shinytoaster: (Default)
2011-12-31 06:36 pm

Bye, 2011. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Having largely failed at Dreamwidthing or Livejournalling in the past 12 months (I think maybe three or four entries in total during the course of the year which surely marks an all-time low) I thought it might be a good time to update online friends with what has been going on in my life these past 12 months. I'm taking a little inspiration from [personal profile] chris so, with the greatest of affection for himself, this may get long.

Read more... )
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2011-02-26 01:14 pm

Geography nerdgasm, or how Alex plans to cycle to America

This year I am trying, as much as possible, to cycle to work every day, which saves me £5.80 ($9.30 or thereabouts) a day on Oyster. It's not just for that reason, I really enjoy cycling, it's the only sport I've ever really been able to do well at, and it's really good exercise for my poor sick legs.

Obviously it's still winter so I've been able to do it maybe two or three days a week if lucky. I'm going to try to build that up in the coming months because just to make it fun (and to allow me to play with maps and stats and stuff) I'm riding to the US this year.

On a heading of 288.55 degrees from our front door, it's exactly 3,664.52 miles to L's parents' house in MD. Currently, since January 1st, I've ridden 442.1 miles exactly, or 12.064% of the total distance.

Assuming I'm riding in a dead straight line I headed out of London through Chiswick, Brentford, Southall and West Drayton, passed between Oxford and Abingdon and then on into Wales. I hit the Irish Sea at a place called Aberaeron and hit Ireland near Tinnacree, Co Wexford. I then crossed Ireland and have hit the ocean again in Co Clare, where I miraculously survived a plunge directly off the 214m high "Cliffs of Moher".

I am currently at 53º04'05" N 10º14'47" W, which puts me in the Atlantic, 17.77 miles off the westernmost tip of Inis Mór, one of the Aran Islands (home of Father Ted).

I will next make landfall after 1,889.35 miles of rather boring ocean cycling (that's 2,331.44 miles or 63.621% of the total distance) on Eastern Indian Island, a small island off the coast of Newfoundland, due south of Fogo Island.

There's a small fishing settlement on the island and some villages on Fogo, but the nearest place of any consequence appears to be Gander Airport, 44 miles SSW. St John's is 153 miles away heading SSE (that's 246km, on account of now being in Canada).

The ride will then take me across the central part of Newfoundland, before crossing the Gulf of St Lawrence and hitting Prince Edward Island at Stanhope. From there, I cross the central part of the island and pass across the strait to New Brunswick, going just south of the new road bridge to PEI.

Passing across the isthmus between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, there's then another lengthy period of seaborne cycling, heading down the Bay of Fundy and skirting the coast of Maine, always keeping within sight of land.

I will hit the USA proper at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Essex County, MA. I then skirt several large towns, passing between Lowell, Boston, Framingham and Worcester before crossing into CT just east of I-84. Through CT I skirt the southern suburbs of Hartford and hit NY in Westchester County, where I pass north of White Plains and Yonkers before crossing the Hudson.

The ride continues through NJ and across PA, passing through King of Prussia and the botanical garden at Longwood before crossing the Susquehanna within sight of the I-95 bridge. From here the final stretch is through central Baltimore, crossing the harbour, then down through MD, over the Beltway, through a large and pleasant tract of suburban housing and Sligo Creek to my final destination.

I then got to thinking, what if I was to take a heading in the exact opposite direction and go 3,664.52 miles that way.

This journey takes me through mainland Europe (fine so far) on a line running from the Pas de Calais from a point midway between Calais and Dunkerque, through Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria, hitting the Sea of Marmara, which is the name given to a stretch of sea dividing European Turkey from Asian Turkey, about midway between Gallipolli and Istanbul.

I would then cross Turkey and a small section of the Med just off the northern tip of Cyprus. Unfortunately the ride then becomes a bit less appealing. It's a straight shot across the Syrian Desert, passing across the north eastern corner of Jordan. I then do a bit of border hopping, from Jordan to Iraq, back to Jordan, back to Iraq (I spend 1.5 miles total in Iraq) and then across bloody Saudi Arabia, where I will cross the main runway at King Khalid International and through the north eastern suburbs of Riyadh.

This route ends at a random point in the Omani desert, 111 miles short of the Indian Ocean. The nearest identifiable place on Google Earth is called Kubbat an Nasr. It looks like some kind of walled compound. I don't fancy it much.

And this now concludes your geography nerdgasm.
shinytoaster: (Default)
2011-02-26 11:28 am

Wurt's new?

In the last two months we have not been up to much. At the start of February we joined [personal profile] wordplay and [personal profile] shewalksonroses for Theatrebinge 2011 and over the course of three nights were variously blown away by Clybourne Park, amused by Season's Greetings, and deeply disappointed in Frankenstein.

C has better thoughts on this theatrical travesty than I have yet managed to articulate so those who care should read her reviews. I feel I got a lovely view of Benedict Cumberbatch's cock and had an idea for a crossover fanfic that I may actually write.

Talking of writing, I started and failed at NaNoWriMo last November, but I do now have about 15,000 words of a comic fantasy in seven parts entitled Vin's Seven, which was conceived a couple of years ago in the Hong Kong Diner over bubble tea with a crowd of recovering Harry Potter fans. It is, incidentally, the furthest I have ever got with a genuinely original book, so we'll see how that goes.

Work continues much as ever, but with some improvements. I've finally got that raise and have been sort-of unofficially bumped up to a web-centric editorial position. I have responsibility for bloggers and am doing some commissioning now, as well as maintaining two different Twitter feeds and doing various forms of social media outreach as needed. I may also be doing podcasts soon.

This is, of course, on top of the writing element, but I long ago figured out I don't have the head to be a proper hard-nosed investigative reporter and with the way journalism is going these days the web skills are more relevant and important than ever. Web is definitely the side I want to be on anyway.

This week we have booked a trip to Amsterdam in July. We've got a canal-view room at a little family-run hotel in one of those big old gabled merchant houses, nicely central and five minutes or so from the Anne Frank house. I've not been to Amsterdam since 1982, and in 1982 I wasn't in any position to appreciate it.

There's also a trip to the Canaries planned in September, but we're putting off the big Australia/New Zealand holiday for a year or so as the schedule is tight. We've worked out there are, what, maybe three or four weeks this year that we can both have off at the same time.

Today I had my first dental check-up since, I think, December 2000 and it wasn't a complete disaster, and we now have BUPA through L's work so it didn't cost anything either, which is a nice bonus.

So all I need doing is a small filling in a back tooth, which is still a milk tooth. I asked if this was normal and got told that my x-rays showed there was nothing behind it waiting to come down, so I'm going to have it forever. I have named it McGillicuddy.

Yes, yes, I know I should be going to the dentist every six months, I just don't have the money to go private and NHS dentists not only charge, but are almost impossible to find, so I just never got round to it.
shinytoaster: (Default)
2010-12-05 11:49 am

On HP 7.1

So I don't have much of a review to offer of Deathly Hallows 1; I thought it very much a case of it was what it was.

Never having reread Half Blood Prince or Deathly Hallows (and never having seen HPB either) I came into it with a certain degree of blindness and had a job remembering some of the people who I should have done.

Despite that I thought it about on par with the better early ones (Azkaban and Goblet). Thought Dumbledore's tomb peculiarly modernist for a fantasy environment and Harry peculiarly well-muscled for how his character is described. And bizarre use of Nick Cave. But anyway.

The real purpose of the post was to gauge interest in the idea of one last old school fandom 'event' viewing like the one we did for Chamber - block booking at the Leicester Square Odeon close to opening weekend, room at a pub afterwards, etc etc (please no costumes, some people are in their thirties now).

I know a lot of people who came to see Chamber twice in November 2002 are scattered to the four corners of the earth now, but how about it?
shinytoaster: (Default)
2010-11-17 07:33 pm

(no subject)

Currently doing Nanowrimo for the first time since 2003, and although I got off to a (very) slow start, have hit 8,400 words now and am racing along. I might even complete it this year if I really pull my socks up. Anybody else attempting?

And how are you all, incidentally? I am fine.
shinytoaster: (Default)
2010-08-03 06:56 pm

The Borisycle cometh...

On Friday, London witnessed the not wholly unsuccessful launch of the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme, our very own version of Paris' Velib programme and the apparent culmination of Mayor Boris Johnson's avowed desire to get us all on two wheels.

Now, I'm no fan of the big-haired blond bombshell but I have to say I am, in theory, fully on-board with his big plans for cycling, and I believe it to be a genuine enthusiasm.

However, having thought through the London scheme, I'm not at all convinced it's a good thing. Here's why.

1) The bike docking stations are peppered across a comparatively small area of central London, but Boris has said they are meant to get people out of their cars and onto bikes.

The thing is people do not drive into central London in that way; I believe that without extensive, station-based docking points in the suburbs, the scheme is basically a lame duck. It will achieve nothing more than getting people off the Tube and the bus system and reducing fare revenues.

2) As a corollary to 1), it will find favour among tourists, who are unfamiliar with British traffic law - let's not even get started on driving on the left - and are liable to be a danger to themselves and others.

3) It is indubitably dangerous. The bikes are heavy and hard to move. In thick traffic it will be hard to get out of a sticky situation or manoeuvre around fast-moving vehicles (especially moody cabbies). Frankly I am waiting with resignation for news of the first Borisycle death. Also, no helmets or locks. And a £300 fine if the bike is nicked on your watch? F**k that.

4) The scheme conforms to a Tory ideal of cycling, besuited executives with bicycle clips on their pinstripe suits, pretty girls in summer dresses flying through Notting Hill with organic veg in the basket. It has nothing to do with the gritty, often wet and frequently dangerous reality of cycling in London. It is an upper-middle-class perk that I doubt - although I'd love it to be otherwise - will appeal beyond that group, and a reflection of Conservative ideals.

In my view, there are so many other things that need to be done to make cycling in London a safer, viable option for all before spending cash on a flagship scheme.

For instance.... Why did Boris not consider mandating cycle training among taxi and bus drivers? Why no mirrors at junctions to help lorry drivers see us? Why not enforce advanced cycle waiting areas at lights? Why not investigate the possibility of allowing bikes to left-turn on red, a move that could save lives? Why not refresh the substandard, dangerous, counter-intuitive cycle lane infrastructure that we do have?

A coherent cycle-centric transport policy, combined with effective education of both bike users (stay off the f**king pavement, stop at the lights) and car drivers (at least three feet when passing, keep out of the damn ASZ) could get thousands of Londoners out of their cars and create a virtuous cycle - pun intended - of biking.

I believe - and the example of the Netherlands and Copenhagen is pretty compelling evidence - that when more people take to the road on two wheels, creating a critical mass of bike riders, the net result is that usage of dirty, dangerous cars decreases, and the remaining drivers become used to bikes and drive around them safely.

But the London cycle hire scheme is not going to accomplish that. It wrongly assumes that we have reached that point of critical mass, and that those menaces of London roads, the taxi and van drivers, are going to accept a bike-centric status quo right off the bat.

It's a case of cart before horse if I ever saw one. If anything, inexperienced people wobbling around the city on heavy bikes is going to increase frictions.

Now, this said, I could see myself taking advantage of the scheme. For short trips of under 30 minutes it is free; I am a proficient rider and could probably get across Zone 1 in that timeframe. In nice weather, for a short hop from, say, Chinatown to Oxford Street, or along the South Bank, it makes sense. I could even use it for work; I'm often in town for interviews and briefings and the idea of being able to ride to them is appealing.

Yes, I will probably use the scheme eventually, but at the same time I am really not comfortable with it.

At any rate, I've not signed up for the full £45 p/a membership, I'm going to bide my time and wait for it to be made available to casual users and then, if I get any value out of it, I may consider joining.
shinytoaster: It's Jimmy Dean Chocolate Chip Pancake and Sausage ON A STICK! (Jimmy Dean)
2010-07-09 03:02 pm

Sick!

Okay, the unrelentingness of this heat is starting to get to me; I flew out of Washington reliably expecting some relief from hot times, and now here I am, plunged into Britain's version of a code red.

The most depressing thing of all is that it's not even hit 90 degrees here, which is a temperature I was comfortably exceeding in DC day after day simply because of the ready availability of air conditioning. All I have here are a fan, some windows, and fewer clothes, and this bloody flat-that-will-not-cool-down is not helping matters.

Meanwhile, I'm still not entirely better from the bug, or whatever you want to call it, that I picked up in the US. The flight home was unmitigated shit (although V:port yay), and only the fact that we are both signed up to IRIS and were therefore able to go from plane to bags to minicab to home to bed without passing immigration, and all this in a shade under two hours from touchdown, made me not throw a World Series tantrum.

Wracked with flu-like symptoms my thoughts have turned to the possibility that this is not the cumulative result of a) overexposure to funtimes and or b) snotty nosed brat summer camp kids at the Smithsonian that I have no immunity to, and rather may be something that I picked up in the woods.

I have even been on the Virginia Department of Public Health website looking things up, which probably wasn't a good idea; there's a litany of things I could have.

The annoying thing is that everything I might have conceivably picked up in the woods, from lyme disease to West Nile fever via Eastern equine encephalitis, presents flu-like symptoms. Hell, I could be dying from hantavirus and probably wouldn't know.

Cheerful thought.
shinytoaster: (Default)
2010-07-05 01:44 pm

The last three weeks...

So, [personal profile] aegeus and I are now, after six years and eleven months, husbands, with legal documents and rings and everything.

For anyone who unaccountably missed the detail, we got married in a small registry office in Weybridge in Surrey at 10:30 in the morning on June 19th, and then in the afternoon we took about 75 family and friends on a four hour cruise along the Thames from Hampton Court to Richmond, which was very relaxing and full of lovely company and cake, and we didn't even drink all the money that we'd put behind the bar...

I know a lot of friends couldn't be there and some people we were not able to invite due to space constraints and if that is the case you really were missed.

We flew out to the US two days after the wedding and had four or five wonderful days at L's parents' holiday/eventual retirement home in the Blue Ridge, which was lovely and high up and therefore several degrees cooler than DC. It was laid back, peaceful and sunny, with a lot of time to sit outside reading in the sun with a glass of wine.

The following week we came back up to DC - slightly earlier than planned - did a day trip out to George Washington's house at Mount Vernon, had awesome dinner chez [personal profile] wordplay and [personal profile] chromodynamics, then hung out with NY people pre lovely Saturday wedding BBQ, and yesterday did 4th of July fireworks from a top floor apartment with panoramic views of all the different displays.

The last couple of days I have not been the most awesome company, however, as late on Saturday evening my body went 'noo, fuck this shit' and conspired against me, with the upshot that I am sick and run down and about to go back to work, which is not way up there on the scale of global suck, but is still UNNECESSARY. Too much has happened and frankly, I need a holiday to get over this one.

So we are about to go to Dulles the day after 4th July, and I just know it will be full of waddling tourists and church groups going home after spending Independence Day in the capital, and I am ill and the thought of a seven hour flight, even with Virgin, is just upsetting.

Anyway, I will do some proper blogs on the last three weeks when we are back in the UK and I have some time to write.

Thanks to everyone who made the last three weeks truly unforgettable.
shinytoaster: A classic Citroen 2CV (2CV)
2010-05-14 07:20 pm

Writing thoughts

So, I have deep and upset thoughts about the way the election went which I am going to put into a post at some point in the near future, but first here are some deep and upset thoughts about my rather lacklustre writing career.

Okay, here's a disclosure for you...

* I have never finished an original story that wasn't either witless juvenilia or Harry Potter and, er ... what I now realise (although didn't in 1993) must have been Doctor Who fanfiction.

Here's another one...

* These days I get paid to write 'news' about people who sell computers for a living, and it is hands down the most uninspiring shit and I am not enjoying myself in the process.

The annoying thing about being paid to write is, I have found, that after a hard day trying in vain to make my work sound interesting, I come home and the last thing I really feel like doing is writing anything. So yeah, there's a wee motivation problem to contend with.

I absolutely know - and I try and say this with as little ego as possible - that I am a fucking good writer and could get published with the right book and the right level of application, and so maybe I'd still be writing about computing but at least then I'd know I was capable of something better than that.

So, the problem I wanted to ask for your thoughts on is that I find I have these ideas bouncing around my head but I can't resolve them into anything. There are a few concepts and situations that I would like to put a character in, but no plot, no story to tie it into. I can't get my head around how actual authors figure out how to bring these vague ideas into a convincing story, with subtext and everything. How is that level of thought possible? How is it done?
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2010-05-05 11:01 pm

Thoughts on Election Eve 2010 (reposted from everywhere)

Five years ago I wrote a blog on why I intended to vote Liberal Democrat. Well, I wish I could tell you I was going to vote Liberal Democrat again. I was thoroughly impressed with their performance in this campaign and the debates. Many of their policies make sense to me, and it I believe is high time we addressed the thorny question of electoral reform. Nick Clegg has promised this and I wish him luck.

But here’s the Independent’s exceptional Johann Hari on the changes wrought by a Conservative council in West London. This is a story of a council that turfed an eight-month pregnant domestic abuse victim onto the streets, advising her to seek accommodation in the private sector after closing down vital homeless shelters that Labour set up. This is a story of a council that closed a century-old youth club facility that, under a Labour council dispensed CV advice and UCAS forms. Now the kids that used it are on the streets and, oh, here’s a thing, ASBOs are up! Crime is already up under the Tories and if they win the parliamentary election it will rise across the board.

Perhaps most tellingly, this is a story of a council that sold one of London’s most beautiful parks, where local kids played football, to a polo consortium that tore out local facilities and now shuts the park down every so often so that rich Tory yahoos from Eton and Harrow can come in and play a sport that nobody gives a toss about, and then piss off and drive their coupes around west London and get smashed on £200 cocktails in Mahiki!

Who needs a polo pitch in Hammersmith? Get in your bloody four-by-fours and drive to Windsor!

The Conservatives don’t want London to be a city where the rich and poor and local and immigrant live cheek by glorious, messy jowl. They want to force the rest of us out and hand our city over to toffs.

This nightmare vision – which is happening, today, in Hammersmith and Fulham, and Wandsworth, where I live, and other Tory-controlled councils – is what Dave ‘Botox’ Cameron has in store for us all.

The Conservatives have come at us claiming to have changed, claiming to have become the party of tolerance, but that mask of tolerance has not just slipped, it is on the ground in pieces and behind it is the same old, twisted, evil face that stomped on the miners, brought in Section 28 and the Poll Tax and privatised an improving railway system for a quick buck.

That face has taken in many. It’s taken in progressives; it’s taken in people who want to get back at Gordon Brown for being a tad socially awkward at times, or people who are still smarting over Iraq. It’s taken in people who have forgotten the amazing work Labour has done in the past 13 years to make this country brilliant.

That face speaks to a more sinister spectre than closed youth clubs or help for single mums. The Christian right is lurking behind Botox Dave; its candidates, one of whom was linked at the weekend to prayer centres purporting to ‘cure’ gay people, are standing in this election and taking out injunctions to stop our media asking them tough questions.

I can't stand to see the Christian right gain leverage over British politics; even with Barack Obama in the White House their influence still looms large over American politics.

If Cameron gets in, better not be young or gay or disabled, better not be a low-earner, better not get pregnant, or be a victim of domestic abuse. Better not drive while Muslim, or walk down the street while black. You’ll get nothing from them.

If Cameron gets in, kiss bye-bye to the progressive agenda for the next five years, and maybe more for, as Jonathan Friedland wrote in this morning’s Guardian, they will get to work on gerrymandering the country to reduce the number of MPs at Westminster – a stated policy and one you can bet they will follow up – and shore-up a Conservative majority for the next election.

This naked political cynicism scares me silly. In the last few weeks, the Conservatives have laid into people like me and other left-leaning progressives for trying to scare people off them with negative campaigning. But with their attack ads plastered over London they sure can teach us a thing or two about negative campaigning. Talk to the hand, Tory boys. I’m done listening to your apologists.

So here’s my negative campaign. Unless you are rich, white and straight you should be damn scared of a Conservative majority. You should be scared out of your mind.

This is why the only possible choice for me tomorrow is Labour, and if you value what this country has become, fairer, safer and more tolerant, then I believe the only choice for you is Labour.

If, like me, and the majority of Britons who supported a centre-left, progressive agenda in the 2005 election, you’re proud to live in a country that is politically correct, then the only choice is Labour.

If, like me, you have the guts to see past the bitter taste in the mouth left by Iraq, identity cards and the risible Digital Economy Act, then the only choice is Labour.

Yes, we’ve got problems, but I would prefer 10 more years of Gordon Brown than 10 minutes of David Cameron.

Please vote tomorrow and keep this country on the right track.
shinytoaster: (Default)
2010-04-05 05:06 pm

State of the Shinytoaster, April 2010

A big week in the Shinytoaster household, we have our first smartphones and they are teh sexy. HTC Desires on T-Mobile. It has Twitter and Facebook and Internets and GPS and a pretty f'ing damn good camera and things to help you find bars and stuff, uh, not many apps yet as Google has some behind the scenes work to do on the Android Marketplace, but that will come in time.

I am still learning the ropes when it comes to finding my way around it but am basically pretty much in love with my new little friend. Actually, I've caught myself using it at home when I have a perfectly good laptop, which I am trying to stop myself from doing.

My number remains the same - actually it hasn't been ported over from my old phone yet as it's a Bank Holiday weekend and these things take a couple of working days.

Also this weekend, New!Who. I am trying to get some thoughts on this together as I feel it bears talking about. Suffice to say that I liked it a lot )

Wot' else? My Birthday weekend; I had a couple of expressions of interest in a mild bout of celebration to mark my 28th 21st and also a couple of North Americans saying 'I'd love to come but...' and while it is lovely that you would come it doesn't give me much of an idea of numbers because I'm not worth spending $600 on to fly over and have a curry with, so I think provisionally the plan is to do something on the Sunday (May 2nd) locally to us in the evening.

We have the awesomest vegetarian Indian restaurant across the street from us (they are licensed, I'm not that cruel) so I figure I'll book something there for early on in the evening and then try and get one of the two good pubs in Tooting (either the Tramshed or the Antelope) to let us have a table for 8-8:30 or so for a couple of whatever-takes-yer-fancies. The pubs are right next to the Tube and the Northern Line is running that weekend. Sunday things will be quieter, so let me know ASAP if you're in so I can get an idea of some numbers. I'll be Facebooking that as well for a few 'normal' friends.

Wedding prep goes well, with many things now booked and in the process of being sorted out. We had a productive afternoon in John Lewis on Friday scanning useful things for the gift registry; I was pleased about that as previous trips had not been especially fruitful, but there's a bit of a sense of urgency about that now as we're, wot', 74 days out and the list is declared open on May 8th, a month or so from now.

Things that still need to happen are a few ceremony procedural-related things, suit fittings, hotel bookings. We had hoped to go to a really nice place in Richmond, overlooking the river for our first night, but it seems they're booked out and so now that's kind of up in the air. I know it's not strictly necessary, but part of me doesn't want to come back to this flat right away afterwards.

Anything else to update? Had a grand day out the other weekend watching Enron in the West End with [personal profile] aegeus and [personal profile] wordplay. Some reservations about certain aspects of the play, but on the whole I greatly enjoyed it and am recommending it to anyone I can make listen. This was followed by BBQ at Bodeans with various people to celebrate [personal profile] malachan's birthday, joined by [personal profile] john, [personal profile] shewalksonroses and others that I am not sure if they are on Dreamwidth or not.

I've brought my bike out of hibernation and aside from a small setback a couple of weeks ago when I sat down heavily on the cross-brace on our shitty Ikea sofa and bruised my coccyx, have been biking to work again and this, coupled with regular gym sessions, seems to have lost me a couple of pounds that I do not want or need to lose. I know that's not really a problem, but I'm already at the low-end of acceptable. Solution clearly more chocolate and beer.

I wish I'd figured out sooner that exercise and the like can be a lot of fun; I hated team sports at school and was forced to do them whether or not I wanted to or not. Now I can do things at my own pace without pressure from teachers or unrealistic expectations about my limited athletic ability from so-called teammates, and I'm really enjoying both the gym and cycling.

And now the four-day weekend is winding down and I am full of chocolate...
shinytoaster: (Default)
2010-03-24 10:48 pm

(no subject)

Hi, everyone.

Just wanted to make a quick, rare post - I'm fine by the way - to try and see who would be up for some form of birthday party - meal, drinks, club, hanging round outside Balham Sainsburys etc - on the first weekend in May.

So which of the three days - 1st, 2nd or 3rd (Bank Holiday Monday) - across that weekend suit you best? Then we can firm up more details nearer the time.

I will absolutely not be 28 this year.
shinytoaster: A cute little remote controlled BBC logo (BBC 2)
2010-01-03 10:43 pm

Sprout task replica

L just made the most amazing brussel sprouts, braised in cream or something, I couldn't recite the recipe from memory or anything quite as spectacular as that. They were better than my Dad's, by a country mile. We'll be having those again. There's still half a packet left, after all.

I've been feeling a vague New Year New Me type vibe the past three days. It's the start of my fourth decade, I'll be 30 in a little over two years time, and overall I'm pretty content with how things are going, and hopefully we'll come back to that in posts yet to come, if I have the presence of mind to actually write them.

Anyhow, it's been a good catalyst to have an early spring clean and tidy up this pigsty of a flat. We spent most of Saturday - apart from side trips to Sainsbury's and the gym - sorting out boxes and boxes of paper and working the shredder overtime. We've filled four big recycling sacks with shredded documents, many of them have been following me around since I first moved to Harrow in 2005, and some of them since I left Brighton in 2004.

This morning, we drove up to the 'Western Riverside Waste Authority' (the tip), which is by the Thames in Wandsworth town centre, and got rid of a carload of paper, card, old clothes and various bits of junk that we had no need for.

I also binned several years worth of Attitudes and AXMs (gay mags), including the first gay magazine I ever bought in the Churchill Square Borders in May 2001, with Ivan Massow on the cover. I'd say it brought a lump to my throat to throw it out, but that would be a blatant lie; the fashions were a decade out of date, and as for the hot swimwear for summer '01 feature, well I'd die before I was caught dead in that pattern (kidding, kidding).

The upshot of this Kim 'n Aggie-style binge-chuck is, short term, a flat that we can move around in and isn't filled with any old shit, but psychologically, for me at least, a feeling of space and declutteryness that is, in all honesty, quite a nice way to start a decade.

I haven't wished anyone on here a Happy New Year yet and I know some of you are having a pretty lousy start to the year, so to you specifically I send good thoughts and to everyone in general, wishes for a clutter-free decade.
shinytoaster: (Default)
2010-01-02 11:23 pm
shinytoaster: A cute little remote controlled BBC logo (BBC 2)
2009-09-01 10:07 pm

Of wedding prep, and the unbearable Fawltyesqueness of the British hotelier

Got a crafty day off work tomorrow to go and check out a couple of wedding venues. We've settled on what we want to do and have a couple of things in mind at the moment that I probably shouldn't be blogging about until we've confirmed lest I jinx the whole endeavour - touch MDF - suffice to say it's quite exciting and hopefully it will be a little bit different to yer usual hotel-based options.

You know, I checked out so many hotels online at the weekend, all in the southwest London/northeast Surrey area, and one further away beyond Guildford, and essentially they were identical. Whatever you wanted to do to make your event special, you were going to get lots of round tables, a balloon arrangement and a bored toastmaster thrown in.

The majority of them also charged outlandish prices, topping 10 grand for venue hire, before food, drink and entertainment, which of course has to be done by the in-house caterers, meaning that the wedding breakfast menu looks a little like this:

For your special day choose one dish from each of the following menu which will be served to all your guests.

Starters

Fan of Galia melon served with Tesco Finest Parma ham
Prawn cocktail with sauce Marie Rose (ketchup and low-fat mayo)
Tomato and mozarella hastily thrown together with some basil

Mains

Beef Wellington, done to your liking a cinder and nuked vegetables
Breast of dry chicken in a non-offensive white sauce and nuked vegetables
Something involving salmon and nuked vegetables and Hollandaise sauce if you're classy

Desserts

Profiteroles with lukewarm chocolate sauce
Apple cobbler with custard
New York Light Industrial Unit in Horsham Cheesecake

This will be served with the house red, a 2009 Dead Wallaby Creek Merlot or the house white, a 2009 Dead Wallaby Creek Chardonnay (allow 1/2 bottle per guest) + a glass of Bucks Fizz or Tropicana on arrival + a glass of champagne sparkling wine for the toasts

A stuffed portobello mushroom/attempt at pumpkin risotto will be available for vegetarians.


This generally starts at about £85 per head.

The thing is, I like food a whole lot, have never understood the concept of it being merely fuel, the concept of fussy eating or the concept of serving something unmemorable on a memorable occasion.

I have even been known to make pathetic whimpering noises when faced with something truly magnificent - I hold a recent trip to the Cinnamon Club in London or my reaction to a chicken liver parfait the last time we ate at Browns as evidence.

You see my dilemma, the catering has to be good, and that pretty much cancels out a whole swathe of options.

I think, and hope our solution to this won't be found wanting...
shinytoaster: (Default)
2009-08-30 01:46 pm

Wedding logistics

Anyone not checking LJ? We're trying to get a sense of numbers, hash out an invite list and so on. If you've not done so yet please fill out this poll, comments and answers screened, obviously.

http://aegeus.livejournal.com/133672.html
shinytoaster: (Default)
2009-08-22 07:38 pm

Periodic news updateness & happy times

Having another blog hasn't really worked out that well yet, has it? Bugger. So slapped wrist for me and I will try a bit harder in future.

So, we both have some news for you guys. We - that is Lowell and I - got engaged a few weeks ago on our sixth anniversary.

We're looking to make it official sometime in June 2010 in the UK, and we'd like the chance to have some of you there. Firm arrangements and minutiae will be coming along in due course; basically we haven't made any yet.
shinytoaster: A cute little remote controlled BBC logo (BBC 2)
2009-06-01 09:14 am

Boston trip

As I am just about to head out of the door to catch my plane to Boston I thought I should stick my head over the parapet and make a quick post. Looking forward to seeing some of you over in the US. Um, email, comments or DMs on Twitter will be the best way to get at me for now.

There will, afaik be something happening on Wednesday, and if anybody is free on Friday during the day I'll be tooling around doing vaguely touristy things and maybe poking a shop or two before my flight and the company would be welcome.
shinytoaster: (Default)
2009-05-25 11:57 am

Adventures in Bureaucracy

Last Thursday I went up to the American Embassy to get my shiny new journalist visa. For those not familiar with this part of the world, the Embassy building is on Grosvenor Square on a plum plot in the middle of Mayfair, a couple of blocks south of Selfridges and about five minutes walk from Bond Street. It is also without a doubt one of the ugliest buildings in London; all bad Sixties modernism and crowned with a big bronze eagle that looks like a hood ornament.

But while the building is not all that hot aesthetically, the interior is quite something. It clearly hasn't had much of an update since the Sixties; lots of low desks and wood and soft shades, think Mad Men crossed with Tracy Island, and the walls are covered with a great number of very arresting National Geographic-style photos.

These bear a look, as they are fantastic and IMO should properly be in an exhibition. They are all colour, in those slightly faded, vivid hues that pictures from 30 or 40 years ago have, and depict various tourist hot-spots and things of interest. There's Vegas from the air before the Strip got built up, Niagara before it got surrounded by tat, boats zipping over the Everglades, buffalo roaming, big capacious cars drawn up at a viewing point overlooking the Grand Canyon, ladies with Jackie Kennedy hats, earnest 'children of all races' shots with the black kids sporting afros and big flares, while the white kids looking like they stepped out of a casting call for The Wonder Years. It's like a little trip back in time while-u-wait.

The waiting is a bit of a bitch. There's a line of windows such as you'd find in a bank or the booking hall of a large station, and every so often an earnest voice calls out a number and a window. That morning the queue was moving quite zippily along. There were about 40 waiting for nonimmigrant visas and about eight or nine waiting to actually emigrate. I handed in my forms, my passport and my odd-looking regulation photo, then had my fingerprints taken at two different windows, before going to a third window for my interview.

This is the bit that I'd been expecting to be quite difficult, but it was actually disappointingly easy. I'd half expected to be held at gunpoint by two marines in a padded room while a broad-browed immigration official made me recite the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner backwards, instead I got 'Brad' (about 6'6", blond buzz-cut military type), who asked me what my company did? I bored him for 30 seconds about publishing, name-dropped Variety and New Scientist, and then got told (politely) that my visa was approved and I could now bugger off.

I have a feeling that they may now think I'm a staff writer for New Scientist, but that can't be helped. At any rate, I can now do journalism in America without being thrown out, so that's nice.

In a happy twist, the company that is to courier my passport back to me - the usually dismally bad Secure Mail Services - is clearly being held to American standards of customer service, and the three to five business day waiting period is in fact considerably shorter.

All told, a quick and pain-free experience, so something somewhere is now bound to go horribly wrong. Fingers crossed, eh?
shinytoaster: (Default)
2009-05-14 11:24 am

Boston redux

Hai guys.

So this Boston conference doodad is going ahead from the 1st to the 3rd. I am tentatively trying to arrange to fly back on the evening of the 5th, so would have Thursday evening and Friday of that week to see people. I think I may also have the evening of the 2nd if people are around.

Now, I have been booked into a stupidly expensive hotel on the waterfront (Summer St) but the organisers will only cover accommodation costs for the dates of the event, so does anybody know of any relatively cheap (and good) hotels/B&Bs, or is prepared to provide floor space for the night of the 4th June?

Much love, etc, and will cross-post to LJ later.