an excuse about "needing to go to the shops now" and hung up.

I thought about getting her an external usb modem on eBay... surely they couldn't be too expensive... but I thought I'd wait a day to see if she could pluck up the courage to swap the old modem out.

Anyway, I called her yesterday, ready with my eBay offer, only to find that when she'd finished speaking to me she'd picked up the phone to Dell, who'd politely explained to her that the only way out of her predicament was to get an external modem, and that by the way, madam, they had just the model which would be guaranteed to work with her new computer. And so they managed to fleece another £70 (yes, SEVENTY POUNDS) out of her.

I did look on eBay and could indeed have got one for £15. The final piece of advice I could offer has was to call Dell and cancel the order, but unfortunately the smooth-talking salesman's use of the phrase "guaranteed to work" had won her over, so now she is £70 lighter.

Apart from the fact that I am pissed off that (as is always the case) the kind of knowledge my clients are willing to pay pretty darned handsomly for means diddley-squat to my mother, I can't help wondering what kind of modem one would get for a £70 outlay. 18-carat gold, perhaps?

Thursday, 27 July 2006

The Meeting that Changed my Life

Well, I spent a little more time over lunch yesterday reading some of the archived entries in the blog of La Petite Anglaise. Whilst she doesn't have a spectacular story to tell, there is nevertheless that "something" in her musings which makes it worth going back for more. Plus of course there is the general idyll (at least from a third party's perspective) of somebody who "ups-sticks" from England and goes to live in one of the most wonderful cities in the world.

It is one of those blogs which is so well written that you feel you're getting to know the person - a real "who I am". I suspect my own blog confines itself to "what I did" without going too much into the "who" part, and is probably not as good a read as a result.

One of this woman's entries was about how she'd met her boyfriend, and so it occurred to me that I could talk a little about my history, what I've done in my life and how I ultimately came to meet Jacqueline.
Well, I spent roughly the first half of the nineties in my first job, living in Oxford. I grew to hate the confinements of the job and as a consequence remember it as a pretty unfulfilling time. I had a couple of relationships but none (as far as I was concerned) was serious. Going nowhere.

In 1994 I got my "big break" work-wise, when I managed to find a job in IT for a very prestigious software house. Since I hadn't come from an IT background I was naturally full of trepidation, and initially somewhat concerned as to whether I'd "cut the mustard". To my surprise I found that not only could I do the job, but I could do the job pretty darned well. I got into not just programming but leading projects and doing project management stuff, and this whetted my appetite. My social life completely tailed off, since I was regularly putting in 13-hour working days - I remember I frequently used to fall asleep in the pub on Fridays, people thought I was drunk - but work-wise things were going great.

Trouble was, I'd got a taste for project management but there was limited scope at this software house. First and foremost I was a programmer to them. So eventually I started looking...

The next job was something of a rollercoaster. Lots more money and performing the role I wanted to do, this place was an internet startup in the very early days of the internet (1995, before Microsoft had even released a usable version of Internet Explorer!), peddling a B2B application. Plus I got to go and work in the US on and off for a year. Massive buzz, long hours, but in retrospect it was very stressful and put me off managing projects (or more specifically, managing people) for good, and made me a lot wiser to marketers peddling what was essentially vapourware.

This was literally one of those life-changing jobs. The company started off with venture capitalist backing, but the guys fronting the company were sufficiently good salesmen that they managed to hook Barclaycard, obviously a massive name - this is a good indicator or just how slick these guys were, and what the market conditions were at the time. Now, all we had to do was develop the solution... In came the unrealistic promises/deadlines - all the kind of stuff that 10 years' more experience you'd either walk away from, or at the very least turn around and say "you're not paying me enough for this shit".

Not content with the Barclaycard coup, these guys got themselves contacts at Chase Manhattan, and the push was on to corner the US market also. In fact, it was to drive this push technically that I spent a lot of time over there. We started off, around February '96, working from the offices of the venture capitalists, just outside Washington, DC (close to Dulles). Terrible place, completely put me off the USA. Bleak highways interspersed with housing estates and shopping malls. No kind of hub at all, very much "The 'Burbs".
Then, as things with Chase firmed up, the location got moved down to Tampa, Fl, where Chase had a massive facility (so too did the Yankees!). This was more like it. Wonderful climate, plus a city with a bit of history (I loved it in Ybor). Since it was obvious that these guys would need to recruit for their new US operation (and since it was clear that the US operation would be the main operation), I made it known that I'd be interested, they duly picked up on it, offered me the Head of Development role, and we got the lawyers involved to finalise the visa etc.

It was during this time in Florida that I started going on business trips up to New York City. Now, there was a place I grew to love. My kinda town! Plus I was working (or at least going to meetings) on Wall St itself. We were dealing more and more closely with Chase, and it soon became clear that they had placed quite some importance on the joint venture - they pressured the company to make its base in New York as opposed to Tampa. Of course, this was everyone's route to riches, and nobody was going to say "No" to Chase.

And that's how I ended up in New York. As I said, I loved the place. Chase had just taken over Chemical at the time so we got one of their old offices on Water Street, right on the waterfront at the southern tip of Manhattan. We even got ourselves installed in apartments (I'd grown to hate hotels) in Battery Park City, allowing us to walk to work each morning (ironically right through the World Trade Center complex). A wonderful time.

However, things weren't to last. The time got close when I would cease to be an employee of a UK company travelling over to the USA on business, and would become a genuine US employee. It was just before christmas '96, and all the visas had come through. Everything was clear. However my world shattered when, in a meeting with the chairman of the company, I was given the formal job offer and told that it would be on the same terms as had been talked about in Florida. Now, the cost of living in NYC is about the highest in the USA, and (according to some pretty definitive web sites) was around 3.5 that of Tampa. In real terms, this meant that the beachfront apartment and the Porsche which I'd costed in Florida would actually equate to a shared house/apartment, probably not even in Manhattan. We'd been in New York long enough to become acquainted with the work environment there - basically, anyone who was any good was a contractor, and anybody who wasn't a contractor was literally considered to be technically deficient in some way. And, we knew that a contractor could easily pull $1000 per day. So, that's what I asked for. Three times what was offered to me. I remember the guy (who had been totally pleasant until that moment) glaring at me as I was talking to him. I suppose it didn't help that about four other guys in exactly the same position as me had said exactly the same thing to him - well, of course we'd talked about it.

So that was the meeting that changed my life. The rest, as they say, is history. I flew back to the UK a couple of days before Christmas, a planned visit to say Hi to family etc. and also to move out of the house I'd been sharing in Oxford, and settled back to wait. In the end I spoke with one of the directors, who was the guy who'd originally hired me all that time ago and who was someone with whom I'd gelled quite well. As I'd thought, I'd pissed the chairman off so much that the offer had been rescinded. Still, I needn't worry in the short term because there would still be some handover work, which I could do as a consultant rather than as an employee. The first time it was discussed it was three months, then one month, then one week....

Of course, in the end nothing came of any of it, and my US experience was consigned to my memory banks. Do I ever wonder, "what if?". Well of course I do, but I think life since coming back from the USA has been pretty good to me, so I really can't complain.

The one thing I did have on my side was money, since basically for most of the previous year I had been living on expenses. fortunately this allowed me to bide my time and to set up my own consultancy company, waiting for the contracts to come along. Again, at the back of my mind there was always this fear that I wouldn't make it (plus I had to accept that as I consultant I would have to be far more "hands on" technically than I had been as a manager). However, providence obviously played a part, because within about a month of realising that nothing was going to come of any consultancy work with my former employers, I had secured a six-month contract with IBM (whose strongest selling point was that IBM is a great name to have on a cv!).

Since returning from the USA I had been staying up with my mum in Liverpool (I must chat about my deeper past someday!), but the contract with IBM was just outside Winchester. At that time, I thought it totally inconceivable that I could live anywhere other than in a large city, so a couple of weeks before the contract was to start I checked out a map and headed to the nearest urban area within striking distance of the contract.
And that's how I ended up in my ultimate batchelor pad, a lovely little place in the prestigious waterfront area of Southampton.

But talking about that and my adventures on the south coast will have to wait until another time...

Wednesday, 26 July 2006

The Great Flood

Yesterday turned into a somewhat abbreviated afternoon. Midway through the afternoon water started pouring through the ceiling in the client's office. Pouring? Well, more like gushing! It soon became clear that further work would be impossible, so I decided to come home early. By the time I'd left the water had accounted for seven ceiling tiles plus a light. On the plus side, I was home by six, on the minus side it could be even earlier today!

Had an excellent supper last night at the Bat and Ball in Breamore. Second time we've been there and both times the food has been excellent. We were back home by 8:30pm and settled in for a quiet night.
Heard the rumbling of thunder last night, and although we didn't have any rain everything was that much "fresher" this morning (it was extremely hot yesterday). Drove into Salisbury where there had obviously been a heavy downpour at some point.

Oh, I had a look at my blog statistics last night - so far this year there have been a whopping three hundred and something viewings! Wow!! I didn't look too closely at the IP addresses but without doubt many of these hits would have been me, checking that something I'd just written had come out Ok. Doubtless I'd get more hits if I blogged through one of the more "recognised" sites, but small and independent just about sums me up! In any case, blogging for me is in lieu of keeping a diary. I doubt I would talk about massively different matters, although as I mentioned yesterday I would perhaps write with a little more candour were I committing my thoughts to paper rather than to cyberspace.

Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Petite Anglaise

Just needed a break from the client's, so have spent the last half hour surfing the web. Looked up some "old" sites I used to visit. One of them was QueenOfSky, which was novel about a year ago. An American woman got fired from her job as a flight attendant because she published some photos of herself posing in one of the planes. Saucy rather than smutty, but the airline found out, took offence and fired her. As I say, this was about a year or eighteen months ago, and the blog ever since has just been her on her life. Ceased to be interesting for me.

But one of the things I noticed today was that Queen of Sky's blog referred to another woman, a Brit living in Paris, has just been fired because her workplace found out about the blog she kept. Petite Anglaise. So I visited that site also. I must admit that it would be great to live and work in France (though not necessarily Paris) - something I have always wanted to do - but the trouble is in IT London is pretty much the capital of Europe, so it would be difficult to find roles as challenging or as well-paid in France. Plus now, of course, there is the family to think about. I remember a guy I met on a contract about 10 years ago used to wax lyrically about the time he spent working down in Monte Carlo!

But on the subject of getting fired for blogging, it is a difficult one. Certainly, if you don't want people to read your entries, I think the only answer is not to blog. I mean, I suspect very few people visit my blog (in fact I could find out is I bothered looking at the web server logs), but I know that some people have found it because they've emailed me.

I would say straight away that I have no idea what Petite Anglaise wrote about her employers in her blog, whether is amounted to "grosss misconduct" or not - I have only read entries from the last few days - but from personal experience I think that one needs to analyse the risk of what one is saying, and if there is any doubt, don't say it. In my case I have no need to worry about my "employer", since I own my own company, but I do make a conscious effort either to mention clients not at all, or only in very general terms, and probably 95% of the time I succeed. The other 5% is generally frustration and even this I try to temper. We all have days when clients/bosses are complete arses, but when this happens to me I try to be professional and to let it slide.

But I suppose there is no protecting people whose employer simply decides that they don't like the principle of their employees blogging. Since I suppose blogs do have an element of "subversion" about them, bloggers are probably more likely to write something criticising someone rather than praising them. I suppose in a work situation therefore it becomes easy for employers to interpret blogs as "misconduct".

Apparently this woman talked about what went on at her office christmas party. Well, my tip is to play it safe and not go to 'em. Pretty much the last christmas party I went to was in 1989, my first year in gainful employment. But then I'm a miserable git!

So if any bloggers do read this, remember, let's be careful out there...

Saturday, 22 July 2006

Raining (in my tent)

Well, it is Saturday evening and I'm watching the highlights of today's Tour de France time trial. As I mentioned the other day Pereiro started in yellow with Sastre and Landis within thirty seconds, but Landis is the best time trialist of the three. Of course I have already seen the result - Landis is indeed back in yellow - although looking at the highlights it isn't as clear cut as the numbers suggest. Certainly in the early part of the course the two are running near-equal. But as I say, over the course of the 57km (and they're averaging something like 50km/h - 30mph!) Landis ended up leading Pereiro by a minute. This means that barring a disaster Landis will be crowned tomorrow. A really excellent tour this year. Armstrong was of course superb but the openness of the tour this year has been the key.

Last night was different, to say the least. I spent most of it in the front garden, sleeping with Alice in her tent. This is something that I'd promised for a while, and we have to do it in the warm weather since Alice's "tent" is a simple little beach tent that we picked up a few years ago for £15 in Woolies! So it is great for Alice to play in but I wouldn't fancy taking it anywhere...

So, Alice and I had our adventure, although I have to say that I'm now of an age where a comfortable bed is quite important to me! I gave up at about 5:30am. Although I must have slept I had a stiff back and was quite cold. We'd had some rumbling thunder in the night, and some rain also (though fortunately not very heavy). Anyway, came inside the house and went straight to bed. Alice came in shortly afterward to ask my why I'd given up, even she went back to sleep on the sofa rather than in the tent.

Up and out today, we wold have been out earlier except we really had a thunderstorm and a half at lunchtime. Torrential rain and all - we had 20mm in just a couple of hours. Carlo, fortunately, was quite unperturbed. Maisie has also been around today and has been quite affectionate. Massive puddles as we later drove through Downton. A few hours later (we'd gone via Ferndown to Castle Point) it was so hot and sunny you'd never have known it had rained at all. Good for the plants, though.

No plans for tomorrow - now that's the kind of Sunday I like!

Friday, 21 July 2006

Schools Out

Basking in heat here. Its "down" to the high twenties today, but two days ago we got to the mid-thirties. I wish we'd bought that Air Conditioning unit....

Saw the highlights of an excellent stage of the Tour de France last night. Floyd Landis just pedalled away up the mountains and trounced everyone. This was all the more remarkable because the day before (which I hadn't seen) Landis, who had emerged as one of the main contenders for the yellow jesery, was dropped on the ascent of La Toussuire, and lost 10 minutes to his rivals, all in the last 10km of the stage. So, to all intents and purposes hit Tour was over, except obviously nobody told Landis yet and to watch him yesterday was to watch something special. It was like watching Armstrong in the mountains when he used to decide "enough is enough" and put his foot down.

Thus far today they're all taking it easy, I suppose gearing up for a time trial tomorrow (where Landis should again do well). So it is all finely balanced. And of course Sunday they arrive at the Champs Elysees. Even if he doesn't make it (he's 30 seconds down on yellow) Landis will be a force in years to come I'm sure. Good for him.

Alice breaks up school today, and I have promised her that if she behaves herself, we'll sleep in the tent in the garden tonight. What have I done?

Monday, 17 July 2006

Top of the Morning

Beautiful morning this morning. Bright and sunny, on the way to the station I passed newly-harvested fields full of bales of hay. Our part of the world really is beautiful during the summer.

Not so in the world at large. Over the weekend all we heard on the news was about Israel waging war on Gaza and the Lebanon. Awful news, the middle east seems well and truly to be returning to its restless self. Whatever happened to the days at the end of the Clinton presidency when we thought some kind of concord would be possible?

Of course it is a complex situation, but even so it is possible to make some observations. First, Bush and Blair (together for a G8 meeting in St Petersberg) will not say a word against Israel. Also, the media spent yesterday telling us about how eight Israeli railway workers were killed by a Hamas rocket. Only in the small print did we hear mention of the 180 Palestinians killed in the fighting so far. Now, don't get me wrong, one person being killed is equally as bad as another being killed, but we as a(n English-speaking) society seem to have a definite leaning toward Israel. Certainly their lobby is very strong in the USA.

Bottom line, does this make the world a safer place?

On a similar note, read in the Sunday Telegraph all about Bush's motorcade in Russia. Thirty-six vehicles!!! All to carry one man around. On his limo, the armour-plated glass is 2 1/2 inches thick, and lets so little light in that the car needs flourescent lighting even during the day. With protection like this, who says democracy isn't flourishing?

More personally, had a chilled weekend in 30 degree heat. Fortunately the lion cub is very happy out of doors, so all possible doors and windows were open. Saw quite a bit of Maisie also, who was happy enough to come in and have some food and a kip.

Did get to watch Le Tour on both days on Eurosport. They're in the deep south (my favourite part) and riding in the mid-thirties, so I feel for them. Saturday (Beziers to Montelimar) was excellent and a four-man breakaway got clear from the peloton and came in almost thirty minutes in front, resulting in the yellow jersey changing hands. They came still farther east yesterday - I think today is a rest day but tomorrow they climb the Alpe d'Huez. Two weeks into the tour it is surely in the Alps that the tour will be won and lost.
We had Alice's end-of-year school report back. Despite being a mediocre report (basically "exactly what is expected of a child her age", straight down the line), I felt it was surprisingly positive and said so in my comment. Her teachers, and/or the school environment, obviously bring out her brightness far better than we do at home.

At the clients', the system I was asked to build is nearing completion, and their project manager, obviously expecting some heat on his side, started raising questions about exactly how long it had all taken. In terms of elapsed time things weren't overly impressive, but I was able to show that of the time I'd billed them, only 60% was spent on this new system, with the other 40% being spent supporting other systems I've built for them (often unnecessarily). So all told, in terms of actual time the system is only being delivered a few weeks, and a few thousand, over budget. And even though I do say so myself it is quite a polished piece of work.
Ah well, the start of another week...

Thursday, 13 July 2006

Carlo the Crusher

As I stepped out of the shower this morning I heard some growling from the hallway. Assuming that the kitten had simply got too close to Maisie I thought nothing of it. However once I'd dried myself off and stepped out of the bathroom I was somewhat surprised - the kitten was there, on his own, finishing off a once plump, juicy sparrow.

Presumably Maisie caught it and brought it in - she doesn't eat these things but generally leaves them as presents to us - Carlo found it and the rest is history.

So, despite having fed them already this morning when I first got up, I got dressed this morning to the crunching of bones, and by the time I left the house there was very little left apart from feathers. Our boy is growing up...

Yesterday evening I returned home early since Jacqueline attended a lecture, and took the opportunity to treat Alice to a meal out. She chose Pizza Hut in Salisbury. This is the same Pizza Hut that Jacqueline has refused to go near ever since she went on a food hygene course at Salisbury College! But kids are kids, and Alice's singular motive for going to Pizza Hut was the Ice Cream Factory. So we enjoyed a pretty long wait (strange since the restaurant was fairly empty), and when my pizza did arrive it was soggy in the middle. How does that work then? To cap it all the bill came to about £18 and when seeing my £20 note the waiter very deliberately asked me if I wanted him to bring me the change! Welcome to the real world matey, crappy service and crappy food means no tip!

Monday, 10 July 2006

Oops, forgot...

Oh, one thing I did forget to mention. While I was home on Friday I did at least manage to tune in to the live Tour de France show on Eurosport. One of the pundits was a guy called David Duffield (anyone who follows cycling will have heard orf him), and this guy used to keep me entertained for hours at a time when he used to be over in France commentating on all of the stages from the Finish line. Really, the Murray Walker of cycling. Excellent chap, I've even found a web page with some of his quotes on it.

Now, he must be in his seventies and remains confined in the studio, presumably somewhere in the UK. But it was great to see and hear him once again. He and Sean Kelly really put all the others to shame, with the possible exception of Phil Liggett.

Anyway, they were in Brittany over the weekend, covering territory that is familiar to me. I think today is a rest day and tomorrow they jet down to the Pyrenees, when the race will become interesting and will undoubtedly be won and lost.

Weekend Blues

Mixed weekend, with about 90% frustration and 10% achievement.

Jacqueline needed to be in Yeovil Friday on her course, so I took the day off, which is quite rare for me - even if I'm not at clients I generally get up to something work-related. Having dropped Alice off I headed into Salisbury to sample a quiet Friday morning. Did not go particularly well - I went to a cafe and had a particularly awful bacon roll. The roll itself tasted more like pastry, and it had obviously been nuked since it was very hot.

Oh, how I miss David Brown's. It is such a great shame but there are no decent tea rooms in Salisbury any more.

Anyway, thereon to a pretty lousy haircut - not at all what I asked for but at least passable. Lastly, I tried to get a toy that Alice had asked for - its her birthday in a few weeks - but everywhere (well, there were only two toy shops that I could think of) had sold out. I was hoping to avoid going to Hamleys, but...

So all of this took up most of the morning. Back home for a couple of hours R&R, before out again to see Alice in her school play. Her school is obviously very affluent since it assumes - most probably correctly - that parents don't have jobs. Anything you care to mention takes place during the day, consequently I am never generally around to see these events. I remember this happened last year with their carol service. Anyway, Friday was the exception, and I settled own to be entertained for an hour. Alice, of course, had a small part, I doubt the teacher would trust her with anything else! But she loved it and liked all the applause.

Rounded Friday off with a visit to the vet - the last time I was there was with Barney - to get the kitten checked out and jabbed. We also got him de-flead, since he really was infested moreso than we'd realised. For the rest of the day he as a very hacked-off pussy! One thing, though. I let him out for the first time Friday and he was fine, loved it, took everything in, then came back in to reflect on what he'd seen (or took a nap, not sure which).

Saturday was a wasted day. I'd ordered an upgrade to the ADSL service, which apparently happened Friday. I thought I'd notice when the old service stopped working, but it didn't. So Saturday I resolved to give it a try. In theory all I needed to do was change the existing username and password, and chocks away, but of course life is never that simple. For starters, I was unable to edit the existing settings, only delete them. Then, I couldn't find any manuals which seemed to apply to me, they were all geared toward a later version of the router, so I decided to flash the updated firmware onto it, obtained from the manufacturer's site. Thereon, everything "looked" fine, but nothing worked. In particular I was following their instructions to the letter and the router wasn't having any of it. Probably the last paragraph has been extremely boring, but imagine I was doing all this messing about until around 10pm and you'll get the idea...

So, I packed in on Saturday, with the internet connection still stuffed.

Sunday, we went to Morrisons for the weekly shop, and this must represent about 5% of the achievement mentioned above. Back home, and back to this router - the problem wasn't going to go away and if we wanted internet access back I was going to have to sort it out. I did a recap of everything I'd done Saturday - by now things were clearer in my head at least - but to no avail. I had almost resigned myself to having to buy a new router when I had a hunt for the original cd which came with it (about 3 years ago). The miracle was that I actually found it! Fortunately it had firmware drivers on it too, so I flashed the router once again, this time to revert back to the version I had been using. After all, until a day before it had worked fine for me for the last three years.

Once the old software was installed I made quite rapid progress, got the router working properly and, when I connected a pc straight in, I got the internet. The only thing left to do was to configure another router/firewall. I had to faff around with this for a while but there were only half a dozen possible changes I could make, so within a couple of reboots all was well. Took until teatime.

After that, mowed the lawn - mower needs a service - and set up Alice's tent in the front garden. Then, settled down to watch the world cup final.

Not a brilliant game, both teams very cautious but France looked the better side. However after an early goal apiece the game drifted into extra time. Vieira got himself injured, which can't have helped, then Henry was substituted, then incredibly Zizou got himself sent off. His last ever game and by far the best player on the pitch, and a moment of madness ended it all. Of course by now France were somewhat blunted, and penalties became reality. As if to show the quality of the players everyone scored except poor old David Trezeguet, whose penalty hit the underside of the bar and bounced down in front of the goal line. So, 5-4 and Italy had won the cup. A Bridge too far...

So, les Bleus lost the final, but on the bright side our internet service is now back and faster than ever.

Whoopee!!!

Thursday, 6 July 2006

Well, as promised by the weathermen, the last day or so has been quite stormy. Torrential rain both in London and at home, with cloudy, humid weather in between.

Saw the second semi-final last night, as a game wasn't a patch on the previous match, but France did enough to go through. They looked very tired, though. Much as I'd like to see Zizou lift the trophy I wonder if Sunday will be a step too far for them?

Carlo the Kitten continues to flourish. Both Jacqueline and I said that we forget how much fun kittens are. We've changed the type of litter in his tray and he has now started weeing/pooing in there, which is a relief. And, he's getting bigger, almost daily one can see a difference.

Maisie is still put out. She hasn't been in for the last couple of days and I have resorted to going into the garden to fuss her, even gave her some supper on the patio last night. I keep telling myself that it is only until we can let the boy out, and I hope very much that this will be the case.

Tuesday, 4 July 2006

World Cup

Following on from my diatribe about football the other day, I must report that I have just watched an amazing, thrilling semi-final between Germany and Italy. In stark contrast to the England performances, this was an excellent game between two teams who both knew how to attack, and who went out wanting to attack.
Despite the quality of the football (or perhaps because of it) the game remained scoreless until only 90 seconds before the end of extra time. 118 minutes. Then, the Italians popped up with a crushing winner, a well-placed strike from their right back. To add insult to injury, only a minute later they broke again and Alessandro del Piero crashed a shot past Lehman for the second.

Restores one's faith in football. Its France - Portugal tomorrow.....Allez les Bleus!!

The other major thing dominating our life at the moment is, of course, Carlo, who continues to endear himself to us despite what we have found to be a rather considerable flea problem. As regards his behaviour, I think "kamikaze" is the best description. Utterly fearless, because he doesn't know any better, it is great to see him exploring things for the first time. Out in the garden (well supervised of course) it is a pleasure to see him becoming familiar with the environment. And of course he is very playful - Alice seems to have calmed a little now but even so, he loves the attention. He follows us around and has displaced Maisie from our bed for the last two nights. Maisie is still very much hacked off, but both Jacqueline and I are making a big fuss of her when we see her. It'll settle down soon I'm sure.

Doesn't help that since the weekend every day has been above 30°, a veritable heat wave, still, shouldn't complain. I'll be glad when we can open the windows though.

Monday, 3 July 2006

Carlo the Kitten

Gosh, haven't written for ten days! Getting lazy again.

A brief recap. Since I last wrote both Jacqueline and my mum have had birthdays. Jacqueline seemed quite depressed about hers, but was cheery enough when I took her out to the Shere Khan. Of course she's already had her main present, the iPod, with which she is still enthralled. Alice's present (not that Alice knew much about it!) was a pair of Bolle sunglasses to replace some that got broken in France. Also, I headed up to Charbonnel et Walker on Bond Street and bought some truffles, just so she had something from me "on the day". As it was, the night before her birthday she was dying for something sweet, so the truffles were opened just a little early!

For my mother, we picked up an excellent little present in France which I'm sure she'll like, although to be honest I was so focussed on Jacqueline's birthday that I posted my mum's cards too late, and she won't get them until the day after...D'oh! Still, she seemed happy enough to get the phone call.

But at least I remembered - I think it must be left over from the holiday, but over the weekend I realised that (i) I'd forgotten to pay the gas bill (I could have sworn I'd paid it before we went away), and (ii) much more importantly I'd forgotted to fill out the VAT return. So, Saturday morning was busy, busy, busy. Still, I caught the morning post and so it will only arrive a day late, which hopefully will stay under their radar. I remember doing it about a week late a few years back and they sent a really snotty "last warning" letter. Since the powers of these people is pretty much limitless its never a good idea to draw attention to yourself.

On the subject of finances, I have been really dropped in it by my accountants, who have filed a return about three months earlier than I told them to. Consequently, I'm going to get the tax bill about three months earlier than I wanted to. Will probably need to borrow against a credit card or something for a couple of months. Really annoying and unnecessary. This is sufficiently major to me that I did consider dropping them, but at the end of the day that is easier said than done, and of course there is a strong aspect of frying pan / fire. I guess the moral of the story is that I can be as efficient as I like, turning documents around on time etc., but I need to make sure I keep hold of them until the last possible moment, i.e. introduce a bottleneck at my end, not rely on them.

Other big news is that we are now a two-cat family once again. He's the kitten I mentioned in my last entry, and we settled finally on the name "Carlo". Alice and Jacqueline picked him up on Saturday morning, and he's a lovely little thing (his photo is on the front page of this site). He seems very adventurous - I'd have thought he'd find a safe hidey-hole upon his introduction to this new environment and sit things out for a while, but not a bit of it. Within minutes he was out playing with Alice and does seem pretty fearless.

Alice, of course, is hyper-excited. She woke up at something before 5am on Saturday, and went into the lounge to watch tv, where I found her dozing when I got up. Of course, she's smothering the poor little thing and while he loves to play with her, when he decides playtime is over she's still there, in his face. She even imprisoned him at one point, and so of course I did a lot of shouting at the weekend. It is one thing for her to be excited, but we can't let the kitten suffer at the expense. Hopefully she will calm down a little shortly, as life starts to get back into a routine.

He was supposedly toilet-trained, but we've seen plenty of evidence to the contrary thus far. Still, at least he's peeing either on towels or on the hard floor of the toilet or bathroom rather than on the carpet. He gave us jip yesterday because he wanted to go outside. We let him, for five minutes, closely supervised, but he's simply too new to be allowed out just yet. The fact that it was 31° yesterday didn't help, and it is very difficult keeping windows closed in this heat, but we must. He's already showing signs of climbing ability - not very confidently just yet but he'll only get stronger.

Maisie, unfortunately, seems to have taken it badly. After an initial meeting when they spent a while sniffing each other out, one of them hissed at the other and that's been the story so far. Maisie has spent most of the time since outside, and indeed even when she's come in, the moment she's seen the kitten she's done a runner back outside. Seems strange that she should be scared, for although she herself is a small cat she is still twice Carlo's size. I went out into the garden and gave Maisie a long fuss last night, just so that she could know that I still think of her as "top cat". Hopefully once we can open windows again, and they both can have freedom to come and go, then the situation will regulate itself. It probably hasn't helped that he spent last night on our bed, which is normally Maisie's territory.

Other news....well, the big thing over the weekend was England being knocked out of the World Cup. My own thoughts were first, that England cannot play 4-5-1 with Rooney as the front man. He needs someone to play off. God knows, even Crouch (of whom I'm not exactly an admirer) would have been better than playing him on his own. This applies especially when half of the midfield had not been performing particularly well. Second, Rooney got himself sent off for a malicious stamp on an opponent. He absolutely deserved to go, and I think once the sending off happened England had no chance of winning the actual match. He may be a skillful player but he really has the brain of an ox. Of course, when it comes to penalties you tend to think it is a bit of a lottery, but England always seem to lose so there must be something more than "chance" that comes into play - certainly whatever skill is required, England don't have it.

Overall impression of the England's WC, then, was five poor performances and not a great deal to take forward. Great individual players simply not gelling as a team. Looking at France, Italy and Germany (all of whom have made the semis), they function well as teams, despite the individual "stars" amongst them.

I should add that my views about Saturday's match don't appear unique, these things are being said in most of the papers at the moment. Both Rooney and Sven are being villified at the moment.