Friday, April 29, 2005

Work, schmörk

I spent most of yesterday meticulously debugging a program which turned out to be working perfectly. I'm not sure what had changed between it not working on Wednesday and it working on Thursday. The wind, perhaps...

I guess at least I was "working" for *most* of the day, even if it was utterly futile.

They've recently reorganised the department so that I now fall under the "Customer Services Group" (IT support, essentially) rather than the "Business Development Group" (project work) even though they claim that our roles will not change in the short to medium term. They spent a long time putting together an organisational "blueprint" with a series of meaningless diagrams and empty phrases which will probably never be referred to again.

Cynical, moi?

I also had a meeting with my new manager.

Manager: "I don't know much about you, I wasn't involved in your recruitment. What do you do?"
Witho: "I'm an AS400 developer"
Manager: "So, what's a developer, then?"


Excitement followed, as the company magazine landed on our desks. My colleagues and I incredulously noted that during an interview with one of the new directors, the second question was: "What are your core values?".

I know what my answer would be:

"Loving, laughing, eating, sleeping"

though I don't think that was the kind of thing they would have been after...

Later, colleague B was threatening to throw an apple core at colleague P (for reasons I can't actually recall, but which aren't really relevant anyway). Colleague P pointed out that he didn't really understand why people didn't eat the apple core. I mentioned that BF always ate the core...

Colleague D then piped up: "I guess it depends on your core values"

Thursday, April 28, 2005

A handful of songs

My work colleagues are getting to know my little foibles.

As I stood in the kitchen making the tea and singing:

"When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie..."

My colleague butted in:

"You've seen my yoghurt in the fridge, haven't you"

One of these.

See a word, hear a word, find a song with that word in it. That's the way the Witho mind works...

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Peaks and troughs

This was the trough.

This was the peak. Literally!

Once again, the Sunday run put right the wrongs of the previous Wednesday. Five miles through forest tracks accompanied by the damp, fresh smell of an English wood on a Sunday morning in spring.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't easy. There were more uphill stretches than I've ever had to deal with before as we climbed several hundred feet through the trees. My calves are still reminding me...

The secret? Splitting into two groups. Letting the faster ones go off first without them having to loop back, running with people of a similar ability and pace and only being overtaken by a very excitable and energetic dog! In a group of four of us (plus the dog) I came second - and there were two blokes in the group! I ran all the hills (however slowly) and at the end, was so glad I'd gone. I had nearly bottled it...

I'll keep an open mind for Wednesday...

Cookery Notes

My birthday meal at the weekend involved rekindling my love affair with North African/Middle Eastern food which, I think, can be traced back to my time in Brussels where there were several Lebanese restaurants - my favourite being "Al Barmaki". Of course, my time in France gave me some snippets of some of the goodies on offer, like merguez and cous cous, but it wasn't until I arrived in Brussels that these elements all came together in one grand meze!

We found a cosy little "Moroccan Tapas Bar" in Exeter and had what is obligatory under the circumstances - the meze. Our favourite dish was merguez in a tomatoey sauce, but frankly everything was spot on. We finished with baklava and I had a coffee that was too strong even for me!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Nocturnal confusion

It is the middle of the night. I've just turned over and am facing the Big Fella in my state of bleary-eyed half-wakefulness, glad to note that it's not yet time to get up.
"Are you okay, love?" he asks. He sounds terribly concerned.
"Yes, I'm fine... why do you ask?"
"I can't remember"

Not only can he not remember why he asked me if I was okay literally seconds earlier, he has no recollection of this conversation when I quiz him about it this morning...

I always make the mistake of thinking he's awake when he comes out with his regular, random pronouncements during the night. I think to myself "this time, maybe this time, rational conversation will ensue". It rarely does...

The theme for this weekend was watching "difficult" films. Films which do not promise an easy ride, films which cause the viewer to wince, to avert their eyes, to frown, to cling on to their fellow viewer as if by doing so, the horror with which you are being presented will somehow become diluted, easier to swallow.

Both are films where the horror does not come from computer-generated monsters, a menacing orchestral score or an unlikely fantasy world scenario. Ah no. These films were based on events which actually happened here on this earth.

Downfall and Open Water.


Saturday, April 23, 2005

All the threes

About a month ago, I drooled over one of these in a shop window in Bude:

 Posted by Hello

Today, as a reward for my age being divisible (with no remainder) by the numbers 3 and 11 as well as by itself and the number 1 (meaning presumably that I'm *not*, in fact, a woman in my "prime", though I was at 31 and will be again at 37...), the BF presented me with same.

Once again, he managed to pick out something I had wanted for a long time: the digital camera and the iPod mini being further examples of this particular skill of his.

In the case of the Dualit toaster, the hankering period probably went on for about 17 or 18 years! I used to work in a baker-shop-cum-café on Saturdays which had one like this (though not a Dualit). As I prepared ham and cheese toasties for the Walthamstow folk who were taking a break from their shopping down Wood Street ("Betty's" shoes, "Dewco's" for bargain items, "Fine Fare" foods and "Sounds Familiar" records where my sisters and I would spend hours hunting for our favourite tracks; I remember when I finally found a 12" copy of "Never too much" by Luther Vandross... the excitement *was* almost too much for me!), I would dream of having an industrial style chrome retro toaster of my very own.

It is, in essence, a hideously overpriced bread-browning device. But it is, like the red telephone box and the routemaster bus, a classic of British design, it looks fabulous and I love it! And I would *never* have bought it for myself. Which is, to my mind, what makes it a perfect present.

And it goes to prove that men *can* take hints after all. Even if they're not even meant as hints. When I drooled over that toaster in the shop in Cornwall, I didn't think for one minute: "if I do this, maybe he'll buy me one for my birthday". I was merely indulging my own selfish lust for chrome, retro-style kitchen peripherals. Honest!

Friday, April 22, 2005

First salade niçoise of the year

 Posted by Hello

I like the way Hello refused to acknowledge the "ç" when I uploaded the jpg, changing the filename to "Nioise". Interesting...

And before you say it - no, it hasn't got anchovies on it. They're perfectly welcome to go around being strangely salty, fishy and slimy, just not on any plate of mine, thanks! It's *my* version of salade niçoise, okay?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Learning points

Football overrides kittens

Specifically: showing BF a photo of some RSPCA rescue kittens at the very moment when Gary Neville is being sent off and Manchester United are 1-0 down to Everton may not yield the expected response of: "yes, dear, those kittens look lovely, let's go and get them immediately".

Running is proving to be a bit more of a struggle at the moment. It has always been a hard slog for me - I don't think I'm a natural distance runner, too powerfully built (for this, read "chunky"), but with dogged (as a "cat person" maybe that should be "catted") determination I persevere and to my credit, I never stop, I always keep going however hard I'm finding it.

But recently, despite the fact that I am doing significantly shorter distances (5 or 6 miles, compared to 11 - 13), I've been finding it very hard. The Sunday morning runs have been okay, but the Wednesday evening ones have left me feeling grumpy and lacking in confidence.

The club has changed since the Taunton half marathon (3rd April - I didn't do it because I'd double-booked that weekend. Gutted). Because there are fewer people, they don't divide the group by pace anymore, so the 7-8 minute milers are running in the same group as the 11-12 minute milers, the faster runners "looping back" to bring the group back together momentarily, only to speed off into the distance again. Psychologically, this can tip the delicate balance of the positive/negative experience of running towards the negative.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Fings what I have done which, apparently, make me British

Things I've done in bold. My comments in red:

Monday, April 18, 2005

Do as you're told!

"Buy Observer"

I study my mobile's display questioningly. I remember putting the reminder in there a couple of weeks ago but I'm damned if I can remember why.

"Buy Observer"

Now, I had, a couple of weeks previously, bought a Saturday Guardian (the sister newspaper to The Observer) to read on the train to Southampton. Maybe there was something in there advertising a feature which would appear in a couple of weeks' time...

"BF, I've got to buy an Observer today"
"I don't know, but my phone is telling me to, so there must be a reason..."
"Right... oh, I know, it's that food thing"
"No, that was last week, and I wasn't that interested in that anyway..."
"So remind me to buy one, yeah?"

I often omit the wherefores and the whys when putting reminders in my phone. One weekend it squawked: "Apple crumble" at me. Another time, simply: "Sausages".

The former food-based reminder was brought about by my thinking about apple crumble at a time when I couldn't actually make one (e.g. whilst sitting at my desk at work). It happens. So I set it to remind me about apple crumble at the weekend, when I could go and purchase the ingredients.

The latter referred to some sausages I'd put in the freezer, which needed to be used by a certain date.

At least with these, despite the initial bemusement/amusement, I had managed to work out the reason for the reminder.

"Buy Observer"

There was only one thing for it. I'd just have to "Buy Observer".

Evidently, as we drove home from Petersfield last evening, I realised that I had thus far omitted to "Buy Observer". Luckily, though, there were still some left at the service station. I had a quick look at the main features, but nothing caught my eye.

As I drove along, the BF flicked through:

"An article on Hitler?"
"VE day special?"
"A free copy of 'Restaurant at the end of the universe'?"
"No, I don't think so"

At home, I begin my quest.

Main news section: unlikely to be here as these are things which have happened recently and I set that reminder a couple of weeks ago.
Sport: come off it...
Business and Finance: since when have I been interested in this?
Reviews: Hmmm, *flicks through*, no...
Glossy mag: *flicks* No *flicks* no *flicks* no *flicks* no...

Hold on:
"Amanda was pregnant with James when Mike decided to become a Tudor monarch..."


That'll be it then:

I knew this guy at [insert company name]. I went to his leaving do. He walked away from AS400s to "become" Henry VIII. Although he didn't "become" Henry immediately. He walked into some other AS400s first (quite coincidentally, in Taunton) and led a double life for a while until he realised that he could make a living from something he loved and could ditch the '400. Can you see why I was interested in this article?

He had sent an email a few weeks ago charting his progress and reminding his friends to buy the Observer on Sunday 17th April.

So I did.

Hence (or otherwise), my Monday glumness was peaking this morning.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Van Solo

You know how it is.

You're on a roundabout - a big one with traffic lights on it. You come slowly to a halt. As you wait at the lights, your gaze wanders idly around. You sense movement in the corner of your vision. You turn and fix on the grey van to your right. A young, goatee-bearded man is in the driving seat. Nothing unusual there. Hmmmm, what's that... jiggling? What's he doing in there? It's hard to see exactly, it's a large transit-type van and he's much higher up than you, in your VW Golf.

Hang on, is he...?

You turn away, quickly, as if to clear your mind of what you've just seen.

He's not, is he?

You turn back to the van

He bloody is!
He's "applying the handbrake",
He's "grappling with the gearstick".

You with me?

Yes, really.
He's "bashing the bishop".
And - oh God - I can even see the... er... "mitre"

The lights change and the traffic starts moving. As you take the next exit, the van disappears from view.

You know, the usual Thursday morning rush hour occurrence...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Trying to talk Helpdesk through AS400 screens at 9.45pm whilst in a noisy Thai restaurant with no access to said AS400 in order to figure out why some labels aren't printing in a paper mill a couple of hundred miles away is not an easy task, as I discovered last night.

However, assisted ably by a finger in one ear and tightly shut eyes (trying to picture what the Helpdesk analyst could see), I was able to rule out any problem with the '400. It had done its job. And I mine.

It turned out that the printer was faulty. As soon as it was swapped over, the labels started churning out again and we could all sleep soundly.

Although whilst we slept, someone broke into the pool car in the hotel car park (I'm currently away on business with a colleague) and stole the iPaq which was in the boot. We're currently "stranded" in Maidenhead until we can get a replacement rear windscreen, which appears to be taking some time.

I wonder if I'll get back to Somerset in time for running club!

In the meantime, a month and a half into a project and the users still aren't clear on what their requirements are.

What started out as "can we provide one extra piece of information for product x?" has turned into "can we completely change the way we deal with product x?".

Same old same old...

Monday, April 11, 2005

Can't see the wood for the trees?

I had a phone call today, from the solicitors who are handling our house purchase.

In our Homebuyer's report, it was mentioned that there was a tree on a neighbouring property which needed to be checked out to ensure that it wasn't likely to be interfering with the foundations of the house and was being maintained appropriately by its owner.

The woman from the solicitors asked me which tree the surveyors were referring to. Evidently, I didn't know. I've seen the property twice. It's in a reasonably leafy area of Taunton so there were no trees which particularly stuck in my mind.

I asked if she'd contacted the surveyors. No.
I asked if she'd contacted the vendors (via their solicitors). No.

I advised her to contact the surveyors. As authors of the report, they *should* know which tree they were reporting on.

Is this overly simplistic of me? Out of all the people involved in the house sale, surely I am *least* likely to know to which tree they are referring. Or am I missing something?

I'm so proud

Type "two 'n' eight" into Google, including the quotes.
What do you mean, why? Just do it.

*polishes imaginary "being top of Google results list for stupid phrase" medal*

In other news

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest human battle ever and to never stop fighting.

e e cummings

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Witho plans her journey

Okay. I'm travelling from Taunton (Somerset) to Petersfield (Hampshire), a distance of 117.9 miles. I'll be departing on the Saturday afternoon, returning on the Sunday. Let's have a look:

Hmmm, not too bad. The 15:30 means less time spent on the train, but ultimately the 13:01 gets us there earliest. Note to self: take book, mp3 player and something to eat. It's going to be a long one!

Now, the return:

Sorry? Didn't quite catch that.

*clicks on "Earlier train"*
*notes that no earlier train is displayed*

So you're telling me that the only train back to Taunton on the Sunday leaves at 23:24 and arrives in Taunton at 08:43 the following day?

*clicks on "View Details" - just for a laugh*


"BF! Load up the car, love, looks like I'm driving..."

Cunning linguist

Your friend and mine, Greavsie, has recently considered starting his own business due to general career malaise, a condition which *seems* particularly widespread these days, though I'm not sure whether it's just because I'm at an age where it has started to become an issue for me and my "peers".

The syndrome seems to manifest itself as follows:

That's where Greavsie is right now. That's where I've been for some time, without making any real progress towards my "goal".

Aided and abetted by Greavsie's ponderings, my thoughts have returned to a possible option for me. I've said it before and I'll say it again - the only area where I've achieved anything more than mediocrity is French. I've got a First Class Honours degree in it. I've lived in France and Belgium and been taken for a native in both countries. In fact, in Belgium I was taken as a native of France, whilst my ex-Frog was assumed to be Belgian. Franco-Belgian relations being as they are, he was none too pleased with this assumption... heh heh heh.

I think that when people are classified as being "good at languages", this is often symptomatic of their being "good at imitating", i.e. you haven't lost that childlike quality of absorbing what's around you and repeating it. To speak a foreign language convincingly, you not only say the foreign words, but you say them in the way that the native speaker says them, with Gallic shrugs, gesticulations and pouting as appropriate, and punctuate your conversations with the little phrases they use, like "dis donc", "hop!", "oh là là", "ben oui" and so on.

I'm an imitator. I imitate everything around me - including the various bleeps emanating from office machinery at work, much to the concern of my work colleagues at times. This quality of mine has allowed me to excel at languages and languages have become my fascination.

Evidently, the most obvious (if a little clichéd) job for a linguist is translation (in my case French to English - you should always translate into your mother tongue) and it's something I've been considering more and more seriously as time has gone by for my potential "freelance" business. I've investigated a number of correspondence courses which would groom me for the Institute of Linguists' Diploma in Translation (DipTrans) and I've even done a sample translation which was provided as part of the application pack for one of the courses, which I completed in a couple of hours with no real problems.

But, as is usually the case with me, I'm plagued by self-doubt. Why would someone commission *me* to translate for them when I'm not "naturally" bilingual? There must be so many people whose lives have allowed them to learn more than one language "naturally" from a very early age (as per petite anglaise's daughter "Tadpole", and Alda). I just wonder how I could compete with people like this.

It costs a fair bit of money both to do the course and to enter the exam. Is this a useful investment in my future?

I know, you guys don't necessarily have the answer. It's something I have to work out for myself...

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


Dear fellow motorists on the Southbound M5 this morning

Allow me to apologise profusely for delaying you by approximately 2 seconds this morning as you were obliged, nay forced, to overtake me whilst I travelled along in the nearside lane.

You see, call me old fashioned, but I tend to adjust my driving style somewhat according to the weather conditions. Yes, silly, aren’t I? It may have escaped your notice by its subtlety, but it was raining this morning. Yes, really. Quite hard actually. In fact, torrentially. Visibility was drastically reduced as a result of the spray on the motorway. Yes, and the motorway people thought this could prove dangerous, so put an advisory speed limit of 50 on those highly visible signs – you know, the ones on the central reservation.

I apologise for not being quite as “invincible” as you so clearly are, for not possessing your powers of seeing through the fug of rain and being able to negotiate your way along the motorway at your usual speed. Those extra metres that you’ve gained by tailgating every car you approach must make all the difference. I imagine that you must be so important, so influential in the world that your progress to your workplace must not be hampered by the likes of mere mortals such as myself. I’m sure that if you were even 3 seconds late for your worthwhile job of corporate dogsbody for Messrs Bastard and Wanker, the world would surely implode. I’m sure your family would be delighted to hear that you’d been horrifically injured or killed in a car accident, as long as they knew it was because you were just trying to get to work on time. Yes.

I hope you can find a way in your heart to forgive me for impeding you in this way.

Love Witho

Monday, April 04, 2005


Why do people at work feel the need to comment on how warm their chair is when someone else has been sitting on it? I mean, what do they expect the warm-bottomed individual to say in response?

"My fundament is indeed not of the cold variety"
"My nether regions are conspicuous by their higher-than-average temperature"
"I do indeed have a hot bot"

My advice to the chair owner on returning to their warmed seat? Just keep it to yourself, it can add no value other than mild embarrassment to the situation.

Another weekend bites the dust. My homies (I'm so "un-street", I don't even know how to spell it!) in Southampton were having a "we've-got-our-bonus-now-let's-blow-most-of-it-on-food-and-booze" soirée, to which I was invited, even though I didn't get the aforementioned bonus because I don't work at [insert old company name] any more. I took the opportunity, though, to jeer at them because I've got a Final Salary pension at [insert new company name] whereas they've got a "subject-to-the-vagaries-of-the-stock-market-might-only-be-worth-50p-when-I-retire" pension. Ha!

I kind of dread going back to Southampton sometimes. I feel I've let them down for not doing something "better" after leaving [insert company name]. I'd like to go there and regale them all with tales of how well I'm doing.

In reality, I've taken a pay-cut of five grand and am still doing pointless things for a pointless company. Admittedly, a paper company is (in my opinion, at least) slightly less pointless than a financial services company - at least its products are tangible. Everyone needs paper at some point or another but it's hard to see why anyone needs an overpriced, complicated pension product.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Oh dear, I've been tagged...

Thanks BF

1. What book would I like to be?

Is it just me or is that is a very strange question? It makes me think of the wonderful poem "A Martian Sends a Postcard Home" where books are seen by the alien eye as animate objects: "mechanical birds with many wings".

Seeing as they're not, I'm not sure how I'd feel about being acquired, "thumbed" for a couple of weeks then put on a shelf for several years, gathering dust. I'd hope that I would be reused, given to charity, say, and then thumbed again by a new owner and so on ad infinitum. Or maybe I could be one of those beautiful coffee table books, which people go back to again and again, flicking through idly.

When I was little, we had a book called "What makes it go?" by Richard Scarry which had wonderful pictures of machines and how they worked. My favourite was the cross section of a cruise ship, with all the little people in it. So much to take in. I think I'd like to be a book like this - one which fills the reader with excitement and wonder.

2. Have I ever had a crush on a fictional character?

No. Sorry.

3. What is the last book I bought?

"Ella Minnow Pea" by Mark Dunn. I was probably drawn to it because of the word "Minnow" in the title. See how Blogland has infiltrated my very thoughts? It ain't right, I tell ya!

However, I don't expect I'll read it for a while. I've got to read this first, then this. Oh, and all the other unread tomes on the bookshelf. I am a v e r y slow reader. I only think to pick up a book when I'm going to bed, and even if I'm enjoying my book, the soporific effect of reading never takes long to set me a-nodding. When BF and I are reading in bed, he'll "monitor" me - if I go quiet for a while, he'll give me a nudge to make sure I haven't nodded off. Bless.

4. What is the last book I read?

I read half of "The Female Eunuch" by Germaine Greer whilst on holiday, but had to leave it there because it belonged to the cottage. I should probably get myself a copy so that I can finish it, it was very interesting.

The last book I actually completed was "Brick Lane", by Monica Ali. I grew up in East London in a community with a large Asian population so I thought this might be an interesting read, coming from the point of view of a Bangladeshi woman "brought" over to England for an arranged marriage.

5. What book am I currently reading?

"Middlesex", by Jeffrey Eugenides. It's about a hermaphrodite (do you see what he's done there?) as opposed to an English county which doesn't really exist anymore or a cricket team that my mum used to support.

6. What five books would I take with me if I was stranded on a desert island?

7. What three poor idiots am I tagging with this FUN FUN FUN?
I'm going to be controversial and say "no-one". I'm not running a dictatorship here, blog what you like! ;)

Apologies if you saw this post appear, transmogrify and disappear about 20 minutes ago. I had an issue with a "Back" button and a brain which didn't work anymore...

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