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Thursday, March 31, 2005

OMG

This.



Blog Abuse

I'm running the Race for Life again this year, in Bristol on 14th May. It's a 5km race for women only, aimed at raising money for Cancer Research UK.

Yes, I know that 5km (just over 3 miles) for me is more like a walk in the park these days - the main reason I'm doing it, though, it is to accompany my sister who, inspired by my own foray into running 2 years ago, decided that she would have a crack at it too.

Obviously, the *whole point* of running it is to raise money - you can read why this issue is close to my heart here.

You know what's coming, don't you?

If you'd like to sponsor me, go here. It's my secure on-line sponsorship site. You can choose to be an anonymous sponsor on the web page, so others won't see your name on the sponsor list. However, I will be informed of who you are, so if you'd rather not do it that way, drop me an email (address on your left).

I would be truly grateful for anything you feel you can donate.

I'll shut up now.



Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Does my bum look big in this?


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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

International weekend

You can tell it's the school holidays when:


Our weekend included products from the following countries:



Saturday, March 26, 2005

Holiblog

This is the first time the Big Fella and I have been away together, just the two of us, for more than a weekend. Which, when I think about it, seems ludicrous, but it’s true. We’ve spent time together at his mother’s in Manchester, at his aunt’s house in the Lake District, at various locations around the country for friends’ weddings, but never a week together, just the two of us, somewhere new to us both, somewhere different.

So that’s what we’ve been doing this last week. North Cornwall, a cottage, sea views, the two of us and the vagaries of British weather. We arrived in bright sunshine last Saturday wondering whether Mother Nature had decided to skip spring and launch straight into summer for our benefit. Sunday was kind too, lulling us into a false sense of security. A few clouds scudded between us and the sun, but this didn’t deter us from picnicking on the beach, watching the surprisingly numerous surfers lying in wait for that perfect wave, silhouetted against the Atlantic ocean.

Of course, she was playing one of her little tricks. And, to be fair, you don’t book a holiday in mid-March in Britain for the weather. From Monday to Thursday, it was... erm, let’s say changeable – particularly on the day we chose to visit Boscastle. Setting off in bright sunshine, we weren’t sure quite what to expect from this village which had suffered the devastation of the flash floods in August 2004, but I wasn’t really prepared for the place to still resemble a building site six months later. I’m guessing that remedial works have been slow to get off the ground over the winter months, judging by the lack of progress apparent in the buildings closest to the river.

Photos and memorabilia of the flood were apparent all around – official "guidebooks" and postcards for sale in most shops as well as the newspaper clippings displayed in their windows. I noted that my car was parked in an area which, according to the photos, was completely submerged on that day in August. The heavens opened as we wandered among the scaffolded buildings and I couldn’t help wondering how long it had taken for these same streets to become raging torrents on that rainy day which had probably seemed, at first, like any other... Try as we might to tame her, Nature has a habit of reminding us who’s boss in some pretty catastrophic ways.

During the uncharacteristic breaks in the typical March weather, we managed to have cream teas on the patio, a number of games of tennis on the on-site courts and a glorious Friday was spent on the beach again. We arrived back in Taunton as we’d left – in bright sunshine.

Whenever I go on holiday I’m always torn between my desire to see and do things and my desire to wind down, relax and do as little as possible. The theme for this holiday was definitely relaxation rather than exploration. Not least because I didn't want to spend a week driving around on country roads - an issue which probably merits a post of its own...

All in all, we had a wonderful time, enjoying each other and our surroundings. I was captivated, as always, by our proximity to the sea. I kept pausing to contemplate the views from our cottage and to listen for the distant roar of the ocean. There are many noises which jar and grate on the mind, destroying any hope of relaxation, but I can never tire of the sound of waves crashing upon the shore...


 Posted by Hello

(Widemouth Bay - Black Rock. Both black and rocky.)


Saturday, March 19, 2005

Quickie

Off to Cornwall for a week.
Taking the laptop.
Might post.
Might not.

Laters.



Friday, March 18, 2005

Boobless

I found out yesterday that one of my new colleagues has a "special" name for me. "The Amazon".

I certainly *hope* he's not referring to the "folk etymology" of the word, which I'm told is to do with them chopping a boob off so that they could shoot with a bow and arrow without said boob getting in the way. Maybe I'm a bit lop-sided!

I'd also be intrigued if he was likening me to the third definition:

"A small green parrot of the genus Amazona, having a short tail and red-and-blue wings, native to Central and South America".

But let's assume he's thinking along the lines of "A tall, aggressive, strong-willed woman".

"Witho is a tall, aggressive, strong-willed woman" - Discuss.

Tall - 5'10" (1.77m) for a girl is above average, particularly when juxtaposed with a variety of shorter than average, male colleagues.

Aggressive - certainly passive-aggressive, but rarely confrontational in practice. People often find me unapproachable at first. I think it's because my shyness is interpreted as aloofness. I can be quite opinionated and ranty if you start me on certain topics, and I guess this could be taken as aggression, even though it's aimed at the subject about which I'm ranting, rather than the person with whom I am sharing my rant.

Strong-willed - certainly not when it comes to sweets...

All in all, though, I prefer to be thought of as an Amazon than a goth, which I was accused of being many times at [insert old company name].



Thursday, March 17, 2005

Follow-up

Firstly, as you may remember from this post, I have been none too pleased with "Mozza's" and we've been largely boycotting it since it "rebranded" itself.

However, last night, on my way home from my run (6 miles this time - just a short one ;)...) I had planned to pop in there to pick up some bread. It was just after 8pm. As I drove in, I noticed two things.

Firstly, a handwritten label had been stuck over the car park posters, informing customers that the car park charge now only applies from 8am until 5pm. When it first re-opened, it applied until 8pm. I think their evening business must have suffered, as predicted by none other than m'good self.

Secondly, as informed by a chav on a bike at the entrance, the store was closed, "love" (what? you're only about 12...). It closes at 8pm now, instead of 9pm.

Pants.

So I had to get my bread from the petrol station, whose selection was limited to say the least. I was already in a bad mood from the run. Sometimes, your legs just don't want to play, they feel like lead. Last night was warm too - the warmest conditions I've run in for some time. Running in humidity is like running through treacle - though a *little* less messy.

Design Feature

Secondly, do you remember this one about sending photo messages to email and only being able to save the embedded image as a bitmap rather than a jpg?

Well, this issue has continued to annoy me, until the other day when I noticed something interesting. Y'see, when I'm at home, I download my main home email into Outlook. When I'm at work, I pop in and view it via the webmail interface. I noticed that when I accessed the photo message from webmail, I was able to right click and save it as a jpg. At home, in Outlook, it would only allow me to save it as a bitmap.

I'd originally assumed that it was a problem with my mobile phone network (and had sent a number of ranting emails about it), but on seeing this phenomenon, I began to think otherwise. I experimented - sending the message to my gmail address (which I rarely use). Again, I could save the picture as a jpg.

"Ah-ha!" I cry, excited at my discovery, "it must be a setting within Outlook". I scour the options available and can find nothing to influence how embedded images are saved.

So off I pop to Shite-cro-soft's webshite to search their support articles. Nada. I end up sending them a support email. Imagine my surprise when, the very next day, I receive the following:

"Dear Witho,

Thank you for your inquiry regarding Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 and for choosing Microsoft Online Support. I am [insert name] and I will be assisting you with this service request.

According to the case log I received, my understanding of this issue is: You cannot save e-mail embedded pictures to *.jpg format. If I have misunderstood your concern, please let me know. Thank you very much for bringing this to my attention.

Based on my experience, when you right click on an embedded picture in Outlook Express, you can only save it as a *.bmp file. However, there are some workarounds which you may want to try.

[insert workarounds here]

I personally think what you would like to implement is very reasonable and understand how frustrating it is when you find that the product does not meet your needs. However, this is hard coded by-design feature in the program. There is no option or method to change it at present.

I will forward your recommendation to the proper department for their consideration. They may consider this suggestion for the next version of Outlook. In addition, please feel free to submit your suggestion on our product to the following link. Our Product Group and developers reviews the suggestions submitted by our customers.

[...]"


I had to laugh at: "this is hard coded by-design feature in the program" - I thought IT people only used this ironically...

However, I was quite pleased at the swiftness of response, the fact that it was personalised (not just a link to a useless FAQ) and the fact that he started off by restating his understanding of the problem, a good technique. Even if he couldn't actually solve my problem and confirmed that it is a limitation in Outlook.

So sorry Vodafone, you were half right, it *was* a Microsoft problem... but I still think you should send the photo as an attachment rather than embedded. So nerr.



Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Super what?

Driving to work this morning, I was checking out the car in front (as you do) - some kind of people carrier/minibus hybrid - and noticed it was called a "Bongo Friendee" (made by Mazda, as I later found out after a quick Google search).

Bongo Friendee.

Whilst I admire the use of "Bongo" in any phrase, I'm just not sure how they think this is a good name for a motor vehicle. Can you imagine the conversation down the pub:

Dave: "Yeah, I've got my new motor sorted"
Bob: "Oh yeah, what is it then?"
Dave: "It's a Mazda Bongo Friendee"
Bob: "Oh, nice, yeah, the old Bongo Friendee, good car that one..."

I can't even think about the name without creasing up. Usually at inopportune moments at my desk at work. My colleagues are starting to get concerned...

It seems to me that we English are very intolerant of stupidly-named products - much more so than our European neighbours. When I was in France, I noted that "Crunchy Nut Cornflakes" (they're crunchy and nutty and they're cornflakes - yep, a nice, descriptive name) were known as "Cracky Nut". Which means absolutely nothing in French. They required smallprint under the name to explain what the product was. I believe they are now called, simply "Crunchy Nut". No more meaningful for them, slightly less amusing for me to contemplate... My (English) friend and I used to be doubled over during our early trips to French supermarkets at some of the product names. Cereals were particular offenders in this domain - my favourite was "Cropsy Fruit". Just what could it mean?

Look at the furore over here when Marathon was changed to Snickers, Opal Fruits to Starburst, Jif to Cif (not that Jif was at all meaningful) and the inexplicable change from Oil of Ulay to Oil of Olay. I can only assume that "Ulay" means "Soapy Tit Wank" in Greek or something... It's this whole idea of harmonising product names across Europe (and the world) so that instead of being meaningful in at least one country, we now have completely meaningless names in all countries. Like the wonderful "Cillit Bang".

The latest example of this to come to my attention is "Super Mocio".

In the beginning (well, in the early 90s at any rate), there was the Vileda Super Mop. It's a mop, it's made by Vileda and the manufacturer claims that it's "Super" (though I would argue, that's for the consumer to decide...). What could be clearer?

So what, dear reader, is a "mocio"? Okay, it may be "Super", it may be made by Vileda, but what, pray, is a "mocio"? It sounds more like an elaborate form of coffee served up by the likes of Starbucks. "I'll have a double tall skinny mocio-latte please...". It's a mop, okay? No amount of badly dubbed adverts will convince me otherwise.

No, they can keep their mocio. I'd rather have a nice cup of tea.


Monday, March 14, 2005

Thoughts arising...

...at a roundabout:

"Time and Volvo wait for no man"

...on hearing the following conversation on a Devon High Street:

Child (to mother): We did spelling at school today, Mummy
Mother: Oh, really?
Child: Yes, we did things like: "You are, I are, he are..."

Witho (thinks): Hmmm, so that's how they teach English in the West Country. I wonder if the next one is "ooo-arrr"...



Friday, March 11, 2005

RND

For the benefit of my non-British or non-resident British readers, it's Red Nose Day today in Great Britain.

My favourite Red Nose Day was the one back in the early 90s when people put big red noses on their cars, between the headlamps. The noses remained in place for months (in some cases, even years) afterwards, slowly fading to a pinkish colour. I remember when I went to France being questioned about the "hats" that people had on their cars. Took me a while to work out what they were on about...

So, what have I done for RND? Er, nothing I'm afraid. I was *going* to put some red streaks in my hair with my new Babyliss "Colourlights" kit (which I have yet to "christen"). But I forgot.

At work, some of my colleagues have painted a variety of red blotches on their face. I just turned around to see someone having a very serious meeting with their boss, with a bright, red nose and rosy cheeks. After a while, people forget that they've sprayed their hair green or painted their face, and they go about their daily business as normal.

For some reason, this amuses me no end. It reminds me of a scene in last year's Big Brother, where Jason and Victor were sitting there in the garden, bemoaning the return of Michelle and Emma to the house. What made that scene hilarious to me was the fact that on the one hand, they were having a very serious conversation but on the other, they were dressed as pantomime dames, with wigs, make-up and all.

One time, when I was on holiday in Prague with some friends, we discovered a hall of mirrors bizarrely located on a hill overlooking the city. I don't know whether it was a lack of sleep or an excess of very cheap cigarettes, but I was hysterical pretty much throughout that visit to what some might imagine to be a rather dull fairground attraction.

The point at which I really lost it was when friend S had "finished" looking at amusing reflections of himself, and was walking out of the hall of mirrors. I could see a reflection of him in one of the mirrors, walking nonchalantly out of the hall, like butter wouldn't melt, with a hideously elongated head. By this point, I could no longer breathe...



Let's rock!

Okay, so who allowed me to buy a bag of Haribo Liquorice Cream Rock? Eh? Who allowed me to put them in my top drawer, within easy reach, for discreet yet constant daytime nibbling? Eh? What were they thinking of?

I should be chaperoned in shops which sell the full range of Haribo sweets... although I didn't see any "Build a burger" (more's the pity)...

***

They never did phone me back, y'know (see post below). I had to call them again, a few hours later. This time, I was subjected to much less inquisition and was able to speak to [insert random name], who dealt with my enquiry quickly, helpfully and efficiently. The End.

***

I'm giving myself a day off running this Sunday. The Big Fella has been on "duty" at school all week which means he will be working all day Saturday (instead of just the morning). Bloody boarding school, stealing my man away... Anyway, what this means is the *only* time we'll have together is Sunday and if I run, that's pretty much half the day gone with the run itself and the rest of the day written off through general inability to stand up or walk, which can hamper activities somewhat, I find.

***

Dear Witho would like to apologise for the extreme dullness of the above post and hopes that this will not deter the reader from future visits.


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Parasites and Jobsworths

Operator: [typical double-surname-based solicitors firm name], good morning
Witho: Hello, could you put me through to the conveyancing department please?
Operator: What's the reference?
Witho: It's Miss Witho concerning the purchase of [address of proposed new Witho mansions] *thinks: "this should be enough information for them"*
Operator: Is there a reference?
Witho: Um, I'm not sure, it might be [insert BF's surname], I don't have the letter with me
Operator: Do you know who's dealing with the purchase?
Witho: No I'm afraid I don't
*thinks: Christ, it's not that big a company, surely you can find out from the address who's dealing with it*
Operator: Is it [insert random name]?
Witho: Erm, could be...
Operator: And where are you calling from?
Witho: What, do you mean you want my work number?
Operator: Sorry, who are you?
Witho (starting to get a bit irate): I'm a client of yours *thinks: "a client who's paying you lot hundreds of pounds to fill in some forms and make a few phone calls ferchrissake!"*
Operator (laughing): Oh, sorry, I thought you were the other solicitor or something... so you are actually purchasing the property?
Witho (clearly not amused): Er, yes
Operator: Well, I'm afraid [insert random name] isn't in until 10. I'll take your number and get her to phone you back.

Very, very shoddy.

I shouldn't have to jump through these hoops to speak to someone to whom I'm paying a large sum of money to act on my behalf. Okay, maybe I should have brought their letter into work to cite their exact reference, but my name and the address of the property should enable them to track down their files.

Snooty, unhelpful receptionists. Most usually found in doctor's surgeries, but also abundant in a variety of other contexts.

And [insert random name] hasn't called me back yet...


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

iRate

Dear iPod

I understood that we had a reciprocal arrangement.

I provide you with a regular power supply, a means of amplification and a variety of compressed digital music files.

You provide me with music.

I am not sure why you chose to break this agreement, abruptly, at approximately 1800 hours (GMT) on Monday 7 March 2005 at the junction of the A38 and A358 just outside Taunton.

I am bewildered as to why you suddenly paused, with no warning, such that I could actually hear my own car engine running.

I am concerned that you did not respond to any of my "caresses" to your sensitive click-wheel. You froze at my touch, displaying the name of the last track played on your frigid frontispiece. Yes, of course I checked that you weren't "on hold". What do you take me for?

I am puzzled as to why you would refuse to communicate with iTunes, your own mother and mentor, who, with my guidance, feeds you the nutriments of my music collection.

I am befuddled by your inability to declare yourself to Windows XP who, when questioned, refused to acknowledge your presence, in spite of the physical connection between the two of you.

You sat there, stony faced, all evening. So there I left you, with only your internal battery for company. In the morning, when I tentatively opened the door to the lounge, there you were, fast asleep. With trepidation, I fed you the voltage you required and you immediately came to life as if nothing had happened!

Why must you torture me so?


Sunday, March 06, 2005

Thirteen point one miles...

...is how I chose to commemorate the (almost, but not quite) end of 2 nicotine-free years in the life of Witho.

Yep, March 7th 2003 was the day of my last ciggie. Smoked on platform 4 of Southampton Central station as I awaited my train to Bristol, where I was meeting my sister who would convey me to our holiday cottage in the Forest of Dean. I was taking the train because my "then" car (dear old André, the trusty Ford Fiesta) had just been written off... I remember picking that car up from the dealer in Grays (Essex). My first drive home in my first ever car was around the North Circular. Baptism of fire...

There were a few cigarettes left in the packet, which I ditched in the bin of the ladies' toilets (since there were no bins on the platform).

[tangent]
I remember the days when they used to have bins on Tube station platforms... I'm a bit too young to have actually smoked on a Tube train, though...
[/tangent]

I could have finished them off, but my decision was that the smoking would end, there and then. No patches, no hypnotics. Just me and a packet of Wrigley's Extra.

A week later, I started running.

Two years on.

I can run a half marathon. Not particularly quickly. Without much style or elegance. But I can do it without stopping.

Yep, I'm proud of that.


Friday, March 04, 2005

Mobility

During my relatively stress-free daily jaunts up and down the rather sedate M5 (remember, I "grew up" on the M25...) I've noticed a proliferation of "mobile homes" making their way presumably to or from caravan parks in the West Country. When I say "mobile homes", I'm not talking about those winnebago type things. I'm talking about a "home" so "mobile" that it requires a large articulated lorry to transport it (usually straddling more than one lane on the motorway) to its resting place, whence it will *never* move again. Very mobile. The sort of mobile home which costs about as much as 10 years' worth of luxury holidays to a variety of destinations around the world.

See, I just don't *get* why you would buy one of those things.

Camper vans - yes, I get it. Wouldn't really want it for myself, but it's a relatively normal-sized (and priced) vehicle with sleeping and catering facilities which allow you the freedom to take ad-hoc breaks without having to worry about accommodation.

Winnebagos/Motor homes - hmmm, much bigger, much more cumbersome, much more expensive. But still, in its defence, a bona fide vehicle incorporating more spacious accommodation, allowing the user to take their accommodation with them to wherever they want to go (within the limitations of the size of the vehicle of course).

Caravans - oh dear. Not a proper vehicle in its own right. Must be attached to a car and driven by an "amateur" who often does not have the requisite skills to drive an articulated vehicle. Causes havoc on A roads all over the country as well as being aesthetically abhorrent. Yes, we're getting further and further away from Witho's idea of holiday accommodation.

Mobile homes a.k.a. "static caravans". Not mobile. Not a home. Can't think why anyone would actually *buy* one. And even staying in one of these in a caravan park is not as cheap as you might imagine.

No, these days, with cheap flights and plenty of quality self-catering accommodation to be found in this country and abroad (cottages, gîtes etc) there can be no excuse for these monstrosities.

Witho has spoken.
Good morrow.


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Thoughts arising on a train journey

Where?

The 17:32 from Reading to Plymouth. Calling at Newbury, Taunton, Tiverton Parkway, Exeter St Davids etc … (after that, I stopped listening really. Evidently, the guy opposite me wasn’t listening at all. He’s just found out from the guard that the train doesn’t stop at Westbury and is none too pleased. He'll have over an hour to wait for the next train back from Taunton. Ooops!…)

Who?

Witho and the work laptop

Why?

On her way back from a business trip. Woo! Get her, eh, with her business trip. Next thing she’ll be claiming expenses! At £86 for the return ticket (Standard Class, Taunton to Maidenhead), you bet she will be!

What?

The main thing troubling me at the moment is an episode of Property Ladder I was privy to the other night. It involved the refurbishment of a beautiful, 1930s house. I’m not talking about those 1930s semis which are ten-a-penny in suburbia, I’m talking about the white stucco “streamline moderne” style villas, with their curved walls and chrome railings. The kind of house that makes you (or me, at least) stop and look, then stop again and look again, eyes wide and mouth at least partially open.

So, refurbishing a house like this is all about preserving that streamlined, clean look, right? About maintaining that feeling of light and space with simply designed furnishings, right?

*shudders*

Apparently not, according to the protagonist of the show who gives new meaning to the word “bimbo”. A simpering, bimbling twit of a woman who invested her life savings into the systematic massacre of the house, who used its interior as a vomitorium for a mish mash of lunatic and hideously kitch design ideas, who splattered the smooth, uncluttered contours of the house with her turquoise, pink and purple “diarrhoea”.

Ultimately, she built a rod for her own back. She was supposed to be selling the house for a profit, but she made it unsaleable and destroyed any hope of a profit by her extravagances. All credit to Beeny – she may be looking a bit rough this series what with being up the duff ‘n’ all, but she tried to warn the girl on a number of occasions to no avail.

I was upset on behalf of that house. I used to have a 1930s apartment. Nothing like as grand as this house, but it still had the curved walls, the spacious rooms and the first signs of “modernity” (the original fitted kitchen was still in situ with a fold-down ironing board and breakfast table). I never allowed that flat to achieve its potential, I was too scared to just get stuck in, like when you’re sitting there in front of a blank canvas and you hesitate to make the first brush stroke for fear of spoiling it... Evidently, the subject of this programme had no such qualms.

Soundtrack to a journey

Bent, Swollen
Les Nubians, Bebela
Renaud, Mistral Gagnant
Gypsy Kings, Bamboleo
Coldplay, Warning Sign
Bronski Beat, Smalltown boy
Radiohead, Just
Pet Shop Boys, Loves comes quickly
The Clash, London Calling
Dire Straits, Private Investigations
Moby, Natural Blues
Zero 7, The Space Between


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