July 2006 Archives

Well, the first bit of good news today is that I'm finally back online, having given Bulldog a stern talking to (well several stern talking to's in in fact). During one particularly enlightening conversation I managed to extract from them the confession that they didn't post out the letter warning me that my connection was at risk of suspension until after they'd actually suspended my connection. Someone at their end needs a lesson or two in cause and effect I do believe. I'm glad to have it sorted out now anyway. The whole affair really had descended into pure farce. Another call earlier today revealed that my account was supposed to have been reconnected this first thing morning, but since someone determined that since I hadn't paid the bill I paid on Friday they decided against it. Argh!

Anyway, it's all well now, and hopefully will continue to be well for the foreseeable future.

The second and, and perhaps even better, bit of news is that I finally discovered the title of a song I've had running around at the back of my head for months. It really was driving me up the wall. I couldn't hum enough of it for anyone else to make a positive id, nor was I able to remember a substantial enough fragment of the lyrics to search the net. Fortunately today I was passing through Boots and heard it playing in the background. I quickly accosted a nearby cosmeticist, who consulted with even more cosmeticists. Eventually the combined might of the Boots cosmetic department managed to pinpoint it: Everywhere by Fleetwood Mac. Great song, even better now that I know what it is.

I can now rest easily on both counts.

My ongoing animosity with Bulldog, my broadband provider, escalated to a new level on Friday when they summarily suspended my internet connection and phone line without warning rather than sort out their faulty billing system. I was initially told that it would take 24 hours to restore the connection, although it was later revealed that this was in fact 24 working hours, which, coupled with the weekend, means that it should be restored at some point on Wednesday, some 5 days later. Needless to say I'm not terribly happen with this latest turn of events and am actively seeking a new broadband supplier.

A note to any companies that share Bulldogs definition of 24 hours - I shall make every effort to avoid doing business with you in future.

I'm presently suffering from a minor rope burn on my right bicep. Without going into too many details, suffice it to say that tonight I learned that trapeze work is rather more difficult than I intially suspected and that I have a new found respect for those countless trapeze acts I've seen in circuses and on television over the years.

It was rather fun though. Rather curiously I discovered the manual for the trapeze at the end of the night. Who would have thought that a trapeze would come with a manual? I'm quite tempted to have a read and give it another go...

Voices from above

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It takes a lot to disturb me from my usual reveries when I'm out walking. Cars slamming short of me as I cross the road are normally enough to do it, but aside from that I'm more than capable of wandering about almost completely oblivious to my surroundings. With that in mind it was hardly a surprise that I didn't pay much heed to the yelling at first. And even when I actually became conscious of the voices, I in no way thought that they might be directed at me.

It was only after a minute or so, when I thought I made out the words "...in the black" above the noise of the traffic that I even bothered to turn around. It took me a moment or to to pinpoint their location, a second floor flat window, about a 100 meters or so behind me on the corner of block of flats on the opposite side of the crossroads. A man and woman were standing in the window. As soon I noticed them they stopped shouting. I looked at them. They looked at me. Then both of the waved in unison at me. I waved a tentative wave back at them and then both of them stepped back as one and vanished into the darkness of the window.

It was a surreal little vignette to have been caught up in. To be honest, I'd quite like to know just what the heck it was about...

The cursor kite

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What a fantastic idea!

There's a wonderful tree a little way away from my flat. It's a short walk along a beautiful stretch of the river. I don't visit it nearly as often as I should.

What distinguishes this particular tree from the numerous others that surround is is that it reaches out over the water at an almost ninety degree angle such that it's parallel with the rivers surface and forms a perfect little bench on which to sit and dangle your legs over the river. After a few feet it arcs upwards again at just the right incline to allow you to lie back and watch the world pass by. It's quite a lovely bit of design work on natures part.

For the longest while I've promised myself that I'd go out there one sunny lunchtime (of which there have been many recently), perhaps with a sandwich, and sit with a good book occasionally glancing up at one of the joggers of dog walkers who frequent the area. For some reason it took me this to get around to it. It's such a wonderfully tranquil spot. The river water idles by in no particular hurry, and when the passerbys have passed by there's only the sound of the wildlife to be heard. Utter bliss.

I shall go there again tomorrow, and sit and read and watch the world. Wave if you see me.

Worst. Jellyfish. Ever

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There comes a moment in every young films life when it must make a decision about its future. Does it, for example, carry on as it has previously, or does it take the road less travelled and dare to be different?

Stormbreaker, the first (and possibly last) Alex Rider film, based on a successful series of teen books by Alex Horowitz, makes that fateful second choice and confounds the viewer by turning into an entirely different film altogether. Well, I say turns. Rather it screeches to a halt and makes a fairly radical 180 degree revolution, throwing out grit and smoke and leaving an impressive set of tire tracks on the ground behind it. Watch the film and you'll be able to spot the precise moment for yourself. It occurs around a third of the way into the film, when our young hero enters the Bond-esque villains lair for the first time. Right up until that point, the film succeeds in taking itself relatively seriously and has made no bones about what it is: a James Bond film aimed at kids.

Within the space of mere moments it decides it wants to be comedy instead. Watch with mirth as in short order we're introduced to the evil villain of the piece, his tall, blond, Germanic dominatrix with a comedic accent that must be heard to be disbelieved, and the secondary sidekick, a mute deformed manservant with a talent for knife-throwing, who later attempts to mutilate our hero whilst dressed in a cape. It almost seems that this transition occurs without reason, but no, look carefully and you'll begin to piece together the true reason for this jarring transformation in tone: The Jellyfish!

In the Bond and non-Bond villain canon, villains have been graced with a variety of nefarious pets, from flesh-eating piranhas to sharks (with and without friggin' lasers), but there have been none, I dare say, none to match that with which Stormbreaker presents us. The Jellyfish.

I'm picturing the scene, as the director of the film walks onto the set of the villain lair set for the first time and sees what the effects team have wrought of his beloved jellyfish, the centrepiece of his vision for the completed film. He sees it and stops moving. His lower lip trembles. Not a single word is spoken. With great effort he raises one arm and points a single, trembling finger at the magnificent mockery of a jellyfish before him, his hopes, dreams and future career crashing down to earth before him. A lowly toady bravely sidles up to him and whispers in his ear. "Don't worry boss. We can fix it in post production. A bit of cgi and it'll come out all lovely, like."

I'm really being serious. The film actually tries to introduce the creature as Portuguese man of war, but the thing in the tank is barely recognisable as a jellyfish, let alone a specific species of jellyfish. It truly hearkens back to the low point of Dr Who monsters of the 70s and 80s. I can only imagine that the budget ran out and the vaunted cgi jellyfish was never allowed to materialise. Realising that they'd be stuck with the thing in the tank masquerading as a jellyfish, the production team decides to simply go with the flow and play the whole thing for laughs instead.

And strangely, it kind of works. Bond films have always made allowance for a little humour now and again (perhaps excessively so during the Roger Moore era), and Stormbreaker was perhaps a shade too earnest during it's first act. That said, I'd still argue that the shift in tone was far too sudden, and the film from that point onwards too over the top given what preceded it, but it's heart was generally in the right place, and I still believe the central concept is sound enough to warrant its existence (I base this on the fact that the me of 20 years would probably have had a rollicking time watching it). As it was those of us who saw the film still enjoyed ourselves tremendously, but I do believe a lot of that was due to our dissection of it afterwards.

Suffice it to say, it involved much commentary on my part regarding the jellyfish.


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Ok, I'm actually talking about Bulldog the telecommunications company that provide my adsl internet connection, but I believe they deserve the extra asterisk. On a purely technical level I have no problem with them. My connection has been rock solid since the day it was installed and I have not the slightest complaint on that front. Aside from that, though, they're nincompoops! Hand on my heart, I swear they have the worst customer service I've ever encountered.

I hold a litany of sins against them, some of which admittedly may have improved by now, but I'm not about to checked and see.

It once took me the better part of a week to get through to a human being on the telephone, and even then the person I managed to speak with was singularly unhelpful.

Emails were regularly ignored or weeks would pass by before I would be receive anything other than an automated response.

They stopped automatically debiting payments from my debit card and then informed me of this change in their policy six months later.

And most recently, they've just overcharged me for the third month running, despite assurances that the problem had been sorted and this months bill would be correct. The worst thing about this is that I'm most likely going to have to call them up to sort this out. See complaint number 1. Sigh.

Is a little bit of competence too much to ask for? I'd recommend against anyone considering Bulldog as an internet service provider, but such have been their travails over the last year that they've already stopped accepting new home accounts and their parent company is a looking to hive them off. It's truly a shame. I'd have recommended Bulldog unreservedly once, only a couple of years ago, but it seems they tried to grow to quickly and let numbers dictate their policy rather than customer needs.

I am the walrus

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Does what it says on the tin: A video of The Beatles performing I am Walrus.

Son of a Preacher Man in sing language. I found it quite entrancing.

My sister gifted me a box of Ferrero Rocher for my birthday last week. Lunch today consisted of roughly half the box, and it looks like I'll having the remainder for dinner.

It's not even that I particularly like them (I've heard them described as the "chav of the chocolate world" - an apt summation), it's just that they're coated in chocolate, and wrapped up in a shiny foil wrapper, the combination of which makes them nigh irresistible to me.

Sigh. I could say no, I suppose.

Alternatively I could have another...

Raising the umbrella

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Howard Ashman was a wise man. Responsible in part for the resurrection of Disney's animation fortunes in the late 80's, he was insistent that every scene in Disney's animated features should exist under an "umbrella of emotion" - a succinct recognition of the need to involve the audience in the lives of the characters on the screen, rather than dazzle them with empty spectacle. It's such a basic rule that it's a wonder it's so regularly forgotten, especially since those films which endure at the box office seem to remember it so well.

Superman Returns raises it's umbrella early on and refuses to let it drop until the end credits have rolled . It never forgets that it's the continuation of an iconic love story, at its heart the tale of two people who simply will not allow each other to be together. Wrapped around that core are enough action movie trappings coupled with near flawless effects to entertain all but the most exhausted 5 year olds (suffice it to say that a certain nieces reaction was out of kilter with the majority viewpoint), but without overwhelming the heart of the piece.

The three principles are fortunately up the the task at hand. Brandon Routh uncannily channels Christopher Reeve for his scenes are Clark Kent, and manages to bring a touching vulnerability to Superman. Kate Bosworth is suitably prickly as a hurt Lois Lane, confused by Superman's seeming abandonment of her. Both she and Routh are convincing as a couple in love, yet unable to admit their feelings for one another. Kevin Spacey is by far the best Lex Luthor we've seen on screen yet, retaining some of Gene Hackman's humorous flair, but with a far darker and malevolent streak that witnessed before.

It all holds together just beautifully. Even elements I was initially skeptical about, such as the introduction of Lois's child and Superman's five year absence make sense in the context of film and allow the Superman mythology to be examined from a fresh perspective. Brian Singer is to be commended for making Superman relevant again in the 21st century.

Two thumbs way, way up for this one.

The taunting

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This is what I have to put up with working remotely:

In order to celebrate my birthday, my coworkers in the office bought me a large box of jam doughnuts to celebrate. I thought this was a lovely gesture until they informed me that the box of doughnuts, rather than being delivered to me, was in fact located in the office, some 400 or so miles south of my actual location. I spent the rest of the day receiving emails from people firstly wishing me a happy birthday (which it is btw!), and secondly informing me how good the doughnuts were.

I was not amused.

Fortunately, Nicky and Kerry turned out late in the afternoon to whisk me away to mysterious location for birthday celebrations. I was much curious about our final destination and much cheered to discover it was Plasair de Chocolate on the Royal Mile, a small cafe dedicated to all things chocolate. Much (perhaps even too much) chocolate was consumed by all that afternoon. I have to single out their Chocolate Espresso drink as a particularly interesting concoction. Made from 60% cocoa and largely unsweetened it's something of a chocolate revelation. The first sip immediately brings forth that familiar taste of fine chocolate, but there's no sugary follow through. It's quite the fascinating experience and throws all other chocolate concoctions into sharp relief. Certainly worth a visit if you happen to be passing by.

The birthday celebrations continue tomorrow, when I've arranged a familial outing to see Superman Returns. One brother is sadly missing due to work commitments, but I've secured the rest of my family for the trip. 14 of us altogether, including my Mum, the importance of whose presence should not be underestimated, as she rarely ventures to the cinema. The original Superman film was one of the first films I remember watching in an actual cinema, so I'm glad she's coming along. It lends the occasion a symmetry I'm rather fond of.

Fingers crossed that everyone enjoys the film!

Shout out

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Well, Shakespeare in the park wasn't everything I'd hope for. Or may be it was, I just couldn't hear most of what was going on to judge. It became evident early on in the performance that there were problems with the sound system; voices momentarily boomed and were silenced, and an audible crackled dogged the first 15 minutes or so. Unfortunately, rather than resolve the problem it seems the sound system was instead turned off. This may not have been a problem in other locations, but Prince Street Gardens is far from a quiet environment. I'd expected traffic noise from Princes Street to an issue, which it was, as were passing trains, but one of the greatest nuisances was rather unexpected - flocks of cawing seagulls wheeled overhead throughout and proved both remarkably irritating and persistent . All in all, despite the fantastic backdrop which includes a magnificent view of the castle, I don't believe that the gardens are really the best place for Shakespeare after all.

Bit of a shame really since it looked like it might otherwise have been an enjoyable piece of theatre. As it was the lack of sound system served to those performers with a classical stage training, as there was a marked difference in ability to project vocals between performers. Ironically the "name" performers (in this case Mina Anwar's nurse, and Sean R. "son of Pierce" Brosnan's Romeo) fared poorly, whereas those without top billing seemed considerably more able. Juliet, in particular, managed to enunciate her way into the audiences affections, and left Romeo almost inaudible by comparison.

It was only the first Edinburgh Shakespeare festival, so some teething trouble is to be expected. I still believe it's a worthwhile endeavour, but the location has to change - I planning on writing the organisers a note to that effect.

Better luck next year.

When the water stops

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It is a universal truth that something cannot be truly appreciated until it it lost. Take running water for example.

Late this afternoon I turned on a tap, and discovered that either cause and effect had decided to play a merry jape on me by trading places, or else something had happened to my water supply. I dimly recalled a series of clatterings emanating from outside my living room window a little while earlier and duly went hither to investigate. I didn't have to go very far to establish a likely cause. A number of small metal plates outside my window had been prised up to reveal strange and mysterious holes containing equally strange and mysterious spigots. Tempting thought it was to play "Pick a spigot" in order to restore my water supply, I assumed that someone somewhere had good justification for shutting the water down. I would have been pleased to have been informed of it before hand though instead of being caught short, so to speak. There were no obvious suspects around with who to discuss this matter so I sent off to track them down. 3 staircases, and five doors knocked upon later and I was face to face with the culprit in number 22. Number 22, I should guessed. That particular flat, three floors above mine, has a habit of springing leaks on a seemingly regular basis. One particularly severe incident two years back saw a leak from number 22 cause a small amount of water damage to my flat. Needless to say the two others between mine and number 22 fared even more poorly.

Fortunately, I had an amicable meeting with the owner, Sarah, and commiserated with her present woes, which indeed were rather woeful (not woeful enough to affect my still freshly decorated flat thankfully, but I wouldn't like to be her downstairs neighbour right now). Carpets had been pulled up, floorboards removed, and things in general were rather sodden. A plumber had been called, but in order to stop the leak he required some plumbery device and had run off to obtain one. The absence of water was only expected to last until his return and Sarah took on board my comment that it would probably have been a good idea to notify the affected flats of the outage before the water was turned off.

Still, I had a good natter with Sarah - it turned out she'd almost bought my flat a couple of years before I did - and it was fascinating to finally get a peek at one of the flats above mine. All share the same layout and since I've moved in I've been itching to see what they look like and how they utilise the small amount space available. Number 22 hadn't changed much since Sarah had bought it, and it's definitely ripe for upgrading since it's current layout makes the flat seem more cramped than it need do. I invited Sarah to pop down to so I show her what I'd done (and yes, so I could show off my flat again :), and she didn't believe it was the same size as hers at first. She also won my affections by complimenting my tiles without any prompting. (Here's a hint, when you see my flat for the first time, compliment the tiles - it makes me feel better about going horribly over budget on them). I am slightly envious of the extra amount of light her flat receives, but seeing it definitely justified a lot of the decisions I'd made when planning this place (not to mention my new sofa's as well).

And shortly after that the water was restored again, and not a moment too soon. Surprisingly it had made for a rather pleasant afternoon. Funny how things work out.

A photographic recreation of A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat. Very wonderful.

It was Oven Repair Day again today, that special festival when the helpful repair man turns up and ovens across the land magically start to work again. Or as happened last time, the thoroughly miserable and grumpy repair man appeared and the oven died once more shortly afterwards. After that last experience I can't say I was looking forward to his reappearance today.

But lo, something wonderful happened. A different repair man knocked on my door. A cheerful repair man. I knew this one was special as soon as I heard him rat-a-tat-tat at my door knocker. For a start, he actually found my flat without having to phone and ask for directions. To put that into perspective, everyone has to phone and ask for directions to my flat - I don't think I can remember the last time someone found it without having to do so. Nextly he didn't utter a word of complaint about the lack of parking, but rather took it in his merry stride when I mentioned he'd have to park a short way up a nearby hill. And most importantly of all, he was friendly and courteous, his demeanour and attitude a million miles removed from the dour repairman #1. Actually, no, I take that back - most importantly of all, he tested the oven, found the fault and repaired it properly this time, thus earning him even more brownie points in my book.

Lest you think I'm being to harsh on poor repairman #1, I'm reasonably sure that his attitude I witnessed is symptomatic of his attitude in general. He missed his first appointment with me, since he couldn't find my flat (told you!) and the depot had recorded my telephone number incorrectly so he wasn't able to call me for directions. I know it was the same repairman, since when I called to inquire as to why he'd failed to turn up, the operator explained the situation to me and further asked me to ensure that there was parking available for the next appointment, since the repairman they'd sent out had been very unhappy with the lack of parking available.

But thankfully I don't have to worry about any more grumpy repairmen for the time being. The oven is fixed, it works and I feel positively chipper as a result.

Now, where did I put that cookie mix...

Puppy love

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It's been a long time since I had a dog, although even then it wasn't really my dog. He was more a family pet which inherited when our grand-uncle died. The dogs name was Barry and he was a large doberman. Emphasis on the large. Even by doberman standards he was a big dog, easily towering over anything short of a great dane. Good natured, though, luckily for us. Well unless you happened to be a small mammal, in which case you'd do well to keep your distance.

Barry's long gone now but I still have fond memories of him. Our constant battles for the warm spot in front of the fire on those dark winter nights, and the way his nose would snuffle up over the side of the sofa when he felt he was being neglected. Happy times. We've been a dogless family since then. Until now.

My youngest sister has been hankering for a dog for a few years now and this week she finally realised her goal, introducing the family to little Ronnie, a 12 week old French Bulldog she's just taken into her care. Cue the melting on hearts all around. Even my elder sister, reknown dog hater due to her allergy to most pets, seemed taken by Ronnie's obvious charms. She really is an absolute cutie, all puppy curiousity and boundless energy combined with a gentle nature. Thankfully she doesn't seem too perturbed by large numbers of strangers around her, which is a necessary virtue for surviving my family's regular gatherings.

When attention turned to the world cup finale (football - bleh), I was left with a tired and exhausted Ronnie napping on my chest as I lay on the sofa. I swear I would have kidnapped her there and then would it not have broken my sisters heart had I done so. I'm still not sure I'm responsible enough to have a pet of my own, nor am I convinced that I have the necessary room, but I'm sorely, sorely tempted

I want a puppy!

The street piano

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A whimsical tale to while away the summer evenings

One glass of lukewarm water. One single, solitary, pathetic glass of tepid water. That's all I got out of my new repaired oven before a flash of light and a noise that sound suspiciously like "zzzzt!" sounded it's death knell once more. It took me a grand total of two button presses to bring about it's untimely end.


I've sounded the call again, and the every-so-cheerful repairman will making his way round on Monday. This being his 3rd visit (he couldn't find the flat the first time around and gave up when there was no way to park. He grumped to me about this on his second visit), I'm sure his spirits will be raised to new heights when he arrives next..

No freshly baked cookies for Mark tonight. Bah! Hmm, I wonder what raw cookie mix tastes like...?

Worth the wait?

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Approximately nine months ago my German speaking oven stopped working under vague and mysterious circumstances which happened to co-incide with some workmen installing the hob and extractor fan in the kitchen (they denied everything, despite the suspiciously large dent in the top of the oven which hadn't been present the last time I looked). Today, thanks to the efforts of an extremely stroppy workman who kept blaming me for not providing anywhere for him to park his van, my oven lives once more. It even speaks English now.

Unfortunately, my glee at being able to use the oven was marred slightly when I realised I had nothing to actually put into it. No ingredients to bake, nothing to microwave or even defrost. It seemed a bit of waste. However, the instruction manual came to my aid with detailed instructions for the preparation of... boiled water. Yes, the manual has a chapter on how to boil a glass of water using the microwave.

Following the instructions to the letter, I did indeed end up with a glass of boiling water. There was water, and it was hot. I waited for it to cool, before removing the glass from the oven. I dipped my finger in the now lukewarm water. My kettle sat in it's cupboard and looked smug. After waiting for 9 months, the whole experience came as something of an anticlimax.

A shopping trip is order tomorrow methinks. I feel something more appropriate than hot water is required to celebrate this momentous occasion. I'm leaning towards the prospect of freshly baked cookies, but I'm open to alternatives. Oh, the possibilities...

The One Pong

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Well, I laughed

In the park near dark

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I've strolled past Prince Street Gardens many a time over the last few months, usually when I'm out for an evening stroll, and more often than not I've found myself lamenting the empty Ross Bandstand in the west gardens. It always seemed a shame to me that it's consistently empty, particularly during the summer months when it would make an ideal setting for some sort of theatre. An odd oversight for a city reknown for it's arts scene.

I've fond memories of visiting the open air theatre in Regents Park in London. It's a wonderful, magical setting, nestled away in the midst of a bustling metropolis, it's isolation only marred by the occasional roar of a jumbo jet on it's way to Heathrow. Princes Street Gardens has it's own set of charms. Unfortunately it's north and south aspects bounded by a railway line and busy road respectively, but it does have a magnificent view of the castle to make up for it some.

Anyway, there I was again outside the gardens, about to once more begin my lament when a young woman thrust a leaflet into my hands which proudly announced the arrival of the first Edinburgh Shakespeare festival. It's only a small festival, but I'm much gladdened by it's arrival. On the programme are "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Romeo & Juliet", the first of which I've seen twice already, and the latter which I've not and which is presently starring Sean R. Brosnan, son of Pierce). Time to stir the pot and see whom I can persuade to tag along with me. Next week should provide me with a most excellent excuse to get out and about to the theatre once more.

Any takers?