Saturday 13 October 2012

Picture 118

I've taken lots of pictures of The's hard to miss around here.  But this one which I took yesterday I really like.  The reflection of the building in the Shard's glass is quite startling, and a quick glance can be quite confusing when you're walking towards the building

Friday 12 October 2012

Larry of Arabia

I'm in trouble with Grandma in Cyprus. Again.

For a change it isn't because I've forgotten her birthday (it's May), but with Christmas coming up I have plenty of opportunity to screw up again.  I was reminded of this yesterday as I strolled past our local Christmas shop yesterday

No, I received a sharp e-mail because I got my brother's girlfriend's name wrong.  It wasn't that I'd called her Mary when her name was Jane. No. I'd called her Flossie, not Flos.

And then there was the disapproving phone call.  Well, I've taken it as disapproving.  We've booked a half-term holiday.  A bit of winter sun, to cheer us up after all the rain this year.

We're off to Jordan.  Amman, Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea and, of course, Petra.  The perfect destination.

The day after we booked, there were riots in Amman.  Not to mention their neighbour Syria which is having a little local difficulty.  And Iraq which is, I'm told, even more violet than Staines High Street on a Saturday night.

I have a passionate interest in the Middle East.  I've managed to visit Egypt and Lebanon, whilst The Cat's Mother can add Syria and Israel to that list.  I'm a card-carrying member of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, and my twitter account is full of tweets from participants in the Arab Spring.  It's a fascinating part of the world...with a remarkable history.  I can't wait.

The Boy has taken it upon himself to highlight any and all articles about civil unrest in some of the Jordanian cities as people demand the same rights that you and I take for granted.

But I think we will enjoy it.  I don't have any worries.

But we are checking the Foreign Office travel advice website on a daily basis.  Just in case.

Thursday 11 October 2012

All parcelled up

I think 25 or may be 30 was the tipping point.  On Tuesday, if you were younger, you stood out like a sore thumb, on Wednesday if you were older it was, well kinda  awkward.

In a rash moment earlier this year, I bought tickets for Chris Isaak in Hammersmith, probably on the  back of buying a 'Best of' album'.  I learnt a long time ago that greatest hits album are not really worth the bother...just like too much candy floss...but in this case I quite enjoyed it.  My expectation was that he would be mean and moody and the songs slow and bluesy with a rock'n'roll tinge.  It quickly became apparent that I was wrong and we were in the minority..just about everyone else was a fanatic.  And when he walked on stage, it was in a bright red and sparkly suit.He knew his audience, and was a real performer, laughing and joking as he went along....for the first time that I've been to the Hammersmith Apollo, the artist, took the opportunity of walking through the audience and up the stairs to the balcony...a very smart way of getting everyone going.  Anyway, he played all his best songs and a few by Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis plus some more I didn't recognise.  A real entertainer, and as a one-off fantastic...but my favourite still remains this one

Last night we headed off on what is usually referred to as "One of Nota's adventures'  At least, for a change, The Cat's Mother knew where we were heading and what we were doing....and that's probably a good thing as she's not great with surprises.

We were off out to dinner - in a garage in Dalston.  If you don't know Dalston, that may be because you don't watch CrimeWatch.  It's generally one of those parts of London best avoided after dark...especially the back alleys.  The garage was one of those places that has been around since your great grandfather's days...probably sorting out horseless carriages when Mr Benz invented them.  I guess that means that at some stage, Dalston was a nice area.  The event was sponsored by 'Tradicional' who are purveyors of fine tequila.  As I sit here typing at lunchtime the next day, the effects seem to be getting worse.  The meal was, of course, Mexican...all five courses of it, and truly scrumptious.

As usual with these things, you take pot luck as to who you get to sit next to.  And we were lucky, a guy and his wife who were excellent company.  It turns out that he works for a company also I used to work for - a PR business - I would say about 22 years ago.  It was immeasurably gratifying to find out that he was aware of a project that I'd put in place for the parcel company UPS, as it had run for fifteen or so years.  I'd never got the glory I thought I deserved for it because (as I was reminded a couple of weeks ago by an old friend) I'd lost my job because of an inappropriate relationship with their receptionist (we were both single and over the age of consent - but evidently employees were strongly discouraged from having relationships with each other by a very puritan company).  Anyway, it's really nice to know that my legacy was a good one.

As it happens, I'd struggled to avoid parcel companies over the last couple of days.  A package due to be delivered by DPD to the office on the 9th had been lost/found/delayed.  It started off being quite amusing because I had lost count of the number of e-mails and texts they had sent confirming the date and time of delivery (a one hour timeslot they promised), but as it was a new cooker hob for a tenant it became a source of angst and embarrassment.  Even when they found it, and rescheduled, they managed to delivery it six hours late...and damaged.

It was, therefore, doubly irritating that yesterday I was also due a delivery from the same company - Interlink (same company, different brand).  Same process...lots of e-mails and texts imploring me to make sure that someone was at home to sign for the package...and a one hour time slot (11.38 - 12.38).  They like you to be at home, because re-deliveries are expensive for don't get sucked in to thinking they're doing it for your benefit. It too didn't arrive.  The Cat's Mother waited all day

Now there's one thing of which I'm certain, because I'e learnt it through experience,  if a company hides its contact telephone number so it becomes practically impossible to talk to them, then they will be a bad company.  And indeed that is the case with Geopost - the owners of DPD and Interlink.  But after a long search I managed to find a number for their PR.  This provoked the response I needed...a call from their customer services and the package arriving at 8.00pm...complete with apology and bottle of wine.  It had taken many phone calls, a great deal of my time and emotional energy, but I got the packages.  BUT, I doubt that I was unlucky...I bet that their service standards are pretty low, and I doubt many people would have had my persistence to sort it out - actually judging by the response to my Facebook post many people have suffered the same problems.  So the next time I order something, the first thing I will check is which company will be delivering it.  And if it is DPD or Interlink I will take my business elsewhere

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Picture daily 117

This is a very central building...lovely

Merry Christmas

Unlike The Guardian, which seems to have put its house in order these days, I notice that the typo count on my posts is just going up and up.  Sorry.

Sat Navs and I have been good bedfellows for some time now - I find them really useful when I'm heading somewhere that I'm not familiar with, and certainly easier than a paper map, especially when you're driving.  Not always, but mostly.  I have one friend who lives in Herefordshire, and my first visit to his place was hindered by the SatNav deciding that the only way from Essex to Hay was via Birmingham, and when I neared his place it declared it was 'beyond the mapped area'. As Wales is meant to be further west, I guess it must have fallen off the edge of the world.  This weekend we had SatNav problems.  On Saturday I was so focused on following it, that I failed to notice that our destination was on the left as I went sailing straight on - our destination was the size of an aircraft hangar, so I felt a bit like one of those people that drives their car into a river/off a cliff just because the SatNav says they should.

On Sunday, "It wasn't my fault".  The SatNav declared we must turn off the M11 at Junction 9a, so again I drove straight passed Junction 9, only to discover that the next Junction was Junction 10.  I wonder if there ever was a's probably a bit like the mythical Platform 9 3/4 in Harry Potter.

In consequence we were twenty minutes late meeting up with my my brother for Sunday lunch at the weekend.  It was his birthday and he deserved a treat.  So I booked a gastro pub/restaurant in Saffron Walden called the Eight Bells.  I knew it was a good place, because last year I took the Cat's Mother there for a surprise evening out.  The odd thing is, the place was completely different to the place we went to last year...not just a mild re-decoration, it was utterly different...and given that the dining room was a structure that had been put up some 600 years ago, we were completely confused.  It's a good job the food was absolutely scrummy.  My brother remains as different from me as could be.  He looked well, very well indeed which is a relief after all the health challenges of the last two years...but some of that no doubt comes from the 87 gardens he now tends.  All I can manage in ours is re-filling the bird feeder once a fortnight.

If , like me, you have children who are now reaching adulthood, you would have grown up with Harry Potter.  Every book was bought and read avidly, every talking book was played in the car until it wore out, every film was watched to see which bits had been left out.  Yes we even queued up at midnight on the days the books were published to make sure we got our copy.  For whatever reason Rowling's books fired up the imagination and encouraged people who hadn't read for years to pick up a copy.  They may not be literary masterpieces, but they're highly enjoyable.

On Saturday our search had been for The Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour.  It was us and The Muffins, less The Boy who had rugby commitments.  When you do come upon it, from the outside it is as dreary as a modern warehouse can be, but then I guess studios were never about what's on the outside.  The Cat's Mother went and presented the tickets at the ticket desk, at which point the cashier summoned The Cat over as there was a message.   We all crowded round.  I had bought the tickets as a Christmas treat for her, and when I bought them, I'd left a Christmas message which the cashier was evidently required to repeat...poor woman, she didn't know whether she was ten months late or two months early when she had to say "Merry Christmas to The Cat, hope you have a wonderful time".

What followed was indeed four hours of wizarding joy.  Unlike The American Harry Potter Theme Park, this is much, much more of a museum of all the props and some of the staging.  It is fascinating...whether you're mini-Muffin size or ancient like The Cats Mother and I.  There's a ton of things to see, loads to read and find out about, and who ever designed the layout should be applauded for making a long day pass so quickly.  There was even a green screen area on which you could jump on a broomstick and fly through London along the rail tracks and all the way to Hogwarts.  Only four went on it...The Muffins, The Cat, and shamefully me...The Cat's Mother was crying by the time I got off. We all got to fly in the magical Ford Anglia and take away a souvenir photo. We saw the Dining Hall, Diagon Alley, Hagrid's Cottage, Dumbledore's Office and so much more.  A truly magical experience, and one that I would recommend if you have an interest in the making of films, if you like Harry Potter or just fancy a good day out.  Only one word or warning.  The entry tickets are quite reasonable, everything else is close to take plenty of cash.

Monday 8 October 2012

Picture Daily 116

This is the very lovely very old town of Saffron Walden.

But why on earth anyone would want to drive their car or ride their motorbike through the front foor of this house, I have no idea

Judging by the curious halo round the top of the building, I may have to find a new way of taking pictures....

Sunday 7 October 2012

A tale of two parties

I sorely wish I could remember hoe I celebrated my own 18th, but the passage of time has firmly erased it once and for all.

Having survived the small trauma's of The Cat's 18th birthday bash at home, there was the 'grown-ups' event to contend with...this was the gathering of friends and family last weekend.  we'd booked a room at Kettners, which is one of those places that is ideally suited for gatherings of this sort.  Once more there was The Cat and eighteen others....this time The Cat's Mother and I were allowed to join in.  It was a jovial evening of food wine, and song (supplied by an iPod plugged into the hotel's sound system) - the benefit of this was that we'd been able to instruct The Cat on the right sort of music.  of course no gathering which is organised by The Cat's Mother (or indeed her sister, Lady Muffin) is complete without a quiz.  In fact there were two quizzes   One to put in age order photographs taken on or abouts The Cat's birthdays over the last eighteen years.  I can tell you having UP on our team didn't help us.  The second was a fairly random selection of general knowledge questions about The Cat and her life.  Again I can't say that UP improved our score.  What I can reveal is The Cat has had 23 driving lessons so far and has not yet put in for her written test...not that her driving instructor is aware of the latter fact.  We rolled home late in the night in the back of a mini-coach taxi singing the sort of songs that would make a taxi driver blush...and did.  Arriving home, at roughly 2.00 am, The Cat declared that as she was eighteen it was her right to go down the garage and buy some alcohol.  She didn't care what sort of alcohol, it just had to be alcohol.  It took us roughly half an hour to persuade her that there was no alcohol to be had at a garage at two in the morning, irrespective of her age.  Disappointed she headed to bed.

Friday night was a birthday party of a different sort.  Two of my fellow Olympic volunteers were celebrating.  They'd organised it at a bar called The Sway in Covent Garden.  as the Cat's Mother and I have commented on numerous occasions when we've walked's for the young folk.  No wonder I'd been in a dilemma about going along.  On the one hand I wanted to see my friends, on the other i dreaded the experience.  It was only after a stern telling off by The Cat's Mother that I was persuaded to go along.  I crossed the boundary with a bouncer to my right and an Amazonian  woman with the guest list to my left.  Heading downstairs, I found that here were half a dozen bars there, each with a theme.  Ours was the Milk bar, though how this differed from the Cream bar I'll never know.  It was one of those places that has sparkly lights, mirrors everywhere and music loud you can't hear yourself think.  Fortunately I quickly located friends one and all.  We spent the next two hours smiling and nodding vigorously in agreement as each in turn tried to vocalise some thought.  At that stage, I decided I'd done what I needed (and wanted to) and left, although not before taking a wrong turn and walking through a bar that was solely populated by two Go-Go dancers and one nearly dressed girl handing out lollipops.  I headed home to a cup of tea and bed.