Stuff I forgot before and some other stuff that hadn't happened yet.

Our hosts found out my favourite booze in advance and had a bottle of Seagram's in their drinks cabinet on Christmas Day. How sweet is that?!

I had one cigarette all day yesterday because I forgot to stock up on Christmas Eve and the person who always has more cigarettes than me and never minds helping a brother out asked me if I had any spare before I could ask him. I couldn't get to sleep last night then I had bad dreams but I didn't die and I woke up feeling more refreshed than usual. If I had more willpower I'd have siezed the opportunity to quit but I smoked the moment I had access to cigarettes again. 200 at the airport cost €40.

The board is set...
How quaint.
"What a feeling! I'm drinking on the ceiling."
Then it snowed.

I got three messages from "Trish" just before I flew home today. I don't know any Trishes so I convinced myself that somebody wanted to talk to me via Bluetooth. I click Yes to accept. It's an .SIS file: File format not supported. I poke around in its details and jiggerypoke my settings but there's no trace of who sent it or how to contact them. I know how to search for nearby devices but couldn't initiate contact with one of them if my life depended on it. In short, I don't know how Bluetooth works and the manual is no help.

Trish contacted me twice more. Was she trying to help a novice out or did I gullibly download viruses? ("Virii"?) People of the Earth, please advise!



Greetings from the Netherlands! I was on a party boat here three scant weeks ago, breathing flavoured oxygen, debating whether the D.J. was a man or a woman and learning the phrase "don't dip your nib in the company ink". I write today from a swish apartment twelve minutes ouwith Amsterdam, where my best friend and I just accepted that we need to clean the place up before his girlfriend gets home tonight.

From plane it was train and then bike, with my luggage split between the backs of two men not so accustomed to cycling. It's so flat here you can coast along and try not to worry that your bike doesn't have brake levers - you pedal backwards to slow down. It took some practice, braking when I only meant to shift my weight to the other foot, and I was sure to point out that bikes like this where I come from are meant for children. (Harumph!)

You know when you start to feel like you know your way around a new city and you're not the greenest person on the block any more? Well, that's me and Amsterdam on this trip. Which means we've been able to shop, eat, drink, play Lego Star Wars on Playstation and generally hang the fuck out instead of running around trying to sample all that's legally on offer here as fast as you can, in case the law should change.

Your eyes do not decieve you: that was just Lego Star Wars. I finally found out what it's like to be a two-centimetre-tall plastic representation of a fictional character from an over-rated film series. A power generator is an oblong grey brick with eight round bumps on the top, and there's a hole in the bottom of the Emperor's feet when he falls over! Love it.

Yesterday, we had dinner with three other grown-ups at the home of a very sweet couple. Tbey foolishly invited me before they had even met me! You can get the B.B.C. in Holland so we did the time difference math and saw The Christmas Invasion, which naturally made my day. But we avoided Her Majesty's speech - or The Queen 2005 as it was branded this year.

I went to bed contented last night. Tomorrow looks promising also.


Top Five Albums Of 2005

Check it!

1. Employment: Kaiser Chiefs
Not a mind-blowing, genre-busting, life-changing record by any mark but it has attitude, energy and considerable replay value.
2. Tales From Turnpike House: Saint Etienne
The Et bring everything to the table: clubby beats, grinding guitars, melodies played on milk bottles, and a duet with David Essex! Sometimes you have to give a band props simply for ignoring the zeitgeist and making the music that they want to make. Other times you can't believe you just used the word "zeitgeist" in public.

3. Twin Cinema: The New Pornographers
I'm so out of touch with contemporary music that I saw a picture of Antony from Antony & The Johnsons and thought it was that Sonia Jackson off the telly. I've discovered more good albums from reading end-of-year polls than in the first ten months of the year combined. The New Pornographers are one such band: a Canadian indie "collective" with nice harmonies. When many of the year's breakthrough bands play guitar so fast they sound like they're dialling up to the internet, harmonies begin to rock.
4. Funeral: Arcade Fire
More Canadians! The singer sounds like he's using his last breaths to tell you something really important, and he's going to tell you whether the string section shuts up or not.
5. Awfully Deep: Roots Manuva
Inferior to his previous Run Come Save Me in just about every respect, but still fine music to get you up and about in the mornings when your body is saying no.

Single Of The Year? One Thing: Amerie.

Album Cover Of The Year? Pretty In Black: The Raveonettes. Dig the rockabilly/Wild Ones/Russ Meyer/Wild At Heart visual confluence!

Disappointment Of The Year? Takk: Sigur Ros. Don't believe the hype.

Mistletoe & Whine

As the mornings have grown colder I've come to rely on a ever-shrinking selection of clothes. I'm at the point now where I've subconsciously assembled a kind of Winter Uniform and I wear it almost every day... a black and white hat and scarf from Erika last Christmas, a green corduroy jacket from Amsterdam, black Dickies work pants from Outer Nofolkia and a pair of over-priced soft shoes from Brighton. I tie the scarf once around my neck to fill the space where my jacket doesn't fasten, and lo! I have everything I need to face the elements and still look stylish and European.

Then I decided to do some cleaning. I flooded the kitchen the last time I did a synthetics wash, so I threw everything in on normal and fried the hat to within an inch of its woolly life. It sits on my head like a pancake, a lampshade, or a handkerchief with knots in the corners. I bought a cheap replacement yesterday but it ain't reversible, it ain't as snug and it doesn't have any sentimental value. It just ain't the same. I'm so frustrated and there's no-one to blame but me and my own stupidity. Let this be a lesson to us all: never do laundry when you don't have to!


Famous People That Share My Birthday

Fourteen people I don't want to meet in heaven:

Alexander Bell, internet pioneer
Carlo Ponzi, fraudster
Jackie Joyner-Kersee, athlete
James Doohan, "Scotty" in Star Trek
Jean Harlow, on the cover of a magazine
Jessica Biel, actress
John Carter Cash, son of Johnny
John Virgo, snooker player
Laura Harring, Mulholland Drive
Michael Imperioli, actor and screenwriter
Miranda Richardson, "Queenie" in Blackadder II
Robyn Hitchcock, musician
Ronan Keating, Celtic cantator
Tone Loc, funky cold March baby


Space Scam

I thought we'd reached the nadir of good taste four or five years ago when Channel 4 aired a game show where homeless people could win their dream home. Then there was Joe Millionaire, but at least that was from America... Now comes Space Cadets. It's a reality show where contestants train to be astronauts and are sent into space. Except they're not: they're told they're on a space station (with gravity generators!) but they're really in an aircraft hangar on the outskirts of Ipswich. Three of the six contestants are actors helping to keep up the illusion.

Ho ho ho and all that but I don't like it. I know I'm a moralistic bore and anyone seeking their fifteen minutes of fame badly enough to expose themselves so completely on national television probably deserves everything that's coming to them but there's something cruel about laughing at people being taken for a ride that doesn't translate into entertainment for me. Maybe the gamer in me is protesting that they agreed to play one game but are actually being "scored" on criteria they know nothing about. The Matrix, The Truman Show and that Seventies movie I can never remember the name of where they faked the moon landing film footage in a Hollywood studio are all clear influences on Space Cadets.

I watched fifteen minutes on Tuesday and it seemed fake, but not like I was expecting... The people I was watching it with had seen it before and knew which were the actors but I saw on-camera interviews with most of the astronauts and couldn't tell who was being genuine. They showed highlights of the launch and it went wrong twice: the simulator shook on cue but there was no sound, then they counted down again and it happened again. So the astronauts are looking confused but, to be fair, they've never been into space before so they don't have a frame of reference. One of the two pilots (both actors, I'm told) tries to cover for the silent shaking by saying they're taxiing from the hangar, which would've been a good cover if they hadn't supposedly tried blasting off once already! Later that day (after they'd found the play button on the tape deck) another said hearing the take-off was "like hearing a rocket engine in a film, yeah? Only LOUDER."

And we're supposed to buy all this? I wasn't convinced. If you want a conspiracy theory then it's that the whole thing is staged and the joke is really on us. Imagine our faces when we find out! I just don't think you can fool three people about something so stupendous 100% of the time for two weeks, and scripting fourteen 25-minute episodes is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask of a production team.

The reality show format's been hackneyed for years already and I think someone at Channel 4 deciced it was time for the network that brought Big Brother to Britain in the first place to start innovating again. Are you telling me that no-one hearing the pitch for Space Cadets in a development meeting ever suggested just faking the whole thing? I thought of it in fifteen minutes and I don't even work there. They've done it before too, but it wasn't publicised like this... The game show I mentioned at the start with the dream home? Actually a stunt designed to highlight Britain's homeless problem in an unusual and effective way. True.

The final episode of Space Cadets airs this weekend.

Update 2005-12-17: I was wrong. (See the comments section.)

Batman Be Guided

"Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up."
"It’s not who you are underneath but what you do that defines you.”

- repeated dialogue from Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005).


Mummy's Boy

I heart my mother too and don't want her to feel left out. Let's not pretend that we had no polemics in my formative years but when my brother and I realised she was as permanently pissed off with my dad as we were, an informal alliance was formed.

Here the three of us are, looking like extras from Lords Of Dogtown. I spent much of the 1980s trying to forget my parent-prescribed curly blonde mop but I've since repented. In my first year of school, Mrs. Lomas put me in the girls' line for the toilet and I had a bitch of a time convincing her I was actually a boy! The neighbourhood has changed so much since that picture was taken, circa 1978. If I could click my fingers and disappear the high fences, the street paving, the security cameras and the street lighting, I so would. Who wouldn't?

Behind the camera's point of view in that old picture of my mum, the lane slopes past neighbours' houses for about 100 yards down to a railway bridge. The other side the bridge was green fields. I'd play there with the friends I had at that age - B.J, M.R, M.C, C.H, G.P, I.P, S.W, and P.G - and we'd avoid the ones with cattle in. Now, the farm has sold its land and the building pictured above sits there. I say "sits" but it's rumoured that there's just as much of it again underground because it's the new Ministry Of Defence H.Q. In. My. Back. Yard. It's not all blood and tears, though: I got a new train station out of it and now I can get to the centre of Bristol in under ten minutes, virtually door to door.

These days my beautiful mother is a financially-independent cancer survivor with three part-time jobs and a voluntary fourth as a lay magistrate. She can't afford much extravagance in her life but she's happy and if that isn't the most important thing then I don't want to hear about it.


I Heart My Dad

It's funny... if it weren't for a string of bad luck I'd never have had this time with my father. We didn't get along for most of my teenage years. Whilst that's somewhat normal for fathers and sons, we excelled at it. Once we didn't speak for six months and it was blissfully quiet!

Yet here we are: both single, both with annoying habits, both mellowed with age, alone and together. We've had three arguments in three months: he's insensitive and I over-react but these days we clear the air quickly and there's been no lasting fallout from any of our little donnybrooks. He's an old man with ailing health and I don't know how much longer he'll be around so I wouldn't swap this period of my life for anything.

This picture was taken at R.N.A.S. Stretton near Manchester when my father was 19 years old. It's in a frame on a table at home next to my graduation photo and people often remark on the family resemblance. After training, my father became a petty officer on H.M.S. Theseus and had the oh-so-original nickname "Sparks" because he worked on electrics and electronics. After seven years he used his navy skills in other jobs, including maintaining the radar at Bristol airport.

When he's not moaning like an old woman, I'm rather proud of my dad. He makes a mean cup of tea and tonight we'll watch Batman Begins together.


Open Invitation

Life has certainly been full lately. I've got 46 unread e-mails and that was before I sat down at my desk today. (Five are from the same person and date back a month or longer... I'm amazed she still talks to me!) I haven't posted comments on friends' blogs in aeons and I've lost track of what half of them are doing lately.

But my friends know this new-found hecticity is far more smile-inducing than the interminable boredom of Norfolk, VA. They're happy for me but still, I apologize for my slackness. If any of you what don't blog yourselves would like to help fill the gaps here with a "guest post", you'd be welcome. Shig could talk about "the life of the book"; Trundling Grunt could provide a very different perspective to mine on being an alien in America; and Sarah can write whatever she'd be writing on her own blog if she were still writing it. These are but suggestions! If you're interested, please mail me.


A Weekday In The Life

0630 GMT: Wake up.
0640 GMT: Wake up again, and hit the snooze button again.
0650 GMT: Wake up and sit up. Mentally prepare for getting out of bed.
0700 GMT: Move quickly between the heater on the landing, the heater in the kitchen and the kettle. Hover over the steam. Move directly to the bathroom and run the hot water prematurely to heat the bathroom.
0715 GMT: Pack my bag. Forget all kinds of things.
0730 GMT: Get in the car and drive for 75 minutes. That's less than a mile per minute but I use the time to drain my travel mug, listen to the news on Radio 4 and finish the job of waking up for the day.

0900 GMT: At this time today, I was on my hands and knees under my desk.
1800 GMT: There was an accident blocking the M4 between Junctions 11 and 12 last night but, since I travel from 12 to 19, you could say I had the silver lining from that particular grey cloud. The motorway was empty when I got on and I was home in a record 56 minutes.

Feeling Dopey

The Home Secretary has issued guidelines to help courts differentiate between possession for personal use and possession for intent to supply in illegal drugs cases. You're officially not a dealer if you're caught carrying 7g of cocaine, heroin or crack, ten tablets of ecstasy, ten 1g bags of amphetamine, or 20oz of marijuana. According to a B.B.C. reporter, that much grass is equivalent to 500 joints (but he didn't say what size papers he uses or whether he mixes it with tobacco).

Whenever there's a contentious subject like this, it amuses me to compare how different sources report it. The Times displays a modicum of restraint, giving you the facts and only the facts. I can't tell if The Guardian is concerned about wasting police time or the inconvenience the new policies will cause a significant proportion of its readership! And The Sun revealed its agenda with the very first word, relieving the busy reader of the burden of making up his own mind. For once, Ford has no comment on the issue. But that could be because he's too high to form a coherent sentence.


Bad Santa

It feels like the holidays arrived late this year. The chain stores all "went to Christmas" after Hallowe'en but I've been too busy to notice. Plus, the nature of the work I do these days means that I approach the whole phenomenon differently than before. It's not like Christmas needed any more demystifying for me, but I welcome any new perspective on the month-long bullshit that leads up to the actual day. Business-ing it this year has given me something tangible and important to do all December!

I did most of my gift shopping yesterday and will do the rest online to avoid madding crowds. (Don't worry... you all got good stuff.)

I'm away throughout the holiday season so I'll wish you a jolly Pagan time right now. There; done. Santa's practicing for the night of the 24th in this training simulation. Use the arrow keys to collect the alcohol and mince pies but keep away from the electric train tracks.


Guilty Pleasure

I came to confess that I'm in love with the latest Beyoncé single, which I hear every time I set foot in a Virgin Megastore (but never anywhere else). However, on the way here I discovered that One Thing is the work of a certain Amerie and nothing to do with the former Child Of Destiny after all.

R&B + on the soundtrack to Hitch = definite guilty pleasure!

Tales From The Edge Of Professionalism

The new company has a file for everything. It takes itself very seriously. It hires from all over to get the skills it wants, not just from its own customer base. These are all good things and I'm learning loads about Sales.

My computer makes some noise. The hard drive's a bit full and the fan kicks in when it tries to find virtual memory. I moved desks this week and my new neighbour told me that he thought we got our beautiful office at late notice because nobody else wanted to be near whatever outside makes that annoying drilling sound, but now he realizes them truth about where the noise is coming from. Last week we dubbed my laptop The Cappucino Machine and I would take drinks orders when it fired up.

I can claim fuel for all my travel, including to and from home. I've requested a Ford Focus, a Vauxhall Astra or an Audi A4 following your suggestions. Next I need to figure out how to use Bluetooth and catch a plane to head office in time for the Christmas party. Bye!