Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Day 300: Update on Goals

This is the penultimate update on goals. The final update will occur either at the end of the year or when I complete the last goal, whichever comes first.

  • Super Secret Goal #1. Complete.
  • Super Secret Goal #2. Abandoned in April; included here for completeness only.
  • Books. Complete. As noted previously, the final book was "Devil May Care", which I finished earlier this month.
  • Weight loss. Complete. I hit my target weight on Saturday.
  • New skill. I'm now three weeks into the course, and thus far it's going well. It's fairly intense, though, so I'm not sure quite how much I'm actually retaining.
  • Car fund. Complete.
  • General finances. Complete. Everything seems to be in order, and nicely ticking along. As with many of the other goals, this will require ongoing maintenance, but the goal itself can be labelled done.
  • Band. Complete.
  • The house move. Complete. I finally bought a dining table, thus completing the steps that make up the goal. There is some scope for adding some pictures to the walls, and it may be a good idea to rearrange a couple of the rooms at some point, but for now the job is done.
  • TV. Complete.
  • RPGs. The Star Wars Saga Edition campaign came to its close, and the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign is prepared and ready to go. We just haven't managed to actually get together to start the campaign.

The net result of all of this is that I have completed eight goals and abandoned one, leaving two to work on. I'm hopeful of getting started on the Warhammer campaign early next month, leaving only the Spanish course to bring to its conclusion in December. All in all, therefore, things seem to be nicely in hand.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Experimental Cookery 'Tuesday' #57: Perfect Roast Pork

Yesterday, I tackled the third of the four roasts from the book. This worked out quite well, apart from a slight disaster with an excess of pepper on some potatoes, but the truth is that roast pork just isn't as nice as roast beef or chicken, and so this was the weakest of the three to date.

Still counts as a win, though, taking the tally to 5-0 for "Family Roasts".

Next up is "Perfect Roast Lamb", which completes the roasts chapter. I'm not sure quite when I'll get to that - it might be a couple of weeks. I'm toying with making an early start of the "Delish Veg" chapter in the meantime.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

That's it! I did it!

Following the extensive dancing at the concert last night, at today's weigh in I got the pleasant surprise that I have finally hit my target weight.

As a consequence of this, I won't have to be quite so obsessive about the diet in future. Although I do want to avoid regaining lots of weight - I don't really want to go through another fourteen months of dieting.

Still, I think I shall have some Irn Bru, and maybe even some chips, to celebrate.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The BNP and the BBC

(Before I start, and in case there's any doubt: I am in no way a supporter of the BNP. In fact, in almost every regard I am directly opposite to them in political outlook. However, I strongly believe in various freedoms, and part of that requires arguing that those freedoms be afforded to people who I really dislike.)

Back during the European elections, there was a lot of concern about the possibility of the BNP willing a seat or two. In the end, they won two. At the time, there was some discussion on how to make sure this never happened again.

When discussing this, I made the comment (elsewhere) that this was a matter of going about things the wrong way. The fact that the BNP were able to stand on a, frankly, hateful platform, and that people were allowed to vote for them, even if this gave a result that 'we' didn't want was actually a sign that our system was working as intended. Further, rather than trying to change the rules to drive out the BNP, what should be done is that they should be engaged in argument, shown as exactly what they are, and thus defeated. (Also, the 'mainstream' parties should also take a good look at why they have so disillusioned voters so that they decided not to bother voting en masse - a low turn out favours the extremists.)

(And, while I'm on the topic, I'm more than a little disturbed by the recent judgement that the BNP must allow people of all races to join. I'm inclined to think that there are certain organisations that are inherently racist, sexist or sectarian, and that some exception must therefore be made. One wouldn't suggest that the church should be required to appoint ministers without regard to their religious beliefs, for example, and neither would one expect that the Girl Guides should be forced to accept boys*. So, I'm inclined to think the BNP should be allowed to continue to be inherently racist - and we should trumpet this fact loud and long, expose them to the light, and thus destroy them. That said, I am amused by the possibility of black and asian people joining the BNP en masse, and wiping them out that way.

* Although, it should be noted that efforts have been made to do exactly this. Both the Girl Guides and the Boys' Brigade have had to manage without government funding in recent years because they won't allow boys/girls to join. While I understand the principle behind this, and broadly agree with it, I'm sure that in this case it is a mistake.)

And so we get to the BBC, and in particular "Question Time". Now, the BBC take the view that this show is supposed to represent the entire political spectrum. Therefore, as the BNP have some elected MEPs, the rules suggest that they should be invited to take part, as happened last night.

Cue the inevitable storm of protest. In particular, one Labour MP started talking about a 'legal challenge' because, as noted above, the BNP constitution has been ruled to be unlawful. The suggestion, again, was that because 'we' don't like the way things have turned out, 'we' should change the rules to silence the voices we don't like to hear.

I'm very glad that the BBC didn't cave in to this pressure. I'm also very glad that all of our mainstream parties sent representatives to take part in the debate. (In the end, I watched very little of the show; it was always going to be about the BNP, and there's very little that they have to say that I have any interest in hearing.)

What I saw of it bore out what I was sure would happen: hand the BNP the rope, don't let them duck the questions, and they'll promptly hang themselves.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Game Over

My game for this weekend has been cancelled, again. And, just like that, I no longer consider myself "a gamer", but rather "a person who games occasionally". I find this entirely unacceptable.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Bond vs Real Bond

As the last post indicated, I have completed my 52 books for the year. Of greater relevance, to this post at least, is that the penultimate book was the final original James Bond novel, while the last was the new Bond novel by Sebastian Faulks.

So, how did it stack up?

Well, for about two-thirds of the novel, it actually holds up very well. The plot feels like something Fleming would have used, Bond feels about right, and all the requisite elements are in place. Although it never felt quite right - in the first chapters, he seemed to be trying just a bit too hard to mark this as a 'Bond' novel, and throughout the novel didn't have quite the same feel - I guess the difference between the Martini being shaken, and it being stirred. There was a certain world-weary bitterness about the Fleming Bonds that wasn't really in evidence here. Oh, and he didn't manage to capture the casual sexism of Fleming's work. (Normally, that would be a good thing, of course. However, when trying to emulate a style, it's a liability.)

However, where it was good, it was very good. Fleming was an outstanding travel writer, and Faulks managed to emulate that very well. He seemed to go on just a little long, but it was a good effort. And, as I said, up until about two-thirds of the way through the novel it felt about right.

Then it all came crashing down. You know the plot: Bond gets captured, the villain explains his insane scheme for world domination, Bond somehow foils him, the end.

Except, that's the plot of the many Bond movies. Most of the novels are more inventive than that. (And, annoyingly, it seems that there's a trend there when people seek to emulate the old-school - they emulate everything about it, except where the old-school was actually being cutting-edge and inventive.)

So, "Devil May Care" suddenly becomes "Bond by numbers", making it extremely predictable. It also breaks several stylist elements of the Fleming novels (notably, those novels almost never move away from Bond as the focus character; certainly never to other 'heroic' characters). Then there are the continuity errors, which are barely noticeable... unless you've just finished reading the other novels.

Oh, and then there's the denouement. It seems Faulks didn't quite know how to end his novel, so he stole a bit from here, a bit from there, put it all together, and it almost works. But the big problem is not the plot here, although that's annoyingly routine, but rather the style. One of the best things about the Bond novels is that they generally start quite fast, then they really get going, Bond saves the day... and then they end. They don't linger on for three more chapters, as this one does.

It's a pity. As I said, the first two-thirds of the novel is really good, and very close to the intended feel. It just falls apart rather spectacularly.

(Funnily enough, two days ago, I was about to write a post much like this one, but decided to hold off until I was finally done. That draft ended with the request: more of this please. Now, I'm less keen; I think perhaps it's best to leave the Bond novels to stand alone.)

Monday, October 12, 2009


Ah, MP's Expenses. Such fun. I am glad we're represented by such honest and upstanding folk.

Or something. Actually, I don't much care any more. I've more or less reached the point of apathy, it being my defense against despair.

However, something that seems rather odd about today's events: Jacqui Smith was ordered to apologise to parliament for some £160,000 claimed in mortgage payments, but she was not required to pay that money back.

Surely, if she hasn't done anything wrong, then she has nothing to apologise for?

Conversely, surely, if she claimed inappropriately, but it was an honest mistake, then she should indeed apologise, but she should also be paying back the money, or at least the bulk of it?

And, finally, if she claimed inappropriately, and deliberately did so knowing she should not, then surely she shouldn't be apologising, but rather should be paying back the money, and then spending some time at Her Majesty's pleasure?

I don't see any other options, so I really don't see the logic that brings us to this point.

(There is, of course, the argument that she couldn't afford to pay back the £160,000. After all, who has that sort of money available? The problem with that line of reasoning is that that money was spent on a very large and luxurious property. If that is, indeed, our money that was claimed inappropriately, then it may well be that she would have to sell that property to return the money. It seems harsh, but there it is.)

However, despite all this, I can't help the feeling that, actually, Jacqui Smith has been nominated as the official scapegoat, the MP who will be thrown to the wolves in order to take the flak for the rest of them. I'm half expecting to see her spectacularly and 'shockingly' lose her seat at the next election (while most of the rest of Labour's 'big guns' scrape by), in the same way that Portillo did in '97.

Oh, and also: apparently, the list of MPs who have to pay money back, and also the amounts and what the claims were for, is not going to be published. I am extremely angry about this. We have a General Election coming up in under a year, and it would be really good to know if the incumbent is actually an upright and honest man, or if he's been cheating the system. In my case, that's especially important: Eric Joyce is the most expensive MP in the country, but that by itself doesn't mean anything; it's just possible that all those claims were justified. Oddly, that's something I would like to know.

#52: "Devil May Care", by Sebastian Faulks (writing as Ian Fleming)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Experimental Cookery 'Tuesday' #55: Perfect Roast Beef; #56: Yorkshire Puddings

There are certain meals that could be considered 'event meals' - the meals you put that bit more effort into for the benefit of company. Roast beef is a good example. It's not something I would ever make for myself; it's just too much effort. But it's not hard work, and the results can be very impressive.

This evening I cooked roast beef, complete with the roast potatoes, carrots and parsnips, and Yorkshire puddings for myself, Dad, Lady Chocolat, and brother G. It took the better part of the afternoon. And, perhaps worse, once I got started on the cooking, I was basically engaged doing that until it was finished - unlike the curries there isn't a 'simmer step' that would allow me to leave it running and do something else.

When the meal was complete, carved and served, we sat down and began the meal itself. Shortly thereafter, the casual banter stopped, and there came a certain quiet, much as there had been for the chicken over Christmas; I have come to see this as a good thing.

The meal was very good. The beef was good, the vegetables were good, the Yorkshires were good. It was all good. So, that would be a winner. This brings us to an unchallenged 4-0 in "Family Roasts" (the previous 2 come from the chicken and the vegetables from over Christmas).

Next week, all being well, I'm going to tackle "Perfect Roast Pork".

The Day of Free Coffee

Yesterday I had another appointment at the bank, which was set for 11am. I wrote this down, and even set up a reminder in my Outlook calendar - that's how organised I was. When the bank sent me a reminder letter, complete with a huge list of documents I really really had to take with me, I filed this away for later reference, but basically forgot about it.

Until Friday, when I started gathering the documents together, at which point I noticed that the time was different on the letter: it said 10am. This surprised me, but I assumed that I must have made a mistake. Surely the letter was computer generated (it certainly looked like a 'form' letter), so it must have the right time.

So, I moved my alarm back an hour, and went to the bank, arriving just before 10. Where, of course, I was told that the appointment was at 11, and that the letter was wrong. There were profuse apologies, but I basically had to go away and kill and hour.

So, Mr Bond and I went to Starbucks, where I spent a reasonably enjoyable 45 minutes reading. (I always take a book with me to these appointments, preferably a good book. This one is a good book.) There are worse ways to spend an hour.

However, while I was there, I was approached by one of their people, who was wondering if I could fill in a survey for them. Naturally, being at a loose end, and in keeping with my debonair 'secret agent' persona, I would be delighted.

So, I filled in the survey. The line of questioning was... interesting. Anyway, as a reward for spending so much of my precious time on this, I was given a voucher for a any free drink from Starbucks.

So, the net effect: one free cup of coffee.

I went to my appointment, which went well. Although it did seem that I actually knew most of the answers already - seems I'm better informed than I think.

After the appointment, the advisor said that the bank would reimburse me for the coffee I had bought. I demurred, of course, but she was insistent. And so, I was given money for coffee. Only, rather than take a note of the exact amount (as I would have expected), I was just given a likely amount, that actually proved to be more than double the actual cost of the coffee.

So, the net effect: two more free cups of coffee. Or, a total of three free cups of (very expensive) coffee.


(After going to the bank, I then went over to Ikea, where I actually found the table and chairs I wanted, and promptly spent the better part of £400 on furniture. So, it still turned out to be a very expensive day. But that's not really important to my story.)

#51: "Octopussy and the Living Daylights", by Ian Fleming

Thursday, October 08, 2009

You must be joking!

While I'm on the topic of council antics that have annoyed me, here's one from Falkirk:

Now, to be fair, the Falkirk council have generally been pretty good. They've got a really solid recycling programme (without yet succumbing to the idiocy that is slop buckets), they somehow manage to keep the town reasonably neat and tidy, and Council Tax rates are not excessively painful.


When I got home yesterday, I found a letter from the council waiting for me. Said letter was posted on Tuesday and received on Wednesday, and declared that, due to some health and safety regulation, the council needed to urgently inspect large portions of the block in which I live.

Fair enough, right?

Well, not quite. See, in order to do this, they would require me to be available to let them in some time between the hours of 10 and 4, essentially taking up a full day for this.

But that's not the worst part. They wanted, nay needed, to do this today.

So, I was somehow expected to make myself available for an inspection at some random time today, with twelve hours of notice?

Well, sorry mister council-man, but that's not going to happen. Perhaps surprisingly, I have to work. And I'm having a hard time getting a day off work for my own use at the moment; I'm certainly not going to burn one of my few days just for you. Not to mention that it's flat impossible to do it with less than a week's notice; to achieve what they want I would have to call in sick, when I am not.

How Rude!

So, my Spanish course started yesterday. I was going to post something about how I was looking forward to it starting, but also somewhat reluctant, feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything, and so on.

I'm rather glad I didn't. I have a much better post to make today.

One of the advantages of the course is that there is a gap between work and the course, but not enough to allow me to head home to get dinner and get changed. That means that most weeks, I'll be able to work a bit later on Wednesday, then head into Edinburgh for the course. (Yes, this is an advantage, especially at the moment.) However, last night I didn't work more than a few minutes late, choosing instead to allocate loads of time for the journey. And so, directions in hand, off I went.

It all went quite well, until I inevitably took a wrong turn. This wouldn't have been too bad, since I was heading for Edinburgh town centre (and how hard can it be to find that?). Or so you would think.

However, this fails to take into account the fact that Edinburgh hates cars. And, frankly, with good reason - it's not a place to take a car unless you have really good reason. Anyway, part of this hatred of cars manifests itself in a cunning manner: there are no road signs, or at least no road signs pointing anywhere you might want to go. The town centre? Nope. The railway station? Nope. Perhaps even Glasgow and the West, for when I have abandoned all hope and decided just to head home instead? Nope, not even that.

Multimap claimed the journey should take about twenty minutes. I left a full hour for the journey. One hour and five minutes later, when I was five minutes late, and getting increasingly angry at not even being able to get out of the city on the wrong side (so I could at least then make my way around and then home), I finally chanced upon a sign for the city centre. So, back I went, back through some streets, back through the park I somehow ended up driving through (that mime seemed to have recovered), and then, suddenly, back to a street I actually knew!

I finally got to the course twenty minutes late, which was fairly horrifying. Especially since my efforts to slip in quietly were stymied by a very heavy door with very loose hinges. BANG!

The course itself was pretty good, if a bit full-on. In two hours, we got a whole lot of information thrown at us very fast. Hopefully, it'll all start to make more sense over the next few weeks.

So, all in all, it worked out as a reasonably good evening. Still, I'm more than a little annoyed at the signage in Edinburgh. It seems its designed so that you can only ever find where you are going if you already know. Plus, I really hate being late for things, and especially being badly late.

#48: "Career Compendium" (for "Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay"), by Fantasy Flight Games
#49: "Azincourt", by Bernard Cornwell
#50: "The Man with the Golden Gun", by Ian Fleming

As things stand, I expect to finish the 52 books next week. And there I was thinking it would be a tough challenge!