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Now Here Is Nowhere

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lookingleft

You may have noticed my complete lack of updates spanning the last six months or so. I guess I lost enthusiasm for documenting some of the more interesting aspects of my life and try as I might it’s just not coming back. A few things have happened that I’ve not wanted to write about (although it’s all turned out well in the end) but at the same time I’ve done quite a lot of fun things including seeing some bands I like, buying a new full suspension mountain bike, spending New Year in Edinburgh and a week snowboarding in France. I thought that if I left the site alone for a while I’d suddenly wake up and want to write again – especially about the snowboarding.

But the sad truth is that it hasn’t happened and I haven’t. Maybe I’m at a place in my life where I don’t want to tell the world (well, you the reader) what I’ve been up to. Maybe I’ve burned out of blogging. Who knows. All I know is that for now I’m going on garden leave. Maybe I’ll return with renewed enthusiasm in a while. Maybe I won’t. I have no idea.

But it doesn’t mean I’ll be disappearing off the face of the earth. I live in a real world outside of this virtual one. So if you’re ever in Yorkshire and want to take me out for a few drinks or go mountain biking then let me know. And if you want to know what I’ve been up to, rather than checking this site just ask me!

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A Quiet Month

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It’s been seven weeks since my last post. I guess I just needed a rest from it all. It’s like friends who move away – you don’t call for a couple of weeks and remind yourself to call them tomorrow. But you forget and then it’s a month, and then time goes on and you haven’t called them for years. Well I’m not going to let that happen to this site while I’m still paying for the hosting.

John the parentAugust wasn’t actually a quiet month for me, I’ve done plenty. I started with a fantastic few days staying in Lyon, France with friends. Lovely weather, lovely food and drink, lovely company and did I mention lovely weather? (far better than our so-called British summer time). I must confess to actually enjoying being around my friend’s children (but don’t tell anyone I said so, they’d think I was getting all paternal).

I turned 30, which was interesting. I must say I don’t feel my life is over or I’m suddenly very old. Although it’s a bit scary to look at 20 year olds who were born in 1984 and actually be able to remember the year clearly. Maybe I am getting older. Still, if I’m still doing this when I’m 40 then I’ll be allowed to complain (it’s all downhill from then on).

Hello. I'm a dragonfly.

I spent a week in Scotland where the highlight was seeing relatives and tidying up my father’s garden. Actually, on that point, to show how old I’m getting I was proud of the garden as one summer about 10 years ago I dug it up under duress to create some plant beds (it was all grass then) and planted trees, flowers and lots more. Cut to now and it’s an established garden and it looks fantastic. The low-light was seeing my father having minor knee surgery that was anything but (that damn hospital up there killed my mother and was doing its best to kill my father too – lousy NHS). But he’s on the mend which is the main thing.

Get out of the wayI even managed to fit in a day at the Leeds festival, the highlights of which were seeing Franz Ferdinand and The Libertines. Sticking to the age theme, it was nice to see all these sullen teenagers wandering around looking at their feet and wearing their trousers half-way down their arses. What’s that all about?

I’ve also really been enjoying myself at work. This time off posting has made me decide to write more about what I do at work as I swear that if I won the lottery I’d still write software. I’m just lucky that I get to spend my days doing something I really love. But more about that in the next article. In the meantime, it’s nice to be back.

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Bank Error In Your Favour

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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!

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The Virtual Vegetarian

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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.

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Tim Booth Was Right

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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

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Back To School

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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!

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Week One

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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!

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Just Keep On Moving

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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!