February 2004 Archives

And we're stopping

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Ok, here's what I did on Friday...

And we're still walking...

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My feet hurt.

My improvised tour of London continued today when Matthew headed off to be with his family in Norfolk, leaving Kevin alone in my care for the day. I could say my motivation for spending time with Kevin was entirely altruistic, since he would otherwise have been alone for the day in this vast metropolis, but given he works for D.C. (yes, the comics people) even I'd have to question the innocence of my actions. Suffice it to say they may have been a shade, disingenuous. That said, it was a pleasure to spend the day in the company of someone with whom I could completely geek out, something I don't get to do nearly enough.

But details will still have to wait for another time as I need to get some rest tonight. Tomorrow I'm heading along to an event with some friends from work that we organised a while back. The event in question: A walking tour of London.

Fate smiles her smile upon me gently

Where did you go?

Out.

What did you do?

Everything!

-- The Complete Ballad Of Halo Jones, Alan Moore

I had a busy day today, giving as a complete a tour of London as I could possibly manage in a single day, largely on foot. I think it went well, which is to say that I enjoyed myself, and hopefully my hapless sleep deprived victims did too.

Details tomorrow. It's late now and I'm really rather tired.

Near and far

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I didn't resign from work today. Such thoughts normally filter through my head after returning home from holiday, and I have indeed resigned in the past on the first day back at work. Such feelings usually subside quick enough, so I know enough not to pay them too much heed. But this year, I just seem to be stalling at work, waiting until I feel I have enough monies saved so I can return northwards with a degree of security and comfort, and the temptation to pack it all sooner rather than later is increasingly strong. Obviously my feelings on the matter have been strongly swayed by the recent events and the generally morose atmosphere in the office.

Still, like I said, I didn't resign. I've come this far and there's still work I want to see through. I'm so close to achieving near everything I've wanted to see done that I don't think I could bring myself to abandon it now. In the grand scheme of things, none of it really matters all that much, but I know it would prey on me to leave it unfinished. I really do hate to use the term, but I want some closure.

Oh well. Tomorrow I have the day off work (booked as proper holiday time - I don't play hookie, thank you very much), and I have the pleasure meeting up with one of those darned friends of mine who seem to think it all big and clever to live on another continent.

I shall do many things tomorrow, none of which shall involve thinking about work.

Pointy, pointy hair

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I know I promised a while ago not to harp on about work, but somedays I just can't help myself. Like today.

I should probably give a little background on some of our MD's past misdemeanors, since he's the one who's prompted tonights entry. Apologies if I've gone over this before. After the last round of redundancies were announced in December, MD held a meeting the following week to discuss the rational behind them (he didn't say much when he actually made the first announcement, since he fled the room immediately after giving the news). During this meeting, he essentially congratulated the development team for having put together a stable technical solution that was meeting the current needs of the business... and then cited that as a reason why fewer developers were now needed. Naturally we all inferred from this that the reward of doing a good job is the prospect of redundancy. Huzzah. The development team manager did a hasty bit of damage control following this.

I can only assume that it was pointed out to MD what a grievous error he'd made, since at the next company meeting he took the trouble of singling out some of the development teams achievements. A laudable goal, but his presentation suffered somewhat when it became obvious to all that he was simply reading the list from the powerpoint presentation and really had no clue what any of the items actually meant. He just doesn't understand anything about the technical aspects of the business. Whether he actually needs to or not is a different question.

Anyway, today the company newsletter was delivered to our desks. I'd like to quote a few choice excerpts from MD's contribution.

"Less positively, one blight recently has been the number of occurrences of delays in projects being implemented due to resource constraints [...] However, my sense remains that we are not operating at full tilt with the staff that we have. Project delays do not appear to lead to working beyond contracted hours [...] It may be that more staff are needed but it would be good to be able to conclude that this is because everybody is flat out: and that is simply not the case based on walk arounds at 5:31 in the afternoon.
Shame on the development team for not working overtime to compensate for the lack of our numbers. To put it mildly this wasn't received well by any part of the business.

Today I left work at precisely 5:30.

I wasn't alone.

Tick, tick, tick...

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It's quarter to 12 and I'm determined to be in bed by midnight. My sleep patterns seem to be settling into a rhythm that, if not ideal, is at least a mite better than randomly waking during the night and I'd rather not disturb what order I've regained. As it stands I'm still waking up at about 6am each morning, which I can live with. It's close to what I normally experience during the summer time, so I know I can cope with it. It is a little odd for this time of year though - normally I sleep considerably more during the winter nights. In a perfect world I'd hibernate. Bears have the right idea.

It's 10 to twelve now. I'm still going to be in bed by midnight. I should probably make some sort of preparations, but instead I'm content to spend a few more minutes typing random thoughts/nonsense. I'm trying to think of an interesting fact that I learned today, that I didn't know before, but nothing springs to mind. I find that a little sad. All the marvellous and exciting things that I could have learned but didn't. Tomorrow I shall learn something marvellous and exciting and share it with you.

It's five to twelve now. The witching hour is near upon me. Time for all the good little boys and girls to be tucked up in bed. And the rest of us all too.

2 minutes to 12. I just remembered it's pancake Tuesday today and I didn't make any pancakes. Although I suppose the point of the day was to rid the house of flour and sugar and eggs in preparation for lent, and given that I currently don't have any flour and sugar and eggs, the day has obviously been a marked success. I feel hungry now. I wonder what I can make myself to eat in the one minute to twelve I have left.

Hmm... let me think. I know I can... oh darn. It's gone 12.

Byeee......

I know I can be fairly critical of Disney these days, but I'm still glad they've finally got the Muppets on board. Kermit and friends have been bounced from home to home ever since Jim Hensons death put a spanner in Disney's original attempt to purchase them and no-one since has really managed to do them justice. Disney, for all their faults, do seem to have a good understanding of what the Muppets are about and seem capable of making their unique brand of anarchy work - witness the "MuppetVision" attraction in Disney World. I came across this article which details what might have been had the original deal been completed.

Of course, whilst a theme park attraction is one thing (anybody want to go to Floriday btw?), what I'm really hoping is that we'll finally see a dvd boxed set of all the original series, something that will be added to my shopping list very quickly indeed.

I would if I could and I can

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Sundays are usually the days I set aside to catch up with people. It wasn't a conscious decision at first, I just found that whenever I had to phone or email someone I'd wait until Sunday evening to do it. It's possible that I do this because I find it a nice way to prepare for the coming week, by making certain that I've done all I need to do in the previous week, but I suspect that's merely a putting an overly positive spin on the fact that I simply wait until the last minute (and in several cases beyond that) to do an awful lot of things. Whilst I could simply ascribe this to a bout of mere procrastination, it does seem to go a little deeper than that, to the point that I seem to be completely incapable of doing certain things without the proper impetus.

Case in point is the change of address form I need to send to the bank, after moving, oh, almost six months ago. The form is just a few inches out of arms reach from me right now. Where it's been for a rather long time. Every once in a while I'll remind myself that I really need to fill it out and send it to the bank. And then do nothing about it. Instead the knowledge of it just sits there in the back of my mind, fluttering around. There are several other items of my agenda, flapping around with it, so at least I know it's know lonely.

Part of my reluctance to do anything is that I rate it as a matter of spectacular unimportance. The only remotely useful thing the bank ever sends me is a monthly statement, but it's not something I really look at often (unless the amount of money in my account doesn't tally with what I believe it should be, which happens but rarely). I can still see the virtue of informing my bank where I live, but I just don't care about it very much, since my bank and I have a somewhat strained relationship. We're not on each other Christmas card lists, for example (although I suppose I could be on theirs and not know it, as they don't have my correct address...). Anyway, I suppose I should do something about it, since even I can only procrastinate for so long.

On the other hand, I have grown accustomed to the faint sound of flapping within the recesses of my mind...

The universe is conspiring against me again. For about the past week I seem to have been rendered incapable of getting a full nights uninterrupted sleep. Either I've been mysteriously springing awake at random moments throughout the night or my flatmates have been going bump in the night loudly enough to stir me. I've tried to remedy the situation by going to bed earlier but it doesn't seem to have helped any and I'm fed up with it now. I thought last night, a Friday night, would at least allow me a chance to lie in and rest. But no, it wasn't to be - not only did I waken several times during the night (again!), but just as I finally thought I was getting the hang of the whole sleep business once more, my flatmate returned home at a very silly time of the night without her key and had to bang on my window in order to get me to let her in. On the plus side, when I wake up in the middle of the night I usually remember my dreams, which is always pleasant. One of them involved bungee jumping over mirror smooth lakes in a place that was almost New Zealand but wasn't quite. And in another I was reading a book, which is unusual for me, since normally when I read in a dream I usually come to realise that I'm dreaming very quickly (most times I'll glance up the page a little and discover that what I'd just read isn't there anymore). But this time I read on for quite a while. It was an interesting story and it vexes me that I can't remember it now.

I'm tired and I want to sleep. I'm going to bed now. Please don't wake me.

Please?

I remember this game, although I've never played it. I suppose the reason why I remember is says a lot about me, or at least the kind of child I was.

That reason I remember it is because it cost, if memory serves me right, £32.95. Now whilst that may not seem a particularly memorable figure, I'll have to put it in the context that my favourite toy at the time cost just a little less, and at that age I had yet to learn the lesson that expensive does not necessarily equate with good. So whilst looking through the Littlewoods winter catalogue (much more interesting than the disappointing summer catalogue which contained practically no toys) that was lying around the house, I was somewhat dismayed to find that there was a costlier toy.

Whilst I still loved my toy, the sheen had been taken off it a little. You mean I didn't own the most expensive toy anymore? You mean there are better toys? As the old saying goes, I was a child who knew the cost of everything but the value of nothing. But as fate would have it's way, I would soon stand corrected.

That toy, a Star Wars ATAT incidentally, was a birthday present from my Gran and was by far my favourite. It was big, with an articulated head and legs, and had guns which lit up and made noises. To my eight year old eyes it was just the bestest thing in the whole world ever. And it was from Star Wars too (well, The Empire Strikes Back as my eight year old self would have been annoyingly quick to correct). For a goodly while I carried it near everywhere with me, and one day I was staying with Gran along with my younger brother and elder sister (we all would stay round at Grans every friday night. She'd let us stay up late and watch tv and we loved her for it) and she told me about something that had happened when she bought the ATAT for me. She said that a small boy, my age, had been looking at the same toy when she'd bought it. He'd asked his parents if he could have it, but they said it was too expensive and dragged him away to look at £1 toys instead.

Despite being such a brief and simple story, it had a huge impact on me. I think that was the day I learned just how relatively privileged and fortunate I was. It had never occurred to me that I could have asked for something for my birthday and not gotten it. And I hadn't realised other children may not have been as lucky as myself. Oh, I'm sure I'd been aware of concepts like poverty, and that other families may not have been as well off as mine, but it was vague and abstract until then. I think it took a while for the full effects of that particular lesson to sink in, but gradually they did, and I began to consider other peoples perspectives.

There are some occurrences in my life that I can point to as definitive, life changing events - like learning to juggle, for example, a decision which spun my life (and probably several others too) into directions I couldn't possibly have foreseen. But there are other, subtler happenings that may have had equally profound effects. I'd like to think that was one - simply put, I'm not sure I'd be person I am today without it.

I'm not who I once was - I'm not the child I once was, although I don't suppose any of us are. I still have that ATAT somewhere. It's the only Star Wars toy, indeed the only toy from my childhood that I've held on too. But then it's not a toy anymore.

It's a reminder.

We lost another body at work today. Careless, I know - you take your eye off a corpse for a moment and the next thing you know it's lumbered off looking like an extra from a George Romero film. But seriously, at least this one was down to a resignation rather than redundancy. It's still not great news for the rest of us, but at least it's tinged with happiness that someone has managed to go off and get themselves a better job.

That said, it's difficult to conceive of the development team growing any smaller - we passed the bare minimum required to get any serious work done some months back, and we now seem to spend most of our day fending off the marketing teams increasingly inane requests and questions.

Today for example, I received an email from a marketing bod containing a question I couldn't answer. I responded by saying that I couldn't answer the question and referred him onto someone else who might be able to help. About 15 minutes later he came around to speak to me because, and I quote "you didn't respond to my email." I actually went and pulled up the mail I sent him and pointed to it, since, to be honest, I resented the implication I hadn't been doing my job properly and I wasn't quite certain what else to do. He then casually dismissed what I'd sent him, since it didn't contain the answer he wanted, and proceeded to ask me again.

I just don't know how to deal with that sort of behaviour. After all, how many times should you need to answer "I don't know" before your response sinks in? I remained courteous at least (or as courteous as I could under the circumstances), but inside I despaired a little more.

One day I hope to work where the marketing people don't.

It's your move

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P.S. I engraved another banana today. This time it said "oranges are not the only fruit."

The secret lives of bananas

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I got into the most surreal argument today.

Most every morning I buy a heap of fruit on the way to work to snack on during the day. Today was no exception and by mid afternoon, my pile of fruit had been whittled down to a single banana. It was a very healthy looking sort of banana, just the right shade of yellow and quite plump, if such a word can be used to describe a banana. Nevertheless, sitting there all by itself, it gave the impression of being a little forlorn. In order to brighten up its day I took a pencil and gently carved the words "Today is a good day to be a banana" into it's side. After a few minutes, the words darkened to a nice shade of brown and the message was legible for all to see. The banana looked much happier.

Later on, one of our finance people, Wendy, passed by and took exception to the phrase. She started to argue that bananas really lead quite horrible lives and I countered that, as far as the live of fruit goes, bananas are not too poorly off at all. She remained unconvinced. We debated the lives of bananas for a few minutes until we realised that there were several people nearby giving us rather incredulous looks and we stopped.

Wendy looked more embarrassed than I did. I consider that a moral victory.

Too much is never enough

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This popped into my head today:

"Practice random acts of kindness and acts of senseless beauty"
- Ann Herbert
Oh, I know it's a trite and overused phrase, but it's still a sentiment I'm fond of, and one I like to think I enact every once in a while. Except I'm not sure I've enacted it enough recently. Today I went out and bought cookies and doughnuts for the office, because I realised it had been a while since anyone had made such a gesture. And then I realised that I had been the last person to make such a gesture. And it had been a while ago.

It set me wondering I've been a little bit self absorbed recently. It's not that I don't give thought to other people, I just wonder if I've been giving them enough thought. Certainly whenever I get behind with emailing people it's usually a bad sign. It's something I'll try to be a little more aware of anyway - a little less "me, me, me" and a bit more "you, you, you". How are you all keeping today, by the way?

Back to the donuts, I was also surprised by the number of people who wanted to know why I'd done it, and who didn't easily accept an answer of "just because." Sometimes people do nice things, just because. Leave them be already.

It's like waiting for a bus. You spend all that time waiting for a new theme to come along, and then two turn up at once. This time it's the long promised Friendly Platonic Solids V3 theme, which I've nicknamed Tabula Rasa in tribute to my old site from whence most of the design elements originated.

I'm sure there's an old adage about an ounce of planning saving a pound of labour. Which is very true in this case. As is my want, I simply ploughed into the design and build with only a rough idea of what I wanted to achieve. It's a bad habit, I know, but hopefully not too indicative of my approach to life. Whilst this method usually gets me a good approximation of what wanted, I can also usually look back and see a better way to have gone about it. Which is to say there are cleverer ways to do what I've done that would have taken less effort and if I was to go about it again, I'd do it slightly differently. Of course, it doesn't really matter, since nobody looking at the page would see any difference.

But I'm fussy like that.

The internet is for...

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I forgot to add yesterday that Michelle (I'd provide a link if only she had a web site - why don't you have a blog yet Michelle?) provided what turned out to be the soundtrack of the holiday, namely the cast recording of Avenue Q. I've not seen it myself, but I'm sure there are some people lurking around here who can fill you in with the details. From what I can gather though, the best description I have for it is Meet the Feebles: The Musical.

It's very funny indeed, containing such instant classics as "Everyone's a little bit racist", "I'm not wearing underwear today" and everyone's favourite, "The internet is for porn" - a song so horribly addictive that it resulted in us persistently singing lyrics from it... at occasionally inappropriate times.

Thanks Michelle :)

What Mark did on holiday

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Have I mentioned before how much I hate returning home from holiday? Well I do. There's nothing in life I can rely on more to make me feel blue and generally down in the dumps. Especially when it's a good holiday (but then all holidays are good holidays). Still I've learned enough in recent years to know it doesn't do to dwell on the negatives. Particularly when there's so much else to both look forward too, and back upon. So, back to my holiday.

Oh, but firstly one small rant: Can I please get through just one flight without being taken aside to be searched and have my luggage ransacked? I know it's supposed to be random, but I'm fed up enough with the experience to believe they're picking on me personally. Before nigh every flight I take these days I have to submit to a search of some sort. I'm really quite fed of having to remove my shoes in airports. Three times it happened on this holiday. Three! Tell me true - do I look like a shoe bomber or a terrorist to you? Grmph.

Anyway, the latter part of the holiday was generally taken up with more skiing, although before we left we did stop by to visit some of Kevin's and Mija's friends to play board games and also merciless mock an old episode of Babylon 5 (I love the series as a whole, but this episode had some moments that begged for ridicule). My earlier trepidation concerning the idea of donning skis again had largely dissipated after our earlier excursion to Afton Alps during which I managed to successfully not kill myself nor any hapless bystanders. The destination for this part of the trip was the Dairy (and yes, I did intentionally capitalise Dairy. I do have some priorities) state of Wisconsin (If you'll allow me a Homer Simpson moment: Mmmm dairy), or more precisely Christmas Village in Wisconsin Dells.

It's a very pretty area of countryside, especially when snowbound. The odd thing about the landscape is that it doesn't differ too greatly from the countrysides of Scotland and England . Outside of the urban areas it's remarkably similar. In the urban areas, however, you can most certainly see the difference. To be kind to the town of Wisconsin Dells, it's somewhat geared towards tourists. To be less kind it has, mayhap, a slight tendency towards the tacky (I think the level of tackiness of a town is directly proportional to the number of buildings painted pink, with Wisconsin Dells scoring particularly highly in this area). It's also somewhat curiously host to the largest water parks in the US, both indoor and outdoors, but alas we didn't have time to take advantage of such facilities.

We managed to hit two ski slopes that weekend, the largest and most impressive being that at Devils Head (very comforting name that). We spent pretty much a full day there, and I signed up for a much needed ski lesson in the morning. The instructor was extremely helpful, although I discovered that I'd fall over with alarming consistency if I gave too much thought to what he was telling me. Perhaps there's something to be said for just going with the flow after all. I also discovered that skiing is probably one of the few sports which I'm currently built for. Much as I've come to love swimming, I don't exactly have a swimmers build and have an annoying tendency to sink in water. Skiing on the other hand is something I seem well adapted for. I ended the day without feeling overly tired or achy, although I was perhaps a little on the cold side (I come away with a much better idea of the sort of clothing to take on a skiing holiday - I was just a little underprepared this time around).

Besides the skiing we also managed a spot of snowtubing, something I hadn't encountered before, but which basically consists of hurtling down a hill on little more than a reinforced inner tube. It wasn't quite as much fun as skiing, largely, I think, because there was no lift up the hill, resulting in an effort to fun ratio that put the emphasis firmly on the effort side of the scale. There was, however, a certain manic glee to be had from taking a run down the hill then flinging yourself on to your tube. I'm not sure if I cackled loudly while doing so, but it wouldn't have been out of place.

And in between all the activities there was the simple pleasure of hanging around with good friends, sitting around, playing games, eating (oh, I'm praying to the gods they don't start selling cookie dough over here. It's lethal stuff and insidiously addictive) and talking. An experience not to be taken lightly.

Unfortunately, our party didn't escape the weekend entirely without incident. When earlier I asked "What could possibly go wrong" I was thinking only of myself and my usual propensity for catastrophe. Alas, whilst I escaped with nary a scratch, another of our number succumbed to injury at the last. Poor Mija who, outside Simon's not inconsiderable skiing experience, was easily the most poised and graceful of all of us on skis, took what turned out to be a nastier spill that I fear most of us realised at the time. Luckily it seems no lasting harm has been done. Get well soon in the meantime.

I don't feel too bad about having come back now. There is a certain comfortable familiarity in returning home, but given the chance I think I'd much rather be zipping down a hill on skis with a ludicrously cold wind blowing in my face.

But I can wait until next time.

Time is but a fleeting thing

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I'd hoped to get more done than I actually managed today, which is embarassing because I'm sure I had the time to do it. Apologies to all of you who are due mail from me. I promise (again) that it will be forthcoming very shortly indeed.

We apologise for the inconvenience and general tardiness.

Making time

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This isn't the long delayed update on my holidays - that'll come shortly though I promise. Since arriving back home, I've felt things have been slightly out of control, in that I've been rushing around, both at home and at work, whilst feeling that I've accomplished very little for all the effort. What I've really needed to do is simply sit down and make some time. Making time is usually a remarkably simple process and, despite the inherent scientific complexities involved, it only seems to require a single ingredient: discipline.

Now, you may be surprised to learn that I'm really not a terribly disciplined person (I await the sound of collective gasps and hear naught but crickets chirruping gently). Once I've started working on something I'm quite content to devote an ungodly amount of time to completing it, but before starting any project there's a great deal of scope for procrastination. And what I lack in discipline, I more than make up for in my procrastinating skills.

When I returned from holiday I was adamant that I was going to be more organised about... well, my life really, but I soon found myself slipping back into my old habits. And my production of time was markedly lacking. Fortunately, there are more ways than one to manufacture time. It can also be gifted. Today, for example, I was kindly given an afternoon shaped block of time when I got sent home from work. Not for misbehaving or anything suchlike, but rather because I had a cold. Now colds for the most part don't bother me, except save perhaps for the sore throats that sometimes accompanies it. This weeks cold though, which arrived to greet me near as soon as I'd stepped off the plane, has largely been characterised by a running nose and fits of sneezing. Nothing I couldn't happily work through, but it seems that my bouts of sneezing quickly garnered me the title of "plague bearer" and my slightly germophobic manager, in whose direction I'd spent the morning sneezing, eventually suggested than I may be best off heading home. I started to protest, but he quickly added "for our sake, not for yours" - just the sort of logic I find persuasive.

So I headed homewards to luxuriate in afternoon not spent at work. There's a particular quality taken on by time when you're not in work when you're supposed to be - it just sort of tastes better. Anyway, I spent the afternoon being only slightly idle, and the remainder I used to treat poor Blog, who has been feeling a little neglected this past week. I've wrought a whole new skin for Blog, which you can view using the handy dandy theme selector over at the side. The theme is fairly basic (it's called "Simple" after all), but it contains some ideas I like and that I'll eventually try to expand upon one day. Blog seemed pleased by it which is a good sign. I also rejigged the list of recent comments to display a little bit of the comment text itself (courtesy of the rather useful excerpt words Moveable Type extension) which seems to make it a little more useful now.

Of course, that's also used up time I should have spent mailing people and doing other useful stuff. But Blog is making contented sighing noises now. I think I've done a good thing.

Well, I got back home safely yesterday after a journey that was fortunately considerably less arduous than my trip out. I would have written about it, but blog wasn't feeling well, so I had to put it off. Tonight, though, I was out at a friends 30th birthday party which she'd booked at a medieval banquet. It was an... interesting experience, one which I'm glad I attended, but can't say I'll be in a hurry to repeat.

Alas, though, my late return from it has left the hour getting late, and as I'm badly in need of a good nights rest I'm afraid I'll have to cut this short. Rest assured I'll provide a fuller report of my recent activities tomorrow. In the meantime I will say that I had a fantastic time, that it was wonderful to catch up with everyone again and that I am much saddened to have returned.

Oh, I almost forgot - I saw a ladybird in Wisconsin. I held it in my hand a moment before it flew away. It made me happy.

The whistling sound of doom

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I don't have a good track record when it comes to skiing. Of course, as most seasoned skiers will be quick to point out, this wasn't real skiing since it took place on the dry sky slope in Edinburgh and anyone who's skied on real snow will tell you that this amounts to ten different types of heresy.

I've related this story many times over the years, so my apologies if you've heard it before, and since it all happened to me half a lifetime ago, you'll need to recognise the possibility that it may have grown in the telling, although I think I'm still able to relate an accurate account of events.

There were various trips to Hillend, the dry ski slope, in my youth, mostly with the Scouts (yes, I was a boy scout. Not a very good one at that, but that's a story for another time). It's fair to say that I wasn't very good at skiing there. My attempts to steer myself in any sort of direction usually ended with my accelerating straight down the slope whilst I frantically waved (or flailed if you prefer) my arms in an effort to ward away the unwary at whom I was speeding towards with ever increasing velocity. Each trip invariably ended with me in a non-vertical position with limbs strewn akimbo. If I was particularly unlucky I'd have also taken down several others skiers along the way.

After a few repetitions of this (and some angry glances from fallen skiers), I decided to confine myself to the far gentler and shorter slope for beginners, just off to the side from the main slope. This turned out to be something of a mistake. The beginners slope was situated next to a set of concrete stairs. You can begin to sense the inevitability of what happened next from the mere mention of the concrete stairs, can't you? It started out well enough, in that I was heading downwards at a not unreasonably velocity, but then, in the twinkling of an eye, it all began to go horribly wrong as I lost control of where I was going and began to veer towards the edge of the slope. Straight towards the concrete steps. Had I any sort of control, I would have reached the steps and stopped, by alas, my in attempt to turn away from the steps I ended up cunningly positioning myself to face down the slope again, so that by the time I reached the steps not only did I not stop but I was aimed to continue skiing down the steps. Which I did.

How long I might have carried on down the steps I'm not sure, but since my ability to steer on the steps was no greater than my ability to steer on the slope, I eventually swerved off the steps... onto a patch of mud. I can relate from experience that mud does not make for a good ski surface. Witness the fact that my skis ceased motion as soon as they met mud. Momentum, on the other hand, ensured that I kept going. Like a tree felled, I toppled forward, face first into the mud. It was an ignominious ending and an experience I can't say I was desperate to repeat.

But cut forward 15 or so years later, when the memory is more amusing than hurtful, and the notion of trying to ski again didn't seem quite so outlandish, especially when the landscape out here is covered in snowdrifts as far as the eye can see.

So we headed out to the finest ski slope that Minnesota has to offer (which I was impressed by, although I think it was possibly a little underwhelming for the more experienced skiers). I can fortunately relate that the seasoned (parsley, thyme?) skiers are right. Real snow is both much more fun, and far less painful. Initially it all seemed a little too familiar (speeding out of control, arms flailing etc), but I eventually got the hang of it a little. There was a considerable amount of falling over involved, but I did start to get that under control (I recognised that the higher the pitch of the wind whistling, the nearer I was to falling over). Of course, I then had to deal with the consequences of not falling over, chiefly spinning around so that I was facing up the slope rather than down and starting to slide backwards as I frantically clawed the snow with my gloves in order to prevent what in the years to come would no doubt make for another terribly amusing anecdote, but in the shorter term would probably require hospitalisation.

Still, all's well that ends well. Much fun was had by all and I managed to escape serious injury (hurrah!). I'm not completely out of the woods yet though, since we'll be heading to Wisconsin this weekend for a further bout of skiing.

But what can possibly go wrong?

Cuh-cuh-cold

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There's a moment in American Gods when the protagonist, Shadow, having just arrived in Minnesota during the winter decides to go for a walk. After about 10 minutes he discovers what an inordinately bad idea that was - near frozen to death, he's only saved thanks to a passer-by's mercy.

I went for a walk today.

Don't worry I was wrapped up well enough and nothing untoward happened, but it did make me appreciate just how cold it can get out here - I think, factoring in windchill, it was around -11F, and this on a sunny day at that. It really is on a completely different level from anything I've felt in the UK. After all, until today I've never experienced the sensation of mucus freezing in my nostrils (my apologies for the imagery - blame Kevin). Anyway, I've sequestered myself safely indoors now where I'm free to admire the harsh beauty of the Minnesotan winter from a warmer vantage.

Fortunately we're not without some form of amusement to keep ourselves occupied. I think I need to go beat Simon at SSX Tricky. He's been practicing all morning and looks to be getting a little too good for my liking...

Let it snow

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It's snowing outside. It looks like it's been snowing forever. A thick white blanket covers every conceivable surface. Looking through the window I can see the snow on the balcony bannister piled up near a foot high - a tower of similar height has gathered upon the bird feeder. I haven't seen any birds or wildlife use it.

Snow is a strange substance, filtered through both current reality and those hazy rose tinted childhood memories. The rosy childhood memories remind us how much fun snow is. It's snowmen and snowball fights and sledging, coming home from school on frost covered days into the warmth.

The adult reality tries to convince us that snow isn't so great. It's leaving the warmth of home to face delays on the tube and the commute to work, it's cold days and dark nights and clearing the driveway. It's cold and wet and inconvenient and it's not as much fun as it used to be.

But today I went sledging. I fell off the sledge at near every opportunity and ended up with snow in virtually every available orifice. It was cold and wet and utterly exhilarating. I also caught a perfect six sided crystal of snow on my glove and held it for a moment before it melted forever.

I had fun.

The curse of flight NW43

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The word of the day is eventually.

In general, the best thing about travelling is the arrival. That's not to say that process of getting there can't be fun in and of itself, it's just that it certainly wasn't yesterday. Uh, wait, what day is it today?. No not yesterday, but the day before I set out on an excursion to visit Kevin and Mija, meeting up with Simon along the way. It wasn't a complicated trip. Leaving home at 8am we were scheduled to arrive at 3pm central time. We managed to arrive at about 10pm. The next day. A mere 42 or so hours after leaving the house.

Along the way we experienced the delights of queuing, and waiting. It sounds dull, I know, but fortunately the bouts of queuing and waiting were interpersed with further periods of queuing and waiting, which helped break up the monotony.

Here's a quick recap of events.

We were lured into a false sense of security on Friday morning by arriving at the airport and checking in without any difficulties at all.

Once the plane took off, things started to go slightly awry. The plane, which I'm quite certain was in crotchety mood that morning, had decided not to cooperate with the pilot and refused to raise it's landing gear. Despite the pilot's best efforts he announced that he announced that he would be forced to return to Gatwick and land for repairs. Before this could happen, though, the plane would have to dump it's fuel so it could reduced it's weight to something more suitable for landing. Consequently we enjoyed an hours worth of laps around the English Channel before the plane could land.

Upon landing a mechanic was duely summoned and after a while we were told that the plane required a new part and that we'd all have to get off. Amusingly, because we'd taken off, all non-EU citizens were told they'd have to go through customs. This went down about as well as you'd expected.

We disembarked (eventually), collected our baggage (eventually), and were told (eventually) that we'd be put up at an airport hotel. Checking in at the hotel reception proved that fun wasn't over yet. The experience generally involved queuing and gently mocking the poor woman who was assigned to tell all those in the queue that they'd only be waiting for five more minutes.

Having checked in to the hotel, we were promply evacuated from it after the file alarm went off.

Fortunately the rest of the evening was more successful as Simon and I went into to London to find food and entertainment and other events that didn't involved either waiting or queuing.

Getting back to the hotel later than night we discovered that the airline had kindly arranged to open a desk the next morning at 7:30am to inform people what their travel arrangements would now be. Simon and I duely arrived at the desk at 7:30am the following morn and discovered that everyone else had turned up at 6am. We were at the end of a very long and very slow moving queue. Two hours later, we reached the desk. I think it's fair to say that our mood by that point was not as full of cheer as it had been 24hrs previously.

And the day wasn't over yet. We found that our nice and relatively fast direct flight had been substituted for a flight via Detriot which would see us arriving (eventually) at Minneapolis at 8pm (29 hours late if you're keeping count). Of course before we could get on the plane, we had to check in again. The queue for the check in, somewhat amusingly followed near exactly the same path as the queue we'd just been in. By that point I realised that my will to live had been gradually been sapped over the preceeding day and what little supply I had left was near exhausted.

But we soldiered on. Part of the purpose of the trip was to attend Kevin and Mija's Burns supper that evening, at which both Simon and I would be giving speeches (Simon with Immortal Memory and myself with the Toast to the Lassies). By that point, bloodimindedness has set in and the desire to arrive in time to do my part at the party was all that was keeping me going. Especially when we were due to board the flight for the first part of our extended journey and discovered that it had been delayed by an hour due to the plane developing a flat tire. The gods of travel appear to have a sense of humour. More so than the passengers by that point.

But (eventually!) we made it off. And, with but a scant delay at Detriot as customs officers boarded the plane to arrest some poor soul, the rest of journey was entirely uneventful and we did (eventually) manage to arrive at the rescheduled time. Huzzah.

A lift kindly given to us my Mija's father in a car only marginally smaller than the aeroplane in which we arrived ensured that we were able to catch the tail end of the party. Hats off to Kevin and Mija again for the party, which was tremendous fun and which didn't appear to have suffered any for our absence, and appeared to survive our respective speeches as well (which may possibily have had something to do with the copious amounts of whiskey consumed by that point).

Anyway, enough prattle - it's a snowy Sunday morning in Minnesota and enough people are moving about the house now that I shan't feel guilty about getting up and making some noise...