Monday, April 28, 2008

I makes tinternets

I am officially edumacated: last week I went on two - count 'em - TWO courses. The first was a 'high-fa-luting' Adobe InDesign course in a posh building near the Houses of Parliament. So posh, in fact, that Sting and his strangely duck-like wife brushed past me in the street - no doubt getting some fresh air after six hours of tantric sexiness. That actually has nothing to do with the course, but, um, rwar!

Anyway, so I always go into these sort of things expecting them to be exceedingly dull, but this was actually very interesting, mainly because the guy running it was a top chap who made it very easy for specials like me to understand what he was talking about. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I actually sent Scanner Dave an email during a coffee break to say "this is awesome." 

He thought I was being sarcastic.

Another benefit of being sent on this course was that it's given me a new skill, it was very expensive, and work paid for it. Hurrah!

The second course I did took place on Saturday, beginning at the horrifically early hour (for a Saturday) of 9:30. And this was one that I paid for myself, so I have no one to blame but myself. Oh, and Willowc, who talked me into it because she wanted to do it too.

Anyway, this one was all about the basics of HTML (no, not 'how to meet ladies') and CSS (that's 'cascading style sheets,' not the jaunty Brazilian pop combo), because I've had the urge to learn all about making websites for ages, and I thought I'd scratch it for the fairly reasonable cost of 85 Earthly pounds and two Saturdays, the latter of which was particularly erksome because it was the hottest day of the year so far and I was couped up in a classroom that overlooked a pub garden. Bah!

On the plus side, this class, like the InDesign one, was fascinating, and I'm pleased to say I wasn't quite as stupid as I thought I might be, and both Willowc and I seemed to pick everything up with relative ease (although she did tut at me on one occasion, and I subsequently called her "dummy" when she missed a hyphen out of a line of code).

The upshot of the day was that both Willowc and I are now the proud owners of really basic, rather shitty little intranet sites currently residing in the college's server. They're like tinternet throw-backs from the early nineties; cro-magnon websites, if you will, but heavy-browed, straggily haired, Captain Caveman-like offspring that we love all the same.

The last session is this Saturday, and I'm really rather looking forward to it. I'm hoping I can make some jaunty colours flash in sequence.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A true gentleman

They say you can choose your friends but not your family, but in my case, I struck lucky on all fronts; Mum and Dad are awesome. They’ve always been supportive of whatever crazy scheme I come up with, always encouraged me to follow my own path even if they might not necessarily agree with me. My brother is the guitar-playing best friend I sometimes take for granted. And then there’s my grandparents. On my Dad’s side, the wonderful, much-missed Georgie and John; she was the mischievous little imp who introduced the phrase “cheeky bugger” into my vernacular, who always opened her Christmas and birthday presents early, and made words up when we played Scrabble. He was the quiet, contemplative man who chose his words carefully, who watched us all with visible pride, and who amazed us with his artistic talents.

On my Mum’s side, there is Stella, our glamorous “little grannie,” as Simon calls her, always radiant, and never sitting still as she busies and fusses around everyone with a remarkable energy that leaves us all exhausted just from watching her.

And then there’s Bill, my Grandad.

It’s difficult to put into words exactly how much I admired this man, a gentle giant who towered over my Nan so much so that he would often affectionately refer to her as his “midget,” before giving her that look that could only be one of absolute and unswerving devotion.

He is a defining figure in my childhood memories. As a kid I was infatuated with buses. Grandad worked for London Transport, and as such, I believed it was him that kept all the buses going. I remember spending summer days at my grandparent’s house, waiting outside for him to come home from work. As soon as Simon and I caught a glimpse of him at the top of the road, walking along with that distinctive gait of his, we would run as fast as we could towards him, literally throwing ourselves at him as we got within reach.

He was a man of such generosity; he would give us reams and reams of paper to draw on, encouraging our burgeoning artistic talents. If we complained that the tree at the top of our road hadn’t produced any conkers, the next thing we knew we’d have a large box of them that he had collected from the riverside for us. And then, of course, there was ‘Grandad’s Bag’ - the giant bag of sweets that he would invite us to put our hands in to pull out a treat. He spoilt us rotten.

He was a charming man of such incredible politeness and generosity. Whether talking to a stranger in a shop or a friend in the street, his speech was littered with “hello dear,” and “thank you, dear.” If someone said something that amused him, he’d point at them as a coy smile spread across his face.

He remained active long after others would have given up and resigned themselves to life in a chair; he took a diabetes diagnosis in his stride, adapting to the new lifestyle he had to lead with relative ease, and happily adopting the nickname ‘Diabetic Bill.’ Despite having both knees replaced, and troubles with his legs and hands over the years, he maintained an allotment for almost six decades, growing his own vegetables and working the land with dedication, often giving away much of his produce to friends, neighbours, and relatives.

As children, Simon and I occasionally accompanied him to the allotment if we stayed over for the weekend. While he worked hard, planting seeds, watering, or digging up vegetables, we would turn an empty corner to marshland in an attempt to create a replica of Niagra Falls. Not once did he tell us off.

As we grew up, he listened with pride as we told him about our school days, our first jobs, our hopes and dreams. I’d sometimes pop over to see him and Nan, and sit with them in their conservatory as the sun shone down. I’d have a cup of tea while he nursed a small beer and a whiskey chaser. He loved war films and John Wayne movies. He thought The Goonies was brilliant. As a young man in the Home Front during the Second World War he lost a hand grenade in training. We continued to tease him about that years later.

He’d take us out for meals, always ordering soup of the day for a starter, and cheese and biscuits after his main course; once, when the restaurant had taken the latter off the menu, he charmed the waitress so much that she popped out at nine o’clock on a Saturday night to buy some just for him.

And just last year he and my Nan invited a load of us together to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. He hired the wine cellar of an expensive hotel overlooking the Thames, and we had a fantastic evening. I was sat directly opposite Grandad at the other end of the table, too far away to hold a conversation with him, but I saw him looking towards me, pointing, nodding his head gently and winking as if he had never been happier. Sometimes actions really do speak louder than words.

“There aren’t many of us left,” he would often say, jokingly. Sadly, that’s true now more than ever.

I’ll miss you, Grandad.


Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Groin + coffee = embarrassment

Of all the blog posts I have ever written, I think this one has the most obvious giveaway title. Like Ronseal, it does exactly what it says on the tin.

I had a full-on moment of utter stupidity yesterday lunchtime. I was sitting outside Secret Starbucks enjoying the fresh springtime weather with Yaz and Scanner, seated around a notoriously wonky table; truth be told, I would've preferred to be inside enjoying the nice warm temperature-controlled environment, but *someone* made us sit outside. Anyway, I'd already tried to cover Yaz in coffee (intentionally or not? Who knows!) by plonking her mug down in front of her and letting the notoriously wonky table do its thang, but, damn her, she's got cheetah-like reflexes and managed to swing her legs out of the way before it got her. All that meant was that I then had to go back inside to get some serviettes to wipe notoriously wonky table with. 

About 20 minutes later, though, I went to pick up my almost empty mug to knock back the last of my coffee, when – and I think this is what happened - I thought I saw some coffee about to slosh up and out of the mug. For some reason, some sort of bizarre animal instinct kicked in, and I rather violently slammed the mug back down on to notoriously wonky table. Notoriously wonky table subsequently tilted back in my direction, and I then watched as a large amount of coffee shot up in the air and landed right on my crotch. 

I looked down at my groin in disbelief (and not for the usual reason, fnar fnar). There was a massive damp patch. I totally looked like I'd wet myself. With no other option, I grabbed the last remaining serviettes from the earlier spillage, and unapologetically cupped myself right there in front of the lunchtime crowds walking down the high street. And I continued to do so for the next 10 minutes or so. Fortunately the coffee wasn't scalding hot; if it had been, I think I might've had to order a tall frappuccino simply to dumb it in my pants.

Anyway, by the time I walked back to the office, it was barely visible; at least I think it was. Maybe my mind's eye just sort of glossed over it, and I actually looked like a complete special walking down a busy road with a large yellow groin stain. 

There's a nice mental image for you, eh?

So, the end result of this story? Well, you know Starbucks knock 25p off the price of your beverage if you take your own cup in? Sorted.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Tellybox catchup: round two

So, after moaning about Gossip Girl last week, I watched the second episode yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't know what that says about me and my fickle nature, but I do think this show could become a full-on guilty pleasure. Not one I'd rush out and buy the DVD boxset of, you understand, but one I'll continue to watch nevertheless. And buy episodes off iTunes if I miss them on telly. 

One that I do think I'd rush out and buy the boxset of, though, is Chuck.

I'd previously said that I was looking forward to seeing this show as I thought out of Josh Schwartz's two new series (Gossip Girl being the other), this one looked most like it might have captured something of The OC-ish like nature. Of course, I'd have to wait until April 7th to see the first episode and form an opinion. But then on Tuesday I clicked open iTunes and…

Ho, ho, ho, good times indeed!

So I downloaded it, and watched it. And I believe I summed up best what I thought of Chuck while having coffee with Yaz the next day:

It's like The OC with guns.

I can't think of a higher recommendation that that.


One show I do feel I'm tiring of ever so slightly, though, is Doctor Who. The new season started last night on the Beeb, and quite frankly on the basis of episode one it was a bit rubbish. Not for the reasons I thought it would be, though.

This new series has Catherine Tate in it as the Doctor's new assistant, and as I'm not a massive fan of her brand of humour, I thought I might be put off it a bit. Tate, however, was quite good. My main problem with it was the fact that it's become apparent to me that the series has started to feel padded out by the use of the characters just running around while overly dramatic music plays in the background. Seriously, last night's episode would only have been about 20 minutes long if they'd cut all the running out. 

There were some really good, dramatic episodes last year, but this one seems to have descended into pantomime. And some of the visual effects were a bit ropey. I wasn't impressed… Although I'm just a little bit giddy at the prospect of Tate shouting "AM I BOVVERED!?" at some point. She has to, doesn't she? Right in a Dalek's sink-plunger.


In other, unrelated matters, I thought Spring had sprung last week. My hoodies were almost put into hibernation - one day I even wore a shirt and light jumper combo! But then this weekend struck and I'm pretty sure I'll soon be back to hugging a hoody like Linus hugs his security blanket.

I popped to Kingston yesterday, and after deciding that the Starbucks in the Bentalls Centre was too busy, I headed out on to the high street to make my way to the other Starbucks - at which point the heavens opened and it hailed on me. Hails stones! Freakin' hail stones!! I had to take refuge in the doors of M&S until it passed.

A cinnamon dolce latte and a short walk later I got back to the car park and just about managed to dive into my car before this happened:

That's proper, full-on rain, people.

Anyway, it continued to do that for the rest of the night - and there's me without a hoody. Bah!

So this morning I wake up about 9am, and just doze about in bed for an hour or so. OK, two hours or so. When I finally sit up and look out the window I see that it's HOLY FREAKIN' HECK IT'S SNOWING! Snow - everywhere! What sort of merry hell is this?! 

I sat in bed just rubbing my eyes in disbelief then looking again. It was totally still there. Crikey.

It's pretty much all melted now, though; just a few bits here and there. Oh, and a snowman on my neighbour's lawn, which I'm totally tempted to go and boot the head off when I go for a run in a while. Talking of which - this is going to be a, um, unique run; I've just drunk half a carton of out of date cranberry and raspberry juice which potentially could've fermented, so not only will it be snowy-cold weather and icy, but I might also be tiddly. Oh, good times indeed!


Friday, April 04, 2008


Highlight of the day is summed up in one word: Tramp.

As longtime readers will know, I have a habit (some might say slight addiction) of trying to get shout-outs on the radio, particularly if I'm a bit bored. Today was no different - but rather than get a shout-out for myself, I aimed to get one for Yaz.

Weekday mornings are now taken up by listening to the George Lamb show on BBC 6Music, which plays some rather awesome music in combination with the most inane banter I've heard in a long time; so inane, in fact, that it a) ranks right up there with the kind of inane banter that Yaz and I throw at each other over coffee at lunchtime, and b) has led to lots of online petitions to get the show taken off 6Music because it's not the kind of show that many listeners to the station want to hear. Another aspect of the show is the shout-outs to listeners, which generally take the form of 'SHABBA!' (as in the classic Shabba-Ranks lyric) or 'TRAMP!' (as intoned by what I imagine to be a sassy black woman) depending on whether they're intended for people who've done something … well, shabba-able or trampy. There's also 'CHARLIE MURPHY!' and 'BAM-BAM!' but shabba and tramp are the most important ones.

Of course, I wanted Yaz to get a tramp. I told Yaz I was going to get her tramped, and she was well up for it; giddy with excitement, in fact.

So, to get the full-on trampage, I had to jump on the slightly surreal bandwagon of 'diva-watch' - basically emailing in a faked sighting of a diva, preferably with some form of meat-based clothing.

After no thought much thought, I went with: 

Just spotted Aretha Franklin riding Ronnie Corbett down the Goldhawk Road; she's wearing a honey-roast ham dress, rump steak shoes, and a meatball necklace. Any chance of giving my mate Yaz a tramp?

And tramped she was, on national radio*. Good times.


I was asked this afternoon what my theme tune was. My initial response was that I'm not a tellybox programme, so I don't technically have a theme tune. But it's an interesting question, not least because I remember the storyline on Ally McBeal where she had to find a theme tune and I was always intrigued by the thought of what mine would be. So I reached for my iPhone in order to scroll through my songs in search of a quality theme tune.

Now, I'm not the sort of person who wants to change his theme tune every other day - I want a classic that will see me through the good times and the bad, so after much scrolling, I settled on Shine a Light by the Rolling Stones (not influenced in any way by the new rockumentary of the same name - I liked the song first!), although it's got to be the version off the Stripped album. I was almost swayed by a couple of tracks of the new Panic at the Disco album, but it's too new to really know how the songs will stand up over time (though I think they will). Anyway, I think Shine a Light is a good choice. 

So, my question to you is: what's your theme tune, hmmm…?

*If you want to hear it, go HERE and click on Friday's show in the 'listen again' section - it'll be up till the end of next week!