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Blog : Posts from June 2006 : Page 1


Warm welcome

In which we go self-catering

I’ve gone back to university.

No, not like that, I’ve not suddenly gone all intellectual again. This week, though, I’m staying in one.

When I was planning this trip down to London, an internet acquaintance known as D R contacted me and said: “why don’t you stay at a university? It’ll be cheaper than a hotel.” So, I went and booked a room at Shoreditch University’s Ripper Hall,* to relive my university days.

Of course, I never actually stayed in a hall at university, so I’m not really reliving anything. There’s something common to all university accomodation, though. The cheap, cheerful decor, designed to be easily replaced or cleaned at the end of the year. The slightly broken fittings. The dubious stains on the carpet. All very familiar from my university days. There’s a couple of slight concessions to tourism: free soap and shampoo in the bathroom,** and coffee-making equipment: a small tray with a built-in kettle, a single cup, and little sachets of instant coffee and sugar. If you have any visitors, they have to be signed in and out at the front desk – full name and address on the form, please – and definitely have to be out by 11pm at the latest. It’s not bad, as accomodation goes, but it does feel a little blank and soulless compared to most hotels I’ve visited. And given the level of hotel I usually stay in, but that’s saying something.

* No, it’s not really called that.

** “Complimentary toiletries are not replaced during your stay”, the visitor instructions warn.

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“JCB Maniac Demolishes House”…

In which FP is away

…was the headline on the Evening Standard billboards when I was wandering around Islington this morning looking for a bus. It’s not a headline you hear every day. It turns out that the manic in question was a ‘heavy plant operator’, which at least might explain how he knew how to get hold of a JCB at 7 in the morning, never mind how to drive one.

I’m still in London – well, to be honest, if you read the start of this post, that should be rather obvious. Last night involved an all-you-can-eat Indian vegetarian restaurant, its walls plastered with pro-vegetarian propaganda all over. The food was good, but the propaganda left me wanting to rebel, and sneak off for a quick greasy burger somewhere. And, to be honest, it wasn’t a patch on the greasy-spoon fry-up breakfast I had in Archway on Monday morning. There’s nothing like a greasy-spoon fry-up when you’re feeling slightly hungover and slightly dirty too.

The photos from Sunday’s gig have arrived, but are slightly disappointing: the whole stage was projected with a big purple picture which makes it very hard to see anything at all of the band. The photos of us sitting around in the pub beforehand are, frankly, much better. You’ll have to wait for me to scan them, of course – it really is time I went out and bought a digital camera.

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In which FP goes drinking

I have discovered something wonderful.

It’s fruity, sweet, lively, refreshing.

It’s strawberry beer.

Now, I know I’m not normally a beer person. Normally, beer makes me shudder, grimace, fall over, and crawl to the nearest toilet.* Strawberry beer,** though, is different. It tastes and looks like a runny fruit smoothie, but makes you very drunk into the bargain. Delicious.

I found this out on my way to a Shimura Curves gig in Notting Hill. Beforehand I’d arranged to meet up with Kate, Ian, Miranda and Ed in a nearby pub, where Miranda introduced the rest of us to the lovely pink concoction. I’m sure it added an extra bit of fruitiness to Kate’s on-stage performance. The Curves were wonderful, too, don’t get me wrong here. The entire night was an amazing night, in fact. Strawberry beer, though, was definitely one of the highlights.

* cue Miranda saying “that’s because you’re just a lightweight!”

** Its proper name is “fruli”, or something roughly sounding like that.

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In which power goes to people’s heads

I said yesterday that politics hasn’t been interesting me lately. It’s not so much that I’m feeling a lack of interest, but I’m trying to block out just how authoritarian this government is becoming. As was shown by yesterday’s prime-ministerial speech on Justice: “Justice should mean summary justice” was one of its messages. The other was: “I want to lock up anyone I don’t like, but those nasty judges won’t let me.”

The one thing I fear, more than anything, from all of the politicians in power or likely to get into power, is that they all have a love of power more than anything else. They are addicted to legislation, swingeing, unenforcable legislation, to try to pacify whichever newspaper editor has been loudest recently. They let themselves be pushed into draconian laws by whatever cause will sell papers, purely because they think it will help them stay in their beloved offices. They have a grand, noble cause: the grand, noble cause of self-interest.

Anyway, I’m off on holiday now. I’m going to sit back, relax, and try to stay away from the latest news updates; and blog about random passers-by in the street.

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End of term feeling

In which we prepare for a break

It’s not only Friday again, but it’s my last day in the office until July. Hurrah! Come Sunday, I’m off down to London for a week, to mooch around museums, go to a Shimura Curves gig, do some geek-shopping, and generally get up to nefarious stuff. I’ve already arranged to meet a few intimidating internet people, who, I suspect, are not to be trifled with;* but if anyone else would like to stalk meet me, get in touch.

Fertility Newsflash: there are now two regular readers of this place who are expecting babies around Christmastime. Congratulations to Archel and Matt, the latest to announce their pregnancy.** Clearly, this is a good thing: regular Symbolic Forest readers are bound to be far more intelligent than the average, so if you have children, they will be smarter too. I’ll shut up now before I turn into Robert K Graham.

Big Dave is away too at the moment, having gone off camping in the Lake District. As he’s never been camping before, and I have, he asked me what advice I had.

“The top piece of advice?”


“It’ll piss down. No, really. You’ll go off, set up camp, and it’ll piss down the whole week. Take plenty of books.”

I hope his tent isn’t leaking.

Oh, the other pregnant reader is still a secret, by the way. But as she never leaves comments on the site anyway, and doesn’t hang around any of the bits of the internet that most of you readers come from, there’s no point me telling you who she is.

I seem to have lost interest in anything political at the moment. I’m back at my default state of “meh, they’re all awful,” which means I really don’t care to blog about any of it. Which is a shame, because there are so many terrible things about the state of politics in this country. Both parties are but a shiny layer of media gloss covering an authoritarian heart of darkness; Tony Blair’s shiny paint has pretty much worn off now, but Cameron’s is still fresh and tacky. There is so much I could be doing, too; so much campaigning you can do from your own home. I need to pull my finger out a bit.

Talking of fresh paint, the Secret DIY project is coming on with leaps and bounds. The big bit (that you didn’t see) is taking a bit longer because it’s awkward to handle, but the short bits (that you did) are ready for their final coat of paint. More photos soon, but probably not now until I get back from my holiday. Keep coming up with guesses as to what it is – my favourite so far is “an actual Ugly Stick”.

Blogging will start off on paper, next week, sitting in a café with a cup of coffee and a notebook. Very civilised. I’ll try to get online regularly and keep updating, though. A week of sitting in cafés, with coffee, cake, and … well, all the other stuff you get in cafés, will do me the world of good.

* The Plain People Of The Internet: “Hey! No more private jokes that we don’t understand!”

** Well, Archel’s pregnancy, at least. It’s not like you can take turns to incubate it for a week.

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In which FP goes back to BASICs

No, I’m not a masochist.

I take a strange, geeky, masochistic pleasure, though, in making things hard for myself. In doing computer-based things the long way round. In solving the problems that are probably easy for some people, but hard for me. In learning new things just because it’s a new challenge.

Today, I was wrestling with a piece of Basic code in an Excel spreadsheet. I’ve not touched Basic since it had line numbers,* and I barely know any of it. I forced myself to work out how to do what I wanted in it.** It was mentally hard work, and meant a lot of looking back and forth to the help pages, but I got it done in the end. It might not be written in the best way, the most efficient way, or the most idiomatic way.*** But doing it was, strangely, fun.

* this is geek-speak for “a long long time ago”.

** or, rather, what the consultant I was assisting wanted.

*** for non-geeks: every computer language or system has its own programming idioms, which fit certain ways of programming particular problems. Someone used to language A will, on switching to language Z, often keep on programming in language A’s style even if this produces ugly and inefficient code in the other language.

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The turning wheel

In which it is probably midsummer

I was thinking: really, I should post something newsworthy, or political, because there hasn’t been much of that on here lately. Nothing in the news has caught my eye, though – it’s all been football-related, and I really couldn’t care one way or the other about it. Then, though, I remembered that today is the summer solstice.*

I’ve been wondering lately: what is the appropriate date for me to do an “end of the year” post. Is it January 1st? Probably not, to be honest. December 21st feels like a much better fit. Samhain would be appropriate, too; and, of course, I’ll have to post something on August 27th, just because that marks a year of blogging here. But today is also a good day to reflect on the changing seasons.

All of the yearly festivals are to some extent dual-faced. Today is a largely time to celebrate summer happiness, but it’s also a time to remember that winter is on its way. I can sit back and look around me, looking at how happy I am right now; but there’s still a long way to go. I’m in a good place at the moment, much happier than I was a year, two years, three years ago, but I’m still wary that something will happen to push me back where I once was.

On the other hand, it’s now High Summer, and I can see that reflected in my life. I am getting a social life once more. I am making friends, and I realise now that I’m a lot better at relating to people, and handling friendship. I’m learning how to avoid driving friends away, too. I’m finding myself. I’ve been learning a lot about my physical body, and learning to appreciate it a little more. I’m even getting better at taking compliments, rather than just stammering: “um … no … really, that’s not true.” Midsummer is a time to appreciate passion and feeling; and I’m even starting to understand that better too.**

* Actually, I haven’t checked the ephemerides to see if it is today. Occasionally it can fall slightly to the side, and the official astronomical solstice is now a few days further on.

** even if it is in theory rather than practice.

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Can you guess what it is yet?

In which we make something

Hard at work lately on my mysterious Secret DIY Project. I’m not telling you what it is, but I will show you what I’ve managed to build so far.

Two Thingys A Whatsit

Feel free to try and guess what I’m making.* A few hints: the shortest one is 1ft 11 1/2in long; there’s a third, too big to go in the photo; and they will have more of those rings on them when they’re finished.

* Unless you already know, in which case it would be cheating. Because you already know the answer. Feel free to post plausible-but-wrong answers in that case, instead.

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On Camera

In which FP speculates

I’ve written before about disliking pictures of myself. What I didn’t mention is that I don’t always look very recognisable in them anyway – depending on who you ask.

The other day, I was sitting around in a pub when a woman came, sat down next to me, and said: “I’ve talked to you online, haven’t I?” And she indeed had – I recognised her as someone who I’d talked to a few months back on a popular free Internet dating site.* We got talking; and, after a while, about photographs. “Do I look like my photo?” I asked.

“Oh, yes, yes, you do,” she said, very affirmatively. “I spotted you straight away.”

Fast-forward to a day or two later, and, in the same way, I’m sitting and talking to a chap who I’ve talked to previously in a chatroom. He’s seen the same picture of me. We haven’t introduced ourselves – I recognised him, and I assume he recognised me equally. And then he says: “I thought FP was going to be here – I wanted to meet him.”

“Um…” I said, looking at him. He’s completely serious. “I’m FP. I thought you realised.”

Really?” he said. “You don’t look a thing like your picture.”

Then again, one regular reader of this place,** who I haven’t met, has told me that I look completely different in every picture of me she’s seen. And I have had random strangers come up to me and start a conversation with: “you don’t look anything like your photo, you know,” which naturally leads to: “how do you know it’s me, then? And who do you think I am anyway?” Maybe I’m just some kind of mysterious shape-shifter who doesn’t show up on film very well.

* The one that isn’t called “Yes, cherub”.

** Hi Miranda!

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In which we tell a story and hear a funny noise

Writing about the things that the staff say over in Another Part Of The Forest has reminded me of an old folk tale I read once, in a book of English “village fool” stories. I can’t find the book right now, so I’ll do my best to retell it.

It’s specifically about Another Part Of The Forest, and it tells of three travellers who were one day walking along the High Street, to meet a crowd of locals shouting loudly at people to get to church.

“What’s going on?” one asked.

“Well,” said the local, “we’re the local bellringers. Only our church has no bells, so we walk around the town telling people to come to church instead.”

“Never fear,” said the first of the travellers. “Me and my companions are the finest of craftsmen, your town is clearly in need, so we will each make you a bell for your church tower.”

A year later the travellers returned, each with a bell for the town. They were installed in the belfry, and the bellringers started to ring a peal with joy – only to find out that the bells made a slightly odd noise. Their peal went tink, tock, pluff.

“I thought you were the finest craftsmen of your trade!” said the lead bellringer.

“Indeed I am,” said the first craftsman. “I am the finest tinsmith in the county, and you have an exquisite tin bell.”

“So am I also,” said the second. “I am the finest carpenter in the county, and you have a perfect wooden bell.”

“I am but modest,” said the third, “and I can only claim to be the second-best leatherworker in the county. I have given you a top-quality leather bell.”

So that’s why, if you listen to the church bells in Another Part Of The Forest, you’ll still hear them going tink, tock, pluff.

(or at least that’s what the story says. I’ve never heard the bells ringing myself, so I can’t confirm that it’s true. Somehow I suspect not.)

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