Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

59/365: I Turn Philatelist

When I tell J that I've been buying stamps, he usually thinks rubber stamps and invariably says "not another one". But this time the stamps I've been buying are from the Royal Mail, and postal in nature.

It started when an art challenge asked for work featuring postage people. I'd never heard of it, but Googled it and found a whole art genre. That time I was able to use a US stamp which came on a package (bearing rubber stamps as it happens.)

Then I saw some darling stamps featuring the Tudors (not the TV show) followed by some stamps showing classic albums (Ziggy Stardust clinched it) and then icons of London: a tube map, a Routemaster bus, Twiggy and so on.

Here you can see some of my postage stamps displayed. They are not going on letters: I'm  using them in collages. I used some of the albums collection in a birthday card today. And if you visit my craft blog, you'll see what I did to Queen Elizabeth 1.

I had a stamp album when I was a child, given to me by my brother, but I never really got into it. I didn't want to spend my precious pocket money on stamps. You may remember that a dubious outfit from Goole in Yorkshire used to advertise "free stamps!" in children's comics, and I sent off for some of these. They were mostly triangular stamps from Fiji. Very pretty. But then I started getting sent stamps on approval and had to get my mum to write to Goole and tell them to stop sending the stamps.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

56/365: A 3D experience

Here I am wearing 3D glasses and seeing some latest 3D content on an Intel Corei7 PC at our big industry and press event last night. We showed how computing has evolved since 1993, the birth of the internet and Pentium, to where we are now and what lies ahead for the future. There was a great collection of old hardware, phones and PDas from yesteryear.

Our guest speaker, Richard Llewellyn (Red Dwarf, Car Pool) revealed that he had his first PC aged 30. Having been used to a manual typewriter before that, he goes through keyboards at the rate of knots. I have the same problem. I had a manual typewriter since I was 12 and used to feverishly write stories and comics. I type fast but with only three fingers, and too hard, because my work laptop currently has a key missing and it's not the first time that's happened.

My first introduction to a PC was the day I started at BT when I was confronted with  an IBM PC running networked WordStar, where you had to go through a long and highly complex log-in procedure, and a DEC word processor. There was no instruction or manuals so you just had to teach yourself. I was given access to email - a Telecom Gold account - which few people had at that time, and colleagues used to crowd round when I was sending an email.

It makes you wonder how we used to function in those days ---- and not that long ago, 20 years!

As one of the other speakers said last night, brain function and the PC are inexplicably linked now. If our PC is down, we drift around somewhat helplessly. I always value it as an opportunity to pick up the phone and talk to people instead of emailing or IM'ing them.

What was your experience with your first PC? 

Sunday, February 21, 2010

52/365: A year in flowers - the tulip

The arrival of particular flowers each season is a great pleasure of mine. It starts with the snowdrop, that brave little harbinger of spring. Next come the daffodils followed by tulips in the shops, with the promise of a vivid show in the garden in a few weeks' time. Every year I plant more and more tulips.

I always have some deeply scented hyacinths indoors, as well as outside. The next big arrival for me in the shops is stocks. Their heady smell makes me feel intoxicated. And then it's the big bang of the rose, and for me the pink explosion of Gertrude Jekhyll in the garden. Finally autumn brings the gaudy, flamboyant dahlias and Christmas the wistful hellebores.

I only buy flowers when they are seasonal, as it gives you more to look forward to, and I only buy British flowers.

Friday, February 19, 2010

50/365: In memory of Marie Hanlon, 1932 - 2009

On Tuesday we paid a poignant visit to Ireland for the scattering of the ashes of Marie Hanlon, J's mother, who died a year ago in London. Her wish was to be scattered at the coast in Kerry, where she spent happy childhood years. We went first to Dublin for a lovely memorial service followed by Shrove Tuesday pancakes, and then six cars made their way to Kerry. Late in the afternoon, on a deserted, sunlit beach, J's uncle Teddy and brother Eamon waded into the sea to sprinkle the ashes as we threw red roses into the water. We then formed a circle on the sand as Margaret sang an Irish ballad. It was a fitting tribute to a wonderful woman: independent, indomitable, creative and very kind.

Monday, February 15, 2010

46/365: I go to Bluewater

I've got three days off and went to Bluewater shopping centre in Kent today. It normally takes about 30 minutes to drive there but unfortunately I missed the turn-off and after quite a bit of faffing around on the M20s and 25, and cursing the fact I had left the sat nav behind, I got there in one hour 15. Ahem.
I was looking for a suitable frock to wear at a wedding and hot footed it to LK Bennett, whose pale peach dress featured in Woman & Home this month. I tried on said dress, along with a coral number, but neither were great. Pale peach my arse, it was more that nudey colour. I tried on a few more oufits in House of Fraser and then called it a day. I don't like clothes shopping at all! But even for me, leaving Bluewater with just a shower gel was quite something.

Tomorrow we are off to Ireland - more to follow.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

45/365: Do you remember Zam Buk?

This curious green salve, smelling strongly of eucalyptus, was always in our home when I was a child and used for everything. Then it disappeared for many years and I forgot it existed. About 10 years ago my mum and I went to Bygones in Torquay, a museum with "how it used to be" tableaux, and we fell about laughing when we saw a tin of Zam Buk in one of the rooms. Out of curiosity I googled it and found you could still get it South Africa, where they seemed to extol it as a balm for horse's hooves. I asked a colleague of mine in Johannesburg, Fathima, to bring some over when she visited, and she did. Everyone had Zam Buk Christmas tree presents that year. Since then I've discovered you can now buy it in the UK from all sorts of places. The Zam Buk website is here. Rather excitingly, there are even Zam Buk brand extensions! Today I've been smoothing it onto my poor nostrils, having developed yet another cold and having a rather sore snozz.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

44/365: How much longer?

Like the dear Duchess, I am heartily sick of winter. It seems to have been going on forever and it's so cold all the time. Two things made me think longingly of summer. First, I had to pay the second deposit for our holiday in Greece in June. How I love Greece. And then I saw a film, Driving Aphrodite, about a tour guide in Greece. It was simply wonderful and I loved it so much I bought it rightaway from Amazon. It stars Nia Vardalos, star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The Greek scenery in the film is stunning, and her love interest, Alexis Georgoulis (pictured) isn't bad either. A perfect way to banish the cold grey weather and think of azure skies and Greek salads.

Friday, February 12, 2010

43/365: Medal Man

J will be running  in the London Marathon soon for the eighth time. It will be his 21st marathon.
In a strange phenomenon, he gets faster as he gets older. He ran the Great Bentley half marathon last weekend and achieved another Personal Best. If he runs London at the same pace, he could achieve 3 hours 30 which would put him in the top 30% of finishers and very high for his age.
He keeps wondering where the speed is coming from, but I think it's two things. Firstly, he's been watching his diet very carefully after losing a stone last year. I try to ensure he's getting enough protein and not just carbs, but it's a challenge because he's in Edinburgh Monday to Friday each week. Secondly, his running in Edinburgh involves a lot of hill work, so he's been building up his strength without consciously trying.

He also has the support of his running club, the Orion Harriers, and a lot of camaraderie. While it's sometimes a pain that raining takes priority over everything, I am very proud of his achievements. It takes serious dedication to be a marathon runner. He trains six days a week, whatever the weather and wherever he is.

On another note - comments - they may disappear again. I have signed up for the replacement to Haloscan and the old comments are being merged into the new Echo platform (I hope!.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

42/2365: Film Buffs

At this time of the week we usually get the exciting email from Tesco DVD rental club telling us which two films are being despatched for our weekend viewing  (Love Film but with Clubcard points.)

Sometimes there's a faux pas where I forget to send back the films and then we have to resort to our library (pictured.)

It's amazing that we can ever find a film to enjoy together because we have very different taste. I don't like anything with Jedi, people dressed as animals, the CIA, Bruce Willis, Eddie Murphy, Robin Hood, round tables and knights, most musicals and women wearing bonnets (Jane Austen.)

J doesn't like translated films or anything with too much angst; too much true life; zombies.

So whereas a Lars von Trier or translated film is often right up my street, as is a good zombie film, J prefers Star Wars, James Bond and Bourne type things.

Fortunately he doesn't mind chick flicks, within reason (he wouldn't like The Devil Wears Prada.) We usually get one film each week that we can both enjoy. Last week it was The Damned United, the film about Brian Clough. Not sure what it will be this weekend, haven't had the email yet. Now, did I remember to send the last two back?!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

41/365: Sadness for Cadbury's

Cadbury's chocolate is uniquely British. Foodies and the EU may sneer at its taste and ingredients,  but it's what we all grew up with, and the hostile takeover by Kraft was only ever going to end in tears. Now we hear they are closing the Bristol site, used by Cadbury's for 90 years and previously by the famous Quaker Fry chocolate dynasty for over 200 years.

It's very sad. Cadbury's was very enlightened in the way they treated their employees and their plants were more like families than factories. Like most of the chocolate dynasties, their founder was a Quaker and a philanthropist.

I'm not a big chocolate eater and I do like dark chocolate when I indulge (but not the overrated Green & Black, owned by Cadbury's). But I also remember fondly some old Cadbury's marques that have long since disappeared: Country Style, Aztec, Grand Seville. Those were the bars I used to munch as a child.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

38/365: The Sunday roast

Over the land millions of chickens and beef joints are roasting away. It's not surprising the French call us the "roast beefs". It's been three weeks since we've been home for the traditional Sunday lunch, which we always have at the table. Today it's beef with the usual accompaniments: roast potatoes, peas, runner beans, parsnips, Yorkshire pudding, mustard and horseradish. What could be better?

Friday, February 05, 2010

36/365: Cat silhouettes

A sunny spring-like day and Molly the cat decided to sit in the window, silhouetted against the blinds. She is invariably referred to as "the cat" by J, or occasionally "that cat," as in "who let that cat in?" Anonymous meanwhile refers to all cats as "rancid".

Although it's Friday, no trip to the snug or E Four tonight. J is going to a running club soiree so I will have my finger on the Sky Plus box.

Did you notice the comments are back? It gets stranger and stranger.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

35/365: The curse of the buffet lunch

Was in a different building today, much smaller with no cafeteria. Fortunately, because it was a meeting that extended over lunchtime, a buffet lunch was brought in. I should have brought my own sandwiches. This is just a small part of the lunch - there were also cream cakes provided by someone else, a bowl of fruit and some more sandwiches. And once it's sitting there, you can't help reaching out. Well, tomorrow is another *(dieting) day....

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

33/365: The motley crew

Today I moderated a webcast that went out across EMEA. It was an hour long and my role was to introduce it and then moderate the questions. These were either live in the meeting room or on the web from participants in many countries. I filtered the questions real-time and put them to the panel, who are shown here. It was fun - I enjoy doing this type of thing. It's a throwback to when I was a radio journalist and all sorts of things used to go wrong. Fortunately nothing went wrong today.
Now regular readers may have noticed that comments have disappeared from posts. I was baffled because I hadn't changed any settings. Some research revealed that Haloscan, whose widget I was using, have now decided to monetise their service. No-one had emailed me about it, and presumably they made my code redundant. I have now attempted to install their new offering, Echo, but the Blogger plug-in doesn't work and I'm no expert on HTML, so until I fix it, the comment box on the right will have to suffice. Please don't let it put you off.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

32/365: It's all virtual

No surprises for identifying the object on the left. Yes, a mouse. Normally at this time of year I would be in the sunnier climes of Las Vegas or Anaheim (LA) for the annual sales & marketing conference. This year it's being done virtually. So we watched the executive keynotes, chatted and networked with colleagues, and took our assigned classes - all online. While it's good to be at the cutting edge, we do miss the valuable interaction and genuine networking so hopefully next year we will be back in the US.
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