Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Trick or Treat?

It may be Halloween, but I'm not going trick or treating tonight. This is because
a) I'm 30 years old
b) I have no children
c) It's fricking cold.

Instead, here's a treat for you: A ghost story!

Once upon a time there was a scary ghost called Goat. Goat had not been a goat when he had been alive, he had been a man just like you. Unfortunately, due to his little beard and unsteady gait, he had been nick-named Goat at an early age and it had stuck. His real name was Henry

Goat didn't like being called Goat. He found it insulting and degrading. But nothing he did would ever stop people calling him it.

So he died and became a ghost.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Train Ticket Blues

I was supposed to be taking the train down to Norwich tomorrow, but at the last minute we've had to postpone until later in the year. Because I'd already booked my rail-tickets, I needed to get a refund for them, and to do this I needed to collect the tickets. Therefore at lunchtime I took a trip to the train station to collect them from the FastTicket machine.

When I got there, the first machine I tried wouldn't recognise my credit card. This was annoying, but not terminal. I tried the next machine and it recognised it and then asked me for my reference number. Darn, I thought, I was hoping since I only had one ticket on order, it wouldn't need the ref number. It doesn't normally. Oh well, I remembered I had written it down somewhere and put it in my wallet. Probably. I might just have left it on my desk. I had a look through, and amongst all the old train tickets, money notes, receipts and random detritus, I found a small folded in half post-it note with a likely looking reference on it.

I went to enter the number, but by this point the machine had timed out so I had to start all over again. When I finally entered the number, it then told me that it was unrecognised or that the tickets had already been collected. Darn. It must have been a ref number from an old journey. I called work to see if anyone could see the reference number on my desk. Nobody picked up the phone.

This wasn't going well.

I gave up and started to walk back to the office. I could come back in the evening with my number and sort it then. I had one last look in my wallet and spotted that the "old" tickets that were in there weren't as old as I thought. In fact they were for my journey tomorrow. This was good but also irritating. I had gone to the station to collect some tickets that I had had all along.

My first thought was that they must have really improved the FastTicket system to the point where it now teleports tickets direct into your wallet. That would be really cool.
My second thought was that I must have collected them on my way home from the pub on Friday night and then forgotten about them because I was a little tipsy. Applying Occam's razor, I settled that the second thought is probably what happened.

I think that a good type of drunk to be, is the sort who does dull jobs that need doing, when they get drunk (like collecting tickets, or tidying up). As opposed to the sort who starts fights or wees in the street. I like it that I am in the first category.

So it ended up alright. I can now apply for my refund. I have to do this by snail mail addressed to "thetrainline.com". That feels wrong.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Other People in the Terrier

In the Yorkshire Terrier tonight were a number of what can only be called "Star Trek Geeks" (2m, 1f). They discussed Photon Torpedoes, ST: The Slow Motion Picture and other stuff. Often I had to actually not laugh whilst they were talking to avoid showing I'd been earwigging on their stuff.

Hypocrittical b**tard you might say.

Fair enough, but I know the limits.

Anyway, after they left, the table next to us errupted in laughter which caused us to some extent follow suit. We had all been aware that the Trekkies were in the building. The table next to us turned out to comprise a) a magician; b) a birthday boy with a spud gun and a potato; c) the long-suffering (I imagine) girlfriend of spud-gun boy.

Much amusement ensued by us watching in regards of i) how spud guns can lead to fights; ii) how big potatoes don't fit well into either pint glasses or coat pockets; iii) how you shouldn't attempt to dispose of your girlfriend through a "Bosman Transfer".

I hope they didn't all end up in Casualty. Or The Bill.

Or Bagpuss.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Sing Your Heart Out...

New Singstar game... Singstar Legends... Best yet?

I think it might he...

In the meantime, I saw a rat today... It was well cute but still a potential rabies/scabies magnet. I smiled at it/him and he walked away.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Payments In Kind

I was running a session of a business game today and got not one, but two bottles of Champagne as a thank you:


Not bad really, for two hours of entertaining "work", for which I was arguably being paid anyway.

However, every silver lining does have a cloud, and my big fat cloud is that I have to go to Norwich next week and do it all again.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Where did all the sediment go? Where? Where?

In New Scientist's "The Last Word" section this week, a reader has asked the following, quite brilliant, question:

"How long would it take an average cow to fill the Grand Canyon with milk?"

Hopefully another reader will write in with an answer. I won't attempt to myself, as since I don't drink milk, I know little about cow milking. However, my gut feeling is that it would be a very long time since, even for the most profligate cow, the milk would tend to run out of the bottom end of the Canyon some time before it actually filled up.

I wonder why she wants to know? Perhaps she fancies a really big milky bath, like Cleopatra but more so.

I suspect that even if she gets an answer, she won't be able to try it out. The American National Parks Service are very strict on not leaving things in the canyon that shouldn't be there and I think several gallons of milk would certainly fall in this category.

Anyway, on a related note, this is very funny.

It gets worse...

Oh balls. Yesterday was embarassing, but today I bought a Rod Stewart album.

Shoot me now.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A slight guilty pleasure

Have you done anything today that you feel guilty about? Even a little bit? I have.

Today, I intentionally went into a music shop and bought the new Meat Loaf album, Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster is Loose. I'm listening to it now and it's great. Big, daft and ridiculous, like the man himself.

The original Bat Out Of Hell is one of the best albums of all time ever and if you don't agree you're clearly in your own personal hell. I've possibly been listening to it all my life (since it came out 30 years ago!).

I even saw Meat Loaf live once, at the Sheffield arena. I think it must've been around the time of the second Bat album, so some years ago. It was back when I originally liked him, before I had a teenage phase of being too cool for The Loaf. When I got even older I realised that you can never be too cool for The Loaf and so here I am now.

Though I still feel a little guilty.

I'm also quite partial to meatloaf as a food.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Thundercats... Go!

I went to Clifford's Tower today. I hadn't planned to go, it just sort of happened. You know how it is - one minute you're sitting in a pub eating steak with some friends and the next you're paying three english pounds to enter a burnt-out 14th century castle. Happens all the time.

I blame Chip this time. He's leaving York soon and after lunch he said he wanted to visit the tower before he left, because he hadn't been before. I hadn't been in either so I went along today for the ride. Not that there's a ride in there, mind. It's not like the Yorvik Centre.

There's not actually a lot in the tower, since it is a burnt out ruin but if you go up on the battlements you can get a good view of York. Not as good as you get from the top of the Minster, or from the Yorkshire Wheel, but still pretty good.

And it's cheaper than those other places.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Human Traffic

Sometimes things juxtapose themselves in a nice fashion. In today's Guardian there were a couple of leaflets that went well together:

Human Traffic

The first was from Amnesty International and concerned people trafficking, particularly of young women sold into lives of prostitution in the UK. The second appeared to be encouraging it somewhat.

Although I think it was actually selling sofas.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hi BiL!

Much as I love my Brother in Law, sometimes he's a bit pushy.

There: done.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

End of the road

I've got hold of a picture of me finishing The Great North Run a couple of weeks ago. Proof that I wasn't dreaming the whole thing, though it feels a little like that now.

The End of the GNR

Still haven't really decided whether or not I want to do it next year though...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Prague (3) - Terrorist Alert!

I read today that whilst we were in Prague, apparently the city was at HIGH RISK of a major terrorist attack. Is that not something they could have mentioned somewhere? Shouldn't there be signs at the airport: "Welcome to The Czech Repulic! And btw, we currently have a major risk of terror! Have a nice stay!"? Prewarned is prearmed, after all.

We're lucky to have got out alive.

It does explain why there seemed to be a lot of policemen about. This is one we found by a synagogue:


See how alert he is? Makes you feel much safer!

Monday, October 16, 2006

The State of my Pension

When I was a kid, I would often be told tales of a man called Father Christmas who would bring me presents each year if I was good. I never saw any real evidence that he existed, but as a child that doesn't really matter. You get the presents and the actual mechanism of delivery is much less important.

The fabled State Pension has always felt similar. I've been told it exists but I've never seen any real evidence of it and I have had to assume that its actualisation will be my dad in a silly suit pushing bundles of fivers through my door. Hoping I'm too old to realise the truth. On his deathbed, perhaps he'd tell me the secret and it would then be up to me to continue this charade with my own offspring.

In this way the myth of the welfare state is perpetuated.

Today I have to recant. I have received evidence from "The Pension Service" that this most legendary of state benefits is real and accruing to me even as I write. I got a letter in the snail post.

It gives me a forecast of my estimated state pension upon retirement. In total, including both the basic pension and my additional state pension, I can look forward to getting around £180 per week at today's prices. This actually sounds quite good to me. If I think about what old people spend money on, it probably breaks down as follows.

I have assumed that
a) My mortgage is paid off, so costs of housing are minimal.
b) I will be fit and well and will not need nursing.
c) Should I need nursing, euthanasia pills will be cheap (say £10 or less)
d) The government never lie or renege on promises
e) Global warming does not lead to the removal of rainy days that people need to save for

On this basis, I would spend money per week as follows

£30.00 on food
£12.99 on Domino's pizza
£3.00 on the local paper
£50.00 on sherry
£10.00 on clothes and bedsheets from charity shops
£1.00 on 20p pieces given to small children (grandchildren, nephs etc) in a pretence that I like them
£10.00 on miscellaneous items (pipes, slippers, extra sherry)
£50.00 on utility bills

This would leave me with a few quid left over to secrete away for a rainy day.

I have therefore bought everything I could possibly need and would have no need of extra money. There is no point in me saving any extra money now into my company pension scheme - I may as well spend it now on dresses and calamities.

They say old age is a time of depression, sadness and anxiety. I disagree. It's going to be one long party!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Prague (2) - Sights of Prague

There are many things to see in Prague - the so-called "Sights". Here are my thoughts on some of the ones I saw.

Charles Bridge
This is a stone pedestrian bridge at the bottom of the hill that leads up to the castle. It has statues on both sides along its length and is quite busy. But when all's said and done, it's just a bridge though. Whoopee doo.

Prague Castle/Charles Bridge

Prague Castle
Perched on top of one of the hills to the west of Prague is Prague Castle, which also contains a cathedral within it. The best thing here is the guards who stand and guard the doors in some smart blue uniforms. They're not supposed to smile or laugh so people have a lot of fun trying to make them do so. Some of the guards are better than others at staying staid, but they all do much better than I could do. I'm quite smiley. I think you can go on various tours around the castle area if you like that sort of thing. Or you can just wonder around aimlessly and look at things like we did.

Wenceslas Square
Wenceslas Square is badly named as it isn't in any way square. It's a long wide road with shops on each side. More like the Champs-Elysees than Trafalgar Square. There is a statue of St Wenceslas at the top end. He is on a horse which has one leg in the air. Since St Wenceslas was murdered outside a church and didn't die as a result of battle wounds, this statue nicely disproves that old thing about being able to tell how a statue subject died from the positioning of the horse's legs.

Lots of historic things have happened in Wenceslas Squaare over the years, such as the declaration of the end of Communism in 1989. Last week however, nothing notably historic seemed to be happening. This was a little disappointing so we had an overpriced coffee.

Old Town Square
This is actually a proper square. It's got one of those bloody clocks in it that has little people that come out and move around on the hour. ie jumped up cuckoo clocks. Many big cities have them and they are always, always crap, underwhelming and anti-climactic. This one, the Astronomical Clock, was no exception.

The Astronomical Clock

The skeleton on the right hand side does a little jig which was almost cool. But only almost.

And those are the sights of Prague.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Reading Glasses

I'm sure it's supposed to be people wearing glasses to read books rather than books wearing glasses to be read by people...

Transcendent Glasses

But then what do I know...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Prague (1)

So I've just had seven nights in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. It was my first time there, indeed my first time in Eastern Europe, and so everything was new. A week is quite a long time to spend in a city so it's important to pace yourself and take things at a leisurely pace. Don't eat all the sweets at once.

In Prague

We were staying in a hotel, La Boutique, to the south of the city in an area called Smichov. The hotel itself was right next to the Staropramen brewery, and from our room we could actually see into it and see bottles coming off the production lines. It would have been good to have beer piped straight into the room but this wasn't happening. Oh well. There were plenty of bars nearby.

Whilst the brewery didn't seem to do tours, it did have a bar/restaurant attached which served a variety of typical Czech dishes. Most of these involve cabbage and dumplings. Bread dumplings, potato dumplings, stuffing dumplings and dumpling dumplings. They like their dumplings. With cabbage. We ate there on the first night, and I had a huge piece of duck (with bread dumplings and red cabbage, natch). It was nice enough and was washed down well by the several pints of beer.

Generally, I ate quite well over the week. Since we were out for lunch and dinner every day, it was hard to ever feel hungry especially after allowing for breakfast in the hotel. I tried to eat a mixture of Czech and non-Czech food (ie Italian, Mexican, random) to save on dumpling over-exposure.

If you stayed there long enough it would be easy to turn into a giant dumpling. With cabbage hair. And beer wee.

Tomorrow: Some Thoughts On The Sights of Prague.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Expectations of Applause

A question: If you are doing a presentation, what's the minimum size of audience so that you have a (say) 95% chance of being clapped at the end?

If you did one to two people, I think clapping would be unusual. Whereas to 1000 people, it would be pretty certain (if only out of politeness). Where's the middle ground? Where's the turning point?

I'd guess around 12 people, but I have no evidence of this.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Back from Prague

Well, I'm back from the Czech Republic. Hello! I'll write about the holiday over the next few days but in the meantime here's a photo of Prague Castle to prove I've been there.

Prague Castle at Night

Based on my experiences, here are the top ten things to do in Prague:
1. Drink czeap Czech beer
2. Visit stuff
3. Look at stuff
4. Go to the shops (inc Tesco)
5. Eat Czech food (mostly with dumplings)
6. Eat non-Czech food
7. Visit places on the train that aren't in Prague (eg Germany)
8. Sleep in your hotel
9. Sit in the park and read a book whilst eating salami
10. Drink more czeap Czech beer.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

An Haitus (2)

So farewell for a bit. See you next week. Don't touch my stuff whilst I'm away.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Off up and away...

I'm off to Prague for a week tomorrow. I've never been before and if I'm honest, I don't know much about the place. Since I'm there for a week though I figure I'll have plenty of time to work out what it's about once I'm there and there's not too much point in me reading the guide book beforehand.

So far I've only managed to learn the Czech for "Good day" (Dobry den) but I'm working on also learning "Farewell", "Yes", "No", "Please", "Thank you" and "Please don't use the leather one this time".

I'm not fully packed yet, but I'm not far off. I'll do most of it in the morning - we don't need to get the train until half past ten. I think I'm allowed to take most things except liquids on to planes now (do I have to do a big wee before I get on? Or is wee allowed?) so that should make life easier. I have passports, insurance, foreign money and electrical adaptors.

My holiday reading will be Richard Dawkins' new book, The God Delusion. And some more Stephen Baxter for after I've finished that.

I will not be running in the Czech Republic. Unless I find myself chased.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Great North Run, My Time At The

First thoughts on the Great North Run when I got there... it's quite busy. If you imagine the entire population of a day at the Reading Festival, lose a sixth of them because they're too drunk on cider to stand, then line all those people up along a motorway... that's your start line. 50,000 people standing around waiting for someone to fire a gun half a mile away so they can start stumbling towards the South Shields.

The starting arrangements actually made it quite hard to do any kind of decent warm up or stretching. Everyone was just too close together. I had a go at doing the best I could but it was a bit half-hearted. And it was hot and sunny too. As a plus point, I didn't feel like I was going to need the toilet anytime soon.

The race started at about ten to eleven (a little late) and 25 minutes later I crossed the line and actually began to run. At this point I felt ok. But it was early days yet.

The first few miles were fine - I stuck to ten minute miles and was enjoying the novelty of running with thousands of other people along motorways. It was annoying to find people dressed as (for example) Spongebob Squarepants that it seemed hard to overtake (they should have a special lane for fancy dress people) and even more annoying when they overtook me... but what can you do?

There were a lot of people (mostly girls from what I remember) who had started walking after less than two miles. They were really pissing me off a bit since they just get in the way and make it quite hard for people to progress. I don't see the point of entering a half marathon if you can't even run a couple of miles. Why would you do that? Why? They should instigate a system like in that Stephen King story The Long Walk where if you drop below a certain pace you get shot. Dead. That would give 'em a kick up the ass. Maybe they'll bring that in next year - I know the organisers are always keen to make the event go more smoothly.

Up to about six miles, everything was going fairly smoothly. I was sticking to the 10 minute miles and not feeling too dead. However, shortly after this, disaster!

My shoelace had come undone.

I had to stop at the side of the road and tie it before I could carry on. Annoyingly this was also about the time my left leg started to hurt. Not in a can't-carry-on way, just in a hi-I'm-your-left-leg-what-are-you-doing-to-me kind of way. This then carried on to be a problem for the rest of the race. However, I don't think it actually slowed me down significantly. It did make me not push things too much though. Maybe this was a good thing.

I kept up the pace to ten miles - at this point I'd been going for 1 hour 45. Ten is the longest I'd ever run prior to the race. But then I just started to feel very bad and the next two miles took me about 25 minutes. Even the spectators by the road who were offering biscuits to runners didn't help. I was tired and I was miserable and I wanted a beer. Somehow I kept on going.

Just before the final mile along the sea-front in South Shields, there's a very steep downhill. It was tempting to go fast down this but I knew that to do so would quite possibly cause me further injury or worse so instead I went dead slow. It seemed to work and then I passed the twelve mile mark and knew the end was in sight. Not quite as close as I hoped, but I was able to speed up a bit whilst heading for the line.

It's a lovely feeling to know that something you want to finish is going to finish soon. It helps you put in that last little bit of effort. With about half a mile to go I spotted one of my friends that I'd started the race with going very slowly. Rather than slowing to encourage them on, I crossed to the other side of the road and tried to secretly overtake so that I'd finish in front. Sadly, she spotted me and started to speed up so that she overtook me just before the end and finished a few seconds ahead. Darn. Serves me right for not being nice, I suppose.

It felt very good to cross that finish line (after 2 hours and 22 minutes). A definite sense that I'd done something that I never thought I would. After all, a year ago I'd never even considered doing any running, let alone a long one.

I haven't yet decided whether I'll enter next year or not.

But for now I need a rest. Which is fine, as I'm off to Prague for a week shortly. Running will resume mid-October.

As a bit of an aside, it was good to see that the main purpose of St John's Ambulance seemed to be to hand out Vaseline to any runners who wanted it. The jury's still out on whether this is to put above your eyes to stop sweat running into them or whether it's to rub on your bits to stop them chaffing...

It's not too late to sponsor me, if you want to and haven't already done so, either for the GNR or for the Run-a-Thon 500. Both are combined on my Justgiving page. Cheers!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Seven seconds short of a complete set of 2s

Today, after literally many months of anticipation, waiting and some trepidation, it was the Great North Run. I was hoping to beat two and a half hours, and actually got 2 hours 22 minutes and 15 seconds, so was fairly happy really.

Now, I am home (after a five hour car journey - don't ask!), tired, bathed and ready to go to bed for a good long sleep. So that's what I'll do.

I'll try and write something about the race tomorrow. Until then, adios!