Tuesday, December 20, 2005

GF5 600 - London Eye - 05Sleep really is a good idea isn't it? As is food.

Ought to remember that a bit more. Apol's for the lack of blogging. Been a bit busy and bit tired. First came the immense joy of impending deadlines. This was made all the better for the following three reasons:

- Discovering that what I'd been doing was quite what was now wanted. Always great when that happens.

- Agreeing to check over another member of the team's work. Unfortunately I couldn't safely refuse. When checking it, I discovered she's even more fond than I am of filling words and phrases. She also has a non-native speaker's approach to grammar. And I know she's Japanese, but managing to misspell "correct" as "collect" really is a bit too much of a cliché. Some examples of the un-edited work: Most of countries, including United Kingdom... It is because of... In UK... And it is also... Therefore, it can be said that... It is because that it... regards to...point of view.

All this in the introductory paragraph, before she really gets into the flow. I am aware that not all of this is incorrect per se, merely that the combined effect is somewhat sub-optimal. I'm ignoring the myriad preposition and article confusions.

Having said all that, I struggled to escape the traditional scientific style of an unrelentingly passive voice (and why does Word always seem so surprised by this? It's had enough experience to learn that the "it was done" syntax is not a mistake).

It's odd; I've just realised in proper writing "I" is banned and everything has happened. When I write informally, i.e. blogging, and even when describing past events and actions, I tend towards the current and continuing sense.

- The computer I was working on getting a little unhappy. It shuddered, all too literally, went to a blue screen, different from the usual BSOD, requested my permission to dump the memory (er, do I have an option?), dumped that then restarted. Well, tried to. It went through a few cycles of abortive restarts without any external interference. Then I think it got back to Windows, although everything spewed error messages. Trying to edit work killed the computer everytime autosave kicked in, thereby corrupting the autosave files. Eventually I managed to get anything automatic turned off, and still the computer keeled over, each time wiping any edits. The next restart brought pre-OS warnings of BIOS errors with caching and shadowing. A couple cycles more and this had degenerated into a warning declaring that the harddisk contained an imminent fault. I was told to use f10 to scan it. f10 made the computer hang. f10 hit very early on in the start-up sequence got into the right programme. I did exactly what the error message had told me too. The test took a long time to tell me exactly the same thing as the error message, without saying what I can do about it. All of which was happening at 2am when I had to present it the next day. Not fun.

Eventually the computer gave me the option of using safe mode, so a heck of lot of work was done in the big fonted, low-res, blocky coloured confusion of maligned settings.

Anyway, I got to rediscover that the trains never really restart, as they never really finish, and that the planes do start fairly early. And that it's still worryingly dark disconcertingly late.

Staying up all night is only fun if one is going somewhere interesting, or talking to interesting people.

And then after the deadline came the presentation, which had slipped somewhat from my priorities over the night, so I ended up inventing it a hour beforehand when I had long sicne lost the ability to think, and was having great trouble focussing, and remembering to focus on the screen.

It didn't go that badly, considering. Which meant there were many others which would have been soporific even if much of the audience hadn't been awake a painfully long time. But I explored areas others feared to tread (maybe simply didn't think of), although in a slightly too ad-lib way, which given I had earlier accused of winging my way through a recap session to get other people up to speed on something else, probably isn't good. In the truth, I intended to revise the bit I would be explaining, only my organisational prowess got in the way. I'd set everything I need to check aside weeks ago, which meant I couldn't find it.

So basically I'm atrocious at organisation, prioritising, planning, time management, presentation and so on. But my ability to make stuff up on the spot has improved drastically (and sometimes I'm right).

After this came the salt, fat and sugar fest that is the group Christmas party. No photocopiers were damaged in the making of this gathering. I ended up being quizzed on English Christmas customs; have you tried explaining bread sauce to someone from China (who famously ate near-raw spaghetti, because that's what she thought it was meant to be like), and then tried to think of a tolerable for the lactose intolerant version?

I ended up trapping people in a corner, chatting merrily away, having discovered that the white was infinitely better than the red, as it had been bought in from outside rather than being the usual branded Vin de l'Institution, Lac de vin europien.

Then back home carrying liberated juices of many fruits, none fermented unfortunately. One of the joys of lingering to help clear up is that one gets to clear the plates of food (although I didn't attempt eat my own body weight in heavily salted peanuts), and can therefore confirm that Mexican flavour crisps go quite well with mince pies. Another is that I get handed about 3 weeks worth of vitamin C in assorted cartons. I had be hoping that some of the spare wine (yep, you can tell the high-ups were there) might be going a bit too spare, but I didn't have a chance to discreet such notably discrete units about my body (well, carry them over to my bag). Which is quite annoying, because no sooner had they been packed into boxes than someone walked off with as much wine as he could carry without using the box. Damn me and inability to break into petty theft.

Should it be worrying that my training as a teacher's son shows so easily on such occasions? I'm always around to move tables and deal with the leftovers (usually because A requires B, in much the same way I always used to make the breadsauce at Christmas; it's amazing how much food is eaten before the meal proper).

Then back home, having not really eaten any proper food all day (lunch, consisting as it had the day before, of just slices of bread taken straight from the packet, but because I didn't have time I only had one), so trying to work out if the lightheadness combined with slight coordination and balance issues was the result of the wine, the lack of food surmounted by an full-scale electrolytic assault or the lack of sleep (I did try working out how long I'd been awake, but I was so consumed by the calculation that I nearly fell down an escalator so I gave up).

The next day involved lots of Machiavellian moves (if I mentioned the person who sent me on safari round London, it was her), complete chaos, wasted effort, a stunningly bright basement (so bright that for the first time in half a week I could everything first go), aimless chatting while things beyond our control happen, then re-emerging into the cruelly dark world. This was followed by a confirmation of the assumption that I cannot go across London, eat, sort things out and then come more than back in under an hour. I could have been quicker if I'd skipped eating but lunch had been a repeat of yesterday, breakfast and been a thoroughly inventive Weetabix and apple juice (and I don't mean separately. A curse on curdled milk. I could have tried cranberry juice, but apple was already open, and I know from previous experience that orange juice is not the best taste to combine with Weetabix).

And so up to Camden to gatecrash (well, have my name on a guestlist, for the first time in my life) my brother's work Christmas do as he had a strategic lack of girlfriend. Which basically meant I travelled light, leaving my ubiquitous bag behind, which of course had my A-Z in it. And as I hadn't printed out the map, due its cunning use of white on white, meant I wandered round bits of Camden for a while. I started off well by only following the signs for a while (ah yes, easily rotate-able signs are such an inspired idea) before turning back and taking the next street round. I walk up that for a while, find things I didn't know where there, turn back, walk round a bit lost for a while, and then ring my brother and tell him I'm outside Sainsbury's (I could have said the British Transport Police, but he seemed to be having difficulty with why I was ringing in the first place). He gave me some stunningly unhelpful answers, so eventually I just said bye and hung up (well, it was on my phone bill, he can't hear what I'm saying, isn't being helpful and is getting very easily distracted).

Walking on I find the place down some unprepossessing lane (I know I shouldn't judge a street by its tyre shop, but it really did seem like it was only houses from there onwards). I say my name, feeling slightly foolish, and go in.

I survey the crowd, and realising just how many people there are, abandon any pretence of nonchalantly walking towards someone I know, and go straight into full blown hunt mode. He's not there. I try upstairs, nearly killing myself in the process, as the stairs have an interesting texture to them. They're cast iron, but where they have broken chunks of MDF have been cut to fit. Except the MDF is twice as thick as the original, so the stairs effectively end up sloping with different heights between them. Add the spiral and it turns out that the curving course is the only thing stopping people falling all the way down.

He's not upstairs either. I desperately pretended I was not about to do what I did next, and rang him. He tried giving me directions to the building and got very confused by my upstairsness. Only I would expect clear rational answers from someone who's been at his work's Christmas do for a couple of hours.

I go down, meet him, get nervous, have lemonade, because the options were wine or beer, but I'm not keen on beer, everyone else is drinking beer, which leaves me with wine, which either means vile taste with visibly manky teeth or the only glass of white wine in the room. So I pick lemonade, thus becoming the only person drinking that.

He introduces me to people, but it's a little awkward. Then comes the thatch I spent the day before staring into the back of. Yep, it's one of the guys who were part of the intended audience for the presentation (yeah, the one I made up in an hour of very tired work).

Fortunately I couldn't hear all of what he said, but my presentation "wasn't the greatest". Really? I wonder why that could be? Might it perhaps have something to do with the fact I hate and dread presentations and am usually so stymied by nerves that I forget to even hit "enter" to bring up the next power point slide? Although the latest one was a rare exception where I was far too knackered to even care, and so ad libbed frantically. I didn't even have the usual um leads to er leads to er... leads to ... in which I make a mistake and am so acutely aware of it that I start making more mistakes and everything snowballs.

But on the other hand he did say our group had done one of the best projects, so it's not all horrendously bad. Anyway, I heard my brother's description of him. It wasn't rude, merely lacking in certain key features.

So then standing round listening to other people chatting. Then upstairs tailing my brother so he can do the traditional baby pictures competition. Baby in this case being defined as between 3 and 14 years old (and still some of them didn't get it). Looking at comedically sweet pictures of children isn't all that fun when one doesn't know the adults they became. I kept an eye out for my brother's picture, having been shown the selection of possible images. In most he just looks like him. There's one were he didn't, and that's the one they used. But there are also some which have both of us.

One picture shows both of us sledging on surprisingly little snow (and my [older] brother's wearing what I remember being my coat. I must have been very easy to please). Somehow I've managed to fall through the front of the sledge, so I'm wedged in hole with my knees against my chest and very possibly sitting on the ground (it being a proper wooden sledge, ideal for ramming antique sledges and breaking bits off them [but that's a whole separate batch of memories, so I'll skip it for now]. And what am I doing in this obviously uncomfortable position?

Grinning inanely. Full on "chubby cheeks". Which prompted my brother to do what he always used to do, and so discover that I still have chubby cheeks, despite being noticeably lean and bony.

This bewildering grin prompts my brother to ask "What happened to the smile?", and as he opens the next image, I reply "That".

The image shows my brother perfectly haring down the hill on his bike (which I've only just discovered came from the tip. How's that for carbon neutral from the start?), with the background blurred out as the camera panned. And towards the edge of the frame, and downhill of the bike, is a small me jumping with both arms raised so the forearms form vertical bars.

There's nothing quite sibling brutality.

Except it's obvious to both of us that my brother's about to veer off up the drive, which was the standard technique for dumping speed and not flying off at the corner and out into the junction (which admittedly was nowhere near as busy as it is now). Of course you could only do it if the car wasn't there (well, you could do if the car was there, you just had to get it right). But as comedy images go, it's up there with my sodden brother lying in the bath, fully clothed. I was having a bath, he came to annoy me, he tried towering over me, he fell in, I got out; and the many, many pictures of him wearing shorts which are so short that his socks cover more flesh. Oddly, he didn't send either of those into the work competition.

So he tries to judge pictures and I turn my attention to the food, having not been very successful with the whole eating thing recently. Whoever organised hadn't quite grasped the concept of fingerfood. I ended up eating many chunks of pork pie, discovering that prawn crackers are the most durable of dippable items, thanking god for pretzels (although wondering how anyone can choke on something which is mostly hole), shuttling between the bread and the pate (cunning idea that, putting spread and spread upon on opposite sides of a crowded room), and trying to work out the level of dementia required to decide that a mince-pie Bakewell-tart combo is a good idea (Layer of pastry: check. Layer of mincemeat: check. Layer of thick icing: check. Warning! This item contains sugar level error. Please redefine L_minm or L_icng variables). That's nearly on a par with Sainsbury's managing to sprinkle caster sugar over the top of an iced bun-round (hmm, so what's the icing made from then if they add the sugar separately?).

I've forgotten to mention the chicken. Have you ever seen anyone gnaw elegantly at sticky chicken bones? Neither have I. Plus there was the small issue of what to do with the bones afterwards. Try to remember the food is on tables in front of the staff photographs. For a company who basically devise ways of making stuff move, they hadn't quite thought that one through.

Then my brother managed to abandon me with his competition sheet, while he disappeared. Which gave me an excuse to be vaguely antisocial and not have to stand by his elbow irritating him. A couple of people talked to me, but as both of those were new to the firm, and so thought I worked with them, they probably don't count.

I tried to finish the competition, but got annoyed by the whole thing and gave up, for once in my life leaving answers blank. The fact I had about four extra girls leftover probably means things had gone a bit wrong earlier. But as my brother pointed out, he does have an advantage because we were the only people in the room who knew who the small boy in the hayfield was (which wasn't true of the rest of them. I didn't know some of people, but the pictures were still obvious).

The downstairs, and dancing, which I tried to avoid. My brother cajoles me into it, then tells me off for moving so jerkily, with the line "it's not the late eighties anymore".

Which given the song playing was Vanilla Ice's "Ice, Ice, Baby", I thought was a little unfair.

But my god, they all dance, and they do it properly, with real individual limb movements, in time and everytime. Whereas my dancing usually consists of the same thing regardless of the song, as little foot movement as possible, and some occasion jumping, song permitting.

Maybe my problem was insufficient alcohol, as many of the moves might have been generated by intoxicated instability. But one Black Sambuca to the good [it's black, it's sticky, it tastes of aniseed, except it's so sweet it's more like liquorice (which oddly I never used to like. I've even discovered peanut-butter isn't ground devil's scrotum. So it only took an extra decade for those tastebuds to die out), perhaps, er..., it's already liquorice], and I find my life jumping up and won in a ring with other people. Except either side are both shorter, and not doing much in the way of jumps, so I end up trying to jump, realising it would be more efficient not to, but also being aware that it would be socially unacceptable not to.

And that's about it, except I try hinting to my brother about the last tube home, which he overrules on the grounds that it's already left (so why did those signs I saw when leaving the tube station say 00:20 Southbound then?). The whole thing tails off at about halfpast midnight, and we get shepherded out into the rain, only to have the bouncer telling us to leave as the drinks-pusher (who turns out to be a pressganged regular) tries to get us to finish off a gargantuan (bah ver, ver nife) drink.

Eventually we leave, and my brother's so drunk he's trying to do the opening titles to The Monkees as he walks along. He's incredulous that I don't remember it (I could have been mean and said it was before my time, but that's not technically true, at least for the repeats). So if you heard two, slightly more tuneful than either of us were expecting to be, voices singing "Hey, hey, we're the Monkees" at some ungodly hour, then sorry.

And then to a bus stop. Where we wait while my brother hopes to hail a taxi. I point that the bus arriving in X minutes goes exactly where we're going. He's rude about my naivety for believing in bus timetables. I point out that it is the middle of the night, and so it is in fact the only time buses become a viable form of transport, due to a complete dearth of anything else on the roads.

He hails a taxi, and after having yet another decide that London ends at the Thames, reverts to trying to chat up the miscellaneous European girl at the bus stop. I pretend I'm not with them, as does what I suspect might be her mother.

My brother's still hoping for a cab, to which I counter that the bus is due in 3 minutes. He hails the next orange light, then gets in.

I follow, safe in the knowledge that he's paying, and although he's drunk it's his own silly fault, and he'd probably have got one even if I wasn't here. He tries to convince me that cabs are better than buses (well, they do have more legroom), before lapsing into some conversation about institute stuff.

I stare out of the window, not quite knowing where I am until we suddenly emerge at the river. Then the south bank swallows us up, so I get deeply disconcerted when there appears a large lake off to the right. I ought to recognise it, as I've seen near enough the same view from the train often enough, but it's dark and I'm peering round my brother. I forget the Thames has corners.

Then south a bit more, not recognising places, until we're nearly home. Spring out, thankful for decent sized doors, while my brother pays and tips the driver (his logic was that two pounds more proportionally isn't much. Which is true, it's just the base rate I object to).

Back in the flat we chat about nothing and then go to bed. Hurrah. 3 am on weeknight. That's really helping the lack of sleep.

The next day I've still more stuff to do, but a general lack of energy with which to do it. I end up sitting in front of a computer late on Friday getting frustrated by printing, and then the server packs up. Which I spend quarter of an hour getting cross about and trying to fix method I remember the "routine maintenance" email that appeared ages ago. I can't check when it's supposed to be happening as the email account the information was sent to is suspended as part of the maintenance.

So I give up and walk down through London. It's nice at night, other than the exhaust fumes. Eventually I get on at Vauxhall, having wandered alone for a while making little discoveries. I ought to go back with a camera (damn, broken lens; another item which is bulking out my depressingly long to do list).

Then back home to find fish and chips waiting for me. As they have been for the past 4 hours. What? But I did. See... oh. Oh. Well, it's not my fault if my phone's battery runs out, is it? That was a rhetorical question.

So reheated fish and chips at 11 (remembering to first remove the lemon. Yes, I know, but this post is already massively long, so I'll avoid that topic until I need more displacement activity). Then chat for a while, while half-watching Jonathan Ross who bemused my post-Friday-night drinks brother by having Kubb on (I can't find their site as they've cunningly chosen the same name as popular Scandinavian game and a country music station in America). I explain that, yes, he is the one from Rootjoose, and that the drummer is from Reef.

And then both of us wonder why, given the pedigree, the song just doesn't. It's a "wake me up when the tune starts". I thought was being harsh the last time I mentioned them, but I'm just not getting it.

Anyway, then to bed.

Saturday consists of being driven to buy cards. Being driven across London on clear sunny winter's day, so the city is bathed redeeming light. Being driven in convertible with the roof down. Yes, we had many layers, hats, gloves and scarves on. Yes, speed bumps were not our friend. But still, so, so nice.

The speed bumps thing. The car is not very far off the road (this might meant it needs new suspension) so grounding tended to happen even at the slowest speeds. But being so low, and sitting over an ailing exhaust (which may correspond to the speed bumps), does mean it feels like the car's going very fast, even when it isn't.

Anyway, we emerged out over Vauxhall Bridge, both agreeing that bridges are brilliant things. Then up Millbank, while I tried to connect the lights of the night before with the buildings on the far bank. I had the best view of Westminster I've ever had, as the car combines the universal view of walking with the irresponsibility of being driven. Then up Whitehall, which feels very different from the middle of it. Past Trafalgar Square, not quite sure how to react to camera toting tourists turning away from the depressed lions to watch two people in a car.

Charing Cross Road rammed home just how tall taxis are, let alone buses. Tottenham Court Road even managed to appear pleasant for once, as there was less traffic and more sky than I'm used to (normally pedestrians are crushed against the buildings, so it always feels overwhelming).

The road beyond, up to Mornington Crescent is still as hateful as ever, although we both noticed a new building (well, really rather old building, but new to either psyche). Then veering off to use Mornington Crescent to get to somewhere (how novel), and over the accursed speedbumps, pulling over to let the held up traffic pass. On a bit more and up a road with speed bumps I fully approve off. They are those little square ones, placed in the middle of each lane. So if the road's empty and one is in a small car, one can go any speed one likes down the middle of the road without encountering any graunching noise.

Then into a private car park (office car parks at weekends at the best thing ever), out leaving the car open, down the road and the backstreets of Camden, then to the card shop. It's daft that one has to drive across the capital simply to find a mediocre selection of cards. Exeter has three decent cards shops clustered together. My proper home town has 3 (although each sells other stuff) plus the museum. London... London has Waterstone's and Paperchase. It's the same with anything else. If I go out to buy fruit, the best option, and the only one which doesn't involve a commute, is Sainsbury's. No wonder people talk of it being a city of villages; the entire place consists of urbanised out-of-town supermarkets and densely packed hamlets with less amenities than even the most miserable town in Devon.

So when I found a street market I was overjoyed, until I discovered all the stalls sell virtually the same thing, so you can buy bananas, the same variety of apple (bitter, bruises easily, skin peels off like a banana's), tomatoes, aubergines and peppers. Can you buy potatoes? No. Onions? No. Broccoli? Only Purple Wilting if they have any left. Mushrooms? No. Oranges? No, but they have got pomegranates. Eventually I gave up and headed for the nuts and snacks stall. While waiting to buy my finest Turkish dried apricots, and listen to people bemoaning the impossibility of sourcing unsweetened dried cranberries, I sample a wasabi coated peanut, simply because I can't remember what wasabi is (I can now, and could for the next 8 weeks). I buy them, but put off stocking up on cashews (I used my mother's logic, as "I'd only eat them"*).

Go home, eat apricots. Go shopping in Sainsbury's. Discover that the not-even-own-brand apricots are cheaper. Get quite disappointed with the whole wholesome market thing, especially when you consider the long walks next to busy roads it takes to get there.

* Yes, I know, when applied to food this doesn't make much sense. Except that in some way it does.

Anyway, back to Camden. Buy cards. Spend too much. Damn this having taste thing. Damn this aesthetic eye. Damn caring about the cards I send, even when it's blatantly apparent many other people don't.

Back to car. Drive home via Regent Street, were we bale after being asphyxiated for ten minutes of little movement by a Heritage Route. By some odd fluke we pass between Green Park and Hyde Park just as Blur's greatest hits gets to Park Life.

Through Victoria, taking the wrong road, so I tell my brother to use the road on the right to turn round. The road turns out to be the yard of Westminster Cathedral. I'm sure they wouldn't mind, assuming we could get past the parked cars. Then a bewildering set of brick chasms, and out onto a Vauxhall Bridge Road (ignoring my brother's remarks over a mistimed "where are we?").

Then past the big shiny building which has no name (other than the one used in the A-Z), which is looking distinctly less shiny, with windows looking like they're about to need replacing. It's not helped that the other side of the road now has an even bigger shinier building in the form of St George Wharf (no confusion over apostrophes there).

But I was far too amused by this multitude of expensively sleek apartments glowing discreetly in the twilight, except for the balcony which has many sets of Christmas lights, all flickering to different rhythms. Result.

I suspect the only thing which stops them having an illuminated, inflatable, Homer Simpson Father Christmas is the wind howling off the river.

Then back home, noting just how close everything all is, and beginning to wonder how long it would take just to walk in to town.

After that came the joy of escaping car with the camber against me, and taking my gloves off to put the hood up (so from warm to no longer registering in 3 seconds flat).

Then in to write Christmas cards, followed by panic and mistakes. I run to catch to the post, nearly spinning off backwards when I misjudged the steps on a bridge. I find a pillar box and discover through the graffiti that the post went at noon. I run to the post office, drop them into the right slot. Then as I slump over with that horribly warm feeling in my throat, I read the times of the last post. Saturday 12 noon.

What kind of post office has its last collection before lunch time on a Saturday? I think the one where my parents live has its last collection at 12.30, on a Sunday. Saturday is all of quarter of an hour earlier than a weekday. I storm off in exhausted disgust, without even checking whether there's a collection on a Sunday. I suspect there isn't, but there's not much I can do about it now.

Then home, then food, then watching Saturday Night Fever, which I'd never seen, and which went on far too late, and was just a bit predictable. Good, fun, slightly dangerous if one has rugs, but still predictable.

And that's about it. The past few days have been fairly non-descript. Just too tired to do much, and without any excuse, and many reasons for not doing anything interesting.


Wow! Could that possibly have broken your record for longest post ever?

And your brother sounds fun. And funny.
Probably not. Somehow I have a hunch that's not a good thing.
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