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June 23rd, 2017
08:52 am
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Welcome to my Journal
Hi there!

Although the dorsetgirl identity is mainly my fandom persona, I do use it to post comments in a variety of places, so if you've arrived here from a non-fandom location, welcome!

This journal nowadays contains mainly the occasional rant or rambling about life in general, but further back much of it is fanfic, some of which is of an explicit nature. Please do not read on unless you're comfortable with that.




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June 22nd, 2017
08:34 pm
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My Fic Masterlist - Last Updated April 2011
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This list is a work in progress; it's not completely up-to-date with everything posted between January2010 and April 2011. I plan to go through the drabble challenges etc when I have time, to pick up the bits I've missed.

Most of my fic is set in the Life on Mars universe; nearly all of it is slash - that's a male/male relationship. If that bothers you, don't read any further.

Items marked *** are new since the last update. At present, most of the links go to comms rather than my journal, because that's where the comments are and because not everything is here in my journal yet. (If you'd like to add to the comments, I would be delighted!)

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September 20th, 2014
08:13 am
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This day last year
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So, on this day last year, ie Saturday 21st September, oldest son went off to university. We were on the road by this time, as the journey takes six hours plus stops. One of the things I particularly remember is being amazed at how many cars around us on the M25 and the M4 contained two adults, one slightly nervous-looking teenager and a lot of bags and boxes. I had also been amazed during the preceding three weeks to discover how many shops had "Back to University" signs and offers. I had never seen these signs before and had no idea that "Back to University" was a Thing. I assumed at the time that this must be because I wasn't looking, and sure enough, this year I haven't seen any at all.

Anyway, I'm reminded of all this because (a) his insurances and phone contract run out this weekend; (b) next door's oldest son is going away to university today (and I've just seen their car on the drive packed to the rafters except for space for three people to sit); (c) our middle son is going to an Open Day today at the University of Essex. He and OH set off about ten minutes ago.

One of the consequences of having three children all two (school) years apart is that you do some things every year for six years. Choosing a secondary school, for example - you really have to start looking while they're in Year 5 so they can get used to the process and what a secondary school looks like, then you do it all again in Year 6 so they can choose. Then you do it again the following year for the next one's Year 5...

It gets a bit more difficult when you have two doing Big Things at the same time. I find I really have to work at consciously reminding myself that the younger one's GCSEs are every bit as important as the older one's 'A' Levels. In the Summer Term of 2013, and again in 2015, we had and will have, one doing GCSE exams and one doing 'A' Level exams.

This Summer, oldest was obviously already settled, but there was still the issue of insurance etc for his new (private rented) accommodation, and realising at the last moment (he chose to go back two weeks ago) that he would need to pack up his desk lamp and floor lamp because while these things are provided in uni accommodation, private landlords don't have to follow the same Code of Practice. We had to fit in taking him back - a long day trip, leaving at 7:30am and back at about 10:15pm - around the days middle son wanted taking to university Open Days.

And now it will barely be a week or two after middle son getting his draft UCAS application to the school when youngest has to start thinking about his application for Sixth Form. This is something that didn't happen in my day - unless you were useless, you could automatically stay on into Sixth Form, but nowadays you can change schools if you want, and you have to officially apply, even to stay on at your own school. So he has to think about which 'A' Levels he wants to do, and that involves thinking about what subject he might want to do at University and researching what 'A' Levels that requires before he closes any important doors he may want to go through in September 2017...

Next Summer we'll presumably be helping oldest move to wherever he's going to live for his Year in Industry and getting middle son ready to go away for his first year at uni. And getting youngest son kitted out with suits, ties, shirts and office-style shoes, rather than the comfortable almost-moccasin style he's been wearing for years, because as we know from the older two, those look really stupid with a suit.

I've just heard next door setting off - his uni-town is only 3.5 hours away according to google maps; I had assumed it would be longer than that, but unlike our journey, theirs is motorway all the way. Also unlike us, they have a family member willing and able to come and look after the younger ones (they have two still in primary school) so they're staying over in uni-town tonight.

Anyway, with the new year beginning, we've been receiving a flood of post for oldest son. So I'd better go and scan the ones he's given me permission to open and get them off to him. It's just me and youngest here till about 4 or 5 this afternoon, so maybe we'll have us a treat for lunch. Don't know what yet, but some things just can't be done for four or five people, so the occasional meal for only two or three is an opportunity for a treat. Mmm, like steak for example...

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September 10th, 2014
11:45 am
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Probably behind the times as always...
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My mum was in Scotland for a couple of days last week. As the English-born daughter of a Scottish father she is quite ambivalent about the whole thing, but of course she doesn't have a vote. Anyway, she came back with a joke that I imagine everyone else has already heard, but it amused me, amongst the amazement that my mum would even tell it to me:

Alex Salmond is talking to the Queen about what an independent Scotland will/would do about the position of Head of State:

“I’ll make Scotland a Kingdom and I’ll be the King”.

“No, I don’t like that,” says the Queen.

“Well then, I’ll make it a Principality and I’ll be the Prince.”

“No, I don’t like that,” says the Queen. “Make it a country.”


And in other news - yesterday I was like "Oh wow, they've discovered Franklin's ship!" Middle son said, "Er, what? Who?" and youngest son said "I saw that on the internet a couple of days ago, didn't take any notice. Who was Franklin and why were they looking for his ship?" To be fair I only know of him through the song (Lady Franklin's Lament) rather than any history lessons or general knowledge.

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September 8th, 2014
12:53 pm
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Education, Education, Education
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Being the beginning of the new school year, education is where it's all at last week and this.

Last Monday we took middle son to look at the University of Essex. Very sensibly, he doesn't want his parents tagging along, so I got dropped off at the nearest bit of river and spent a very happy couple of hours walking around an old village, marvelling at the hideously out-of-place nature of the new riverfront "apartments" and finally, sitting quietly watching the tide coming in from my seat on a pub terrace.

On Wednesday we did last-minute shopping and trying-on of school uniform and PE kit. To my great joy, that's the last time I will have to go through this extremely tedious exercise. If the youngest one stays on next year he'll be in Sixth Form, which requires a business suit rather than school trousers and a blazer, and they don't have to do PE. So I will be able to get rid of all the uniform items I've been hanging onto for spares etc.

On Thursday middle and youngest went back to school. I spent far longer than I had planned on the phone to insurance companies sorting out cover for eldest son's possessions on the journey and in his new house, given that our buildings and contents company wasn't interested. Trust us to be insured with apparently the only company in the UK that treats a student going back to uni as "moving to a new home" and thus not covered in transit, while all the others treat them as "travelling to temporary termtime address" and definitely covered in transit.

I then spent the rest of the day packing up oldest son's kitchen stuff, crockery, pans, food, and all his towels etc and termtime bedding, while he packed up his clothes and all his bits and pieces. With some trepidation - because it often goes wrong - I decided to get organised, and wrote a list of exactly what was in each bag and box, and checked it all off against my list of where I'd put everything when he brought it home in June. The extra time paid off when he fired endless questions at me very early on Friday morning as to whether he possessed this, that and the other, and where they were.

Once middle and youngest got home I did a reasonable job of putting oldest aside and asking them about their experiences in their new classes; everything seems to have gone OK.

On Friday I got up at 5-15 to support oldest in his getting up and getting ready (by which I mean that had he failed to get himself up by 5:30 it would have been my job to run up and downstairs calling him and being shouted at to go away). Happily, not to say amazingly, he got himself up in plenty of time. At 6:30 I switched into normal schoolday mode and got the younger two up and out, then at 7:30 we set off on our 6-hour journey to uni-town. Just before we went out, I emailed the checklist to oldest son, so he can check for himself where everything is. He's sharing a house with two people he knows from school plus a handful of people they variously got to know during the first year. The room is adequate although quite small, but the desk is tiny. I can't imagine how he's going to work with it, so I'm looking around to find out if there's anything cheap I can order and get delivered to him. We arrived home after ten at night; happily the trains had run on time in both directions for the younger ones getting to and from school.

On Saturday I took middle son to look at the University of Surrey. I dropped him off and went looking for a toilet with some urgency; it didn't help that I had forgotten to take any change with me for car parking. Once I'd eventually got that sorted, I found somewhere seemingly in the middle of nowhere to park and decompress for a while. I was there for about two hours; in all that time five cars passed me and one of those was the post van. You wouldn't think it possible in Surrey, less than five miles from Guildford, but it was very relaxing. Now OH has gone (very) part-time, I get very little time to myself, and I really do need quite a lot of silence and time to myself, so that was very pleasant indeed. Then I drove around for a while looking for a river to sit by; I couldn't find one where I could park close by but I did happen on a nature reserve with a lake! So I sat there for an hour until middle son phoned to say he was ready.

Today middle and youngest have gone off to school as usual, and then OH went utterly mad at me because I "crept up on him" and "made him jump". This is something that happens quite often (the "creeping up on him", not - luckily - the getting viciously angry about it) and I said to him that we honestly don't know what we're supposed to do. I firmly believe that it is not our fault he refuses to do anything about his increasing deafness, nor is it our fault that he apparently has zero peripheral vision. But when I asked in all seriousness - but with decreasing politeness, it has to be said - what he wanted us to do, given that none of us ever deliberately creeps up on him, he said "Call out from fifteen feet away or something. Just never, ever, do that to me again." So then I said I would inform the boys of his requirement and he got even more angry. He seemed to think I was being sarcastic, so perhaps that means he realises what a stupid requirement that is. The really annoying thing is - you walk up to someone and they completely ignore you, what are you supposed to do? This morning I was standing out there on the drive waving my arms about trying to make a shadow that he would notice moving (he was sitting in the car looking down at papers on the passenger seat), but he just didn't notice. In the end I said very quietly "hello?" and he nearly hit the car roof. He claimed afterwards that I'd "crept up" and "suddenly shouted", so now I'm totally pissed off with him and wondering whether I'm supposed to shout from the kitchen to give him warning that I'm going to approach the sitting room. Luckily he's fucked off out (without saying he was going, or where or for how long) otherwise I wouldn't feel comfortable coming into the sitting room to use the computer.

Anyway, back to education: middle son now has just over two weeks left to finalise his personal statement and his university applications; youngest son has until the beginning of December to decide what A levels he wants to do and put in his application; oldest son has to find himself a placement for a year in industry, preferably sooner rather than later.

While I've been typing this post, a newsletter has arrived from the school. That will presumably contain the dates for this year's "Year XX is a really hard year" meetings. Thank heavens there's only four of those left - two this year and one each for youngest son's sixth form years.

The sun is shining outside so I think I might get the washing and washing up underway and sit out there for a while to calm down. Ready of course to leap in and look busy as soon as I hear the bad-tempered bastard coming up the road. (That was a tip from my mother-in-law, of all people. She said to me once "Men are stupid - if you're sitting down when they come in from work they somehow think you must have been sitting down all day. But if you're working when they come in, they assume you've been working all day. I always made sure that whatever I did during the day, I was always busy in the kitchen when [ father-in-law ] came home.")

Just had a quick glance at the school newsletter: they've apparently decided a return to Victorian Values would be a good thing. There is a new rule - at the start of every lesson, students are to stand quietly behind their chairs and wait to be told to sit down. Right, because thirty boys standing up are bound to be quieter and better behaved than thirty boys sitting down.

I realise it's not always possible for the teacher to be there first, but the boys' primary school head made a point of making all his teachers be in their classrooms when the children came in in the morning and when they came back from break and lunch. He said it's a proven fact that if the teacher is there already, "owning" the room, the students are better behaved, and that certainly seems to make sense.

Anyway, that sunshine is still calling me. Time to go and say hallo.

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August 27th, 2014
03:44 pm
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Never thought I'd have to do research before visiting London...
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I live just under forty miles (one and a half hours) from London, the capital city of the country I've lived in all my life.

By pure chance this morning I spotted a tweet from London Transport that said "Remember, London buses no longer take cash". Huh?

Someone suggested that I could use a contactless debit card - not sure I've got one of those, or at least not for an account with any money in it - or buy a travel card.

Which is where the research comes in.

I haven't the faintest idea where I would go in London to buy a "travel card" for going on a bus in London. I mean, if you want to buy a train ticket, you go to the railway station. Or if you can trust the websites and have worked out what you want to do about three weeks in advance, you can buy a ticket online. But does London even have a bus station? And how would you get there to buy your bus ticket given that you can't actually, er, buy a ticket, without going there first?

I'm sure all of this is actually very simple, but my point is: even though I don't do it very often nowadays I have always been perfectly comfortable with getting on a train to spend a day in London. But now it seems that things have moved on and no-one told me, to the extent that next time I go, I'm going to have to spend an hour or so the day before I go looking at some "London for stupids" website to find out how to use the local bus service!

Perhaps it's all part of getting older, although it's more likely part of not having caught a bus anywhere, let alone in London, in about twenty years. But the getting older part is beginning to creep me out anyway: this morning, for the second time in a month, the twenty-something person at the other end of the phone called me "dear".

The first time it happened I was annoyed with the bloke anyway (can't remember why, but sadly nowadays nearly everybody on the other end of the phone annoys me, be they cold callers, accounts departments or just customer "service" people who couldn't give a shit) and I got very angry with him. I told him I was not his "dear" and he'd better stop being so patronising otherwise I would report him the next time. He sounded quite surprised but I put the phone down on him during what I sincerely hope - but doubt - was an apology.

This morning I'd had a reasonably intelligent, adult conversation with a bank. I'd asked my question, she'd given me an answer I found plausible quickly and without fuss. So then I said something like thank you very much, you've been very helpful and she said "You're welcome, dear". I was already putting the phone down by this point and didn't cotton on till I'd hung up what she'd actually said, otherwise she'd have got an earful too.

I mean, I don't mind Northerners calling me "loov", because that's just what they do - it's friendly. Likewise with West Country people calling everyone "maid" or "moi lover" - I used to do it myself in certain circumstances.

But it is no part of southern English polite-speak to equals, to call them "dear". It is patronising to the extent of being positively rude.

And I utterly hate - and fear - the idea that I might suddenly sound eighty years old on the phone.

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August 24th, 2014
12:12 am
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Doctor Who 8.01 - "Deep Breath" (minor spoilers)
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I think I’m going to like the Twelfth Doctor. Possibly quite a lot. And he has the advantage of being almost the same age as me. I really liked Matt in the role but, let’s face it, he was a little boy and sometimes I like to watch a man.

I can’t do clever analysis and annoyingly I can’t remember most of the moments that I enjoyed at the time, but I do remember a couple of digs about the Scottish referendum, and taking a poke at religion - “I’m going to paradise / there’s no such thing”. (And if that woman at the end is supposed to represent the 72 virgins the guy was robbed!)

More round things in the control room, definitely. The kids couldn’t understand why I started laughing at that point.

Hmm, couples’ power dynamics: “So why am I still pouring the tea then, even though we’re in private?” I could quite fancy Jenny myself when she was doing the artistic posing bit; quite astonishing how much more gorgeous she looked than usual.

And the most poignant words from the Doctor:

“I’m not your boyfriend.”

“I never thought you were.”

“I never said it was your mistake.”

But even with that I still don’t like Moffat’s writing overall. How is it that the man who wrote Blink and The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances can turn out seemingly endless reams of overly-plotty emotionless turgidity? Rusty used to say he rewrote everyone except Moffat, but if that was true then he must have given him very strict instructions on the emotional tone of the episodes. Nowadays we get the occasional telling line but most of the time I really struggle to feel emotionally invested even when I’m quite enjoying the episode.



And on a completely unrelated note, but sticking with emotional investment, I’ve just been rewatching us - the crowd - singing to Bohemian Rhapsody just before Green Day came on stage at the Emirates Stadium (London) last June, and oh wow it brought it all back. Before the gig I’d been reading the forums about previous concerts on the tour so I knew they would play BR as the last song just before they came on, and I can still feel the thrill of excitement when I heard the first notes and the entire crowd surged to their feet. (Except my OH, who I’d forgotten to warn - he was like this isn’t even Green Day yet, why’s everybody standing up - but he soon cottoned on.) Singing along to Bohemian Rhapsody was in a strange way even more satisfying than singing along to Green Day afterwards. Because there was no band on the stage to watch, just the track being played, our attention was on us, and our singing, and we were all concentrating on doing the best and loudest job we could rather than focussing outwards. It was a great feeling.

Anyway, I promised myself an early night tonight as I seem to have a bit of a temperature, so as it’s suddenly become tomorrow morning I’m going to stop there.

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August 8th, 2014
06:32 pm
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Oh great - another freedom about to bite the dust
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The local news has an item about how easy it is for a small boat to set off from England, pick up "asylum seekers" in France and drop them on a beach in England, all without anyone knowing.

All of this is obvious, of course, and has quite likely been going on for years. But what worries me is that for the sake of the couple of hundred people that might come in this way each year, the Government is now going to feel challenged by this news item and will start harassing anyone sailing a private boat in the Channel. And then the next thing will be you have to be licensed to own a boat. And then you'll have to register your plans before you're allowed to make a journey in your own boat across the Channel. And then you'll have to ask permission to make a journey across the Channel in a private boat.

Seriously, immigrants are less threat to our freedom and way of life than what I fear the Government will do next to stop them coming in.

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01:05 pm
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Is it website designers or just bankers who are a wunch of... ?
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Yesterday I needed to visit branches of two major banks (in the same town), but as it was already 4pm I needed to check what time they both closed. Went to Bank A website, menu, branch finder, searched by town name, clicked on the branch and got the times, all in 20 seconds including loading the website to start with.

Went to bank B website, help, branch locator, entered town name. “0 branches in this town”. So I tried the county name. Only two branches in the entire county, apparently, both in the same town (not the one I wanted). Tried another town in that county - it correctly found two branches. But it doesn’t actually have the opening times. Seriously, what is the point of that? You can’t phone up individual branches nowadays, so the first thing you want to know, after the simple fact of their existence, is “when are they open?”

So I had to just go on the off-chance. Luckily they were actually still open, otherwise I’d have wasted quite a lot of diesel and parking fee.

Last night I complained to Bank B, via non-secure, not logged in, online web form. Having filled in my name and address (but no account details requested) on a form headed “Complaints”, the only box available for me to explain matters was headed “Your Question”. So I filled it in anyway, told them I didn’t understand why the box was headed “Your Question” when I didn’t have a question, I had a complaint, and then explained the problem and told them their branch finder was totally useless.

This morning I got a phone call from a young man who wanted to go through security questions before he would discuss the matter. I refused. I said as he would know from my complaint, all I’d been trying to do was find out the branch opening times and I didn’t consider that discussion of such matters warranted full banking security. He said he was just following procedures and couldn’t go any further until I had verified my identity. I refused again and reminded him that I wasn’t trying to access my account or anything confidential, I hadn’t even logged on to the website, and that in fact the problem could have been found by someone who wasn’t even a customer. I asked what he would do if the complaint were from someone who didn’t have an account and he said that he would verify the identity of the non-account-holder. He didn't sound as if he had a brain, only a script, so I didn't bother asking how he would do that.

I wouldn't have minded if he'd just asked my name, to confirm he was talking to the person who made the complaint, but no, he completely refused to discuss the bank’s publicly-available website with me until I proved who I was. I continued to refuse to go through full banking security in order to be told why their branch finder doesn’t know my local branch exists, so he said they would send me a “written response” (whatever happened to letters?) instead.

So there you go. The reasons why their Branch Finder is such complete shit are highly confidential and can only be discussed with people who are willing to go through full banking security beforehand. Heaven forfend that such information should become public knowledge.

It all reminds me somewhat of the time I phoned Barclays, amongst others, asking them to send me leaflets for children's accounts. Encumbered as I was at the time with three children under five, I wasn't keen on slogging up and down the High Street and queueing up in every bank in turn. Most of the others were happy to send leaflets but Barclays flat-out refused. The only way I could get leaflets was to go to the branch in person. I said what about people with disabilities who couldn't get to the branch? (I have no wish to underestimate the problems of real disabilities, but there were definitely times back then when I felt that the possession of three small children and a double pushchair counted somewhere on the disability scale - can't do stairs, can't concentrate for more than ten seconds, can't walk at more than 0.5 miles per hour etc). He hesitated for a moment, as though hearing in his mind the enormity of what he was about to say, and replied that they too would have to visit the branch in order to get leaflets. Even if they couldn't.

It often seems to me that banks get so tied up with their internal procedures and the way it suits them to do things, that they forget that the whole point of their business is to gain and retain customers by providing a service to those customers, on the back of which they make money. It doesn't seem to worry Bank B in the slightest that anyone thinking of moving home or job to the town in question would not choose to bank with them, on the simple grounds that they pretend not to exist!




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July 26th, 2014
09:55 pm
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I know we're all Europeans now, but nobody actually asked my opinion...
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Or the shorter version: Total Facepalm
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With this very hot weather, I've been buying more icecream than usual. One variety I've looked at several times (because it's very cheap...) is called "Daim", and it claims to be "Daim flavour icecream with Daim pieces."

I'd never heard of "Daim", and given that the stuff was right next to "icecream with Oreo pieces" I suppose I assumed it was another American biscuit and wasn't particularly inclined to try it. To be honest, though, it puzzled the hell out of me that there could be something apparently well-known enough to make an icecream flavour of it that I'd never heard of. (And yes, I have heard of Oreos even though they're American.)

Today middle son came shopping with me, and I asked him if he'd ever heard of "Daim". First he laughed at my pronunciation (being an English person in England, and having no reason not to, I'd used English spelling rules and come up with "daym"). He said that he didn't really know what the stuff was, but all his friends pronounce it "da-yim" - with a short 'a' as in cat - rather like the mock-American pronunciation of "damn".

So this evening I finally remembered to look it up. And it turns out that DAIM IS A DIME BAR! IT'S A DIME BAR! (And apparently the name is Swedish, or perhaps German, and is therefore pronounced exactly the same as Dime.)

Now, I used to love Dime Bars. Really, really, love them. But over the years I'd forgotten they existed, presumably because Waitrose don't sell them. But I will say this - I have a very good visual memory, and if I'd ever seen an advert, on television or in a magazine or paper, for "Daim", I would have remembered it and not been standing crossly in the shop wondering what the hell "Daim" was. I mean, when they changed Marathon to Snickers (and no, I have never bought one since, just on principle), and they changed Opal Fruits to Starburst, they made sure everybody knew about it. So why this one was so low-profile I have no idea.

Anyway, now I know that "Daim" is really a Dime Bar, I'm getting that ice-cream tomorrow!

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July 25th, 2014
10:32 pm
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Random post is random...
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I realised I hadn't posted for a while so I was trying to think of something to post about. While I was driving to bank-town this afternoon I had loads of ideas, complete with witticisms and fully-formed sentences. But now I can't think of anything to post about, so I'm just going to dredge up a couple of snippets.


[1] WimbledonCollapse )


[2] Kay Scarpetta novels of Patricia CornwellCollapse )


[3] World War 1 CentenaryCollapse )


Random post was indeed random, and rather longer than I'd intended.

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June 26th, 2014
08:25 am
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On being awkward...
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OH has got the hump with me, just for a change. He's arranged to go and do something connected with his hobby this morning, and to that end has spent the past half an hour moving boxes about. Luckily I established several years ago that this was a job better suited to teenage boys than knackered middle-aged women, but I was still slightly surprised (and pleased, obviously) that he didn't ask me to help.

Just before he went out he asked if I was planning to go out today. There's the shopping to do of course, and I really ought to go to bank-town to do bank stuff. He asked me what time I was planning to go out and I said I didn't know. So then he said he was planning to go swimming after the hobby-thing so could I perhaps do my going out after that, because he had another parcel coming. It was all perfectly polite and friendly, and on the face of it quite reasonable, but what he was actually saying was "I've arranged my day - I'm playing, hobbying, all day - and I'd like you to arrange your day, at zero notice, around waiting for my (hobby-related) parcel to arrive." This is by no means the first time this has happened, and I've had enough of it.

This is a man who is very well-meaning, kind and generous, but self-centred to an incredible degree (typical only child!) I don't think it actually occurs to him he's being selfish, but it's got to be stopped - I sometimes feel that I need to be a contrary bitch just for the sake of it, to stop him from walking all over me.

So I said - almost politely - that I didn't know if it was convenient to wait in for him to get back and that he needed to stop arranging for parcels to arrive on days when he had no intention of being here.

He walked out without another word and drove off. When I came into the sitting-room to write this I discovered that he'd left the light on, dumped a pile of his magazines on my computer chair, and there are instruments and papers all over the settee so there's nowhere to sit.

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June 6th, 2014
11:29 am
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D-Day Anniversary
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Please consider following, or at least having a look at, @RealTimeDDay on Twitter. It's an "as it happens" account of D-Day and there's clearly a lot of work gone into it. I'm finding it very moving and humbling to read - in between pottering about doing my safe little jobs - about what happened that day.

Due to the hard work of @pn_sambannister, anyone with even the most casual interest has more information at their fingertips than probably even the most senior people did on the day.

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June 4th, 2014
10:19 am
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Anyone know of a five-dimensional family history modelling tool? No?
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So, for some fairly random reason, the announcement of the Abdication of King Juan Carlos of Spain got me looking into the relationships between the British Monarchy and that of Spain. As a family historian, the tangled inter-relatedness of the European monarchies is something that’s interested me for a long time - there’s something about the contrast of the glamour and the tiaras with the often tense relationships and an entire life lived on duty - but I foolishly decided to try to chart out the relationships between these two particular royal families.

Given that Kate Middleton’s and even Lady Diana Spencer’s royal antecedents are some considerable way back, I decided to concentrate on the relationships between the two current reigning couples: Queen Elizabeth II & Prince Philip, King Juan Carlos & Queen Sofía.

In these days where it’s increasingly common for royalty to marry "commoners", it can come as a surprise to find that the Consort of a Monarch is every bit as royal in their own right, but it needs to be remembered, for example, that even during the 1970s, it was widely assumed that Prince Charles might marry a European Princess. (Princess Marie-Astrid of Luxembourg was one of the candidates discussed in the press, and she did indeed go on to marry European royalty, in the form of Archduke Carl Christian of Austria.)

And in the case of the two couples in question, the consorts are indeed every bit as royal as the monarchs. To put it at its simplest, all four of the people listed above are descended from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert: the Queen from their son King Edward VII, Philip from daughter Princess Alice, King Juan Carlos from daughter Princess Beatrice and Sofía twice from daughter Princess Victoria (via the Kaiser and King Paul of Greece). That makes them all third cousins to each other.

Three of the four are also descended from King Christian IX of Denmark (who is known as "the father-in-law of Europe" because so many current and former European monarchies are descended from him and his wife, Louise of Hesse-Kassel): the Queen from their daughter Princess Alexandra, Prince Philip from son Prince George (who became the King of Greece) and Sofía from son Prince George and daughter Princess Thyra. That makes the Queen third cousin twice over to Sofía and second cousin once removed to Prince Philip.

Queen Sofía is also descended from Queen Victoria’s half-sister, Princess Feodora of Leiningen.

It should be noted that in order to focus on these four people, I’ve been casually "hiding" on my diagrams any number of Kings, Queens and Tsars of Romania, Denmark, Greece and Russia amongst others, not to mention endless Dukes, Grand Dukes and Archdukes, Princesses and Empresses. I’m also pretty certain that there are lines of descent, even just from Queen Victoria and Christian IX, that I haven’t yet discovered, because I haven’t yet followed down every descendant, just the more obvious ones.

And let’s not even think about looking at the many and various relationships these people have through their descents from Kings George II and III of England.

All of which makes it extraordinarily difficult to draw an actual picture of the relationships, but I don’t suppose that will stop me wasting more hours trying.

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May 20th, 2014
11:58 am
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I don't think I'll ever understand this school...
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Youngest son came home a couple of weeks ago very pleased with himself, and announced that he had been invited "as one of the best mathematicians in the year" to take part in "some [external] Maths thing", and that he had told them he would go. We’re fairly accustomed to this sort of thing - despite apparently not qualifying as "Gifted and Talented", all three of them have on various occasions been invited to take part in external maths/science/computing things as one of the top ten or so in their year group - so I just congratulated him and put the date in the diary.

Yesterday I finally received the official email telling me about this outing. It confirms that only ten students have been selected (out of about 150 in the year group), but it is the stated purpose of the day that took me by surprise:

"...to encourage interest in Maths with a view to studying it at ‘A’ Level and beyond."

Well. This is a child whose parents and eldest brother muster between them - amongst other things - one Maths degree, five Maths ‘A’ Levels and a Further Maths ‘AS’ Level. And his other brother is in Year 12 currently working towards a Maths ‘A’ Level and a Further Maths ‘AS’.

This is seriously not a student who needs the idea of doing Maths at ‘A’ Level bringing to his attention. In our family the idea of not doing it would be more thought-provoking, and certainly at this stage youngest son is taking it completely for granted that at the end of next year he will go on to do Maths at ‘A’ Level. (I should clarify here that we listen[ed] with interest to thoughts on which ‘A’ Levels they want[ed] to do, but absolutely do not attempt to tell them which ones they "should" do.)

So while I’m obviously pleased on youngest son’s account for the recognition and the hopefully-interesting day out, and I'm definitely not going to stop him going, it strikes me that there must surely be more "deserving" candidates for this trip. For example students who are very good at Maths, but whose families are Arty and would find the idea of doing Maths ‘A’ Level as disturbing and "unsafe", if I can put it that way, as we find the idea of not doing it.





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May 12th, 2014
11:43 am
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Another survey...
Just did a survey for the Open University. Standard kind of stuff - look at a couple of ads, answer a few questions.

The question as to which one I preferred was very simple - the plain, clean-cut tidy one rather than the messy "creative" one.

But the next question was "How well did these adverts convey [ our key message ]? *blinks* *does double-take, goes back for another look*

Nope. Not getting it. Sorry, either I fail or you do, and it's not me that's spent thousands on developing these ads, so that would be - you.

But at least I got a chance to tell someone about something I've been marvelling at for years:

I tend to hear a lot of ads that I don't actually see, because I'm at the computer while people have got the television on. It's quite amazing the number of ads that don't give any clue in the audio as to what product they are advertising. I asked on my survey form whether advertisers, including the OU, are actively trying to exclude people who don't have good vision, and I asked if they thought that was a good idea, or indeed legal. To me, the audio for the ad they were researching could equally well have been for life insurance, sanitary protection or a new car, and I asked if they thought that was a good idea. I certainly never would have guessed it was for the Open University, and that's the point - why make anyone guess? Why not make it clear? (Unless it's a deliberate teaser of course, which is a different animal altogether).

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May 8th, 2014
10:59 am
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Another stupid, poorly-worded survey
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I've worked in Market Research departments of large food manufacturers and in general it's a degree-level job requiring - amongst other things - clear thinking and good writing skills. The majority of surveys I see at Valued Opinions are so stupid and ambiguous that I wish the people writing them worked for me so I could sack them. This is what I put in the feedback form for the latest one:

# # #

"I do most of my grocery shopping in stores". Nope, I’m British, and we do our shopping in SHOPS not stores. "Stores" is quite a different thing.

You asked me to rate the overall customer service I receive - in a list of shops I’ve said I never use. And there’s no option to say "I wouldn’t know because I never use this shop."

Then you asked me to comment on prices. How am I supposed to know the prices in five shops I HAVE ALREADY TOLD YOU I NEVER USE?

I don’t even know what "prices I can trust" means. A price has no personality or agency so it cannot do anything to be trustworthy or otherwise. Do you mean can I trust the price to not change between the shelf and the checkout? I don’t think that’s about trusting the price, it’s about trusting the retailer.

The same applies to "special offers I can trust".

How am I supposed to know about the range available in shops I HAVE ALREADY TOLD YOU I NEVER USE?

Describing the budget own brand - this question is ambiguous as to whether you are asking about the number of products available or the quality of the products.

Rating each retailer in terms of importance to me - another ambiguous question. Do you mean for food and groceries, or for their entire range of products? It makes a huge difference to the answer for Marks & Spencer and Amazon.

How am I supposed to know how well each retailer meets all its customers’ needs? I have no idea who their customers are and what their needs might be, so it is impossible for me to judge. And why would you even want to know what my wild guess is? You would get more truthful results if you had a "Don’t Know" box.

I don’t believe any retailer is "on its customers’ side" - by definition they are obviously on THEIR side not ours. They would go bankrupt in five minutes if they were "on our side" rather than their own. But that’s not the same as thinking they are "against" us!

At some point this questionnaire seems to have moved from "food and grocery" to "anything you might use them for" but that point was never explicitly stated. I have therefore assumed that you mean "anything" unless "food and grocery" is stated.

I have no way of knowing how shops treat everyone else! So how can I judge whether they treat everyone the same or not? This questionnaire is ridiculous.

I don’t understand the question asking me how I would rate each supermarket on its reputation. You seem to be asking me whether I think it is excellent or poor that Aldi, M&S etc have whatever reputation they have. But I don’t actually know what reputation they have!

The only scale that would make sense here is "I consider the reputation well-deserved" to "I consider the reputation not deserved". But even that makes no sense unless you specify whether you mean their reputation amongst customers, staff, the stock market, financial analysts, environmental activists, suppliers, competitors etc. This survey is so woolly-minded I don’t think anyone should be basing any business decisions on the results.

I got kicked out of another survey for counting a 19-year-old as a "child". This survey explicitly includes 19-year-olds as children and I would be very interested to know on what basis it has been decided that 19-year-olds are children for this survey.

# # #

If only there were some chance these people would actually read my feedback and act on it...

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April 30th, 2014
08:25 am
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Just for once, can't somebody else take some responsibility please.
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Bloody annoyed right now. OH has a consultation this morning about a possible cataract operation and he expects ME to do the research on possible complications because “you’re better at remembering”. No I’m not, I just work harder, read more, take notes, and don’t expect to be told the truth without a lot of digging and questioning.

Youngest has been invited for a Meningitis C jab. In general we don’t do vaccinations so there’s some more research, oh and by the way he’s just told me the deadline for the permission form is tomorrow.

Middle and youngest both have work shadowing coming up. We’re supposed to organise those ourselves. Youngest is supposed to be shadowing a family member. I wrote to the school two years ago on this subject, explaining that neither of us have jobs that are appropriate or useful for shadowing, and that the nearest family member with such a job is three hours and 200 miles away. And as a family with autistic tendencies we don’t have rafts of useful friends (and all of OH’s friends are penniless musicians anyway). I also pointed out that I see this method as being deliberate perpetuation of privilege or disadvantage, and it wasn’t done this way when I was at school - the school did the organisation and accepted that not everybody had useful contacts or daddies who worked in the city. (This school has grandiose ideas nowadays about who its students are and where they're going.)

They never bothered answering, so this time I’m going to send them the same letter, make it clear it’s the same letter, and copy it to the Council Education Department. And possibly my MP.

Anyway, OH will be back from the paper shop soon, so back to my research...

Oh yes, and the hob is going home rapidly. I’m down to an oven and one small ring right now. More research, more expense. I’m drowning.

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March 12th, 2014
08:46 am
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"Shetland" BBC series - No Spoilers
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I enjoyed Shetland very much last night. It makes such a pleasant change from all those programmes set in cities, to be able to watch someone wandering about in the open air, and talking to people who aren't city dwellers.

Spending an hour staring at Dougie Henshall isn't exactly hardship, either.

It's not till I watch a programme like Shetland that I realise how tiring I find it to watch programmes where everyone has hard city voices, or American accents, or talks like they're in East Enders. I understand from comments on reviews that not many of the characters exhibit genuine Shetland accents, but as an ignorant Southerner that doesn't worry me at all. It also doesn't worry me that I miss 10% of the dialogue as the accents are so different to what I'm used to, because unlike most television, for me the accents in Shetland are a positive pleasure to listen to. (I loved the accents in Broadchurch too, at the other end of the country only thirty miles from my home town, so it seems unrelated to any kind of preference for the exotic.) Perhaps I just prefer rural accents.

The music is good, too. At one point, OH came into the room and said "How can you put up with that boring music?" I hadn't even noticed it, other than to be vaguely aware that there was some. Personally, I think that’s a mark of excellence in tv music. For me, music in a tv programme should in general support or enhance the mood, and not force itself into your consciousness where it's not needed. So in Doctor Who's Boomtown, the music early on is very evident, creating and emphasising the unusually relaxed and jaunty mood the Doctor is in, while in The Parting of the Ways the music is epic where great endeavours need supporting, and haunting when things get sad. And in Shetland, the music is exactly where it needs to be, gently in the back of your mind like the grass and the clouds and the sea.

So, last night’s episode (still no spoilers). There is a murder, of course. (That's a MUH-rr-DUH-rr, not a mur-dur.) And Dougie Henshall wanders around solving it. But I'm never a great one for plot in detective stories - I have a lot of books I'm happy to read time and again because I can never remember Who actually Dun It - and my favourite part of programmes like this is to watch the interplay of characters and to see how a character's interior life affects their exterior, or is put firmly in a box out of the way.

One of the things I found very satisfying in this episode was that when someone made an important plot-advancing discovery, you were shown very clearly how that person's relationships with their family and others had caused them to be in that place at that time. And we were also shown more clearly than often happens, how the victim's home life, and that of her best friend, led her to be where she was, and for her friend not only to not be there with her, but to have no idea why the victim would have been there. "She knows I'm not allowed out so much - it would be like rubbing it in my face, so there was a lot she didn't tell me."

Perhaps I just need to have things explained to me more than some, and maybe I like life to be mainly calm and predictable, and that's why I enjoy this programme so much when many people apparently find it incredibly slow and boring. But whatever the reason, I do enjoy it very much, and when the series is over I shall consider buying the books. I just hope there is nothing in the books’ descriptions of DI Jimmy Perez that might upset my visualisation of Douglas Henshall wandering around the endless hills. I like to read in bed, and that's a vision I'd be quite happy to go to sleep on.




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March 11th, 2014
12:03 pm
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Yes, I know sometimes I sound like Sheldon Cooper. I don't see that necessarily as a bad thing.
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I'm signed up with one of those online-survey companies - in return for ticking a few boxes I get the occasional 50p to put towards an Amazon voucher. It has more to do with my wish to tick boxes and state my opinion than any minimal financial gain.

So I've just done the longest, most tedious and confusing survey I have ever done. As I pointed out in the "anything else to say about this survey" box at the end, I only persevered with it in the hope of telling them what I thought of it at the end.

At the beginning you have to select a "character" to represent you. There are males and females of varying skin tones and I imagine it's used as a device to get people's ethnic origins without actually asking. But by the time you've wondered how much is wish-fulfillment - do I wish I had blonde hair? would I like to be more suntanned? would I like to have the increased power/authority that men still tend to have? - and how much is simple truth, I'd think it's a bit too vague to be useful. And that's without knowing what percentage of the population will choose the "African man" picture when they're a white female, just because.

Many of the questions have two characters - "you" and "the brand" - sitting on a sofa. You can move one or other closer or further away, and the expression changes and they turn their heads towards or away from the other character. (Honestly, this survey is insane.)

Anyway, some examples of the questions:


"click on the + or - buttons to move the Boots Advantage Card character to show Boots Advantage Card’s relationship with you"

It’s a piece of plastic. It’s never heard of me and it doesn’t care about me. Even if you’re rather clumsily trying to ask what relationship Boots’ Loyalty scheme management have with me, it still doesn’t involve them smiling at me or holding my hand. This is SUCH a rubbish way to try to show business transactions and relationships, and it takes ages moving the stupid little character backwards and forwards till it looks neutral.


"Some brands capture people’s imagination, while others don’t. Please move your mouse over the screen to show how Tesco Clubcard affects people." (This question was accompanied by a plain black rectangle. As you moved the mouse from left to right across the black, more and more little characters became visible, with a little white glow around them.)

How on earth am I supposed to know how a Tesco Clubcard "affects" people? I don’t have a Tesco Clubcard. I don’t have conversations with anyone about what cards they have and how they "affect"” them. Even the cards I do have don’t "affect" me. They’re bits of plastic! They may have occasional tiny effects on my shopping behaviour, but they don’t affect ME.

I didn’t understand how to use your strange graphic system to answer this question, unless it was designed to show in some way that possession of a Tesco Clubcard brings people out of the dark or something weird like that. So I left it dark because I couldn’t care less about Tesco Clubcard.


"Please use the + or - buttons to show what you think Tesco Clubcard is like." (The graphic for this one is described in my answer below.)

I don’t understand this - you’re asking me to tell you whether I think a Tesco Clubcard is running along a road looking happy, or walking along a road looking sad? I only persevered with this rubbish in the hope of giving my opinion at the end.


"It doesn’t matter how well you know the brands – it’s just your impressions that count."

And here is the fundamental fault in the premise. You’re assuming that I care enough - about loyalty cards from shops I never use - to have an impression or an opinion. I find these surveys very difficult to understand sometimes.


"Please click on the words you think fit. You may choose as many or as few as you think apply."

I chose none, because I don't have any knowledge or opinions about Tesco Clubcard. (One of them was 'Confident'. How can a piece of plastic be confident ffs? Please, this anthropomorphism is getting ridiculous.) So then I got this:

"Please click on the words you think fit. You may choose as many or as few as you think apply.
Please check at least 1 box in this column (you checked 0)."


Don’t you ever READ your own questions?


"Which of these loyalty cards or schemes have you seen, read or heard anything about recently?"

Does that include in the past forty-five minutes, spent on this increasingly tedious survey?


"I worry about money and bills more than I used to"

What time period does 'used to' refer to? It makes a big difference to the answer.


"Which, if any, of these websites do you regularly visit? 'Other (specify)' "

What, ALL of them? There are too many to mention, but we could start with Twitter, LiveJournal, FindMyPast, BBC, MoneySavingExpert, my bank. Some kind of limiter would be useful here!

By this time I was too bored with the whole thing to fill in more than half a dozen, but perhaps I should have included Norad Santa, which I visit regularly, ie every Christmas Eve. Please, stop using 'regularly' when you appear to mean 'frequently'.


My kids laugh at me for the way I "go on" at companies when I think they're wrong or being stupid. I don't watch The Big Bang Theory myself (although I overhear one or two episodes most days), but I've never felt as close to Sheldon as when his friends told him he was being daft for doing the same thing and he said "But how else will they learn?". I do my best...



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February 6th, 2014
12:16 pm
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Why can't anything just WORK ffs?
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The MOT on the main family car runs out on Monday. I was very proud of myself for very organisedly having got it booked in at the garage we bought it from so as to - for the first time in my life - keep the little service history book properly up to date and ticky-boxed. (This, I learned to my cost when the previous car was written off last year, can make a huge difference to the retail - and hence the write-off - value of the car.)

It's supposed to be going in tomorrow. Half an hour ago I got a call from their MOT technician who says that because the garage has recently been taken over by a new company, he is not licenced to carry out MOTs at present. I was so furious I said to him that I was just going to hang up and call back when I could reliably speak without saying something I shouldn't.

So I phoned back, and the person who answered the phone said "How may I direct your call?" Oh God. Don't the people who write these appalling scripts ever phone up and listen? Or do they actually want their staff to sound like robots who have been specially programmed to irritate the customer? (For the record, a simple, friendly "Good morning, company-name!" works perfectly well and has the advantage of sounding like something a person would actually say.)

Anyway, I finally got through to the service manager who told me that although the site and the facilities are unchanged, and the licenced technicians continue to be licenced under their original numbers, the business is not licenced to carry out MOTs at the premises until they provide the Department of Transport with a photo of the premises with the new company name displayed outside. And they can't stick the new (temporary) sign up until it stops raining. So, about August then, I said. He replied that it's certainly not doing the business any good.

Presumably none of them have ever heard of PhotoShop. I'm tempted to phone back and offer to do it myself.

The whole MOT thing, while of course an important safety process, is getting beyond a joke. A friend of mine used to be the senior MOT technician at the place where he worked. He would carry out MOTs himself, but it was also his job to train and supervise other MOT technicians, and to be available to any of the mechanics who had a query or a problem. Then the DoT brought in new rules that you had to log in to their system when you were about to start the MOT, and you had to enter the results within a fixed (quite short) time. Suddenly my mate could no longer leave an MOT halfway through to deal with something else - which was quite safe because there was a very detailed checklist to tick off as you went - so he had to give up either doing MOTs or supervising the others. Obviously the garage weren't willing to pay him as much since he wasn't doing as much, and they ended up losing their best technician over it.

The current relentless march towards ticking boxes as a substitute for being allowed to think is NOT progress.

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February 5th, 2014
10:31 am
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In which I'm not even sure which of us has the sense of humour failure
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I don't like to talk much in the mornings; in fact in normal circumstances it literally hurts my brain to talk before I've been up for about half an hour. The kids know this - two of them are exactly the same - and we have procedures to meet most everyday situations. For example, to wake up middle son (when I've been up only fifteen minutes) I tap him on the shoulder and hold up his freshly-ironed school shirt where he can see it. He has a little "Hi, I'm up" whistle which he does when he gets downstairs, which I acknowledge with a wave of the hand or a "mm-mm" kind of thing. By the time youngest gets woken up, I've been up half an hour, so "time to get up" are often my first words of the day. He grunts acknowledgement, and I've learned over the years to interpret his answering grunts to "do you want the light on?" He's normally ready to speak by the time he gets downstairs, about twenty minutes after I wake him.

OH is different. Not that he's chatty in the mornings - quite the opposite - but I only found out about six months ago that he'd been assuming we were all in really bad moods in the morning because there wasn't much talking going on. He spent years going off to work before anyone else was awake, and had had no idea about all this non-talking until he changed his hours, so once he was confronted with it, he decided that we were all, rudely and deliberately, ignoring him. Yup, he's an only child, how did you guess?

Most days, if there's a conversation going on, I do my best to include him in it, although he never seems very interested. If I say something directly to him, or ask if he has an opinion or any information which may shed light on whatever it is we're discussing, he just looks vague and shrugs his shoulders. But I figure that's his choice and I've done my bit.

Anyway, this morning he got downstairs just after the kids had gone off to school. Conscious of the uncomfortable silence (as opposed to the comfortable silence shared with the boys earlier), and trying to be polite and acknowledge his wish to be "included", I generally try to make some kind of conversation, greatly against my own preference.

This morning my opening gambit was "I see the Winter Olympics start this weekend", in what I hope was an upbeat, 'isn't that interesting' tone of voice. Long experience told me I really wasn't going to get anything along the lines of "Oh good, I'm looking forward to seeing the ski-jump" or anything of that nature, but I felt it reasonable to expect, at the least, something approaching polite interest.

What I got was "Huh. I won't be going." Said in the very flat, dismissive, downbeat tone of voice I always identify as "Not interested. End of conversation."

He then said "< XXX sporting event he likes to watch > started last weekend." I was still annoyed at his response, so I decided to reply in the same way. "Huh. I won't be going." Said in the same downbeat unfriendly way, a tone of voice I would normally only use when I'm really angry with him but trying to keep it fairly calm.

He then started making the annoying chuntering noise he uses to "imitate" my "nagging and moaning".

I told him I wasn't in a bad temper, that I'd said exactly the same words as him, in exactly the same tone of voice, so where was the problem?

"Yes, but I was joking," he said. "You're not."

*stunned*

I said "You were joking? I took it as 'don't care, and can't be bothered to have a conversation about it' "

He didn't reply to that, so after another uncomfortable silence I went back to the kitchen to get on with clearing up breakfast. I heard the front door go, but didn't take much notice, because he often wanders vaguely in and out several times before announcing that he's off to work.

Anyway, when I came back to the sitting room ten minutes later, I discovered he'd actually gone. He was angry enough to fuck off without saying goodbye, just because I'd misinterpreted his bad-tempered dismissive tone of voice as being, er, bad-tempered and dismissive. Incredible.

Of course, now I have to wonder how many other times I've thought he was in a bad mood when he thought he was being lightly amusing. There's clearly scope for some serious misunderstandings here!

So, if anyone can explain exactly how "Huh. I won't be going." is supposed to be funny in this context, I would - seriously and genuinely - love to know.

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December 25th, 2013
06:10 pm
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I hope everyone's having a good Christmas; I finally got The Dinner served at about 4pm and it went down very well. Every year I hate doing it, and every year I enjoy eating it just enough to figure it's almost worth all the hassle. But I'd still prefer to spend Christmas Day sitting down with everyone else.

And now I'm going to pour more wine, get out the Quality Street, and read a bit more of "Divergent" by Veronica Roth before Doctor Who at 7:30. Wine, chocolate, a new book, a new Doctor. Now that's what I call Christmas.

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December 16th, 2013
11:26 am
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Really pissed off right now...
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Oldest son came home from Uni on Saturday and I can't tell you how pleased I am that he has finally learned to cook and wants to do his own meals.

I remember very clearly the first time I went home from Uni - my mum shouted at me for going in her kitchen and cooking myself some food.

Oldest son keeps shouting at me because he doesn't like my cooker or my pans and I bought the wrong bacon.

I really wish that - just sometimes - someone would think I deserve being nice to. Just once a year would be nice.

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November 24th, 2013
09:19 pm
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Sweet!
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I find it really quite adorable that when Novak Djokovic addresses the crowd in Buenos Aires in what sounds like pretty good Spanish, he apparently does so with an Argentine accent! Bless him, perhaps he really has been learning from Delpo.

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