Friday, 19 December 2008

Catching up

OK - I don't think the NZ diary is going to be completed any time soon - it probably would have been better to have kept it updated whilst we were going round! I will get stuff added, it might just take the next couple of years....

The run up to Christmas has been the usual round of busy activities, particularly with orchestral concerts and general Christmas parties; this year we've managed to avoid clashes in the main, which is good in that we've got to see everyone and not miss out, but it has also meant that free time has been at a minimum.

However, I have had the free time (even if a good chunk of it was when I should have been sleeping!) to learn how to sew. Not cross stitch, or threading a needle, but using a sewing machine, something which, as I never had Home Economics classes at school, has always been a mystery to me! So, last weekend, my best friend took me out to Fabricland, showed me how to pick a pattern (including the warning that pattern sizes are *not* the sizes given in shops...), how to find fabric (and I did end up choosing the one where the care information was "user guesses...") and all the little bits and pieces that go round (learning the new language - "Interfacing"??) making an item of clothing.

Then we went back to her flat, and she showed me how to cut out the fabric, and, more cruicially, how to understand patterns and the instructions ("Basting" = "Tacking", and I would never have even considered there being a right way and wrong way up for fabric, though it is pretty obvious!). Then, the fun (scary) part of putting the fabric together, learning how to use Interfacing (which did include gluing it to both the tea-towel and the ironing board!), and then actually stitching it all. It takes a bit more time than I'd thought - John came to pick me up at nearly 11, and I wasn't half done.

So, I took the sewing machine back with me, and ended up working till 1am on Monday night getting it complete (though my body insisted that it couldn't be much after 9, as time hadn't actually gone past!).

Wore the new top into work on Wednesday, and, even if I do say so myself, got a lot of compliments about it, including from a couple of people who asked where I'd bought it.

So - it's back to Fabricland tomorrow lunchtime to get some more fabric in order to do some more sewing over the Christmas break - I think I've got addicted!

Thursday, 20 November 2008


A follow up to this post.

After four months of going backwards and forwards with the insurance company; face to face interviews, phone interviews, more face to face interviews (it was obvious from the start that they didn't believe what had happened...), I was doing some oboe practice last night, for the first time in ages (blush); after doing my practice, I delved into my bag to get out my cork grease.

This is into a pocket that I very rarely use.

As I looked in it, what looked back up at me, but my rings and my watch!

I don't remember going anywhere near the bag on the morning that I lost my rings, but I have a black hole in my memory that covers most of what happened between picking them up and realising that I'd lost them.

So, I am still in shock, and having little wibbles every so often, but I've called up the insurance company and cancelled the claim. Now, of course, I've had a phone interview (and am expecting more) trying to explain *why* I didn't look in that pocket before, and why I've only just found them!

Very very happy.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

We will remember them

I am still writing the New Zealand diary - promise! Events have overtaken me, and have made it difficult to sit down and write...

However, today, it is 90 years since the end of World War I, a war which changed the face of the world; the "war to end all wars".

The number of casualties recorded is only an estimate at best: this website gives figures of between 7 and 8.5 million dead; 22 and 37 million total casualties (not including MIA). (This one concurs with the slightly lower numbers) This is only for soldiers, of course, and doesn't count the civilian casualties.

For a perspective, Wiki gives the 2006 population of Greater London as 7.5 million. The Stats NZ website gives the entire population of New Zealand as 4.2 million.

And the "War to end all Wars" has been followed by conflict after conflict after conflict; the whole 20th Century has been marred by continuous violence.

It would be so nice if we could use this anniversary as the marking line, to say "No More".

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

25th September Auckland and the Environs (part II)

(Yes, I *did* start writing this 3 weeks ago - I'm sorry!!)

On the Thursday, we met up with my great aunt, cousin and his girlfriend for lunch. I'd met Aunt Judy before, when she came over to England a few years ago with her husband (unfortunately, he was working whilst we were in NZ, and we didn't get to see him at all), but I'd never met Morgan nor his girlfriend, Ana at all.

We met up in a suburb of Auckland called Takapuna, fortunately one which had outdoor parking (this became a *big* consideration when we really got on the road - how to park a large wheel-base van had never really crossed my mind before!) I had slight qualms about this meet up, as the car park itself was huge, and we hadn't arranged an exact spot to meet. My memory for faces is also a little bit hazy, so I had visions of not actually being able to find my great aunt. Fortunately, as we turned the engine off on the van, she knocked on the window (reasoning, quite rightly, that we would be the only people in a campervan at that time of day!) It didn't take long before Morgan and Ana caught up with us, and we wandered off looking for somewhere to have lunch. After a stroll round the suburb, we ended up at a glorious cafe which had outdoor (though in an arcade, so still protected from the elements) seating. We had a fantastic meal and a lovely chat - even though we were pretty much strangers when we met, it felt like we had known each other for years, and that we were just picking up a conversation that had been left off a couple of days before.

After lunch, Judy headed back home, and Morgan and Ana took us into Auckland for a spot of sightseeing. After a walk round the SkyTower, which charged quite a bit for admission, and as we weren't all that fussed about going up, we satisfied ourselves with taking photos from underneath:

and then going down to the harbour.

Auckland is known as the City of Sails, due to the number of (very rich) people who own yachts / gin palaces etc; unfortunately, most of them were not in the harbour when we visited, and we were instead treated to the sight of some rather less picturesque fishing boats and dredgers!

Once we'd wandered around for a little bit, taking in most of the central area, Morgan and Ana hit on a very good idea of how to see the best bits of a city when you don't have much time or a huge amount of money - Auckland has a circular line bus which goes through most of the areas. This was a brilliant way of spending an hour or so - we got all of the landmarks pointed out, though, as we were in one of those buses which has an advert on the side, I couldn't get any more photos.

After the ride, we stopped for a coffee, and then walked back to the bus stop, rather sadly passing by the ambulances and the crowds as they worked to try to save this man. It does say something, though, about the levels of serious crime in New Zealand that this stabbing, something which would make a minor line in a UK bulletin, was on the front page of all the papers for a week afterwards.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

23rd-24th September - Auckland and the environs (part I)

NB All Maps displayed are from Google Maps, and remain their copyright. I am using them purely to illustrate where we have travelled for those who are unfamiliar with the geography of New Zealand

After visiting the local airport supermarket, and discovering their very cheap sushi, we got on the road to try to find the campsite. Here, I discovered a small flaw in the road map which I had bought - even though it gave a reasonably good impression of the Auckland area, until we got into the Central Business District (CBD), it did not name, or even show all of the roads. Nor did it distinguish between roads which actually joined and those which went over the top on a bridge. This led to an interesting ten minutes or so when we sailed over the main road we were trying to get on, and ended up in a slightly unsavoury area of the city (though, interestingly, although I wouldn't have liked to get out and walk around for any length of time in the area, I didn't feel overly intimidated at any point, unlike if I'd ended up in the wrong area of Bristol, for example). Fortunately, we managed to find our way onto the main road, which was to take us most of the way up to the campervan park, the one which our Lonely Planet book said was "the best in Auckland".

After a surprisingly quick journey through the Auckland's CBD, we went over the bridge to the North Shore area. There was just one snag. We couldn't find the North Shore Campervan Park. We knew where it should be, but, without a street address, couldn't find it easily, and, as John was still unfamiliar with driving the campervan, we did not fancy driving up and down suburban streets (most of which had traffic lights which necessitated hill starts). Also, the area was very built up, which wasn't our idea of where a campervan park should be. So, I took a look at the map, and found the next campervan park symbol, up in a town called Orewa.

As the campervan park symbol was directly on the main road, I thought that it might be a bit easier to find. And that was how we ended up at Orewa Beach Holiday Park.

The campsite was exactly how I imagined it should be - plenty of trees and grass, picnic benches to eat out on, and a barbeque area. Plus, it had this view from the campervan:

This is the view at 6.30 in the morning:

The beach whilst we were on it:

The campsite from the beach (our van is the one directly in the centre, facing away from the camera):

The receptionist at the campsite was lovely - she explained that the campsite we had been aiming for was no longer part of the Top10 franchise: all campsites affiliated to the chain have to reach a certain standard, and it had failed to meet that standard. So, we were very lucky to have missed it! I had been recommended to look at Top10 from a forum - if you paid $40 (approximately £16) for their membership card, you not only got 10% discount for every night you stayed, but each site (and there are 49 through NZ) has negotiated local discounts at restaurants, cafes and leisure sites. Plus, there was a 10% discount on the ferry between North and South Island, which nearly saved us the cost of the card straight away!

We took the rest of the day very easily, barbequeing the sausages we had bought at the supermarket, and then turning in for an early night.

The next day, we had a leisurely start, and set out to look for the local art centre, which had a Top10 dicount on coffee (we were both feeling the need for something a bit stronger than instant!) Unfortunately, we turned the wrong way out of the park, and ended up taking a stroll right into Orewa town (about 15 minutes walk). Whilst this meant that we had to walk a little further for our coffee than we had anticipated, it did give us a chance to explore the town and scout out possible places for eating out. The art centre itself was lovely; the coffee was very good, as were the brunch options (even if there wasn't a fry up on the menu!), and they had a couple of very interesting exhibitions on display. We also took the opportunity to pop into the local tourist centre, where we were able to buy more detailed street maps of Auckland. After calling my great aunt and cousin (who both live in Auckland) and arranging to meet the next day, we set out on a cliff top walk. Unfortunately, we hadn't got into the scale of New Zealand maps, and what looked like it would be a pleasant stroll to the end of the peninsula (even from looking at it from the beach) was a little bit further than we anticipated! The round trip took over two hours, with a mixture of walking along the cliff, and through housing estates. We even got to see our first native New Zealand wildlife, the Pukeko:

This is not my picture, but from - we were unable to get a good picture of a pukeko, despite the numerous ones we saw throughout the islands.

Dinner that evening was at the Ship and Anchor, a fantastic pub, with an amazing seafood chowder. It was here that I was introduced to the practicalities of the "doggy bag." Whilst I was aware of the practice, it wasn't something that I'd really come across in UK pubs and restaurants - whenever I'd said that I was too full to finish my plate, the attitude was one of "never mind, we'll throw it away." Whereas, here, when I explained to the waitress that the food had been delicious, but I just didn't have room for another drop, she brought it back in a takeaway tub! It made a great starter for supper the next evening...

Monday, 13 October 2008

21st - 23rd Sept - Travelling

I'm going to split these entries out into manageable chunks, as otherwise it will take me forever to write, and you will have a very long essay to read at the end! I will post them in time order, so you will need to read from the bottom up...

The journey out to New Zealand was a long one; we got a taxi from our flat which only cost us half what it should, as we diverted to pick up another passenger whose taxi had broken down (it rather amused me that the driver asked us a number of times whether we minded, and thanked us for helping out, as though we would turn down the chance of halving a rather large fare!), then a coach from Bristol to Heathrow. Two hours on a coach shouldn't be that long, but it drags when you know that you are going to be spending a good chunk of the next day or so sitting down! We arrived at Heathrow, found our terminal and check in desk, and were then told that our plane was delayed by two hours. Now, another two hours wasn't that much in the grand scheme of things; Air New Zealand gave us £7 each to spend in the airport restaurants/bars by way of an apology (though £7 doesn't actually go that far at airport prices!), and as the reason for the delay was a severe technical fault in Hong Kong which had had our original plane grounded, I was rather pleased that they hadn't decided to go ahead, and end up with us making an emergency landing somewhere over Siberia.

We took off at just after 11pm, UK time. Despite all of the planning that I'd put into the holidays, I still had butterflies, very similar to the ones I'd had before setting off to backpack around Australia, and for exactly the same reasons. We were very much stepping into the unknown - apart from "in the campervan", we didn't even know where we were going to be spending the first night, or in what state we would be when we arrived. My big fear was that there would have been some sort of communication error, and I was going to have to, whilst jet lagged, persuade a recalcitrant clerk that we had paid for a campervan for three weeks... In fact, the whole holiday was completely up in the air, which, despite being what we wanted (I'd resisted the travel agent's wishes that I pay for hotels all the way round), still gave me a few jitters.

The flights from London to Hong Kong, and then from HK to Auckland were pretty uneventful - we met probably the only unpleasant Kiwis on the whole trip in the form of two ladies in the seats in front of us (One leant her seat back as soon as she was allowed, and as I had put things in the pockets and was slumped down in my seat, she hit my knees very hard. When I complained, she and her friend grumbled about us all the way to Auckland... Fortunately, we did not see them again once we were out of the airport...). The landing in Hong Kong was interesting - Hong Kong being a sea-based port, the airport was right out in the harbour, meaning that, as we could only see out of side windows, it looked very much like we were coming in to land on the water. It did occur to me on how much trust we put in complete strangers - I had never met the pilot or crew of the plane before that day, and probably never would again, but we all trusted implicitly that they would get us (and our baggage!) to our destination in one piece.

The whole journey, from flat to Auckland airport, took approximately 33 hours, and, though I dozed for about 7 of those, it was very long, and still not over, as we had to get through customs, and find our van...

Going through New Zealand customs was an interesting experience - they have very strict rules on the import of any food, plants or animals, and this is the only airport where we were met by food sniffer dogs rather than drugs ones... The two dogs we saw were incredibly cute; one black labrador which wasn't much older than a puppy, and one basset hound, where we had to put our hand luggage on the floor as he couldn't reach them when we were holding them. Both dogs seemed to love their jobs, particularly the part where they (with their handlers) jumped up on the carousel in order to check the bags coming off the plane. Fortunately, nothing suspicious was found in our bags (I declared the two packets of sweets that we brought with us!), and we got out into the terminal with relative ease.

Next job was to find a SIM card for our phone (far cheaper than activating roaming on our UK based phones), which was not a problem at all, and contact Maui, the campervan company. They directed us to the shuttle bus, which had a very friendly and garrulous Maori driver, and, after quite a long wait in the Maui offices, we were introduced to the van which was to be our home for the next 16 days. This was a 2 person van, not as big as some of the ones which we see driving round the UK (no extra part over the driver's seat), but certainly bigger than any vehicle I'd driven, so I very generously let John take the first turn driving, and off we set to find food and our first planned campsite...

Sunday, 12 October 2008


Well, we are back from a fantastic 3 week holiday in New Zealand. I kept a diary whilst going round, so will gradually be putting up posts with photos (not all 652 of them...) And I have just spent the last 2 hours catching up on all the blogs which I have missed...

Initial impressions have helped to reinforce the desire to up sticks and move out there (I *really* did not want to get on the plane and come back to Bristol!) Almost everyone we met was friendly, helpful and welcoming, the scenery was spectacular, whilst the roads may not be in the best condition (we hit some *amazing* potholes), the lack of traffic away from the city centres more than made up for it. We were very lucky with our exchange rate - I know that when we get out there to live, it will be more costly - making campervanning and self catering a (comparitavely) cheap option. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, given that it was early Spring - very little rain, and only one day where it seemed to rain the whole time.

More detailed blog posts to follow...

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Advanced Warning

We're off to the Land of Hobbits on Sunday, and won't be getting back till the middle of October - therefore posting will be non-existent until then (how will you be able to tell the difference from when I'm just being rubbish at updating?).

But I will hopefully then be able to give you a travelogue of our trip - the current plan (although it is nice and fluid) is to pick up the campervan in Auckland, bimble around the region, visiting rellies, then, after a jobs fair on the Saturday (don't worry - not applying for jobs as yet, but just to see what the market is like), heading down to the Waitomo Caves, then across to Lake Taupo and the region (the bottom of which includes the park which houses Mount Doom...). Then along to Napier, and down to Wellington. We'll stop there for a couple of days (depending on timing), go to the Weta Cave, and scout potential areas to live. Then the ferry across to Picton on South Island, down to Christchurch, where we'll meet up with an ex-colleague and his wife, then down to Dunedin, where Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen are playing. Then back to Christchurch, return the van, and fly home.

This is a rough idea of the route (you'd think that working for a GIS company, I'd be able to get maps to do what I want, but GoogleMaps wouldn't play in the time I've got left in my lunchbreak, so it doesn't show the wiggle down below Taupo to get to Mount Doom) If you click on the picture, it will take you to a bigger version where you can read the names :-)

See you in October!

Monday, 15 September 2008

Perfect Saturday

It doesn't come along often, but I really felt that last Saturday was a perfect day. We had a lie-in, our first in ages, and it was lovely to be able to sleep off the effects of early rising, late nights and being busy! Then, with the sun shining down on us, we went out to a nursing home on the south side of Bristol, there, along with the other members of the Longwell Green Orchestra, to serenade the residents. We set up in the courtyard of the nursing home, so that those who were bed-ridden would be able to have their windows open and be able to listen to us as well. The skies were blue, the air was warm, and there was just enough of a breeze to ruffle the pages of music. We were all relaxed, which meant that we played some of the best music, even managing to get back together again when we had got half a bar out (I don't think anyone noticed!) As we got to the end of our performance, playing a medley from Grease, some of the more sprightly residents (encouraged by the nurses) even got up to dance! It was all I could do to concentrate on playing and keeping my embouchure as I kept on wanting to grin.
Then back home for a quick and easy supper, and the Last Night of the Proms, followed by a televised broadcast of "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue".
Just brilliant.

Thursday, 11 September 2008


Where is the year going? It is a bit scary to think that the schools are back, the students are preparing for uni, and we are on the downhill roll to Christmas...

We had a very exciting weekend last weekend - we were up in Leeds visiting the Leeds Armoury. Part of the big excitement was that their Medieval curator had spent about 7 years cultivating a friendship with the owner of Weta, culminating in them bringing over a major chunk of the existing LOTR/Narnia collection (the arms/armour rather than the full costumes/monsters). That was bouncemaking enough, but what we had also discovered was that Peter Loyd, the head swordsmith had come over as well to do a talk on the making of the weapons, running from the design through to the finished pieces. This talk turned out to be free, but with limited seating (i.e. you had to book in advance), and at the end of it, not only was there the chance to have a chat with him, but they brought out of the collection for us to *hold* (though not take away or take photos of - hiss!) a centaur's helmet from Narnia, one of the Orc shields (one of the ones that looks like a claw), one of the stunt swords, and (which made us all go POING) the full size version of Sting (i.e. the one which Elijah Wood had, rather than his mini-me)

So I have now held Sting - and it is a glorious work of art as well as a weapon (couldn't do much cutting with it as it hasn't been sharpened, but I'm sure that it could still do some damage!). Only bummer is that when I bounced about it at work, everyone looked at me like I was mad...

Leeds itself is somewhere I have not visited before, and I was very pleasantly suprised. I was expecting concrete towers, graffitti, and a general "it's grim up north" feel; the reality, at least around the Waterfront where the Armoury is, was one of modern, well designed architecture, light and (not suprisingly!) water. We also found a *fantastic* Thai restaurant - just opened - very tucked away (we only realised that it was open because there were a couple of lights on - the rest of the shops in the arcade were shut). The food was amazing, the service perfect (though as we were the only people in there, it would have been hard for it to be bad!), and very reasonably priced. I did take away their menu so that I could give them a bit of publicity - however, I don't have it on me right now - details to follow...

Edit... The details of the Thai restaurant are:
Thai Khonkaen Restaurant
8a/10a Market Street Arcade

Definitely worth a visit if you are in Leeds at all...

Monday, 1 September 2008


Well, we've moved house, scrubbed out the old flat to the point that it stinks of bleach (but, hey, the Dettol Mould and Mildew remover does what it says on the tin, and has (fingers crossed) saved our deposit), and we've got the internet back (through a Vodafone dongle - which is actually nearly as speedy as the broadband, so I'm not going to complain too much!)

The new place is growing on me - I still feel a bit wobbly about being forced to move; every other move we have made in Bristol has been through our choice, I've had a real kick to get out, and the flats stopped feeling like home before we left. This time, I loved our flat (despite the mildew problems...), but the landlady's behaviour, particularly with respect to not paying the mortgage, meant that we had to get out; if we had been evicted in four or five months time, then we would have had real problems in getting a short term let before we emigrated.

Sadly none of the rings turned up in the move, so I now have to accept that they are gone for good. Still waiting for the insurance company to make me an offer...

I'm also starting to get very excited about our holiday to New Zealand - we are flying out on the 21st Sept, so with less than a month to go, I figure I'm allowed to get bouncy, particularly as we are going to be there at the same time as Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, and I have booked tickets to go and see them play. The holiday is a precursor to emigration - we are going round in a campervan scouting out places that we might like to live.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Moving house

John and I have moved, just round the corner, but are having a few issues with connecting at home - BT has the monopoly on the local exchange (won't let Virgin play), and, as it appears that the previous tenant(s) never connected the phone, BT also want to charge us £125 for connecting. Which we don't really have at the moment, given that this time next month we will be in New Zealand for the best part of 3 weeks. So I'm investigating options, probably involving a mobile broadband dongle stuck into the USB port... (slower connection, but at least it will be cheaper!)

Tuesday, 12 August 2008


Once more a long while since my last post - I was going to write all about my visit to Tewkesbury Medieval Fair, and how I ended up holding a carpet python:

(sorry about the fuzziness - this is a photo of a laminated photo...)

However, events have overtaken me, and I wanted to have the opportunity to tell my family (both direct and the in-laws) before I broadcast it on the internet.

I've lost my rings. My wedding ring, my engagement ring, my eternity ring, and the amethyst ring that John's mum gave me (through John) at the wedding. They were looped on my watch (a 21st birthday present from my grandmother), and, as I was rushing out of the door (being late for work), I ended up with one of those horrible mix ups - I thought the bundle was in my hand, then it wasn't, so it had to be in my pocket, then it wasn't, then it had to be left in the flat, so I went back in and it wasn't, so it had to be out on the grass or path outside the house, and it wasn't, so it had to be in my bag, and it wasn't. The whole thing seems to have vanished completely into thin air :-(

And there is nothing I can do now - I've filed a lost report with the police, I've stuck a notice up outside the flat (offering a reward and with my phone number on it - I've not even had drunken idiots call me! The only thing that has happened is that someone stole the plant pot (with a dead gladioli in it) which was holding the notice down), and I have a number of searches up on eBay. The insurance company has been informed, and I had an evaluator out last week; thoroughly professional and nice about it, but I still don't expect them to be very sympathetic!

The sickening thing is that someone had to have picked it up in just a few minutes between me going into the flat and coming back out again. There are only a few people who walk past in the mornings; commuters and dog walkers. And they do it every day. So I have probably met the person who took it, and they've seen my reward notice, but still not contacted me.

At the moment, I keep on flashing between the unsentimental "It's just jewellery - whilst it has huge sentimental value, particularly the wedding ring which John made, the vows we made haven't been broken, we are both still alive and well(brought home with a thump by these two stories - the second of these happened at the building site opposite our offices), and everything I have lost is replaceable," to wanting to curl up in a ball, scream and hit things. And I think that I will still have that sick feeling at the bottom of my stomach until the day that I die.

But - hey - now that I've told the entire globe (or the miniscule portion of it that still reads my blog!), I'll probably find the bundle hidden in plain view when we move flat at the end of the week....

Friday, 11 July 2008

Busy, busy, busy...

It is with horror that I notice that my last post was over 3 weeks ago (I started this post on Wednesday, but had to stop due to actually needing to do some work... It is now the following Tuesday...)! I am really not doing very well with keeping updated - however, in my defence, I've not been in a lot in the evenings (and when I have, my new CD box set of the Mysterious Cities of Gold, and a very silly Tower Defence computer game have taken up most of my time...)

However, out of the flat, I've been doing a lot. My music has been important - I've got my oboe serviced, which was an epic in itself - a drive down to Taunton, going three times round the town as the road labelling system has changed since the AA set up their directions, dropping the oboe off, out to a friend's for lunch, then being phoned up to say that the oboe wouldn't be ready that evening, and could I pick it up on Saturday? Not a problem, as we were heading to Exeter on the Saturday. Friday evening, I got called to say that it wasn't going to be ready Saturday, and they would courier it to me on Monday. Finally got my oboe back on Tuesday, but the wait was worth it, as it sounds beautiful! Probably shouldn't leave it four years till the next service...)

Work has been manic, and included an all day excursion to the Forest of Dean Go Ape, an incredibly fun series of courses of rope or wood bridges, ladders, swings and zip lines, all at approximately 2-3 stories high in the trees. I pride myself in my head for heights, but this is actually really nerve wracking, as you are constantly having to battle your rational and irrational brains ("I am attached to the tree/line in three different ways. I am not going to fall." vs "HOLY SHIT I'M GOING TO DIE!!!"). I completed the courses (five of them including a training one), and am very proud of myself, as most of the time my legs were shaking, and I only completed a lot of the sections by will power ("One more step. Just one more step to go." It's amazing how many one-more-steps there are...). There will be photos, but as most of mine are of my colleagues, I don't think it is hugely fair to broadcast them on the net - mostly because the expressions tend to be one of terror, and the harnesses are not very flattering. I will wait for my boss to get back from holiday, as I know that she took a number of me...

The joy of the excursion was tempered by the fact that we then had to go in on the Saturday for an all day strategy meeting - not as boring as it could have been (for the first time in four years, I have an idea of the way the company is going!), but probably not the best place to spend half a weekend.

The other half of the weekend, though, was brilliant - spent going to Cardiff again, to the updated Dr Who Exhibition, where they now have one of the Angels from "Blink", whose outstretched arm is just high enough for a head massage:

We also had a very nice meal at Bosphorous (the Turkish restaurant that is on the end of a pier sticking out into the bay), inspected the Welsh Assembly buildings (glorious architecture, and I don't normally get excited about buildings - these are beautiful!) and a boat trip round the bay. Then a trip back to Bristol, and a lovely meal at a Chinese all you can eat restaurant. A fantastic day!

The other thing which has been taking up my time has been my hockey - we've had six games in our summer league (I've played four of them), and have now won three and lost three - a brilliant record, given that we hadn't won anything at all in the second half of our winter league. The last game (on Tuesday) was a very good one, and I am still on a bit of a high. We alread knew that the opposing team were good, however, when I spotted that they didn't have a goalkeeper, I initially was pleased - that meant that whenever we got up to their end, we would have no problems scoring. What the reality meant was that they had an extra person on the pitch (the team consists of eleven people, no matter whether one of them is wearing goalkeeping pads or not). So every time they attacked, they could always have somebody who wasn't marked. And they attacked a lot. I estimate that about 75% of the game was in our half, and most of that was inside our 25 yards (a quarter of the pitch). We did so well as a defensive team, given that we were spread very thinly - whilst I had to make some saves (and a couple of very spectacular ones, even if I do say so myself - one ended up going right over the top of the goal - I had a minor panic because I completely lost sight of it and thought it had gone in!), I didn't have to throw myself about the pitch as much as I feared - my team picked the shots up before they happened. Our attack did really well in getting their one goal in - as soon as the ball started going up the pitch, their midfield and defence formed a line that we simply couldn't get past.

However, I did have a first. It had got scrappy in the D (the area immediately in front of the goal - only goals where they have been hit from inside this area count). The whistle blew, but I didn't recognise the umpire's signal. I looked over to my team for some explanation, and noticed that they had all retreated to the 25 yard line. As had all bar one of the opposing team members. There is only one occasion when everyone will run away from the goalie. Oh dear... (well, "dear" is not what I thought, but as I've sworn once in this post, and I try not to swear, I'm censoring myself...) This would be the penalty flick sign then, wouldn't it?

For those who are uninitiated in the ways of hockey, I will explain the concept of the penalty flick. About half way into the D, there is a little white spot. The attacker puts the ball on the spot, and after the ref says "go", attempts to push or flick (not allowed to hit it) into the goal. The goalie (i.e. me), who has to stand behind the goal line, has to stop the ball. Nice and simple. Except that something funny happens to your perspective in this situation. The ball, approximately the size of your fist, becomes a golf ball. The attacker becomes a giant with arm muscles the size of trees. The goal suddenly stretches to the size of the pitch.

The ref asked me if I was ready. I couldn't really say "no", but definitely didn't feel ready - the whole match was riding on this. With us only being one goal up, and with less than five minutes remaining on the clock, we could not afford to let anything in. The signal was given, and the attacker struck.

And the ball bounced off the post and rolled up the pitch.

I hadn't seen it move, not consciously at least. Something had seen the ball go, as I was moving in the right direction, but if it had been a couple of millimeters closer to me, I wouldn't have had a chance to save it as it rolled in towards me instead of away. But for some reason everyone congratulated me as though I had done anything more than stand there!

But hey, we won the match, meaning that we aren't sat at the bottom of the summer league - huzzah!

And I'm not going to actually publish this post, as it's now a week since I started writing it. Then I can get round to writing the post about the trip to Tewkesbury and the snake...

Sunday, 22 June 2008


I don't often feel proud - I am much more likely to be disparaging and to knock myself, and the things around me. I'm not sure whether it is my inherent Britishness - mustn't blow my own trumpet and all that, what, what? - or whether it is a hangover from school, where the aim was to duck my head and not stand out at all costs.

However, a number of events over the last couple of weeks have left me feeling proud. I'm proud of myself for getting my green belt in Tae Kwon Do, after only a few months of being green stripe. I was sure that I wasn't ready, and, though I didn't pass with credit (getting pretty much everything right), I did well enough that, in my mind, I passed fairly, rather than just scraping through.

I'm proud of my work team - we got through to a demonstration in a very big tender, and we were repeatedly complimented on the presentation and professionalism of the bid work.

I'm proud of my hockey team - ever since I started playing, we have been losing - often really badly (I think the worst when I was in goal was 9-0) Yet this week, we managed to win a game, 4-0 - and we really ran rings round the opposition. It might just be a one-off, but we played really well as a team, and deserved the excellent score.

And I'm proud of where I live. This is really a new sensation for me - I've moved around a lot through my life, usually following my father's work, and have always seen each new village/town/city as another stopping point. But we had a friend over from Australia to stay for a couple of days, and decided to go out on one of the open topped bus tours. We had an excellent tour guide, who came up and sat with us on the top of the bus, even though it was blowing a gale and threatening more rain (hey, who comes to the UK for the weather, anyway?). The commentary was fascinating - I had had no idea that Bristol had so many literary connections (Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island being the books named, as well as the poem Vitai Lampada (The Close mentioned is the playing fields at Clifton College)), nor that it had so many "Firsts" or "Biggests" - everywhere we went there was something to be proud of. Yes, there is the slave trade, which is a shame that should never be forgotten, but Bristol is a place where I can be proud of living.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Happy Birthday to Me :-)

Well, another year over, and another year of scaring my parents with how old I've got...

Still not thirty yet, though :-)

We were in Cornwall for the weekend, as I was taking part in another TKD competition. This therefore involved a fairly major drive in a company pool car, as ours is still in the garage (coming back from a friend's party last weekend, the head gasket blew outside Swindon. Fortunately, the garage we ended up at were taking someone else back from Leigh Delamere Services to Cardiff, and agreed to drop us off at Bristol for only the charge of getting to the services, saving us a serious amount of money...) As it was a company car, John wasn't insured to drive it, meaning that I had to go the full way down to St Austell, (Friday night) then on to Truro (Saturday), then back to Exmouth (Saturday evening) and to Bristol (Sunday afternoon). Not a lot, given the breaks that I had, but I'm not a confident driver, particularly when having to go down country lanes (and one accident just outside St Austell, when we were two miles away from our B&B, meant that I ended up going up a lane which hadn't been mown for a good few months, and had to creep past a badger and a ginger cat). But we made it in one piece, and didn't scratch the car, either. It's the first time I've driven a Megane - one of those cars with the 'arse' at the back - a very ugly car, but actually really pleasant to drive.

The competition itself was great fun; I got bronze in both the patterns and the sparring. I can't really claim a *huge* achievement for this - there were only three of us in my class! Both patterns and sparring were set up as round robins - each of us competed against the other two. However, it wasn't so much that I got a medal just for stepping onto the mat - the patterns were both very close; in both my matches, the judgments went 3-2 against me. The first sparring match was also very close - I was 3-1 down on the judgments, and I don't think that there were more than a couple of points in any of the counters. The second sparring match, I did get completely thrashed (though not knocked out...), by an opponent who, after only having a minute's rest from her first match, was still able to kick me round the head. I still really enjoyed it (that's the blood thirsty side of me talking), and as a club, we did really well, with all 11 competitors getting at least one medal, and we shared 19 between us. (and for those of you who are keen to know what I look like, I'm in the back row, third from the left on the top photo... Stalkers ahoy! :-P )

And the TKD fun doesn't stop here - for some reason our instructor has decided that I'm good enough to go for my green belt next week - I'm having to do a lot of sneaky practice in the toilets at work!

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Is it Music? Can't tell...

Well, another Eurovision has been and gone...

John has blogged at length on the individual acts
, so I won't repeat his words - his sentiments on the acts mostly reflect mine.

There weren't as many wince inducing performances as usual - the German performance where they hid a bagpipe in one of the singer's vocal chords is the one that really stands out. Most of the acts just wiffled past - even now, I have to look back at John's notes to distinguish some of them (Serbia had an entry? Really?).

Terry Wogan did us proud, again, though. "If I have to sit through this, then you can all join me..." plus his admission that there might have been a couple of drinks up in the commentator's box...

Rather sadly, it looks like his comments at the end of the evening were taken seriously. I can understand his frustrations - whilst the UK entry wasn't good enough to win, it was certainly the best entry that we have fielded for a very long time, and deserved to come a lot higher than where it did. Political voting took over again, and seemed to be even more prominent than usual (Terry's comments that the Eastern bloc voted for Russia in a bid to keep their oil and gas might sound cynical, but you never know...). It would be very sad if TW stopped commentating Eurovision, as I feel that most people only tune in to listen to his revelations (I certainly would be less likely to watch if the commentator took it seriously...). Maybe the answer is two Eurovisions; East and West? Or does that negate the whole point of a contest bringing the whole of Europe together?

Saturday, 24 May 2008


We had a lovely evening yesterday - we had our annual concert at a local school's fete. It's usually a great fun event - we play bouncy music (like medleys, such as the Bond themes, music from Grease, or music from Porgy and Bess), in a very relaxed atmosphere, and afterwards, we go back to our director of music's house for an American Supper (where everyone brings an item of food, and we all share it...)

The reason that I enjoy this so much is not just because the music making or the social aspect, but because every year, we get to see the impact that music has on children. Most of them wander through with their parents, getting cakes or going out to the raffle, but one or two every year dance to the music (particularly when we play the Can-Can!), or sit down and simply listen. I love being able to communicate how I feel about music to someone else, particularly someone who can then take that joy and potentially learn an instrument of their own. Just brilliant.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Good News / Bad News

Well - it has been a busy week or so - again...!

On Saturday, I took part in a Tae-Kwon Do tournament. I had been given the impression that it was going to be a 'local' event - i.e. for the three clubs in our area, so I was in for a bit of a shock when I spotted teams from Paignton and London! This was a team event, so three of us competing per team. (There were only four teams in our category!) We came away with a silver in the patterns - these are synchronised patterns, so each member of the team has to perform at the same time and with the same pacing. We didn't get anything in the sparring, but then we were a bit unlucky - I went up first (and lost, though I was later told that both my fights were close things), and the lady from our team who went up second withdrew halfway through the match (she hadn't wanted to spar in the first place and panicked!). So (as it was a knockout tournament, and each round was best 2 out of 3), we were down to the third/fourth play off. I went up first again, lost again, and then the final member of our team went up. She was winning the bout, and then jumped and landed wrongly on her knee, ending up not being able to put any weight on it, and having to go to hospital! (Fortunately, x-rays have shown that it was just badly twisted, and no major damage was done; given that our instructor is out for the best part of a year after possibly snapping a tendon, we do know what problems can come up!!) But I still enjoyed it, so much so that I'm going to put myself up for a single competition (i.e. not relying on anyone else...!) in Cornwall on the 7th June. Overall, our club did really well, winning 56 medals overall.

We also had a fun evening yesterday - Paul Merton is touring with an improv comedy show, and by some fluke we managed to get tickets (it sold out very quickly); I hadn't realised who else was going to be appearing in it; Richard Vranch (who is actually a talented comedian in his own right - he was wasted hiding behind the piano) - and Mike McShane (who has lost a lot of weight since appearing in Whose Line is it Anyway - he is half the man he used to be, but no less funny!). Great fun :-D

We've also had a few less fun things - our poor Skoda is now pretty much broken to the point where it is going to cost more to fix it than it will to buy a new car, so we are off out to get another one with my company bonus this year (huzzah for the change of company financial year which means that I get it 6 months earlier than normal!!). Hopefully this one will last more than a few months.... We are also definitely now on the move again (when we've found somewhere to go...), as our landlady has failed on the mortgage again, and the bank has informed us that they are taking her to court to gain possession of the property (though we still have until August to get out, and she may still pay the overdue balance (though as this is the third time in 6 months, I'm not holding my breath!)).

But I'm confident that we will get both of the above sorted out, and in the meantime, we have so many cinema things coming up! We've already been to see Iron Man (very silly, but great fun as well), are going to Indiana Jones this weekend, and then have films such as Batman, Prince Caspian and Hellboy 2 to look forward to - it's going to be a fab summer!

Friday, 16 May 2008

Copyright Breaches

As a blogger and a reader of blogs, I found this link running from Random Acts of Reality .
Essentially, the Hate Mail (both weekly and Sunday) has decided that lifting copyright material, or misrepresenting bloggers in articles is acceptable behaviour.

I am really lost for words on this. Even though Private Secret Diary has now received payment for his work, and When A Woman's Fed Up has had the article taken down whilst waiting for the results of the PCC enquiry - this situation should never had arisen! I am disgusted that this paper has the temerity to call itself "professional".

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Ffantastic Ffiesta!

Well! The event that we have spent over a year and a half working towards is ffinally ffinished...

And what a weekend it was - around about 100 people congregating on the De Vere Hotel in Swindon to celebrate the works of Jasper Fforde with a Ffiesta of fun and games.

This had been a stressful convention to plan - not least because of contractual issues which left us (as organisers) nearly £2,000 in debt. Most of that was on my credit card.

I was also worried, as there had been a fairly nasty review of the last Ffestival on Ansible (someone who believed that it should have been a convention with signing queues and panels and the like), and I was having nightmares about everyone wanting their money back... So, you can imagine that my frame of mind wasn't fantastic going into the Friday night!

However, I really need not have worried.

It was a FFANTASTIC weekend! From the start of the Saturday morning, when Katie's "Getting to Know You" game worked its magic and got everyone talking, right through to Monday afternoon, everyone seemed to have a brilliant time. The bus tour of Swindon was a big success, as was the table top croquet tournament (and, as usual, in the quintessentially English game, the final was between the Americans and the Germans...) The Maskerade was such fun - the level of ingenuity of people getting dressed up was brilliant (as well as specific human characters, we also had a Dodo (Pickwick) with her chick, a Will-Speak Machine, as well as the representation of footnotes...) We even did an audience participation Richard III, which, despite possibly being a little overlong (editorial blushes...), turned out really well - much better than having to sit quietly and see the play done by ac-tors... (Hey - anywhere you can "Boo" Richard and yell "He's behind you" at Clarence and the murderers.... Probably somewhere closer to what would have happened in Shakespeare's day with the groundlings at the Globe anyway!)

What totally overwhelmed me, though, was the incredible generosity of everyone who attended. At the start of the auction, Phil stood up and explained that we were having financial problems, and that the convention was running at a loss. And then the bidding started. Jasper as auctioneer, and a variety of items, some donated by Jasper (many different editions of his books, in a number of different languages), some donated by the Ffiesta (mainly croquet sets of one form or another...), some donated by other people (Terry Pratchett donated, through his PA, three signed copies of his books; those magnificent folk at ArmadaCon donated two free tickets to their convention, something John and I took advantage of!) I was keeping a running tally as the auction progressed, and kept on thinking I had to have got my maths wrong - the total just kept on rising and rising. By the end, when we had auctioned off everything which wasn't nailed down (including an early draft of the first chapter Jasper's not-yet-published book "Shades of Grey", which he had read out to us earlier in the evening), we had raised £2,700! This more than covered our debts, and, with additional monies raised through the selling of merchandise and various silly games (throw the marshmallow into the dodo's mouth, guess the weight of the entroposcope, whack a dodo...), we have enough to put some aside for the next Ffiesta, and also to donate to charity - final totals not sorted out yet, but it should be over £1,000!

And on the Monday, a group of about 12 of us went out to the Uffington White Horse to show some of our American guests some very British pastimes - driving through twisty, high hedged country roads, some of them mildly flooded, discovering that the one signpost to where you are going to is half way up the road you were meant to have taken, about thirty seconds after you have just overshot it, and, of course, having a picnic in the rain, saying "Isn't this fun...?" Fortunately, the sun came out fairly shortly after we finished eating, and we ended up flying kites and having a brilliant time - a very relaxing end to the weekend.

And now I collapse...!

Monday, 21 April 2008


This is the first of the pieces that I have written on my commute to and from work - I have started giving myself a word / idea in the morning, and try to get anything in 10 minutes. If the idea seems to be going somewhere, then I carry on the story in the evening (and to the next day if necessary), if not, then I give myself a new word in the evening. What I'm putting here is still pretty raw, not polished.

Freewheeling, the bird soars through the sky. The sunlight flashes off of brightly coloured plumage; irridescent blue, pink and green. A trickle of bird song flows down to the observers, fluttering through the air. There is no chirrup or tweet from this bird; the song rises and falls in cadences to delight the ear.

It is a spectacular sight, only ever seen once every few years when the bird looks for a mate, and she is crouching under a bush at the edge of a clearing. She is small, dull, with brown and green feathers. She has no song, no bright colours, and is therefore of no interest to the observers, who have patiently researched and waited to find this particular clearing, in the middle of nowhere, at this time.

They knew they had to work quickly. Once the pheonix mates, the male bursts into flames, providing the heat for the incubation of the next generation. The ultimate sacrifice for the continuation of the species. It is also an extreme self defence mechanism. Should the bird be attacked, it releases a combination of hormones and digestive acids which spontaneously combust. If it is killed, it takes about five minutes for the bird to be completely aflame, meaning that any predator will also burn.

The observers watch the mating dance intently, focusing their instruments, making sure that they do nothing to alarm the bird. When the positioning is exactly right, they shoot.

The falling comet of colour, now stained a dull red, falls near their feet, and they work quickly before the chemical reaction is complete. Each whole phoenix feather is worth nearly $100.

Where has the year gone?

Once more, nearly three weeks since I last posted, and the usual excuses apply (though I think they are very poor ones when I consider the blogs that I read, usually medical people who work silly shifts, study, and still seem to manage to post every couple of days... But then, they have more interesting lives than I do, as well!)

I'm hoping that my posts will pick up after the beginning of May - the Fforde Ffiesta will be over, and I will have some spare time again. Will try not to spend all my time playing Scrabble on Facebook and actually post properly...

We might be on the move again - the shower and bath are both on the blink, and the landlady didn't pay the electrician's bill from the last time it broke (October -> February - 4 months without a shower...), so I am not hopeful that she will pay out for it to be fixed again. We have the same electrician coming in this week (I've promised to pay up front and claim back from the landlady by deducting from the ), but if it can't be fixed straight away, we are just going to hand in our notice...

On a more positive note, I'm going in for a Tae Kwon Do competition in the middle of May - getting to test my sparring skills properly against someone. I'm not expecting to get very far, but I'm really looking forward to it!

I'm also hoping that I'll be able to get more creative writing in after the beginning of May - I'm trying to write every day on the train to and from work, and I've got a couple of pieces that I'm willing to show to the world :-)

Wednesday, 2 April 2008


I hadn't realised that it had been *quite* that long since I last posted... I have been rushed off my feet, both at home and at work, and the closest I have come to blogging has been composing posts in my head on the walk to and from work (most of them have been rants against cyclists and people who fail to indicate, but as I have made my feelings on that clear in an earlier post, I won't repeat myself...
So - we are now in April. Easter has passed by, and BST has started... And what have I been up to? Aside from being completely manic at work (April 1st is the start of our new financial year (although due to creative accountancy and the need for our sales team to edge a bit closer to their targets, year end is physically the 7th...)), John and I have also been highly active in our leisure time.
As well as more organising for the Fforde Ffiesta (link one more time ;-) ), we have also been to London, spending Easter at Heathrow airport for the UK Sci-Fi convention, Orbital (also known as Eastercon). This was a completely amazing experience - highlights for me included meeting Neil Gaiman again, and managing to exchange more words with him (well, a few) than "Wow, you are brilliant," being Gopher-liaison for Mitch Benn, and thereby getting to sit in the front row for his most amazing set (crying with laughted for at least three quarters of the time), plus having Christopher Priest sit with us for breakfast (for me, the ultimate convention experience - to be able to sit and chat with someone whose work you admire, but to talk about nothing at all (the fact that it was snowing at Heathrow...)). Plus, getting to wander round, sit in some very silly, and some not so silly panels, and to do my best to completely exhaust myself by Gophering for a good chunk of the weekend (I got enough 'groats' (1 groat for 1 hour worked) to buy a £5 t-shirt, a jacket potato, at least one or two drinks, and still have some left over to buy a lovely cloak broach, so I did quite a bit!) - it is something that I really enjoy about going to major conventions, and really miss when I don't get the chance to do it. We discovered after Orbital that the New Zealand Sci-Fi convention is also held over Easter - plans are already afoot to see whether, once we are established over there, we can work out a live satellite link up. One of the best comments about the convention, which summed up why I love going to these so much, came from Neil Gaiman. "You are my tribe." The idea that I can go along to a venue, where over a thousand people are, end up separating from my husband and friend (voluntarily, not by accident), and still know that I am amongst friends, fully comfortable with everyone around me, is something that transcends the shared love of sci-fi/fantasy. It might be the common bond that brings us together, but it is not that which makes it work - again, as Neil Gaiman said - "If, overnight, everything to do with sci-fi; DVDs, films, videos, books, comics, the lot, completely vanished, never to reappear, there would still be conventions. We would have to hold them about knitting, but they would still happen."
Last weekend, we were back in London for the Terracotta Army exhibition at the British Museum. This was breathtaking, even though it was only a very small portion of the full army, and I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to see it before it heads back to China again next week. The detail on the warriors was outstanding; a kneeling archer had moulded nails in the bottom of his shoes. They had even mocked up a painted soldier to show what they would have looked like when they were new - really quite terrifying, in fact - a very lifelike army, row upon row, of men and horses, taller than those who created them, silent, guarding the body of the man who felt that he was Emperor of the Universe.
And then back to earth with a bump with a very busy week of work this week, and my final hockey match of the season on Saturday - we are heading for relegation in a big way, and it is going to be a good thing - I'm looking forward to matches where we aren't going to lose 9-0! But first, I have to brave the end of season piss up...

Wednesday, 19 March 2008


Motivation for people, particularly at work, comes from many different factors, as I was taught on my 10(ish) week Management course (which I have now found out that I passed - yay!). These factors can be as diverse as money, interesting work, good team/work atmosphere, responsibility, potential for promotion, etc, etc, and there are a number of theories out there which discuss it.

However, I think that our MD has managed to hit the nail on the head, particularly for me... I received this email from him this afternoon:

You may or may not be aware that I have held a number of offsite evening ‘dinners’ with key members of staff to get a general sense from them about the state of the nation etc.

I would like to do this with you as well and wondered if you were free on the evening of 1st May?

The idea that I might be a 'key' member of staff had never occured to me, and as a consequence, not only am I glowing inside, but I am determined more than ever to prove him right, show that I am key, and demonstrate that his opinion of me is not misplaced! No more reading of blogs during work hours (unless I get *really* bored!)

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Email Monkey

I have to admit to having an email monkey on my back. I am one of those poor people who are addicted to emails - I have four active email addresses, plus at least two lapsed ones (usually lapsed because of the volume of spam!). I love sending and receiving email, far more than I do making a phone call or writing a letter. I love the idea that I can instantly send emails to friends across the city or on the other side of the world, and it isn't going to interrupt them (the way a phone call does - ringing incessantly with the demand of being answered), but it doesn't take a few days or weeks to get there (if it ever does...) the way a letter does. The email revolution has been fantastic for me.

Today at work, my poor computer has had issues - the server wouldn't issue it with an IP address, meaning that it effectively didn't exist, and couldn't connect. This meant no email, no internet, and slightly frazzled Jo... After half an hour or so of our tech director trying to force the server to do what he wanted, he has said that the server has to be reset, which can't be done till everyone has gone home this evening.

So I'm currently logged on to a colleague's PC, trying to get some work done. Now, I'm not going to grumble at the lack of software on my borrowed computer (no Customer Database, no Sage access, no Communicator (our internal Messenger program), no Microsoft Messenger, no Firefox (I *hate* Internet Explorer with a passion!)) - it is only for one day, and I can live without it.

However, I'm having huge issues with my email... I can't access my emails through Outlook, as to configure it for me would lead to problems for my colleague when she comes back in on Monday. Fortunately, the company does have a Webmail account - they don't want us to miss important information when we are out and about! So I've been sat on Webmail all day. Unfortunately, Webmail doesn't tell you if you have a new email. Plus when you've read an email, it still says that there is an unread item in your folder unless you go out and come back in again.

Most people would think this bliss (another colleague who is having the same issues certainly does) - being able to get your head down and get some work in without constant interuptions. However, it is driving me insane - the thought that people might have contacted me, and I don't know about it has had me hitting 'refresh' over and over and over until I am rewarded by an email popping up...

Is there rehab for email addiction?

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Finishing books

As most people close to me know, I am a prolific reader. Mainly of sci-fi and fantasy books, and I am not the most discerning of readers, usually devouring whatever I pick up (probably the only really notable exception being Ian M Banks - I just can't get through the first few chapters of his books.)

I'm not a very discriminating reader - obviously, there are stand-out books that just take your breath away, but I get equal levels of enjoyment from a 'trashy' fantasy book (full of cliches, plot point a-z storyline, cardboard characters) as I do from something that is well written and well grounded.

Every time I finish a book for the first time, I have to take a few minutes to regather myself. It's not something I have to do on re-reading a story, but the first time one ends, I feel a deep sense of loss. I have been transported into another world, with characters that are as real to me as those that I meet. When something good happens to those characters, I am overjoyed. When something bad happens, I feel the emotion (to the point that I had to stop reading on the train this week as I was about to cry in public). And when the book finishes, all of that is over. I will never again get the exploration into the unknown - I may re-read the story, but it will now be familiar - I know what will happen before the characters do. The enjoyment will still be there, as will the escape into another world, but it will not be the same.

So, if you see me sitting still with a closed book in my hand, let me rest quietly for a few minutes. I will tell you all about the book shortly, but for now, I need to mourn.

Scotland the Wonderful

It has been a while since posting - apologies! We've been away for a while (5 days in Scotland, and then the following weekend down to the in-laws), so I've not had much of a chance for posting.

Scotland was amazing. Every time I visit, I am struck by the beauty of the country - I have been in love with it since my first visit about 15 years ago. If it wasn't for the fact that it gets so cold (I don't *do* cold at all...), I would be up there permanently.

We were there for the wedding of two of our friends, at a gorgeous location right on the edge of Loch Lomond. John and I were very lucky - our room at the hotel looked out over the loch...

This was the view from our bedroom window.

This was the sunset on the Friday evening two minutes' walk from the hotel.

The wedding itself was brilliant - Sarah looked amazing in her dress, complete with grey cloak and elven circlet, and she turned into a warrior princess whilst weilding the knife for cutting the cake! (I'm sure she scared the photographer...) She went up the aisle to the Dance Macabre, and I really hope that she has the same reflex grin that I get when listening to the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba.

There was a ceilidh afterwards, and John and I danced our socks off! Obviously, as the wedding was in Scotland, there were a few experts, and I don't think that the caller was quite prepared for the number of people who really didn't know what they were doing (as evinced by the fact that he had to stop calling at one point because he was laughing so much!) But it was great fun - the first time I've ever seen people dancing the Gay Gordons to "Postman Pat" - the music mutated in the middle of the dance, and watching the "It can't be... It is!" look spread across people's faces was fantastic.

After the wedding, the group of six of us from the South West stayed in the Loch Lomond area for a couple of days, having hired a car, to make the most of our time in Scotland. We stayed at the Oak Tree Inn, a pub/hotel that I can't recommend highly enough. The staff were so friendly and helpful, the food was amazing (I am determined to ferret out their recipe for Mars Bar Cheesecake...), and the location was stunning. And, as we were there out of season, there were very few people around - once we strolled down to the loch, the only sounds we could hear were the birds singing. Even better, from my wildlife loving mindset, was that the birds had not had enough negative contact with people to be scared of them. We were used as chasing posts for a male chaffinch determined to catch up with his lady love (sadly no picture of this - they were too fast), a robin guarding his territory:

a very inquisitive raven:

two swans who wanted to dabble like ducks:

A chicken who wanted to cross the road:

an island full of cormorants:

as well as wrens, blackbirds, ducks and gulls.

The loch was just gorgeous, and we were so lucky with the weather - blue skies and sunshine for pretty much the whole holiday. I think we all turned into slight artists with our cameras, all looking out for good shots :-) The scenery was so peaceful - the landscape really humbles you, the mountains telling you, "We were here a thousand years ago, we will be here in a thousand years' time. Your day to day stresses and strains really don't make a difference to us." It really helped to be able to wrap that peace around me, and to think that whatever happens, the mountains will always be here. (and yes, for the pedants amongst us, I know that geologically speaking, they won't, but for a recordable period of time, they will...)

Here are some of my favourite photos, capturing the peace and the colour of Loch Lomond.

PS - I worked out how to get photos working in posts! ;-)

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Car off the road again...

It definitely hasn't been our year for motoring! To start with, there was the accident, then a near month without a car before we bought the Toyota. Then, at the beginning of January, the brakes failed on the car - they went in a rush from being fine when we drove to the pub, to not feeling right when I drove home a few hours later, to having pretty much no braking power at all the next day. A trip to the garage confirmed that the reservoir that holds the fluid had split, and there was nothing left... Fortunately, a couple of £100 later, the car was back on the road. Till Friday night.

John picked me up as normal from Parkway just before half six, and we started heading home, chatting as we usually do about the events of the day and the plans for the weekend. We stopped at the red lights of the pedestrian crossing to allow some people to cross the road. As they reached the pavement, the car behind us failed to notice either the red lights, or the fact that we were stationary, and with a loud bang, went straight into the back of us. Fortunately, first off, no-one was hurt (though John and I have both had a bit of stiffness, neither of us have developed full blow whiplash. Even though one of my colleagues has told me to claim for it anyway (which I think is immoral and wrong!) - I don't have the time to be laid up with neck pain...), and there was no-one left on the crossing. We were able to exchange details, just about, with the Russian man who had been driving. He had his insurance certificate with him, which I think is a good thing, as he barely understood what we were asking for! (John believes that he was smelling of dope as well - I have a very heavy cold at the moment, and can't smell a thing, so I can make no comment).

As with my accident, I was so suprised by the number of people who stopped to see if there was anything they could do to help; the First Aider, who came straight over, first of all to see if anyone was hurt, and then secondly to direct traffic around the accident till we could move the cars. She left without me saying thank you. The couple who had been crossing, who not only lent me a pen so that we could write down details (first time in ages I'm not carrying pen and paper on me...), but also gave us their contact details so that if there were any issues they could corroborate the fact that we were stationary and at the crossing (they didn't see the accident itself, but had clocked that it was us letting them go past).

Even better, or so we thought, the Toyota was still driveable - the bumper was a bit dented, the boot squashed a bit out of shape, and the lights, although still attached and not broken, were hanging off (they sort of popped back in, but would need a bit of tape to actually keep them on at any speed). So at least our weekend plans (which involved driving to Swindon for a Fforde Ffiesta meeting, and going to a friend's for pancakes on Sunday) wouldn't be disrupted.

Unfortunately, the insurance company begs to differ - apparantly slightly loose lights and a possible dodgy boot means that the car is automatically unroadworthy. And, even more galling, because of the age of the car, it is also likely to be a write off :-( They are sending out an engineer today.

Fortunately, we are not as stuck as we were last time - the insurance provides for a courtesy car, and hopefully it will not take as long to sort out.

On a much brighter note - the sun is shining, and, after a very heavy frost this morning, it is glorious outside. I just wish that I carried my camera out with me - the pigeons were bathing in the fountains on Bristol City Centre this lunchtime - some standing right under the spray, and all looking like they were very glad of the Spring time bath!

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Autumn Days take 2

I have Sitemeter on my blog - you might have noticed the little symbol in the top right hand corner. One of the nice things that Sitemeter does is tracks people that access my blog, and sends me a little report every week - not a scary report, but one that means I know, in the absence of a traffic counter, how many people are reading my work, and whereabouts they come from (over the last week, as well as the many UK and US readers, I've also had visitors from Israel, Romania and France). It also tells me what Google Search terms have been used to access my blog, and one of the ones that has been coming up a lot is "Autumn days, when the grass is jewelled", which links through to my post from last autumn. The first couple of these I ignored, but I'm getting two or three a week - I never knew that the old school hymn was so popular! Even more scary, when I actually put the search into Google, without " " marks, my blog comes up 6th, and with them, it's third!

So, to help out those who are looking for the words to the hymn (which was one of my favourites at school), here they are:

Autumn days, when the grass is jewelled,
And the silk inside a chestnut shell,
Jet planes meeting in the air to be refuelled,
All these things I love so well.

So I mustn't forget
No, I mustn't forget
To say a great big thank you
No, I mustn't forget.

Clouds that look like familiar faces
And winter's moon with frosted rings
Smell of bacon as I fasten up my laces
And the song the milkman sings.

Whipped-up spray that is rainbow-scattered
And a swallow curving in the sky
Shoes so comfy though they're worn out and they're battered
And the taste of apple pie.

Scent of gardens when the rain's been falling
And a minnow darting down a stream
Picked-up engine that's been stuttering and stalling
And a win for my home team.

And for the people who have been looking for a download of the song - I can't find an mp3 version of it, but another website has a YouTube link (I can't actually hear the link from work, so I'm trusting that it works!):

Monday, 28 January 2008


It occurred to me as I walked home this afternoon that when my mother was my age, she was four months pregnant with her first child (me). She was considered to be an ‘old mother’, at risk because of the late stage of having her firstborn. Yet now, when I’m being told that another of my school friends is pregnant (only the fifth or sixth that I know of), it’s a surprise that she is having a child so young. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I still don’t feel old enough to have a child myself. The question of producing my own offspring has definitely moved from a “never” to a “when”, and the timing is going to be dependant on when we get out to New Zealand (I have to be working for 12 months with one employer in order to get maternity pay, which, even though it is very low compared to the UK (12 weeks of income), is better than nothing!). I am hoping that when John and I do finally decide to have our own child (whether that becomes children is completely open – we’ll have to see what happens with the first one!!), I will feel slightly less immature than I do right now, and better able to cope with taking on the responsibility for the care and upbringing of another life.

Round the corner

It might just be because the sun is shining for the second day in a row (nice weather at a weekend? Unheard of!), but it definitely feels like Spring is peeking round the corner. Not quite here yet – there is still a bit of ice in the wind (particularly when you are facing into it for half an hour at 4pm waiting for someone to try to score a goal), but that ice is starting to melt. The trees are still bare, but some of the bushes on the walk to the station are starting to bud – one has a few flowers hidden amongst its thorns, and one is coated with the bright green of new leaves.

I did some repotting at the beginning of January – the flat we are in doesn’t have a garden, but does have a garden path, so I have a number of plant pots with various bulbs in outside the front door. The gladioli are shooting up so fast that you can almost see them growing, and I’m sure that a couple of the daffodils are also starting to peek above the surface. What has surprised me is how fast the garlic is coming up – my mother-in-law gave me a bulb to plant out – I realised with about five cloves left that I probably ought to actually put some in soil, rather than just eating it, so there are three cloves in a pot. One of them has already broken the surface, and I’m now left wondering how you can tell when garlic is ready? I’ve never planted it before, so have no idea of when I’ll be able to dig it up and eat! (probably when the neighbours start complaining about the smell…)

The sun is streaming through the window right now (I’ve had to draw the curtain slightly so that I can see the computer screen), and the warmth inside the flat is lovely. Even better was the rather surprised observation from one of my colleagues this week; “It’s half past four, and it’s still light!” Even though the turning of the seasons is inevitable, it still comes as such a wonderful feeling to know that the back of Winter has been broken, and that the sunshine (and showers) of Spring is (are? Grammatically do you have to count something in brackets for is/are in a sentence?) waiting for us. It makes the walk to work a bit more bearable.

On My Own

John is in London this weekend at a Dr Who Fan Olympiad, so I have the flat to myself. However, this hasn’t been the weekend of rest and relaxation that I thought it would be when the trip was first talked about a few months ago. Aside from the getting John to the station for 7am (not something I begrudge – he has ferried me about far more than I have returned the favour – but still quite a difficult get up on a Saturday morning!), yesterday I also had a hockey match and an orchestral concert, and this morning, I was up at 9am (not overly early, but still not great for a Sunday…) to get into Bristol City Centre to buy tickets for the Beer Festival. I’m not a beer drinker at all (I’ve tried on numerous occasions – I have once managed to finish a whole half pint, but felt so ill afterwards that I’ve not tried again), but I love ciders and perries, and I am sure that, with 40 on offer, even with drinking half pints, I’m still not going to get a chance to have them all before the last train leaves (we are going on the Friday evening after work – the train companies in their wisdom have decided that the last train from BTM to Parkway should be 10pm) – I think if I try, I might end up in hospital!

However, the rest of the day is mine to do with as I please (well, at least until 7.40, when I head out to Tae-Kwon Do) – however, I’ve already lined a lot up to do (and yes, writing a blog post or two was one of the items on the list – I’m aware that it’s been a while!), including attempting to get out to Sainsbury’s before they shut – the house is running dangerously low on food. Other items that will probably be procrastinated away include doing a bit of washing up (I got one load done yesterday, but there are still very few surfaces in the kitchen without some clutter on them!), clothes washing (well, I have actually done that – the clothes are sat in the washing machine waiting for me to get up and put them out on the racks), writing up minutes from the last Family Centre for Deaf Children meeting, which was at the beginning of January. To be fair on myself, I had intended to get these minutes done a lot earlier, but some very late nights at work, and working through lunchbreaks meant that the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was sit in front of a computer screen all evening as well!

I’m very aware that it’s been a while since I posted – since I last talked about playing hockey, I’ve had another two matches and a few more practices (one match in the rain, which, for the poor players on the pitch, turned into a wet t-shirt contest – whoever decided that white was a good colour for the away strip must have been a bit mad. I was lucky for that one – being goalie meant that I could wear my tracksuit underneath all the padding, and, though damp, was not as bad as everyone else!). We still haven’t won a game since I started playing, which I feel quite bad about (we are languishing near (or at) the bottom of the league). Playing Cleve last week, we expected to lose – the last time Bristol Ladies played them, Cleve won despite only having 8 (out of 11) players on the pitch and no goalkeeper. I only found out the final score a few days later, as I lost count of how many they put past me after the fifth! (it was 9-1…) However, yesterday’s match should have been won – it ended up being 3-0. One of those goals was a good one, which I couldn’t have stopped, but the other two were silly mistake ones (one was a through the legs shot – I need to work out how to move quickly *and* keep my feet together! The other was one of those kerfuffle shots – I stopped it once, thoughts I’d cleared it, and the next thing I knew it was in the back of the goal. Humph.) But I’m still really enjoying it – my back is aching a bit today (not sure why – all the work is coming from my hips and knees, but they don’t seem to mind. I think that my back is just trying to malinger...), but I’m sure that a good TKD session this evening will sort it all out!

Work has been manic for the last couple of weeks, and I can’t see it lifting for at least two more – every government body is wanting to go out to tender for something, and it seems at the moment that it’s all for software that we do. Unfortunately, as the deadlines are absolute (we have been thrown out of a tender when it was delivered 17 minutes late), and the answering of the main questions seems to get left to very late in the day, when it comes to collation and actually getting the thing out of the door (the bulk of my work), long hours have to go in to make sure that it arrives on time. When I started doing this, there were enough lulls between tenders to mean that we could put the time in to make sure that there weren’t too many late nights or missed lunchbreaks. They did occur on the odd occasion, but it was once in a while, rather than nearly every one, as seems to be happening at the moment. A good chunk of it, I feel, is down to organisation, which is my job, and the need to streamline the tender process. Unfortunately, I need a good couple of days with nothing else to do in order to focus on those processes and to make them work. But more tenders come in, meaning that I don’t have the time to devote to this, leading to more inefficiencies. Ho Hum. It looks like we might be getting someone in who could help out (working on the sales side of things, but being more technical, meaning that they could answer the questions that the sales team struggle with (we can cope with “What software does your solution integrate with?”, but “How does your solution connect with x, y and z” gives us more of a problem!), meaning that we don’t have to wait for a gap in the developer’s schedule, with the resultant knock on effect on the tender timings.), but with the pace of recruitment, I’m not going to hold my breath!