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Take That China!
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I'm A Cilla Black Fan On Bike

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Thursday, March 16

I like people
I've written in the past about hating everyone, so now I'm feeling the love, I should probably write a bit about liking people. The thing is, I'm the sort of person who rates other people as important. I want to be liked by people, I think I set my self-esteem by how well-liked I am. That's not necessarily something to be proud of, but it's probably true. So, people are clearly important. The things I enjoy the most are things created by people. I'm currently listening to some music, which required someone (or someones) to compose it, play it, record it and deliver it to my ears.

I've written on this blog before about the fact that human beings are odd in that we seem to defy nature's selfishness. Perhaps our chances of survival lie in the human race as a whole, rather than in just ourselves. The simple fact that comes out of this is that people do favours for each other for no reward, other than a thank-you. Overall, we like to help each other out. Holding the door open for someone is a simple example of this.

We do things for our friends too. For the sheer hell of it. That's what friends are for, right? So, when some friends of mine were having a weekend away, I decided to try to get hold of some music for them to play while they were away? Why? Because I'd heard this particular track on the radio twice in the same day a few weeks back and it had immediately brought my friends to mind. I knew that they would, for various different reasons, really enjoy this particular piece. So, I had to get a copy of it for them. Unfortunately, it was quite a rarity. Ebay was the answer.

Sadly, the item on ebay ended long after I wanted the track on CD and in the possession of my friends at their weekend away. So, I contacted the seller. Perhaps he could end the auction early? Perhaps he could arrange me a cheeky CD-R of the disc? He wouldn't do either, but offerred to email me a single track if there was just one I was after. I bid on his CD, in the hope that I'd be able to receive a genuine copy of this recording, but asked if he could email me one of the tracks. He did. My friends were very happy indeed with their recording.

So, this fellow did me a favour. He had nothing to gain from it. Ok, so I'd bid on his ebay auction, but that was a self-contained thing. If I won, then I had to pay and he had to deliver a disc. The story doesn't end there. After the auction ended, I was offered the tracks from the disc I didn't win - purely for backup purposes in mp3 format on CD-R... then I received the disc and it had a further 4 or 5 discs' worth of what can only be described as smashing instrumental music on it. What a nice guy! This surely beats the person who let me have some of her sellotape in a post-office once.

So, thank you to that man - if you are reading this you know who you are.

Sometimes this is a busy blog and sometimes not. The sister site Around The World In 80 Websites has been a lot busier, as I've tried to find sites and think of countries. I nearly have 80 countries. That doesn't mean I have 80 websites - it's about 45 at the moment - but part of the battle is finding the ideas for where to search. Google is a dear friend at the moment. This article is proving to be a lot of work. Still, I think I've got enough material to warble about. As always, I'll accept feedback on the project on the site in question.

Backing up
A while ago, I bought some new webspace with the intention of moving my websites and maybe having some smart content. I still haven't managed this. However, last night, I decided to, at least, take a backup of my website. If you're planning to do this, then may I suggest that CuteFTP would make a good friend. Admittedly, I only used the trial version, so it may become my sworn enemy in 30 days! Still, from the point of view of reliably downloading about 20Mb of assorted guff from my website, it was very good.

From the Album
I forgot to blog about this particular photo, which I snapped back on my birthday in February. If you read the blog entry for 24th Feb, it may mention that I spent the morning in a heap of traffic. While in that traffic, I spotted this car:

Hard to miss

The photo was taken from the window of a moving vehicle - albeit the open window - and I missed the perfect angle. Shame. What you can't see is that there's a silly yellow bead on the aerial of the car, that it has a sign in the back which reads "Princess on board" and that the registration was something like "PR22CSS". Yes. This car was being driven by the world's most hopelessly stuck-up idiotic pointy-nosed precious princessy... words fail me. Who needs a Flat Eric in their window, a huge yellow sunflower in their in-dash-board vase (yes, I know that they're standard for the VW Beetle) and a big fuck-off yellow car! Of all the things on the traffically-jammed road that morning, this was the most irritating. Had I not been in a borrowed car, I might have been very tempted to steer into this car and damage it in some way - "Oooh, sorry love, I didn't see you there in your big stupid yellow car!".

Makin' sweet music
I spent the other night with an interesting creation. See, that already sounds pervy and it's not actually meant to be pervy at all. I'm talking about Finale, some music authoring software. I have played with this before and it's pretty good. It seems slow for me to use, which I think is partly a product of their user interface and the fact that I'm not accustomed to reading/writing music on the page. This package is intended to help you create written sheet-music. However, it plays the results and also accompanies the moving of notes about the stave with the sound of that note. I hope to master this process. I have songs that I need to write down for various purposes?

Writing Songs?
There's a chance that The Musical! may be getting a new incarnation. Some lads from a youth theatre group in Southampton want to put on the show. I think it will need a certain amount of rewriting before that can happen, which will also give me the opportunity to insert some new material, which I wrote for the show since August 2004, when these lads saw us perform it in Edinburgh. The up side is that I get to work on the show's script again, and that it gets performed to people who haven't seen it. As a proud progenitor of the material, I am thrilled to think of it having a new lease of life. The down side is that I will have to spend many hours transcribing the music that Chris and I played off the top of our heads once, committed to memory, improvised to a polished state and then performed, into a form that someone other than us can use to recreate the end result. Another down side is that I've never been very good at letting go of my material and I think it would be quite important to let go of it if I release the performing rights to another group. There may be some things which I consider immutable - the notes, the script and so on, and those considerations would have to be agreed as part of the performing rights... but once released, it's important for the performers to make the show their own.

I'd go and watch.

I suppose my worry is whether I'd watch it the same way that I watched the movies of Phantom of the Opera and The Producers... with a nagging sense that the show had been ruined? Or will it be the way that I watched The Little Shop of Horrors on Broadway? In that situation, I noticed all the differences, but was really pleased to be seeing a production... and quite thrilled with some of the new touches.

It will be a learning experience for me either way. If this project goes ahead, then it will make me a better person. However, I'll only go for it if it seems like it has a fair chance of success. The original show was quite likely to fail, but didn't. It's a hard show to do. I want it to be more ambitious this time around and I don't think it's fair to set up some virtual strangers for a fall. However, these guys saw the show twice in Edinburgh, August 2004, and they got it. They liked the show and they understood what it was all about... this space.

Tuesday, March 14

Last night I wrote some more of my Around The World In 80 Websites article, while watching a weird Ben Affleck movie.

Today I am mostly working hard on code, while laughing at this picture of Jason Donovan in the musical Sweeney Todd:

He looks like Tony Blair

Monday, March 13

I'm not going to post a blow-by blow account of the last few days. I've done a lot of posting on my other blog - Around The World In 80 Websites - and I really can't be bothered posting on this one about spending the weekend posting on that one. Or did I just do it anyway?

Spent the weekend in celebration of my girlfriend's brother's 21st birthday. This involved eating, shopping for food for my girlfriend's older sister to cook for the party, and then eating that when it was done. Another highlight was dropping a group of 21 year old revellers in Reading town centre for their night out.

More importantly, though, on Saturday night we watched Donnie Darko. This was a movie with a question. The question was "What the hell was all that about?". My girlfriend's other brother's girlfriend had studied the film at university. So, understanding this movie is degree-level stuff. Yikes. Luckily, my increasingly favourite website (not mentioned in my other blog for reasons explained there) has a full explanation. So, read at you leisure what the hell Donnie Darko is about.

Now. If someone can explain to me what Memento is all about...

Sunday, March 12

After being conned on ebay, I've decided to do a wee pastiche:

click here to view this item on eBay

Today, I received this email:

My name is Natalya, I am a kind person. I like
music,movies, truth and smiling. I look for
someone attractive with a kind soul and spirit
that wants to have family and care. I have a
job that will allow me to live. I am a doctor
in Hospital. I have not been married before
and did not find happiness that lasted. I am
looking for someone that is generally happy
and honest with a cheerful and respectful
state of mind. I wish all who read this good
luck and happiness finding your true love
and happiness... If you want to write me,
I shall wait your letter.
My e-mail:

I didn't reply. In some ways, linking this person's email address will open them up to the same degree of spamming that probably led them to me in the first place.

In other news, I'm up to 28 websites on my Around The World In 80 Websites article writing research programme. I'm fast running out of ideas, so feel free to go on there and help me out.

Wednesday, March 8

Sometimes I look around me and despise the world for all of its stupidity. Sometimes I just want to be liked, regardless of by whom. It's a strange and heady mix of contradiction. I get frustrated by things which need not be bad but are. Driving, which I seem to do a lot of, certainly brings out some of the worst in me. I tend to remain fairly calm and patient, even in the most extreme of driving conditions - by which I don't mean off-roading, but do mean things like horrible traffic, or being collided with by an ignorant motorist. This patience does not stop me from caring that the roads are bad and feeling resentful that this thing, which needn't be so, is.

Overall, I think that driving offers the best examples of things which annoy me. I hate it when:
  • Things get in my way
  • I'm moving more slowly than I need to
  • People are selfish in a way which impacts on me
  • People act stupidly
  • Something which should be simple ends up being complicated
  • Something costs me more than should be reasonably expected
And I think that's probably a good list of things that happen in life that get you down. As a result of buying a car which turned out to have a few problems, I've been running hither and thither getting it fixed and spending money on it which I didn't want to spend. As a result of being collided with, I had to go and get my car fixed yesterday. As a result of the difficulties of fixing a dented car, my car will be off the road for over a week, and the loan car (which is quite nice - a Corsa - a bit cramped, and only powerful above 4000 revs, but quite nice all the same) has a mileage limit, which means I've got to be careful about driving it to this gig on Thursday. As a result of the sluggish nature of the person loaning me the loan car, it took about 20 minutes for him to process my request, when I was standing there waiting to get off to work. I was just on time yesterday.

Strange isn't it. I'm naturally quite a tolerant person, able to take a load of grief from people and reply back calmly and thoughtfully. Yet I'm also a selfish quick-tempered brute. How so? Well, let's put it down to a good mix of personalities in my family. I can see both sets of traits in my heritage. Maybe it's good to be both. The calmness in a crisis has gotten me out of a number of tight corners. The impatience and goal-driven behaviour has gotten me a number of single-minded successes. My analytical brain hasn't done me a huge deal of harm when it comes to my livelihood of software engineering.

So it looks like I'll have to put up with these irritations. To not notice them will be to lose some of my intrinsic capabilities. To fail to put up with them would be out of character too. I just need an outlet. Comedy is probably one answer. Whingeing is probably the other. Thank goodness for this blog, which allows me to say what I like, when I like. Well, almost. There are things I probably wouldn't say on here. Sorry to be holding back, but it's true. If I were into dog felching, I probably wouldn't mention it on here. I would probably keep it very quiet.

Things which annoy/amuse me
So, here is a quick run down of things which annoy or amuse me at the moment:
  • The guy at work who speaks to me while I have my headphones on - he speaks quietly and doesn't wait for me to remove my headphones, nor does he repeat anything he said before I take them off unless I ask otherwise
  • My own stupid relationship with food and calorie laden drinks - if I'm going to consume more than I burn then I'm going to gain weight
  • The woman at work with such a fat arse that it looks like she's doing the hula when she walks - I should take tips, it'll be me next
  • People who drive in the middle lane regardless of the road conditions
  • My own practice of using my back two footwells of my car as rubbish bins
  • My computer's insistence that it should try to reinstall office every time I use it
  • other stuff - see the rest of this blog
In fact, I've a lot to be thankful for and probably not a great deal worthy of moaning about right now. I'll be back when I've thought of something else to talk about.

Tuesday, March 7

Monday, March 6

Hunting High and Low
A-ha really are a good band. I recently bought their new album - Analogue. It's ok. Ok, so they're an ok band. Yet, they have their moments of sheer brilliance that make them one of my favourites. Maybe it's just a throwback to the "Take On Me" video, which was one of the most memorable visions of my childhood introduction to music video.

I've been listening to their best-of album today. "Take On Me", with its really obvious hook, which you might sing along with at full blast, is actually riddled with subtleties - to get it to be forceful, you have to play it loud. This is much better than the soulless approach of forcing a hook down your throat that happens with modern manufactured bands (Sugababes anyone?). Equally, the song "Hunting High And Low" is still one of those numbers which immediately grabs me the moment it comes on. Good stuff.

Sunday, March 5

The road to nowhere
Some of the afternoon was taken up by going for a drive. We drove to Oxford and back. For no reason. Don't ask why. It was just pleasant. That's why. Ah yes. You don't need to ask why. Unless you want to know why it was pleasant to drive for 90 minutes for no particular reason and without stopping.

In which case mind your own business.

First prop
In the evening I had to go to the Laughing Horse New Act competition quarter final in Richmond. I went along early enough to do a sound check. Unsurprisingly I was cheated of the opportunity as there was no means whatsoever of plugging the guitar in. So, I just turned up early. I filled the time by talking shit with the other acts. I sometimes wish I could stop myself doing this - especially when I don't know the people in question. However, I have nerves and talking about anything - preferably something which is of mutual interest - tends to keep me away from being too nervy and also revs me up for a performance.

They drew the running order from a hat. I'd drawn 1st on in the heat and I was expecting to get it again this time. I wasn't disappointed... well, I was disappointed because it meant I had to go on first and most debaters will tell you that you can't win a debate from 1st proposition (hence the title above). I had won the heat from 1st-on, but the stakes were higher here. Everyone here had actually won something.

I got a place in the next round.

I enjoyed my spot and got some nice laughs from the audience. I lost a few laughs here and there - I didn't lose momentum, but the audience missed stuff owing to poor sound (coupled, undoubtedly, with mistakes from the guy who has not done much comedy in the last couple of months).

I got to leave without feeling too stupid. Roll on the next round!

Saturday, March 4

Lazy Day
I am lazy, which might be apparent from my increasing size (obviously not in evidence on this size) and other postings (which you could read if you can be bothered). Sometimes it's almost worth it.

Anyway, I had absolutely no objections to spending a rather relaxing day doing nothing. I had a gig in the evening, so it is always nice to stock up on energy before a busy night. I would have happily followed the original plans to go and help a nearby dog-shelter with their dog walking. Relaxing was good, though.

Chester Zoo
My gig had been arranged at the last minute the previous afternoon. Someone had dropped out from Alexanders in Chester. This is a venue that I'd heard good things about and which I'd applied to for a spot sometime last year. Apparently, I was on a waiting list and my name came up when someone let them down at the last minute. Though perhaps one would rather be the first choice, being any sort of choice is not to be sniffed at.

So, although it required some 200 miles' worth of driving, I willingly left the south of the county to a northern outpost in order to perform my own particular brand of springy joyfulness. The venue itself is quite an important one in its own right. Later this month, it's playing host to a touring show which had good ratings at the Fringe, and they even have Kiki Dee playing there. This is the longest running comedy club outside of London - 16 years, appearently. So, worth 200 miles of anyone's drive.

Sadly when I arrived there had been a booking mix-up. An act from Manchester had been asked to step in as replacement by the act who dropped out. This made some sort of sense. However, the promoter had not been told. I had driven the furthest and was also the one who was listed on the bill - the gig was given to me. This was handy. I had arrived in something of a fluster, having needed the toilet for about and hour and not wanting to stop for a wee, since I might arrive at the venue too late for my sound-check (something which, as usual, proved to be a mere formality which I could have done an hour later). I'd failed to find the door to the venue and had felt rather tense when I eventually got in. My loo visit wasn't enough to calm me down and being told that 200 miles and 2 litres of uncomfortable urine suppression were not going to result in a gig would have really gotten me down. I've joked before that the strain of arriving on time is more pressure than performing, but it's true!

I felt sorry for the other act, but that was that. He stuck around to watch the show, which was in a rather odd format. There were three acts. One did 20 minutes (me), the 2nd did 30 minutes, and the closing act did 40 minutes. No compere. Instead, the closing act came on first and introduced me. Then I introduced the break. Then the closing act came on and introduced act number two, who similarly introduced his own break. Then I went on to introduce the last act. Odd format.

I probably had the easiest gig of everyone. I almost made the mistake of trying new material. It wasn't a mistake, but it was a cost. I think it was better to try it under those circumstances as I learned a lesson about the way I perform. It was also interesting to see how simultaneously rusty I was, and yet how a bit of a break can make me feel fresher about my material. I hadn't done a gig since mid-February, and it really showed (to me). However, I'll repeat, I think I had the easiest job of the night. The audience were quick to laugh at my stuff and I had a strong beginning and end. The middle dipped a little lower than I wanted, but by most standards, it was overall a fine performance (as in "No... it was fine...", rather than "That's mighty fine!").

The rest of the night was a bit odd. Partly it came down to a heckler who took umbrage the attempts of the staff to tell him to shut up (he was pissed and not enjoying the more conversational style of the other two comedians - and heckling to his mates incomprehensibly). By umbrage, I mean that he became obnoxious and defensive, calling the staff the laughter police. He seemed convinced that they were telling him to find the acts funny. What they were telling him to do was to stop spoiling the show. I think he and his mates managed to knock a hole in the show anyway.

Quite oddly, he and his friends all made a special point of telling me and the staff that I had been funny. Sounds like a compliment, right? Well, it's good to know that they enjoyed my act where they hadn't enjoyed others... but I couldn't help but have a sense of disappointment - "So these are my fans are they?"

Heading back to my car after midnight, and after the staff seemed more positive about my chances of returning than I did (if I'm going to incite idiots to protest that I set the standard of funny for a night, then perhaps I should stay in bed, thought I), I suddenly had a pang of foolishness. By a pang, I mean it felt like a stab of something or other. I remembered that the car park shut at midnight. Who shuts pay and display car parks?! I mean what's the point? Just make them free overnight and leave them open. It was a patch of tarmac with a wooden fence.

Luckily, someone else had saved me the bother of crashing through the wooden fence, so I was able to drive through a neat gap in the fence and escape Chester.

Bed at 3.45 - it would have been earlier, but I needed a poo. So I ended the evening as it began. On the toilet. There's an analogy from this story, which sums up my success as an act, resulting in excluded heckler-fans - "what starts out as piss, ends in shit".

Friday, March 3

Friday Traffic Blues
Another morning of driving into the office. This time I was driving from Southampton, rather than Reading. It could all go so easily wrong. Despite leaving a reasonable 90 minutes or so for the 50 mile journey, it only takes one dickhead to destroy my chances of getting into the office on time, or, in a more extreme case, at all.

I'm not going to put myself forward as the world's best driver. It's not me. I'm barely even in the top 10... million. However, I have a reasonable sense of what I'm getting at when I drive. I want to get to the other end of the road. I want to do it as quickly as possible. I don't want to obstruct the traffic behind me that wants to go faster (unless to get out of their way would put me at unreasonable speed in a crawler lane). I want to keep a sensible distance between me and the car in front. I just want to get to the other end of the road.

However, there are people in the mornings who are not like this. They'll happily drive in the middle lane, because that's bound to be okay, right? There are people who drive with such care and attention that they end up involved in accidents. Ok, so I'm sure some accidents are totally unavoidable and I should be more sympathetic, but for the large percentage of accidents which have been caused by people driving irresponsibly, then I have no sympathy. Why? Because the net result of someone's selfish stupidity is that an entire road, which is congested already, can come to a stand-still. Hundreds, possibly thousands of people are inconvenienced because someone couldn't obey some simple rules.

I've never had to commute to work before and I will be planning my life in future to keep this task to a minimum. With some of the country's most congested roads between some of my wake-up places and my office, it's no surprise that I'm already sick of it. The biggest frustration is how generally avoidable it all is. Overall, if you can't drive, get a lift or get a train. Don't get in the way of everyone else!

So long and buzz off
This isn't turning into a positive post. So be it.

There's a long-standing tradition for people to give their work colleagues some sort of leaving present when they leave. Fair enough, I suppose. Matters must be more complicated when you work in a team of about 3 people and you decide to leave. They want to hold a collection for you, but if they each grudgling chuck in a fiver, you've still only got £10 to spend on a card and perhaps a box of chocolates. Not necessarily the big send off that you might hope for after years of diligent service.

I've always been frightened of collections and leaving presents, which is why I specifically told my work colleagues to get together and donate to charity when I left my last job. It wasn't so much an act of altruism on my part. I genuinely did not want to know how much they felt that my service to the company and friendship was worth. In pounds. Sterling.

So, should we perhaps feel sorry for the woman who is leaving the service of the coffee shop here at my new employer's place. She works with a couple of other people. They are all clearly on low-wages, so surely there's barely going to be enough for a card, let alone a box of chox or a bunch of flunches (sorry - flowers).

Well, her work colleagues have quite innovatively put a collection bowl on the counter for the punters to chuck a bit of money into. Now that seems fair enough. After all, she's been serving people coffee and sandwiches. Perhaps we've all come to love her and want to give her a happy send off.

Not really.

I really want to shout stuff into her miserable face. Just being near her is one of the most depressing experiences you can have in this office. However, it's a product of the ethos of that cafe. Rather than turn what has been a ranty post into something more ranty, I'll write the instructions to the next miserable work-dodger who comes into the cafe to replace her. Here's how to be as good as the rest of the staff here:
  • Never let a customer interrupt your conversation
  • Take your lunch at lunchtime, with other service staff and bitch about things
  • Don't worry about the lunchtime rush on the cafe - people will soon go elsewhere or wait in the huge queue
  • Sandwiches are to be made slowly
  • Don't dare go fast enough that we can see movement
  • Never make eye contact with customers
  • Polite conversation with customers is also to be discouraged
  • Smiling is not allowed
  • Your job is safe even if you give bad service, so don't push yourself

A large queue, whether it's on the road or in a cafe, will always annoy me if there is genuinely more capacity for dealing with the queue than is presently being made available. If the road is wide enough for that many cars, but bad driving is crippling the flow, or if 3 members of staff in a cafe could conceivably deal with the customers, but are not doing because they are too lazy, then I get cross.

I like to get things done at speed. Then I get more out of life. Or at least I would if I were not wasting my time bitching about it.

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