compromis de vente …

Yesterday, we exchanged contracts on the sale of our current house and the purchase of our new one. In house buying parlance, this is synonymous to the first few notes from the fat lady’s vocal cords as she delivers her final aria on stage before collapsing from a broken heart, poision or some exotic disease: the end to this dramatic home move is drawing to a close and this Thursday, after 9 glorious years in Wiltshire, we take our final curtain call at Deepwell House before relocating to North Somerset.
With hindsight, I should have maintained a running blog on this move, if only to serve as a reminder to the boys of this eventful period in their lives when change is rife and nothing is stable – but on reflection, this is perhaps one of those life lessons that is better learnt through personal (and at times painful!) experience. I can only thank the designers at EA games for giving us Battlefield 2: Modern Combat – a title that has seen much action on our Xbox 360 in recent weeks and has served as an excellent exhaust for pent up frustration as I frag imaginary estate agents, lawyers and carpet fitters with 120mm shells and FFARs from my virtual Apache helicopter 😉
Roll on Thursday!
Note: Readers should also be advised that I am planning to retire the domain after we have moved – with immediate effect, you should all point your browsers to to access this page.

beauty is skin deep …

I can still remember feeling squeamish whenever J channel-flicked onto one of those edutainment programmes on Sky that show live surgery. If I had my way, even Nip Tuck would have been committed to the TV naughty corner, had it not been saved by surprisingly creative dialogue and provocative plots … not to mention the tanned bodies and strong jawlines. Call me shallow, but I pledge my full support to the producers of that TV show when it comes to flaunting feminine curves and 6-pack torsos … because beauty (and I herewith make an advance apology to any hirsute lesbians/feminists and Lionel Richie lookalikes who may be offended by my next pronouncement) is skin deep. And whereas the external human form has immense sex appeal, the insides of a human body and its workings are about as interesting as the contents of Margaret Thatcher’s handbag. That is, unless it is your body … and then, it suddenly becomes the most intriguing thing since Kate Moss’s purse and the most bloggable subject in the world!
Last Wednesday, I gave birth to twin gallstones – an achievement that would not have been possible without the skill and professionalism of the very competent team at Bath Clinic, particularly Messrs Hardy (anaesthetist) and Britton (surgeon). While Hardy knocked me out and made sure I stayed under, Mr Britton (whose dry and boyish bed-side manner reminded me of Stan Laurel) stabbed me 4 times in the abdominal area in a procedure known as a laparoscopic cholecystectomy (that’s gall bladder removal for the medically challenged among you) which comes under the curious medical vernacular of ‘key hole’ surgery. Key hole – now that’s a bit of a misnomer! What surgeons fail to explain to patients during pre-op consultations is the size of the lock they will be dealing with, and judging from the length of incisions on my tummy, it would appear that my surgeon was attempting to pick-lock the portcullis of Warwick castle 😉
But it is all good, as they say and I am now bed-bound and signed off work for the next two weeks with little prospect of social interaction to feed my blog, and yes, I will spare you loyal readers any write up on the frequency of bowel movements and other bodily functions. However, I’m giving serious thought about a paper comparing the coefficient of transparency between Egyptian cotton pillow cases and my nylon anti-DVT stockings. Ummmm, maybe I should save that for next week. Suffice it to say, the prescription drugs, in particular Tramadol, are doing wonders for pain management and inducing some very interesting and florid dreams – an added bonus of being an opiate derivative, I guess. Kids at home, say NO to Tramadol ok … unless you’ve been stabbed.
Meanwhile I’ve made a start on a programing project – a piece of extra-curricular work set by my boss to develop an eBay software tool that will allow sellers to do some statistical analysis on historical auction behaviour in order to predict (read: artificially inflate) the best final sale price for an item. I thought I might write it in Java, but being bed-ridden and having no access to any good books, I’ve decided to plumb for Visual Basic 2005 Express. Progress to date includes the GUI mini-browser functionality (which was a doddle), and today’s task is to work on the ‘state machine’ of valid eBay HTML responses, before diving in to the nightmare of parsing HTML code to extract valuable data from the noise. That should keep me out of mischief for a couple of days …

mac phoenix …

My Mac Mini is back in action … the doctors could not revive the dead hard drive so it was back to square one for my WordPress blog – an experience almost as painful as the chronic abdominal cramps of recent nights from my errant gall-stone(s). They say Revenge is a dish best served cold, and before I am through stuffing it with new chores (e.g. Asterisk PBX, CCTV, Media Streamer etc), my Mini will be wishing it had been reborn as sushi.

Navigation to the fixed menu pages is still a known problem, as are categories … but please bear with me. Torture is only pleasurable when there is no prospect of surrender 😉

dead mini …

Sorry fans, but as an emergency measure, I have reverted to this out-of-date blog following the recent demise of my Mac Mini … which until last night, was hosting my most recent blog on WordPress.

It’s off to the doctors today with a suspected disk ailment, so until it is returned (hopefully fixed) sometime in the future, you and I will have the to put up with the pleasure of blogspot.

Update: Ok, I’ve backfilled previous posts from cached copies lurking on other PCs around the house, so we should be up to date now …

adventures in flanders …

The decorators finished early, and by 0605 on Saturday morning we were already on the continent, en route to Ypres (via Brugges) for an educational week-end in the killing fields of Flanders.

Ypres – or Ieper in Flemish but never wipers – is typically Belgian with narrow cobbled lanes that contrast the architectural modernity of a town that has clearly experienced re-development since its obliteration from heavy bombardment during the Great War. It also boasts the Menin Gate, where every night since 1920 (except for the war years, when the ceremony moved back to England) locals and tourists gather under this monument to watch wreaths being laid at the playing of the Last Post. I don’t think I have ever been in a more moving remembrance event and while the general mood was decidedly sombre, I also sensed something else … something equating to relief, you know that feeling you get after paying back a long-term debt. To the 37 thousand or so British and ANZACS soldiers whose names adorn the walls of this monument because their bodies have never been formally identified, found nor interred, we can but hope that in over 80 years that this ceremony has been running, the crowds have accrued enough dignity to put their souls at rest.

For The Fallen
by Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

However, when it comes to understanding the true horror of this war, a visit to the museum at Sanctuary Wood aka Hill 62 is a must. If the stereoscopic photos, recovered munitions and miscellaneous memorabilia do not paint a clear enough picture of the 4 years of hell endured by the British forces in defence of the Western Front, then slip through the back door and walk in the trenches and/or potholes to get that first hand experience that I guarantee you will not acquire anywhere else. War, at best is ugly and horrific, but the First World War set a precedence for a shameless waste of human lives that has not and hopefully will never be surpassed.

For a change of scenery, we moved onto Brussels and checked into the Holiday Inn, set a stone’s throw from the chic shopping area of Avenue Louise. Earlier we had promised J2 seafood (mussels in particular) for dinner but not having the stamina to face the touts in Rue des Bouchers, we ate locally at Delire Parisien on rue Jordan, just off Ave Louise. Now this is great french cooking, with very friendly service in a setting that is convivial and spacious. The plats du jour promised l’Os a Moelle (bone marrow) which was quite delicious, but we were too late for the foie gras and pheasant, but found equally delectable alternatives a la carte – J in particular fell silent during her entree of Salade de chevre Chavignol with honey which she pronounced as simply excellent. Note: it seems that even in a French restaurant, the diner cannot escape the Belgian witloof (chicory or endive, depending on your linguistic persuasion). The one on my plate accompanying the rognon de veau was surprisingly tasty, perhaps a credit to chef who has managed successfully to present this rather mundane vegetable so that it actually invites ingestion Anyway, the Ch. Grand Bourdieu (Graves) we selected was perfect accompaniment to an outstanding meal, and afterwards we walked off the excesses by strolling into Sablon and taking in a compulsory beer at the Cafe Leffe!

The clocks may have gone back on Sunday morning, but we continued to enjoy summer temperatures as we setttled down to waffles and crepes for breakfast, around the corner from the Grand Place. Several chocolate shops later, we were ready for another break, this time at the Cafe de Bxl for a degustation de cinq bieres, which rounded off beautifully our little week-end in Flanders.

But during our time here, our thoughts were never far away from those men who fought and died that we may continue to enjoy the liberties and pleasures of this life. So boys and girls, remember this …

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.

new toys …

So it’s been a while since my last post. J and I were looking forward to a period of unadulterated chilling out which we did manage to achieve despite the chaos created by our earlier accident with the water tank. As a bonus, our respite ended on a materialistic high with some new toys for SWMBO and me: J bought a new car, and I’m now the proud father of this little bag of wizardry. The O2 XDA Exec (the Universal from HTC a.k.a. T-Mobile MDA Pro, Vodafone VPA IV, Orange SPV M5000, Qtek 9000, i-Mate JasJar, Dopod 900) is a replacement for my XDA II and Nokia 6630 – I now retain full PDA/MP3 functionality with TomTom 5 satellite navigation plus the added bonus of 3G high-speed data services including 2-way video conferencing with J’s Sharp 902 (Ferrari limited edition) – an early birthday present from yours truly. With the Blackberry Connect client expected imminently, I shall be in a position to get rid of the 7100v too – taking me down to a single device. Oh happy days!

It’s half term next week. The kids are home and I’m planning to take some time off to do some DIY on the house, addressing other parts that are not being worked on by the builders/decorators who will be onsite again repairing the walls and ceilings from our recent accident with the water tank. If they finish before the week is out, we may emabark on our annual pilgrimage to Disneyland Paris for Halloween and if not, well there’s always something here that needs doing. An old house is very much like an old car – when the fixing is done, one is instantly bowled over by the beauty of the finished product, but while it is being worked on, the monotony of repairs is just unbearably tedious

Which is why we needed some retail / gastronomic therapy today. Fresh & Wild (we visited the branch on Queens Road, Clifton) is fast becoming a mecca for the discerning foodie while providing instant gratification to those shopping for natural remedies / alternative skincare products. While J fiddled with rose-perfumed face cleansers, I rooted around the organic veg section (pah! don’t you just hate it when people do that and then add the detestable caveat of No pun intended) for some butternut squash for soup-making later … ummmm, I’m really into soups at the moment, particularly veggie ones. Afterwards, we popped into the new branch of Space.NK – a super-modern apothecary with Habitat-inspired decor, stocking the latest skincare products from Eve Lom plus other pricey items, but if you’re on a tighter budget especially after paying for so many new toys , then I recommend the relatively affordable Kiehl’s Lip balm. Oh, and the Men’s eau de toilette is just divine – Santa, are you taking notes?!

normality is for whimps …

Waking up at 0500 every morning has given me a sense of purpose and achievement- but now that this bidding cycle is over I shall have to find an equally satisfying activity for the early hours … because it will take a while before my mind and body come to the realisation that it is OK to sleep until 0730. Really.

And there is a lot on my mind. Like trying to find the optimal sequence to buy and sell property without incurring a shameful amount of Capital Gains tax, or working out the best return on long term investment based on SIPPs … and most importantly, obtaining the addresses for the best eateries in Venice when J and I visit this week-end.

But this evening, I shall put my feet up, pour myself a glass of something strong and reminisce on past times and old friends … because I just don’t agree with Liam Fox when he says that the past does not qualify him to become the new leader of the Conservative party. People judge us by our ability to deliver on our promises, and in return, we judge others in advance by looking at previous reputation and old behaviours. Just like on this bid team – there are some folks I will never want to work with again, but then there are others who I would actively seek out to collaborate with on some future project together.

And as we wait to learn our fate on this bid (announcement due in early November), I feel I need to remind myself that often it’s not the destination that matters … but the journey.

happy birthday to me …

It has been one year (to the day) since my first posting, and another candle has found its way to my already crowded birthday cake. What started off as an exhaust vent for the random rantings of an irascible man has followed the natural evolutionary path for blogs worldwide: after an enthusiastic birth, some blogs die young (primarily from neglect), while a few rise to prominence but the majority (and this blog is no exception) settle for a quiet place on the dusty shelf in blogosphere, to be taken down for a quick polish whenever an occasion rises that warrants such effort – because let’s face it, time is so precious these days. In fact I am seriously contemplating ditching my PDA and returning to a calendar free existence – you know, that carefree, stress-neutral, bygone era when you could go to the bathroom without the need to make an appointment But I digress …

These days, I know not to write about what I ate for breakfast, or the mating rituals of my pet goldfish instead limiting my written thoughts and observations to events and experiences that somehow bring meaning to the science of life, and the art of living. In life, we continue to go on holidays to cool places to be reminded of the beauty of Mother Earth, and from time to time, we are humbled by her forces (Aceh, Katrina and now Rita). The art of living, however, is a more complex and rewarding endeavour altogether: sure, we like our food and drink but the way we choose to live is more poignant for the simple reason that our hobbies, musical tastes and other passtimes are totally within our control to shape and mould as we please … except for when they are not e.g. when suicide bombers attempt to inflict terror, when politicians win despite exercising one’s democratic right or generally, when shit happens.

So, this has been an enlightening year for me and my blog, and now I would like to mark its anniversary by asking fellow bloggers out there for whom do you write your blogs? Personally, I thought I started this blog for *me* … but now I am sure it is for my kids.

History is the best teacher not only for the present but also for the future …

water, water everywhere …

Our house, that we’ve lived in and cared for over 8 years, is upset. I think it knows that we have been house hunting in Portishead and as a big f*** you, has decided that it would empty the contents of the water tank in the loft, creating substantial water damage on 2 floors. The restoration company called in yesterday and placed fans, blowers and de-humidifiers at strategic locations … I’m sure the National Grid noticed a blip on their monitors when the equipment was switched on. So, we’re sleeping on the floor … and will be for at least a fortnight. Thanks a lot!

The only positive news is that we’re booked into the Carlton , Venice for our wedding anniversary in October. Can’t wait …