Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Law of the Jungle

I pad around the bedroom, trying in vain to make as little noise as possible. Mondays are bad enough, but a Tuesday after a long weekend is worse. Plus, there is a train strike today so I need to be extra-early to catch the reduced service.

As I contemplate the autumnal feel from the safety of the toilet, I am joined by the boy-cat, the sweet, angelic boy-cat. He has grown almost beyond recognition since we adopted him, but when he "speaks" he gives himself away, letting out a high-pitched "mew" which could only come from a kitten.

As I head for the shower, he's toying with something in the hallway, but it is too dark (or I am too sleepy) to see what it is. I submerge into the shower, gradually coming off autopilot, the hot water and lime shower gel infusing  their magic. In just one (short) long weekend it is noticeably darker, and the bathroom light is on lest I come a cropper while shaving. As I step out of the shower the boy is there once again. The rest of the house is sleeping, so currently I am the only thing of interest. Deja-vu, we exchange greetings and carresses. Beautiful boy. I open the bathroom door to head back to the bedroom, and as I do so the light from the bathroom illuminates the hallway. I finally see what the boy had been playing with. A still-feathered wing lies at my feet, and in an instant our darling kitten has given away his dark secret.

I think back to the day before. Having pottered about outside for a while, including helping next door's boy put the computer on his bike, I had come inside for a break. After only a few minutes, though, the doorbell rings and I am roused once again by next-door's little girl, "Come quickly, Carlo has caught a bird in your garden". As I venture back outside I am full of disbelief as the front garden comes into view. A mass of down. There, sitting proudly, is Carlo, complete with catch - a wood pigeon around his own size, flapping away. Too late, Alice runs up to Carlo, but the boy deftly heads for the impenetrable hedges at the edge the garden. When he finally emerges, quarry in mouth, the boy has blood around his face and the bird is near-dead. There is nothing to be done, except to let nature take its course and to keep the children away.

I potter some more, but am again alerted by next-door's little girl, who shrieks that Carlo has just taken his catch inside the house. A step too far, I race into the house to find the cat, just settling down in the hallway with his catch. Ignoring the blood already spilt on the carpet, Grabbing some kitchen roll on the way, I snatch the bird from him. Bereft of many of its feathers, its bird is still warm and its heart is beating fast. But it is very much doomed. I remove it to the garden, followed of course by Carlo, anxious not to let his prey go that easily.

An hour later we are all showered and freshened up, headed for a barbeque given by one of the doctors at Jacqueline's practise. As we pull out of the driveway, on the front garden the kitten is enjoying his supper...

Friday, 25 August 2006

Read all about it

Just been looking at the news on the BBC's web site:
No wonder people become anti-Police http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/shropshire/5284962.stm
The real cost of terrorism (or is that counter-terrorism?) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/5285102.stm

Misty Morning

Brrrrr.....

I got up this morning around 6am, the house was covered in a thick blanket of mist and it felt positively cold. Has summer come to an end?

In my car to the station, however, an almost mystical transformation took place, and by the time I got to Salisbury the sun was beating down. So, hopefully not over yet - not for a little while at any rate.

We are rapidly approaching the bank holiday weekend, and I am determined to have at least one lie-in. We must get Alice school some shoes, which must be done on Saturday, but apart from that we have no definite plans.

Last night was a night with a difference. Alice and Jacqueline got themselves invited to a party at a neighbour's house. I got the impression that it was a kids' party but they were still out when I arrived home - late and tired - just after eight. Grateful for the peace and quiet I settled down for a soak in the bath, transforming from somebody who was tired, stressed and short-tempered into something a whole lot more pleasant.

When the pair of them got home, Jacqueline was well-and-truly drunk, could not stop giggling. Fortunately she'd had the sense to leave the car at the neighbour's (though why she drove there in the first place I'm not sure). Alice, apparently, behaved very well and had lots of fun.

For me, after the trouble upgrading that dodgy hard disk, a new drive arrived yesterday, so once out of my bath I set about tinkering. Even that wasn't straightforward, my attempted clone overnight failed. Still, I tried again this morning using a different method, and as I left the house it all appeared to be going ok. Hopefully sorting that out will not take great swathes of my time over the weekend.

Once I'd finished with the computer, I settled down in front of the tv (Alice and Jac had gone pretty much immediately to bed) and was treated to an extremely dated episode of "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet", followed by an even older but still hilarious Tommy Cooper show. The joys of Granada Men and Motors.

Up on the train to London now, looks like the mist is quite widespread, though the sun is steadily burning it off. Beautiful, especially from a warm train!

Thursday, 24 August 2006

Clouds and Cats

Amidst grey clouds and rain showers, Alice went out for the day yesterday - to Bournemouth beach! Apparently, she loved it.

I must say I'd feel a little cheated this year, if I were a child. All that glorious weather during June and July, yet August has been quite awful. I note that nobody has mentioned the word "drought" in a while. And back to school next week...

The positive thing about the inclement weather is that it does appear, eventually, to have brought Maisie back indoors. The last few evenings she has happily accepted food and a fuss, and yesterday both cats could be found napping on the same sofa - albeit at opposite ends. I was also thinking about Carlo the other day, how much he's grown in the ten weeks he's been with us, how loudly he purrs, how gorgeous he is in general. But I'm glad Maisie is coming home once again.

Tuesday, 22 August 2006

Too little, too soon

I realised at about 10:30 yesterday morning that I got far too little sleep at the weekend - yesterday was pretty hard.

This morning it felt quite cold, and although I worked a little late last night it was pretty much dark by the time I got home at 8:30pm. Nooooooo...its far too soon to be thinking about autumn.
It looks like the new hard disk, whose problems I ascribed to a faulty jumper, really is temperamental after all. Whilst the newly-configured computer was running fine on Sunday, Jacqueline noticed at around about lunchtime that it had crashed. She restarted it, it was Ok. However I popped my head in this morning, only to see that it had crashed once again, showing an ominous message "Primary Hard Drive 0 not found", which to the non-computer-literate means something akin to "You're up shit street". Bad News, so I turned the power off.

After my shower I had another quick look. This time the computer booted up just fine. So it looks like the data is "safe" (though I kicked off a backup just to make sure) but the drive is most definitely suspect. Since it is the boot drive its not really acceptable, so I guess I'm going to need to buy a replacement.
Still, this does tend to suggest that there was nothing wrong with the computer I first tried the drive on, so I might have a try at upgrading it once again sometime.

Monday, 21 August 2006

Black and White

A weekend of opposites.

Saturday morning we headed over to Morrisons where I treated myself to a cooked breakfast (bad!). Saturday afternoon we all went out for a swim for an hour (good!).

Sunday lunchtime we (Alice and I) went on a 10km cycle ride (good!) - 5km each way to the pub in the next village, where we met up with Jacqueline (in the support car!) and ate Sunday lunch (bad!).

Alice is thriving on her new bike, and insisted on riding both ways to the pub, despite intermittent rain and even though a lift was on offer for the return journey. She has really got the hang of riding, and this was pretty much the first time she'd been on a road where there was anything more than a slight chance of traffic. As it was, her attention wandered a couple of times - for example when she noticed something at the side of the road, unconsciously letting her bike drift into the middle, and not noticing the car coming the other way - but on the whole she is very good.

The journey highlighted how much we miss when we travel by car, when we passed over the old railway bridge at Breamore. (Until Dr Beeching swung his axe, there was a rail line running from Salisbury down to Bournemouth, which passed through many of the local villages. In fact there was a station in Downton, and our house stands on what was once a coal yard.) Anyway, as we crossed the bridge at Breamore, right by us was the old station house (now somebody's home), complete with an almost-perfectly-preserved platform including the "Breamore" name plate. The platform now forms part of the garden, and despite the paving of the platform itself there was a lot of colour courtesy of a good stock of potted plants. Marvellous - We've been using this bridge quite regularly for seven years or so now, and this was the first time we'd ever noticed what was underneath!

A portion of the weekend was also spent being a computer geek. Remember from last week I had this problematic disk I wanted to install? Well, I finally sorted it. It took a long time to find this out, but incredibly it seemed to be a problem with a dodgy jumper in the end. Anyway, it took  a very long seven hours or so to copy the data from the existing disk to the new disk, but by Sunday morning this was complete and the machine was ready to use. However, the upgrade wasn't finished, since the plan was also to upgrade this particular machine (my main office machine) to Windows XP. After overcoming several obstacles (needed to upgrade bios, floppy drive would not read, had to get bios onto bootable cd, had to repair MS Office, had to completely reinstall ZoneAlarm), the actual upgrade itself went very smoothly and the machine now has a moderately-recent operating system on it. Should be good for another couple of years...

Friday, 18 August 2006

Email

Email was made for me. I love it. Except for my immediate family it has become my preferred way of communicating with people in general, so much easier even than picking up the phone.

My clients have given me an email account on their corporate system, it makes life easier for them when they want to communicate project stuff to me.

However, one thing strikes me as strange. There is a person at the clients who, whenever they send an email, insists on marking it with "High" importance. I must admit in something like 12 years with an email account of one form or another, this is something I have done only once or twice. Is this person the client's MD? Hardly - the opposite in fact.

What kind of person presumes that what they have to say is that much more important than what everyone else has to say? It makes you think...

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Life on Mars

A month or so ago I got myself a pair of decent travel headphones, freed up some capacity on my phone's memory card put about 125 songs on it. As I spend quite a large proportion of each day on the train, and as every now and again I just need "virtual space" from my clients, I figured it was high time. It is the first time I've been able to use a "walkman", well, since I had a walkman.

The main thing I have found is that I actually listen to the lyrics of songs. On the radio or tv songs are merely background noise, whether they appeal or not. But when I put these headphones on, flicking the switch to turn the ambient-noise-cancelling gadget on is like activating a lens, bringing the music, and in particular the lyrics, into focus.

I've found that this can severely affect the way certain songs are viewed.

Take James Blunt, for example, "You're beautiful". Lovely voice, beautiful sounding song, I'm sure it must have won awards and certainly I bought his album on the strength of it. But when you hear the lyrics it is complete trash (imo)!

Of course there are other songs which fall into the "it was nice to listen to again but now that I've heard it [x] times I now need to delete it in order to stop me going off it altogether" category (where x can be large or small, depending on the song), for example Karen Carpenter's "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft". Karen Carpenter had a beautiful voice but a lot of the songs were downright cheese. And quite why I copied a Bruce Hornsby song onto there for the moment escapes me.

But its not all negative - there are the inevitable songs which make me think "I should listen to this more often", which can be either keys to unlocking some past part of my life, or just good music.

For all of this I have my phone to thank. This wonderful little device will let me send email, surf the web and, of course, play music and videos. I can even tap out blog entries on its minute keyboard. Of course I do wonder at some of its functionality, for example the "random" function in the MP3 software, but on the whole how could I possibly complain? I can even make phone calls from it!

Monday, 14 August 2006

Inflation

I filled my car up with petrol on Friday. £61.39, the most expensive ever.

This was my weekend of freedom - Jacqueline and Alice are over at her mum's and I can be a batchelor/slob once again. So, after the petrol, a visit to the supermarket was required.

They're pretty darned slick over at Waitrose Marketing Department. I was over in the meat section, looking to get some bacon for Saturday breakfast, when I spotted some 'British Beef Grillsteaks', containing beef, onion and seasoning, weighing 340g and costing £1.99. Across the aisle I saw 'Beef Hachés', obviously the superior equivalent for the discerning Francophile. For information, said Beef Hachés contained beef, onion and seasoning, weighed in at 325g, and cost £3.99.

See? it costs to have bilingual pretensions!

Friday night through Sunday, then, was one long orgy of soft sex, casual alcohol and cheap drugs. Or at least, that was the plan...

In reality I needed to be out first thing Saturday in order to pick up some new disks for the computers, one the perils of being home alone meaning that all reputable couriers drop cards through doors rather than leaving goods in porch hopeful that no-one will nick 'em! One computer was relatively straightforward to upgrade, although it took a couple of hours since I was doing this for the first time. The other computer - or rather the other disk - proved somewhat more problematic, and indeed even having spent a couple of hours yesterday trying over again (even trying to install it into a different computer) at 10pm last night I admitted defeat. (But I have a plan for next weekend!)

Grateful for the peace and quiet, on Saturday evening / Sunday morning I immersed myself in a game of Civilization, something Jacqueline likes a lot. Of course I played at a level where I eventually won (about the third level up), although when I looked at the stats at the end of the game I was staggered to see almost 8 hours playing-time. Of course that would have included times when the program was running and I'd left the room, but even so...

Sunday afternoon was spent working on a "project", and I'm hopeful that very shortly I'll be able to upgrade the blog site to make it a little more... interactive... We're almost there, just some test scripts to wade through. The trouble is finding the time - yesterday I managed to put a solid five hours in but I wouldn't be able to do that if the family were around.

In the background on Sunday was the Charity Shield, between Liverpool and Chelsea, meaning that from now until next June there will be six or seven live football matches per week available. I'm not a serious football fan any more but they're interesting veg-out material, and they beat Boomerang!

The family is back tonight. Maybe then they'll be able to tell me where they've hidden the remote control.

Monday, 7 August 2006

Quilted

Over the weekend the field which abuts our garden was a hive of activity. It was harvest time once again. Dreadfully noisy, how farmers can cope with spending hours at a time driving combine harvesters is a mystery to me. Slowly but surely a haze rose into the air, sufficiently thick to affect visibility. This was borne out this morning when I went to my car - which had been sitting on the driveway all weekend - and was greeted with a thin film of dust all around.

This microscopic experience was transformed into a macroscopic experience this evening, as the unusually-quiet train headed through the rolling Hampshire countryside, taking me eventually down into Wiltshire, past a beautiful patchwork of fields, golden and green, some harvested, some not.
For sheer beauty, my train journey is best experienced at two times of the year. One is the summer evening, as I witnessed tonight. The other, the bright winter morning (which I generally do not see, it still being dark when I travel up). The English countryside at its best.

Carlo - a day in the life

Drip, drip, drip. I hear the rhythmic beating of the tap as I stir from my slumbers. Too early, the alarm is yet to burst into life. Try to put it out of my mind.

Drip, drip, drip. How come I didn't hear it last night?

Drip, drip... As if by a miracle it stops. Grateful for silence once again, I turn over.

Drip, drip, drip, it starts again. Semi-conscious now, I am able to discern that the noise is not, in fact, a tap. As I awaken further, the sound is not a "drip", but most definitely a quiet, methodical "crunch". The boy has been out for breakfast...

A good weekend, somewhat productive. Alice has - or rather will have later today - a new bike. She has far outgrown her current bike. I wanted to wait until next spring, when hopefully she would have grown enough for us to buy her a bike which would see her straight through to age 11, but the pair of them badgered me into submission. Still, not a bad idea, given the amount of money she got for her birthday. The major step forward of this bike from the last, apart from size, is the addition of six gears, which Alice is looking forward to trying out. So they pick it up this afternoon and are planning on putting it through its paces in a nearby country park.
This shopping trip aside, the only other excursion was a visit to the supermarket, and indeed we were back home by Saturday lunchtime. Feeling the need for fitness, on Saturday afternoon we cycled, en famille, across to the next village (a massive couple of miles away), where we sat out in the garden of the village pub, and I enjoyed a long, cool pint of beer. Ample reward...

On Saturday evening I completed some "work" - I had been in the process of upgrading the servers in the office, and finished this off. Surprisingly straightforward, with each server just requiring a license key, then pretty much upgrading itself all on its own. So now the servers are running operating systems a mere three years old! I also took time out to run an evaluation copy of some software which will tell me who's been visiting the web sites.

Sunday was the same, only different. More work, this time continuing with an ongoing project. None of us ventured out all day, although the day was so humid that "going and doing" anything did not seem too bright. Even the boy, who spent most of the morning playing with a vole he'd caught at about 7am, spent most of the afternoon in "siesta" mode.

The only planned activity for the day (at least the only activity I had any intention of doing!), a refreshing evening swim, was scuppered when we found that all of the pools hereabouts closed at 5 o'clock on Sundays.
Obviously rapidly developing his hunting skills, Carlo caught some more prey - this time a poor, tiny wren - later yesterday evening. Given his penchant for eating birds (generally whole), he was subsequently banished into the garden. Maisie, meanwhile, made brief appearences throughout, although since I managed to deflea her (obtaining several battle scars in the process) she has been on her guard against me.

And so we fast forward to this morning. No need to put any Iams out for the boy, then!

PS - writing this on the train. Neither air conditioning nor open windows. Feels like an oven. Will, I am sure, be in no fit state to do a day's work when I get to London. Thank you, South West Trains.

Saturday, 5 August 2006

Ode to a Sausage

10 pm, after a somewhat out-of-the-ordinary Friday.

Not for me the daily drudge up to London. Not today, at any rate. It is Alice's big day, the day which will likely define her quote of invites for the next year, the day of her party.

Today's "party" is a small affair, and is a day out rather than a party. Jac and I are chaperoning four seven-year-old girls around Paultons Park. Every year, the pressure is on to do something "different", and of course Alice has just about the last birthday of the year. A little concerned about today having four rather than one, but in truth life is easier if anything - they almost regulate themselves. The only question is what to do next. And this is a big question. There's a world of difference between doing something "next", and "next but one". But it is generally not difficult to reach a consensus.

Funniest (in retrospect) moment was when we arrived at the park with only three girls in tow. Six is an awkward number - too many for one car. I'd headed there in my own car, Jacqueline had taken all the girls in hers. Except for the girl we each thought the other was picking up en route...

During our sumptuous picnic lunch, unfortunately complete with gatecrashing wasps, I realise how reliant the meal is on the humble sausage. Sausage rolls, finger-size pork sausages, and picnic eggs. Even some of the sandwiches had ham in them. But supplemented by some Wotsits, French Fancies and finally a jelly each, everyone is happy.

The girls by now have fallen into two definite camps - the adventurous and the not-so. Fortunately Paultons has rides even for toddlers, so eall the kids seem happy. Of course, for those rides where the kids need an adult supervisor, guess whose services are required? Nice to see that the girls' creative instincts come into play, all of them choosing to go to Paultons' new "craft" section and to fill shapes with coloured sand. A nice souvenir of their day. Gifts with less longevity include ice creams and slushies.

Nice that the girls become more affectionate as the day goes by, a sign that they're obviously relaxed and enjoying themselves.

The day ends at 5 o'clock, with at least two people tired out. Fortunately for me, the girls decide all to travel together, and so I get to come straight home, with Jacqueline providing the taxi service.

Home for 6pm, and I managed to stay awake for another hour before crashing out on the sofa. Memories of the next few hours are distant and vague, the Coronation Street theme tune and having my feet pounced upon by a far-too-alert kitten. Now, I wake up briefly, but don't want to let myself get too awake - it's bed time.

Thursday, 3 August 2006

Music to my ears

By the time I'm on the tube platform the mp3 player is playing Bowie (Ziggy Stardust) and I manage to smile and to put the world's greyness behind me. A vast improvement on a few weeks ago - I finally got my act together and copied 500MB worth of songs onto my phone's memory card. A new pair of headphones (and boy, what superb headphones), and we're away to go.

Of course 500MB is a mere fraction of the 25GB of songs we have ripped from our CD collection - I won't rip songs from the web on principle, but there again I object to the way both iTunes and Windows Media Player work, where you purchase a rights-protected file. So, the likelihood I'll go over to HMV (or Amazon if I'm prepared to wait), buy the CD, and immediately rip it before Alice gets the chance to scratch it.

I talk very little about my music taste, mainly since my taste is so wide. At college, it was quite easy to put myself into a pigeonhole by saying that my favourite music was soul and reggae. Not so at 38, although I do still like these genres in particular. The concept of "Greatest Hits" albums which seems to have prevaled over the last couple of years has been good for me - I have such albums from artists such as e.g. Prefab Sprout, Elvis Presley, Manic Street Preachers, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, REM, Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel....... many of them artists from whom I've never bought any other albums.

Favourite individual track *right now* is the Manics Design for Life.

Favourite all time tracks are (in the order I remember them):
  • Bob Marley - Give Thanks
  • Aswad - African Children Part 2
  • Louis Armstrong - Moon River (I also love Audrey Hepburn's version of this song, but the film I can take or leave)
  • Cyndi Lauper - True Colors
  • Tracy Chapman - Baby can I hold you
  • Buddy Holly - True Love Ways
  • Freddie Mercury - Days of our Lives
  • George Harrison - My Sweet Lord
There may be a couple more, and some of the ones above just shade it, but you probably get the picture...

Shades of...

London looks very grey this morning, I think to myself.

As we pass through Clapham Junction I look over toward the common and recall times gone by, carefree student days, when I spent summers close by.

I'm glad I never came to live here "for real".

Wednesday, 2 August 2006

Another year older

Happy birthday to sprog,
Happy birthday to sprog...

If you hadn't guessed it is Alice's birthday today. Weirdest present of the day was a bright red cape with white trim. At this time of year? I can only hope this is something to do with Red Riding Hood, otherwise I really will start believing what they say about my Gran going senile!

Tuesday, 1 August 2006

Bitten by the Bug(ger)

As I stepped into the shower this morning, I surveyed the damage. No fewer than twelve bites, all except one (considerately located on my face) running down the left side of my body. From shoulder blade to foot, only the forest which is my leg was exempt.

Obviously I had either been sleeping on my side, with half of me lying in an exposed position, or the bastard creature which has enjoyed such a feast at my expense simply did not have the energy between courses to move more than an inch or two.

Time to deflea the cats once again.