Friday, May 30, 2008


We get along well with most of our neighbours. The couple across the drive are amongst our best friends. However, there is one couple that we seem to have fallen out with. They are natural complainers, planning permission for anything to change in the village, they complain. A farmer spreading manure that smells, they complain. The watercress farm using a bird scarer that bangs on the half hour, they complain. You name it, they complain.

They've decided to start complaining about us. Take last weekend. One of the cars has a fault, an admitadely anoying fault. The alarm has started going off randomly. Not a lot, maybe once or twice a week, yet it does go off. We run to sort it out, and its never for more than a minute at most. Hard to figure out what to do with it, electrics in cars are bloody awful to figure out, and its been in the shop once already.

Last weekend though, it went off twice in a morning. A ruddy nuicense, I know. Yet that morning, while my wife was in the kitchen, a bit of paper was pushed through the door. "YOUR ALARM HAS GONE OFF TWICE THIS MORNING. GET IT FIXED. X, Y, and Z."

Now X and Y are the couple in question. Z is another neighbour who has just lost her husband to catastrophic cancer, I mentioned the funeral a few posts ago. She is the one we think about when the alarm goes off, and I actually had appologised when we'd been over to see her. She was surprised, said she hadn't heard anything. She's a lovely lady, and I really don't want to put her out when she's in such pain.

That just really hacked me off, using her name like that. Then we find out they've talked to everyone else on the drive, complaining about the alarm. I just don't get it, are their lives really so empty that the only pleasure they get is bitching and moaning about a broken car alarm? Its really annoyed me, and quite upset LL who hates the thought of people thinking badly of her.

Such is life, I know, and in the scheme of things completely trivial, but... Grrrr...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Rain rain go away

I know Bank Holidays are supposed to be wet (did you know there's a scientific basis for that (has to do with a reduction in polution due to a lack of cars driving (appearently))), but that was an extremely wet one. There is always the Surrey County Show in Guildford that holiday Monday, and we always like going. Its a proper country show with livestock competitions, sheep dog trials, and horse jumping.

Needless to say it was a bit of a wash out. We didn't go, more's the pity. Everybody was bummed, so I made Canadian pancakes and broke out the Maple Syrup. It helped.

We then let the kids decide what else to do. They decided on kiddie decadence. A day in pjamas. You've got to love kids minds. So we let them laze about the house playing games, doing some painting, gameboys and even a movie on the telly.

I, however, cleaned out the garage and cooked three meals. Sigh... Sometimes being a middle aged dad with 'responsibilities' is a drag. When do I get a day in PJs watching a movie?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


So, we have the in-laws down visiting at the moment. I'm lucky that I like my in-laws. I get along famously with my FIL. If it is possible to have a typical British ecentric, he's one. Wild hair, can speak on just about any topic, and as a former forensic scientist, occasionally had the most interesting dinner conversation. I'll never forget the night he lept from the table, hauled over his briefcase, and plopped a picture in front of me.

"Just doing this case, and I can't help but think this picture's been doctored. You know computers, how can we tell?" The picture was a close up of a male face with an axe sticking out of it.

Any way, food is a big part of my wife's family, so I love rowing the boat out when they visit. Some meals very fancy, some the opposite. I did one this weekend that, if I do say do myself, was just spot on. Good ingredients done very simply can not be beat.

So, this was wild salmon fillets, steamed in white wine and fennel, served with fresh new potatoes and sprouting purple brocolli. Then put a tasty little chilled white on the side.(a secret wine I won't divulge as it sells in limited quantities and I don't want to miss my next case). Very hard to beat. Finish it off with a Rhubarb Crumble with home made Vanilla Ice Cream, and you have a fine meal indeed.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A funny old day

As a day it started out quite sad. One of our neighbours, a delightful old guy, passed away last week. All quite sudden, he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and died all within two weeks. His wife brought him home and cared for him throughout. All very sad. She wanted a small funeral, no fuss, so it was only immediate family and a small handful of friends.

Then it was straight off to watch Pirate Pete in his school swimming gala. He was one of a few chosen to represent his house. For those not of the British persuasion, schools here break the kids up into "houses". Think Harry Potter and Gryphindor. Represents the old school concept of literally being part of the house you dormed in. This was no big event, but its important to him, so I was glad to be able to show up and watch him. He won his race, so was a very happy little boy.

Then I had to drop the Smart car off for its annual service before having to head back in to work. Normally I would have worked from home on a day like this, but this was the one day this week my new boss had free to meet since he stepped into the top job. I know it will be fine, but until you meet under the new circumstances, and get a feel for how the relationship will play out, its a bit unsettling. So, I blog to clear my mind and focus. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


There are so many interesting things on the web, its hard to keep track and find them all. I must declare a bit of an interest in this place, but I won't go into why. Its just cool.

Go here.

The Times newspaper is the oldest still running English language newspaper. It has been at the forefront of the news for a long long time. Even today, with declining revenues, it has a massive editorial and journalistic base, with some of the best writers around. If its of interest, its probably been covered.

The link above takes you to a new venture for the newspaper. They have put the entire archive, back to 1785, online. It is all scanned and transformed into text. There is a full time editorial team now diving through it to find pieces of interest, and to update the landing page each day. In there you'll find interviews with Hitler, pieces by Dickens, reportage of every major scientific discovery, on the spot pieces of any conflict you can think of. It is a treasure trove, and a serious time waster.

Go, have fun, and please tell me what you think.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Corporate Trough (continued)

Last week I was in Beijing for our annual corporate conference. These can be dire or wild affairs, sometimes both at the same time. This one rather fell into the later category. Because my former boss had been let go just a few days prior, it was bound to be weird. So it was.

Lots of corporate back patting, as we’d had a storming year in 2007. There was also my new boss out there making sure everyone thought he had a good vision for taking the company forward. Which will be rather like the old vision, but with a new face. Such is corporate politics.

There was also lots of networking, usually lubricated with large amounts of alcohol. That’s perhaps the best bit of these events. They really are just big drink fests. But that’s OK. A company that knows each other and enjoys each other, is a good place to work. That lubrication is a necessary component.

There was one quite sparkling moment though. The last evening is always the “gala” dinner. Rumours abounded about this one, and none of them did justice. It was really a once in a life time event.

I, being a timely sort of bloke, got on the first bus. We manoeuvred slowly through the city, it really has appalling traffic (at the moment 3,000 cars are registered every day in China). However, we finally pulled up at the outskirts of the Forbidden City (the ancient imperial palace). We transferred to smaller busses and dodged back and forth into the palace complex, pulling up in front of large ornate gates. They opened as we approached into the outer courtyard of one of the main temples. We walked over small bridges, and up to another gate. This had two blokes garbed in ancient warrior armour. As we walked up, they saluted, and the gates began to open.

What a sight. There was a long red carpet leading up to the main temple. Standing on either side had to be 50 warriors. Behind these was about 20 women in full imperial court costume banging away in a complicated rhythm on drums. At the top of the steps leading to the temple where two “Imperial Lions”, each made up of 2 men in Lion costumes. They began a complicated dance down the steps to welcome us. Utterly awe struck we walked up the red carpet and up the steps to find an array of people in black tie serving drinks and canapés.

It was stunning, just stunning. But that wasn’t the end. Once all of the delegates got up to the terrace the last of the drumming went quiet and the doors to the temple opened. Inside ten women played the temple bells, a set of over 100 ancient brass bells, offset with two huge drums. This was the queue to find out tables.

In we went, to this ancient temple, to have dinner. Very nice it was too, and over the course of the evening we were entertained with acrobats, Chinese opera, traditional ballet dancers as well as traditional Chinese dancers, and a martial arts troupe.

Talk about a night to remember. I’ve been to many “gala” dinners over the years, some in stunning locations, some with fantastic entertainment. This one, without a doubt, topped them all.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I've been here many times over the years. Its been fascinating to see its evolution and to get to know people here and how they think. Its curious, they see themselves as capitalists, but not democrats. The former is hugely important, the latter not much to them really. So long as there is a rule of law, and at least a pretence of freedom of opportunity, they feel free. Isn't that what really matters in the end?

I remember back in the early nineties, this felt like a communist city. Large grey buildings, not much different one from the other. Streets full of bicycles, and the sight of a tall white foriegner something that would evoke double takes on the street.

Now it has a completely different feel. The streets are full of cars. Bicycles have almost completely disappeared. Even the little motor Rikshaw has essentially vanished, though a few are still about.

Where once there were either tangled streets of old old buildings, or row upon row of Stalinist concrete blocks, now there is every shape of modern building. They are developing a unique style of modern architecture, which evokes the old vernacular. Its interesting. There are also some striking examples of far out modern styles. One just going up has two twisted spires topped by a box. All in glass and steel, its going to be gorgeous, though I can only hope the engineers got the box on the top rigtht!

Its a city in the middle of a huge construction boom. What is odd is many buildings are occupied, but still have bits uncomplete. Like the builders got bored and left, or the owners ran out of money. Also, though the streets are scrupulously clean (litter is not allowed), maintenance seems an afterthought. Some completely new pedestrian pavements with fresh paving stones have bits missing, or are already sunk in subsidance. New buildings of glass and steel desprately need a wash and bits are falling off. I have no doubt they'll get this right at some point, but they have to watch that in the rush to get new things built, the bits already built don't fall appart.

The city has a real bustle to it. Streets thronged with people. Shops with every type of consumer good are everywhere. You can buy the latest luxury item or its cheap knock off, sometimes in the same store.

Its a city also getting more used to foriegners. I've been here at times when my walking down the street would cause people to stop talking and look. Where I've felt extremely uncomfortable and unwelcome. That is gone, though I still noticed heads turn to follow me as I walk. They are more used to foreigners, but that doesn't mean we're common here. I still spent time walking down streets with hundreds of people, and I'm the only European face.

The politics are also self evident. In London, a countries embassy says a lot about the country of origin. Where it is, and how big it is, has much to do with the size and wealth of its owner. Here, it can be the exact opposite. I walked down Embassy row here, something I often like doing. Here Gabon has a massive granite building, and the US a modest rather boring modern one.

Like New York, its a city I love visiting, but I'm not sure I'd want to live here. Still, while I am here, I intend to enjoy it.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

When I was a boy...

It's Pirate Pete's birthday this week. He's turning nine. I can't quite get how I ended up with a little boy who's now nine and not so little. I mean I know how, its just I still feel nine, so how do I have a son who's nine? Nine is a great age, lots of adventures, things are still new yet you are at the point you can do them too. Adulthood starts to feel close, but isn't yet either an atraction or a burden.

We did his party yesterday, him and five mates (one, his brother), at an indoor climbing centre. A climbing party, I kid you not. They didn't do things like this when I was a boy! What a hoot, they had a whale of a time (well other than the boy who was a bit chubby and never made it past half way (except once, and all the other boys cheered him on as he beat the thin wiry boy to the top (I was very proud of all of them for cheering))). Needless to say Pirate Pete was the fastest and bestest, and the only one to make it to the top every climb. He was even able to cope with the climb up around the horizonral cliff in the way. Then a party tea of pizza and crisps and cut up vegtables and the cake of a boy climbing a mountain that his mother had made.

If you're nine, this is a very good birthday party.

Even better, he got home and one boy had given him a chemistry set, another a hovercraft kit (the rest to be opened over upcoming days so that they are all special). His brother had given him some Pokemon cards, agonizingly chosen and paid for out of his own pocket money (how did I end up with boys that buy each other presents out of their own pocket money and actually think about it?) and his parents telling him he gets a new bike and the new game for his game boy he's been wanting. He went to bed a very happy boy indeed (though we still made him take a bath (poor thing)).

Today has been absolutely divine. The outdoor table and chairs have been cleaned after much back breaking effort on this boys part. It meant we got to have breakfast out on the terrace. Not much better than homemade marmalade on fresh bread, outside on a balmy morning surounded by the birds chirping and your best beloveds happily chatting around you.

But even this passes. I'm just about to hop on a plane to Beijing for the week. Blogging will be spotty (what's new with the boy, you say). I will try to drop in and leave some remarkeable comments on China, but then again, life might intervene. Its going to be a very busy week.

Friday, May 09, 2008


A lovely word that. Discombobulation.

Yesterday I had one boss, and a number of peers. Today I have a different boss, and some of my peers have changed. I am fine, my job is fine, I'm told I'm doing fine and are being counted on to do much more fine work. Its all fine.

Though I quite like my new boss, I rather liked my old boss. Plus one of those peers is a mate, and I really feel for him. And though my job is fine, no doubt my priorities will change.

So, I can't help feeling just a bit discombobulated.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Spring Lovliness

This isn't the greatest picture I've ever taken, but we're in one of my favourite weeks of the year. The apple trees are in bloom, plus its warm and sunny. Other than the love of one's family, hard to ask for much more really. I had my breatfast standing on the terrace looking out at this. The birds where tweating, the kids laughing as they picked some grass for the Guini Pigs. Life is good.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

That time of year

In our garden we have some very venerable Rhubard. The parent plant came out of my wife's Grandfathers parents farm up in Fife via a couple other locations. Heaven only knows how old it was then. Needless to say it is a good strong plant, and grows near perfect Rhubard. Now is the time of year when its at its best, tender and young. We place pots over the plants in the winter, so that when it grows, it does it without light, and stays very soft and red.

I love Rhubard. Family lore has it that my mum first fed it to me when I was just a babe. I'd screw my face up at the taste, then open my mouth for more. I've certainly loved tart things ever since, and it remains one of my favourite vegtables. Right now is when I get to bake one of my all time favourite dishes, Rhubarb Crumble. There is little better than a pot full, straight out of the oven and served with Vanilla Ice Cream.

I also like experimenting, and this weekend tried out a dish that will become a new favourtie. A Rhubard and Lemon Soufle. It was incredibly yum, and the family ate it all down until not a crumb remained. The recipe is here in case you want to give it a go.

Any way, wasn't that just a fine bank holiday weekend? Most of it spent out doors, and even the long list of chores didn't dent my enjoyment of it. The garden is looking just fine, with the apple trees in blossom, and Blue Bells everywhere. How was yours?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Too Short

I never thought I'd hear myself saying this, but that flight was too short. I had the overnight flight from NY, and its only a bit over six hours. So, by the time you deal with take off, and have a drink, and brush your teath, sleep, then get up and have a small bite to eat before you land. Its over. The sleep bit in the middle is maybe three or four hours. Its not enough.

Especially when you have a nice lady with a very cute baby who, well, didn't like flying much. I generally don't complain about people flying with children, as god knows I've done it enough. Its just, when you only have a few hours to sleep, you want to be able to sleep. No such luck this time...

I'm veeery tired.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Been in New York all this week. Busy busy busy, but worthwhile. I'm absolutely knackered. Unless I'm going for more than a week I try to keep my clock somewhat alighned. That means going to sleep at 9 and getting up at 3. Its enough sleep to survive, but does tend to leave me dragging my feet.

Weather has been lovely here, really nice. However, I miss LL and the kids, so I'm flying back tonight. Won't see them tomorrow, and have the always pleasant duty of removing someone from their job. Been building for a while, and time to act. A part of the job I do out of necessity, rather than the enjoyment of building something that I've been doing the rest of the week. Needs must.