This Week

A pretty strange week in terms of things going on plus lots of late night calls with work. Sometimes it feels like I get up in the morning, shower, work, then by 10PM I've finished and ready to go to sleep again. Didn't get much sleep across the week- not good given I'm in the US this coming week and have a pretty hectic schedule (and of course I'll likely wake up at 4AM).

Friday Night
Drinks with some of the lads last night - good to catch up (and not talk about work too much). Planned our Summer Scotland trip - this time we will use Glasgow as the focal point of things and just head into Edinburgh on the Saturday. I like that as there is more to do in Glasgow (or at least I know of more things to do). By the looks of it I have a good social calendar the first half of the year - Newcastle/Glasgow/Edinburgh/Iceland/Dubai (and that's not including any work trips). 

Huge amount of police outside Cambridge- not your usual Police (looked more like special units). Still wondering what they were up to. Cambridge is somewhere you see little police presence (especially when my house is being attacked by the lower classes with nothing better to do). 

Got up early this morning to head into Cambridge. I was sitting in Starbucks on Market Square and looking out at what a horrid place Market Square in Cambridge is. You have the council office that looks like something out of 70's Moscow (the one where the alcoholics are slumped outside). However, of course the view is obscured with the absolute horror that is Cambridge town centre market. I think this pretty much sums up the attitude in Cambridge city centre to aesthetics. I'm not against markets, I just think that you have 2 forms of retail - either fixed shops or floating markets. The trouble with Cambridge is that the market is a permanent fixture and looks awful. It also smelt really bad when I passed the other night (given that there are food stalls). Don't get me started about the cafe that's on the corner (whose sole purpose is to block passing foot traffic). As I looked out the one thing aesthetically pleasing that I saw for the '3' store. For a mobile 'phone shop they have actually done this pretty well and blended it into the surroundings. Warning - there will be a future blog post about Cambridge city centre with pictures !

Bought a pair of wellington boots also from a shop called Arthur Price. It's a shop that sells more traditional British clothing. I was expecting the experience in the shop to be poor- but actually the staff (and service) was excellent. All I need now is the Barbour Jacket... wait a minute I have one of those already !

Finally got my lifetime membership of the University Union (GUU) through. Doing this had been in my mind for about 9 years- at last I managed to fill in the paperwork, drop the payment and do it. I'm not sure how much I'll use it - but at least I'll be able to go and have a few drinks in the Beer Bar whenever I like. 

A bit down today for some reason. I woke up fairly early and was in the office by just after 7AM. By 3PM I was exhausted. Still managing to keep my mind clear and come up with ideas etc. and trying to keep positive.

My MacBook Air is slowly dying - not sure if it's a software or hardware problem. The biggest issue is that it seems to heat up really quickly and then runs slow (for example in DVDs or when loading multiple pages in Safari). I need to reconfigure it - but can't be bothered. Hopefully it'll get me through the next business trip and then I'll get it done.

Chinese New Year Lunch

CNY lunch at the Peking (easily best Chinese food in Cambridge in my opinion). Getting there of course was a serious pain due to ongoing roadworks in Cambridge - I often think "Shouldn't Cambridge be twinned with Beirut ?". They are doing lots of roadworks over a bridge to support a guided bus route (that name sounds like something for old people doesn't it ?). Of course it's a typical Cambridge improvement designed to make it easy for people who have elected to live out of the city to get into the city. Of course we could have trams or some form of aesthetically pleasing transport (that would befit a city like Cambridge)- but instead we have buses !- quite frankly the most awful form of transport (aside from a coach). 

I must confess I'd love to visit the homes of the people who sit on the planning department in Cambridge. If their houses are anything like new developments in the city they allow, then they really must be awful and with no taste. I imagine there to be lots of purple carpets, faux fur, faux leather, large statues outside their houses, maybe a bottle of Malibu in the (MFI) drinks cabinet. Cambridge has some really nice scenery (and the colleges are very nice to look at). However, lots of areas built in the past 20 or so years are terrible looking and look like something drawn by a (hyperactive) child with crayons

After some cursing and swearing got to the Peking. Few minutes later the usual 2 Cambridge families came in (with 2.4 children etc.). Of course the obligatory 'chopsticks as drumsticks' happened - so I had to sit and listen to two young children play a rendition (of nothing) for a few minutes. I did feel like stepping over to table and indicating to the family that their children had no musical talent. Got me thinking though: I can eat in London with children around without any disruptions, but in Cambridge it's always an issue. Well, I guess people in big cities have to behave themselves more. Few minutes later a group of 4 teenagers walked in (probably thought it would be a novelty eating Chinese on CNY). They walked out a few minutes after that as I guess Lemon Chicken wasn't on the menu. Notice I don't use Chicken Curry as a derogatory dish in Chinese Restaurants since it is actually a favourite dish of mine :(.

Into Cambridge
Thankfully parking wasn't too bad. Got to the lift to be met with the following:::

Well, if I was in charge of procurement at the 'Grand' Arcade I'd be asking for money back. Of course given it's the UK I doubt anyone who services lifts works on a Sunday (probably just on emergency in case someone gets stuck in the lift). Unbelievable. It did get me thinking though - how can you have all these disabled parking spaces, but not actually have a lift to service them ?

Had to get my jacket arms adjusted. Took it into the shop I bought it from, thinking that they were best placed to do it. Dumb ! I immediately got the question 'how much do you want it taken up  by', to which my reply was 'well can you suggest'. Of course I received a blank look - apparently they had never had a request for a jacket to be adjusted before ! Next time I wander round Cambridge I'll need to look at peoples' sleeves - they must all be too long (or maybe the breeding results in a standard length of arm for Cambridge ?). Is Cambridge a sartorial desert as well as a culinary one ? 

Drinks in Revolution later. Don't really like the place very much (Aberdeen one is really good. Cambridge one is soulless ). Was pretty surprised when I asked for a Scotch and Soda and had to tell the 'bartender' how to make it (a world first). 

Watching new year celebrations on Phoenix TV. Entertaining - bit like the royal variety performance (currently there's the Chinese Morecambe and Wise on). Much better that the normal Phoenix TV, which typically is one of the following:
  • Weather (with funky music and icons)
  • News (with Taiwanese bullet speaking)
  • A man dressed in old style clothing, big mustache, wielding a sword
Sadly Big Brother, X-Factor, Dancing with Ice, I'm a Celebrity, and other such classics haven't made it way to China yet (no sarcasm whatsoever implied).

Spent this morning in London, followed by the afternoon cleaning up the house in preparation for agents to come round and value it. I'd just love to be able to move house without a chain and might have a way to do it (fingers crossed). Of course I still have to get round the fact that I'm not over 55 and there is a covenant on the new place (but hopefully people might see sense). 

Got my Rimowa case fixed (again, sigh) - this time it was baggage handling at Stansted that kicked the living daylights out of it (normally it's SFO or LAX baggage handlers who seem to love kicking the wheels off- I think it's the novelty of something shiny). I'd love to put a sticker on the side that says "handle with care, or I will blow up" - I wonder if they'd treat it any differently ?? Of course it can do lots of trips around Asia and survive, but most times when it returns to the Western world it gets abused. Alba luggage in Baker Street are such cool people - I take the case in at 10AM, it's fixed by 11:30AM- not what you'd expect of British Service, I shudder to think how long it would take to get fixed in Cambridge (probably never).

Burns Night
Yes I know Burns Night is tomorrow night, but it clashes with Chinese New Year so I decided to do it today. For those that don't know, a Burns Supper is a traditional Scottish event (usually in a group of people) where people eat Haggis, Potatoes, and Turnip. I bought the goods last week in Waitrose and I'm sure one the assistants thought I was some dumb Scottish guy (a common occurrence in the English I've found) when I asked if what was a turnip 'is this a turnip' I got the reply 'yes sir'. I swear turnips in England (Cambridge ?) are different from Scotland (in size and colour)- small and white rather than large and orange. Realised that in true schoolboy error fashion I didn't have a masher (or whatever it's called) to mash the potato and turnip. Therefore my expectation was very low (visions of cooking the food and then it going in the bin). Well, it turned out okay. Sorry I don't do pictures of food (something I find people in Asia love to do). Should be consumed with a glass of Whisky - but I finished the bottle the other week. So, Red Wine instead.

Customer Service (or lack of it)
Yesterday morning I decided to take the bus into work, got to the bus-stop and realised I only had a £10 note (not an issue when you live in a big city, but hey we're talking Cambridge here and to people here £10 seems to be a lot of money- strange given that it will buy you next to nothing). 

Got to board the bus and handed the driver the note, the look on his face said it all, followed by the words "got anything smaller". Now of course if that had come from some people I'd have taken it as a form of flattery - but in this case I assumed he was referring to the fact that he'd have to give me £9 in change. Of course if Cambridge had a similar transport system to any other modern city in the world then I'd simply swipe a pre-loaded card. But alas no - we still have to deal with cash. My reply was "really sorry, no".

Well, no surprise that the textbook Cambridge model of customer service kicked in. The fact that I wasn't presenting exactly what was needed was my fault (not the fact that the bus driver had inadequate change). Quote I had was "If I give you change then I wouldn't have any other change left, you'll need to wait for the next bus". To which my reply was "not my problem". I presented him with several options to move forward:
  • I have just under £1 in change, you can have that
  • Keep the £10 note - I'll claim the change back from the company at a later date
  • Let me ride for free
Of course these options weren't suitable as it didn't fit the model perfectly (and of course thinking out the box wasn't an option)- my comment "what a joke" I'm sure didn't help. Asked other passengers if they had change- one guy replied "sorry mate I don't get paid until later today" (found that funny). Eventually we agreed that the best course of action was indeed for him to give me change.. Here you go - first picture posting::

On The Train
Writing this on the train where (of course) I've been displaced by the typical self-centred Cambridge family (2+ children) who take over the carriage and everyone has to move around for them to ensure that they get to all sit together in the optimal configuration. I'm surprised - the kids are eating 'normal' British food - not the usual fair for Cambridge children (breadsticks and hummus all round). The mother has just asked the child 'have you ever been to London before'- he's about 8 and hasn't. Unbelievable (I'd been to London when I was a kid several times at the age of 8 and I lived at the other end of the country). Obviously all of the food is strewn over the carriage now. It's times like this I think there is a market for T-Shirts with some anti-child phrase on it (but in the interests of this being a clean blog I'll omit the exact wording I've conjured up - if you know me drop me a mail and I'll let you know).

Dry Cleaning
Dry cleaning for people who stay in Cambridge during the week is only for the unemployed. I figure this by the fact that the opening hours are solely constructed in a way that anyone who works a 9-5 (ha!) job would have no way of actually conveniently being able to drop off or collect their dry cleaning. There are 2 main branches of a popular dry cleaning service that have their own advantages in terms of opening hours (but distinct opening days and opening times). Oh, and of course it isn't like China where you can drop it off in the morning and have it ready later that day.

Just spotted an advert for Spam Fritters ! It's official - the UK suffering - to the extent that 1970's products are being revamped for the cost conscious consumer. What's next - Birds Eye Steakhouse Grills (the ad with the blue Ford Transit and workmen signing along), or perhaps Bernard Matthews advertising Turkey Burgers ??

Burns night soon - an excuse for me to eat Haggis (that I don't really like unless it is deep fried), turnips (that are only second to Brussels Sprouts in terms of tasting awful),  but more importantly drink a good few glasses of Whisky under the pretense of preserving Scottish tradition ! Reminds me of when I was at school and had to read out traditional (or slang) Scottish stories - I could never do it with my accent !

Tired tonight after a long day. Last night I tried to get off to sleep but there was a really bad buzzing sound from the bathroom in my hotel room. I figured it was the aircon, tried to go back to sleep but couldn't. Realised that it would be a bit bizarre being at a hotel that borders a runway at Heathrow Airport, and not being able to sleep due to noisy aircon (rather than 'planes landing and taking off).

Called reception and they sent a maintenance guy over (within a few minutes) who removed the roof in the bathroom and switched the aircon off. Voila !- silence.

Made me think of previous bad hotel experiences,

  • Lift maintenance people at the Novotel Shenzen who decided to fix the lift adjacent to my room at 1AM (and have a long chat about it). I was so pissed I opened the door and starting shouting and swearing at them telling them how stupid they were.
  • Shanghai - drunk Chinese guy in the room next to me who decided at 1:30AM to come in and turn the TV to full blast, only to fall asleep. Staff tried to break into the room (no luck), few minutes later silence ! - typical Chinese way - kill the power to the room !
  • Italy - such bad service (Hotel Brun, Milan) that I decided (albeit after a few drinks) to go into the bar area and start serving myself.
  • Italy (Sorrento) - insulted waitress 'this high end food is boring, I can't take it any longer, can you just cook me something normal ?'.
  • Earthquakes in SF Bay Area, Taiwan, Japan.

I'm writing this from the hotel at Heathrow airport. I'm here on business. Hotel airports are strange in terms of the constant commute of people. Each time I pass checkin there's another raft of people. It must be soul destroying to work at the desk in a place like this. 

The Sheraton hotel I'm staying at is okay, but very overpriced (but hey, they have a captive market).

Off to bed to watch the latest Episode of Grey's Anatomy courtesy of iTunes....

Read on the BBC website a story 'Boy, 7, has never eaten a meal' describing a child (from Edinburgh) that had issues with eating (proper) food. Interview with his mother saying he sometimes nibbles on things, but in very very small amounts. Far be it from me to comment, but maybe she's just a really bad cook ? Maybe living in Edinburgh is also a factor (I always remember it as a culinary desert, only surpassed by Cambridge)- he clearly hasn't tasted a deep fried pizza with chips.

35 Today

Nothing to write home about, but I'm now in the age bracket 35+. Kind of depressing :(.

Lunch in London
Lunch at the Ritz today for my birthday. Surprisingly normal collection of people compared to what I expected (of course there were the "I am British" set of people you see in all of these places). Luckily I checked the dresscode and wore a tie (mandatory). London was painful in terms of the commute. Train from Cambridge was packed - not helped by someone trying to check tickets on a standing room only train. Got into London only to find a good chunk of the underground was closed..

Note to tourists: Ensure you are familar with the phrase "Planned Engineering Works" - this should be a mandatory phrase taught in basic English language classes for all those who plan to travel to the UK (as well as "Replacement Bus Service").

Had lunch, then off to bookshop in Piccadilly. Why is it that people in a bookshop don't have access to Amazon ? In the time the teller called up the computer to search for the book I was looking for, I was on the iPhone and could have ordered it from Amazon (I reckon she was secretly chatting to her friends on Facebook whilst serving me). Also why is it that when the computer shows 1 copy of a book in stock the odds of actually it being present on the bookshelf are similar to that of Partick Thistle winning the Scottish Premier League ? 

Went to Mitsukoshi Department Store just off Piccadilly Circus, as usual this put me in a good mood. I love the fact the the ladies in the store speak to me in Japanese (even though the chances of me speaking Japanese are about 1 in a million).

Cambridge Bells
Cambridge has this annual event where the churches ring their bells into the New Year. This year there was a light show on Kings College (projecting past achievements from University Scholars). As usual a random collection of Cambridge people. Of course I couldn't resist making random disparaging remarks about people. Followed up with some drinks with friends.

Foxy Knoxy
The tabloid press are of course obsessed with this girl (on trial in Italy for the murder of a British Student). Still, at least she can take some comfort- if she is found guilty she won't be short of male suitors wanting to write to her in prison...

First day back at work today. Of course it was nowhere near as bad as I was thinking it would be, apart from computer problems. However, this turned out to be a blessing as I wasn't distracted and just got the opportunity to wander round and chat with people.

Anglia News

News at its best around Cambridge. Just watched Anglia News (local TV station) where one of the stories was about a garage owner being forced to ask customer to switch off their radios (as a result of the performing rights society). The usual quality journalism showing the owner throwing his radio in the bin, asking a customer to switch off their radio etc.

Is there nothing really more important going on in the world ?

Good Comedy

Watched "Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe" last night, absolutely superb. Had lost faith in British Comedy recently, but found this to be really funny. That's 2 good comedy finds so far this year- the other being Frankie Boyle's Live DVD (that I've watched multiple times and still find even funnier each time I watch it). 

Credit Crunch Adverts
Anyone else noticed the credit crunch adverts that are taking place ? I particularly like the NatWest one- where various bank staff prompt 'customers' about random aspects of their life that could lead to cost savings. At this point I was thinking "isn't NatWest owned by RBS ?'- a quick web check confirmed this to be the case. Now... who's going to so a spoof of that advert about RBS senior management ?

Well, I've been off work now for 4 weeks on sabbatical. It feels like 4 days ;). Back on Friday. I really can't believe the time has passed so quickly. In some ways taking time off over Christmas was a good thing - being able to catch up with people who were all available, extended leave due to holidays in lieu. However, in other ways it feels like a long extended holiday (like being at school or University). Well, another 4 years before it happens again.

So, what have I managed to achieve ??

Didn't fly long haul for 7 weeks, that's a record for as long as I can remember. 

Started a blog, something I've been planning to do for sometime.

Visited Hamburg, visited my friend Arne (whom I hadn't seen for over 10 years)- proved to him that I eat vegetables now. Had proper Steak with Bratkartoffeln, drank good quality beer, had a vodka/chilli shot (which I never want to try again). Discovered that Hamburg (like any other city) has a concentration of Starbucks.

Visited Scotland (Edinburgh, Glasgow), catching back up with family. On the journey up, amazed at the ability of National Express Trains to swap trains at Newcastle, but still arrive on time at Edinburgh. As usual lots of good food consumed (I still think black pudding is very underrated when mixed with other cooked meats such as pork/ chicken). Unusual for such a trip I managed to wake up every morning without a hangover. I put it down to switching over to Scotch & Soda / Red Wine. Caught up with several old friends from school and elsewhere. And... it didn't rain once.

Spent a good chunk of time in London, including lunches at Fortnum and Mason (always good), good cakes (LadurĂ©e, Paul), dinners (Duke of Wellington in Marylebone), drinks (that usual pub off New Bond Street), late night drinking (Electricity Showrooms, Shoreditch). Lots of random stuff (shopping, museums). 

Had people visit Cambridge, good to catch up with people and be a lot more relaxed.

Sorted lots of IT stuff out, including ripping all of my DVDs (and creating a batch for watching on all those trips likely to happen in the future). Sorted out my iTunes library on my MacBook Pro (didn't upgrade the hard drive as I had planned). 

Made a start on rating my music on iTunes, something that's long overdue. Of course some would say that there would be no 'stars' in my library at all !

Finally sorted photo library on Aperture, Did my first one2one at the Apple Store where the guy explained to me in 5 minutes what I'd been trying to read up on for ages.

Cooked lots of dinners, I'm sure far too much red meat has been consumed.

Washed the car twice, 2 more times than I normally do.

Tidied the house (multiple times), I think I could get used to sitting at home.