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Monday, December 31, 2007

Resolve 

It's New Year's Eve and close to the end of a protracted period away from work. Counting weekends, I have not been to work for 10 days and will not return to the office until the day after tomorrow. This has given me lots of time to think and to create a set of New Year's Resolutions.

  1. Lose weight. I weigh sixteen stone and wear trousers with a 40-inch waist. A year ago I used to be fifteen stone and wear trousers a size smaller and even then I thought I was overweight. David's mother's first words to me on Christmas day were "you've put on weight". This has got to stop.
    My Dad was fat and, as I have mentioned before, both he and my grandfather died of heart disease. I would like to delay that for as long as possible. My goal therefore, is to lose at least a stone by the end of the year. Preferably three. Probably this is immensely unrealistic and I'd do well just to keep my weight from increasing further but I need tell the world though this blog and therefore give myself a feeling of commitment.

  2. Regrow my beard. Big deal. I lose and grow beards all the time. However I think I'm a bit too old for that. I should either have a beard for a decent period of time or be clean-shaven for a decent period of time. I should not cycle through beard and goatee twice in three months as I have done recently.
    I would prefer to have just a moustache but (a) I am too lazy to shave every day and (b) they just aren't that good a look these days.

  3. Finish my novel. Yes, I know. I have been writing the bloody thing for nearly three years and if I'd really wanted to get it finished then I would have by now, right? Well, not quite. It's true that I allow myself to be distracted but I have been working on my first three chapters and I am very close to having them in a form that I will feel happy sending them out to a publisher. My friends in the writing group liked the improvements I'd made. I just need to do a little polishing and write a decent synopsis. Then I will send it out. I also need to integrate the new chapters into the rest of the novel but that will come a little later. My immediate goal is to send the chapters out. I will do that before the three year anniversary of the start of the novel has passed.

  4. Finances. I like my current job but I know, at 43, that I cannot remain a programmer forever. I am terrible at keeping up with new trends in technology and I am beginning to feel out of date and stupid at work. I need to start investigating other ways of making a living. That might require changing my life in other significant ways to reduce my outgoings. Spending less on stuff I don't need, for instance, or maybe getting a smaller house.


There are others but these will do for now.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

No more walls! 

I have deleted the Funwall and Superwall applications from my Facebook profile and joined the group that opposes both of them.

Why?

I'm not against people sending me things. I can read and/or delete as I wish so I don't really mind. However, frequently friends have sent me messages via either application but then I have not been able to find them so I am not convinced of their robustness.

I prefer the one channel for messages.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Gaydar weirdness 

I checked my messages on Gaydar just now. I haven't done that for at least six weeks as there were messages there from that long ago. I had two and both were from guys in their early twenties. I'm 43, what's going on?

Perhaps it is time for me to delete that profile. It's a useful thing to have when I am single but I'm not and have no intention of becoming so any time soon.

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Doctor Who and a Titanic 

It's obvious that I was a bit premature in my comments about the Christmas episode of Doctor Who as it obviously wasn't THE Titanic. In some ways I am disappointed that it wasn't but in others I am rather glad. Had there been any errors I would have found them distracting.

As it is, I question the need for RTD to have teased us for so long. Why imply that the Doctor had run into the Titanic? Did he know that he was going to set it on a space-going alien ship? Or did he lose his nerve?

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Lord of the Rings 

I am unbelievably tired!

We had a company conference for the past couple of days which started at 9am on Wednesday and at 8.15am yesterday so I had to be up earlier to make sure I was in on time. Obviously, were I able to rely on the train service I could have got my normal train for day one but I didn’t feel able to trust it to be there and run to time.

The conference ended yesterday lunchtime and we switched to our Christmas party. I didn’t get that drunk, although you wouldn’t think so from the pictures, but I was feeling rather rough this morning and still tired. I’ve done nothing but yawn all afternoon.

As part of this Christmas’s entertainment, we saw Lord of the Rings, the musical. I wasn’t too impressed. The set, the wire-work and the lighting were brilliant but the acting, singing, dancing and dodgily edited script let it down a lot. Some of that was perhaps in part down to us coming for the matinee when most of the cast had been replaced by understudies.

However, it was over-choreographed to my mind. The elves had a habit of waving their arms and heads around in a vaguely Madonna-Vogue style whenever they spoke. For instance: “welcome to Loth” – twist head sharply – “lorien”. Another instance was during the final battle between the men and the forces of Sauron which seemed to be one of those pop-video dance-off things with swords and had me laughing from the off.

There were too many bloody songs! I know it’s a musical but there seemed to be a one song every five minutes rule. There was an annoying elf woman who sang in every scene nearly. Atmospheric, yes, necessary, no.

I did like the frequent breaching of the fourth wall. Gandalf’s end of act one battle with the dragon sent all sorts of stuff into the audience causing the many many children to scream. They screamed as well when the Orcs wandered around in the second interval and when the Hobbits looked for glow-worms before the show started. Honestly, how can you be frightened of Hobbits?

I particularly enjoyed the Orcs when they targeted a group of three young girls who had chatted all through the first half and who we reported to their teacher (evil, eh?).

Large chunks of the script seemed to have been clumsily edited out. At the end of one scene, for instance, Gandalf was imprisoned by Saruman but was inexplicably free a few scenes later but offered a very glib explanation (“I was freed by some magical creatures”).

The stage itself was a marvel with bits rising and falling all over the place, suggesting walls, a forest, and all manner of different sets. The wire-work was similarly excellent: Gollum’s entrance climbing down a wall face-down was incredible as was a swimming scene and the elves floating around in the air. A lot of stilt work was used and was impressive: the Dark Riders and the Ents would not have been half as impressive otherwise.

Despite the clever stuff, I won’t be tempted to see it again. Unusual for me.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

New York 

So, how was New York? New York, on the whole, was fine. No, more than fine. It was fantastic.

That’s not to say that there weren’t a few problems. We arrived in the middle of the rush home after Thanksgiving so that the journey to Manhattan on the bus took twice as long as normal and when we eventually got to the hotel they offered us a shithole of a room. It was small, it was dark, it had a permanently dripping shower and there was mould all over the bathroom. Luckily we were able to get the room changed fairly promptly for something a lot better.

This was the view from our hotel room.

The second room was bigger, brighter and had a clean bathroom. We never saw evidence of a maid in the entire time we were there, however, but I was grateful for that. I was worried about my laptop which I locked in my suitcase and hid in the closet. Despite its faults, the hotel could not have been better located. We were about 2 minutes from Times Square on West 43rd St between 7th and 8th Avenues. Xanadu, one of the shows we were going to see, was in the next street up, W 44th, located between the same Avenues.



The other show we were due to see, The Drowsy Chaperone, had been threatened before we got there due to the stagehand strike and was indeed closed on the day. Ironically the strike ended hours after we were supposed to go and see the show and it opened as normal the following evening. When we were on our way home. Thanks guys! Bastards!



Xanadu was excellent. It’s a great show. It manages the hugely impossible task of clearing up the mess of a storyline that was the 1980 movie, but fitting in lots of wonderful ELO and Olivia Newton John songs and making the whole thing brilliantly funny.

I really do hope it comes to London.

We actually saw it twice. The first time we saw it from the stage seats. Yes, that’s right. There are seats on the stage, which is slightly surreal. You see the show, the bits offstage and the extra bits thrown in for our entertainment, the little looks, grins and winks that the main audience do not see. And all for less than the seats in the auditorium.

Of course, you do miss a bit by not seeing it from the front, which is why we booked up to see it the following afternoon. That was when we were meant to be seeing Drowsy but, obviously, that wasn’t showing. Vickie, my friend in New York, was keen to see it anyway, even though she was planning to see it with her sister.

We went for the three S’s altogether and Shows was just one of them. The other two were Sights and Shopping.

We saw and did loads of things while we were there and were assisted by our CityPass tickets that let us see lots of things cheaper and jump queues.

Our CityPass tickets covered us for the Circle Line which was actually a two-hour boat trip around the southern tip of Manhattan starting from a pier on the Hudson River, down to the Ellis Island, Liberty Island then back up the East River (not actually a river at all but part of the Atlantic) and under the Brooklyn Bridge before coming back again. This was our best chance of seeing the Statue, Ellis Island and the Bridge without an extra boat trip so we jumped at it. It’s a good way of seeing Manhattan and a great way of reminding you that it is indeed an island.



The CityPass also got us into the Empire State Building, where we had a marvellous view of Manhattan in the sunshine.



Last time I was there (seven years ago), the only day of my two day trip when I could go was foggy so I didn’t see great deal although the crowds were rather less. The free (to CityPass holders) audio tour was very helpful as well although it rambled a lot.



In Toys R Us in Times Square, there were some Lego models including one of the Empire State.

The Empire State gave me my best view of the Chrysler Building, an Art Deco palace.


The third thing we used our CityPasses for was the Museum of Natural History where we saw a brilliant show in the planetarium about how the Earth was formed by collisions. It was here I bought a well-intentioned but poor-taste mug which, when you pour in a hot drink, shows you how much of the coastline will disappear if the sea rises by 100M due to global warming.

Actually it was reassuring to see a definite message about global warming in the museum. It was nice to see that the message is starting to get through at last.



From the museum, we walked diagonally through Central Park on our way to Bloomingdale’s. The park was nice but the day wasn’t and nor was Bloomies (look it up). It’s just a shop, an expensive snobby shop full of people you wouldn’t like to meet buying things you can’t afford. We saw a leather jacket that cost $1,000. That’s £500!* For a jacket? What planet do these people live on?

The other big shop we visited (as well as lots of small ones) was Macy’s where we found some bargains as it appeared to be having a sale. I found a great jacket and a nice shirt for just under $100, about £50, something which would not normally be possible back home. At least not at the same time.

My plans for new pairs of trousers were scuppered because was no longer in any shop’s size distribution apart from one and they weren’t in my budget. Honestly, you could buy “normal” size, or short and fat but not tall and fat. I could buy 40” waist and 32” leg trousers which were slightly too short. No-one sold trousers with a 40” waist and longer than 32” waist. One shop (Old Navy) had a histogram of the sizes they stocked. Other waist sizes came in a variety of legs but 40” only had, I think, 30” and 32”. Nothing larger. So, no trousers.

Also, no iPod. The only places I could see to buy one (or more) were the bazaar-type shops that can be found in Tottenham Court Room back home where I never entirely trust the shop-keepers and expect to be shafted as soon as I part with my credit card. Graham also reminded me that if I bought it there, if it didn’t work when I got it home I would find it very hard to return it.

I did get some Jill Sobule CDs (YOU try getting them on Amazon!) and a couple of DVDs for $10 each (£5) in a sale at Virgin in Times Square. That, by the way, was open most nights until 1am. 1am! Can you imagine? Our local paper is just making a big thing of Christmas shopping hours in the Glades in Bromley being extended to 9pm. Woo!

One of the things I had on my personal agenda was a visit to Ground Zero so on our last full day we took the subway downtown and wandered past the hole in the ground where the World Trade Center used to be. I was reminded that not only was I there seven years ago, looking out over Manhattan from the roof of one of the towers but, not even a year later, I was watching the scenes of carnage on TV in London. It was, for me, an emotional visit, even though there was nothing really there to see apart from a lot of construction work. I thought the people poking their cameras through the holes in the fence were a bit macabre.

I was hoping a visit to Century 21, across the road from Ground Zero would help lighten the mood but it was too warm, too full of people and too full of designer trousers that were too small. Our walk through the older part of the city towards Battery Park was enjoyable, as was the park itself. A lot smaller than Central Park, a bare lip of green on the end of the island, Battery Park is a refreshing break from the buildings and filled with sparrows eager to help you eat your pretzel.



I really like New York. I love the way the city is organised, the numbered streets that make it so easy to find your way around. I felt like I had lived there for years. There is something rather unique about New York and the people that live in it that defies definition. There are a lot of people living in a small area. Their buildings are tall and the people walk a lot. The people appear rude and yet are helpful in ways that suggest that it is genuine and not a learned script.

I’d like to go back again some time. Maybe sooner than seven years time.

* $1000 = £500 and not £2000 in my original post. Still expensive though.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Doctor Who, the Titanic and Christmas 

I have misgivings about the forthcoming Christmas episode of Doctor Who. I am a fan of Doctor Who but I also have a deep and ambiding interest in the Titanic disaster. I have a conflict of interest.

I have a bad feeling that I will be watching the show on Christmas Day muttering "no, it wasn't like that" every five seconds. I'm already disappointed to see that there is a character called Captain Hardaker in it. Unfortunately, the Titanic's captain was called Smith.

There are details and there are details. Getting worked up because the rivets on C deck are the wrong size is one thing but if the writer's haven't bothered to research something as basic as the name of the Captain then that's something else. No matter what happens with the fantastical elements of the story, the Titanic was a real ship, crewed by real people and they should be named correctly in the story.

Getting names wrong is sloppy.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

That's not beef! 

Either because of a badly cooked egg in New York (more on NYC later) or an egg sandwich I had when I got home ("Eggs never go off," I said), I have had a bout of food poisoning since Friday. I'm over the worst but I'm still not feeling entirely right.

The vomiting and diarrhea aside, the horrible thing about it is that some things don't taste right. About one of the only things I could face on Saturday was beef and vegetable soup but that tasted more like shoe polish than beef. So did the stew I had later although the dumplings tasted OK.

Now that I am feeling somewhat better, it's a sort of treat to be able to anticipate the taste of something, bite into it and then taste what you expected. Bananas, I am glad to report, are just fine.

Losing my appetite, another side-effect, can only be seen as a good thing.

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