Wednesday, 28 December 2005

A Northern Christmas

Spent my Christmas in a small ex-mining village called Greenside (part of Ryton village) outside of Newcastle, not urban and not rural, it's increasingly becoming a sort of commuter suburb after the local farms have all been remodelled into character residences and the last vestiges of small industry closed years ago. It makes a nice occasional change from London.

I was only there for a few days because of work but went shopping in Newcastle one day, and at the Metro Centre. Fenwicks windows are always a 'must see' but this year were a bit disappointing - the theme was the Snowman so the windows just showed a few scenes of a snowman and a lad in dressing gown. The Snowman wasn't even very fat. Not all that festive in my view!

Christmas was a lazy day with me full of cold so I didn't eat or drink too much at all or even as much as I'd hoped! All those missed opportunities to guzzle grub and hooch, all gone...

Boxing Day was a trip into Northumberland to the freezing North Sea coast and the opportunity to jeer at the swimming club idiots who take pride in going into the freezing sea for a Boxing Day swim. Why do they do that? It makes me even colder just to watch.

Then went to little bro's (Derek and Tracy's) for victuals and an endless flood of alcohol. The number of bottles they received as Christmas presents and proudly displayed under the tree was disgusting ... ok, it's true, I'm jealous! Became addicted to the 'Who wants to be a Millionaire' DVD game at little bro's (that I also got for Christmas). We kept getting to the million pound question (and the opportunity to win a luxury holiday, no less) and kept getting the wrong answer. Drat. Must've been all the guinness, sherry and JD I was forced to drink... I *will* get that million pound question right if only to see what happens next!

Woke up to snow on the ground this morning (Tuesday), packed ready for the trip back to London. Snow on the ground most of the way down and was then greeted by a snow shower when I walked along from Kings Cross to the Thameslink station to find that, 'due to adverse weather conditions' trains were cancelled... How come some trains were cancelled but others could get through? I don't understand that. It's not as if there was any snow on the ground either.

Tuesday, 27 December 2005

A Christmas Miracle

It was Christmas Eve and a time for miracles. A lost Westie walking through exactly the right front door at the right time to bring festive cheer and wonder.

Back in July we said goodbye to Webster, my brother's Westie of 16 years. Whenever I'd call him a daft, scruffy little mongrel he'd lick my hand or nose to say 'you're the daftie and I know you don't mean it'. He was a lovely little thing, great fun and a greater poseur judging by all the photos. We were talking about him the previous night in The Jingling Gate pub outside Newcastle.

So, this afternoon, Derek & Tracy were about to go out, the front door was open and in walked a little Westie with no collar... They called the police but no-one had reported him as lost. Derek rang me while out shopping with Dad to tell us and invite us over to see him. I received a text that simply said, 'A westie has walked into our house'. Dad didn't believe me and thought Derek had picked him up from the dog pound (that they'd visited that morning to drop off some food). I believed, of course.

Half an hour later we were still talking about him while shopping in Asda. Me and Dad were discussing how he'd turned up at Derek's house - maybe he followed one of Webbie's old trails? - when I get another call to say that the dog's owners had contacted the police and been round to pick him up and gave D&T two bottles of wine as a thank you. He's called Jimmy and it seems like his parents are nice. So all's well that ends well.

This is the first Christmas without Webbie and it's a lovely thing to happen, bringing a smile to our faces and a bit of moisture to the eye. Why did the dog choose that particular front door to walk through? Perhaps it was a Christmas message from little Webbie to his parents?

Miracles do happen at Christmas.

Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Christmas and suchlike

As a confirmed and card-carrying, registered Christmasoholic, I've been a bit crap at Christmas cards this year. I've got the most gorgeous of trees that's been gracing my living room for the past week but I still haven't sent all my cards yet... Why's that? I thought I'd finished them off yesterday and then remembered more today. I've just recalled another I really must post tomorrow (which I think is last posting day). Lazy sod or wot?

If I've forgotten to send you a card please accept the humble apologies of a crap Christmaser!

I'm delighted to think that tomorrow is my last day at work before Christmas - at last! Off to see family for Christmas but then back to work immediately after Christmas to continue preparations for our big annual international seminar with ministers from all over the world attending, and it changes on an hourly basis in the final week or so. The first full week of January is such a *perfect* time to hold a big seminar (not).

Of course, as happens every time I'm off work for more than a day or two, there's masses to do and not enough hours in the day. I left work at 7.30pm this evening and worked on a list of things to do tomorrow on the train home. Sad, eh? And I'll spend a couple of hours out of the office tomorrow to check out some video material we've commissioned for the seminar - this is our last chance for a final edit of the material. I don't think we'll need to do much since the earlier edit looked good, but it's still a couple of hours away from the coalface.

I got an unexpected Christmas present at the weekend - 'A Certain Trigger' by Maximo Park (courtesy of Christopher). It's excellent, new music that sounds new. Too many of the 'new' bands at the moment just sound like versions of The Jam or The Clash - Maximo Park don't sound like either and the singer has a delightful Geordie accent to his singing voice. I've put the CD on my iPod to listen to tomorrow on my way to work but thought I'd listen to it now as well and I'm pleased I did. I know nothing about the band but they sound good to me! I ought to play them louder but not at this time of the morning! You can listen to samples of their songs by clicking on the cover photo (it'll take you to Amazon and you can listen to 30 second clips).

Tuesday, 13 December 2005

Oh Phew!

Well, that's done at last.

Christmas presents for the nephews is always a chore and a delight. Every year off I go to Hamley's and enjoy myself immensely spending hours wandering round, picking up and putting down toys and games and general funstuff and then gather together the best of the batch and lug it home in an (invariably) large bag. Then wrap everything individually, place the gifts in a large box that is then wrapped up, lugged back into town and posted. It takes an age and costs a fortune and I love it.

Unfortunately, they're a bit old for my random shopping these days so, for the first time, I'm sending them vouchers... what a failure I am! They've both got a book (one about pirates and the other is a compendium of useless information - quite amusing!) so there's something to unwrap on the big day, but they can pick their own pressies this year. Sigh. I told both of them when they were born that they would always get a book from me and I've stuck to it so far.

And, of course, the parents (me big bro and sis-in-law) get what every self-respecting over-40 year old should have - the S L A D E DVD! I make no apologies for dispensing cultural history to everyone I know! I've suggested that they look at the live set first, just to get them in the mood. Younger bro and sis-in-law will get the same blessing for Christmas (they'll probably get alcohol as well).

And, just to make sure there's a photo in this posting, here's me with the wonderful Santa popcorn bucket I got from Radio City Music Hall when we went to see the Christmas spectacular a few weeks ago in New York. I brought it home very carefully and he's currently sitting under the tree. His hat comes off to give access to the popcorn (not that there's any in there any more - I might fill him up with Maltesers for Christmas ...).

'Keep on rockin'!' as the Lords of Noize would say!

Monday, 12 December 2005

Give a Tree a Home for Christmas

I have, so you should too.

Went up Streatham High Road to get a tree from the tried and trusted Christmas Tree Shop near Streatham Hill Station. Picked a nice 6' one, lots of branches to hang things on and then got the bus home (a few people smiled to see the tree getting a bus home which was quite sweet).

Then spent hours this afternoon dressing it so it looks its best. And I finally opened all the baubles and toys I got in New York and even from the All-Year Christmas Shop in Toronto from back in February this year. They still had price-tags on. Some of my favourites are my Rockette's bauble from the Radio City Music Hall shop (with a small Rockette in a red glittery Santa outfit sitting on top of a red bauble), my stripey glass globe from Toronto and the little ginger-bread house from Macy*s in New York that reminds me of Barcelona. Nice! For the first time, they're all on the tree.

And here it is in all it's glory!

Saturday, 10 December 2005

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel

After months of waiting, finally the day arrives, the day I finally get to see Steve Harley after 30 odd years. Unfortunately he's playing Shepherds Bush, but I can get over that. I make sure I've got the tickets before leaving for work, nothing can go wrong today...

And, of course, it does. A shit day at work doesn't set me up right for a night of musical fun but I'm going to enjoy it. The plan for enjoyment slightly fades when we queue behind a group of drunken middle aged men to get in. It fades even more when we get onto the hall floor and everyone seems drunk. The demographic is definietly middle-aged white men. Most of whom seem to have had several pints before arriving and then continue to drink. And how come they're all so tall? Why do people turn up to concerns only to talk amongst themselves - there's a show on, y'know! Half-way through a fight nearly started which the security guys ignored and left to the respective wives/gfs to sort out and escort the menfolk out...

I couldn't actually see Mr Harley so after a few songs we moved to the back of the hall and up a few steps to the bar so we could see over the audience a bit - even there we couldn't see much.

But Steve's stage-craft is what puzzles me. Or lack of it. Why open the set with a relatively quiet acoustic song from the new album that few in the audience seemed to recognise. Then bounce into 'Here comes the sun' - that should've been first, people knew it and it made the drunks shut up for a few minutes. The sound quality was pretty dire - when Steve spoke to the audience I couldn't actually hear him. Didn't he know that? Or did he just not factor in his demographic talking to each other.

I'm terribly disappointed, particularly since Chris didn't want to go but felt obliged. Not a fun night at all. Why play so many slow, quiet songs when the audience is so rowdy?

At least he did 'Coast of Amalfi' (my favourite from the new album), 'Sebastian (from his first album) and 'Make me Smile' (yes, you know it!).

We left at the start of the enchore - enough is enough really. I'd like to see him again, at a proper concert hall and without a drunk audience.

Farewell 159

Today was the last day that the Routemaster 159 runs. It travels between Streatham Common Station and Marble Arch (it used to go on to Notting Hill). I've been getting it for 15 years so it's very familiar to me. The route - the 159 - continues, but it won't be the Routemaster bus that does it. Now it's an ordinary bus like any other across London or the country as a whole.

It was quite odd this morning, with bus geeks upstairs who'd obviously travelled down to Streatham Station to be on the last bus - white, middle-aged men with loud voices. I deliberately left home for work late this morning so I could enjoy a last ride up to Westminster but no, they have to join in the occasion. It was also odd to see so many (again, middle-aged and above) men taking photos at every other bus stop all the way up into town - there were a few women, but very few. I took a few crap photos with my phone camera of the bus I rode on - I'm sure there are lots of excellent photos around but this is my bus and my pics.

Farewell my 159.

Friday, 9 December 2005


Well, I survived my trip to Manchester - didn't really see much of Manchester, though, since it was dark, cold and raining when I arrived on Wednesday night and I was rushing to catch a train when I left this afternoon.

I did the speech and took part in the panel discussion - the speech was OK, I think, by my standards - nothing to look forward to but I don't feel as if I humiliated myself, so that's a plus. I always feel happier doing panels than speeches - happy to answer questions and take part in a discussion, but speeches are a different thing altogether, where you need to engage with the audience, take them on an aural journey and leave them somewhere different to the place you started from. That requires thought and preparation and that's what I always fall down on!

Still, I did it! Don't want to do it again in a hurry - lots of scope for improvement, but I'm pleased I did it.

Wednesday, 7 December 2005


I'm off to Manchester tomorrow evening to do a talk on Thursday morning about home access to computers for kids. Does that sound thrilling? The awkward part is that I haven't drafted my speech yet and I'm in a meeting (yawn) most of tomorrow...O woe is me. The organisers keep asking when I can let them have the powerpoint presentation that supports my talk ... I need to know what I'm talking about first really ...

O dear. Will this all go tits up?

I've never been keen on public speaking but accepted this invitation in part as a test for myself - can I do it? It must be 2 or 3 years since I last did any significant speechifying and it's an increasingly important skill that I need to acquire so I thought I'd use this as a test to see if I ought to go for proper training or whether I can blag it. That might not actually be the best reason in the world to accept a speaking engagement...

Saturday, 3 December 2005

A New-Look Blog

Here's my new-look blog with added links and bits down the side where I've played round with the coding and got it to do what I want - ok, hardly that difficult but a real achievement for me!

It's a simpler design than the previous layout but I'm not sure about the colour and I couldn't find anywhere to change the colour of the text. I can change the colour of the text in the 'posting' area, of course, but it's the colour of the text in the title and sidebars I want to change. I think this looks better than the previous one, but let's see if it grows on me.

What do you think?

UPDATE: I've played around with the template and the colour codes and I have, indeed, found out how to change the colour of different bits of text! I am quietly proud of myself. I didn't want to go too overboard in using colours, so I've just changed the main title colours ... at least to start off with!