Low key. And excellent.

Many, many moons ago, I watched a little movie that captured my soul a bit. It was low-budget, it featured few names that anyone would recognise, it had nothing in the way of special effects, and it didn’t have the pay-off at the end that we’ve been trained to expect by larger studio efforts. But it had character, it had songs which drove straight into me, and it was believable. That film was Once, and I was far from alone in being a fan of it. It won an Oscar, and some attention from Broadway types, who decided to adapt it for their nefarious money making purposes.

I was extremely sceptical of this; I was sure at the time that they’d kill the soul of the show by insisting on making it big and/or brash, or that they’d add the traditional USian syrup to it. I thought that it’d end up being a sickly sweet, showy effort that had the songs of the original (and maybe even the same words), but none of the character that made the film great.

Happily, I was wrong. TLW & I, along with other family members and the rest of a birthday party, saw the show yesterday. It wasn’t quite as good as the original, but it had the soul and the heart of it down pat. The changes necessary for the stage worked, and the changes to characters worked, and the feel of it worked. They didn’t put on a big show of it and didn’t make it brash. They just acted the parts, sang the beautiful songs and pulled at your heartstrings just like the film did.

Some little tweaks were excellent; the fact that the set (a bar) doubled as the main bar for the theatre meant that the audience could walk about in it before and after the show. And instead of the show having a clear start, the musicians just appeared in the middle of the set as people ordered drinks around them and started having a little jamming session – I imagine that if someone charged for drinks in the corner of Nelly‘s sitting room it would feel the same on a random evening.

In short: go and see it. It is a thing of great beauty, and it will make your soul happy.

An unexpected turn of events

Yesterday morning, I had a plan. I had the next few days mapped out.

  1. Normal day until about lunchtime, then a particularly challenging bit of work. Leave work at an earlyish time.
  2. Meet up with TLW in That There London, have a bite to eat, go to see a new musical that various people had raved about.
  3. Head home and get as much sleep as possible.
  4. Wake up early, get to Heathrow and get on a plane to New York to enjoy a nice break. This break would include attending a bar that opens at 9am on a Sunday just to watch the Ireland / England 6 Nations game.
  5. Home in good time for a relaxed return to work on Thursday of next week.

I thought this was a nice plan. It certainly felt nice to me, and we were both looking forward to steps 2, 3, 4 & 5. Life, however, decided that it would be having none of it. What occurred was more like this:

  1. Bloody busy day, resulting in delays, the particularly challenging bit of work being knocked back to next week, and getting out later than I’d like.
  2. The meeting up working fine; the meal working fine. But the musical was very, very, very wank. The word ‘wank’ does not come close to describing just how wank this piece of wank was.
  3. Heading home, we got an email from our airline apologising for their reservation centre being closed. This was confusing enough that we went digging and found out about the small matter of a little snow and hundreds of flights being cancelled. This is not a good recipe for a decent nights sleep.
  4. Waking up early to phone the reservation centre to be told that the only flight they could put us on would result in our break being 48 hours long, in total, for the same price as the 96 hour break we’d book. Next step: cancelling airline booking, hotel, currency exchange and airport parking. Next step: declaring the whole effort a write off and fucking off with TLW to London Zoo to look at animals.
  5. Plan for the rest of the weekend: watch rugby, and then cancel leave and return to work on Monday.

The real life set of circumstances did not match up to the plan at all. And London Zoo, while alright, is pretty quiet on a Friday in February. So half the exhibits are temporary while the main ones are being rebuilt, and all the fun animals are hiding inside. Oh well.

Time to plan another holiday, I think…

Changes and rests

The ancient and over used saying A change is as good as a rest ignores a simple truth: sometimes what the body needs and craves is not one or t’other. It is both.

It was with that in mind that TLW & I decided that we should do something that we’ve not done since December 2010: taking a decent amount of time and going on a damn holiday1.

And so it was that we hazarded the BA website, booked a couple of weeks off, and fucked off to Africa.

But first, to Terminal 5, where I got to test FlightRadar’s recent updates. They work, and it’s quite cool being able to watch planes on the ground with their technical details on a screen in front of you. I have to admit that I was quite impressed with T5; it’s big enough and spread out enough that it’s easy to mistake it for a civilized place.

Then on one of BA’s ancient yet serviceable 747s to sunny Cape Town, on a nice night flight. During which we got to marvel at a most excellent electrical storm over the coast of Nigeria and a stunning sunrise over the deserts of Namibia.

While there, we ate well (too well – crocodile, ostrich and a variety of things ending in -bok were tasted). We saw penguins, whales, seals and the Cape of Good Hope. We tasted very fine wines and played with monkeys, and got pictures with some random birds of prey as well.

Don’t shit down my shirt, don’t shit down my shirt….

Disturbingly, we also discovered that tortoises have a sex face:

For the record, the noise is even worse than the image.

It wasn’t all light-hearted japes, of course. There were visits to District 6 and the obligatory Robben Island tour, led by a former inmate who’d learned his tradecraft in the DDR and USSR.

All in all, it was a most enjoyable holiday, both a bit of a change and a lot of a rest. And for the first time in my recent memory, certainly going back to before the millennium, I went a week without checking anything (bar confirming flights on the last day) on t’internet or email.

I recommend the destination. And I also recommend dropping t’internet for a day or seven.

1 – Yes, I know that there have been a great many trips: Italy, Belgium, the Lake District, the Peak District. But they were all weekends or extended weekends, and we felt the need for more.

The geekiness continues

I’ve already gone on about Flight Radar 24, at length, so I shall not go into detail about its awesomeness and how said awesomeness appeals to me, if not to others. Clearly it’s becoming a bit of a legend, what with it being used as a reference on broadcast media during last nights extraditions.

I’ll just mention a new and interesting (to me): their increased coverage of aircraft on the ground at Heathrow.

Screen capture from FlightRadar24.com, copyright belonging to them and whoever they get the imagery from

They’ve either worked with BAA to get a feed directly, or they’ve got someone who has a nice line of sight to the field to put a receiver nearby, because the level of detail is awesome. On most airfields the planes disappear from coverage before landing, whereas in Heathrow you can see not only when the plane lands but where it taxis to; in many cases you can see not only what terminal they arrive at but also what gate. For example, in that image there’s a small BA plane at the far left just arriving into terminal 5A; there’s a BA 777 firmly parked at 5B, and the highlighted line is the path an Emirates A380 has taken from Terminal 3, Pier 6 on its way to the queue for take-off from runway 27R.

This level of detail is probably entirely unnecessary and quite boring to most people, including TLW, but I find it fascinating. And quite relaxing, if I’m honest.

The next step will be to go to Heathrow at some point and see ow well the level of detail reflects what can be seen out the window. I understand that there’s a nice view of the apron from Terminal 5…

Bringing back the memories

In my poorly remembered career as a student, some of the most fun to be had in the vicinity was at a Methodist Central Hall. In Birmingham.

Of course, most people wouldn’t associate (a) Methodist Central Hall or (b) Birmingham with wild fun for student ages, but the fun was there. For reasons alluded to by Auntie Beeb.

Methodist central halls were grand buildings that used to attract thousands of people when the temperance movement was at its strongest. But over the years many have been sold off, with some now used as bars and nightclubs.

The central hall in Birmingham is opposite the magistrates’ court. Built in 1903, it has huge, intricately designed windows and its spire towers above many of the other buildings in the area. It’s a Grade II-listed building.

But it stands completely empty.

There’s a sign for the Q-Club nightclub still on the front, but that was closed in December last year. There’s a palpable whiff of urine in the doorway and faded graffiti underneath a sculpture of John Wesley preaching to his followers.

I find it terribly sad to think of the Que standing empty; no more Atomic Jam, no more Flashback, no more introducing sheltered young NIrelanders to proper all-nighters that end with the watching sun rising through stain-glass windows and silhouetting totally trashed people in silly clothes. No more being charged £1 for a 5p ice-pop and thinking it a bargain.

‘course, I’ve mellowed a bit myself and no longer think that lying on your back on the floor of a chillout room (listening to a friend chatting to the Snoopy picture) as the highlight of a term, but back then and back there it was much awesomeness. And it’s now gone, to be turned into flats.

Sad face.

And there’s more

Some time ago (is it really almost a year?) I posted about my geek love for Flight Radar 24. Because it mixed several of the things that I like in one geeky package: mobility, flight, statistics and general awesomeness. The fact that it was pretty efficient at bring out an augmented-reality interface also worked.

Unfortunately, that last feature only works on the mobile app. The desktop site didn’t do it, and suffered in comparison. Today, it clearly decided to come out fighting.

Can’t bring in a touch-screen, AR interface to the site? Fair enough. Instead bring in a facility to add the flight’s parameters to a Google Maps view and trace a representation of it across the screen.

very copyright all the people listed at the bottom, google, and FR24

Funnily enough, I can nearly see my house from here. Or at least the park where we walk the hound.

Yes, it’s entirely silly. Yes, it doesn’t actually better the world in any meaningful fashion. But it makes me smile, and it’s geeky. So it is clearly excellent.

A most excellent diversion

Those that know me will probably know that I like flying; I like the who experience aside from the security theater and the waiting about.

That said, I’m also a sucker for the Eurostar. I like the simplicity of their check in, I like their security that’s probably as effective as airport stuff but nowhere near as unpleasant. I like that you can rock up half an hour before and there’ll be no difficulty getting on the train. And I like the fact that I can make one small change to my commute and instead of spending Friday night at home, I can spend it in a nice hotel…

… next to a pretty little canal …

… where there is a vast selection of beer …

… to enjoy.

As I say, I like that I could get to Brugge with only one extra change of train. And with no limit to the amount of beer I could come back with other than how comfortably I could get it home. And that on the weekend that we were there, the entire damn town started singing.

In short: TLW & I had a lovely weekend in Flanders. And I’ve got dozens of interesting beers to work my way through. Hurrah!

Happiness is sometimes a difficult decision

Things that make me happy:

  • A quiet evening in with TLW
  • A half decent football match on t’telly
  • Cake
  • The prospect of a long weekend
  • A difficult decision

That decision is one that’s intriguing me. See, PTerry has not one but two new books out this week. So, should I start with The Long Earth, an entirely new thing for His Terryness that looks to be quite an intelligent read? Or should I go for something else entirely: the second book of his that has just been released:

So: is it to be the exciting and intriguing new book, or the very thoughfully titled World of Poo?

I’m torn…

How disappointing

You wait actual decades for Ireland to appear in the European championships again; nearly a decade since any decent level of International competition; and what happens? They get royally mullered.

Two games thus far, and beaten comprehensively in both. Granted, it was definitely a group of death but I’d hoped for more, given the strength of the qualifying campaign.

Bad luck, lads. Now here’s hoping that (a) we get to the next competition and (b) we do better in it…

I keep doing this

Looking back, it would appear that I’ve managed to go another entire month without posting anything here. In my defence, it’s been a bloody busy month.

In April, I was working in Greenwich, and was able to drive to work in fifteen minutes, or walk in about an hour. This meant that I was able to do silly little luxury things, like go home in the middle of the day and have a nice lunch while looking after the dog.

And who wouldn't want to go and have a quiet meal with this little creature begging to steal from the plate?

It was a nice arrangement.

However, come the start of May two things happened. One, I had a birthday and therefore became old and grouchy. And two, I started working in a dreaded place known as North Of The River. Meaning that getting to work is now over an hour door to door, involving multiple changes of transport and requiring actually planning. I’m loving the new job; the only downside is the commute and that poor Roxy gets to spend more time on her own. Probably sleeping and dreaming of overthrowing her biped overlords, and that can’t be good.

Other observations from the last month:

  • Avengers Assemble is an excellent movie.
  • The Kindle, which I’ve always liked, has become a thing of excellence over the last few weeks. It’s exactly what you need if you’re travelling on the trains/tubes because there’s no fiddling with papers in confined spaces.
  • New phones are aces, especially the One X. Me like.
  • Of all the London travel websites and apps that I’ve tried, London Travel is by far the best. I like how each of my options for travel is but a single click away.
  • New PCs are also aces, especially when the PC they’re replacing fell off the ark. I get to play all my old games again! Hurrah!
  • When researching of prices and a surplus of vouchers lead you to try and buy said new PC from PC World, avoid. I forgot this advice, and ended up getting mighty annoyed by a salesdroid insisting that I needed Office (I do not, OpenOffice has been downloaded), that I needed to buy a cloud backup solution (I do not, I have local backups and Dropbox for the rest), that I needed an extended warranty (I don’t; that’s what the manufacturer is for) and that I needed to buy Norton (I do not, because it’s shitty bloatware and the free alternatives are better). End result: I bought the damn thing from John Lewis instead for a little bit more but less hassle.
  • Out of all the droughts I’ve ever seen, this is the only one where I’ve almost drowned about a dozen times due to rain.

Where did the time go?

It was this day last year that TLW and I met Roxy, our lovable little mongrel dog.

It’s been an interesting year.

We’ve had her attending puppy classes, and be the star pupil. But then she’ll forget how to behave because she’s so easily distracted.

She means that I leave the house every morning before 6.30am, and that I have to head home most lunchtimes. She’s eaten furniture and has made the garden into a minefield of surprises. She’s made me speak to my neighbours (yes, apologising is speaking). She’s eating us out of house and home.

But just look at her… Could you stay mad?

I’m surprised that we lasted a year, sometimes. But now that we have, I can’t imagine not lasting another few yet.

A most enjoyable way to spend an evening

One: go for a nice meal at Chez Gerard. Lots of lardy food and a nice whisky sour. Get involved.

Two: wander up the road to see Matilda the Musical. The excellent work of Roald Dahl with a smattering of input from Tim Minchin and many other extremely talented people who produce an outstanding couple of hours of musical theatre.

That second item clearly provided a more entertaining time of it, and I heartily recommend it to anyone that has the opportunity. There are a great many things that work well in it; the cast (especially the kids, but special mention must go to Miss Trunchbull), the adaptations to the book (which work well; they’re in the spirit of the book rather than true to each word), the set design (I particularly liked the desks, and the way they introduce the alphabet), and the little tricks.

Get thee there. Now. Richard Wilson did, and he managed to sit a few rows in front of us. Good celebrity spot, I though.

Pleasant little surprises

Belfast, for all its little virtues, never really did it for me as a culinary city. There were a few nice restaurants, to be sure, but none that really set my soul alight. So I often preferred eating in pubs and getting by on their simple fare, rather than attempting to be wowed and leaving underwhelmed.

London, on t’other hand, is fully stocked with fine dining places. We’ve only sampled a few, but I doubt that Belfast has anywhere to rival a branch of Gaucho, and I know that it has nowhere that can compare with the Ritz. And when I lived there, there was nowhere that excited my group of friends as much as Mother Mash has.

The idea of the place is simple: you choose which type of mashed potato you want, what kind of meat goes with it, and was gravy goes over it. They then provide you with it, and remove less than a tenner from you. Simple, yet delicious.

Where I think our table went wrong was on desserts. Some of us, me and TLW included, did this properly; we had things like sticky toffee pudding and chocolate cake. Others were so enamoured of the mash that their dessert was, in fact, more mash and gravy.

This is wrong on so many levels. And the restaurant didn’t even try to make it right by putting a flake in said mash, to make it look like a dessert. Their only flaw…

Utter relaxation

A few weeks ago, I got this blog up and running again. But in a half-hearted way; I used to be very particular about posting something every day, no matter how inane or pointless it may be. Not so much any more; I tend to post a couple of times a week.

I’m trying to cut down on the inane, but looking at what I’ve posted recently, that’s not happening. Nor am I really posting the things that are going on with me. For example, a week or three ago, I published this post, saying that I like to occasionally get away from the rat race.

The reason I posted it then was because myself and TLW had just returned from a nice weekend in a little cottage in the hills of Tuscany; no internet or newspapers, no television. Just us, a rented Fiat, a beautiful 400 year old house and some sights to see.

It was, for the time we were there, bliss. We slept like babies, we saw Florence1 and Lucca2, and Pisa.

All these places were definitely worth seeing, and the time away provided some well needed rest. Aside from the stress caused by meeting Italian drivers on tiny Italian roads up steep hills and at speed, of course.

It being Pisa, we of course had to resist the urge to do the least original tourist thing ever:

We tried to avoid it. We really did.

Fail. Oh well.

1 – Noted for being the scene of a couple of the Assassin’s Creed games, and for being a place where poor TLW was bored to death of me constantly pointing a ancient and beautiful buildings and saying “I’ve climbed that in a computer game, you know, and I once shot someone from that building with a crossbow.” How she puts up with me, I don’t know.

2 – Noted for having featured in a Top Gear episode where the protagonists get lost in the old, tiny streets. I can see why.


I have discovered that there is a version of Worms for android phones.

I suspect that this may mean that some very strange noises eminate from my office during breaks. My co-workers may not know what the noise of a suicide sheep bomb sounds like, and this may well confuse them.

This doesn’t bode well for my desire to return to work after a break.

(Also, as it happens, perhaps a four inch touchscreen isn’t the best way to display this particular game. But sure, it’s just a laugh.)

A nice little break

Over the years, I’ve not spent much time off the grid. In Malaysia we spent a fair bit of time checking up on the next stages of our trip, which meant that we were checking emails and the like. In Marrakesh we had a communal laptop in the courtyard of the riad which we checked in on. In fact, I can’t remember when I didn’t check emails for more than a day or two.

Until this past weekend. When TLW & I met up with a few old friends and headed to a part of the world without phone reception and where the internet isn’t a known thing.

Yes, we headed to Derbyshire.

Several days were then spent walking up and down hills, drinking heavily, watching sport (Boooooooo! all round on that front) and sleeping like logs.

I like.

The joy of dogs

Last weekend, TLW and I went back to Belfast for a bit. Which meant that young Miss Roxy needed to find a home for a bit.

Such a home was duly found, and Mr & Mrs TL-in-laws were soon in possession of a very excitable puppy. Who behaved quite well for them.

It seems, however, that all the excitement caused by having a temporary new home has spoiled her a bit. And she took out this excitement on our furniture.

Our dining room chairs should look like this:

But two now look like this:

Question, dear internet: what is appropriate revenge for such wanton destruction? I’m thinking that we deny her any dignity and make her dress up…

Things at which I am very bad

Item 26 in a very long list: leaving known presents unopened.

If, for example, it was to be my birthday in a month, yet a present had already arrived, I’d usually be OK to leave it unopened. Unless I knew what was in the present, in which case I’d find it very difficult not to open it and have a play. I don’t know why known presents are more of a temptation than unknown ones, but they are.

Such uselessness on my part may go some way to explaining why there is an open Amazon box on my desk and a shiny new Kindle on the shelf, courtesy of TLW.

It will surprise few, I think, to discover that I’ve wanted a Kindle for some time; in fact I’m pretty pleased that we’ve managed to avoid buying one for six whole months since we really went looking. But now I have one, and I’ve access to this list, there’s nothing really stopping me. All those classics that I’ve never gotten round to reading should start being ticked off any day now…

Hurrah! And also many thanks to the TLW for the early birthday present!

It’s amazing what services you can get these days

You can bank from your home, you can get food delivered, you can bookshop from your bed.

Or, you can get a personalised Dog Whispering service straight to your own TV.

Yes, if you ask nicely, Cesar Millan will communicate directly with your pooch. And said pooch will hang off their every word.

Or, alternatively, you might turn on the Dog Whisperer and then wait ten minutes for the appropriate shot of your confused doggie trying to figure out why all the barking doesn’t produce the expected smells. One or the other…

On getting a name for myself

On Sunday, TLW & I went out for a birthday lunch for an old friend from uni. Being that sort of person, we arrived first (i.e., on time) and had a little sit down to peruse the menu while we waited for everyone else to turn up. During this little perusal I basically decided upon what to have, out of a very extensive menu. My reasoning for having this was that I’d not had either of the choices before; they were quite unusual options, especially for a cheap Sunday lunch.

When the birthday girl arrived, however, one of the first things that she said to me was “They have [my choice] here! I thought you’d like it!”. Oh dear. It seems that my decision, some years ago, to not let random food slip by has been noticed, and that unpredictably odd choices are now entirely predictable.

And I’m OK with that.

I’m glad to say that my choices panned out, and that I’d heartedly recommend both the quail starter and the goat with lemongrass main at Mien Tay.