Monday, June 30, 2008

The Call (Prince Caspian) - Regina Spektor

Smelly Cat

Or smelly because of cat. Our cats have discovered a novel way to make us regret leaving them alone for a couple of days. The last few times we have gone away we have come back to a strange smell in the bedroom. Investigation on each occassion has revealed a dead mouse (one assumes a different one each time) under the bed. They never leave dead mice around when we are here so I think it is a conscious decision on their part to make us sorry.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Prince Caspian

We had had a busy weekend, possibly of which I will give more updates tomorrow. But after a 4 hour drive "A" had behaved so well that I felt she deserved a treat. I checked the local cinema and they still had seats for Prince Caspian so we went along.

I never read Prince Caspian when I was young so I didn't know what to expect. I know it's had some mixed reviews but I thought it was great. Importantly so did "A". Some o the story may have been a bit complicated for a 6 year old but she really enjoyed it. It's certainly surprisingly violent, much more than the first film, but for a long film it seems over very quickly. "J" hadn't come along, I am sure she knows when films are going to be sad, because this one is. Yes, you can guess who the victors will be, but it is still sad.

Of course, considering the author, I came away wondering what I was suppose to learn about myself, what was the moral. I think it might be pride. Although I am sure I have missed out on the real in depth meaning I still recommend it to everyone.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Deuce

I am not a great fan of tennis, but "J" has to watch the cricket when it's on so I generally feel it only fair to allow two weeks of Wimbledon on the TV. I do know enough to know that Sharapova being knocked out is a great upset. However much of an upset it was though, it was the post match interview with Kudryavtseva that really caught my attention. This person who probably never dreamed of a victory, took the opportunity tosay she was pleased to have knocked out Sharapova. Whereas you might have expected her to say that Sharapova was her idol, instead she proceeded to explain how she didn't like Sharapova because of her outfits "although that is just my opinion". The outfits were part of her motivation. Wonderful. In a world where politically correct speak slips in everywhere it is simple a breath of fresh air to hear somone brave enough to say what they think.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Drink Up

It was the school fete today. I was lured there under false pretences. You see, I was told that there would be a beer tent there. Now, you may want to raise questions about a beer tent at a Primary School fete, but that is beside the point. You see, I had lovely images of a certain organic beer tent that some of you know. A place where kegs of beer and cider reside. A place of relaxation. What we had was a gazebo with cans of Fosters and John Smiths. Lured I was, by a deceiptful deception of lies and misinformation (not that I am bitter!).

The Stranglers - Midnight Summer Dream

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Kings Shilling

I have to admit I don't quite understand why there is so much consternation about a woman being killed in Afghanistan. By which I don't mean that we shouldn't be dismayed about any deaths in the conflict, I mean why is a woman being killed worse than a man? The way it is being presented it seems to be that a woman's life is of inherently more value than a mans. I believe in equality. I tell my daughter that there is nothing that she can't do, she has all the same opportunities open to her as any of the boys in her class. I don't know, maybe someone will tell me that women are paid less in the forces for an equivalent position, in which case then there could be a risk-benefit argument, i.e. not being paid to take the risk. However it seems to me that if you sign up for the military then you accept that there is an innate risk. Her death hasn't lead to a question about our role there but has simply lead to questions about women in the forces. But if we accept equality then we have to accept women being able to sign up and the end point of that is we have to accept that women are going to be at risk the moment they put on a uniform. If they are to be kept safe and coddled away from danger then society is only paying lip service to equality.

Road Rage

I swear the infrastructure of this country is crumbling. It is taking me 20-40 minutes longer to get to work in the morning compared to a year ago, no matter which route I take. I am now constantly wandering around with a great big red indentation of the Mazda symbol on my forehead from me banging it against the steering wheel in frustration.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Making Money - Terry Pratchett

A second outing for Moist van Lipwig. He goes from running the Post Office to running the bank. Not that he wants to, but the Patrician can be most convincing.

Terrys' style has changed over the years (he's been writing Discworld novels for 25). They are no longer that embarrqassing funny, you know what I mean, the sort that has you laughing out loud on the train so everyone stares at you. The humour is more subtle, but that doesn't make them less enjoyable. And the books are now less about the magic of the world, but more the magic in peoples heads. The first books were setting the scenery, developing a world that followed rules, but rules very different to our own. Now the books are about how people act in that world. And in many ways this makes them more interesting.

As always characters are colourful, in this case right down to the green finger. Of course the wizards make an appearance, and the librarian has a cameo. Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler is there to sell the sizzle. And all the other names that should be there manage to pass by. But while they are there to make you feel comfortable, let you know you are at home, new characters arrive, for instance the mysterious Mr Bent with no sense of humour. And, as ever, you can never tell when the world is going to let your mind slip on the proverbial banana skin.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hey There Mr Taxman

A few years ago I got fed up with the government adverts telling us to make sure we were claiming what we were entitled to. That it was important we claimed tax credit for having a child. So I finally filled in the form and sent it to the Inland Revenue. Note I sent a form for them to look at and calculate what they should pay us. I did not write a letter demanding a certain amount. Anyway, calculate they did. They then, kindly, sent us money for a year. And then decided they wanted it back. When queried they seemed to imply that we had been stealing it off them and that it was our fault. I remind you again, they ran the ads, they worked out what to pay.

Anyways, we paid it back over the following year. We finally paid the last installment. Two months later they sent us a letter saying we still owed them some money. I queried. Was again made to feel like a criminal. We paid.

Then last year they asked for more money. This time we queried a bit more. We argued. We produced a copy of our payments. They finally said that we didn't owe them any more.

Yesterday we got a letter demanding money again. Apparently they think we still owe them money. "J" rang them. They could see the comments on our file from last year that said we had queried it and that the Inland Revenue had investigated then decided we didn't owe anything. They could see it, but didn't seem to believe it. This got bounced up four levels. At one point "J" was almost directed back to the beginnning but she argued and got to speak to a manager. Who again implied that we were stealing from them. "J" said "but you can see on our notes that this was discussed last year". The manager said yes, she could see it, but who did we speak to. "J" said "you've got the notes in front of you, you just read the comments, why are you asking who I spoke to". The manager said she wanted to know who we spoke to. "J" said "isn't it on your notes". To which the answer was "no".

I find this story shocking on so many levels. That they first miscalculated. That they then blamed us. That they then kept coming back to us (I am beginning to know what it feels like to be blackmailed, they just never go away). That we were made to feel as though we stole the money from them. That this many years later they still come back again despite notes saying that we don't owe anything. But, most of all (maybe this will surprise you, I don't know), the most shocking thing, the thing that annoys me the most, is that when you speak to someone and they add notes to your file they don't put who it is.

This is wrong on so many levels. There is no traceability. So with no traceability how do they ensure training. How can they check and then go and discuss a case with someone. Or what if someone wanted to add malicious comments to the bnotes, they could lie about yu and get you into trouble, with no-one ever able to see who did it. As systems go, this seems to take incompetance to a new level.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Spittoon

Being in Brussels doesn't help the lack of imagination (see previous post). I apologise in advance if you like Brussels, but my ... it is a dull city. I was recently in Paris, which was vibrant, being there made me smile, life seemed good. In Brussels you just get pulled down. I wandered around to find a restaurant to eat in, so uninspiring, I ended up coming back to the hotel. And it is a grey city. Even with a blue sky, there seems to be no light in the streets. Streets that are dirty. I lost track of how many people I saw spitting in the streets today. Great big hawking gobs of phlegm, green masses covering the pavement. Brussels is a city I am never kean on coming to, always pleased to get away from.

Spark Needed

It's all very frustrating, I think that someone has stolen my imagination. I haven't written any poems for ages (whether or not the poems were good may be a mute point, but it was the writing that was important). I am struggling with the camera as well. I just can't "see" the picture. And I am struggling to blog on a daily basis. Nothing is sparking my interest enough and, when it does, it is all rather dry. I like to think I have a certain amount of artist in me (allowing for being colour blind which can make it difficult) as well as the scientist. But at the moment I think I am simply task orientated with a spoonful of analyst thrown in. How do I find my creative again? I need a muse.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Missing Presumed .... Lost

So we will start by ignoring the most obvious question (which is, how on earth did he manage to find space on a train to put the papers down in the first place, whoops, didn't ignore it did I). But the real issue is how serious this is, not because it happened, but because it indicates a chonic failing. This was the second lot of papers lost in a week, but let us not forget the loss of computer discs with information about the general public, and the repeated loss of laptop computers. I note that the Treasury are "concerned". Not surprised by the way, but concerned. It must of been odd finding them though. We are all used to seeing the free local rags on the train, you're bored, the person next to you keeps digging their elbow in to you as they are trying to turn the page. All you can see is the headlines to the sports page whcih you are trying to surreptitiously read from the corner of your eye. So there you are one afternoon, and all you can see is military secrets about Iran. Didn't even know they were playing in the football.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Cluck

So this story gets more complicated. It looks as though Labour won't run. But why wouldn't a party run for a seat if they thought they had a chance. OK, the Lib Dems aren't running, but that is on principle, they agree with Dai. However Labour can't be on principle. It can only be because they are scared of the margin they may lose by. They are too chicken to stick by what they believe in.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Goodbye and Hello

There are a number of ways you can "read" the news of David Davis and his resignation. At its most basic it is either the act of a brave man standing up for his principles or a stupid man showboating at the wrong time. I hope it is the former, if for no reason more than it is nice to think of a politician still having morals that he is willing to make a sacrifice for.

Personally I am disappointed that the 42 day rule got through. I think it is a policy founded on what the public want, rather than one founded on reason. Of course the public want people put away as long as possible. This is one of those questions that shouldn't come to us. It is an issue that needs to be strongly argued and contested by those in the know. Decisions need to be based on fact, not on reaction. It really doesn't matter if the public are overwhelmingly in favour of it, we don't have the information to make the decision, and never will have that information. This is why we elect a parliament, for them to sit and study and learn waht is right, not for them to knee-jerk to what we "want".

I am also still trying to work out this compensation deal if you are held then released without charge. For a start, just becasue they are released doesn't actually mean that they are innocent, so terrorists may get paid £3000 a day for taking up police time. But, more importantly , surely it opens a massive door. If you are going to pay me £3000 a day for being held for 42 days then surely I should be paid £1500 a day for being held for 21 days. What if I am held for some reason other than being a terrorist and I am then released. Again surely I am entitled to some compensation. It seems no way to run a law.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ring o Ring o Roses

My understanding is that this woman took out a home improvement loan in order to get the moeny to hire a hit man to kill her husband. I suppose I can see how many wives would think that it would definitely be an improvement to get rid of the husband, so at least she was being honest with the bank. I am amazed by the husband who has forgiven her. He said he would "stand by her". Well, if he is going to stand close then I would recommend he checked her for knives first. They'd sit up late having tea and toast, did he think to check that the rat bait in the garage wasn't slowly going down.

Until I Find You - John Irving

I haven't read a book by John Irving for a few years. I had forgotten what I was missing. Thi is another excellent book. He is such a master a developing characters. I don't mind that certain themes have a tendency to recur, such as wrestling. As always engrossing, wondering how it is going to end and whether the main character will ever find his father. The first half of the book tells of his childhood, growing up with his mother, then the second half moves into his grown up life.

The story delves into travel, loss, tattoos and acting. Somehow it is all weaved together into a comprehensive tale. I suddenly find myself looking at peoples tattoos in a new light (I might be getting to "staring" status, need to make sure I don't get arrested) because suddenly there is a whol lot more behind them. As Jack starts acting, especially taking on cross-dressing roles, you wonder whether he is trying to attract his father, a notorious womaniser. But, as often with Irving, things are not all as they seem, and slowly a different world emerges, with surprises until the end. Jack is a man never out of the limelight.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Spongebob

Two months ago the shower broke. What could have been a simple replacement then turned into a plan for a new bathroom. On Saturday the plumber started. Ripped everything out. Then started to take the tiles off the wall. Only for half the wall to come off as well. It appears that the water from teh shower had been seeping through the old tiles. The plasterboard was rotten. Then they discovered that the previous plumbing hadn't been done correctly. They discovered this by virtue of the fact that water started coming through the downstairs lights. The job seems to be getting bigger and bigger.

Ever wished you hadn't started something!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sing Along

It was "A"s birthday party today. A small affair, as we went ten pin bowling we were able to keep the number of children to a minimum, which worked for me. Anyway, I baked the cake. I still think it is nice to have home made cake. This one is lemon sponge. The theme, horses.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Kitchen Table Lingo

The English Project are trying to gather new words. They are looking for those words used by families or groups of people, those words that have a special meaning. So I have submitted the word "mcvicar", meaning disastrous and full of complications, as in a "mcvicar" of a journey.

The origins were when McVicar and I were supposed to be going to the Crossfire festival to work. Also going with us was McVicars girlfirend, and a female friend whose house we were supposed to be staying at. The female friend was only coming because she wanted a ride on McVicars bike, and was also the only one who knew the way.

We set off for a 2 hour journey. Mcvicar leading the way on his bike with the friend, me following him (I had no map) in my car with his girlfriend. How hard could it be? Those who know McVicar will now be cringing.

After only about half an hour we hit a traffic jam. It was solid. Nose to tail. solid. Not pleasant on a hot day. After a while Mcvicar backed the bike up and indicated for his girlfriend to wind the window down. She did, he shouted something, and then sped off, doing the usual biker thing of weaving between cars. I asked what he had said, only to be told she couldn't hear properly because he hadn't lifted his visor.

All I could do was continue on and hope that he was waiting at the end of the motorway. When we got there, no sign. Then I wondered if he had gone to Crossfire. I got there, found Zippie, asked if he had seen McVicar. No he hadn't. I then watched Zippies rather distraught face in my rear view mirror as we sped off to search further (distraught because we were supposed to be heading up a security team for him and the festival was starting).

A couple of hours later we were siting in the car outside the friends parents house. We had known the area she lived in, and we knew her surname, so some diligent searching of a telephone directory in a phone box (do you remember the red phone boxes which had the directories in them, very helpful) had helped us identify where she lived. We sat outside for an hour, but still no sign. We were now about 6 hours late and getting rather worried. Finally we decided we had to go, knock on the door, and ask if the parents had heard anything. We did so.

As you may expect, panic set in. Mother went white, father yelling at us etc (I think the yelling at us was particualrly unfair, it wasn't exactly our fault). He rang the police. No they hadn't heard anything about any accidents on the motorway but they would send someone around (in those days the police may have been a bit more helpful as well).

Policeman turned up. We started trying to explain. Knock at the door. Open door. There is McVicar and friend. Bike on the back of an AA lorry.

Now, you may be thinking that it is the 6 hour delay and the parents etc that make this a "mcvicar of a journey". But there is more. And this is where it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous and could ONLY be McVicar.

What he had shouted when he forgot to life his visor was that they would meet us at the first service station after the traffic jam. They had stopped there and waited. After an hour we hadn't arrived. He had a brainwave and decided he would try to contact me on the CB radio. He went to the lorry park, accosted a lorry driver and asked to use the CB. The lorry driver kindly said yes. McVicar climbed in to the cab and tried to raise me. Unfortunately my CB was turned off (I only used it when I was alone in the car, remember I had McVicars girlfriend in the car, who I had never met before, and was trying to make polite conversation, made slightly harder because I was actually rather interested in the friend so I was trying to get details without being too obvious).

After a while the lorry driver needed to head off. McVicar got out of the cab. Watched the lorry drive away. As the lorry joined the motorway suddenly realised that he had left the bike keys on the dash of the lorry. And that, my friends, was the "bingo" moment, the one that turned it from simply a bad day to "A mcvicar of a journey".

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Getting Personal

I am still managing to continue with the Wii Fit. Not as often as I would like, it is still difficult to squeeze it in to the little time I have spare. But I am managing. I am also finding out that it is a nag. If I don't use it for a couple of days then it comments when I turn it on, "haven't seen you for a few days", "have you been away" and "oh, I didn't recognise you". Then it asked me if I had seen any change in "J". I said no. It then told me I should pay her more attention!

It also comes out with incentivising comments. "Remember, this is your fight against your flab", "feel the fat falling off" etc. There is one comment that throws me every time though. The trainer says "Imagine your perfect body". I suspect the perfect body that comes to my mind isn't quite what they mean!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Dinner

It was "A"s birthday today. 6 years old. We offered to go out for dinner, she could chose. Over the last week she has been changing her mind, but at no point did she mention where I think is her favourite, the "Harvester". I finally asked her why she wasn't asking to go there. Her response, "I'm not supposed to ask to go there at the moment."

This goes back to last month. We went to the Harvester one weekend. Then the next weekend, on the way back from the Royal Windsor Show, we decided to stop for a meal. "A" asked to go to the Harvester. I pleaded to go somewhere different. Finally I said we WERE going somewhere different. "A" sat in the back of the car and looked sad, so I told her I would make her a deal. We would go to the Harvester if she promised not to ask to go there again for another month. She agreed to the deal. Obviously she was now sticking to it. So, as it was her brithday, and as she was so good not asking, we went there.

I am now trying to work out whether it is my daughter who is incredibly good and polite and lioveley, or if I am just a bad and scary dad.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Aaaaahhhh

We have two cats. Born on the same day and from the same place. They aren't actually brothers but most of the time it's easier to think of them as such. And like brothers most of the time they get on. And sometimes they don't.

They don't have a bad life. They have food and water supplied, they have a litter tray emptied daily (well, almost). They can go in and out of the cat flap whenever they please. Despite the fact they can go in and out, like a lot of cats when a door is opened then they have to rush out as though it is the first time smelling fresh air. And when a window is open then they have to sit there with their noses sticking out.

They esepcially like sitting at the bedroom window. You get a good view from up there. This morning there was a bit of a squabble, obviously over who had the best seat, but I ignored it and went back to sleep. When I got up only Shimmer was in the house. That's fine, Scooby probably went out. I then opened the bedroom curtains. To see Scooby stuck on the garage roof. Skid marks down the conservatory roof windows showed where he had made a rather precarious and rapid descent.

You know what, I am convinced that Shimmer pushed him out!