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Bank Error In Your Favour


I thought this was the sort of thing that only happens to other people.

I went to a cash machine at lunchtime to get some money to buy sandwiches. While performing this transaction I decided to check my balance – something I don’t normally do but I had the urge to break my routine for some reason. I noticed to my surprise that I had quite a bit more money in my account than I was expecting. I looked at my watch that correctly pointed out that it was the 21st of June and therefore nowhere near pay day. I took my money, bought my sandwiches and walked back to the office (I had a lovely coronation egg salad sandwich from Pret A Manger if you must know).

So I went on-line and checked my bank statement and lo-and-behold, there was a bank transfer of £1629.72 into my account with the mysterious description of “BANK CREDIT SA.”. Normally, when my salary goes into my account the description gives the name of my company so I knew it wasn’t that. I called my bank to ask them.

When I inquired about the transfer the guy said “That’s strange, it only has the text SA, normally there’s more than that”. He then read off the transaction number which meant nothing to me (something like 686960404596001X) and cross-referenced the code with all my direct debits – to no avail. He said he couldn’t find out who it was from. Weird. I was advised to not spend the money and if it was transferred erroneously it normally takes people about a week to realise and then they’ll be in touch – although he finds it a bit unlikely as they’d need to know my sort code and my 8-digit account code. He said if I heard nothing by then to ring back and they can do some more investigating.

I’m a bit perplexed. To my knowledge nobody owes me any money. I’ve spoken to anyone who’ll listen and they deny all knowledge. I sent in my tax return a while ago and even calculated it myself (I was bored) and reckon I’m owed about £30 so it can’t be from the Inland Revenue.

So if anyone out there knows who it’s from, let me know (although you’re not getting it back)! But should a big nasty company contact me and ask for it back I’ll say yes, as long as they give me a free coffee mug with their logo on it so I can add it to my collection. Or maybe I should ask for more?

Update (1/2/2005): It turned out that the deposit was from the Inland Revenue for overpaid tax. A couple of weeks later I got a letter confirming that fact so I got to keep the cash!


The Virtual Vegetarian


It crept up on me so slowly that I didn’t even notice. It began with minced beef. I went through a phase (when I was living on my own I must add) of eating spaghetti bolognese all the time until I decided that I just didn’t like minced beef any longer. It was not long after then while eating a steak that I realised I in fact didn’t like beef at all any more. Then my girlfriend started on this diet that included eating a lot of Quorn. For those of you who don’t know, Quorn is made from mycoprotein, which is a member of the fungi family (like mushrooms and athlete’s foot). It comes in a variety of formats to mimic meat products such as mince, chicken-style chunks, cottage pies, bacon and myriad other things.

Anyway, she started feeding me Quorn and much to my own surprise I liked it. In fact I liked Quorn mince a hell of a lot more than beef mince. I even love their cottage pies. I draw the line at their attempt at chicken breasts as they taste – for want of a better word – terrible. So when my girlfriend was working away I’d wander around the supermarket, think to myself “I could use some sausages”, and then find myself buying the Quorn ones instead of anything else. When I wanted a quick, microwave meal I’d buy Quorn cottage pies. Like I said, it crept up on me slowly. It was a long time before I realised that in fact the only meat I ate any more was in sandwiches at lunch and chicken when I’d get a curry from my local.

Let’s rewind a bit. I know quite a few vegetarians. I even know a couple of vegans. I’ve nothing against either. I could understand why people would go vegetarian (no idea about vegans though – anybody care to enlighten me?) but I just didn’t think it was me. Besides, with all the exercise I did I was doubtful that I’d have any energy without regularly eating something that used to walk, slither or crawl. In short, I never seriously considered it for myself.

But return to the present. I’ve spent the last year or so barely eating meat and with no ill effects. More energy than ever. So last week I decided, what the hell, I’ll stop eating meat altogether for a month and see how I get on (my local curry house does vegetarian alternatives that are excellent). So if I like it, I’ll stick with it. Of course, the first thing my girlfriend (eh, I mean fiance) did was buy some ham for my sandwiches (she never listens to me!). So with that out of the way I started again. So far I can still stand and don’t feel like all the blood’s been drained from my body. I’ll let you know how it goes.


Tim Booth Was Right


Tim Booth put it best in the James song Come Home from the seminal album Gold Mother:

“After 30 years I’ve become my fears, I’ve become the kind of man I’ve always hated”.

Let me also quote this very site, written in March 2003:

“And before you ask, no. I won’t turn this into a John buying his house and going to DIY superstores weblog. I hate that sort of thing.”

Ha! What a liar I am! So I bought a house last year and it’s taken a while but I’ve finally turned into the sad sort of person I used to look down with scorn at. I’d be driving on my way to some adrenaline-packed weekend away biking or something and notice all these 30-something, overweight and out-of-shape guys dressing like teenagers, driving estate cars, maybe a few kids in tow, accompanied by the wife and on their way to a DIY superstore to look at paint, or power tools, or plants, or wallpaper, or garden furniture, or all of the above. I’d shake my head and drive on to continue my exciting life while they got on with their boring, tedious existence including washing their cars on a Sunday morning before walking the dog. I hated them.

And I’m starting to become one of them. I must point out that I’m still in excellent shape however (all washboard, no twin-tub). For example I spent one weekend single-handedly redecorating the lounge and dining room. I just spent the last weekend with my good lady doing gardening! If you’ve known me for years you’ll be particularly surprised to hear that (to be fair, it didn’t involve planting anything, only digging things up). I’ve been in here over six months and I love the place. I really do feel different about actually owning my own house. I’ve become the housewife who nags about keeping the place clean and tidy. So I’ve been asking myself what happened and where did it all go wrong?

But to justify this behaviour I’ve realised that it’s just an extension of what I’ve always been like. It used to be mountain bikes – all the shiny kit, keeping it clean, upgrading to newer, better and lighter components. Then it was cars – faster, noisier, redder, then more refined, more hi-tech and then faster again. Now it’s my [our] house – so what can I (okay, we) do to that? We can customise it by painting it nice colours that we like. We can keep it clean and tidy. We can buy fancy fixtures and fittings, hi-tech electronic equipment and more hi-tech electronic equipment. And we can make the garden a great place to have a barbeque. In a nutshell I haven’t changed. At least I don’t think I have – I’ve just changed scenes.

Oh, did I mention that we got engaged? No? Oh, we got engaged. I proposed when we were in New Zealand but she wouldn’t make it official until I got her a ring – lots of money later and it’s official. Job done.

rachael and john


Back To School


Well, after nearly four months of not working (including one month travelling around New Zealand) I start a new job tomorrow. I can’t believe how fast it’s all gone. At first I was pacing around the house counting down the hours in the day but I soon got into the swing of things – I installed broadband, wrote some software, attended some interviews, did a small amount of DIY (not enough for my girlfriend’s liking), played a lot of football, didn’t watch much TV, didn’t play on my Playstation 2 much and did a thousand other bits and pieces. It came to the stage where I don’t know how I’m going to fit a job into my day! (Okay, it won’t be that hard).

So I got lucky in the end. I was offered a job in my number one choice location – Leeds (a short train journey away). The role seemed the most relevant to my skills of all the interviews I had and the people I met seemed very genuine and switched on. Oh, and it seemed fun, which is the most important aspect of all. After the interview I’d decided that if they offered me it I’d take it straight away, despite some interesting second interviews on the horizon. I just had a good feeling about them.

It’s true what they say though, practice makes perfect. The more interviews I attended the better I got at being interviewed. I didn’t really do a good job of selling myself early on but as I had more interviews I relaxed and was better able to just be myself without trying to second guess what they were after. At this stage I was actually enjoying being interviewed and meeting new people. Despite getting a few rejections I didn’t let it get me down as my philosophy is that you’re getting to meet the real me at an interview and if you don’t want to give me a job then that’s fine – I probably wouldn’t have fitted in anyway.

A photo of my playlistAnyway, much more importantly I found the excuse I needed to buy a particularly cool piece of kit. As I’ll be taking the train to work and back I need some form of personal music device to make the time fly by. Naturally I’m talking about the beautiful iPod from Apple. I was initially going to wait for the iPod mini 4GB to make it to these fair shores but as soon as I looked at my MP3 collection on my hard drive I realised that it already exceeded 3GB and I had hardly made a dent in my actual music collection! So I opted for the 20GB iPod and I’ve spent the last few days ripping my CDs onto my hard drive in preparation of the beast turning up.

First of all, the software iTunes is extremely impressive. It’s pretty much along the same lines as Windows Media Player 9 but allows you to save as MP3 instead of the proprietary WMA format. It’s a very nice piece of software and surprisingly for a Microsoft fan like myself, I didn’t have any qualms about using it in place of Media Player. Then the iPod itself turned up… The first thing that struck me as I carefully opened the intricate packaging is how small the player is. I’d read people being amazed at its size and I still was. It’s tiny!

After an hour or so fighting with it and then realising that it just didn’t like my USB 2 card despite the claims that the optional cable I got would work, I bought a cheap firewire card (which made me laugh as I spent a lot of time learning all about Firewire at my previous job for a project but that’s another story) and as soon as I plugged that in it was happy and copying my music in a flash. I won’t go into a long review about the iPod itself as there are around a million out there on the net already, but my initial impressions are that it’s a beautiful piece of kit and will allow me to play the right music to match my mood in the morning or evening on the train (pretty much anything from the 80’s ought to do it).

I’ll let you know how I get on. Oh, and about the job too!


Week One


Well, I’ve just completed my first week of being unemployed. I had a nice picture of what it was going to be like, pretty much along the lines of the lead character of About A Boy (which is a good film starring Hugh Grant). I was going to divide the day up into units of time and fill them up with things like eating lunch, playing snooker, watching home improvement programmes, surfing the net and mainly taking it easy. Wasn’t to be.

No, instead I got my punishment for spending December in New Zealand and flying business class. I got a stinking cold. I get perhaps one cold every two years or so and I don’t take kindly to them. I’m not one of these guys who curls up into a ball and cries for my mother, I tend to try and fight the damn thing and make it effect my life as little as possible.

So my week consisted of headaches, blowing my nose, coughing for several hours a day, mixing cocktails of drugs from throat lozenges to painkillers to cough medicine with varying degrees of success. Not the ideal start to my new [temporary] life of leisure. My plan of starting to paint the house fell by the way-side along with some serious job hunting. Never mind, new week – new attitude! In a couple more days I should be rid of this annoying cough and the associated phlegm and should be able to get on with making the most of this enforced rest. On the plus side though, coughing fits are excellent exercise for the abdominal muscles – they beat crunches any day!


Just Keep On Moving


When I moved down to Yorkshire over four years ago I managed to get everything I needed into the back of my car. My house was unfurnished so I went down to IKEA and bought everything from a sofa to table and chairs to wardrobe, drawers and cutlery. Cut to now and here I am almost finished moving all my acquired goods into the new house and to say that my worldly possession count has increased would be a major understatement.

I’m moving from a one bedroom house to a four bedroom one with my girlfriend. So like Noah’s Ark we’ve got two of everything. Two irons, ironing boards, sets of cutlery, dining table and chairs, microwave ovens and so on. What we don’t have enough of is wardrobe space. Her house had fitted wardrobes so we’re off to buy some more at the weekend and until then everything’s laid out all over the place. So we’re (or more accurately since she’s away in London this week I’m) unpacking stuff that stays at the same time as boxing up (to be given to my brother when he gets a flat) or throwing out all the stuff that we no longer need. It’s a slow process.

In the meantime I can hardly turn around without falling over a box or bag, the garage is full of stuff for sorting rather than the Spartan gym I want it to be and every night that I come home it’s almost exactly like the night before despite the hours of unpacking I’ve been doing. I’m sure I’ll get there eventually but I don’t plan on moving any time in the next ten years – I’ll need time to recover.

Hang on, I’ve just re-read what I’ve written and it sounds like I’m pissed off and having a miserable time. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m loving it. After all these years I finally own a house of my own! (Strictly speaking it’s my girlfriend’s and mine but you get what I mean). It’s huge compared to what I’m used to, it’s only two years old and it’s fantastic. It’s in a quiet neighbourhood and all the people I’ve met in the area so far seem really nice. So a little bit of pain throwing stuff out and organising where everything that remains goes is a small price to pay for living a much better life. But I’m still not moving for at least ten years!


About Bloody Time Three


Well, it’s taken six months and it all falling apart a couple of times for good measure, but we’ve finally done it. We’ve got a house! You may remember in March I mentioned that my girlfriend and I decided to buy a house together. It seemed to be going okay, but it eventually fell through (the seller pulled out of the sale).

So we were house hunting again. Then we remembered that a guy directly opposite the house we were going to buy was selling his (my girlfriend had gone for a look previously to see what it was like). He was selling direct and so was not using an estate agent. We went to see a couple of other houses that we didn’t like and then gave him a call to see if it was still for sale. It was and we agreed to just pop round (it’s the same village in which we live).

I’m glad we did because we loved it even more than the previous house, made him an offer there and then, he accepted it and we shook hands. By this stage we were veterans and didnt believe anything until it’s legally binding (which it’s not at a handshake). So we changed the mortgage details and did the searches and kept out fingers crossed. We tried not to think about it and agreed that if it fell through we wouldn’t buy until the new year. My girlfriend had already sold her house by now and was living with me – all her stuff in storage – but we were managing.

But now that contracts have been exchanged we know for sure that we’ve got the house and we move in on Friday. So just to summarise – and get it in perspective – we didn’t need to sell so we weren’t in a chain and were therefore perfect buyers, with a mortgage already agreed and deposit in place. You’d think we’d have little or no trouble getting a house but instead it’s taken six months, loads of legal fees, a hell of a lot of stress and I’ll tell you one thing, I won’t be buying another house again in any kind of a hurry! Anyway, as soon as we get in I’ll post up some pictures.

Now all we have to do is move all our stuff in, tell the electricity people, gas people, council, water, Sky TV… The list goes on…


Another Year, Another Milestone


If the phone says I'm old then it must be true[In my best singing voice] Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday dear John. Happy birthday to me!

Honestly, I remember the day I turned 13. I thought to myself “wow, I’m a teenager, now my life begins – I’m an adult!”. Yeah right. So here I am almost exactly 29 years after my mother gave birth to her first child (that would be me) and it’s all gone by in a flash. Everybody says that and you agree but don’t really believe it until you experience it and start saying it yourself. It’s like going to a Formula 1 race. You’re told that the cars are amazingly loud and incredibly fast. You nod in agreement but don’t really think about it until one of the things rockets past you and the first thing you think is “Christ – they are SO LOUD!”.

It’s just not enough time. I don’t feel like I’m now in my 30th year. I don’t feel much different to when I was 21 and it never occurs to me in daily life that I’m no longer in the 18-25 demographic any longer (and haven’t been for quite some time). So what difference does it make that I’m 29 now? To me, none at all. If Steve Redgrave can win an Olympic gold medal rowing at the age of 38 then I’ve got nothing to worry about – until I hit 40. At that point I’ll know for sure that my best days are behind me. I’ll be on the slippery slope down towards retirement.

But hey, that doesn’t bother me now. That’s over 10 years away. That’s ages in the future! It’s not like it’ll come around as fast as the last ten… Surely… Oh, and if you think I’m being negative (I’m not really), you should read my entry for my birthday last year…


The Moment Of Infection


It’s not often I can pinpoint the precise moment that my immune system issues the orders to attack a foreign virus that has invaded my body. I was brought up to think of my immune system as an army with the white blood cells acting as soldiers, battling to destroy an enemy force. I guess the reality isn’t much different from that analogy and I still think of things that way.

So I’ve just come home from a hard day in the office staring at my dual 21 inch monitors at lines of code and I sit down on my sofa. I look over to my kitchen and spy a box of Kellogs Crunchy Nut Cornflakes and I simply can’t resist.

I’m on my feet in seconds. I’m pacing purposefully over to the counter. In the blink of an eye I’ve got a bowl out from the cupboard and in a move perfected by hours on the training ground I’ve started to pour the cereal into the bowl. I breathe lightly and turn to my right. Another quick hand movement and a spoon is in my hand. Squatting low I open the fridge, reach in and snatch the milk out in a blur. I slowly open the milk and begin to pour, savouring the moment and the sound of cold milk on dry corn flakes. I return the milk to the fridge and move back over to my sofa and sit down.

So as I’m about half way through the cereal I get this nasty taste and sensation in the back of my throat. It’s a feeling I’ve known so well over the years and I recognise it in an instant. It’s the signal that I’m about to get a cold. There’s nothing I can do, in a few hours the glands in my neck will be swollen and sore and I’ll have a thumping headache.

Cut to an hour or so later and this is exactly the case. By the morning (after a rough night) my eyes feel like they literally want to explode out of my head. Despite the fact that this might make an entertaining picture, I take asprin to calm it all down. And call work for a sick day. I can’t remember the last time I’ve taken one (no, my memory is not affected, I just never take sick days).

Still, that was Wednesday and I’m feeling almost back to my normal self today. Getting a cold isn’t very interesting but it was strange to feel a switch flick in my body from being fine to knowing I was fighting an infection of some sort. Weird…


Hollywood Dreams


We all dream. The difference is that we don’t all remember our dreams. I’m sure I don’t remember all of my dreams but some stick in my mind. More often than not though, I’ll wake up clearly remembering the dream but an hour later I’ll have completely forgotten what it’s about. I guess that’s what I’ll be like if I live long enough to go dotery – my memory will desert me and I’ll keep calling people “Phil” or “Allison” (that’s what all the dotery people I’ve known do). But back to my main point. Dreams.

Like most people I tend to have more vivid and, usually, puzzling dreams when I’ve got a lot on my mind. And in the past few weeks I’ve had a lot on my mind. I’m buying a house, a lavishly expensive car, my girlfriend is selling her house, I’m missing my mother, I’ve just had a throat infection (and I’m not entirely sure I’ve gotten rid of it), I’m counting the days until my two week summer holiday in Antigua (about 68) and my eyes are playing up again (meaning I’m back to wearing my glasses at work for part of the day). There are a couple of other things but they’re not getting mentioned here! So I’m not entirely surprised that I’ve started having some truly bizarre dreams.

The odd thing is that the dreams aren’t of the ilk where I’m walking down the street and suddenly I start talking to a pink flamingo who has an Australian accent and suggests that maybe I need to put my umbrella up because the kitchen sink is about to move to Italy for the summer. No, these dreams actually make sense. They make so much sense that I could be watching a film. They have a beginning, a middle, a dramatic plot twist, and an ending. I’ll give you an example.

A couple of nights ago I found myself the target of a super-villain. He kidnapped my family and blackmailed me to steal some money for him. I stole the money but decided I was going to get my revenge on him. When I handed over the money I was directed to where my family were. They were in a house in a remote area. I went to the house, only to discover that it was underwater and there was no sign of my family (all right, I’ll admit that the house being submerged is a bit far fetched, but stick with me). I’d been double crossed. Or at least cheated. I vowed to track the bad guy down and eventually sneaked into his mountain-top fortress (as all super-villains have). I found my family and dragged them out. As we hiked down the mountain I heard a bang behind me – the sound of the fortress exploding (I’m assuming I planted a bomb there). Then I woke up.

As I came to I was puzzled as to how I could have such a vivid and, above all, logically ordered dream. I normally have dreams that consist of many short scenes that make no sense at all and change after a few minutes to another short scene that makes even less sense. But to dream an actual story in multiple locations is not normal for me.

I try not to read too much into dreams but I’ve been comforted by them in the past and they’ve helped me make decisions before. So maybe on this occasion my mind is trying to hint something to me. And I suspect I know what it is. I think I need to write a story. Not a short story, but a long one. I’ve always had a furtive imagination and have often thought that one day I’d like to write a novel. I don’t care if nobody ever reads it, but threading a story together and putting it down on [electronic] paper has always intrigued me. Could I do it? Would it be any good? Would I get like Douglas Adams and obsess over every word?

All I need is the inspiration. An idea. If I know me it’ll just pop into my head one day while I’m walking down the street. I just hope I remember to write it down or I’ll forget it, because I might be going dotery by the time it comes (if I’m not going dotery already).