Sitting in the Virgin Lounge at Heathrow waiting to board the flight to San Francisco. I woke up early this morning (car booked at 7:30 to take me to LHR). What a really nice morning - although I was a little unhappy to have to head off (though San Jose I'm sure will be nice weather).

Flight awaits...

I get this newspaper posted through the door every week. I guess I have very little connection with the 'real' Cambridge, so I do make attempt to have a quick scan through it every week (largely for stupid stories). Of course like any weekly newspaper it contains lots of random nonsense:

* Front cover: person with mental issues wants to kill themselves, daughter criticises the hospital for wasting a donor organ trying to save him. I feel like sending a copy of my pay-slip, with the (large) National Insurance deduction circled, annotated with 'ungrateful'.

* Cambridge Student who threw shoe at Chinese Prime Minister accuses Chinese Embassy of interfering with the trial. Actually, that was quite an amusing story.

* Homeless people petitioning that their dogs have been seized by police after attacking people. I've always wondered why homeless people in the UK have dogs - surely it's another mouth to feed ?

* Murder. Got quite 'excited' about this, only to read that the crime didn't actually happen Cambridge. Rather, it was someone who had once lived in Cambridge !

* Advert for Lion Yard Shopping Centre. Slogan "shop 'til you drop", of course it should have the qualification "(or it's 5:25PM)" to give a fair sense of truth to the statement.

* Lots of adverts for conservatories. Adds to my thoughts that the target audience for the 'paper = age>65 (or people writing blog entries).

Went to the pub after a long day at work last night- needed a Scotch & Soda to try and relax.

I really dislike the sense of humour some people have around Cambridge - the sort of supposed intellectual humour that involves making a joke at someone's expense due to their wrong (or ambiguous) choice of words. Clearly people with too much time on their hands. Here's the script:

Scene: Single guy (no surprise) mid-late 30's at table that could sit around 8 people. Lady approaches.
Lady: "Are you saving this table for anyone"
Guy: "Well its not drowning" (with grin on face)

I felt like picking up my cell and calling the BBC - clearly this level of humour deserves its own television show on a Friday night. I'm just glad it wasn't me he was talking to as I'd have commented on him being a silly sad little man with no friends.

Now, if you want to read other examples of this, look on cam.misc . I remember a few years ago when people used to post questions, and people would critique spelling and grammar of posts !

I'm so tired today, yesterday (and the previous day) was a very very long day stuck on calls until very late in the evening. It isn't helped by the fact that it's nice and sunny outside and I can't enjoy it !!

Rest assured I won't be giving up the day job. On reflection, maybe I should try something easier next time ?

The European Elections are coming up and so I have the usual batch of political leaflets through the door. However, this time they come with a (worrying) twist - the BNP (British National Party) have started leafleting. Of course I'm sure I could have prevented receiving a leaflet by putting a sign up 'Scottish Lives Here', but hindsight is a great thing.

Actually, I wish I had been around to challenge the people delivering the leaflets. I once did that with someone distributing Scottish Nationalist Party leaflets (quote "Nationalism - wasn't that popular in the 1930's ?").

Reading through the BNP leaflet a few days ago I was pretty shocked at how targeted the campaign was- the usual 'taking British jobs away', mentioning past wars, and such usual 'justifications' (nonsense of course). The use of prominent people in the community like doctors, elderly, military is an example of how things are targeted.. However, I can't help feeling that this sort of targeted marketing resonates with a lot of people who don't have the common sense to filter it through- felt like the ad's you get at the back of tabloid newspapers on a Saturday (selling lots of rubbish).

The back of the leaflet had a picture for you to put up in your window, with the slogan 'People Like You Voting BNP'. I was going to make my own version (putting 'Hell will Freeze Over Before...')- but I reckoned at a casual glance people wouldn't notice my updated message (and hence think I actually supported the BNP).

Saturday I was reading in the newspaper that the images used in the leaflet of people (Doctor, Building Worker, Retired Couple, Housewife) were in fact stock photo's. Not just that- but a journalist had gone to the trouble of finding the origins of the people and they were all from abroad ! That did bring a smile to my face - targeting a leaflet about foreign people taking British jobs and it turns out this was exactly what happened in the images used in the leaflet ! Of course they could have figured this out so easily - on close inspection the people in the images have teeth that are way too good for a 'British' person !

Now why the title of the post ? Well years ago (around the John Major era) I went to vote and there were no credible candidates, so I decided to put my own take on the proceedings by writing 'Butcher' 'Baker' 'Candlestick Maker' alongside each of the 3 primary candidates...

I took the picture below (after a few drinks) at a restaurant in Oxford a couple of weeks ago. I guess after a few glasses of wine and waiting outside the loos I got bored and started to look around for something to catch my attention (talking to people is considered inappropriate in situations like this). Then I noticed the sign on the toilet door...


Does this mean that the toilet facilities are for couples I thought ?

Got me thinking about other funny signs you see. For example, on the London Underground, there are signs at the beginning of each escalator. 'No Smoking' and such like. However, there is also a notice 'Dogs must be carried'. Does this mean that you have to have a dog to use the escalator ?

So it's a Bank Holiday here in the UK. Traditionally I guess that implied that everything (including Banks) were closed. However, with the usual times I guess we are used to things being open. Woke up this morning, decided to head into Cambridge to run some errands. Checked John Lewis' website and it indicated they opened at 10AM - so I figured heading in around 10:15 everything would be open.  On the way in had a craving for Starbucks (Almond Croissant for Breakfast, with Venti Cappuccino and Orange Juide) - remember this is Cambridge so decent breakfast choices are rather limited (unless you want fried food).

Got to Starbucks in the 'Grand' Arcade, only to be met with this...

I guess nobody could be bothered to change the opening time sign on the door. The usual cursing and swearing resulted. Of course I could have gone to another coffee place in the shopping centre. However, I hate open coffee stores in the middle of shopping. Starbucks really have the format made I must admit.

This got me thinking, 30 minutes later I could have gone to a pub and got completely drunk, why is coffee so difficult to have at normal times ? Take the evening for instance. Cambridge is the only place where all the Starbucks stores are closed at 7PM ! Of course there are plenty of places I could go and buy alcohol (too much some would say) - but why isn't there a healthy option ??

aka. Crime Report...

Nice bit of classic British double negative there with a European theme given the upcoming European elections (plenty of blog fodder coming later on that topic). No, this post isn't about listening to an Edith Piaf track (which is very good btw), but instead about something mulling over my mind....

Dinner at Camino (near Kings Cross) earlier today, a nice evening weather wise which resulted in sitting outside. It was a strange environment - much quieter than previous times. However, what was strange was that about every 20 mins various random begging people came up to us (the bar has a courtyard that harbours passing traffic) begging for money. Of course I have zero tolerance for this in a country where I pay effectively 50% tax to provide a very (too) generous social system.

After a couple of drinks I was sitting at the table. This young boy (around 14) came up to me, put a tube map on the table and then started rambling about trying to get somewhere (Docklands by the look of it). I replied that I didn't understand him and he got frustrated.

As he picked the map up, I immediately noticed that my iPhone was missing from the table. I challenged him and he agreed that I could search him, but I couldn't find anything. A guy at the next table then stepped in to help me and asked for my number (so he could call my number). As I started to read it out, the thief dropped by 'phone (he had hidden it between the map) and ran off. I guess my shock got the better of me and I didn't go with my natural reaction (chase after him).

For the next 30 mins I was so annoyed with myself for not chasing after him and giving him a good kicking (at the very least it would be free stress relief). Now that may seem harsh, but keep in mind I come from a city where you may recall there was a recent terrorist attack on the airport. Anywhere else in the world, people would run away, but in Glasgow what happens - members of the public jump in to give the assailants a good kicking ! Clearly it's in the blood. I'm still seething...

Unlike most places I've been to, where a market is something that is mobile and comes for the day, Cambridge has a market that is permanent (no, not a shop, a permanent market stall). Now you'd think that would result in things looking fairly nice in line with the overall (supposed) character of Cambridge City Centre - wrong ! - total eyesore.

I'm sitting here in the Starbucks on Market Square and what a real eyesore the market is. Lots of white vans and of course rusty bits of metal holding up dirty white sheets creating an image of a market stall. The beauty of the town hall in the background (looks like something from the Communist Era) just adds to the morning ambience. I can honestly say that I've never actually seen market square in a clean uniform environment.

Why can't it take the format of anywhere else in the world ? There are plenty of places just outside the city that would be an ideal venue for proper local farmers markets.e Then we could make the city centre look nice, perhaps hold sponsored events at weekends (like open cinema's, festivals) instead of the stench of rotting fruit.

Sensible result, did anyone really think it wasn't going to happen ?

Cost cutting hits extreme - my free prawn crackers were omitted with the take-away tonight. Of course I don't usually eat them (or maybe have 2 or 3) but I suddenly have a craving for a whole bag full....

I try to come up with lots of different titles, but for some reason 'grumpy' is one that I see I have used before. I guess it's been a long day. Things aren't helped by my real lack of tolerance of people who don't drive things, far too many open ended issues in life right now and it takes its toll I guess. The situation with the house covenant is taking its toll - mainly because I can't control it (i.e. do my usual throwing money at a problem to solve it).

Good news on the food front, went to the local butchers in Fulbourn and bought some nice beef kebabs and marinated pork. Absolutely fantastic (not at all surprising). I guess I should be grateful for having such a great local service on my doorstep.

I've decided that this weekend (Bank Holiday) I'll do some cake baking to relax. One of my friends' dads (who has a stressful job with lots of travel) let me into the secret when I was about 20 that baking cakes was a great way to relax. I think it's the fact that it takes your mind off of things focussing on other things, coupled with the quick sense of accomplishment.. Now what should I bake ??

I hate Sundays. I guess it's because there is little to do and the fact that shops are restricted to 6hrs opening (and many stores in London don't even open) makes it a real pain when it comes to trying to do things.

I usually pick up a copy of the Sunday times, read Michael Winner's latest insult to the catering community, read Mrs Mills letters (which I still reckon are fabricated), browse through the magazines. Then end up at the Culture Magazine to check out what's on TV. One of the things I do like about Sundays is that traditionally ITV have always had good quality dramas. There's nothing nicer than sitting relaxing at 9PM watching a good drama (none of the period rubbish, politics/murder make for far more interesting TV). Sadly, no longer. TV has gotten to the point that it's hardly worth watching nowadays- total drivel. I had a quick look at and unless I'm interested in (yet another) show about the British countryside, or a foreign countries customs/immigration I'm hosed.

What else is there to do ?

Talking to someone last night about questions you get asked when visiting the registry office to apply for a marriage license (as they had done it recently).

"Can you confirm that you aren't related to one another ?"

So, the question for Sunday - which response to you give in order to get the license ?

PC 'World'
Simple task - buy a 2.5" SATA hard drive. Now you'd think you'd be able to get one of those from PC World Cambridge ? Wrong ! zero in stock (guess must be the same delivery company that supplies supermarkets). Of course loads of random nonsense hard drives like 80GB PATA ones (that I'm sure a computer in 2004 would have used). I did laugh at the shop assistants suggestion to use a 3.5" one instead - yeh that would really fit into my docking station for my notebook.

Does anyone else think the Beehive centre (what a rubbish name for a start) is probably the worst shopping experience in the UK ? I ended up having to go there to Maplin in search of a hard drive. Of course it was late afternoon and the traffic was utter carnage. Well, let's face it, you build a lower end supermarket and various random rubbish shops and have a single lane of traffic in/out- what do you really expect ? I must admit when I first lived in Cambridge I was asking where people bought beds and such like. People told me 'go to the Beehive Centre', the next day I said 'okay, April fools over, where are the decent places ?' - I was told that was one of them.

I've just had a quick internet search - they have a website ! I love the slogan 'Spoilt for Choice'- I think the emphasis is definitely on 'spoilt' rather than 'choice'. Love the shopping plan, now let me see, is 'Vacant' some new department store I just haven't heard of ? Makes me think 'Grand Arcade' - 'Arcade' or 'Grand' ?

In all fairness things are a little better nowadays in Cambridge (though still pretty dire).

I had my medical - the good news is that I have to loose a little weight and have a little more exercise. Now let me think - I could have figured that out myself without work sponsoring a medical. Anyways, at least I know I am in fairly good health. Actually, the guy in the medical was really good - way way better than someone in Cambridge who would make me feel like a piece of unhealthy dirt (being Scottish, probably assuming I eat fried food and drank cheap scotch every night). Of course I realised this when I walked into the reception - full of 'London' people who are well socialised and know how to behave themselves.

The good piece of news is that the examiner indicated that drinking red wine was good for me.

Friday Night Drinks in London

Met one of my school friends for drinks in London later in the day (after a trip to Tottenham Court Road for Gadget Shopping).

Ended up in Camino near Kings Cross Station for some drinks. Of course I embraced the previous medical comment and had 4 large glasses of red wine. I really like decent bars in London. Mainly because people know how to behave themselves- for example decent behaviour at the bar, getting out your way when you're trying to pass (locals in Cambridge don't know how to do that), being friendly (e.g. holding the door). Very much different from Cambridge people who don't know how to behave in socialised environment. Who says London people are cold - complete nonsense.

Woke up at 5AM this morning and ended up on a call with a US colleague for over an hour - good start to the day to get things cleared up. Spent the whole morning in PowerPoint and Outlook. I'm thinking of starting to write presentations on the Mac just for novelty value.

London Abound (yet again)
This blog starts from a train into London. Of course there was the usual carnage trying to get to Cambridge railway station. The main road feeding the city centre is down to 1 lane now (should be 4) due the guided bus shambles that continues to plague Cambridge. At least the contractors seem to be working weekends now to try to get things moving along. I was going to question why they don't work 24hrs a day- but I'm sure there's some 1800's rule about noise at nightime in Cambridge that would prevent it (aside from people in the UK being lazy).

It always reminds me of a late night in Hong Kong Airport (waiting for a flight that ended up being cancelled). En route to the airport hotel (after several whiskies drunk with a guy from RBS) I noticed that there were people painting the walls of the airport at night. I thought at the time 'if that was Heathrow the whole terminal would look like a building site for 3 months'.

Friday in London
Had my work medical in London. As I walked around the city on a Friday afternoon, I had one of my 'moments' when I wonder what the hell I'm doing with my day-day life. I'm a big city person and Cambridge (or more precisely where I work day-day) isn't a big city. I know many people hate it, but I really do love the stimulation you get from the noise and activity in a big city. Of course it gets tiring after a while, but I find it far better than the raw silence you have.

I guess the other thing I really miss is that 'after work drinks' culture. Going for a quick drink after work is a great way to unwind and also try to leave at a sensible hour. I really miss that terribly.

I wonder why my credit card company (that I pay the balance off every month and have done for many years) insists on sending me cheques to use every month. I can't help feeling that this practice encourages people to get into more debt. Of course there's nothing illegal about it- but it just feels morally wrong to some degree. I imagine some people get the cheque in the post (although that doesn't seem quite the right phrase here !) and don't have the willpower (or have the need) to use something that encourages them to get into even more debt. Of course that's the intention - not the wooly words in the accompanying letter that make out as if they are doing me a favour !

I saw one of the new LED backlight televisions yesterday at work (our demo team that shows off the latest technology). Truly amazing. The picture quality is fantastic, but the best thing is how thin the panel is - about 1.5cm thick by my guess. I can feel a purchase coming on - though I have been very very good recently at not spending money on gadgets (actually I think the last thing was a hard drive and that doesn't really count).

Weekend Plans
For a change I'll be based in Cambridge. I plan to relax. Of course that won't happen and I'll wake up at 5AM, get up and start doing things. I need to clear the clutter from the house in prep for a potential view. I'm getting much better at being ruthless when it comes to clutter (being Scottish means you are brought up with the mindset of keeping absolutely everything for a rainy day). I guess the internet helps things here- since I know that I will always be able to find something pretty quickly- that's the comfort of living near London also.

I also need to start taking a few more pictures - I haven't done this for a while. Although the scenery around Cambridge is nice, I don't find it at all interesting.

What a busy week. I feel as if my week has been stuck in PowerPoint. Still, tomorrow is the day off for a medical. I elected to have the medical in London based on my last experience in Cambridge where the guy taking my blood I felt was a drug addict and the overall experience (due to false positive in a test) made me feel more worried about my health than less. As a result I'm having the medical in London- then going for after work drinks with friends afterwards in the City.

Dinner tonight at the Peking. The fact they take cash or cheque only is a pain. However, on this occasion I decided to take a cheque book - only to forget the guarantee card. Thankfully the lady owner knows me and so let me away with it !

I don't normally write anything about work in my blog, but today I was so grumpy. The usual pre-7AM start with a number of deadlines (3 sets of PowerPoint to be exact) so I had to be focussed to get things done. Of course I had several meetings in the morning, and as per usual nobody ever turns up on time so felt frustrated.

By 11AM I was getting grumpier and grumpier. I had to walk to another building for the meeting and arrived at 11:02AM. Nobody there ! I checked my calendar and yes I was in the right place at the right time. 11:04AM various people trickle in, asking why everyone wasn't there. As a result, they had to leave and go get a drink in the kitchen (I boiled over at that point and had a good rant). About 11:08 we got started and things were going well. At 11:30 someone walks in, after they apologised for being late and asked for a recap. At that point, I got up, remarked "I don't have time to waste on this I'm too busy" and left.

I must admit I have a real issue with timekeeping. I guess it's because I make the effort to be on time always and end up having to wait around for people and hence clock watch. It's like a thermometer going into a joint of meat - I can feel my frustration increase every second (lots of clock watching). I guess I can't understand why people can't be on time to attend things.

When I used to lecture at University I would close the door at 5 past the hour, as well as never accept any late submissions of work - I guess I would judge people by my own standards.

Rant over, I feel better now !

Hectic Week
So I've finally decided that my day in the office starts at 7AM. I've been doing it for as long as I can remember now, but every night make the decision 'must get into the office early tomorrow as lots to do'. I've given up- it's official - work starts at 7AM. Sadly it doesn't usually finish until around 7-8PM. I hope nobody from the EU is reading this as I'm sure I'm breaking the law.

Thursday & Friday in Loughborough
Work event. Of course, rather than going for the full 4 days and enjoying myself, I ended up going up on Thursday afternoon. Dinner/drinks on Thursday night and then 2 back-back talks (same ones) the following morning. Sitting two of the talk had a professional film crew filming me - yikes - I think I'll pass from watching it. Highlight of the trip was going to reception to grab a cab to the train station to return back to Cambridge only to see the really good driver from the chauffeur company there, so managed to grab a ride back.

Friday Night
Friday night drinks after a busy week. All Bar One was very busy - good since it's somewhere I enjoy and I would hate it to be a victim of the recession. Dinner at Yippee's noodle bar (as the week was so full of food I felt bloated and had to have something light to eat). Of course I really would have preferred to have gone to Wagamama (which is just above All Bar One) - but given that it's totally awful (people don't know how to cook) had to walk to the other side of Cambridge instead. Got there and the guy wanted to put us (group of 4) at a really bad table near the kitchen. However, as usual I wasn't bothered by that but the fact I spotted 2 middle aged Cambridge people sitting beside. I was pretty tired and couldn't be bothered with niceties so told the guy "I don't want to sit beside those people as they'll be talking ****"- apparently he had a big grin on his face after that. As usual the service was good (mainly because it doesn't have any of the natives involved).

Early start getting into London. Of course the train was packed (although being early there wasn't the usual messing around with parking and ticket machines). I hate packed trains as you always end up having to sit near someone that irritates you. In this case, married elderly couple who had to discuss everything with each other about their day out into London (clearly not people who get out often).

Lunch at Royal China just beside Selfridges. For some reason they decided to put me in the group of white people with children - the waiter was taken aback when after a few minutes I asked him to put me away from children.

Houses, houses...
So the house move continues to crawl at a snails pace. Visited the site couple of times in the week out of hours to take a sneak peek. Wooden floors are in downstairs, tiles are down in the kitchen, wall that shouldn't have been there has been removed. Back garden looks a mess - but they've agreed to replace the lawn if the seed doesn't take soon. Received the kitchen plans, but been too busy to get around to reviewing them (but of course not busy enough to read how much extra money they want for the customisation work). It is nice dealing with someone who

Still waiting for the council to approve the planning application to enable someone who isn't retired or disabled occupy a large multi-floor house (that clearly isn't designed for retired or disabled people). I'll stop writing any more about this for fear of jeopardising the application. Rest assured it would make very good blog fodder !

Cambridge Eateries
I read in the newspaper today that a company that owned a number of pubs in Cambridge had gone into liquidation. It mentioned the Cow - my heart sank - not another decent place in Cambridge going away !
Thankfully not the case as it has been spared closure. It got me thinking about pubs etc. around Cambridge. I guess owning a pub must be a difficult time right now given:

  • Smoking ban - I'm sure it has an impact on trade (and also profit on vending machines). However it has a very positive impact on health.
  • Cheap booze from supermarkets. Yes, not content with the UK having a problem with binge drinking supermarkets are aiding this by having lots of special offers on packs of beer and other drinks (12/24 bottles typical pack size). I guess people are drinking more.
  • Recession - people not having enough money to spend going out (coupled with cheap booze from supermarkets).

Still, some places don't seem to do much to help themselves. It's almost as if there is a convenant on Cambridge Pubs that says they can only be good for a period of time, then they have to fall back to the standard position of being lousy. Take a Pub in Fulbourn that has a very up and down reputation over the years. Until recently it had management that did a great job on the food (steak/chips/onion rings some of the best I have tasted). However, recently it's changed hands again and reverted back to being bland. I guess the net curtains on the windows says it all !

Thursday Night Dinner
Alimentum on Hills Road last night. I've had drinks in there quite a few times en route to the Peking. However, last night decided to take the plunge and have dinner. Good service, food and wine nice. Quite pricey - £91 for 2 people.

Friday Lunch
Decided to head through to Bury St Edmunds for lunch. Maison Bleue is a place I've heard lots about, but never been. Absolutely fantastic. French food, with French staff and good service. Shame about the cheese board being within smell (ironic since I was at a table nearest to the loo). Steak with Red Wine and Shallot sauce was absolutely fantastic (I think the staff did look their nose down at me mopping up the sauce with bread as it was so so good). Petit fours with coffee afterwards were amazing. Overall a great lunch. Trouble is that I don't do lunchtime drinks well (so the Red Wine made me sleepy).

Saturday Night Dinner
Dinner with friends from University Saturday night. Ended up in d'Arrys (sp ?). Absolutely fantastic as usual. Great service (I think the girl serving us used to work in All-Bar-On) and excellent value for money. My only gripe was that the steak was very large and so (unusually) I had to leave some of it. I'll never ever be a member of the vegetarian clan. However, I do have a certain amount of guilt when leaving meat as I know an animal has died for it and it just seems a terrible waste when you have to throw part of it away

Saturday Night Drinks
By the time dinner ended it was a little late and Cambridge was heaving with people. It's one of the few times recently I've had to interact with normal locals - as usual I found them to be difficult and up themselves (like not standing aside at the bar when it's clear you are trying to grab drinks).

Sunday shopping in Waitrose yet again a bitter disappointment...

  • No Sunday Times, actually very little of any newspaper left anywhere I went to. The only option I had in a petrol station was the Sunday Sport - I decided to pass on that option.
  • No Limes (again)
  • No Beef Stock (again)
  • No Glass Bottle Coke (only diet)

.... augmented by the ultimate in poor taste.

Last night I saw what looked like a brand new BMW 7 series (black). A very nice car, obviously good Engineering and aesthetically pleasing. However, as it drove by I noticed that the driver had elected to put an England flag on the license plate. Do people have no taste ? - you take a nice simple clean design and stick nonsense on it- it's not a suitcase that's travelled the world. I was actually surprised he didn't have a 'My other car is a Porsche' sticker on it also.

Maybe I'm just too sensitive to the whole English thing, specific issues:

  • England flag and what it stands for nowadays (i.e. thug and bulldog mentality). I have a policy of avoiding any pubs that have an England flag outside of them. I guess that's down to previous experience. Once with a landlord in Cambridge shouting racist abuse at me. The other in a pub in London asking to watch Scottish football on the TV, to have the reply 'if you want to watch Scottish TV **** *** back to Scotland'. How I love the English hospitality. Unfortunately I can't do a very strong Glasgow accent which generally gets them worried (people here associate strong Glasgow accent with physical violence).
  • People referring to the UK as 'England'. I remember someone at work years ago doing this, noticing that I said 'UK' and then making some joke about it. After their apology my response was "don't worry, it just makes you look uneducated and stupid".