Monday, May 23, 2005


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Friday, May 20, 2005

A moment of Zen

I've only just read Wednesday's pearl of wisdom from my page-a-day calendar on my desk at work:

"The lesson which life repeats and constantly enforces is "look under foot." You are always nearer the divine and the true sources of your power than you think. The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive. The great opportunity is where you are. Do not despise your own place and hour. Every place is under the stars, every place is the center [sic] of the world."

John Burroughs

This reminds me of a section from an old favourite of mine, Desiderata by Max Ehrmann:

"Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees or the stars. You have a right to be here."

I probably should have read these *before* going out on Tuesday night, but better late than never. Peace out.

Matters arising

"Video-conferencing - where the novelty never wears off"

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Witho is... dutiful

Tuesday night was a dinner party at the Headmaster's house with a variety of other teachers and their spouses or friends. The Head occupies a beautiful old, double-fronted, detached house on the school grounds, overlooking the cricket field in the foreground with the Blackdown Hills visible in the distance.

There was a bit of a panic beforehand about what BF was going to wear. The dress code was "casual but no jeans". Now the BF is essentially "bi-polar" when it comes to clothes, oscillating between full suit and tie for work (no teachers' cords or leatherette elbow patches here) and jeans and a t-shirt when at home. So "casual but no jeans" did not compute. He has a pair of combats which I think look great on him (I should do, I bought them for him) but they're somehow more casual than jeans, to my mind. In the end, under Witho's "guidance", he plumped for some black suit trousers with a casual shirt.

Being punctual to the point of "anality", BF and I were the first to arrive and were greeted enthusiastically by the charismatic Head and his wife.

The first hurdle - drinks. Witho doesn't drink alcohol which immediately draws suspicion in social situations. I guess I could have claimed to be driving but why should I have to lie? There's a side of me which desperately wants to be accepted, but there's also my stubborn, non-conformist streak which says "Hold on, why should I make excuses just because I choose not to poison my liver on a regular basis?"

The second hurdle - the inevitable question: "So what do you do, Witho?". Deep breath: "I'm a software engineer for a paper company". "Oh, does that mean you sit in front of a screen all day long?" Don't these people realise that probably the vast majority of people in this country sit in front of a screen all day long, it is not the exclusive domain of software engineers. Not that this is a good thing, mind. "Oooh, I don't think I could work like that. I need to move around, talk to different people, be in different places". Yes, that would be nice. Thanks for reminding me how shit my job is. "And how long have you been a software engineer?". "Nearly seven years, though I'm still not convinced it's my true vocation in life..."

Other guests arrive and talk turns to schools. Teachers seem to be fascinated to know what schools people went to - I know the BF is, and judging by this evening, he's not the only one. Most of the guests reeled off the name of their school and everyone would nod, knowingly. Those kind of schools, the ones which just have one, well-respected name or, in the BF's case, an abbreviation (MGS). Luckily, the question never got round to me.

"Now let's see, from 11 - 14 I went to [insert name] Junior High School - yes, Junior High School, weird, huh? No, I'm not sure why either... Then 14 - 16 I went to [insert name] School for Girls, then [insert name] Sixth Form College". The dinner would have been burnt to a crisp if I'd had to relate that lot. And no-one, but no-one, would have nodded, knowingly.

Next hurdle - sitting right next to the Head for dinner. The guy sitting to my right obviously sympathised - kept nudging and asking if I was okay. I was, but there were some tricky moments; the questions about parents.

"So what did your dad do while you were growing up in Walthamstow?"
"He was a journalist" (so far so good, one of those "one word" professions which people can relate to)
"Oh, which newspaper?"
"It was a magazine about transport, he was quite an enthusiast"

Further questions ensued that anyone who had really known their father could have answered. I just had to tell him:

"I don't really know, he died when I was very little..."

I willed him not to ask about my mum. He didn't.

Later, he extolled the virtues of having "a family" (i.e. children - of which he has four). "They give you so much to talk about. My wife and I went for a meal without the children, but all we could talk about was them". Hmmm, I'll bear that in mind if I ever run out of things to say to BF. "I do hope you'll have children of your own one day". Why, why do you hope that? I don't. I'm sitting here, almost revelling in my period pains, relieved *not* to be pregnant...

I'm not ideal "trophy wife" material. My story is too difficult, too different, too lacking in direction. BF says I should just be me but in these formal situations, "me" isn't good enough, "me" isn't formal enough, "me" isn't posh enough, "me" doesn't conform, but unfortunately, I find it very hard to be someone other than "me".

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Come on you reds

There’s always that moment of nervous anticipation before the event together with that nagging doubt. You almost want to feel those pangs in the pit of your abdomen as the day approaches. Whilst you know that all appropriate steps have been taken, you still wonder how you’ll deal with it if the worst were to happen. You try not to thing about it, but it’s there, in the back of your mind. Until the day comes, you won’t be able to relax. "Come on", you mutter to yourself, through gritted teeth, "come oooon!"

It was some relief, then, that yesterday, four days late, my period nonchalantly breezed onto the scene, "comme si de rien n’était"...

"What?" it asks, somewhat indignantly as I roll my eyes upward and heave a sigh of relief.
"You’re late!"
"Come on, only four days..."
"But you’re never late! I was worried, okay?"
"Give me a break. How long have you known me now?"
"Now then, let’s see... Christ, it must be 20 years"
"Have I ever let you down before?"
"Well, no... apart from a couple of occasions where you turned up early" I concede
"You know, you really should learn to trust me. I know what I'm doing..."

Monday, May 16, 2005


Anyone who's spent any time in Taunton will involuntarily shudder when I mention Silk Mills Road. Because anyone who's spent any time in Taunton has probably spent a fair amount of their time on that road. Stationary. It is the proverbial bane of the Tauntonian's life.

It's a handy road, linking the A358 in the North to the A38 in the South of the town. I use it every day on my way to and from work.

However, here's the thing:

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The "thing", as indicated by that unmistakable double-red flashing light, being a level crossing. Yep, the main railway line from London (Paddington) to Penzance runs right across Silk Mills Road and brings it to a halt on a regular basis. It is extremely rare that I have the pleasure of having "a clear run" down Silk Mills Road on my journeys to and from work. In fact, I can think of only one occasion where I haven't had to stop for a train. I will remember that day forever...

*awakes from reverie to muttering sound*

"But what's that structure we see on the left of the picture, Witho?" I hear you mumble, as you stifle a yawn.

Why, it's both the beginnings of a bridge and thus the beginning of the end of the level crossing's reign of terror. A reign which will finally cease, if all goes to plan, in December 2005.

Curiously, I've also run down that road numerous times, both with the club and alone, but can only remember one occasion where I had to stop for a train.

A couple of weeks ago, I crossed this road as a motorbike approached. When the motorbike passed me, he gave me a little nod as if to acknowledge me. As an ex pillion rider, I'm aware that bikers usually give other bikers a nod or a wave as they pass each other, but why should he nod at me? I nodded back anyway.

Maybe he was simply suffering from involuntary head movements. Perhaps, as he rode past, he thought to himself: "Why did that jogger just nod at me? What's her game? Maybe she was simply suffering from involuntary head movements..."

I guess neither of us will ever know...

Well, with all this talk of roads and driving, anyone would think I was becoming my uncle! We can't have that, now can we?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Sisters are doin' it...

... or should that be: "Sisters have been and gone and done it"?

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Witho and big sis' after the race

I'm so proud of my big sister. She ran the whole 5km - the furthest she's ever run. She'd been training on the treadmill and before yesterday had only managed 4km. She started run/walking in November and, as a busy working mum, could only manage lunchtime sessions on the treadmill, but she worked hard at it and despite still claiming that she hates running, she persevered.

I let her set the pace and just stayed with her. At one point, she was even heard to say: "They're going too slowly!" We passed the finishing line at 34:57 which was faster than she was expecting (being in possession of the Witho "pessimist" gene).

I took a photo en route using my camera-phone. Apologies for the blurriness, but I *was* running at the time and you *could* say that it gives the photo a certain dynamism... possibly...

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I know there are some people who are reading this thinking: "Yeah, whatever, but I don't think I could run 5km". I know this because I thought that a couple of years ago. My sister still thought that a couple of months ago. But do you know what? We both could and did...

I'm so proud to have inspired her... she amazed herself yesterday.

Friday, May 13, 2005


... I'll be doing this:

More details here.
Thanks to all those who sponsored me - I've raised over £250 thanks to you.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Sine, cosine, tangent

If you've ever seen what a sine wave looks like, you'll have also seen how my mood progressed through the course of yesterday.

Starting from the middle line, there was a progressive rise in mood as I had an uncharacteristically productive day at work. I wrote an implementation plan, and solved a long-standing problem with an AS400 application which I traced back to a cheeky auto-correct in Microsoft Word.

Towards the end of the day, at the peak of my sine wave, I checked the forum for my running club to see what the evening's run would have in store:

"Do you like crossing rivers?"
- Er, no.

"Running through waist high grass in a scene reminiscent of the paddy fields in Platoon?"
- No again.

"Running through silage? No??"
- Well anticipated...

"Well don't turn up this Wednesday then. If yes then meet at [insert meeting point] at 6.30pm. Only K knows the true horror, he survived, so you can too!!!"
"See ya then"
- I'm not so sure you will

What goes up, as they say, must go down. So it was for my sine wave.

Ever since the evenings have been light enough to run on unlit country lanes on a Wednesday evening, the running co-ordinators have gone to town with their off-road, cross-country runs.

Whilst many of the more serious outdoorsy runners are lapping it up, this is not a welcome change for the Witho. I run on tarmac roads, lanes, pavements or decent forest tracks. I have no interest whatsoever in running through long grass with uneven ground underfoot. Neither do I care much for scrambling over electric fences and stiles. Leaping over streams and scrambling up muddy banks gives me no pleasure whatsoever. On a walk, maybe. On a run, absolutely not...

Running, for me, is about establishing and maintaining a rhythm. You can't do either if you're constantly worried about what's underfoot, if you keep having to stop to clamber over a fence here, a stile there.

I posted a reply on the forum, suggesting that I would set up a splinter group to do a road run instead. I was asked where my sense of adventure was...

When I turned up at the meeting place, I chatted to some of the girls who were equally concerned about the run. We hatched a plan to do our own run, at our own pace. Then bottled out at the last minute and reluctantly went along with the group. A couple of girls just went home at that point. Sensible girls.

At the moment we go through the gate into the field of long grass and bumpy earth beneath my feet, my sine wave passes through the middle line on its downward journey. As the wave approaches its trough, I'm nearly in tears as I scuttle tentatively across the field, on my own because I'm so far behind. The patronising "well done"s and "keep going"s from the guys don't help.

It was the worst run I've ever had the displeasure of experiencing. I take no pleasure from correctly predicting that I would hate it. I don't want to come home from a run and cry onto the BF's shoulder. I don't want to hate running. I don't want to hate myself for being so crap at it.

So I get home and languish in my trough for a while. The shower helps, as does the Chinese food. By the time I switch on to Channel 4 for the regular torture that is "Grand Designs" my wave is back at its peak. I'm like Sisyphus at the top of his mountain, triumphant for a brief moment with his rock.

As I watch, the wave, like Sisyphus' rock, begins its descent again as it always does when I watch the programme. Partly through envy, partly through disbelief that some people can just spend 1.9 million pounds on a home, hardly batting an eyelid. A couple who believe that they require 6 toilets in their home. What kind of world are we living in?

Halfway through the programme, with the wave again at the middle line, I realise that I haven't yet made the soup I was planning to make, for which BF had prepared the vegetables whilst I was out running. The wave descends anew...

Lurking again in my trough, I prepare the soup while the BF does the washing up. We talk, he reassures, my wave begins a slow ascent.

I check my email before bed. There's a message from my translation course tutor who is returning my first assignment (the first translation I've done since university - a good 10 years ago)


In case you didn't know, I signed up for a home study translation course to prepare me for the Institute of Linguists' Diploma in Translation, mainly to see if I'm suited to a possible career in translation.


Here's the message, with names changed to protect the innocent:

"Dear Witho

This is an extremely impressive translation – accurate, right register, coherence, sentence structure, vocab choices etc. So I have been scratching around for some comments to make!

A few ticks for especially pleasing things and some alternatives for you to consider.
There were one or two things missed out from the ST [Ed: Source Text] though in some cases these may be due to your conscious decisions.

Don’t hesitate to get back to me if anything unclear. I look forward to your next assignment.

[insert tutor's name]"

Wave going up - no sign of stopping.

P.S. There is no cosine in this post. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Another string to my bow

First things first, in the above expression, are they talking about bows (of bow and arrow fame) or bows (of stringed instrument fame)? That's what I want to know... amongst many other things, of course.

*goes all wistful on mention of stringed instruments*

Recently, I've been thinking of buying a 'cello and rekindling my "musicality". I haven't played one for *gulps* what must be about 19 years. After playing it for a couple of years at school, I had to decide whether or not to carry on with it. Whilst I would have liked to, this would have meant my mum forking out hundreds of pounds on a 'cello - up until then, I'd been borrowing one from the local authority. This was pretty standard in my "borough".

And whilst *I* thought my family was "rich" (kids at school used to call me "posh" - on account of me knowing my times tables...) this wasn't actually the case.

So since then, I've remained 'cello-less. Though I still have my 'cello music and, if I close my eyes, I can picture exactly how to play the solo I played at the school concert, even if I'm not sure if I could read the music anymore. Funny how the memory works...

So, why am I wittering on about 'cellos anyway? Well, because (as hinted at by the title) I may be about to add another proverbial string to my proverbial bow, though we're not sure which type of bow - you see? We've gone full circle!

I seem to have volunteered to learn how to be a SQL Server Database Administrator*. The current "encumbent" is leaving the company so, since they're unlikely to replace him, someone has to learn it. I'm apparently the only one who expressed even a passing interest... This may even mean that I become *bitter taste in mouth* Microsoft Certified! Some would argue that I should have been certified some time ago, but for other reasons...

Watch this space

*for any non-geeks, this just means someone who can look after a specific type of (Microsoft) database.

That's what Friendees are for

So I'm bombing along the A361 towards the M5 junction. Just before the big roundabout, a sliproad joins the carriageway from the left. A camper van is on the sliproad just ahead of me, making a beeline for the nearside lane. I slow down and flash him to go in front of me. The driver acknowledges me with a quick "hazard flash". I smile. Then my smile becomes even broader, because this is not just *any* camper van, ah no. It's

*drum roll*

a Bongo Friendee!

Ever since this post, I've been seeing Bongo Friendees *everywhere*. There's even one up my road! Or maybe it's just the same one, following me around. Who knows - who cares! It brought a smile to my face on my drive home and, for that alone, it should be encouraged.

Monday, May 09, 2005


The Witho/BF weekends oscillate between:

This weekend was of the latter variety.

We started well on Friday evening, going here to see this. I found the film very engaging, mainly because it played with your emotions, pushing and pulling you, convincing you that Manech was dead, then offering various glimmers of hope only to dash them again at the next turn - and so on. The film was a winding journey through the grim horrors of trench warfare towards the truth about what happened to a young French soldier. We were also enthralled by the "double seats" they had at the back row of the lovely old cinema. Like little sofas, they were.

On Saturday, after the usual bed-based argument with myself about whether or not I was going to go for a run, I finally decided that I would much prefer to watch Saturday Kitchen whilst munching toast and supping tea. During the programme, the chefs conducted a taste test on some chocolate puddings, one of which was low-fat. All the chefs agreed that it was awful and Martin Bluno suggested that if you were on a diet, instead of eating chemically modified so-called low-fat concoctions of otherwise fattening foods, you could just have a smaller portion of a real chocolate pudding.

So simple and yet so true. This is very much my philosophy towards food: keep it real. There are plenty of proper foods which are naturally low in fat if you want it that way. Or there is portion control if you love rich foods. Moderation, common sense, a bit of what you fancy combined with regular exercise...

...thought she, as she languished on the sofa instead of going for a run...


I did, however, manage to achieve something useful that day, though not without a bit of (melo)drama along the way.

I decided I would fix the errant roman-style blind in the bathroom which had taken it upon itself to become lopsided on account of one of its strings breaking.

After releasing it from its brackets, I spent a considerable amount of time disentangling the strings from their freestyle format and re-entangling them in the recommended format. I then had to call upon the services of a large needle to get the string through the middle of a long piece of wood. This done, I was required to fashion a small hook out of a common or garden paper clip in order to yank the string through the exit hole which ran perpendicular to the length of wood. After celebrating my success, I proceeded upstairs to re-hang the blind. The BF decided at this point to have a shower. As you'll find out, these two events are related.

As I stood near the window, balancing the top of the blind on its brackets, brandishing screws and sneaking behind the blind whilst trying not to knock it off the brackets (my head being wider than the gap between blind and window), my first attempt with the screwdriver resulted in the screw falling out of the fanlight window. Luckily, it had landed on the external window frame, so I was able to retrieve it.

Meanwhile, the BF started complaining about the shower being cold. "Funny," I think to myself, "the shower is electric - it heats the water itself. It would only be cold if the electricity was off..."

"You know what you've done, don't you?"
"Look where you're standing"

I looked where I was standing. Oh dear. I was in "the danger zone", the area of our bathroom which reacts violently to your standing in it by tripping the electrics off. Dodgy, very dodgy.

Yes, we've told the landlord about it several times. An electrician has promised to come round several times. All to no avail...

I scuttle downstairs and flick the switch. As I bumble back into the bathroom, making a beeline for the window again, the BF says:


"I think it's best if you leave that until I've finished my shower, don't you?"

PS - I *did* go for that run in the end...

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