Sunday, August 31, 2008

Moist … but victorious! The Richmond to Windsor bike ride 2008

As some of you may recall, around this time of year I take part in the Richmond to Windsor bike ride (see here and here for tales of derring do from previous years). It's a good day out; a chance to see some beautiful countryside, catch a bit of sun, and barrel down some hills at ludicrous speeds.

And then there was this year.

I think this is my sixth time doing the ride - I've kind of lost count. But that's beside the point, because I will *never* forget this ride; believe me, it will live in infamy. Why? Because I stay drier when I go swimming.

I got up around 7 am, about an hour or so before I needed to leave to head to the startline at Richmond Green. I made a cup of tea, downed a bowl of oaty cereal (for slow-release energy!), and knocked back a mug of orange juice (yes I know using a mug instead of a glass is rather uncouth, but I don't care). Then I got into my cycling gear, filled my newly-sterilised camelbak bladder with two litres of water, popped seven Mars bars in my bag (well those oats weren't going to last me all day), and wheeled the bike out just a little after 8 am. As I pulled on my helmet (fnar fnar) and put my gloves on I noticed that there was a strange mist halfway down the road - which immediately struck me as odd because mist in August is, well, odd. I soon found out why there was a strange mist: it was rain so heavy that it bounced off the cars and pavement making everything look fuzzy. 

Within a minute of heading off I was drenched. But there was no way I was going to turn back because a) I'd paid for this, and b) heavy rain storms don't last for long, right? 

*ahem*

If anything it got heavier as I continued on my way to Richmond. And then, as I was cycling past Twickenham Rugby Ground, there was an almighty flash of lightning and a hardcore rumble of thunder. Queen were quite right - when you're riding a big metal bike, thunderbolts and lightning are indeed very, very frightening things.

By the time I got to Richmond Green the rain was nothing short of torrential and, upon seeing that the green appeared deserted I began to wonder if the event had been called off. But then I noticed loads of cyclists taking refuge under trees. I quickly joined them, and got at least a degree of cover from the downpour (although far from drying out, Betty Ford stylee). I decided to hang around the green for a while in the hope that the rain might pass and I could start the ride, if not under blue skies and beaming sunshine, then at least in the dry. No such luck, though, and after about half an hour, during which time I discovered that if I clenched my hands water would gush out of my gloves, I decided that I really should make a start just in case I began to feel a chill from getting wet then just standing around. I was also dismayed to see that the usual compare, the highly entertaining Fake Shatner, was not present, having been replaced by someone who looked like a fake Patrick Stewart.

I set off at about 9:30.

Straight away things took a subtle turn from previous years; where once we used to ride down the towpath from Richmond to Twickenham, this time we were given a choice between a short route (the towpath) or a longer route (on the streets). I naturally took the longer route because I'm hardcore, but I can't help feeling that there's actually not that much difference between the two - certainly the towpath is a more picturesque way. About 10 minutes after that, though, things took a decidedly darker turn when, just before Kingston, a rider took a nasty tumble. I came upon the scene about two minutes after it happened, by which time a fair few cyclists had gathered around this guy as he lay on the road. Apparently he'd lost consciousness for a short time, but when I got there he was talking to some of the people around him, and they'd called the emergency number on the map we were given at the startline. 

I wondered whether to hang around in case there was something I could do to help, but after chatting to a fellow rider (a lovely middle-aged lady who I subsequently paced pretty much all the way to Windsor), we decided that those around him seemed to know what they were doing and were taking the appropriate measures to look after him, and we'd only be getting in the way if we stayed. So off I went again. 

At this point in previous years the route heads off-road to follow the towpath from Kingston down to Hampton Court, but because that way can get, erm, muddy (something I know from past experience…) they were redirecting us along the road - a road that Mr Chunt used to refer to as the Manic Mile. Fortunately, on a wet Sunday morning it's not quite so manic.

About 15 minutes later the ride passes less than five minutes away from Sparky Towers, and I'm not ashamed to say that for the first time ever I briefly contemplated jacking the whole thing in and heading home. But I'm made of sterner stuff than that, so I pressed on. Shortly after this came one of the ride's designated rest stops.

In previous years I've pretty much stopped at all the rest stops (just to eat a Mars bar and pry my arse off the saddle for a few minutes relief), but this year a couple of unusual factors came into play that meant I decided to just keep going; firstly, I was unexpectedly flying solo after work mate BSH decided against taking part following a busy week; secondly, I didn't actually feel like I needed to stop (must be all that run-training coming into play!); and thirdly… well, with conditions as they were I actually just felt like I wanted to get the damn thing over with! Oh, and it was at about this point that I realised my newly-sterilised Camelbak bladder made the water within it taste like I'd scooped it out of a swimming pool: yeeeeugh.

So on I went…

For the most part everything went pretty smoothly after that. By this point I'd warmed up fully so the rain didn't bother me too much. What did bother me was one bloke cycling right up my arse, and four other blokes who appeared to have no regard for anyone else taking part. The first guy was a problem that was pretty easily solved by ploughing through loads of big puddles so he got epic splash-back, then slowing down so he overtook me (though I was amused to see him choose the shorter route - i.e. the kids route - when the course split). The bunch of four guys were a different problem altogether. Although they weren't a proper team (easy to tell by the way they were cycling) they'd all gone out and bought matching tops and shorts, which was quite frankly a bit weird. But that's not the real reason they were annoying; what really wound me up was the fact that they insisted in cycling three-abreast so it was both difficult and dangerous to overtake them, and would often stop suddenly without checking to see if anyone was behind them. At one point I had to serve around a couple of them, and a little while later (at the base of a hill!) one stopped so suddenly that someone actually did cycle into the back of him (not so fast as to cause any injury, though, thankfully). 

Fortunately, I lost them at the hill. For all I know they're still struggling to ascend it.

After that it was pretty much all plain-sailing. I made a quick stop to down a couple of Mars bars, passed the familiar sights of One Tree Hill, Butts Hill, and Mincing Lane, and once again conquered Callow Hill (the steepest bitch of a hill on the entire route). I made one more stop, at a proper rest stop outside a pub on a big green that is usually a great place to chillax for a while. Instead of laying in the sun, though, I sat on a damp bench with rain pouring down on me. Oh, and I'd also like to say that damp countryside smells like ass.

I arrived at Windsor a short while later, at about 12:30, making this the quickest I've ever done this ride (I usually arrive just after one-ish). I'd always been intrigued as to how quickly I could do the Richmond to Windsor, but had never wanted to ruin the day by just powering through to the end. Thank the horrific weather for answering that question. On the plus side, Fake Shatner was there; I don't know whether he bumped Fake Stewart off or what, but it was lovely seeing him again, and hearing his exuberant commentary if only for a short time. One of these days I'm actually going to go up to him and tell him how awesome he is.

Usually at the end I plop myself down on the ground and chill out in the sun for an hour or so, but I really didn't want to sit on water-logged grass, so I headed towards a bench where I bumped into lovely middle-aged lady again. We chatted for about about 10 minutes, and marveled at the fact that the sun appeared to be coming out at last. While it looked like it was brightening up, I made my excuses and decided to head home.

The sun, however, failed in it's attempt to come out, and I got drenched again on the ride home, finally arriving at Sparky Towers just a little after 2 pm (to give an indication of how quickly I did this year's event, in previous years I haven't gotten home until about 4 pm).

I made an extremely sugary cup of tea, wiped my bike down and oiled the necessary bits (it's looking very clean after all that rain), then had a bath (because quite frankly I've had enough of showers today). I'm now contemplating making a cheesy-chip baguette to congratumalate myself and undo all that good work I've done cycling today, while watching as many episodes of Boston Legal (the theme tune to which I hummed to myself almost all the way to Windsor thanks to a comment T-Bird left on my last post) as I can between now and bedtime.

I'm also wondering if I'm ever going to regain sensation in my bathing suit region, or if my arse will ever again feel like it's not been violated by King Kong.

That aside, it's been a good, albeit tough, day.

-----

With all the rain, I didn't dare take my beloved iPhone out of my bag to take any photos, but I did take some when I got home to show you how wet I got (sorry, but there'll be nothing gratuitous here folks).

My hands were stained black from my gloves, and my fingers were all crinkly like I'd taken a bath. This was before I took a bath. 

My legs were covered in road scum, dirt, and several other things I don't even want to think about.

And today's expression is: pooped. I have mud on my face. Some had also, somehow, gotten down inside my top so I had a muddy chest too.

video

Friday, August 29, 2008

Where were we…?

…before Tiscali screwed everything up?

Ah yes:

Saturday
Wake up feeling headachey and bleurgh, which isn’t surprising bearing in mind this is the first day of my week off and I inexplicably always feel bleurgh on the first day of a week off. Resolve not to succumb to headache and waste the day, so I sit around reading Freakonomics, which although interesting leaves me with the odd sensation that the authors keep retreading the same old ground over and over again. Head over to Sparky Ma and Pa’s for dinner; post-dinner coffee perks me up no end: hurrah! Head back home and have the overwhelming desire to watch the Star Trek: Enterprise episode ‘Regeneration’ - so I do. Come to the conclusion that it’s a much maligned entry in a much maligned series. Go figure.

Sunday
Wake up still feeling a bit woozy, but decide to throw caution to the wind and clean the entire house. I dust, hoover, clean the plug hole (eeeugh), and scrub the bathroom to the point that I can now see a gleaming reflection of my arse in the sink when I get in the shower. Good times. Shower, admire arse, finish reading Freakonomics (still unable to shake the belief that it’s a cracking 150 page book bumped up to 300 for the expanded edition I have). Begin reading the Love and Rockets book The Education of Hopey Glass; is veeeeery good. Attempt to get online, but ailing Homechoice box dies on me. Dismayed to find little ball-scroll wheel thingy in mouse won’t scroll up anymore. Possibly watch some tellybox; to be honest I can’t really remember. Go to the cinema to see The Dark Knight for a third time: it’s still awesome.

Monday
Get up and being unable to waste my day online start looking for things to do. End up organising CD collection into something closely resembling how it’s listed on my iTunes. This is good, as it means I don’t just plonk all my favourite stuff on the top shelf. Finish reading The Education of Hopey Glass and start reading another Love and Rockets collection, Amor Y Cohetes, which I instantly decide was worth the money for the Rocky Rhodes tales about her a teenage girl and her robot friend Fumble. Pop over to Sparky Ma and Pa’s for dinner. Head home in time for One Tree Hill - Ooo, Devil Dan is back!

Tuesday

Get up early to await the delivery of my new O2 broadband router. Wake with a jolt at 8 am thinking I can hear a delivery van; turns out it’s just a van. Get up anyway and mosey downstairs to make a cup of tea. Flick on the telly and discover that E4 have started showing the Gilmore Girls, starring Seth from The OC, wonky-mouth from Heroes, and Sam from Supernatural (although confusingly he’s named Dean, which is the same name as his brother in Supernatural). I’ve always wanted to see what the fuss is with this show, so I watch the last half hour, then turn over to E4+1 (which is the same channel running an hour later) to catch the first half. It’s a good show, but they do talk very fast. Doorbell rings at 10:30 and it’s the delivery dude (who I swear has delivered stuff to the office before) with my router (although I can’t actually use it yet). See the dear old lady across the road and catch-up on some neighbourhood gossip while standing in the street in my socks. Have lunch, read more of Amor Y Cohetes. Decide to clear out my wardrobe and spend about two hours trying on clothes to see if I should keep or junk them; junk loads, find loads of t-shirts I’ve barely worn. Pop over to see Sparky Nan, then head to running club. Do triangles in the park; it hurts. Get bitten by bugs. Go home, shower, finish reading Amor Y Cohetes.

Wednesday
Wake up early, get ready and head over to pick up Sparky Ma for our traditional week-off shopping trip. Hit Kingston, coffee up, then blitz the shops. I buy Season Three of Boston Legal, the new Futurama DVD The Beast with a Billion Backs, Chuck Palahniuk’s new book Snuff (which better not suck), and Sparky Ma buys me Bottomless Belly Button, one of the fattest graphic novels I’ve ever seen. Eat a massive Nandos for lunch. Hit the shops again. Make a spur of the moment purchase of some black slim-fit jeans, which I’m kinda “meh” about, but they’re only 20 quid so I really have no excuse. Coffee up again, then head home. Get in and try on 20 quid jeans; decide they f**king rock. Watch The Beast with a Billion Backs (which is waaaaaaaaay better then the previous DVD movie, Bender’s Big Score), then an episode of Boston Legal. Tussle with a massive spider that launches itself across the living room floor; hit it twice with a shoe, poke it with a stick, and fly-spray the bastard before it succumbs to another whack with a shoe. Scoop the Rasputin spider up, crush it just to make sure, and stick it in the bin. Hit the sack and start reading Bottomless Belly Button.

Thursday
Wake up early, and head back to Kingston for a haircut. Shampoo girl asks if I want peppermint conditioner and I’m all, like, *whatever*. Regular girl is on holiday, so I have a newbie; turns out he’s a dude, and we shoot the shit about jobs, abusing courtesy cars, and whether you should ever let your ex-girlfriend cut your hair (turns out: no). scamper off with an awesome cut, and head to Borders where I use a voucher I was sent to get a free chocolate-banana Vivanno (not to be confused with a Vauxhall Vivaro) in Starbucks; it’s a combination of cocoa powder, whey protein, and, um, a whole banana. I hate bananas, but all blended-up this rocks. Buy another book, a signed copy of Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock, because it is interestingly packaged and has a quote from Willy Vlautin on the back. Head home and wait for the text from O2 to say my broadband is ready to go and I should plug my router in; have lunch and decide to watch two episodes of Boston Legal while I continue to wait - Denny Crane offends a dwarf. Head over to Richmond to pick-up comics, then round to have dinner with Sparky Ma and Sparky Nan. Dash home, still no text from O2, so I head to the local pool for a swim. Flirt with middle-aged woman on reception and totally know she’s picturing me in my trunks (cheeky). Turns out the pool is really busy; some prehistoric couple stop half way down the lane and start mouthing off about someone. I think they might mean me, so I glare at them menacingly before realising they actually mean two girls who are ignoring the lane markers and just swimming wherever the hell they like, so I glare at them instead. Watch prehistoric woman be winched out of the pool, then proudly swim out of my depth for the first time in years; decide I might have to give more thought to this early morning swim idea, although realise it’ll probably never happen because I’m too lazy. Notice reception woman peeking into the pool area. Hang around for a bit longer, then hit the showers and home. Watch more Boston Legal, read more Bottomless Belly Button.

Friday
Wake up at 4:40 am with a really itchy leg thanks to the bugs who bit me to buggery at running club on Tuesday. Head to bathroom, slap on some Savlon, stagger back to bed. Wake up at 8 am, roll over and go back to sleep. Wake up at 9:30 to find a text from O2: good news - I’m connected! Get up, washed, and dressed (new jeans defo rock, particularly when teamed with new shirt I bought a few weeks back). Head downstairs, make tea, catch the end of an episode of Gilmore Girls, plug in O2 box and marvel at the wonder that is the tinternet. Unplug cable linking O2 box to computer and set up a wireless network. Feel proud of myself. Catch beginning of the Gilmore Girls episode I saw the end of earlier. Dump old Homechoice box in a bag; rip all the cables they stapled around my living room doorframe off, chuck that in bag too. My living room is now officially Homechoice/Tiscali free: *contented sigh*. Download iPhone remote app and spend way too much time enjoying controlling my iTunes library on my computer with my phone. Stunned to find little ball-scroll wheel thingy in mouse is working again. Have lunch, catch the end of the same Gilmore Girls episode again, watch some Boston Legal. Look at the internet again - it’s great. Watch some more Boston Legal. Head over to Sparky Ma and Pa’s for dinner. Drop Sparky Nan home, play with the ancient but lovable cat that lives down her road. Head home, listen to the George Lamb podcast, watch some more Boston Legal. Chillax.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ensign Ricky

Following the revelation that I’m a filthy Star Trek fan, I thought you might like to see this.

Look closely at the list of names on the screen that Seven of Nine is looking at and you’ll see what is probably the closest I’ll ever get to actually being in Star Trek.

Yes, I’m dead.

Actually, Crewman Timothy Lang is dead, but he did appear in a few episodes of Voyager (‘Warhead,’ for example) before being bumped off. I distinctly recall the moment we first heard his name mentioned while watching an episode fresh from the States in the office. I was sitting towards the back of the office (as I’m always conscious of other people not being able to see past my noggin) when someone in the episode said his name. I’m not lying when I say that everyone turned round to look at me like I knew it was going to happen. I did not, and what they saw was probably something very much like the face a stunned young starlet might make upon being told that, against all the odds she’d somehow won the Oscar.

A little bit of detective work subsequently threw up the closest bit of confirmation I’d ever get on the matter: to save time and effort, the writers would often pull names for background characters from whatever books or magazines they had to hand (and they had plenty of copies of the Fact Files sent to them over the years), change them a little, and put them onscreen. Don’t believe me? Timothy Lang is listed above two characters from The West Wing.

Friday, August 22, 2008

ISP: It’s a Shitty Provider!

As you might know I’ve recently hinted (rather vocally, to be honest), that I’ve been having some, erm, ‘issues’ with my broadband connection.

Please allow me to vent.

When I bought Sparky Towers several years ago, one of the most unusual aspects of my property of choice (aside from the previous occupant’s massively wafty attempts at interior decorating) was the fact that it didn’t have a television ariel. To be honest, I actually didn’t notice this little fact until after I’d bought the place, but it’s not like it would’ve been a deal-breaker, so no big deal. That being the case, when I came to get my broadband package I ended up going with a company called Homechoice because they offered broadband, phone, and cable TV for a very reasonable figure per month.

And for nearly three years I’ve been very happy with the service.

Earlier this year, however, I decided that I didn’t need the TV part of the package anymore, due to the fact that about two years ago I finally got around to having an aerial put up. Good times. This, along with with the realisation that I could save a bit of cash each month if I went to a simpler package, led me to begin thinking about changing my ISP.

Now, about the same time I had my aerial put up Homechoice was taken over by Tiscali, and as everything had remained groovy after the takeover, I thought it would make sense to stick with Tiscali - mainly because they offer a broadband and phone package that would cut my ISP costs in half. Yes, I said IN. HALF.

Bonus.

So on June 14 I phoned up and ordered the service. Everything was hunky-dory, and the only action I needed to take was to get in touch with Homechoice to get a MAC migration code, although I did think this was a bit of an odd thing to do because they are basically the same company; still, easy enough, I figured. Um, yeeeeeeeah…

My first warning sign came when I phoned Homechoice. The representative there kept trying to get me to upgrade my TV package, despite me constantly telling him that I no longer used the TV part of the package, and that I wanted to remain a Tiscali customer, but just with phone and broadband. He then outright lied to me by telling me that a MAC code would not work when trying to move from Homechoice to Tiscali because I was “already on the system.” I responded by telling him that I’d take my business to a different provider if it was going to be a problem. The MAC code was then only supplied to me when I requested it in writing.

Despite that, I just thought I’d had to deal with some eager new guy trying to prove himself in the cut-throat world of ISP wrangling, and everything would be plain sailing after that.

Over the course of the next few weeks I actually kinda forgot about the fact that I’d ordered a new broadband service, although I will admit that every now and then I did wonder where my free wireless router was (mainly because I really wanted to try out the new app that lets you use your iPhone as a remote control for your iTunes library). And then on August 2, well over a month and a half after I’d arranged to set up the Tiscali service (during which time I had heard nothing from your company) I received a letter from Tiscali informing me that the MAC code I had supplied had expired - because they’d done nothing with it. I phoned the customer services department to have a little whinge about this, at which point I was told that the £30 set-up fee would be waived as a gesture of good will, and that my service would be rushed through once I sent them another MAC code. So I emailed Homechoice, managed to get another code relatively painlessly, and forwarded it on to Tiscali.

And then I waited.

And then last weekend my Homechoice router stopped working and I was left without broadband, a home phoneline, or the cable TV service that I no longer watch. Figuring, somewhat naively you might think, that I was on the cusp of finally receiving my free wireless router and moving over to Tiscali’s super-awesome bargain broadband package, I decided that there was no point in getting in touch with Homechoice to moan about this. I did, however, call Tiscali just to check on the status of my order.

And this is where I shall quote a paragraph from the three-page letter I sent to Tiscali’s head office just the other day:

“In the course of one hour (at which point I should have actually been working) your inept staff passed me from department to department, during which time I had to keep repeating exactly what had happened, as well as repeating my account details. Eventually I discovered my line was “due to be provisioned on August 13,” at which point I told your representative that that was six days ago, which surprised her somewhat. My request to find out why I’d not been contacted about this when there was clearly a problem was not answered. In addition, the note about the set-up fee being waived was not attached to my file and it’s clear I would have been charged this.
To add insult to injury, after being put through to your technical support department to ask where my router was (apparently your ‘account’ staff can’t help with this) and explaining once again how long I’ve been waiting, the technical support representative hung up on me.”

(I’d like to add that while I was on the phone to Tiscali’s various departments while standing outside the office, a little cat which sometimes visits us at work, which I’ve named KitKat because it’s so tiny, was rubbing round my legs. During a particularly heated moment in the conversation, I felt something on my leg, and looked down to find KitKat standing on her hind legs with her front paws wrapped around my knee, beschnuffling her face against me like she was giving me a hug. It was very sweet, and it genuinely seemed like she was trying to get me to calm down and cheer up. And before anyone says it, she was most definitely not humping my leg because there was no thrusting motion, so there)

Incandescent with rage at having the phone put down on my I returned to my desk and seethed for the rest of the morning.

Several hours later at lunchti- oh bugger it, let’s just have another excerpt from my letter:

“Several hours later during my lunch hour I called Tiscali again. Once again I was passed between departments. I eventually asked if I could speak to a supervisor, but this request was turned down.

By this time I decided that if Tiscali can show such utter incompetence before I’m actually a paying customer, I really don’t want to be tied to a 12 month contract with you, so I asked one of your representatives to cancel my order. She, of course, could not do this and needed to put me through to – you guessed it! – another department. This turned out not to be another department, however, merely a pre-recorded message telling me that I needed to call a completely different telephone number (why your member of staff could not have just given me this phone number in the first place I don’t know, but having realised how stupid Tiscali’s staff are I really shouldn’t have been surprised).

I subsequently called this number and for once actually got through to just one person who could actually help me without palming me off onto anther inept person/department.”

So there we have it. I’m currently in broadband limbo. The Homechoice router bursts into life sporadically before going down quicker than Demi Moore in that saucy movie she made a few years back, the little blue light on the front turning red and flickering out of existence like Arnie’s eye at the end of Terminator after his head’s been smashed to smithereens.

But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel! On the very same day I ranted massively at Tiscali and cancelled my order with them I made the snap decision to order a broadband package from O2 (a very reasonably-priced package I hasten to add, sweetened by the fact that I’m an iPhone-owning O2 customer already). Within two hours of placing my order I’d had more contact from them than I’d had in two months from Tiscali. And in the days since they’ve sent me several more emails and texts updating me on the status of my order, giving me the option of which day I want my spiffy-looking wireless router to be delivered, and letting me know which day everything will go live. OK, so it’s going to cost a couple of quid more per month than the Tiscali package I wanted, but so far they’ve been *amazing* and if this is the sort of service a couple of quid more will get me than I ain’t gonna complain.

And Tiscali? Well, I’ve not heard the last from them…

In the days SINCE I cancelled my order, they’ve actually started bothering to respond to the emails that I sent days ago. Not very coherent emails, though. Here’s some choice quotes:

“As you are aware that, already your issue has been escalated to our service engineers under case Reference Number ************** and we are doing our utmost to resolve it in a timely manner. In this case, I request you to bear with us till the issue is been resolved.”

And:

“However, I would like to inform you that your case has already been escalated to our concerned department with highest priority and work is still under progress, it also seems that we would provide you with the resolution at the earliest.”

WTF?!

One of my particular favourites was thIs one…

“I have checked my records and found that you have sent us two e-mails for the same query and we have responded to all your questions in the previous e-mail with reference number **************. In this case, I am changing the status of this email as resolved.”

…which seems to suggest that a) they answered all my questions/rants to my satisfaction (um, no), and b) that there’s not a problem anyway, and everyone has to wait two months for them not to supply a shitty service (um, yes, think they probably do by the sounds of things!).

Anyway, having realised that the arse clearly doesn’t know what the elbow’s doing, and at least two of their emails AFTER my order cancellation hint that they think they’re still going to supply me with a service at some point, I also very quickly cancelled the direct debit I’d set up with them so the incompetent bastards can’t try to take any of my money.

So in conclusion, my broadband is still up shit creek without a paddle, or indeed anything resembling a boat, until next Thursday, when salvation is scheduled to arrive in the messianic form of O2. I’m doing my best to keep up to date with all your blogs and comments and Facebook (and writing all my latest posts offline, then quickly pasting them into blogger) when a window of broadband-based opportunity presents itself (or, of course, via iPhone), but things are rather hit-and-miss.

Till then - here’s some fun key words for eager Google fans to pick up!

• How shit are Tiscali?
• Tiscali are shit.
• Is Tiscali broadband any good? (no).
• Should I get Tiscali broadband (no).
• Tiscali customer services are rubbish (yes).
• Where can I write to Tiscali’s head office to complain (20 Broadwick Street, London W1F 8HT)
• I hate Tiscali (join the club).

(further rants by fellow irate Tiscali customers can be found here; praise for O2 broadband can be found here)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cool like a fool in a swimming pool

My history with swimming is, like Brentford leisure centre’s pool when the wave machine is turned on, somewhat turbulent. When I was a kid I *hated* it to the point that I would beg, plead, and lie to Sparky Ma in order to get her to write a letter excusing me from my junior school’s Tuesday afternoon swimming lessons. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. My reasons for hating swimming were, well, many and varied: I hated the smell of chlorine (to the point that for some reason it became a habit that I’d hold my breath whenever we drove past a leisure centre), and I hated the water because it was cold and I thought I’d sink and drown. Matters weren’t exactly helped by the fact that the old biddy who took the swimming lessons once threatened to electrify the rail around the edge of the pool because I had a habit of clinging on for dear life as I edged toward the deep end.

On one hand I can see her point, on the other doesn’t water conduct electrickery? I’d loved to have seen her explain a poolful of electrocuted children to the PTA.

From the age of about 11 until 20 I don’t think I went anywhere near a pool because of my odd childhood trauma/hang-ups. And anyway, I couldn’t swim so what was the point? But post-20 something strange happened. I started to think that I should give it another chance. So I did, and I taught myself how to swim. OK, I wasn’t exactly a pretty swimmer (think dog fetching stick in river), but I was pretty sure I could get myself out of difficulty if I found myself inexplicably adrift in a body of water (especially if it was only a metre or so deep). I even kinda enjoyed myself.

But then for some reason I gave up on the whole thing again about five years ago.

Over the last week or so several factors have conspired to change my opinion once again, though. I think we should probably call it the Phelps Factor, because I don’t care who you are or how good at swimming you are, but the way that fella motors through the water is both a) inspiring, and b) pretty darn awesome. And me being the energetic, sporty little bugger that I’ve become in recent years looked at those eight gold medals and thought “yeah, I can do that.”

(Um, yeah *right*)

Anyway, another factor is all the running I’ve been doing. I’m not afraid to say that running club is proving to be both a brilliant and worthwhile experience, and bloody knackering. We did well over 10k on Tuesday, and Sweatband (who did an easier session, I hasten to add!) thought I was going to pass out when I got back to the clubhouse. That being the case, I’ve found that I’m still recovering a little by Thursday evening and less inclined to head out for another run, even a short one. So I figured that swimming, being much less jarring on the joints, would be a good alternative to one of my thrice weekly runs.

The final factor is the fact that there’s a swimming pool just five minutes walk away, and I’ve been thinking about heading down there since I moved into Sparky Towers; sheer laziness just got in the way.

And so I talked best mate Jo into coming with me, because I know she’s an OK swimmer and at the very least could raise the alarm if I went under faster than the Red October.

So tonight we rocked up, paid our money, and hit the pool (after I’d bombarded Jo with a number of panicked texts quizzing her on the depth of the pool, like she’d gone at measured it at some point). I initially stayed down the shallow end getting the lay of the land (or rather pool), and acclimatising to the water. And then after a few minutes, and feeling a little bit like a baby giraffe trying to stand up for the first time, I kicked off. OK, so I’m not as good as I was back in the days after teaching myself, and I know I did look a bit like that dog fetching a stick in the river, but I think I did alright. I certainly improved with every length I swam - although when I say length I actually mean ‘two-thirds of a length’ because I was a little bit wary of swimming out of my depth; the one time I did Jo said something funny (I believe it was “if she comes near me I’ll bang her on the head with my float” in reference to another swimmer) and I lost my rhythm and, like Titanic, started taking water on.

There were, nevertheless, a number of minor negative points:

• A couple who insisted on making overt PDAs in the pool; get a room. (It was the lady of this couple who Jo threatened to bang on the head)
Some power-swimmer who insisted on being in the slow lane. She kept diving under for long periods of time, and I feared she was going to try dragging me, or my trunks, down.
The music. They played some tunes in the pool area, starting rather well with ‘More than Words’ by Extreme, but moving onto ‘Killing me Softly’ by the time we decided to head home. It’s a great song, but not exactly, um, motivating - unless you’re suicidal, perhaps.
I banged my leg on the stairs as I climbed out of the pool and I’ve got a proper massive lump on my leg.
Changing rooms. Chaps, seriously, there’s cubicles provided - I don’t need to see your janglies while I retrieve my bag!

Anyway, on the whole I enjoyed it. Phelps might not have anything to worry about just yet, but I’m definitely going to go again.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I haz cheezburger!

I made my first LOLcat on icanhazcheezburger today!

I'm so pleased with myself - kittehs and a geeky sci-fi reference!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Well cut me open and count the rings

Not literally, of course; they'd be blood and spleen everywhere. No, what I mean is that I wanted to mention something about age. Twice in the same day last week, y'see, I found myself the subject of the old age-guessing game. The first time a lovely 20 year old girl said that she thought I was 26 (love her!), while later in the evening a filthy gayer said that he thought I was 28. Neither guessed I was nudging 31, and both are now my two very favourite people.

Anyway, using some twisted law of ages, I'll now be celebrating my 28th birthday this year. Good times.

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Right, due to my crappy broadband provider (more on that to come, believe me!) I'm currently without internet or a home phone. Thanks Tiscali (arses), and bless you iPhone for letting me post while spread-eagled on the living room floor after a particularly arduous night at running club. I am in the process of resolving the broadband problems (hello O2!), so hopefully I'll be up and running again soon.

The post running club recovery might take a little more time...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

LACK action!

Today has been dominated by two shopping expeditions born out of necessity: the first was a quick jaunt to Kingston on an urgent mission to buy a new wallet after the zip bust on my previous one and all my change kept emptying out everywhere whenever I took it out of my pocket. The replacement is a cool Rip Curl wallet in a tasteful chocolate brown. 

Mmmm - nice!

Several hours later, and almost two years after the inaugural annual IKEA-day, Jo and I headed to Wembley to fulfill my desire for some hot red LACK action, made necessary by the fact that I bought a printer the other week and I keep worrying that I'll step on it if I leave it on the floor for much longer. Plus, it looks a bit trampy if you leave random pieces of computer equipment scattered across the floor, right?

Good. Times. 

Also good was the fact that Jo didn't intend to spend any money and I somehow convinced her to spend more than I did. I did almost buy a big plant thingy, but was put off by the fact that all the ceramic pots they had to put them in were ugly. And by 'ugly' I actually mean 'UUUUG-leeeeeee.'

Oh, and in other matters, it appears as if IKEA have named a new item after me.

Some old dude gave me massive evils when I took this picture (I think he thought I was taking a picture of him).

Anyway, that's all of little importance, because in Aisle 6, Location 3 the prophecy was finally fulfilled and I got my grubby little mits on a bright red LACK. Several minutes later I handed over £7.99 and the LACK was mine. 

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A little under an hour later I was home and aching to assemble my LACK, while also fielding text messages from Willowc who wanted to know where Mick Jagger lives. LACK assemblage was not without its problems, however…

The LACK in its PACK(aging).

The LACK is shrink-wrapped in plastic. This needs to be pierced with a pointed finger or other firm appendage.

The LACK includes four doubled-ended screws. These are of great importance.

The LACK also includes four legs. These are also of great importance.

This is the main bit of the LACK. If you've bought a LACK and this is not included, you may want to contact customer services.

The instructions, stuck on the underside of the main part of the LACK, are pretty straightforward: screw legs onto main bit. Easy enough, you might think.

Attempting to screw the double-ended screws into the holes proves somewhat difficult, however, because the holes are too small, and the thread leaves an interesting, some might say "painful," indentation on your fingers.

Fortunately, I'm not just a pretty face; I whack one of the legs onto the screw and just damn-well screw the bastard on.

One leg…

…Two legs (and some Tim-leg supporting action because it was sliding around a bit)…

…Three legs…

…Four!

And finally the little red LACK complete!

So I've finally got a little red LACK. It's in place now, with mah printer on top, and it looks great. The question now is: do I go all Pokemon and collect them all…?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Book Shelf V: The Epic Conclusion **UPDATE**

I've got a bumper posting of books for you today to round off my first attempt at a theme week.

From the living room we move upstairs to the shelves where I keep my favourite books. So steady yourselves people, because in the words of The Joker - here … we … go:

So here's my shelf full of Love and Rockets books. I've posted it up before, but I think it's grown a bit since then - maybe a couple more books, and certainly a few more comic books. Oh, and there's a small canvas of Spock that Big Bro got me for Christmas. I really need to put my pictures up. I've been living here almost three years, and I still have pictures leaning up against the walls. How lazy is that?  

Right, so here we have my collection of Mark Poirier books (I highly recommend both Goats and Modern Ranch Living), as well as John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces and The Neon Bible (both of which I really should reread), and Chip Kidd's two novels (which are excellent). There's some other stuff, as you can see, but I'd really like to point out the hardback prose novel It's Superman! which is a fantastic retelling of Superman's origins set in the 30s and 40s (and at the time of writing Amazon are saying they only have one left in stock, so you'll have to fight amongst yourselves for it). Moving down to the next shelf you can see my collection of Chuck Palaniuk books, which quite frankly are going to get relagated to a downstairs shelf because his recent output sucks massively is a tad disappointing, Charles Burns' wonderful Black Hole (Amazon stock check: five - plenty for everyone), my leather-bound collector's edition of Bone (look - still in the plastic shrink-wrap!), and my collection of The Complete Peanuts which just looks better and better on the shelf as more volumes are added. Oh, and on the very right are my Garfield TV special books; I am not afraid to say that I like Garfield. 

Moving further down my IKEA Billy bookcase we find my DC Absolute Editions (Absolute New Frontier? Awesome), and a smattering of other graphic novels including Michel Rabagliati's brilliant series of 'Paul' books. To the right of the picture you'll also see Rant, Chuck Palaniuk's 2007 novel (which I refuse to provide a link to); it was this book that completely destroyed my faith in his storytelling, and it's sat there since I finished reading it in disgust last summer. I'm unsure whether I should allow it onto a book shelf or just fling it out the window.

Last but by no means least, we come to the stack of books awaiting the attention of my eyes and brain. Since taking this picture I've actually finished reading William Shatner's Up Till Now (look at the picture on the spine - campest Shatty EVAH), and the next book down, Invasion of the Mind Sappers by Carol Swain. Beneath those you'll see (in descending order) Jaime Hernandez's latest book, The Education of Hopey Glass, The Shadow of the Sun (a freebie from barista dude in Starbucks after it was given away in The Times and I was too cheap to buy it), Freakonomics (which I actually bought The Times at the considerable expense of 70p to get my mits on), Steinbeck's East of Eden, The latest collection of Love and Rockets stories, Amor Y Cohetes, and the latest edition of The Complete Peanuts.

*Phew*

I'm reading Freakonomics at the moment: it's ace.

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**UPDATE**

At IDV's request, I'm adding a picture of my Calvin and Hobbes books because I initially forget about those. These are so big that they have to stand on the floor next to my bookshelf. And they are so heavy that when I read them I could only do so for 20 minutes at a time because they cut off the circulation to my legs. I do love 'em though.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Book Shelf IV: Down to the Floor

OK, so we're back to books today. Here are the lowest two shelves of the massive book shelf in my living room.

And with a couple of exceptions they're full of Star Trek books.

So here we have my big reference books (and two Rolling Stones biographies). The first Trek book on the left is my bible, The Star Trek Encyclopedia. I actually own two versions of this book - the other is a paperback and it's at work; it's well-worn, like it's been in a fight with a Mugato or something. The one you see here is my nice one. It's a hardback version, and it was one of the last presents I ever got from my grandparents on Sparky Pa's side before they passed away. As you can imagine, I'll be hanging on to this book for a while yet. 

Moving along past the reference books you can see the autobiography section, which includes William Shatner's two Star Trek Memories books (not to be confused with his new autobiography 'Up Till Now' which deals with his life outside of Star Trek. As well as some more of his life in Star Trek. As you might expect, Star Trek's played quite a big part in his life).

Also, you might see what appears to be a transparent Borg Cube. This is not, in fact, a transparent Borg Cube; it's actually a light from Habitat that I was given several years ago. It's supposed to be the 21st century equivalent of a candle, but it's rubbish if there's a power cut because, well, it needs electrickery.

Moving on…

Here's all my Star Trek fiction. I actually gave a load of old Star Trek novels to charity shops when I moved out because I knew I'd never read them again (they were *really* happy to receive them, let me tell you), but I did keep all the movie novelisations and the Shatnerverse books. Oh, and you see the novelisation of TNG's final episode, 'All Good Things…'? Sparky Pa bought me that when I passed my GCSE exams back in '94. 

There's actually a few more novels off to the right (the few Star Trek ones that I did keep), but I couldn't fit them in the frame. I don't think you're missing much by not seeing them.

Tomorrow: the final thrilling installment!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Intermission: "It's Richmond Park - there's trees *everywhere*"

We interrupt the regularly-scheduled Book Shelf theme week for a story of adventure and excitement in the wilderness of a West London park. 

(Oh, and it's my 600th post, so I thought it was deserving of something a little bit more special than a couple of pictures of books on shelves)

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Running club last night offered something a little different to the regular training activities: orienteering. I've never done orienteering in my life, but the idea has always appealed to me, perhaps because it reminds me of the classic Anneka Rice television programme Treasure Hunt (before Anneka left and was replaced by the hopeless Annebel Croft). Upon finding out about the orienteering evening a few weeks back I immediately began pestering Sweatband, certain that she'd be up for the challenge.

"No. I hate orienteering," was her response. 

Bugger.

Still, I'm nothing if not persistent, so I kept hassling her until she caved.

"OK, but I'm not doing any map work," she said.

"Fine," I replied. "I'll do all that."

And this is where I tell you that I've never done any map work in my life. Still, how difficult could it be? Sparky Pa reckons I've got a great sense of direction; he always used to say that if he dumped me in a field in the middle of nowhere he was pretty certain I'd find my way home again.

All throughout Tuesday I was mega-excited, even when I woke up first thing in the morning to hear torrential rain outside. It could only add to the fun, right? So I rock up to running club headquarters at about 18:40 to find a relatively miserable looking Sweatband skulking around outside. She started kicking off with excuses straight away.

"You've got to pay, did you know you've got to pay? I've got no cash on me."

As a gentleman, I naturally offered to pay for her - especially seeing as she was doing it for me. She looked crestfallen. 

"We've got to wait an hour until it starts…" 

I pretty much blocked out any other complaints by smiling, nodding, and hearing her voice as if she were talking like the school teacher in Peanuts - y'know all "whah whah whah…" That seemed to work.

With that sorted I dragged Sweatband into the clubhouse to sign-up. There was a choice between a 6km route, or a 10; again, seeing as Sweatband wasn't terribly excited by the prospect of orienteering, I agreed that we'd do the six. So I handed over the cash (12 quid, although the organiser dude decided to only charge me eight) and collected our dibber and map. The dibber was a little electronic tag thingy that we needed to press into a device left beside each marker around the course in order to prove that we'd followed the route correctly, and to track our time. Sweatband swiftly appointed me dibber custodian because she was refusing to take responsibility for anything other than putting one foot in front of the other. 

The map looked like this:

We immediately began studying the route - and I say 'we' because despite her initial refusal to even look at the map or acknowledge it even existed, Sweatband began to show a surprising amount of interest; perhaps because she hoped to be able to recognise some of the marker locations beforehand so that we could get the whole thing over and done with as quickly as possible. Encouragingly, I immediately knew where Marker 1 was located.

At about 1935 we wandered over to the start line, and within a couple of minutes we were on our way. Oh, and it started chucking it down with rain, which made the map a bit soggy. 

As expected, Marker 1 was located relatively easily; we overran by about 50 metres, and had to turn back and climb a hill to find it, but find it we did. And from there, I held the map out in front of me, literally imagining myself within it in order to to visualise the location of Marker 2.

"This way," I said confidently to Sweatband, pointing into the distance before setting off heroically into the bracken like a gazelle.

About 20 minutes later Sweatband was standing with her hands on her hips looking at me in that way that women look at you when they're deeply unimpressed. I, in contrast, had turned into assertive alpha male - you know the one, the type of guy who isn't actually 'lost as such,' but doesn't know exactly 'where you are per se,' and either won't admit it or claim that the map is wrong. Fortunately there was a clue on the map: the marker was located in a tree.

I began looking in and around various trees.

"It's Richmond Park," shouted Sweatband. "There's trees *everywhere*"

"I know!" I replied. "But we don't need to look in *every* tree - just the ones in the general vicinity."

I think I was *this* close to being a headline on today's newspapers: Hot young editor found beaten to death in park (subheading: Crazed local woman held by police).

After backtracking a … fair way, we finally located Marker 2. It was in a tree. As I gave Sweatband the thumbs up she looked at me with something unlike enthusiasm and said "I was going to give it two more minutes before giving up and going back to the clubhouse." I could be wrong, but I think she was actually a little bit disappointed that I found Marker 2. Anyway, with that devil of a marker finally out of the way, and the ragged remnants of our friendship just about holding together, I'm not afraid to say that I was on orienteering fire after that. Marker 3 was found just minutes later, along with an event organiser snuggled down by a tree.

"Don't worry," she laughed as I dibbed the dibber. "The sweeper's not been round yet!"

I smiled, and as we ran off towards Marker 4 I asked Sweatband what a sweeper was.

"It's the person who goes round to make sure no one is lost or left in the park when it closes," she replied matter-of-factly.

Marker 4 was found quickly and easily, and then we were off towards the fifth and final one, which I found after running on ahead after secretly fearing that I might have led Sweatband astray again, and not wanting to incur her wrath for a second time. From Marker 5 we could see down the hill toward the finish line, so tantilisingly close. And that's when Sweatband set off like a whippet on a beeline for the finish. 

If we'd really been paying attention, we probably would've noticed that what initially looked like relatively short grass was actually bumpy, untamed wilderness, but I really don't think anything short of an elephant tranquilizer could've stopped Sweatband as she barreled downhill, desperate to cross the line and bring the evening's events to a close. I followed a bit more carefully behind, which gave me a prime vantage point to observe her as she suddenly veered to the left, then to the right, then to the left again before ending up sitting in a big patch of thorns. I would've immediately offered a hand to help her up, but I was left speechless at her marvelous comedy fall. It was super-impressive.

After a few seconds of sitting in the thorns, Sweatband hauled herself up and showed me a cut on her hand, and some awesome-looking slices on her leg. Seriously, it looked like she'd gone one-on-one with a samurai squirrel or something. But do you know what? She totally laughed it off (and later showed them to everyone in the clubhouse as her "war-wounds"). 

As we finally staggered towards the finish line, the smiling, bleeding Sweatband turned to me and admitted that she'd actually quite enjoyed herself. "I think we probably added about half a kilometre to our distance looking for the second marker, though," she said. I checked my iPod, having recorded the run data using my Nike+ kit. "Hmmm." I replied. "Make that an extra two and a half kilometres."

Yes, we ran 8.59km. 

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Some stats!

Times between markers/total time:

Marker 1 - 11:49/11:49
Marker 2 - 25:15/37:04
Marker 3 - 5:52/42:56
Marker 4 - 13:08/56:04
Marker 5 - 7:24/1:03:28
Finish - 4:27/1:07:55

And here's my Nike+ graph:

See how consistent we were - except for that dip at the end which is where Sweatband fell over.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Book Shelf III: The Search for Books

And here they are:

The bulk of my Batman and Superman graphic novels here. Actually, looking at it this entire shelf is DC…

A scattering of Marvel books, some Dark Horse (the white-spined books are their great Star Wars Tales anthologies), and a few Alan Moore books (if you have never read From Hell, please ignore the atrocious film and read this incredible book).

Some quality stuff here - Watchmen (*so* excited by the trailer for the movie), my old Star Trek graphic novels (one of which I picked up years ago for 50p in a bookshop sale), some Daniel Clowes stuff (you probably know him best for Ghostworld, which unlike From Hell was made into a great movie), Bone, which is fookin' awesome, my treasured Dick Tracy Casebook from the early 90s (around the time when the movie came out), some Kevin Smith graphic novels, and some old-skool Ninja Turtles books (waaaaaay darker than the TV show).

More to come tomorrow…

Monday, August 11, 2008

Book Shelf II: Double trouble

Notice here how I've only just begun building up the second layer of books? There's some true gems here - World War Z and I Am Charlotte Simmons being the most obvious.

And… BAM! Graphic novels ahoy! We start here with some hardbacks - Liberty Meadows (awesome, an often inappropriately funny tale of … well, check it out here), Invincible, and some classic Marvel and DC stuff.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Book shelf I: The Motionless Pictures

I'm going to take my cue from Dinah and do something a little bit different for my next few posts - something with a theme. And my theme? 

Books.

I've got loads of books. Hundreds. And before I moved out I had even more, but I decided I needed to get rid of some of them, mainly because I knew I wouldn't read them again, but also because I needed to make room for the books I hope to buy in the future. There's something almost magical about a book. If you told me you were going to take away all different forms of media except one, I'd choose to keep books. Yes I love music, and I love movies… but books are different. With a book you can create your own vision of the author's world, unhindered by budgetry restraints. Your mind's eye can cast whoever you want in the roles of the individual characters.

I was reading an interesting article a few weeks back in which a writer was arguing how electronic book readers like the Amazon Kindle will never take off like the iPod has for music because we form emotional attachments to books, unlike CDs, which we're obviously quite happy to dispense with in favour of mp3s. I agree wholeheartedly. I have no problem buying music off the iTunes store instead of picking up a physical copy in a record shop. Similarly, I'm finding myself veering towards buying an Apple TV so I can rent and download movies from the iTunes movie store rather than buy DVDs that take up shelf space. 

Books, however, are different. I love seeing a shelf straining under the weight of books. The differing sizes, the designs of their spines all vying for your attention. Each book is different, from the feel of the paper to the – and this might sound weird - smell. Have you ever opened a book and just breathed in the smell? If you haven't, do it now.

So the next few days are going to be about books. I've been taking photos of my bookshelves (and believe me, there's a fair few of those at Sparky Towers), and I'm going to post them here for you to see. There's going to be some good books, and there's going to be some … not-so-good books. If you spot any titles on the shelves that you're intrigued by, let me know in the comments section and I'll post up the back cover blurb and a bit about what I thought of it.

Here we go then:

If you look carefully you'll actually see that the books on this shelf are two-deep. I'm actually not too sure what's hidden away at the back there, but I suspect there's some quality titles.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Pimp my iPhone

OK, how long have I had my iPhone? Almost six months, that's how long. And do you know what's really shocking? I've not bothered to change the stock wallpaper image that appears whenever you turn it on or wake it up. Yes, that's right - I've stuck with that ubiquitous image of good ol' planet Earth.

Time for a change, methinks.

And so, after rummaging around the digital archive at work today, I dug out a beauty of an image which was used on the cover of one of our magazines a few years back. I've always liked this pic, but it was always a bit of an odd shape to use for a desktop image. Fortunately it's the perfect shape for the iPhone.

That's obviously a mock-up of what it looks like, but you get the gist. Anyway, if I remember correctly the original CGI was created by this very talented fellow. I recommend you go check out his stuff.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Day-by-day

Word-up, peeps. OK, so not much exciting has been going on, so I just thought I'd give you a run-down of what I've been up to.

Brace yourselves: I wouldn't want anyone, y'know, falling out of their chairs or anything.

Monday
Um… bugger all happened, to be honest. And by that I actually mean I can't remember what I did. Something must've happened… Either I'm having a senior moment or Monday was exceedingly, crushingly dull. I know I watched One Tree Hill, but that was about it.

Let's move on. Nothing to see here.

Tuesday
Tuesday was running club day, and my group (i.e. the fair-to-middling group) was thrown in with the advanced group for reasons I shan't bother to go into here. We did something called 'triangles' which is basically a mega-intense up-hill/down-hill relay. It hurt. A lot. 

Actually, during the pre-triangles warm-up I seriously thought I'd done myself an injury. While doing a bunch of squat-thrusts I swear I felt something tear in my thigh, followed by an intensely warm sensation - almost like I'd sprayed an entire can of Deep-heat on my leg. My first thought was "shit, I've buggered my leg up," so I stopped doing squat thrusts and just flexed it a bit. Anyway, either it was nothing to worry about, or I've totally gone all Claire Bennet on ya, because within a couple of minutes the warm sensation had gone and I was in the midst of running up-hill like a complete nutter for my first triangles section.

Cue Claire Bennet-style cheerleader shenanigans:

Gimme a 'Y'!
Gimme an 'A'!
Gimme a 'Y'!

YAY!

Wednesday
Went to see The X-Files: I Want to Believe after work, which was a well-timed screening because it looks like the cinema's giving it the heave-ho after this week, pretty much confirming the general consensus that it's a big ol' flop. I really wanted to like this movie, because I was a) a big fan of the show back in the day, before it went so far up it's own ass all it could see was bowels and colon, and b) because I like to support the underdog. And d'ya know what? I liked it. It's not a 'WOW!' movie like The Dark Knight, but it's an intelligent and gripping thriller that does ask you to engage your brain (which DK does too, admittedly). Therein lies the rub, though, people: it's not a summer blockbuster. It's a smaller film, much smaller in scale than the first X-Files movie; almost like an independent movie in fact, though I'd disagree with those who say it's just like a longer version of one of the TV episodes. I can't honestly recall any moments that required any kick-ass special effects, and at one point I wasn't entirely sure it was going to have that familiar X-Files twist - which would've been an interesting twist on the established format to say the least. I did think the end was a tad rushed, though. 

I genuinely think that if the studio had taken a real look at what Chris Carter and co had made, they could've made this a bigger hit. If it had come out around October, say, near Halloween or something, then I think it might've made a bigger impact. But putting it up against The Dark Knight? Dumb.

Thursday
Today will probably rank up there with Monday, which means by tomorrow morning it's doubtful I'll remember anything that happened. So let's list some things that happened so I can remind myself:

• Friendly barista-dude in Secret Starbucks gave me a copy of The Shadow of the Sun which he kept for me after it was given away free in The Times last week and I was too cheap to pay 70p for it. He must really want me to read it, so I'll add it to the book stack and give it a whirl at some point.

• Technical issues prevented me from doing some work I'd really wanted to do. Poopy.

• New-look Facebook troubles me. I'll be sticking with the old one, thank you.

• I am highly amused by these Batman y-fronts, which have 'BOOM!' and 'WHAK!' (tee-hee!) emblazoned across them.

• I am loading every Jeff Buckley track I own onto my iTunes. Good times.

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Right, that's me - what've you bitches been up to?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Martians cometh

Jo and I went shopping to Woking today. Why Woking, you may ask. It's a good question, I'll grant you that. And the answer is because it's somewhere a bit different than our usual haunts. Variety being the spice of life, and all that.

It was all a bit shocking at first, because Jo immediately dragged me into a load of girly shops and started spending money like there was no tomorrow. I've not seen her like that before. She was like a woman possessed. I had to dissuade her from buying a revolting dress that even she acknowledged was revolting. 

I needed a coffee just to calm things down a bit. 

I soon hit my stride, though. I've recently rediscovered Topman, and there was a pretty decently-sized Topman hidden away in one of the shopping malls. And goddamn did I get my own back. I ended up going into a changing room carrying two t-shirts and three pairs of jeans, one of which was a skinny pair that Jo convinced me to try on. They actually fitted OK, and didn't look like they'd been painted on, but they had weird zippy pockets which went against the classic jeans-look I was after. Another pair was massively and unnecessarily-flared, so they went back on the shelf straight away. Fortunately pair number three was awesome-personified; a straight-fit pair that will go with my new posh shoes really well. 

As for the t-shirts, I ended up buying one - an extra-deep vee-necked affair that cost six quid and shows off my man-baps like nothing else in my wardrobe. We actually debated whether it was wise to show of that much chest, but for six quid it's no real loss if I end up using it as a duster. 

Jo was also on the lookout for man-jewelry for me. Not big diamond rings or chavvy stuff like that, more like bohemian-style wrist accoutrements. I quite like the idea, but I'd really need to find something I like before I bought anything - even if they were less than a fiver. Our conversation also strayed onto the topic of guyliner at one point, but I ain't going there unless someone stumps up some serious cash, even if it will accentuate the bottomless depths of my lovely eyes.

All in all, then, a rather successful afternoon. And look - the jeans and shoes are an awesome match!

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Shopping's not all we did in Woking, though. We avoided being enslaved by Martian invaders.

This is where they landed. Look what they did to the brickwork. That's just rude.

The Martians are coming - RUUUUUUUUN! Where's Tom Cruise when you need him!?

Ha ha. Just kidding, like I'd need Tom Cruise. But no, really, all this Martian stuff is set up in the high street because Woking is a key location in the Martian attack in H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. In fact, one of the reasons I love that book so much is that a lot of the action takes place in locations I know really well. I'd be well set if they actually did invade. With my deep-vee t-shirt, new jeans and posh shoes I'm pretty certain I'd simply dazzle the Martians with my on-trend fashion sense and sexy moves.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Bad start

At the time of writing, I'm less than a day into the weekend, and already I've faced three rather vexing situations.

It all started quite nicely, to be honest. Yazzle Dazzle and I decided over our lunchtime coffee to meet up for a post-work coffee, which we haven't done for aaaaages. And so, at 17:45 I met her outside her office and we trundled down to Secret Starbucks. Because it was rather warm Yaz decided to forgo the traditional Grande Misto and head down the Frappuccino route - and I decided to join her. 

About an hour later, and with so much chocolate spread over my hands and face that the nice barista lady  let me pop into Secret Starbucks to wash myself at the secret sink behind the counter (it looked weird being on the other side!), we toddled off our separate ways, both looking forward to weekend shenanigans.

I got home at around half seven after a brief stop-off at Sainsbury's only to find the private car park was … inexplicably full. And. Someone. Was. In. My. Space. And we all know how I feel about that. So I gesticulated at them to move, and as they did I realised that they were one of about four cars. All of which were full of teenagers. Doing drugs.

If I had've noticed this at first I probably would've gone and parked up in one of the visitors spaces just so my car was out of the way, but having asked them to move I thought it would've looked a bit weird to go park somewhere else. So I parked up, grabbed my stuff, and headed out of the car park without making eye contact. Because I had no intention of being stabbed-up by 12 teenagers. 

Now let's get this straight - I've never done drugs, and I never will. Not my thing. But I don't particularly care what people do so long as it doesn't harm or effect anyone else. If you want to do drugs, fine - do them. But do them in the privacy of your own home. Or in the middle of a field. Not in a private car park. At half past seven in the evening. There are some older people living round here - how intimidating would three or four cars full of teenagers be? 

Don't get me wrong - my area isn't normally like this. My road is quiet and hidden away (which probably explains why they came here). As far as I was concerned, though, they shouldn't be there. So I called the police. Admittedly I did debate whether it was a wise course of action because my parking space has a huge big number on it, but then I figured there were a couple of other people who'd come home and parked up, and there are plenty of houses overlooking the car park, so if they were going to take any sort of revenge they'd have to take it against at least 15 houses. Anyway, I thought it was better to nip this in the bud straightaway rather than let them think they have somewhere to come whenever they feel like it.

The police were very helpful, but ultimately the kids disappeared before they turned up. Still, I'm keeping my eyes open. Like a hawk. Or Batman!

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Problem the second was much less troubling, but still something of an annoyance. For various reasons - related to my book and another project I have in mind - I decided to buy myself a printer. A rather awesome printer-scanner combo. It looks funky, it was reasonably-priced, and apparently it's very good. Unfortunately, after getting it out of the box and setting it up, I discovered that Canon don't actually supply you with a USB cable to connect it to you computer.

*HELPFUL…*

So I'm sitting here with an awesome printer beside me (on the floor admittedly, because it is quite big) but I can't actually print to it. So I'll have to head out in a while to buy a cable. Although I'm quite tempted by the bluetooth adapter so I can print wirelessly. Decisions, decisions! What I do know, though, is that I don't want it sitting on the floor forever, which means I now have a valid reason to buy that red LACK I've always wanted! 

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Our third and final problem concerns my broadband. Back in June I arranged to change my broadband provider to one that literally halved the cost of my service and would provide me with a wireless router, which is cool because then I'd have Wi-Fi which means I could use my iPhone as a remote control for my computer. Unfortunately, though, despite emailing them to ask what was going on with my new service, I've heard little from them since June. As I woke up this morning I suddenly decided that I was going to leap into action. And as I came downstairs I noticed a letter on my doormat - from the new provider. 

I excitedly tore it open, hoping for some good news only to find…

Dear Sir,

Thank you for registering with us. Unfortunately, the MAC migration code you supplied us with has expired. Please contact your current provider to request another one.

WTF!?!?

Getting the Mac code from my current provider (which is actually a sister-company to the provider I'm going to) was a massive job in itself! I don't want to have to go through that again! So I adopted my angry voice and called the new provider, at which point I told them that the MAC code I originally supplied wouldn't have expired if they hadn't taken their time actually processing the order. 

I was so hardcore. I even used the phrase "pain in the arse," knowing full well that my call was being recorded for training purposes. I was that irate that I actually made the guy on the other end of the line stutter (which I admittedly feel a bit bad about). Still, a good result: when I do get a new MAC code they're going to hurry my order along AND waive the £30 set-up fee!

That's how I roll!

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Right, so Sparky Ma always told me that bad things always come in threes, so as far as I'm concerned my weekend should all be about kittens and rainbows from here on in. And what's planned? Dragging Big Bro to see The Dark Knight, because although he says he's not bothered about it I know he'll love it. And tomorrow Lovely Jo and I are off shopping. To Woking of all places! I haven't been shopping there since I bought a toy of the Enterprise-D from Toys R Us just after Star Trek: The Next Generation first began. In fact I've still got it - the saucer detaches and everything. Anyway, we're going clothes shopping, and I've already told Jo that I'm going to keep popping out of the changing rooms to see what she thinks - and if she's really lucky I might try some clothes on too.