Thursday 2 September 2004
I’ve driven nearly 900 miles in the last four days – from Tunbridge Wells to Chichester and back, to Calais and back to procure the vino for the wedding reception (there is plenty and it is good, rest assured) and then to Holmes Chapel in Cheshire and back for the Four Oaks trade show. I trundled up and down the M6 Toll (waving to Brian as I went past his neck of the woods), observing that travelling at 75 or 80 mph consigns you to the slow lane, even though the limit is 70mph. If there were cameras at the same frequency as there are on the M25, the local constabulary could net thousands every day. And judging by the frequency of big rubber stripes on the tarmac, there would be justification for installing them.
I’m sure that there are lots of other utterly fascinating things I could tell you, but I can’t be bothered. But here are a few bullet-point observations:
- aren’t the streetlamps at Cité de l’Europe in Calais cool?
- I’ve had a filthy cold for the last few days. I seem to have given it to Hels.
- I love Jodrell Bank. I like the way that every time you drive past, the telescope is pointing a different direction.
- House sales and purchase seem to be progressing ok, although I’m being buried under requests for papers that I don’t possess. Thankfully, my solicitor seems to be on the case.
- If ever you are looking for a hotel in Cheshire, do not book the Saxon Cross in Sandbach. It’s crap – grubby in the extreme, with pathetic showers and mediocre service. Why do we do cheap hotels so badly in the UK compared to our continental cousins? (Not that I consider £50 PLUS extra for breakfast to be cheap!)
Friday 3 September 2004
Worked until 10 tonight. Off to Germany Sunday. Expect continued content drought.
Looks like the WinXP service pack is currently downloading. Not now, please. Guh.
You know I like simple-yet-infuriating games. Try PixelField.
Saturday 4 September 2004
I’ve been having problems with comment spam (you won’t have noticed, as they are all deleted upon arrival). From now on, you will be required to enter a name and email address when submitting a comment. Additionally, any comment containing more than three links will not appear until it has been manually approved by me. Hopefully that will solve the problem.
Beslan, Bill and Bush
Anyone else reckon that Dubya’s presidential campaign will have been strengthened by the events in Beslan? Any act involving terrorists and schoolchildren is likely to strengthen his appeal amongst American voters, as his stance on terrorism is one of his strongest policy elements as perceived by many people.
Kerry’s campaign will also have undoubtedly taken a knock with the news that Bill Clinton is effectively out of it now whilst he undergoes treatment for a heart condition.
So, at the moment, and much as it pains me, my money would be on George to retain the presidency, albeit by a slim margin.
To the people who jive (or whatever it is called) by the Market Cross on a Saturday – it’s not smart, or particularly clever, and you look like complete idiots. At least the folks who dress up in music hall costumes and sing in North Street are doing something useful in raising money for the local hospice. What exactly are you doing?
(The first post in the "Chichester" category for a while. Hels, quite reasonably, doesn’t want me to reveal exactly where our new home will be – so I expect to be creating a new category called "home village" or "East Sussex" or something.)
Thursday 9 September 2004
In Germany. Too busy to write here, but having a good trip. Would recommend Münster to anyone for a holiday visit. Incredibly tired. Trying to sort out stuff at home too. Finding it all a bit hard, but coping, and enjoying the positives. More next week.
Monday 13 September 2004
I like to pretend to be cheese! I’m double cream brie!
Making Fiends – episode 11. Without doubt, the best Fiends episode yet.
Home again, home again
It’s very good to be home again – these days, I find that I come to a point when travelling for work when all I want to do is go home. On this trip, that point came on Friday morning, but we still managed to fit in some useful and enjoyable work stuff, so it wasn’t all that bad. Highlights of this trip:
- dinner with friends of Mike on Sunday evening
- Mike fracturing his elbow whilst playing table tennis (not sure if that qualifies as a highlight!)
- exploring Münster, Bonn and Schwäbisch Gmünd – I particularly love the sound of this last town, which you pronounce as shway-bish ger-munnd
- doing lots of extremely good business
- lovely dinner with good friends, Jakob and Maria
- driving at 160kmh on the autobahn
Since getting home, our attention has turned to exciting mortgage paperwork, exciting bank paperwork and exciting solicitor paperwork. But we took the time yesterday to go for a walk followed by an enormous Sunday lunch, which is how things should be.
I’m lacking focus today. Productivity is not high. Any tips?
Meat and two veg
Remember the BBC online picture comedy caption writer? I think he’s still at large.
As another journalist dies in Iraq, evidence suggests that US military reporting of events may not be entirely accurate. Now there’s a surprise. I wonder how widely this aspect of the news will be reported in the US?
Tuesday 14 September 2004
Nothing says "class" like a bag made of meat
New Weebl. Niiiiice.
Tower Blaster – good mindless fun.
Not for those of a nervous disposition
Steady Jap Hand – ideal for practising your mouse control skills.
… Lord Percy, Paul F, Aris, Arron and Al.
Wednesday 15 September 2004
I’m working through a lengthy list of jobs that need doing. So far, new jobs are only being added at twice the rate at which they are being removed. So far today:
- prepared directions to the new home
- arranged to go and look around the new home with Dad – cheaper than a surveyor!
- signed and sent off Very Important Papers to the solicitor
- scratched the cats behind the ears
- paid self
- ordered fresh stationery supplies
- considered tidying my desk (didn’t take long)
- wrote list of jobs.
How’s your day going?
Driving along the M27 this evening, I passed a lorry which bore the name "Pratt’s Bananas". There has to be a joke there somewhere.
The peas process?
One was to Charles Kennedy who is pressing for the Gurkhas to be given British citizenship. The prime minister said he had no problem with it and would give a full answer soon.
The other was to backbencher Andrew Turner who asked what the prime minister was going to do about mange tout – forgive me for not noting down why.
Mr Blair hesitated, looked at his notes and declared: "I don’t know. But I’m sure we are doing something."
Thursday 16 September 2004
Currently, our patience is being tested by surveyors who suggest that the house we are about to buy is going to fall into a large hole that could open up at any time. This in spite of the fact that all the houses in the street were built at least fifty years ago, and none have yet fallen into any mysteriously appearing holes. In addition, there are no nearby mineworks or quarries.
Furthermore, we may find ourselves being slowly poisoned by terrible toxic waste arising from evil landfill. This in spite of the fact that these very same houses were built on a green field site just after the Second World War, and nobody has been poisoned yet.
Our suggestion that we could bring in our own (local, knowledgeable and experienced) surveyor (and I don’t mean Dad) to provide an impartial view of the situation has had scorn poured upon it by the dear folks at the NatWest, who insist that we must only use one of their registered surveyors. My knowledge of EU competition regulation would suggest that this practice is anti-competitive and therefore illegal, but we are in no position to argue with a bunch of surveyors who are clearly only out to serve their own interests by suggesting that we have surveys done to check against things that exist only in their own imaginings. At our expense, of course. Considerable expense at that.
Later today, we are expecting a response from the NatWest to our full application for our mortgage. They’ve already said that they will give us the mortgage, based on Hels’s income, but it seems clear that they want to check my financial status to ensure that I won’t be reliant on H for financial survival. Which, of course, I am not (*cough*). What’s the betting that the financial statements that I have sent to them will not be satisfactory?
There has to be an easier (and less stressful) way.
I’m having one of those days when, whenever I look at the clock, another whole hour has scooted by with very little actually being achieved. This hasn’t been helped by having to take at least 40 minutes out of my day to update software in order to avoid miscreants trying to do unspeakable things with my lovely data.
In one month from now, precisely, I will be standing in front of an altar, with palms that will most likely be very sweaty indeed.
Reuters covers Belle de Jour’s decision to stop updating her blog, one of the great interwebnet non-events of the year (second only to the Grauniad’s "best" blog competition, in my opinion – or do I sound bitter because I wasn’t shortlisted?).
Believe me, if ever I decide to quit, Anna Ford will talk about it as headline news at one o’clock on the Beeb. This is one of Britain’s longest-running blogs, after all.
Talking of the fact that this is one of the longest-running blogs in the UK, I note that it is, in fact, grayblog’s fourth birthday today.
<insert introspective comment on the nature of blogging here>
Sounds like a good excuse for cracking open a couple of beers from the fridge when I get home.
Bat and mouse
An eye on the header
I uploaded three new header graphics today – there are rather a lot now, so it may be some time before they appear when you visit here (unless you sit hitting refresh all day long), but they are entitled bubbleplastic, polycarbonate and lamp.
I get quite a kick when the one with Hels’s eyes comes up, particularly when I haven’t seen her for a day or two.
Friday 17 September 2004
Smells of Eubank, which is a fairly horrific concept.
I’ve just ordered Hels’s wedding present. The item that I want is still in stock, much to my huge relief. I’m not sure if it is customary for the bride and groom to buy each other gifts, but we thought that it would be a rather nice thing to do – the wedding gift lists are full of more mundane items, such as an iron, plates, cutlery, saucepans and pillows, so it seems nice to purchase some real "gifty" gifts for each other.
I really should get Hels to put some CDs and books of her own choosing onto my Amazon wishlist, which needs updating anyway.
Global House Connection
It has to be said that, since Lars has been doing GHC from Santa Barbara, the shows have been excellent. The last one, broadcast on September 12th, was particularly good – go over to the site and download it.
Saturday 18 September 2004
Just to keep the stress levels up, the bank have said that we will not now get a final answer on our mortgage until Monday because it is "not a straight-forward case". This in spite of the fact that we have been promised answers on Thursday, and then on Friday.
However, our solicitor seems to be on the case, with a hefty ream of paperwork arriving here today. It seems that just about everything is in order, with only a couple of questions to be raised.
I’ll be glad when this is all done.
Why is it that when I look to upgrade my phone, the handset that I would like has an upgrade cost of £59.99 when, if I were taking out a new contract, the same handset would be free?
Monday 20 September 2004
Long rambling post
Today, I’m spending rather a lot of my day on trains. Tunbridge Wells to Charing Cross; Charing Cross to Euston; Euston to Birmingham International – and then the same journey in reverse. The purpose of my trip is to visit GLEE, a huge trade show for the garden and leisure industries, held at the NEC. Ironically, after what has generally been a difficult season in horticulture as a result of bad weather, a weak economy and chronic overproduction in some sectors, I suspect that the last thing that most participants will be is gleeful.
So, in order to look like I’m working on the train, and to provide some light relief in the absence of my paperback (left at home in order to conserve weight in my bag), today I’ll be providing one of those fascinating "blogging-whilst-travelling" posts that I know you love. And there’ll be trouble if anyone attempts to steal my format.
Observations – some people really could use plastic surgery. There is a woman sitting opposite me with the most grotesque nose. I have to say that it isn’t helped by the sour expression on her face, as she has clearly got onto the train in a bad mood, but even so, a nose job wouldn’t do any harm. Also opposite me is another woman who really needs to eat some pies. When will young women learn that having the physique of a broom handle is about as attractive as a …errmmm.. broom handle?
Wow – lovely huge drifts of Michaelmas Daisies growing on the railway embankment between Orpington and Chislehurst – great soft clouds of mauve.
Anyway – a weekend catch-up. I spent Saturday doing not much at all, taking the opportunity whilst Hels visited friends to have an extended kip on the sofa, having ploughed my way through a thick wad of paperwork sent to us by our solicitor. I also drifted by the bookstore to get some new paperbacks (I must update the current reading and current listening entries in the sidebar). In the evening, feeling in need of a moderate level of adventure, we headed out to Masala, a reasonably new Indian restaurant in the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells. It certainly wins out over our usual preferred home of curry, the Kirthon, in terms of atmosphere – the Masala seems more lively and trendy than the Kirthon, and just a little more refined. But whilst the food was generally good, and the naan was the best we’ve ever eaten, the menu was generally lacklustre and staid. The Kirthon definitely offers a far more adventurous (and possibly authentic, although I’m no expert) selection of dishes, and their rice and sauces are of far higher quality. So, we know where we’ll be going in future.
Yesterday (Sunday), we met up with my family to go around the house that we are purchasing, enjoying a mug of tea with the couple that are selling to us. It was only the second time that we had viewed it, but it confirmed our initial feelings that it is exactly the right home for us, and that was endorsed by the family. The views are still great, the road is still very quiet and the pub is still just over the back fence. We took the opportunity to walk around the village, surveying the village hall, tiny post office (open two afternoons each week only), beautiful church with Italianate ceiling (no, really!) and, most importantly, the pub. Ticks against every item.
OK – I need to conserve laptop battery as I might need this thing at GLEE.
Hurrah for Virgin Trains with sockets under the tables. Pity the northbound train was old stock, pre-laptop.
Well, the big news is that my first hour at GLEE was filled with phone calls to and from our solicitor and the mortgage people. Our mortgage has been approved, subject to a favourable valuation survey. We’ve also been told that we don’t need the bells and whistles survey unless the basic survey shows any cause for concern. And the solicitor has ironed out a few other creases in things – it looks like everything is beginning to slot into place, although I’m holding my breath on celebrating, as there are still a few potential pitfalls yet. However, I’m pretty confdent that we won’t fall down at any of these small hurdles. I might allow myself a small port and lemon to mark the occasion.
In other news, one of my clients contacted me today with a tip-off for a potentially very exciting new breeder client for PFE in the Czech Republic. Which seems like a perfectly good excuse for a flying visit to Prague at some point. Furthermore, in spite of being able to cover the entire plant hall at the GLEE event in 2.5 hours, including coffee break and diversionary chat with Paul C at his stand in the neighbouring hall, I think I’ve picked up a small number of potential new grower clients for my charges and, more importantly, a crackingly good new breeder client in Worcestershire. Droitwich is probably not as exciting as Prague, but money is money wherever it comes from.
The bonus with finishing at GLEE early is that I’ve been able to get an earlier train, which means that I’ll be home shortly after 7 and able to relax a little this evening. The tube across London and the train from London Bridge will both, inevitably, be miserably packed, but home for dinner has to be a fair pay-off for that. And for now I can get on with some work, with an archived edition of GHC to listen to.
In general, GLEE failed totally to live up to its name. Growers there were in two camps – the "not bad considering" camp and the "sorry, we can’t hide the dismal prospects for our business as our faces are so long" camp. Thankfully, most of my clients fall into the former camp and not the latter, and tough times seem to be forcing companies to look at ways of innovating in order to differentiate their offerings from those of their competitors – which is good news for an agent representing new products such as myself. It was also good to see Paul C looking very upbeat indeed – his company had paid considerably more for the stand this year so that they could have a prime position, and it seems to be paying off, with the promise of meetings with some very large potential clients as well as substantial interest and orders from smaller customers. Paul works really hard for his business, probably much harder than I do for PFE, and it looks like he is getting the rewards he deserves.
Note to self – the online timetables do not always tell you the whole story. If I believed everything that I was told, I’d currently be trying to fold myself into an already-packed train at London Bridge. As it is, I’ve got a table and air at Charing Cross. No doubt it will become hellish later, but for now I can feel like a smug, hardened commuter.
Having said that, I’d hate to do this every day – the blank, staring and empty faces of so many commuters, idling in brain-neutral as they grapple with the journey home, is enough to deter anyone from this way of life – and that’s just the ones who are awake. I’m glad that my work calls only for very occasional forays into The Smoke, and more time spent in the countryside – and, soon, lots of time at our lovely new home, with fields and woods all around.
Brian Clough, 1935-2004, and manager of Brighton and Hove Albion for a few months in 1974.
Tuesday 21 September 2004
I’ve just had a phone conversation with my business banking manager at the NatWest. He’s the most senior business banking manager for West Sussex. He must also be the only bank manager who starts his phone conversations with "Alright mate?"
This is St Helena
Radio locator for finding streaming broadcasts. FM is dead? via Gordon. I really must set up that music and radio page that I keep threatening to create. In the meantime, don’t forget radio grayblog, which needs updating but is still pretty damn funky.
Up the rear
Meanwhile, over at wysiwyg, Steve worries about children’s television.
From Boris Johnson’s shiny new weblog (which is clearly going to be the most avidly watched new blog of 2004 – eat your hearts out Belle de Jour and Wil Wheaton!) comes Boris’s sage advice to women who are experiencing difficult pregnancies – get on the teacups at Legoland. Utter class.
Wednesday 22 September 2004
The zombies were having fun, the party had just begun!
It almost seems slightly unseemly to post this here. However, decorum and manners notwithstanding, I should like to inform anyone who still intends to purchase a gift for our wedding that the John Lewis list has now been exhausted. There are, however, a number of gifts remaining on the Mottrams list.
We are very fortunate (and grateful) indeed.
So, O2 charge their old customers £59.99 to upgrade to a phone that they give for free to new customers. Unless your bills are as large as mine, in which case they give it to you for free because you are clearly too good a customer to lose.
Which is good.
So, a new Nokia 6230 is winging its way to me.
Thursday 23 September 2004
New Oxford Dictionary of National Biography launched. Surely it wasn’t Stephen Lawrence that changed policing, but his murderer or murderers, the police themselves and the campaigners that worked on that issue? Poor Stephen Lawrence was just another teenager going about his own business, not someone who helped to form the nation by his own hands.
Too bloody right
Brighton may need money, but Brighton does not need Bill Archer’s money. Top marks to Dick Knight.
We’re having something of a major crisis in the home sale department today. We’re both working on it, as is our excellent solicitor. If it goes wrong, then we will be in a pretty grim situation indeed. If it goes right, then we should be home and dry. When I first heard about it from Hels, I was pretty pessimistic, but having discussed it with my father, who has some experience of these things, I can see that there is a possible solution. Whether it will work depends on a lot of people and will likely cost us money, but it may just save the day.
Stress levels are off the scale.
Monday 27 September 2004
Just occasionally, this site generates some fabulous feedback. Check out the latest comment added to this post.
For those awaiting news on the house sales and purchase, there were no significant developments on Friday, so we’ve spent all weekend holding our breath. Hopefully, we should find out more by the end of the day.
So much for getting answers by the end of the day – the guy who can give us the answers that we seek is on holiday, and won’t be back before Wednesday. We were trying to get things tied up this week, but currently feel utterly powerless. Our solicitor is tearing her hair out over this.
To have and to hold
On Saturday, H and I went to the wedding of Sarah and Paul, an event in which I got to play at least a small part in the rôle of usher – something that was a great honour.
Sarah has been one of my closest friends for very many years indeed (we try not to remember how many). She and Paul make one of the happiest couples that you could imagine. I *know* that they are going to have a great marriage.
From the Seen-It-All-Before Dept….
Carter fears Florida vote trouble. Even given Jimmy Carter’s Democrat roots, it can be in nobody’s interest to have anything other than an equal, open and fair ballot in the Sunshine State.
First Pendolino train service cancelled due to technical faults. Remember the ATP? (Actually, I’ll admit that to draw a parallel is to exaggerate.)
Sport and politics
If you can get to this, then please go.
Tuesday 28 September 2004
So, P&O are closing most of their ferry routes out of Portsmouth. It’s happened before – I remember news coverage in years gone by predicting doom and gloom for Portsmouth ferry terminal, but at least some of these routes will pass to Brittany Ferries, who will now become almost the monopoly service provider, which can only mean fare increases for those of us that use Portsmouth routes. I’m not surprised by today’s announcement though – the last few times that I’ve been on the ferry from Portsmouth, it has been nothing like full.
Slices of brain
A few weeks ago, I went with Hels to our local private hospital so that she could have a brain scan. She had been referred for the scan as she has a hearing problem, and the doctor wanted to check that there was nothing untoward going on inside her skull. Yesterday, we went back to get the results.
The interesting part is that you get to look at a big sheet of acetate showing about three dozen "slices" through the head, a bit like looking at slices through an enormous ham. Each slice is a fraction of a millimetre thick, and each sheet of acetate shows the ham being sliced at a different angle. It provides a unique opportunity to look at something you would never otherwise see – the inside of your own head (or, for me, the inside of my fiancée’s head). It is something that you can not reach with any of your senses, yet it is there and has been carried around by Hels for all her life.
The most shocking thing to discover, though, was that in spite of Hels agreeing to marry me, her brain is "normal".
Seemingly in preparation for my impending stag night, my brother has today been out and purchased some traffic cones.
Hels and I have, jointly and independently, been on the receiving end of some moaning and complaining lately, as well as not a little pressure. This pressure concerns people who have not been invited to our wedding or to the stag and hen events.
Firstly, to deal with the stag and hen events. These events were both only ever intended to be low-key events for closest friends – an opportunity to get together for some food and drink, followed by some silly dancing in a cheesy club (both the hen and the stag are following a similar formula). We never wanted to have a huge event with gazillions of alcohol-fuelled people, some of which we don’t know well. I’m happy that what we’ve got planned will be just right, not just a riot.
In the case of the wedding, the event is already considerably bigger than we had originally planned. We will have over one hundred guests in attendance, far more than we would really like. Besides, we are picking up a large chunk of the bill ourselves, and our resources are limited – the budget currently exceeds the original estimate by more than thirty percent. So we have had to draw the line, which means that some friends and not a few family members will not be in attendance.
Please don’t think that we do not want these people to be there. It has just got to the stage where it is as much as we can cope with. We are both tired and run down with the planning for the wedding, combined with the house moving and everything else (such as the other everyday things we have to do, like holding down busy and sometimes stressful jobs) – this is something that we almost resent, as this should be the happiest time of our lives (though we are more happy than you could possibly imagine, trust me!).
But please accept that it is our wedding. Our day. And we would like it to be something along the lines that we would like. We think we’re achieving that (thanks to help and support from many people), and we’re both looking forward to it.
Well, the new phone has passed the test – it’s a little heavier than my old one, but the improved functionality and lack of scuffs and scratches makes up for that. However, I wasn’t impressed with the personal hands-free thingy that came with it, largely because it doesn’t have a clip to hang on to your shirt/blouse/car seatbelt/whatever, so dangles in space being a bit of a nuisance. So I’ve just ordered a Bluetooth headset, as well as a larger MMC card to slot in for all the MP3s I’ll load onto it, and also the USB to PopPort cable – all three of which are hugely cheaper if you shop around online instead of paying Nokia prices (for example, genuine cable £5.95 vs Nokia price of £15).
Hmm. Firefox renders grayblog with the sidebar in Times New Roman. It should be Verdana. Something is wrong somewhere.
And it puts an annoying mouse-over thingy to tell me that RSS is short for Really Simple Syndication.
AND it only remember the last dozen sites in the drop-down address bar.
I don’t think I’m going to be a fan. That’ll irritate Gordon.
…Arron, Paul F, Kearn, Aris and Julie.
Russ Meyer, RIP. Apologies for not posting this last week.
Wednesday 29 September 2004
Theoretically, we might get to hear today from the people who effectively hold the success or failure of our Moving Home Project™ in their hands. I do know for a fact that our excellent solicitor is on the case and will be chasing them this morning – she’s very nearly as stressed-out by this thing as we are!
At least my sale seems to be ticking along, which is one very important part of the equation. Hopefully I’ll be moving out next week, seeing that lovely chunk of money falling into my bank account (ready to fall out again as soon as we move in to the new house!).
Thursday 30 September 2004
Breasts in the elevated position
In a totally unexpected development, Hels’s buyer withdrew yesterday. We spent the day being extraordinarily stressed and trying to salvage the purchase of our new home. I think we can achieve the latter, although it will be expensive. Our solicitor continues to be splendid, although she too was pulling her hair out over the whole thing.
We’ve had easier days. And with only just over two weeks to the wedding, the timing could have been better.
Currently occupying 110% of my concentration:
- the Formula 1 calendar – it impacts significantly on planning of my Garden Event at West Dean, as we must avoid a clash with the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the date of which is dependant on the Formula 1 calendar (wot no British GP???).
- trying to establish exactly how well my clients are doing with certain plant material I have supplied them with, and whether I need to arrange a trans-Atlantic cross-supply.
- dealing with some politics that some potential clients have arising from some legacy representation arrangements (though to have my main competitor described as "yesterday" is a nice boost).
- trying to help along another client who seems to have been messed about by his clients (who also happen to be my clients).
- sorting out a list of trial material required from my breeder clients to get things moving with my grower clients – upon which rests the future earnings of PFE.
- fixing up paperwork on all the house sales and purchases – too late to save Hels’s sale, but paving the way for a quick and smooth new sale as soon as we find a new buyer, as well as salvaging the purchase, which has become an all-consuming passion for me.
- oh yeh, the wedding.
Bugger this, I’m off for a pint.