Friday, 27 June 2003

oh yes, it's all coming back to me now

We hadn't seen our new house since February and it was all becoming a bit of a blur. We made arrangements with the current owner to visit the house today to take measurements for furniture and kitchen stuff. Very luckily, we didn't notice anything horrible we hadn't spotted before - we had the fear that we'd built the house up so much in our minds over the past few months, that it would seem hugely disappointing when we saw it again in person. In fact, many things we thought were incredibly hideous (e.g. the lounge carpet and brick fireplace) were actually not that bad. The decoration was still a bit awful (and we did notice for the first time that there's swirly Artex on one wall in each bedroom) but the house itself was still fabulous. We hadn't seen the garden in bloom; it was fairly bare in February but now it looks secluded and pretty. We learned that the neighbours on one side of us are retired and dog lovers. We were hoping that we'd find someone in the neighbourhood who could peek in on the dog every now and then, and it seems like we've got someone who fits the bill. We've got a reporter for the Cambridge Evening News behind us, so we can keep up to date on all the Cambridgeon gossip. All the little things I'd hoped were at the house were there, like an outdoor tap, a doorbell, and outdoor lights (we forgot to check for these before). The front garden was lovely, full of mature shrubs, lavender, and a pretty birch tree. The house will need quite a lot of work, but it still had such a good feeling about it. We're so excited (again) and it's going to be amazing to have a house to call our own. Well technically, it's a house to call the Nationwide's, but you know what I mean.

A guy I work with stopped by with his missus and their little newborn. When I say little, I do mean little - the wee chap only weighs 5 lbs. (he was 6 weeks premature). I held him gingerly, slightly nervous about breaking this tiny person in my arms. He settled into place and soon fell asleep in the crook of my arm, while I talked to his Mum about the joys of being a new parent. She said that along with everyone else she knows who are new parents, you have no clue what you're doing, you get used to the lack of sleep, and she knows two people who dropped their babies at some point (and they all turned out fine). Her husband said that having a dog prepared them for being parents, and although we all laughed, there was some truth in that. You learn how to think about someone else before you do a lot of things like travel, go out for the night, or buy breakables. I suppose the training experience comes in handy, although you probably shouldn't smack your kid's nose with a rolled up newspaper when it does something bad. I very recluctantly gave the baby to another broody workmate who later reluctantly gave him back to his Mum. And I get to do this all again next week when we visit Micky and Susan. Poor Paul.

Wednesday, 25 June 2003

california dreamin'

The eagerly anticipated California/Vegas trip diary is available for your reading pleasure here. Go read all about it and see movies of fountain shows and sea lions! Whee!
it's a tug of war

A few more piccies from the summer party, courtesy of Toby.

(I often look like that when I'm holding a bottle of wine.)

Tuesday, 24 June 2003

more trees and water than you can shake a stick at

Piccies from our walk around the Lake District (Rydal water, to be precise) can be found here. Enjoy!

Monday, 23 June 2003

i left my back at a company picnic

So I never did see a game of Slap the Rat (or giant Jenga, for that matter) but we did win the tug of war match. It was the most painful experience I've ever had and we are all still feeling it today. We won the first round and collapsed on the ground in agony. Then we were informed that we had to go again for the semi finals. WHAT? Another round, another agonising pull, we won again, and staggered over to the bar get some water. Upon returning, we were informed that we had to go another round. Immediately. Like now. I've never heard 6 people tell an HR person to feck off until that moment. Three more extremely painful rounds later, we were crowned champions. Hurrah. We won nice bottles of wine (not so nice for the one guy on our team who is allergic to alcohol, though) and Paul and I lucked out by winning two bottles for one household. It was a very fun day (except for the searing pain and not realising that three pints of wine beforehand might be a bad idea) and the weather was fabulous. Here's a pic of us in action:

And here's a pic of us with our prizes (the guy on the right with the beard was just picture-crashing; he wasn't on our team):

Many thanks to Matt and his camera (second from left in the black tshirt) for the pics!

The Lake District was, as usual, gorgeous. We could barely move on Saturday, but we managed to hobble around the grounds around my aunt and uncle's timeshare before heading to the fantastic Britannia pub for dinner. On Sunday, we went for a long lovely walk around Rydal water, a very small lake in between Windermere and Grasmere lakes (pictures coming soon). After a long drive home, we stopped at the Brampton Mill pub for dinner, owned by a chain that takes ex-Beefeater's pubs and converts them into more modern restaurants/pubs with fairly interesting menus. The food was very good, but the service was lacking. The English have perfected the art of ignoring you when you enter their places of business, and this pub was no exception. Approximately four staff members completely ignored us as we stood waiting for someone to seat us, and this pretty much set the tone for the rest of the meal. Needless to say, we didn't leave a tip.

Back at work today, still very sore, and a little sunburned. We asked each other why we didn't just drop the rope and let the other team win on Friday, but we're all just too stubborn. We're also just too old and out of shape, but there you go.

Friday, 20 June 2003

things that make you go awwwwwwwwww

More piccies of Micky and Susan's little one can now be found here. Uh oh. Getting broody. Hellllllllllllllllp.

Thursday, 19 June 2003

it's not a euphemism

We are having a company summer shindig tomorrow at our other office in Chalfont. We got a list of activities from HR today, including something called Slap the Rat. After giggling to myself for a few minutes, I asked a few mates what this could possibly entail. I think Tim said it best:

"Slap the rat - a fine English game, in fact a game that's just reaching a new found popularity with the news that one of the country's leading exponents, Maurice Loosebowels, has just agreed a four year contract with Spanish giants Real Mousedread (though they play a slightly different variant using, I belief, a smaller rodent). The objective is (as you must've gleaned, perchance, by now) to take firm hold of a large, heavy weapon, wait for someone to insert a small furry object into a pipe or other cylindrical chamber with a small uncovered opening at the far end, release said furry object (which will travel along the chamber ably assisted by the earth's gravitational pull) until it emerges into the uncovered opening, blinking and bedazzled, bathed in the brilliant summer sunshine. At this point it is your responsibility to use the aforementioned weapon to deliver a lusty blow to its small form as it flits into view. It's a game of skill and chance for all the family, make no mistake. Are you sure they don't play it in Canada?"

And this came from the guy who used to be my editor. A few others explained it to me in the kitchen, and it seems that it consists of something being dropped down a tube, then being whacked by a bat of some sort as it drops out. Here I was, expecting stuff like potato sack races. Silly me. As Chris G. said, it'll be fun after 11 Pimms. The day also includes a BBQ, wine, a "real ale" beer tent, a jazz band (run away! run away!), and of course the big tug of war and softball games. I think it'll all be good fun, actually. Plus, I get to drink 'cos Paul's driving us both ways. Woowoowooo!

We're off to see my aunt and uncle in the gorgeous Lake District this weekend. What's the weather forecast? Pouring rain Saturday and Sunday. Hurrah. Still, it should be good - it's one of my favourite parts of the country and there's no Foot and Mouth to hinder our walks this time. Pics will be posted after Monday. Oh yeah, and I've still got to write that California trip diary. Foo.

Tuesday, 17 June 2003


I just finished...acquiring...erm...accidentally placing on my computer...okay, okay, I was downloading mp3s with Kazaa and got myself the latest album from Guster. They're an American band and unfortunately, this album is not available here. So I downloaded it, loaded it into Winamp, and played the first song whilst puttering around the Internet. I wasn't entirely sure but it sounded like the lead singer was meowing. Or was I just really tired? No, he was meowing. Being a quirky sort of band, I thought that the first track must consist of music and meowing for comedic value. Then the second track played and more meowing ensued. I quickly scanned through the rest of the tracks and discovered that every single song consisted of the (probably correct) background music with the vocal track replaced by Guster going "meow meow meowwww meow meow meooow". (Click here to download a zipped version of one of the fake songs - it's fabulous.) For those of you not in the know, some bands have resorted to various techniques to stop their music from being downloaded for free via peer to peer software like Kazaa. The most common tactic is to plant "dummy" tracks, consisting of silence, the same song for all tracks on the album (look out for this one with Third Eye Blind's latest), or something else to deter freebie music lovin' folks. This has to be the most creative deterrent ever. To think that these guys sat there and meowed through their entire album is too funny for words.

I'm going to order Guster's latest CD from the States and pay the extra dough for shipping just because this made me giggle. I find this far more effective than Madonna's anti-mp3 dummy tracks consisting of Madge yelling, "What the fk do you think you're doing?!" repeatedly. For someone who earns a bazillion dollars a year and can't come up with anything wittier than swearing loudly, I don't really feel the incentive to shell out the cash for her latest album at my local HMV (apart from the fact that it's a really, really, really bad album). Guster was funny and clever about it, and they are not mutli-millionares. So to the guys from Guster - well done and yes, I will gladly pay for your album. I'm even keeping the dummy version 'cos it cracks me up. Oh yes, and they even have a blog.
left my crankypants at home today

Gosh, I was in *such* a mood yesterday. Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that I've just started back on the healthy eating/exercise routine on Sunday? And I'm a bit sugar/chocolate/fat deprived? Of course, none of this compares to how grumpy I was when I quit smoking. Not a pretty sight. Left a trail of dead bodies somewhere, I seem to remember.

So, here's some good news: we have an exchange/moving date. Hurrah! We will be moving July 7, so clear your calendars for the housewarming party in August (we have to decorate a bit first - the carpet and ceiling will make you hurl, trust me). Still debating about whether or not I should have a "farewell to my cottage in Willingham" party. I do have the place until September, so you all can go there and have a big party for the next three months if you wanted to. Just clean up afterwards, ta.

In only 4 1/2 months, you too can own a house in England! Bah. Bring me a puppy!

Monday, 16 June 2003

and another thing

While I'm in a crotchety kind of mood, let me inflict another rant on you: low carbing. Please stop. Although most of you who have only known me for a year or two will wonder why I should know anything about losing weight, let me assure you that I did manage to drop quite a bit o' lard in the past few years. Almost 3 stone (over 40 lbs.) to be more precise. Please believe me when I tell you that I lost it by a very exciting method called "Stop Eating Crap and Get Yer Arse Off the Sofa". Not carb cutting, not grapefruits 3 meals a day, not liquid diets a la Slimfast, not with cabbage soup, and not by eliminating an entire food group. I ate less, and I lost weight. It's so innovative compared to what's out there today.

The reason for this rant today (like I need a reason normally) is due to the fact that the Atkins diet is everywhere these days. It was big in the 70s, made a huge comeback about 5 years ago, and now it's here with a vengeance. I think Krista says it best here, and gets the point across without an anti-Atkins alarmist attitude (say that 10 times fast) like some articles I've read telling me that my kidneys will swear at me and explode if I do a low carb diet. While I'm not convinced that high protein/low carb diets are going to prove to be permanently damaging in any severe way, I am convinced that it's lacking one of the most important keys to keeping the weight off: it's not a diet you can stick to for the rest of your life. (Unless you really, really, really like meat and dairy. And bad breath.) It's a very attractive diet because you drop a lot of pounds very quickly at first, and hey, any dieter would be excited about the idea of eating all the fat they want and still losing weight.

I did this diet for two months a few years ago, eating nothing but chicken, fish (I don't eat red meat), dairy, and the scant few veggies that are permitted. I lost around 7 lbs. during week one, a couple more in the following weeks, and then nothing. I woke up with unexplained bruising on my arms and legs. I was tired, headachey, and thirsty all the time (it's an extremely dehydrating diet - bodybuilders low carb in the weeks leading up to competitions to look more "cut"). I got my period in the middle of my cycle and when it was my regular time, it lasted much longer than usual (a bit scary considering that I'm on the Pill). I checked out low carb web sites and news groups and was horrified to discover that all of my symptoms were quite common amongst other low carbers. No diet is worth this.

So please, back away from the proteins and learn to embrace complex carbohydrates. If carbs make you fat, then why are all my Japanese relatives so tiny? Asians eat rice all day long, but you don't see a lot of hefty Japanese people outside of the Sumo ring. Now if that ain't scientific proof for you, I dunno what is.
house? what house?

We put the offer in on our house on February 27th. It's now June 16th. Have we exchanged contracts yet? Nooooooooo. The house purchasing system in England (please can we adopt Scottish housing laws? Please please please?) is ridiculously and needlessly complicated. Let me explain.

In Canada, if your offer is accepted, the house is yours (I suspect that it's similar in the States). Here, you make an offer, and then (if it's accepted), you pay several hundred pounds for various searches (land registry, water, etc.) and to get a survey done on the house. Some people pay solicitor's fees up front (we very cleverly opted to pay upon completion), and then of course you've got all the joys and fees that come with selling your existing house. So, you shell out the dough for all the paperwork, you sell your house, you're ready to exchange contracts and get a move date sorted, and one of the sellers or buyers goes, "Ummm actually, we don't think we want to move anymore. We have some lovely parting gifts for you, though. Thanks for playing!" That's it. Your house purchase falls through, you're back at square one, and you've lost a few hundred quid to boot. Smashing, isn't it?

There is nothing in place that ensures once your offer is accepted, the house will definitely be yours. A buyer or seller can back out at any point, and there's nothing to stop them, legally. This is why we're a bit stressed these days and are anxious to complete the sale. And dammit, all my chocolate is gone.

Friday, 13 June 2003

wired on 450 g. of swiss chocolate

I didn't eat all 450g. on my own but I made an impressive dent in it, I must say. The fabulously fantastic Andy D. brought back very large bars of chocolate from his new gig in Switzerland. You could use them as either a hefty snack or a lethal weapon, depending on your mood. After myself and a few workmates pecked away at it, it finally disappeared around lunchtime today. A moment of silence, please. Diet, exercise, running, back into the routine this weekend, blah blah blah. Yeah, I'll get around to it. Whoa, I think I can feel my heart trying to leap out of my chest. Speaking of chocolate, the cheesecake was a massive hit. Paul has promised to love me forever if I make it again (although he did promise that to me before he had my cheesecake, I think now he means it with more vigour).

We're going sofa shopping this weekend, and I'm really looking forward to it. No, seriously, I am. Is that a bad sign?

Finally, a big huge mega supa doopa congratulations to Micky and Susan who greeted their new son yesterday at 8pm. Welcome to the world, Aidan Matthew! Most newborns look like Winston Churchill (after being in a bath for too long), but this kid is a cutie. Hooray, I'm excited 'cos I have an excuse to go buy baby things!

Is that a bad sign?

Thursday, 12 June 2003

*blink blink*

You know it's time to take a break when your eyes are so dry that your contacts stick to your eyelids when you finally blink. Ewwwwwwwww.

I made a chocolate cheesecake last night, but I'm doubtful about how good it'll taste. You see, I've never tried making it here in the lovely UK, and I had to improvise with a couple of the ingredients. For example, we don't have Baker's Chocolate Squares here, so I had to estimate the equivalent of 8 squares using a big bar of 70% chocolate. We don't have Oreo cookie crumbs here, so I used Maryland double chocolate cookies instead (thanks to a suggestion from Nigella's cookbook). So in short, Chiara, I'm really sorry if my cheesecake tastes like crap tonight. I'm certain that the dinner we're putting together will be lovely, though. Grilled chicken stuffed with roasted aubergine/eggplant pesto, with couscous and veggies. A nice glass of wine and some olives to nibble on to start, and it should all go swimmingly.

In work-related news: we are having a company BBQ/picnic/games/let's force our two offices to get together and have fun day. I am on two teams - tug of war (I am team captain and we're called "We've All Pulled Lisa"*), and softball (made up of tech authors and translators, and we're called "The Cunning Linguists").

*"Pull": Verb. 1. To seduce a desirable person. As in: "Get yer coat luv, you've pulled."

Wednesday, 11 June 2003

what to do with all that stuff you impulsively bought on amazon and never read

This is for UK people only - sorry, non-Brit friends.

Green Metropolis is a site that allows you to sell your books online. It's all very clever, really. You enter in the book's ISBN number, put it up for sale, and they give you 3 quid for each book sold (you have to post the books to the buyers yourself, but the buyer pays for the postage). They sell the books for 3.75, and 5p from each sale goes to The Woodland Trust's Plant a Tree scheme. Now how cool is that? I am definitely going to list a bunch of books here. Even though I purged my massive book collection before I moved to the UK, I have amassed another kajillion books in the past 2 1/2 years. Do I want to move them all when we move house? Nooooooo. I think this is a fab solution, and a great idea if you just want to unload paperbacks ('cos 3 pounds isn't really that great if you're selling the 20 volume Oxford English Dictionary set).

Of course after we move, I'll probably come back to the site to buy a bunch of books. 3.75 for some of these books is a great price! What? Oh shush.
i am so easily amused

I will never tire of reading my search referrer logs. I love the search strings that lead to this web site, and they never cease to make me giggle. This month's gems:

  • periodically feeling insane (yes, I know the feeling)

  • pictures of britney spears baked (either that's a typo for "naked", or people are getting weirder by the minute)

  • the crappiest gas scooter (this is the sort of thing you need to know before you purchase one yourself - make sure you get the crappiest one around)

  • beige paint not too pink not too yellow (um. yes.)

  • fuzzy boobies (like fuzzy logic, but lower)

  • branston sexual fetish (what, as in Branston pickle? That's just mad.)

  • on spiderman- gamecube what is the code to open the door in the (just play the game and figure it out for yourself, you cheater!)

  • shatner sexy (yer kiddin', right?)

i should have called in sick

We moved desks at our office yesterday, which was a huge bucket of fun. Half the office played musical chairs as we fought over two trolleys, one lift, and tapped our feet waiting for previous desk owners to vacate. Tired, cranky, and sore, we decided to head to the pub for lunch. As I pulled in to the carpark, I heard a horrible scraping sound. Just below eye level, a wire-covered light bolted to the side of a post decided to snuggle up to the side of my car. Now it looks like Freddy Kruger is stalking me and left a calling card on my car. We got into the pub, ready for a nice lunch in the garden and ordered our drinks. A very nice lady informed us that the pub is under new management and they won't start the new menu until tomorrow. So this meant that not only had I scratched my car, I had scratched it for no good reason as we had to leave the pub and go somewhere else. Ah, how we laughed.

Excuse me while I fill my filing cabinet flask with something strong.

Monday, 9 June 2003

but does it do windows?

So we went to look at sofas this weekend. We wandered around row after row of sofas that looked like they had been over inflated or had some sort of severe allergic reaction. We didn't want a big squishy couch that looked like you'd sink into it, never to be seen again. We finally found one that we liked and spent a few seconds sitting on it. A salewoman came over asking us if we wanted to see other fabric swatches and samples of alternative bases. She ran off and returned with a large book of fabric samples and brochures about various cover plans we could get. Paul mentioned that we weren't too keen on the back of the sofa (it looked like a row of gigantic bed pillows) and said that we'd prefer a solid or more angular back cushion. This sent the saleswoman on a mad dash to the phone as she rang the manufacturer to see if they could custom make another back for us. She told us that she couldn't get hold of anyone, but would call us back on Monday and let us know. As we were leaving, she took the bottom cushions off and proceeded to bounce up and down on the base saying, "Look how strong it is!"

God, I love people on commission.
hey, who stole my days?

Gah, where is the time going? I feel like the days are flying by and I'm not getting very much done. Remind me to pick up some spare days from the shop on the way home tonight.

Some random thoughts about our holiday that won't make it into the trip diary:

I liked being in the States more than I had anticipated. You have to understand that Canadians are so inundated with American culture/news/politics that it's not exactly an exotic place we know little about. Because of this, it's never really interested me as a place to visit. It's a bit like never being a tourist in your own country (I envy people who have actually travelled around Canada as it's something I've never really done); I hadn't considered a holiday in America. There was something very comforting in being in a land filled with sights from home, and I think this is something I appreciate a lot more now that I live overseas. I loved seeing familiar stores and restaurants along the roadside and being able to get a decent bagel. I was thrilled to eat a big pancake breakfast (and not those thin crepe things they call pancakes here), stuff my face with American junk food, and gulp down thick chocolate milkshakes. At the same time, I still had the distinct feeling of being foreign. Paul knew more about the local shops than I did (especially grocery stores) as he'd been to the States many times over the years. I couldn't get a decent cup of tea, and that really bothered me. When we told people we were from England, they'd look at me and say "Oh yes, I can tell from your accent". I fought with a gas pump until we both figured out that you had to prepay before it would be activated. Understandably (post Sept. 11 and Iraq war), there were a lot of American flags on houses, cars, tshirts, buildings, and shops. We saw lots of "God bless America" signs/bumper stickers and there was a strong "I'm proud to be American" vibe throughout the state. This strong, overt patriotism is (what Canadians think of as being) more characterstic of Americans, and although there were many familiar sights, things like this remided me that I was not entirely back home.

Still, it was lovely to be back in a land where they don't think I'm weird for eating peanut butter, I can say "tom-ay-to" without getting looks of dismay, and shops are open past 5pm. People said hello to us everywhere we went, shop clerks and waiters/waitresses really did want to provide good service, and a complete stranger helped us figure out the incredibly convoluted process of getting a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Francisco) ticket and finding the correct track. For all the jibes we like to make about Americans, I cannot be critical about our short stay last month. I would go back to California again in a heartbeat.

Thursday, 5 June 2003


It's been such a strange time lately for the people around me. One friend lost her husband in a car crash a few weeks ago. Another has recently told me that they are expecting their first baby. A person I know just had a miscarriage last Sunday. And another is due any minute now. It's been weird to go from telling someone that you're so pleased for them to telling someone else that you're so very sorry.

Tuesday, 3 June 2003

holiday snaps

Pictures from our holiday are now available for your viewing pleasure here. Thanks to Martine for the tip to use JAlbum! It's a fantastic little product for generating photo albums and to top it all, it's free.

Thrilling trip diary with all the gory details coming soon.

Monday, 2 June 2003

and now for some special messages

Happy birthday to my Mom! Even though I'm 3,000 miles and a time zone away, I never feel far from home thanks to my Mom. She sends care packages that keep both myself and my workmates extremely happy. Plus, now that she's disovered the world of email, we can exchange gossip on a regular basis. I'm glad you had a good weekend, Mom - now come and visit us soon!

And finally, I'd just like to say: we saw The Matrix Reloaded on May 15th! HAH!*

*(taunting applies to UK readers only)
so the jet lag ends...when?

Oh how we long for a normal night's sleep. It's always worse coming back to the UK, and this time is even harder - I'm used to adjusting to a 5 hour time difference, so the extra 3 hours is doing me head in. Pleh.

I've finally sorted through all the holiday pictures, cropped, and resized them. The trip diary is going to take a while, so apologies in advance for the delay. Some sections will be easier to write than others (e.g. "Got mild food poisoning today. Spent the day trying not to throw up in the rental car and slept a lot."), but the high calibre of writing I intend to produce for these pages will take time. Nothing but the best for my web site, yes sir. Just as a teaser, here are a couple of pics:

Here's a shot of all the fine Californian liquor we brought back with us, minus the duty free stuff. From left to right: Madeira from Sattui, a gorgeous white port from Prager, two wines from Francis Ford Coppola's vineyard, sparking wine from Mumm, a very pricey bottle of special brandy from RMS (who have gone belly up), and a bottle of port from Rutherford Hill.

The "canals and gondolas" that run through the Venetian casino in Vegas.

The sun setting over San Simeon.

The Big Sur.

Seal lovin' at Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco.