Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Fair Game

This weekend was meant to include a trip to Hastings, X-men 3 and some time to catch up on work-related admin. Then it was going to be Hastings and a quick booze cruise to France. Then it was going to be a trip to the New Forest, and catching up with a dear friend from NZ who is spending a few weeks in Blighty. Then it turned out that said friend couldn't meet up with us over the weekend, but by that time our hotel in that part of the country was booked. Then it turned out that the web site we booked it on didn't have up to date information, and so we didn't really have a booking at all.

So, after all that, we called my friend DJ who lives in Sutton Courtenay (near Didcot / Abingdon) to see if he wanted to meet up with us, spend some time over the weekend, and visit a neolithic monument or two. And then it all worked out beautifully.

We met up with DJ outside his house. He has some major renovations - or perhaps earthworks might be a better description - going on at the moment, and will not let people past the front door. He took us around the village, pointing out the house now owned by Helena Bonham-Carter (left) and her husband Tim Burton (right).

Well, okay, that's really Ken Dodd, but I don't know many people who can tell the difference.

We meandered over muddy paths to see a weir on the Thames, and then back to see the grave of Eric Arthur Blair, and the house where the cabinet decided to ask the monarch of the day to declare the first world war.

After a small refreshment in a local hostelry (and I was driving, so mine was a surprisingly unshit alcohol-free lager), we headed off to the depths of West Berkshire to find our accommodation for the evening. We got a bit lost, but made it in time to grab a bottle of wine before the bar closed, and then spent a pleasant half-hour chatting with the owners and one of their regulars. I did a bit of magic, too, as it my wont.

Next day was very much the "very old things" day. We picked DJ up, and headed to Avebury, where we wandered around inside the various stone circles, and tried to get a feeling of something "other". That didn't really work. So, we stopped by Ye Olde Nu Age Shoppe, and I bought a book about witchcraft, more out of interest than any desire to become a practising Wiccan.

We then went to the Uffington White Horse and wandered there for a bit. Sadly, vertigo got the better of my Lovely Husband™, and he had to forgo walking on the horse, and then strolling down to the place where St. George killed the dragon. Still, we made up for that by a long and lovely walk to Wayland's Smithy before heading back to the car and back to Sutton Courtenay. We sorted out a B&B for the night, and stopped in there to drop off our bags before heading to dinner in Sutton Courtenay.

After a terrific night's sleep in a very comfortable bed, we went to Highclere Castle in the morning. It turned out they were having a "Game Fair", so the grounds were covered in 4x4s as all the yahoos and hoorays turned up to talk guns and grouse. We headed for the castle, bumping into the lord of the manor on the way, and decided that a stroll around the gardens would be enough. So, after a whistlestop tour of Oxford that included lunch in a pub more than 800 years old, we headed back home.

It's great when the unplanned plans pan out.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

City Branding and Town Twinning

Norwich, where I'm spending a lot of time is "a fine city", according to many of the signs dotted around the place. As straplines go, that one pretty much sucks. However, to my mind, the artificial creation of such straplines is an idea so bad that it should be aborted as soon as it's spotted, even if that's not until the third trimester.

There are some places for which such things develop naturally and spontaneously. Blackpool: The Las Vegas of The North might be one of them. I don't have an issue with them, because they arose as a result of real people reaching a real consensus. I don't like PR wankers deciding to pretend that such a consensus has been reached, and then trying to force-feed their drivellous outpourings down my throat, in a desperate effort to justifying their existence by proving that they have "won mindshare" and "built the brand". It's a fucking city, for fuck's sake! Not a brand. A city! You know - people, cars, roads, streets, shops, houses, nice civic buildings, snotty-nosed chavs, and in the case of Norwich, an Aviva-owned building every few metres. Real things. Not some vague, fake, wanketty bollocks like a brand. Something real.

Neither am I hugely convinced of the merits of town twinning. It seems to me to be an excuse used by local councillers to piss off on tax payer funded holidays to "build rapport" with the "twinned towns".

Twins sometimes look very alike, and often have a very strong sibling bond because they are subject to the same influences - parental, familial and environmental. So how does this work with towns? Is Norwich really like Rouen, Koblenz, El Viejo or Novi Sad? I very much doubt it. And I'm even going to avoid the opportunity for snide remarkery that the last of those presents. Is each of those places "A Fine City", too? Somehow, I suspect not.

This kind of pervasive marketing nonsense often gets on my tits. Whilst I was living in Auckland the police adopted the strapline: "Safer communities together". What the fuck difference does that make when you come home to find your home has been burgled and some opportunistic cunt has made off with your very rare replica of the One Ring which was given to a friend of yours by Peter Jackson, and then ended up coming to you on your birthday? That was precious, that was! But hey: safer communities together.

On more than one occasion in my long waddle through corporate life, I have had the amusing experience of watching the internal PR people try to explain that the "core values" of the company were being revised - or in some cases completely rewritten - but that somehow this didn't mean that the original "core values" couldn't have been very "core" at all.

They can take their missions statements, straplines, tag lines, core values and ethical pillars and stick 'em where the sun don't shine.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Clash Of Symbols

Sunday's weather wasn't up to par, was it? Still, it gave us an excuse to go and see "The Da Vinci Code", which was rather jolly.

Here's a summary for those who haven't read the book. (And really, why would you?)

Mysterious goings on in La Musée De Louvre, and a grisly murder. Queue one and a half hours of extended chase scenes as the heroes play cat and mouse with the police, dodgy Swiss bankers, and a large number of busty women dressed up in sexualised nurses uniforms. At one point, Tom Hanks actually catches up with the little baldy man, and starts slapping his head in an amusing manner before he escapes on a wheelchair.

They get a bit of breather by holing up (sic) with Serena MacKellan and his slightly rough, rather sexy French butler. There's more than a hint that the butler's not just employed for his driving skills.

So, after the palaver of an hour and a half of high speed road movie with very little exposition, the next five minutes more than makes up for by cramming a stolen academic book's worth of ideas into five minutes of montage, voiceover and not especially special effects. To wit:

Mary Magdalen and Jesus Carpenter had some babies, some of which went on to become Merovingian kings, like that deliciously disdainful bastard in the second Matrix movie. The Holy Grail turns out to be Mary Magdalen's ladywell, and nothing to do with Monty Python. The bloodline from M & J was protected by the Knights Templar and the Priory of Sion. The Holy Roman Catholic Church™ has been trying to kill the blood line off because it challenges a whole load of Christian orthodoxy, in particular the question of whether or not Mr Carpenter was really Divine.

A surprising number of people have been in the known about this throughout the ages, and dropped major hints that they were in the know by leaving phalli and vaginae everywhere in works of art and architecture. Amongst the luminaries involved were Leonardo Di Caprio and Sir Isaac Newton, men so far ahead of their time that they left cryptic clues in modern English to point out where the last scion of Jesus's loins may be found. Opus Dei have taken up the job of eradicating the last descendents whilst limping due to an excess of vigour in tightening the celice, and looking a tad too much like the emperor out of Star Wars.

Sadly, the Illumunati don't rate a mention, although they may have come into the book.
All of this was rapidly followed by some more chasing, but done with lots of money so it involved a private a jet and a Rolls Royce. Or perhaps a Bentley. They also threw in a little bit of masked magician, including the "let's look at that again but see what really happened". Then came a sequence of double-crossings so complex the plot - such as it is - starts to look like macrame. It also highlighted the fact that Serena hasn't quite given up all of Gandalf's powers, since he seemed to be able to be in all sorts of different places almost simultaneously. No sign of Shadowfax, though. Nor of any reason why he offed his butler, other than to semaphore a big "no, the butler didn't do it" for the hard of thinking.

Oh, and in the end, it's the gorgeous French chick. So that's alright then.

Lovely Husband™ and I probably enjoyed it more just because we had been to the Louvre less than two weeks before, and recognised some of the galleries. Also, he is a bit bemused by all the scorn that gets laid on the basic idea of the book/film, which he considers to be highly plausible. As do I.

For all that, I think the film was a better film than the book was a book. And people who watched the film now know that having eidetic memory means you can summon mysterious holographic images to swirl around you at a moment's notice. Either that, or that was just a really crass device intended to remind fuckwits in the audience that yer protagonist is a bit of a clever bonce, actually; and to give them a sense of what it might be like to be like that themselves. Obviously, if they were capable of imagining that for themselves, that would make them clever, so they wouldn't need such hand-holding, but since they're not ... swirl, swoosh. Oh, look, it's the one orb that isn't there. And Tom Hanks is doing some more Masked Magician. Except it's not a very good trick. "Give me the cryptex, and I'll turn my back, then ... tada!"

On an almost related note, my friend A mentioned at the weekend that controversy rages about claims by some churches to have the Foreskin of Jesus, and others his umbilical cord. Since those were things that wouldn't have ended up beaming up to Erich Von Däniken's space ship at the Ascension, they could still be around, although one scholar suggested that the Holy Prepuce ascended and became Saturn's Rings. No, really! Just as well it wasn't Uranus. I'm not sure if there's a name for an operation that transfers skin from your prepuce to your ring, nor if there would be a medical need for such a procedure, but you can never tell with these whacky theologians.

Friday, May 19, 2006

8-Legged Freak!

Last night, my usual hotel - Dunstan Hall - was fully booked, and I was obliged to rest my weary old bones elsewhere.

I stayed at Park Farm: a modern hotel and conference centre built in and around a working farm. It's really rather lovely. It lacks the age and cosyness of Dunstan, but the food is amazing - even better than the fancy restaurant in Dunstan, and better priced. The room was big, spacious, excellent bathroom, seperate bath and shower, and a floor to ceiling sliding glass door leading to a balcony overlooking fields and countryside.

When I woke up this morning, however, the down side of a hotel based on farm land became all too apparent.

On the wall in one corner of the room was the biggest house spider I have ever seen. It was a monster. I gave some thought to capturing it in a glass, but after looking at the glasses in the room, it was obvious that I couldn't do so without damaging the spider's legs. And I really didn't want to piss this thing off by doing something like that. I wish I'd had my camera. There's one on my phone, but there was no way I was going anywhere near that beast to get a decent shot. No sirree!

So, I went to breakfast, came back (it had moved only a little in by absence), gingerly packed my case, and left, not without a little apprehension as I turned my back on the 8-legged behemoth.

After a little research, it seems my guest was probably Tegenaria Gigantea.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Gay Culture vs Gay Business

I've been pondering for some time the nature of the relationship between gay culture and those businesses that provide things for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered folks.

I remember years ago there was pressure to "support gay businesses", which was often phrased as "support the gay community". However, it has become increasingly apparent over the years that gay or gay friendly businesses aren't much different from any other businesses. Sure, they may provide gay folks with some of the things that we want, but at the end of the day, they're interested in making buck, not in fostering a genuine sense of community.

Like many other businesses, gay businesses want to try and keep us consuming, and to encourage us to consume more. However, consumption isn't fundamentally satisfying, and the risk to businesses is that we will eventually start to look elsewhere for something that is satisfying (such as a committed relationship).

To meet that threat, the response has been to encourage more and more extreme behaviours and normalise them. I first started becoming aware of this about 15 years ago, which was when I first saw S&M being turned into a lifestyle choice, and slightly sanitised to make it more palatable to the masses. So now some behaviours that would previously have been considered extreme (such as watersports, fisting and so-called rape fantasies) are surprisingly commonplace.

It's all a bit alarming, really. I fought for the right to express my love on an equal footing with my straight contemporaries, not for the right to find fleeting satisfaction in being able to abuse someone in a backroom for our mutual, transitory gratification.

I have a whole load more thinking on this, but clearly, it hasn't yet developed to the point where I can articulate it effectively, so I'll leave it for now, but may well have some further thoughts if anything provocative turns up in the comments.

I'll finish with the observation that comparing my relationship with my experiences during periods of rather slutty singledom is like comparing a good steak to a MacDonalds. This analogy holds particular truth with regard to the combination of the unsatisfactoriness of MacDonalds, and the fact that the satisfaction they fail to provide can incline you to have another one to try and fill the gap. And then another. And another ...


On a completely unrelated note, I just met the one person who uses the "Journal" facility in Microsoft Outlook.

Oh, alright. I'm only kidding. No-one uses it. What's it for?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Honorary Lesbian

A long, long time ago, I can still remember, how I used to struggle to get my copy in on time for deadlines at The Gay Gazette and Pink Paper. I had a column in the former about the internet, and sometimes wrote music reviews for the latter.

Now, many, many years later, I've been asked to reprise my role somewhat by providing an internet column for a lesbian magazine. I was recommended by an old chum who works in that world as someone who really has a handle on all this new fangled technology stuff. Fair enough, but I may have to get my feelers out to add a suitably sapphic flavour to my wibblings.

I don't want to jinx it by revealing the name of the magazine, since this month is a trial run to see how it goes. If it flies and becomes a regular thing, I might drop a little mention of it in here. Eventually. Meanwhile, I'll just revel in the joy of being a lesbian journalist.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Arctic Roll

Ever since I described Arctic Roll to my Lovely Husband™, he's been keen to try this delicacy. It isn't something they ever had in New Zealand, apparently. Or maybe they did, but his family are all great chefs, cooks and bakers, and would never dream of buying a dessert.

Arctic Roll is great. The ice cream in the middle looks like yer average soft scoop (yuck), but unlike soft scoop, it's surprisingly dense and tasty. I suppose it has to be dense otherwise the whole confection would fall apart too readily, and you can't have that. Oh, no.

My efforts to satisfy the curiosity of my Lovely Husband™ hadn't met with much success. Nowhere I looked - and I ever tried places like Lidl and Iceland - could I find the damned things. I asked some people, and the places they suggested I try were the places I'd already tried. It was a bit like when I tried to buy that gooey marshmallow stuff in a jar. Everyone said it was easy to find, available in the all the supermarkets, etc., and then every person I challenged to buy a jar for me failed. Why? Because it just wasn't on the shelves any more. Either the supermarkets had stopped buying it, or the manufacturers had ceased manufacturing. But it couldn't be had for love nor money. Though admittedly, I'd only tried the money route.

So, it was with great delight that over the weekend, during a trolley-dash around Tesco's after a similarly high-speed visit to Ikea, there it was: a box of two Arctic Rolls. Sadly, it came too late for me, because I'm trying very hard to lose some gut that I don't want to have, but Lovely Husband™ is tucking in and enjoying, and that's what matters.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Opium Din

We went to dinner last night with a colleague of mine and his lovely fianceé. We'll call them Sugar and Spice, for no reason at all.

Sugar is an excellent cook, having spent a number of years as a full-time chef. The dinner was terrific. We brought along a bottle of Lisa McGuigan Tempus Two Chardonnay. Neither myself nor the Lovely Husband™ is inclined to drink chardonnay, despite being big fans of Kath & Kim, but this stuff is truly wonderful. We also brought a Tempus Two merlot, which was also splendid. And they're on special at Tesco, so rush out and buy some.

We eventually headed into town to go for a boogie. We were planning to go to G-A-Y, but the queue was kinda long, and none of us likes to queue for anything. So, wandering around Soho, a young woman called Anna, who sported a badge indicating she was some kind of guide to the clubs and pubs of the area, volunteered to help. She mentioned a couple of places, describing the kind of music they had. Most of them were hip hop, and we made it very clear that that wasn't likely to be our scene. We were after either cheesy dance music, or funky house. She decided that funky house was to be found at a place called The Opium Den.

She walked us there, got us past the bouncer, and convinced the lady taking money at the door that we should get in for £10 each rather than the £15 that we would have had to pay if we had rocked up on our own accord.

And, after spending a bit more money to leave our "cloaks", and quite a lot more at the (rather overpriced) bar, we paused, listened, looked, took stock, and realised that we'd been sold a pig in a poke. It was very much a hip hop kind of place.

We drank up, got our coats, and then worked our way up from the girl taking the money at the door to the manager of the place, and eventually got our money back. It took a bit of doing, and it helped that we were all very smartly dressed and hadn't gotten too pissed over dinner. The good cop / bad cop routine pulled by Sugar and Lovely Husband™ worked a treat, too.

So, flushed with success, we went back to G-A-Y where, lo, the queue was gone. We got in just in time to catch a couple of numbers from Chicago (where a dodgy sound system did nothing to help), and then danced the night away. Mostly on the stage. With quite a lot of vogueing, which is really showing our age, but hey, the "laughter lines" do that anyway.

In an unlicenced mini cab on the way home, we were treated to some excellent accapella music from a cab driver who is auditioning for the next X Factor. In return for delighting our ears, we gave him as much advice as two pissed, tired queens were able, and then we collapsed exhausted into bed and tried to drown out the noise of the dawn chorus.

What Saturday's are all about, really.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Looking for head

This little jaunt over to the UK hasn't been quite the joyride I was expecting. Employers haven't thrown themselves at my feet and begged me to work for them for absurdly high daily rates on account of my fabulously broad range of experience, ability to turn out quality results, and dedication to lightening the mood at even the most serious meeting by the injection of some camp humour and the odd bawdy double-entendre. Funny that.

However, it's not been too bad either.

One of the biggest problems I face is that I have very highly developed generic skills, honed over years in various consultancies, but a lot of employers are looking for a very specific thing, such as 5 years in front-office energy futures trading, or experience with Blue Martini v2.04.

I often find that my generic skills - documentation, process analysis, software architecture - are often better developed than those of the folks who have been working in a specific area of business for years, or with a specific tool for years. When that happens, there can be a great synergy. I learn the business or the toolset from them, they learn how to create better documentation, how to map processes more effectively, how to design or at least depict their solution architecture more clearly.

Unfortunately, my strongest skills are hard to demonstrate at an interview. Everyone who does what I do (business analysis with a techie bent) claims to be great at documentation. Few of them are. It's one area where I really do feel that I excel. How can I prove that to an interviewer, though? And why would they take the risk?

Despite all this, I've been head-hunted a couple of times lately. One of them is for a permanent role. The job itself sounds fantastic, but the fact that it's permanent puts me right off. Amusingly, it's almost for a company that have employed me before. I've said if they're having a hard time getting permies, I'd be happy to contract for them. Fingers crossed.

Another is also a permanent role (computer says "no"), this time in data warehousing (yawn), something that I've done more of than I'd care to admit. A third is a contract role involving a lot of travel (boo), and a software product that I'm not hugely fond of.

The fun thing is that for each of these roles, I have been approached by about six different agencies, all within a few days of each other. I don't know what hormonal markers there are on my CV, but they obviously have the same effect on specific agents when faced with the same job spec.

Now, if only only one of those specs required all my core skills, was located in Docklands, and commanded a nice fat day rate ...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Serving Suggestion

I've just eaten a lovely Waitrose roast chicken breast in honey and maple marinade. The packaging showed a very appealing photo of pieces of the chicken on a bed of mixed leaves, with a sprinkling of spring onions on top. That's a good serving suggestion.

Yesterday, I bought a packet of Sweetex, because I don't want to go back to sugar, but nor do I want to have my brain chemistry messed up by phenylalanine/aspartame/NutraSweet™. The packaging showed a picture of the Sweetex dispenser hovering over a cup of tea, with the legend "Serving Suggestion".

I remember buying a tin of beans once. The label was covered in a picture (not a photo) of beans, except for those parts that showed the ingredients, etc. Somewhere on the label, it said "Serving Suggestion".

The first example is a serving suggestion, albeit one that I'm not very likely to follow.
The second is completely pointless, because you don't serve saccharin tablets. (If you do, please never invite me to dinner.)
The third is totally random. An abstract picture of beans entirely covering the label of a tin. In what way does that suggest how they should be served?

It has puzzled me for a while why food manufacturers feel obliged to continue in this sometimes absurd vein. Do they think that we're so clueless that we would stick the whole Sweetex dispenser into our tea? What purpose does it fulfil? Or is there some bizarre legal obligation at work here?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Paris In The The Spring

What a fantabulous first wedding anniversary celebration that turned out to be!

You know when you go away for a little break and rush yourself off your feet trying to see all the "must see" things and do all the "must do" things and end up exhausted but you crammed so much into your long weekend that you end up feeling oddly refreshed because it seems as if you've been away for a fortnight even though it's only been a few days?

Well, it was like that.

Lovely Husband™ hadn't been to Paris before, so we did several things that I probably wouldn't have made an effort to do again, but I'm glad I did. Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, a boat trip on the Seine, Versailles, the Royal Opera House, La Defense, and a large number of eateries, drinkeries and shopperies along the way. And 349 photos in 4 days. Thank god for Picasa!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Entering The Circle

News just in - I am now a member of The Magic Circle. I'm as happy as a sand boy, whatever one of them is.

I'm also a bit surprised. There was a guy who did his exam on the same night as me, and I thought he was a dead cert, but he called me a couple of days later to say that he had received a letter telling him that he hadn't made it. I've been waiting for the last couple of days for such a letter myself, but nothing had turned up.

Today I was working at home, and so there was that moment of dread when the postman shoved something through the letterbox. But it was something innocuous and unconnected.

Then this evening, Lovely Husband™ takes a call for me, hands me the phone, and it's the now-familiar voice of the examinations secretary congratulating me on passing my exam and being approved by the membership committee.

All that, and we're off to Paris tomorrow night for a little break, celebrating the first anniversary of our wedding. I'll go to sleep tonight the happiest queen on planet earth.

Date Order

As I write this, it is the third of May. Tomorrow morning, at two minutes and three seconds past one in the morning, it will be: 01:02:03 04-05-06. We get to go "ooh" about that because it's such a "rare event". Until the fifth of June next year, when we can look forward to 02:03:04 05-06-07. And so on for the rest of the decade.

Of course, if you use the North American date format (I say North American because I believe that they use it in Canada - please correct me if I am in error), then this "rare event" happened last month, because 04-05-06 would have been the fifth of April to you, rather than the fourth of May, as it is to me. Apart from the additional fun of being able to say "May the fourth be with you", there isn't a lot to recommend one date format over the other in this specific context.

However, as a general rule, I'm not very fond of MM-DD-YY. If offends my sense of logic and order. It makes no sense. For a start, I always use a four digit year these days, having spent all that time and effort in the run-up to the millennium making sure the world didn't come to an abrupt end. That gripe aside, it makes so much sense to me to put DD-MM-YYYY, going from the most granular level of detail to the most general. I'm also very comfortable with YYYY-MM-DD, which is handy if you want to sort things easily by date order. I am given to understand that in some countries, that is the default date format, and good for them. But MM-DD-YY or MM-DD-YYYY? It jumps about all over the place! It makes no sense! Take it away.

And whilst I'm on the subject, I'll have to start thinking 11/9 rather than 9/11 any time that subject comes up. It's the only way to stop to madness of the dodgy date format from sneaking into my consciousness and making itself comfortable there.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

No Oil Painting

For me, news of the outbreak of the first Gulf War came 2/3 of the way through a 3-hour sitting for a portrait. A very dear friend of mine, A, was sketching me, and had been at it for 2 hours. Another hour later, she was finished with the sketch. It was an excellent likeness, and looked I really miserable. If I had been younger, I'm sure I would have looked like the miserable Edwardian boy that hung over my paternal grandmother's fireplace. Her other painting was of wild horses charging into a moonlit sea.

Over the next few weeks, A worked on covering the sketch with oils, and by the time she had finished, the image had somehow gone from looking really sad to looking a bit demonic. But it remained very clearly a portrayal of yours truly.

This weekend, myself and my Lovely Husband™ went to visit A&G (G being A's husband). We've been meaning to visit for some time, and even more so recently because A is with child, and they have done me the honour of asking if I'll be one of the godless parents. On a recent visit to her parental home, A had picked up the oil painting from all those years ago (13 - 15, I reckon) and brought it back to her own place so that it could one day end up in my hands. And now it has. I'm delighted. If anyone ever says that I'm no oil painting, I can now prove them wrong in the most direct and conclusive manner imaginable.

We had a terrific weekend with A&G. Got there a bit late on Saturday, but not too late to catch a few rays. Wonderful dinner, followed by a few rounds of poker. Sunday we went for a big walk, then Lovely Husband™ made dinner whilst I had a little snooze. Bit of Cranium after dinner (myself and A vs Lovely Husband™ and G), and then half a game of Progressive Whist. All very relaxing and civilised.

We left reasonably early on Monday, and on our way back, it dawned on me that we could take a detour to Alton Towers. So we did, and had a fantastic time. Lovely Husband™ has a problem with heights, but bless his big, brave, butch heart, he went on loads of rides, including Oblivion and Air. All in all, a corker.