.. consumed over the weekend.

Met up for breakfast at Automat in Mayfair. 10:30AM perusing the menu and I noted 'Brisket sandwich with fries' - of course anything else on the menu after that point didn't seem at all appealing. Yes, 10:30AM and having a full lunch. I liked Automat, American style diner. Upon first arrival the place was empty, strange since I had asked for a table at 10:00 but told they could do 10:30. Anyways, generally friendly service and nice environment. Recommend (save for the fact that you are likely going to eat more than you planned for).

Drinks at 11:30 near Oxford Street, before lunch at Royal China (yes that's 2 meals in the day so far). Royal China is good, apart from the fact that for some reason lots of western people like to take their kids with them and I always seem to get seated at the front (where they all are). Usually I ask to move (depending on my radar), but this time decided to stay put- thankfully no serious issues.

Got back to Cambridge early so decided to take walk in the Botanic Gardens. Normally I dislike this place, well not actually the place the people who usually go there. However, this time it was actually very nice and allergies haven't been bad this year.

Dinner at Papasha (Indian). I love this place. It's just a shame that the parking is a total pain and it is outside of the city (Newmarket Road). However, the food more than makes up for it- easily the best curry you can get in Cambridge with very good service.

... that's the insult I received from 3 yocals yesterday upon driving out of Cambridge Station car park. Actually I was rather happy at that, certainly beats "Scottish {b******, f*****, w*****}" which is the usual way I am referred to by the local community.

Simple task of reversing out of a parking space complicated by the fact that the car park actually serves many purposes (car park, taxi rank, public thoroughfare, total annoyance). Rather than get out of the way, three male youths (about 17yrs old) decide to be difficult and then complain about nearly hitting them by whacking the back of the boot of the car. I was irritated, they then proceeded to take up the whole width of the road being difficult and as the car passed one of them fell into it, or more precisely his "Sports connection" (or wherever they buy their clothing from nowadays) bag did.

Feeling grown up I decided not to get out of the car and remind them about why they should be grateful that people like me live in Cambridge to give them jobs. Drove off a little bit only to be pursued by one of them, who shouted "Posh toff" !

Just like the sun will rise in the morning (not that we'll necessarily see it!) some things are highly predictable...

A ticket machine at Cambridge Station won't be working
Yes, this one really is as predictable as the sun rising ! This is getting repetitive, but the obligatory picture is below. Note the variation this time on the theme- no longer a rough paper note typed by someone who doesn't know how to format correctly in MS Word, but instead a message conveyed by the machine:

Note to any tourists: yes the UK really doesn't do ticket machines well and we know it. We haven't quite understood yet that the purpose of a machine isn't to take up valuable space and waste electricity. We love queuing and also paying people to hang around checking tickets.

Trains will be disrupted due to strike action
I love that fact that we jest about having an integrated transport system in the UK. To be honest, the only integrated aspect I have ever seen is the ability for union officials to bring the entire transport system to it's knees. Perhaps that's the solution- just have the unions run the transport system ? Oh, hang on, isn't there a book by George Orwell about that ? Of course I'm joking, there is absolutely no way the country can go back to the 70's/80's joke that was British Rail crippled by strikes and bad service, stale cups of tea and 3 day old egg/cress sandwiches !

Self Service Machines will have poor User Interfaces
I've blogged about this before, but why do self service machines (designed for efficiency) have such poor user interfaces ? I reckon no studies at all are undertaken to figure out the user interface model that works. Instead some 23 year old from a red-brick University gets a job coding (likely in some 1980's programming language) the user interface and just drags random boxes into a design screen (a bit like a children's toy game).

Hectic week. Nothing interesting to report. Spent 3 days working at home to avoid distractions, solid in Powerpoint working on presentation for Asia beginning September. I'm doing a keynote speech in Taiwan and Shanghai so felt I had to make a real effort on this one- especially since I know some of the other presenters and they are really good. I was hoping to take a half day today and head into London, but didn't make it (instead working on a single diagram for about 3hrs !).

Tomorrow I'm meeting up with 2 sets of Scottish people. First meet for breakfast with medic friend from home going through a bad patch. I asked what would cheer her up - "pancakes and syrup" so found an American diner in Mayfair. Later dinner with University friend who is down doing pilot training- that'll be a nice curry in Cambridge (we are grown up now so no heavy drinking).

Sunday expect to be working...

Finally finished after a day in PowerPoint. I feel as though the past few weeks have been Outlook and PowerPoint with nothing else. I bought a copy of Illustrator last weekend for the purpose of trying to do better diagrams, but haven't got around to it yet.

Some things you just shouldn't do when you've had a few drinks. I know there are apps out there that prevent you from texting people, calling ex's etc. Sadly there isn't one that prevents you from make public representations to the Cambridgeshire consultation on "Gypsy and Traveller DPD" when there are plans to site a traveller site in your village when you're going through frustration trying to move to a new house but unable to buy it due to planning policy.

I reviewed my comments and they weren't that bad thankfully and well reasoned without any stereotypes. Arguing that the demographics of the community they were trying to serve didn't align with their reasoning for the village being a good choice I think was sensible. Though I'm sure the comment on providing housing of key workers and traveling people being done in favour of others at the opposite end of the social spectrum will be viewed by the Guardian readers as some 'Tory idiot' writing after a couple of glasses of Claret (actually it was Champagne and Pimms - now that is funny !).

Saturday trip into London. For various reasons, it was a late afternoon trip (against my better judgement).

Ticket Machine - Broken Again
Got to Cambridge Station to buy a ticket, no surprise:

No change since Thursday night (Engineer obviously on holiday or strike). I do particularly like the ecologically friendly approach National Express take by re-using the 'Out of Order' posting (note the stray paper on the bottom 'tape).

Noisy Train
Got on the train and managed to get a seat. As the train pulled out of Cambridge station, I noticed a 20-something woman with 2 kids (twins) in front of me. The kids were really rowdy and making lots of noise, with the mother thinking it was funny most of the time (save for the few outbursts shouting at them . I was fairly irritated after a few minutes- but the train was packed so difficult to move. Feeling frustrated, I thought to myself why I was being subjected to this, then I looked more closely at my ticket::

And in the corner::

Explains it- bought wrong class of ticket.

Still, it made for an interesting 48 min journey (actually 51 as the train was a little late). Watching the trio and their behaviour I made a few interesting observations:
  • Neon is big this year. Mother had pink/green/pink neon fingernails. Kids had green neon in their (no surprise) shellsuits and trainers.
  • Question: Why would you pierce the ears of a 7 year old boy ? Why glue their hair with hair gel ?
  • Question: By virtue of having twins, did the mother feel some sense of achievement by having 2 kids with the same father ?
London Transport Carnage
Tube the usual carnage of Saturdays- Victoria line down, Jubilee line down, total mess especially since it was the start of school holidays so the Picadilly line being the only option was full of people with luggage. Not helped by the escalator stopping mid-way due to someone getting their luggage stuck.

Sell Banks.. Buy Scaffolding
I've realised that every major junction in central London has roadworks on it, the picture is familiar- blue painted wood boards and scaffolding. It made me realise that scaffolding may be a good investment (or at least would have been). Of course the roadworks create hell for trying to cross the road.

Roadworks are bad enough at junctions, but I've observed that there is a particular group of people that seem to come out on a Saturday afternoon- man pushing pram with two accompanying women. I'm not suggesting London is full of polygamists but I do find it rather strange ! What I find annoying is that when the foot traffic reduces to a single lane, the guy has to turn round and chat to his 'companions' thus reducing his speed to a snails pace- very annoying.

Badly Behaved People
In the Apple Store in Regent Street trying to check something on the Internet. I was a bit frustrated and this idiot (using a PC) turned round and made some comment. I'm sadly not good at dealing with this level of rudeness so I apologised- then had the usual irritation with myself for not saying something derogatory afterwards.

Why is is the computer systems that bookshops use are so bloody inefficient ? You walk into any bookshop in the UK and ask if they have a book in stock giving the title. You are then asked for the author ! Why ?? - I mean I can type a title into Amazon and it works just fine. What I find amusing is that when I get asked for this level of detail, I get out my iPhone and load up Amazon to find the detail- kind of defeats the purpose of bookshops ! Why not just allow the staff in bookshops to surf to Amazon ?

Several years ago on a trip to Japan I spotted what I would call 'Postman Pat' cars- those that looked identical to the van used by Postman Pat. Fairly simple to describe - imagine the drawing you would make of a van - rectangular box with wheels at the bottom !

Anyways, a few months back I discovered an exhibition of Japanese cars on at the Science Museum. Like any visiting exhibition you get your hopes up and expect a huge number of exhibits. I remember in Hamburg there being an exhibition from Xi'an of the Chinese warriors. Of course I went expecting to see a full army - one warrior ! In the end, there were a few Japanese cars and I managed to take a few pics::

However, to my delight I was walking through London yesterday (off Regent Street) and spotted this:

It's amazing with all the technology we have in the world today and we end up with a look that a 4 year old child could have drawn at a high level. I guess the simplicity is what I like about it !

Short trip this week. Fairly late flight over. Air Berlin is actually really good service. One of the Air Hostesses had a fairly typical attractive German look about her (difficult to describe, not Gaulosies Blonde), I had a chuckle when at one point she was getting something out her handbag from the locker above and I noticed that all the businessmen adjacent to me we all gazing at her !

Arrived late at Dusseldorf airport. What a superb experience. The Sheraton Hotel is 5 mins walk away from the terminal and with the flight arriving early it meant I was in my hotel room at the scheduled flight arrival (rest assured it wasn't British Airways). 5 hrs sleep and then up to catch 7:10 flight to Dresden.

Didn't get much opportunity to look around Dresden, but here are a few quick pics taken on the iPhone:

Arrived back at Stansted Airport tonight with 40mins to kill. I was hungry so went to Burger King for 'dinner'. Queuing I of course got stuck behind a set of people wanting to buy something difficult. Burger King... they sell Burgers not Ice Cream !. As I was frustrated a girl serving on another counter called me over. Of course there was 'Mr Essex' already in the queue so he kicked up a fuss. What irritated me was that he was being a total asshole to her (easy option I guess) - good thing was she ignored him ! Eventually she served me and apologised - I replied "don't worry we are in Essex after all"- she laughed.

This reminds me of a situation in Tel Aviv airport when I was queuing at a newsagent. A guy shot in front of me and there was a long conversation in Hebrew - something about missing his flight I guess. When I was served, the girl serving apologised, I respond "don't worry", then she replied "no it's just my people!"- did make me laugh ! Laughter is needed on a redeye Tel Aviv to London flight I can tell you.

As I passed through the airport I spotted a headline in the newspaper "Cherie Blair has Swine Flu"- I won't tell you anything about my thought process at that point save for saying that the word 'swine' was of particular interest ! Walking through the terminal I saw a number of people wearing masks- I guess to try and avoid flu (laughable of course). The Evening Standard tonight says as much as 65,000 people may die as the outbreak continues. I guess there is nothing else interesting to report in the news (Big Brother must be dull and MPs expense claims stories have finally taken been relegated to 'page 7').

Stuck in the lounge and lady on reception having issues with this guy who obviously doesn't speak English. Of course she does the usual British thing- talk slowly and of course he'll understand. It was so annoying I decided that Babelfish needed to come to the rescue !...

Την πτήση σας καθυστερούν στις 20:50. Η κυρία θα σας πει πότε είναι έτοιμο να επιβιβαστεί στην πύλη 13 - που είναι πολύ πλησίον.

..en route to Dresden. There isn't a direct flight from London to Dresden (I made a joke to people that the people of Dresden are still nervous about UK 'planes flying over them). So, sadly need to travel via Dusseldorf and then stay overnight at the airport. Not bad - 4 flights/4 countries and a customer meeting within 23hrs ! Sadly don't get to stay at a nice hotel or have a nice dinner (I love German food).

Sitting in the lounge at Stansted Airport. Thankfully with a long distance carrier going bust there is a much more luxurious lounge here now (well at least one that doesn't have cigarette stains on the carpet !) now. I love the website that gives you details of where the lounge is. There's a specific remark 'no Ryanair'- I find that very amusing !

Generally I avoid Stansted like the plague (or is that Swine Flu?) - horrid crowded place full of holidaymakers and backpackers. When I go up to Scotland I always try to take the train up as much as possible as I find queuing stressful and Stansted is always full of queues (well they have opened up a few more security lanes now so it is not as bad as it used to be). I then fly back down (for speed) as Scottish airports are generally relaxing and queue free- apart from the jobsworths who always cause you grief by asking dumb security questions. Sadly I can't use my standard reply 'what do you really think there is going to be a terrorist attack at Glasgow Airport' since it happened a few years ago.

Security Blues
Going through security at an airport like this never amazes me. What really cracks me up is all the publicity we have around carrying liquids on flights and how people interpret them. To the average persons credit, they usually turn up prepared with their 100ml limit toiletries etc. However, for some reasons there is also the obligatory 500ml bottle of water on the side of the backback.

Wait ! - do you think cosmetics are a higher risk than a large volume of liquid that could be an explosive ? This isn't the cosmetic police looking to embarrass you about choice of make-up !

That's one thing. What really cracks me up though is that most people, rather than ditch the water, attempt to drink it really fast- at a speed that resembles that of a University beer drinking competition ! Think stuck in the desert for days without water and then suddenly found a bottle of Volvic under a sand dune ! I often hark back to drinking competition days and just want to shout 'faster faster' !

Gadgets Galore
Found this new store (forgotten name) that sells lots of travel electronics. Amazing- 4 things purchased. I looked at the banners in the store and it they looked to be in the Dixons font style. I asked the shop assistant and she said yes it was Dixons, to which I replied 'yes, but a shop that you actually want to buy something'.

Right another Scotch and Soda awaits....

Dinner at Peking last night, twice this week (although once takeaway so doesn't really count). As I walked in to the restaurant, I spotted a couple of young Cambridgeoids (my new name for Cambridge people I find irritating)- full dictionary definition to follow in a later post. In this case, it was the young couple, child (ca. 4 years), and the mother of one of them. Mother clearly had far too many package holidays in Spain (the sun really isn't good for some people).

Dinner was fantastic (of course), but the atmosphere was ruined by the 'oids. I hate people in restaurants who have to read the menu out to each other- maybe what's needed is a talking book like young children have ? Of course we had the obligatory child running around creating havoc and noise, and the parents finding it amusing. I do find the way children in Cambridge behave to be very bizarre compared to proper cities like London where they are much better behaved and don't run riot as they please.

Arrived last week. I got back from Prague at 10PM, had to go to the office for some calls. Finally left the office at 2AM with iPhone that had been delivered to the office whilst I was away. I had to get up at 6AM the next morning, so what did I do ? yes, configure the new iPhone.

Well, it was worth it. Thankfully 32GB of storage now to store all of my playlist music (I ran out at 16GB). The device feels way more responsive than before. I've yet to test the camera. I love the digital compass function- great for someone like myself that has no sense of direction !

In short, another hit by Apple.

Last week was totally horrible in terms of workload and travel (about 4hrs sleep each night), hence the lack of postings.

A hectic week with a meeting in Prague (ended up out of the country for just over 24hrs). My only tourist attraction in Prague was the Subway across from my hotel (as I needed to grab a sandwich really quickly). Did the same to Malta last year.

I've posted a few things below written somewhat retrospectively....

England has this really dumb rule about Sunday opening hours- it's only been in the past decade or so that shops (major chains) are allowed to open on Sundays- but only for 6 hours maximum. Scotland of course has a more pragmatic approach to opening and is far more flexible.

To get around the issue of only being allowed to open for 6hrs, many big chains allow people to browse for 30mins before the tills open (therefore maximising the amount of time by ensuring a full potential of 6hrs is available for transactions to take place). Typically stores open at 10:30, 30 mins browsing, then the tills open from 11AM-5PM.

Last Sunday morning I had to go to John Lewis and so decided to get in early. Of course Starbucks was closed (like any Starbucks in Cambridge it has the shortest opening times of any Starbucks I had been to in the world) so ended up grabbing a coffee at the place directly opposite from the John Lewis entrance. Here's the view I had at around 10:27...

This is so so John Lewis !! Yes, open the doors a little earlier and, rather than allow people to browse early, you actually pay staff to stand at the door preventing people from coming in the store! Total madness !

11AM and I'm at the till with the purchases. Of course there's the obligatory middle-aged woman messing around with a trivial transaction taking about 10 times longer than normal. Purse secured in handbag in a manner that the ancient Egyptian tomb-builders would be proud of, such that it takes about 5 minutes to find it. Then the usual thought process of how to pay, then usually a random question, etc. etc. Finally get to pay (note to anyone who happened to be in the queue with me- I don't have tourettes I just swear a lot when I'm frustrated and have no shame).

Next off to Ecco to get some shoes:

Yep, misaligned opening times. I have yet again to stand around for 25mins as the lazy folks in the Ecco store can't get out their bed at the same time as everyone else ! Total and utter joke (and they only open for 5hrs on a Sunday).

Is there really a recession on ? By the attitude of Cambridge shops I really don't think so !!

I've previously described Cambridge as a culinary desert in the past and last weekend confirmed just how bad places really can be...

Last Friday decided to have some pre-dinner snacks since eating later in the day. Against better judgement passed Carluccio's, it didn't look at all busy, so decided to grab a table. I've never been a fan of this chain- the restaurant they have in Fenwick in London is fine to grab coffee/snack whilst others shop in the store. However, the Cambridge version I have always thought to be bland, poorly stocked in the deli, and the service to be lousy.

Walked in and 5 members of staff standing around doing nothing, waited about 30 seconds before I got annoyed and said 'excuse me', one of them made the effort to come over. Got to the table and looked through the menu. Specials board clearly had been written by someone who didn't speak English natively "Large Pasta Tubes served with Spicy Tomato Sauce"- not exactly appealing ! It reminded me of the English translations you get in restaurants in mainland China where they translate from Chinese to English literally and thus sounds unappealing- something like "deep fried intestine of the cow".
Ordered drinks - they were out of Lemonade - and some food (bread and ham). Took over 20mins for someone in the kitchen to go to the deli, grab 6 slices of ham and put some bread in a basket. What I find the worst about this place is that Italian Bread is absolutely fantastic, but instead you get some nonsense bread mix that looks like something out of a 1970s tupperware party (where the host has gone to the trouble of trying to find something exotic).

In short, never again !

The Punter
After the Carluccio's experience and a few drinks, ended up in The Punter with friends for dinner. I've been there before and it was very good, sadly not this time.

Okay, mild OCD confession here- I absolutely hate food being all mixed up on a plate and things merging (unless they are supposed to like stews etc.). I once watched a film where a character had a a full English Breakfast, but had to have each of the constituent parts on separate plates. People laughed, I thought it was totally normal to do such things. After all, if we wanted food to be mixed up then we'd just eat out of troughs (a bit like the image you get when you pass Nando's on Regent Street on a Friday night). I guess it's the Engineer in me that likes everything to be clean and ordered (like having to write up logbooks at University after the event as I hate untidy notes and writing, I still do this sometimes at work).
I ordered Steak and like any restaurant in Cambridge I had to give clear instructions on what was to be on the plate. It sounds nonsense, but for some reason Cambridge Restaurants have a big thing about drowning salad in balsamic vinegar (that I hate) so I've found the only way to ensure that I don't have to send the meal back is to give the server clear instructions on what is to appear on the plate. In this case it was pretty simple "please ensure that only steak and chips appear on the plate". I guess I should have been a little concerned at the recent changes to the place, as it was clear that the clientele weren't used to eating steak and so the knife was labelled:

How tacky !

Later the dinner arrived. Steak and chips on the plate, but sadly a big chunk of salad in the corner. Not balsamic vinegar, but the latest culinary find of the Cambridge chef - Mayonnaise ! I hate Mayonnaise, partly for the taste, but also the fact that anything covered in it reminds of PVA Glue (thick white glue used when I was at school) or something you'd find in a turkey baster at a horse breeder in Newmarket who specialises in artifical insemination !

Another place in Cambridge to strike off the list !

Housing Blues
We're now ca. 6 months down the line and the silly covenant on the house I want to buy has yet to be lifted. Yes, only in the UK could you be in a situation where there is a restriction imposed on a property that says it can only be sold to someone of retireable age or has a disability - a property that clearly isn't designed for old people nor people who are disabled. Still, that isn't really the planning departments problem.

I ended up calling the council this morning to figure out what was really going on- only to be told that the guy dealing with it is on holiday. When I enquired if someone else could help, I was told that only he could. I was about to ask "what if he gets hit by a bus" but decided that wouldn't really help my case much. I'm sure next week there will be some further trivial reason why things are stalled.

It really does irritate me just how difficult something that is so common sense is to get moving, although it does show me how much more patient I am than I used to be. I'm more bothered about loosing my current buyers who I'm sure are getting fed up with the constant "we will know in 2 weeks" messages that our agent is giving them. However, there is also something really dumb about a house sitting empty, spec'd to my requirements, and not actually being able to move into it !

iPhone awaited
Finally got through to the person at O2 who knows what they are doing. In less than 5mins new iPhone ordered and expected early next week. I'm excited as I can now get my favourite playlists onto the 32GB device. Of course in a years time I'll need 64GB ! It amazes me just how much data storage we need nowadays for things- and it will only get worse.