Thursday, 28 September 2006

Memories of Paris

I found some photos on the web, of my favourite part of Paris, the Mouffetard area.




Hope I haven't breached any copyrights.

Monday, 25 September 2006

Excursions

When we visited the Romsey Show a few weeks ago, I was particularly struck by the marquee containing the food! No surprise there, you might think, but the way in which the sellers pitched their offerings - greengroceries especially - really highlighted the almost "fake" displays that we see in the supermarkets.

Yesterday, therefore, after some web-based research, we headed over to Winchester, where one of the regular Farmers' Markets was being held. And our first experience of such a market was hugely positive. We were able to buy the week's veggies and probably about two weeks' worth of meat, plus bread, cheese, eggs, cream etc. - all direct from the farms where they had been produced. Cost-wise, each item probably cost the same as in the supermarket. But there were far fewer things to tempt us, and so the weekly shop ended up costing about half that of normal. All told, a big hit. Of course, there are still things one needs the supermarket for, but it feels far more natural to buy our food direct where appropriate. There markets appear to be a regular occurrence, so I'm sure we'll be back...

Coupled with our successful shop, we took advantage of the unseasonally fine weather to spend several hours mooching around. We visited the cathedral, and Alice attended the christening of the baby of some complete strangers! Amazing, she just tagged onto their party and watched the ceremony unfold, with Jacqueline and I sitting at the back of the cathedral, a safe distance away. Of course we then had the inevitable question....."Was I ever christened?"... to which the answer was "no". In fact, I have no objection whatsoever to Alice embracing any religion under the sun, but it has to be her choice, not ours, and I did my best to explain this to her.

In fact we were lucky with the weather on Saturday also. Jacqueline suggested visiting Stourhead House again, which we did via Mere. Our first visit to the house was last summer, when we made a splendid picnic and explored the gardens. This year, we visited the house, followed by a circuit of the gardens once again.

As a sideline, over the last couple of weeks I have been transferring all of our old home video footage onto the computers. It was lovely to see video pictures of Alice as a baby, and slightly disappointing that it had been so long since we had done any filming (I generally much prefer taking still photographs). In any case I made up for this Saturday, when we took the camcorder to Stourhead. When I get around to it, I must try and see if I can create a video small enough that I can put it in a blog for the world to see.

Wednesday, 20 September 2006

Looks being Deceiving

I got onto a crowded tube train this morning, was forced to stand next to this extremely dodgy-looking skinhead character. During the journey he starts playing with his iPod, I look down and see that he has just selected to listen to Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody.

Just goes to show...

Sunday, 17 September 2006

Cobwebs

I woke early this morning. It was misty and there was a heavy dew. Venturing out into the back garden I was greeted with the fruits of several spiders' labours.






Try as I might, I could not find anything written in them.

Friday, 15 September 2006

Days Gone By

I used to hate days like this when I was at school. Grey and raining, at least these days I have the option to lie in and listen to the rain pounding onto the garden, if only to grab an extra half-hour in bed.

I did a silly thing at the client's yesterday. I normally keep the email at the client's for purely client-related business purposes, but yesterday I was taking a break and found a hilarious video on the web, of some guys doing a dance routine on some treadmills. If I can still find the link I'll post it later. Anyway, the people by me were wondering why I was laughing so I sent them the link - except the smart Microsoft email-address filler auto-completed an email address which was wrong. So instead of the guy next to me getting the link, it got sent to his namesake, of whom I've never heard before. Idiot. If it had been work-related, fine, but the fact that it was trivia could be potentially embarrasing. Still...

No plans for the weekend. It would be good to do a little tidying up in the garden, but I don't fancy that in the rain.

But right now I need to stop writing and put my headphones on - the carriage today is full of suited squaddies loudly discussing state secrets with each other, travelling with first-class tickets bought with my taxes. I need to shut them out.

Monday, 11 September 2006

Free time

Life as a consultant can be extremely variable, depending very much on the clients one has.

At one extreme (and I hope this is an extreme) I spend around 13 hours each day either at the client's site, or commuting to the client's site. This is the downside of most of the interesting work being in London.

At the other extreme would be the "no work" scenario. Fortunately in ten years' being a consultant there have only been around 3 months where I had no work. Given that without my income the life of my family would grind pretty much to a halt, long may this trend continue.

I did manage a halfway house once, though, which was great while it lasted. I had a great contract with a prestigious client, advising them at quite a high level about technology. Made a name for myself and found myself working on all kinds of stuff throughout the bank as a kind of evangelist. The client got taken over, and the order came to get rid of people. I suppose I was fortunate to last longer than most, but the writing was on the wall and in truth, by the end of the contract, it was quite an unpleasant place to be. All of the (top quality) programme managers I'd worked with had been replaced in favour of talentless individuals whose only role was to downsize.

Anyway, I ended up in a situation where the client wanted to get rid of me, but couldn't afford to get rid of me. So, we compromised on a three-day week. For me personally, absolutely brilliant. For them, a waste of time - having me out of the office much of the time simply led to my doing less when I was in the office. Still, I wasn't complaining (especially since they were paying me more, then, for three days' work than I earn currently for five days' work!)

Having those extra two days, aside from the weekend, really made things tick at home. There was always time to do things like keeping the garden tidy etc. etc.

I hark back to this situation because, these days, there seems to be so little time for anything.

We had a great weekend just gone. On Saturday we went to the Romsey Show and spent a good six hours or so strolling around, seeing what was there. A typical agricultural show, there were tents full of cattle and sheep. Other animals there included otters, alpacas and birds of prey, giving demonstrations. Alice got to stroke an owl. There was a wonderful food tent with all manner of delicacies - this was so good that we bought our lunch from there and left the picnic in the car. To round the day off, Alice and I went for a ride on a big wheel, part of a small fairground set up there. Excellent day, but tiring and we were all fit to drop by the time we got home.

Sunday, I had the luxury of a lie in until around 11 o'clock (well, I did get up between around 7-8 to watch Match of the Day, with my boyhood heroes, the mighty Everton thrashing local rivals Liverpool 3-0), and then we headed off out. The original plan was to head into Bournemouth to get some breakfast in the Sainsbury's cafe, but we'd left it so late that I suggested going for lunch at the Old Beams in Ibsley instead. So rather than a bacon sandwich I ended up having a roast dinner!

Totally stuffed, we then continued on to Sainsbury's in any case, for the weekly shop. Food shopping when stuffed is a very good idea - we were both so put off by the idea of food at that point that the shop came to only £40 - about half of the normal weekly cost. So, paying to go out for Sunday lunch does have some advantages!

Taking advantage of the Indian summer, instead of going home we headed for the beach at Boscombe. Ironic really, Alice had been a little bugger all day and she got to play in the sand (her idea of heaven) for ninety minutes. But it was nice for Jacqueline and I too, just to sit on the sand for a while.

Lovely. Jacqueline loves it. For me, Bournemouth is a little tame, but it would be great to end up by the sea at some point. If we ever get to the stage where we are financially secure you can bet we'll be heading for Cornwall (or Brittany!) for good.

Monday, 4 September 2006

Juxtaposition

Last week, the train drivers union Aslef went on strike for the day. SWT, to their credit, managed to keep the trains running, albeit at a reduced service. But they were sufficiently switched on to publish a timetable beforehand, and certainly my own experience was that (perhaps because of the reduction of traffic?) the journey was very smooth and punctual.

To compensate for the day's "disruption", I will even get some credit back when I next renew my ticket.

This morning, however, a "normal" day, my train was crowded and ran very late into London, the reason (as always) being the backlog of traffic between Clapham and Waterloo. Will I receive compensation for being half an hour later than usual? Not a chance.

I look forward to the next strike day with anticipation...

Saturday, 2 September 2006

Barbeque

On the bank holiday we went to a barbeque being thrown by one of the GPs in Jacqueline's practise, to celebrate his having been there twenty years. We went to their house - a lovely house in a great area of Salisbury - and I met Jac's workmates for the first time, but the person who was really bowled over was Alice.

These people had a lovely garden, on three levels. The barbeque was being held on the patio, at the top. However on the middle level was a lawn with an apple tree in the centre. On the apple tree was a real home-made swing, which Alice loved.

The bottom level looked like it had been devoted to growing things, but of special interest to Alice were the chickens...

Needless to say I was treated to all of this when Alice insisted on giving me a guided tour.

In fairness Alice is very good at these public occasions - far more at ease than Jacqueline of myself - and ended up endearing herself to all an sundry. The thing that impressed her most, however, was the family dog. Very docile, and it obviously loved Alice's attention since it was following her around. By the time we left we'd secured invites to walk the dog whenever we liked, and the senior partner of the practise (who seemed a nice chap and somebody who liked a joke) was ribbing us about having to get a dog of our own.

The reason for bringing all of this up? Well, its eight o'clock on Saturday morning and Alice has just asked when we're going to take Tosca for a walk.....

Friday, 1 September 2006

Xenophobia

I subscribe to a newsletter called Common Dreams. It is essentially very liberal-minded and contains links to news stories throughout the world, albeit with a heavy American bias. There was a very interesting story in yesterday's newsletter, for which they cite the BBC (but which I have since found on several sites). A link to the BBC's version appears below:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/5297822.stm

Absolutely disgusting, this shows how xenophobic the US has become. Of course I know all Americans are not xenophobes but their administration is, and the fact that 60 million of them voted for it does raise eyebrows.

Of course, this all harps back to Bush's War on Terror. I don't support the use of terror in the slightest, but neither can I support the indiscriminate violence for which my own country, and the USA, are responsible. In fact it is both ironic and hugely concerning that I am just as likely - far morseo in all probability - to be the victim of an act of terror than one of the people who actually sanctioned this "war". We simply cannot justify the killing of thousands of people in Iraq, nor can we stand idly by watching Israel destroy the Lebanon.

Rather than taking sides in the middle east (and let's face it our government is squarely behind Israel in all of this), we need to exploit the fact that Britain is, by and large, a successful multicultural society and to work toward closing the distance between the parties. Plus, I really think our governments shoot themselves in the foot on these issues - if anything, it is likely that any reasonable person would end up empathising with Hezbollah or the Iranians, judging by what they see on tv.

The interesting thing is that Raed Jarrar maintains his own blog, so we can also read the story in his own words. In a perverse way I suppose it does highlight the real value of a "free" society - the fact that however much the state would *want* to oppress him, there is a limit to the extent to which they *can* oppress him (in the grand scheme of things changing a t-shirt is no great hardship, one can imagine societies where he'd probably just have been flung into gaol to rot). But this is exactly the principle which our executives seem to want to erode. I must read more of what Raed has to say when I have time.

But right now what I need to do is order the t-shirt...

On the subject of blogs, at the other extreme I found one yesterday (whose address I shall not divulge, since (a) it was apparently written in all seriousness, and (b) I can't remember it) where the author had put some home video footage of him riding a scooter, with camcorder strapped on his shoulder or something. Hilarious (and ever so slightly weird) - like something out of Jackass. Maybe I should read other peoples' blogs more often to keep my spirits up!

Nostalgia

This morning, on the way to the client's I saw an ice cream van with the words "Sonny Jim" painted onto it. The last time I heard that phrase would have been from my dad, during my childhood.

Then, on Piccadilly, I saw a woman wearing (authentic eighties Flashdance-style) legwarmers.

Hello September!