Monday, February 28, 2005

Day 2 In The Big Brother Birthday House

My cousin opened my fridge door and listed the contents:

"12 cans of beer, 2 bottles of wine, half a pint of milk of indeterminate age, something that might once have been cheese and... what *is* that thing?"
"A tomato?" I volunteered

He shuddered. "I'm impressed. That really is a true bachelor refridgerator. Well done."

He'd presented me with my birthday present. Some nice drift music to play of an evening when I light all the candles various people have given me. Its really rather splendid.

So now we're into day 2 of my birthday (yes, I'm padding this one out a bit. Having far too much fun not to) and I'm reminded of last year; The Ex had been fucking her boss for over a year and was about three weeks away from dumping me. I was still in blissful ignorance of this fact. On reflection, I hadn't realised how miserable I was - but thats a long angsty post for another day.

The Ex always liked the fact that my birthday fell on the 29th. That, and the fact that I am left-handed apparently made me 'special'. The word 'special' can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but I took it as a compliment. I fished some more: "how do you mean 'special' ?" She just looked at me and said "Well, there can't many left-handers born on Feb 29th, can there?"


She has actually improved at the dispensing of compliments of late. I still chortle at the memory of her showing up one evening and suggesting sex "for old time's sake" since The Boyfriend is apparently, ah, not a bedroom superstar (personally, I think he's lost interest - I mean, they were at it for other a year so she must have had some idea as to his, ehm, abilities.)

Naturally I told her to go away. Sure, I'm shallow, but thank god I'm not that shallow. Not yet at any rate.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Happy Birthday To Me

At some point in the next few days I will be 33. Being a leap year baby means that the whole birthday thing is a little vague for me. It suited my grandparents very well - I'd go to one set on February 28th and another set on March 1st. Latterly I've used it as an excuse to start partying on the 28th and go on through to the 1st.

This year we opted to do the big family thing on the 27th, since its a Sunday. This meant I got to enjoy the childish delight of tearing into wrapping paper a day earlier. The gifts were, as ever, thoughtfully chosen; I'm very lucky to be part of the family I am.

And First-Born? She'd saved her pocket money and picked out something special. A self assembly model of the solar system that one can hang from the ceiling. This is especially thoughtful because she's aware of my obsession with space exploration.

"It even glows in the dark!" she enthused, "You can hang it on the ceiling of your bedroom and look at the planets at night!"

I attempted to match her enthusiasm, but my treacherous inner-voice had other ideas. I generally conceal this obsession, unless a date is starting to go disasterously wrong, in which case droning on about the lifting capability of the Saturn V versus the Shuttle stack represents a painless way of chasing someone away.

But a glow-in-the-dark solar system hanging from my ceiling? Might be tricky to explain when I'm, er, entertaining. And could lead to some dreadfully childish moments:

"Hey, I can see rings around Uranus"

Heck, I am only 8 after all. Right?

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The 10 Step Newly Single Guide To Avoiding Jetlag

1. Have a boss kind enough to sneak you into the executive club at the airport.
2. Regard the 'all-you-can-drink' bar as a challenge, not a generous gesture by an airline desperate to placate executive travellers.
3. Take 2 or 3 industrial strength painkillers. And some diazepam.
4. Board the plane before steps 2 and 3 have taken effect.
5. Sit in your cramped economy seat.
6. Fasten your safety belt.
7. Start feeling woozy as the stewardess embarks on the "Kiss Your Arse Goodbye If We Crash" speech.
8. Pass out.
9. Get shaken awake by the same stewardess checking to see if your safety belt is fastened. Ask "When do we take off?"
10. Be told that the plane took off 7 hours ago, and you're actually about to land in London.

Which is why I have no jet lag. Possible liver and kidney failure, maybe. But no jetlag.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Lets Celebrate!

"Thank you, sir. Celebrate America!" sparkled the receptionist.

Eh? I've heard "Have A Nice Day" and am getting to grips with "Missing You Already" but "Celebrate America" ? Thats a new one.

In fact, the slogan is emblazoned across the Holiday Inn where I spent last night. As I stood in the elevator I looked at my feet and saw I was standing on a carpet with a badly drawn eagle motif surrounded by those two words. Tearing my eyes away I looked at the events sheet on the wall:

"Come and Celebrate America with us every morning. Join us at 9am every day when we will raise the flag, sing the national anthem and swear allegiance to the flag. Attendees will receive a free patriotic souvenir."

I shuddered in horror as to the form the souvenir might take. I also felt suddenly terribly homesick. I missed the sullen incompetence of my fellow countrymen. I missed their misplaced cynicism.

At 9am I peered out of the window and saw the flag flapping folornly alone in the snow and was cheered. Apathy had won the day. Maybe we aren't so different after all.

My Life Has Meaning

I am a champion.

The boss and I camped out at the increasingly inaccurately named World Famous Damon's Bar And Grill (thus far I've yet to find anyone in the world outside of the US who has heard of it. I know they're there though.)

We picked up some quiz keyboards. In the UK we have pub quizzes, where the pub landlord will read out questions, and those participating write answers on a piece of paper to be scored by another team. The US have gone beyond that and provide comfortably rounded lumps of plastic with colourful keyboards. Something to do with avoidance of sharp objects (like pencils) I suspect.

Determined to strike a blow for Europe after struggling to make the barman understand what we were saying (come on guys, we understand the American accent. Is the British accent really that hard?) we prepared ourselves...


...I won! Tragically sad and pathetic though it may seem, my life now has new meaning. Go to Damon's Bar And Grill in Allentown, and you may yet still see "Rich" on the high score table.

Time, I think, for bed.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Bored, Bored, Bored

I looked out of the window with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Going home tomorrow was looking unlikely.

Through the swirling snow I could make out the highway and a line of stationary traffic. And the weather was only going to get worse. I knew this because a woman on the television had told me so in between buttock clenchingly awful local adverts and info-mercials paid for by ambulance-chasing lawyers.

I had initially doubted the word of an individual who believed that daubing oneself in orange paint gave an accurate impression of a sun tan, but it appeared my misgivings were unfounded. The weather had, indeed, turned to crap.

I sighed. My only sport for the day (aside from meetings) had been tormenting a person called Mike. He'd evidentally given a firm of compensation lawyers the number of my Blackberry (probably not intentionally) and after a few calls where I'd assured them that I was not Mike and they had the wrong number, I gave up and decided to let my newly discovered evil nature take the reigns for a while.

Mike, I'm really sorry. Particularly the whole thing about the monkeys. But at least the lady on the other end of the line laughed when she said "I've never heard anyone sustain an injury *that* way..."

You could be in there, mate.

EDIT: They just phoned again!!!

"Hi, this is Darren of Ambulance Chasers Direct. Am I speaking to Mike?"
"This is he"
"Ha ha, good. We've had a bit of a problem with wrong numbers."
"Well, it all seems ok now. We've got some rather good news for you..."
"Really? I don't know. I think I want to withdraw my claim"
"Yes, I've realised that I need to take responsibility for my actions. If I'd been looking where I was walking I wouldn't have tripped on that kerb. I don't see why the taxpayer should pay for my clumsiness, do you?"
"So please cancel my claim. I'll put it in writing tomorrow."
"Oh. And you do realise you're talking to the Monkey Man, don't you?"
"Fuck" (click)

I wonder if Scott and Amundsen got up to such japes when they were snowed-in and getting bored.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Eyes Like Christopher Lee

"Old red eyes is back..." I sang tunelessly to myself as I stared at myself in the mirror.

It had gone well yesterday; with prodigous use of smoke and mirrors I'd managed to justify my existance. My hand had been shaken and backs slapped. My boss and I celebrated in the traditional manner - going to one of America's many 'world famous' bars (hint to the owners: if nobody outside of Allentown has heard of it, it probably isn't world famous. But I guess 'Number 1 in the Holiday Inn parking lot' hasn't got quite the same ring to it) and drinking beer so cold that one's taste buds are numbed to the flavour until we fell over.

I straightened and put my hand in the back pocket of my jeans, hoping to find my room key. Instead I found a neatly folded piece of red paper. I opened it and saw First-Born's spikey handwriting:

"Dear Dad,
I don't want to go home. I want to stay at your house.

I wondered when she'd put it in my pocket. Probably on Sunday; she'd been up and about much earlier than me (the Sponge Bob Square Pants The Movie video game tie-in waits for no man.) At least it explained why she'd been so quiet on the drive back to The Ex. Probably waiting for me to say she could stay another night, we could sit on the sofa, watch Toy Story 2 and eat cake. Instead I'd dropped her off and gone to work until 2am.

I glanced back at the mirror, but couldn't look the reflection in the eyes.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

An Apology

I owe US immigration an apology. While still quite definitely not as charming as the Canadians or anywhere near the level of the sullen incompetence of the British, it was nowhere near as bad as the last time I came in.

Sure, I was fingerprinted, photographed and had various mean and nasty things done to me - but the important thing is that the guard resisted the urge to have me shot as I repeatedly mixed up my left and right hand on the fingerprint thing.

And since when was Newark Airport renamed "Liberty Airport"? Something to do with the World Trade Centre thing? Either way, it makes it sound distressingly like something out of Grand Theft Auto 3. I look forward to seeing how the moral majority attempt to close down an entire airport because its corrupting the minds of the youth...

One interesting observation is how similar to Russia its getting over here. Not in terms of deprivation, poverty and corruption, where 99% of the wealth is in the hands of less than 1% of the population (although now I come to think of it...), no - in terms of how everybody has to have a job, no matter how apparently pointless. There was a person whose sole responsibility was putting the bags upright when they came down the luggage chute. What the *heck* is all that about? The saddest thing was that as the cases jerked around the carousel, they all fell over again.

After a while she gave up and regarded the bags with thinly disguised contempt. I wanted to applaud this small act of rebellion. Instead, I trapped my hand in the handle of my bag and yelped in a way that even First-Born would consider childish.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Is It Me?

As I write this, I'm located in row 16, seat F of a Boeing 767-200 (an airplane that feels just too... small for the journey its making. Ahead of me lies first class, obscured by a gauze curtain through which I'm sticking my feet (much to the irritaton of the stewardess.) To my left is a child that began screaming as soon as the wheels left the ground and shows every sign of keeping it up for the next 8 hours. To my right is a man who made the sign of the cross upon take-off and has been quietly gripping the arms of his seat ever since.

Actually, I'm feeling a little guilty about him. As the stewardess did the life jacket demonstration he muttered: "I hate this bit..." I agreed, "Yes, I can't think of an occasion where one of these planes successfully ditched. There was that African hijack a few years ago where the plane ran out of fuel and the pilot almost made it, but the fuselage broke in two upon contact with the water and half the passengers drowned anyway..."

He hasn't spoken to me since.

An hour ago I was in the airport, eating bad food in a bad restaurant. Airports are odd places - we try and do normal things; we shop, we eat, we drink in an almost-familiar environment, each of us trying not to think about the unnatural thing we'll be doing in a few too-short hours. And when I say 'unnatural' I mean the whole business of blasting through the air in a pressurised aluminium tube at Mach 0.8, not the thing with the rubber hose and donkey that those heading for Amsterdam are planning.

There's both a sense of tension and denial in the air.

Or is it just me?

Nothing To See, Move Along...

Its the little things in life that get me riled. The big things I get angsty about and then move on. The little things gnaw at me.

Example: on Saturday morning I had to hotfoot it out of bed in order to feed the parking meter before the car turned into a pumpkin. A parking clamp shaped pumpkin. My companion murmered sleepily from beneath the warm duvet: "Where are you going?", a question to which the correct answer was: "To bring you fresh croissants, orange-juice squeezed by hand from the finest fruit and a fragrant bouquet of flowers" rather than my "I gotta stick money in the meter before that evil minded bastard of a warden clamps my car. There's coke in the fridge" while hopping around the bedroom with one foot trapped in a hitherto unknown fold of my pants (as is the comedy requirement for such occasions.)

I could see the yellow day-glo jacket of doom bearing down on my poor car as I hobbled towards the paying machine. I was close, oh so close, when an elderly lady appeared in front of the meter. She studied the machine as if in shock that she was going to have to put money in it in order to get a ticket. And then she began the ritual hunt for the change in her purse (perfected in supermarkets around the world where she will have watched her purchases being scanned at the checkout and then reacted with surprise when asked to pay.)

Actually, a lot of the transportation problems of the world today could be solved if scientists studied the way in which little old ladies always, ALWAYS appear in front of you as you march towards an empty checkout in the supermarket. I did an experiment a while ago - I went to a 24 hour supermarket at about 2am, and reached the empty checkout. I looked left, and then right - no other customers. I looked forward and foom! There she was - fumbling for money-off vouchers that were patently wrong for the goods she was purchasing. In front of me.

They must know of some way of slipping between realms of reality, travelling through worm-holes from one check-out to another in the blink of a rheumy eye. The side effect of which is to smell faintly of cabbage or wee.

There was a point to this post, but it appears to have been lost in the rant above. Suffice to say I won that round of cat and mouse with the traffic warden and bought flowers on my way back to the house. Difficult not to, I live next door to a florist. On the other side is a lingerie shop, but that way leads madness (and possibly blindness.)


Sunday, February 20, 2005

An Entirely Self Absorbed Post

I have a lovely long flight on Monday in which to update the journal with lessons learned from the latest dating exploits...

...but for now...

Oh wow. I'm in a difficult place.

You see, I had a date on Friday. There's nothing spectacularly unusual in that. What was unusual was the way The Conversation went.

Everyone has The Conversation after a few dates. It usually consists of one or other of the parties asking the following questions:

"Are you dating anyone else?"

An affirmative leads to: "Are you going to continue dating anyone else?"

Depending on the occasion, the word 'dating' is interchangeable for 'having sexual intercourse with' (or a shorter phrase that will doubtless set off sensitive obscenity filters around the world.)

I'm very honest with these questions and always answer truthfully.

On Friday night, for the first time, my answer to that last question was "No." And I meant it too.

Tomorrow - America! Happy, smiling officials await me at passport control. And tomorrow I shall be smiling right back at them.

Friday, February 18, 2005


Another thing the English are bad at is talking about anything medically personal. We don't like to make a fuss. Our European friends will cheerfully visit their medical professionals and have refreshingly blunt conversations like "Oh ya - ven I pee it comes out green and my bowels - zey are misbehaving" but to do similar here would be... un-British.

This can lead to some interesting one-sided conversations in the doctor's surgery while the medico in question tries to understand what the patient is trying to tell him. This in turn leads to some interesting, ah, diagnoses. As I found out this morning.

You see, ever since Friday's Smirnoff escapade I've been doing a passable impression of the Exorcist (the throwing up bit) after every meal. I'm sure its just a virus although a friend suggested archly that the 9 pints of beer and 10 bottles of some alco-pop (replete with a free shot for every bottle) may be a contributing factor. So I figured it was time to see a doctor.

The conversation went thusly:

He (loud and cheerful - a man for whom the exclamation mark is a way of life): "Mr. Single! Come in! In for some more pain-killers for the back?"
"Well, actually no. Although I could use a resupply..."
He: "No problem! No problem!" (scrawling on a bit of green paper in that strange Doctor-language that bears little or no resemblance to English) - "Anything else?"
Me: "Erm. Yes. Look, its a bit embarrassing, but I-"
He: "Understood, old boy! Understood! Back still playing up? Spinal injuries can do that. See! Your notes said you might have a problem in that department as well as the leg going numb."
Me (totally confused - what on earth does busting my back in October have to do with throwing up now?): "Er, really?"
He: "Oh yes, its very common with lower spinal cord damage. Well, I'm sure the old NHS will be able to help you out! Now, I'm going to prescribe a short course of Viagra - just 4 tablets - and come back next week and let me know how you get on!"
Me: "...Wha?"
He: "Its perfectly alright! No need to be embarrassed. Remember that it takes about 20 minutes to take effect and you obviously need to be - ahem - aroused!"
Me: "But-"
He: "Same time next week then!"

And with that, the consultation was over. So, not only am I still throwing up after every meal, now it looks like I won't be able to bend over the toilet pan either.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Nothing To See Here, Move Along...

We British are a nation of animal lovers. If its fluffy and adorable we take it to our collective hearts. If its human, hungry and has endured a journey of unimaginable torment, then we generally stick it into a camp and send it back where it came from. But thats a rant for another day.

Today's rant is about animals. Or, to be more precise, animal rights extremists.

I work in the medical field. I wrote some software that helps doctors run clinical trials of new treatments on humans. Its a simple thing; the doctor calls the system up, the system tells the doctor what kit to give the patient, and the patient is treated. Often its only the system that knows what the patient was actually given; be it the wonder-drug, the placebo, or maybe brand x. 5 years later the drug appears in the market and some people get a few more years of quality life.

As I've said before, its a rewarding job. Having worked in finance for years, doing something that actually helps people is immensely satisfying (any new career path for me is probably going to involve nursing or similar.) Sure, the big pharma companies get richer, but thanks to software like mine playing its small part in a much longer chain, new treatments become publically available faster and the quality of patients' lives are improved. Which is good, right?

It would appear not. You see, in offering a human trial and distribution service to pharma companies, my little world has attracted the attention of animal rights extremists. This is because somewhere much, much further up the chain, experimental drugs will have been tested on animals. The thinking is that any link in this chain can then be the subject of direct action.

And so, with a little bit of googling and even less imagination (and these people aren't short of imagination) I'm told you can find my name and address on a very long 'hit list' of legitimate targets. A scarier rumour is that you can even find FB's name, and the school she goes to. In response, my company wants me to go on a 'confrontation management' course.

Now, I'm all for peaceful protests. And if someone is misguided enough to pitch up outside the house of an anonymous software programmer and wave a few placards, well, I could use the noteriety. But the words 'direct action' haunt me.

And, of course, it won't work. If you really want to end the use of animal testing in drug trials (note, I'm only talking therapeutic drugs here - testing of cosmetics or seeing how many burgers a rabbit can eat before exploding for the sake of it is something entirely different) then here are the things you need to do:

1. Write to your government representative (don't email, write a letter) once a week.
2. If you have the time, organise peaceful protests outside the offices of law-makers. If you have that much time on your hands, you should probably also think about getting a job.
3. Get the public on your side. Present reasoned arguements backed up with realistic alternatives. Get a decent haircut. Lose the beard.
4. Try and avoid using any medication that has been through animal testing since doing so would be immensely hypocritical. Publicise this. Try and avoid injuring yourself, developing heart disease or cancer for the rest of your life.
5. Don't set fire to the homes of people whose biggest crime was supplying paperclips to Pfizer.

Rant over. Being told one is on a 'list' for reasons the logic of which is stretched so taut it screams tends to test one's tolerance somewhat. Check back later for Things I've Learned Not To Do On A Date.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Oh No I'm Not

An intriguing conversation with The Boss.

After I finished, he sat back and steepled his fingers. "You know what I think?" he said, clearly about to tell me regardless of whether I guessed his thoughts or not, "I think you're clinically depressed. I also think you need to learn to forgive The Ex. The former you need to see someone about. The latter is something you've got to work through yourself. In the meantime, no. I'm not accepting your resignation."

It may have been he was still shaken by my driving to the pub. More than once he had asked me "This isn't going to be an 'I'm suicidal' conversation, is it?" My response of "No, I was only a little bit suicidal last night when I wondered how much it would hurt to drive into the that tree over there. Then I thought about FB" was perhaps not the reassurance he was looking for.

So, I'm still gainfully employed. And I've now got a length of rope with which I've got to decide to either haul myself out of this pit or go ahead and hang myself. I'm also aware that I'm very lucky to work for the guy I do.

I'll be funny again tomorrow. I promise. Well, aside from an Animal Rights rant that I feel coming on (and not from the angle you'd expect, bearing in mind my liberal leanings...)

The Big Day

"Lets raise a glass," I said in a voice clear and sincere enough to embarrass anyone close enough to hear, "To The Ex and her new husband, The Boyfriend"

Some more wine sloshed into the glass

"To their future happiness together" I gulped down the acidic liquid. I was a day early, but didn't know what the 16th was going to hold. I was also entirely alone, with only the faint hum of the refridgerator for company.

I had a Realisation last night. This was that not only was last March the end of a 14 year relationship, it also marked the end of my ability to do my job. Something broke and I simply can't fix it, and it isn't improving with time.

I tipped the rest of the bottle down the sink, penned an email to the boss and went to bed to lie awake and look for meaning in the shadows on the ceiling.

The email was a request for a lunchtime pub meeting - something that will have flagged that I have Big Things I want to talk about. The way I see it, there are 3 options. Option 1 - I quit; taking sick-leave just isn't my style. Option 2 - I do something different; thing is, I've been doing this for 15 years - I'm not sure I *can* do anything different. Option 3 - carry on as I am, which isn't really an option.

So by this afternoon I should have closure in a variety of ways - The Ex will be forever someone else's problem and I'll have finally confessed to the boss (who is a close friend) something that I've known for the last 10 months but have been successfully concealing. I suspect he already knows.

Oh, and the meaning of the shadows on the ceiling? That I need new curtains for the window.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

99 Red Balloons... And One Chocolate Rabbit

I am 32 years old (just - in 15 short days I'll be 33 years old, for those wishing to send me an appropriate gift. Walking sticks or other remarks on my advancing years are not required.) In that time I have had exactly zero valentine's day gifts and one valentine's day card (from somebody who used to call up the helpdesk I worked on because they liked the sound of my voice.)

Oh yeah, I sent The Ex an anonymous card every year, but she didn't send one back. Not to me at any rate. I guess that was one of the signs I should have been looking for.

But I digress.

This year? 4 huge heart shaped balloons from an unknown admirer and a gift of confection from someone who subsequently became the first ladyfriend to stay over chez Newly last night. Have no fear, I was the very epitome of chivalry. More or less. But you've got to love a girl who shares one's liking of beer and curry.

The confection is still unopened. The balloons began to look a little deflated (I suspect the guys in the office - put a helium balloon in a roomfull of blokes and its only a matter of time before someone either attempts to suspend a beer bottle from it, or uses its contents to create a squeaky voice) and were subsequently pinched by people who'd realised that they'd forgotten any gifts for their significant others...

Things are looking up. How was your day?

When Light Entertainment Attacks

So hitting a comedy club in London was a mistake. My companion had selected a venue in the capital which promised much but delivered... oh so little. It did provide opportunity for a damn good chinwag and some quality people watching. Unfortunately, with increasing consumption of beer comes increasing volume of voice and as such I apologise sincerely to the slightly camp individual whose gender orientation we speculated on and to the strange purple haired girl with him who we loudly suggested might be something called a "fag-hag" (yes, I learnt another new phrase at the weekend.) I think the music drowned out our raucous conversation, but if not then I sincerely apologise.

I'm not going to apologise to the chap with dyed yellow hair styled into a mullet as beloved by pop acts of the early 80s. Pointing this out was surely helping him. Right?

Did I drink too much? Interestingly, if you start to key 'smirnoff' into my mobile phone it suggests 'poison' as an alternative spelling. I'm starting to think Sony Ericsson have a direct link to my subconscious. Poor them.

Incidentally, the town where I live (normally noted for its vast array of how-do-they-stay-in-business? antique shops) also has a comedy venue. Intriguingly, its located in a Masonic lodge (which are not noted for their humourous value, unless you count the silly handshake and ridiculous costume.) I have a feeling that this will lead to the compere standing on stage demanding: "Laugh, you bastards. Or my mate the Chief Constable will see you fitted up good and proper. Got it?"

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Hardly A Casio

"Racing Measurement For Your Wrist" I read from the brochure.

"Is it supposed to be something to see how good you are at..." I made a vaguely obscene gesture with my right hand " know"
He looked at me like I'd crawled out from under a stone: "No. Of course not. Its the most precise mechanical timepiece one can buy"
"And you're remortgaging your house for one?" I queried
"Yes. Its an investment."

I looked again at the picture.

"Its a wristwatch. And you can see all the cogs and things. You can barely work out what time its reading."

Cue another drawn out sigh: "Thats not the point. Its an object d'art"
"A wristwatch from which you can't read the time and that you'll never wear?"

I'll never understand art...

Friday, February 11, 2005

From The Archives...

Some may have got the impression from the entries in this journal that First-Born is a darling, perfect child. Witty, intelligent and a nobel prize-winner in the making.

I feel it is time to balance this with a story that will make her cringe when she reads all this stuff in a few years time.

First-Born was a terrible sleeper. She didn't sleep through the night until she was almost 5. Naturally, The Ex and I attempted to follow all the advice of our well meaning friends and family, but eventually settled into a shift pattern. One night it was my turn.

I was sitting on the sofa, watching a surreal scottish television programme called "Hamish Macbeth", eating a bowl of pasta thoughtfully prepared for me by The Ex with one hand while the 9 month-old First-Born was cradled on my other arm.

Presently I became aware of a slightly acidic taste to the pasta. After another exploratory mouthful I peered down at the food.

It transpired that First-Born had quietly puked on herself, me, and directly into my food. I had been eating baby sick.

And this, my friends, is why I'm looking forward to when the first Significant Other pays a visit. I have a number of embarrassing videos of First-Born as a small child. Payback time.

She's 8 this year. So it won't be long now. I can wait...

Christmas With Newly

No, thats not the title of a competition.

I've been declared an evil bastard by the collective here in the office. All because of an email. One of the guys is about to become a father and has been looking forward to having a great first christmas with the new child.

My response?

"No you won't.

The kid will be screaming, sundry family members won't be talking to each other, others will be sulking because *they* wanted to have the first the christmas day with the new grandchild but didn't want to make a fuss, you'll spend the whole time driving and so won't be drinking, and even if you aren't driving, you still won't be drinking because you'll be a responsible parent, the James Bond film will be replaced by endless Teletubby videos and you'll be apologising for the sick your kid has just deposited on someone's best sofa about which they say "that's ok" through gritted teeth that you know means they're deeply pissed off, you'll be enduring advice from family members with and without children about the best way of bringing the sprog up and how their kid was an angel at christmas and able to write PI to 133 decimal places before they passed their first turd, and you'll pick up the phone to your old mate Newly and beg the loan of the spare room for the entire festive period.

And you guys wondered why I always worked over christmas..."

A reality check too far do you think?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

In A-Town

"You're sending me where?" I asked

My boss repeated himself, his face breaking into a wide grin.

Allentown, USA. The American office. The week after next. I felt myself die a little inside.

My feelings about enduring US customs and immigration are well known. Add to that the sheer dullness of Allentown and you have a surefire recipe for a funpacked week. I cast about for something sharp with which to open a vein. The boss had thoughtfully cleared his desk beforehand.

Allentown. Noted for being a major distribution point for coca cola and, as I learned this evening, the subject of a song by Billy Joel. Having done some investigation I can confirm that Mr Joel captured the essence of the place in his lyics at least. If anyone wants to disprove my Allentown apathy, you'll find me in the bar of one of the soulless chain hotels, looking wistfully at my Morzine pictures. With a bear.

Maybe I'll force my plane to fly somewhere warm and sunny instead by threatening to turn on a mobile phone.

I Need A New CD

Tonight is a First-Born night. I collected her from one of The Ex's colleagues and was offered a nice cup of tea and a sit down. I declined - I wasn't about to waste precious First-Born time chewing the cud over next week's wedding.

She: "Such a shame you can't come..."
Me: "Yeah. Well, stuff do to do, you know?"
She: "It would have been nice though, for the sake of First-Born. It wasn't her fault that you and The Ex grew apart in the way that you did..."
Me: "..."
She: "...and it was so nice of The Boyfriend to look after her when you left..."
Me: (quietly) "...she told you that?"
She: "Oh yes. But its nice you've both been so amicable about it all."

Its been a while since I've had to deal with The Lie (go back to the beginning of this journal for the origin of The Lie.) I'd almost forgotten about it. The palms of my hands itched and the desire to spew the poisonous truth into the innocent face of the pleasant middle-aged woman in front of me was overwhelming.

Me: "Thanks for looking after First-Born. See you next time..."

I sat in the car, knuckles white on the steering wheel. First-born fiddled with the radio and tried to find a CD she liked (sadly, the autochanger is somewhat bereft of Pop-Idol material, so she settled on something silly from the 90s.) As she struggled with the seat-belt she glanced up at me: "I'm not supposed to tell anyone either. But its ok - you and I know what really happened and thats all that matters."

I could have cried.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

What Kind Of A To Z Got Me Here?

Less than one week to go now, and The Ex will truly be out of my hair. This time next week she'll be Mrs The Boyfriend, and in the eyes of the law she'll no longer be my problem.

So why am I feeling a little uncomfortable at the moment? A couple of reasons; firstly she keeps referring to First-Born as 'our' (as her and The Boyfriend's) daughter. Secondly, I understand that there are moves afoot to change First-Born's surname.

I can't articulate my feelings about these two things. The former makes me angry, the latter leaves me queasy. Not even the knowledge of the impending nuptials can offset it.

Tomorrow night is a First-Born night. I'm going to have to try and ask some carefully phrased questions in order to get to the bottom of the affair. And no, I don't think "What is that crazy bitch up to now?" is going to be appropriate, tempting though it may be...

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Challenging Activities

So, a review of My Trip To Morzine.

Skiing - good. Chalet life - just brilliant. In the photo above you can see Simon and Anna, who run the chalet and between them the lovely Jules, who makes the most wondrous cakes, is an excellent chef and, from what I can gather, keeps the two chalet girls in check.

The chalet itself has the feel of someone's home. A lubrugious dog called Rufus lounges around, fixing guests with a baleful stare that leaves one with the impression that he and you are sharing a private joke at the expense of the rest of the world. A cat called Minnie is so laid back that it does a passable impression of a cushion.

Downstairs is a comfortable and cosy lounge with a roaring fire, an honesty bar with a well stocked fridge and a communal eating area. Floors lurk above with rooms for the guests and the all-important sauna. The ambience is one of relaxed comfort.

Transfers from the airport - no problem. To and from the slopes? Easy. And then there are the activities - an evening of the naughtily named bum-boarding was organised while I was there, and tonight a torchlight run down the slope to the village was in prospect if I'd stayed an extra night. And, of course, the opportunity to make new friends.

I really can't recommend it enough. Sure, around £500 for 6 days isn't the cheapest in the area, but factor in that amongst others it includes a ski pass that gets you into all the runs, even the Swiss ones, a nightly evening meal not out of place in an expensive restaurant, and more fun than can comfortably be squeezed into 2 weeks, let alone my short 6 days, and it seems stonkingly good value to me.

Yeah, I'm going back on March 9. Want to come? The website is - I'm now a big fan...

And S - thanks again. You know who you are.

Waiting For Disaster

"Have a nice flight" intoned the orange-clad member of staff at the boarding gate. She'd said it a few times now and showed no sign of variation as the dejected queue of passengers shuffled past her.

I wondered if sometimes the urge to say "I shouldn't tell you this, but... you're all going to die" or "The pilot's wife left him today, you know" to one unfortunate passenger as she slipped the boarding card through The-Machine-That-Does-Stuff-To-Boarding-Cards sometimes overwhelms her before she resumes the "Have A Nice Flight" mantra.

Luckily, I wasn't today's victim as I made my way past her orangey countenance. I wanted to say "Have a nice flight? I'm about about to be strapped into a nasty seat, in a nasty aluminium tube of a plane and blasted back to London Gatwick at 500mph. This does not constitute 'nice' in any language I know of"

Of course, I didn't say that. What I actually said was "Thank you" with a plastic grin with which the woman would have been all too familiar before boarding my plane and indulging in the ritual fight for a seat.

I gazed at my fellow passengers. Nobody was making eye-contact. We all knew what we were - too cheap to fly with a proper airline, but nobody was about to admit it.

Time, I think, for a beer.

Last Day

We sat, swinging on the chairlift. The ground was an awfully long way down and doubtless littered with the bones of overly enthusiastic skiiers beneath the snow cover. While whatever moron had dropped off the start or the end of the lift was being scraped off the snow, my companion and I made conversation.

"So what are you doing when you get home tonight?" Had this come from a female companion, the conversation could have gone an entirely different way. In this case, I told the truth:

"I've got a date"
"Another one?"
"First time?"
I racked my brains "Ah... no... second time, I think"
S shook his head, making the chair rock alarmingly: "You need another hobby, mate. A sport."
"I could take up drinking again?" I volunteered
We thought about this for a while, before S finally came up with "How about knitting"
"'s hardly a sport..." I said, and added, "...although now I come to think about it, my grandmother's a bit of a demon with the knitting needles..."

There then ensued a discussion on the possibility of admitted knitting as an olympic discipline. Heck, if the Americans can get things as silly as basketball and beach volleyball in, then there'd be something peculiarly English about awarding a gold medal to the person able to knit a sweater with arms of a matching length (bonus points for itchy wool and a pattern guaranteed to ensure it remains in the cupboard until it either is eaten by moths or the aged lady who knitted dies, whichever comes first.)

We were surrounded by spectacular scenery, less than 2 hours to go, and we were talking about knitting. Tch...

Monday, February 07, 2005

Which Way Now?

Its about a month since I left Whistler, and within 24 hours I'll yet again be esconced in dear old Blighty. So I think its time for a list.

Whistler vs. Here

* Queuing.

Boy, the Canadians have this down to a tee. Eagle-eyed attendants channel patient skiiers into organised lines. Any attempted jumping of queues is met with swift retribution (normally the nailing of a sensitive part of the offender's anatomy to the underside of the gondola.)

The French? A gallic shrug and a "Pffffft" from the attendants and a free-for-all at each lift. Ski poles are weapons and its the survival of the fittest.

* Pistes

Whistler is a work of art. The slopes are bombarded by snow blowers all day, and by night an army of eager workers smooth the day's abuses into flat loveliness.

Here? Lets just say that the lassez-faire attitude of the piste-bashers lead to the slopes being somewhat characterful. And hysterically fun; I giggle like a lunatic as I blast through randomly placed piles of powder and slip over concealed ice. The French have a sense of humour; who'd have thought?

* Food

Easy. The food on the slopes at Whistler is just terrible. In France its great. Really great. I'd hoped to lose some weight on this holiday. Failed.

* The Slam Dunk

I can pick a mountain. Down one side I can ski into France. Down the other side I can ski into Switzerland. How cool is that?

Yes, I'll be back in March...

Take One Deer...

"So how exactly does the whole 'using a deer as a prophylactic' thing work?" I enquired, swigging wine from a nearby caraf.

My companion did that gesture with a wine glass thing that drunk people do and slurred something unintelligable.

We'd intended to go out and hit a bar, but a roaring fire and bottles of wine soon put paid to that. I sat, sipping wine and looked at my companions. One I'd met before, for the others I could count the days I'd spent in their company on the fingers on one hand. J was the baby of the party, a skiier of my level and clearly in awe of the capacity of the rest of us to consume alcohol. A had assumed the role of matriarch, and had become progressively posher as the wine had gone down. G, on the other hand, was pretty and relatively quiet but yet had a deer fixation.

She raised an eyebrow: "In the usual way, of course..."

Beer: helping strangers have progressively more surreal conversations since 1436.

G wielded a bottle a Raspberry Vodka. Alas, even drinking a silent toast to Ms. Sundae's breaking of a vow could not make the awful stuff palatable.

I love it here. I'm already working out a way to return in March.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

A Story In 4 Frames

What happened to me today:

Part the first... "Look at me! I've leapt 12 feet in the air off this jump. Am I great or what?" Ok, it was more like an inch - but mistaking an inch for 12 feet is a bloke's perogative, ok?

Part the second... "Ah, shit. I've got to stop now. How do I do that again?"

Part the third... "A handy hill. This'll do..."

Part the fourth... "Owwww..."

The full video (replete with sound effects) is available on request...

The Horror, The Horror

Beer, flavoured with Tequila?

Wrong on oh so many levels, and yet also strangely compelling...

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Bear Meets Buddha

Sadly, a giraffe turned out to be substantial quantity of beer rather than an intriguing new sexual position as I'd hoped. Still, a plastic tube full of beer that is taller than First-Born is not to be sniffed at. The bear was also suitably impressed.

My new best friend X and I pottered out of the chalet some time before midnight and slid our way into town. Tumbleweeds (or whatever the alpine variant is called) might as well have been blowing through the street. We ignored the distressingly signed "English Pub" (why is it that the English go abroad and then insist on tracking down the "Ye Olde English Pub" rather than sample the local fayre?) and headed downstairs to a basement bar called the Buddha Bar.

I'm not sure that the fat guy himself would have approved. Then again, any red-blooded male would have approved of our waitress. A giraffe was duly ordered, admired and then drunk. X embarked on a rant concerning the anglicisation of our resort (the irony that we were both English escaped him somewhat.)

The beer was good though...

Friday, February 04, 2005

Giant Bear Takes On Mountain

I peered doubtfully at the sliver of plastic. I wanted to ask "But is it safe?" What I actually asked was "When do I get to use it?"

Things had not gone entirely according to plan. I'd intended to arrive, ski, drink too much and then fall asleep. What had actually happened was I spent a quality 2 hours in the tender care of EasyJet intermittently dozing or drooling on the shoulder of my neighbour for which I was rewarded at Geneva by a security alert. I'm sure my neighbour arranged it as an act of vengence.

While the police literally wrapped the airport in red and white tape (I guess the Swiss police don't have a lot to do and so enthusiastically grabbed the opportunity to use up some of their police stuff. I awaited the arrival of the tanks and helicopters with interest) I pondered my next move.

The pretty girl who'd met me at the airport (I seem to be making an agreeable habit of being met at airports by pretty girls) bought me a beer while we waited for the alert to finish.

You coud almost taste the disappointment of the police when the suspect bag turned out to contain something mundane. Doubtless some clogs or a cuckoo clock bought by a tourist who'd had an attack of good taste and left the hateful things behind.

However, this meant that I wouldn't have time for skiing. But the owner of the chalet had a better idea. A much better idea. 'Bum Boarding' which, while sounding like a S&M fetish, is actually a variation on tobaggoning. Except on something that resembled a frisbee with a handle.

It is possibly the most fun I've had with my clothes on. 10 of us hurtled down the piste, whooping like demented monkeys while the other owner of the chalet followed us down on skis, shouting encouragement and videotaping the inevitable wipeouts. Natually, I won. Body mass will out...

I have more, but I can hear the clarion call of an evening beer. There are still today's adventures to write about.

The bear says Hi.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Seen One Mountain, Seen 'Em All

I got stuff, but I'm too tired to write it. And I like this candy floss mountain.

It really is quite, quite beautiful here.

Is It Just Me?

Am I alone in my inability to pack a suitcase in a timely manner? Every effing trip I've been on has involved an all-night session the night before. Its now 3am and I've still not done the packing. The cab arrives in 2 and a half hours, I've yet to get any sleep and the gaping maw of the case is taunting me. Taunting, I tell you.

I keep finding more important things to do. Like writing this, for example.

The next post will be from Foreign Lands. Or Gatwick Airport. One of the two.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

24 Hours From Geneva

In less than 24 hours time I will be landing at Geneva. Having endured the tender embrace of EasyJet and its intriguingly orange-painted surly stewards and scowling stewardesses, I will potter into arrivals and seek my contact (who will be the person holding a sign with yet another variation on the spelling of my surname.) This individual will then take me to the chalet, where I will rapidly change into something suitable for throwing myself off a mountain. By early afternoon I'll be making my way timidly onto the chairlift.

It makes trying to do any productive work in the office today just a little tricky. There should be a law to the effect that one is allowed a day off before one's holiday commences owing to the fact that one can't concentrate and is irritating one's coworkers by making ski-like noises every 10 minutes or so.

The thought that this time next week, I'll be embarking on my first day back at work following skiing is sufficiently depressing to offset this euphoria.

Happy Groundhog Day.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


So, I begin to key my name into my super whizzo Sony Ericsson phone. It has a neat little dictionary that suggests words that you might be attempting to type in order to speed the SMS process along a bit.

For my name, it appears to suggest the word 'shag'

It was just the 4 dates, ok? Seems a little drastic to associate my given name in such a way. Although I'm flattered to have attracted the attention of the mighty Sony corporation.


Nice Newly / Naughty Newly

I hurtled down the road to work this morning - I'd overslept and as such was doing the irrational thing of putting being in the office on time ahead of my own personal safety and that of other road users.

Somebody pulled out of a side turning in front of me. This meant I got to use the impressive-looking brakes in anger for the first time. An orange light flashed on the dashboard; at some point I'll read the manual and find out what it means. For the time being it will be known as the "you've just done something very silly. I've sorted it out for you, but don't do it again, ok?" light.

In fact, so much in life could use more meaningful definitions like that rather than obscure abbreviations; its why I've always liked the German language. You've got to admire a mother tongue whose word for diarrhoea literally translated means "fall through"

But I digress. Half of me wanted to make an obscene gesture at the unfortunate driver and shout things that he wouldn't be able to hear. The other half, the half that always wins the day on these occasions, said quietly "Maybe you should pay a little more attention to the speed limits..."

Having a conscience sucks.

Nothing Doing

What is it about laundry and ironing? Where does that pile of clothes come from? I mean, I'm a single guy. There is no way I got through that many shirts in a week. Half of them I don't even remember wearing.

I suspect the little buggers sneak out of the wardrobe while I'm asleep and go and play in the washing machine. They probably regard it as some sort of thrill ride; to them it isn't a mere Zanussi Washer/Dryer. Oh no. To them its the Wall Of Death. They probably round off the night by kidnapping a solitary sock and holding it for ransom in exchange for some new detergent. It would explain a lot.

Maybe I need to train one of the mice to sell tickets.

I wonder how they switch the machine on?

I'm in that brief and slightly uncomfortable period of nothingness before a first-date and before a holiday. Tonight I have to negotiate one of Surrey's more tortuous one-way systems and on Thursday the bear and I fly to Geneva. Both present significant challenges and represent the unknown.

In the meantime, go and buy this chap's book - a better definition of Englishness you won't find anywhere else.