Sunday, August 25, 2013

Dear American TV...

Just some thoughts:

  1. It's quite annoying when our channels break films up with adverts. Still, at least we have a good half-hour of film for 5 minutes of adverts. Showing ten minutes of film and then ten minutes of adverts is annoying in the extreme. Please stop it.
  2. At 11pm at night, it is probably okay to show the occasional bared breast, and/or not to censor expletives. If it really, truly, is not, perhaps you should consider not showing "Deuce Bigelo: European Gigolo"?
  3. Speaking of censorship, you should perhaps be consistent. In "The Ugly Truth", there's a scene where KH complains that men "prefer women in slutty clothes who suck lots of ****". This is then followed by a five minute exchange in which KH and GB repeatedly declare "cock". "Cock, cock, cock." Can you perhaps see the absurdity of censoring the first of these, but not the rest? And yet, that's exactly what happened. (And yes, I watched a bunch of crap when I was in the US. Unfortunately, the choice of channels was extremely limited, and I had no DVDs with me. Plus, with the amount of work I was doing, by the time the TV went on, I wanted something suitably mind-numbing.)
  4. Anything on the Fox Network that isn't explicitly marked as fiction really should be removed from TV. Seriously, I get annoyed enough at Question Time, but this was a whole new level of nonsense. I particularly enjoyed the comments by the rich white guy who declared that fast food employees shouldn't assume that their work gave them the right to expect to have somewhere to live. No, he really said that. (It was particularly annoying because they often had discussion topics that actually sounded like interesting subjects. But then they actually got started.)

The Adventures of Steph/ven: #3: The Wedding of Katie and Bex

Okay, right at the outset I'm going to say this: I'm aware that there are potentially discussions to have about the question of gay marriage. One day, I might actually post on that topic. But the time for that was not last weekend, and it's not really now either. This was, and is, about my cousin's day, so I'm going to respect it as such. To that end, while I'm not realy a fan of censorship, I've disabled comments on this post. Sorry.

So, I got back to the UK on Friday morning, at about 10:30. On Sunday, at about 2:30, I was parted from LC once again, got into a car with my parents, and travelled down to the wedding. We were the only three members of the Scottish branch of the family to attend; unfortunately, the schools up here go back earlier than down South, which impacted on most other people. (Indeed, I missed LC's first day of work as a result, which wasn't ideal, but there it is.)

The journey down was... interesting. According to Google Maps, it was a journey of 4 hours and 38 minutes. We got there about 8:30. Still, it was okay, I suppose. We did stop to eat along the way, then abandoned our first choice of services, stopped again later, regretted that we hadn't stayed at the first place, and reluctantly dined at Burger King. It wasn't the best - especially when we reached the hotel, Dad saw the menu, and commented that he felt the hotel restaurant would have been a good choice, looking both good quality and not bad price. (Yes, I know. I was shocked too.)

We stayed in the Premier Inn at Harmer Hill, which I think was once a family hotel that has since been bought over/converted to become a PI. Which was fine - it was pretty much as expected from the chain, complete with the Good Night's Sleep guarantee. I had no complaints, and even my parents were duly impressed. (Yes, I know. I was shocked too.)

During the journey down, it occurred to me that I didn't recall putting my cufflinks in my bag. I knew I'd put them beside the bag to go in, but didn't recall them actually being packed. LC then confirmed that they had been left behind, and so alternate arrangements had to be made (which reminds me - must send the borrowed ones back to M). However, this proved to be the less embarrassing wardrobe issue, as a certain person had to rush off to buy a new suit due to a trouser shortfall...

So, Dad returned to the hotel, dressed in about five minutes, and then we piled into the car. He then set off at high speed - so fast, in fact, that I didn't have the time to get the directions aligned and we missed the vital turn. Oops. Fortunately, I had somehow remembered my book of maps, and was thus able to navigate us to the appropriate place. Which was lucky, really.

The weeding took place at Rowton Castle:

It was a lovely, sunny day, so there was a gathering of the family in the grounds outside, and then again just within the castle. And then came the time for the ceremony.

At this point I wasn't sure what to expect. This was, after all, the first civil partnership I had attended, so what was it to be? What would they wear? What was the terminology? I mean, I didn't want to ask, but I was understandably curious.

Well, it turned out that, regardless of the technicalities, it was basically a wedding. So, there were several bridesmaids, each of the couple had two "best persons" (Katie had two best women, while Bex had a best woman and best man), and so forth. Also, the couple were referred to, almost exclusively, as "Katie and Bex" (or "Katie and Rebecca" where appropriate), which was a good choice.

For their part, Bex wore a fairly traditional dress, being a bluish silver and strapless, while Katie wore a pantsuit with a huge velvet jacket festooned with buttons in a nautical style. It suited her entirely, conveying exactly the whimsy that we've come to expect from Katie:

(Sorry, not the best photo, just the best that I took. I was using my phone, and hadn't quite got to grips with how best to use it.)

The ceremony was short and sweet, and then it was outside for mingling, for photos, and for the single greatest idea in the history if ice creams:

Yes, it's true - the ice creams were both larger than the entire wedding party, and they had the ability to turn you into a giant so that they were smaller than your thumb! Isn't that amazing?

The rest of the day was more or less as would be expected - there was some mingling, then the meal (chicken, or maybe turkey, and potato salad to start, roast beef for main, and then a brownie and cream for dessert), and then the first dance and disco.

During the afternoon, I was asked if I would pipe the couple in to the top table. I was, of course, delighted to do so, although I was initially a little concerned - I didn't want to force myself into their day, but my Dad had mentioned to Katie's Dad, and then Katie asked me. But I checked, and they were absolutely delighted that I play, so... huzzah!

Amusingly, while I was tuning up, it was noted that the cows in the field stopped what they were doing and appeared intrigued. Actully, while I was in the car park, I noticed this was the case, and had been a bit concerned lest they suddenly stampede. But all was well. In fact, I'm sure I noticed a few cows with cameras, so I can only conclude that I've now been tagged on photos on the cow social network, Facemoo. (Actually, that would be my second appearance on Facemoo, as I'm also the genius behind that famed mini-game "Is the Grass Always Greener?")

(For the record, LC laughed at both those jokes, so I'm taking that as authorisation to use them.)

And that was more or less it. We left the hotel about 11:30, after Grandma turned in for the night. And we travelled home the next day, just in time to attend young nephew P's birthday party. Because, of course, the adventure never really ends.

The Adventures of Steph/ven: #2: Minneapolis

The day before I departed on my holiday to Sardinia, there was raised the question of a team going out to see our customer, to help them with the next phase of our project. (I can say no more than that - see my "no work talk" rule.) I was adjudged to be the most likely candidate, probably to go out with one other person. So, I left my details behind, and went off on holiday.

I was therefore back in the country for less than four and a half days before I was jetting off once more, this time to Iceland and then to Minneapolis.

The journey out was not terribly pleasant. The flights both ways were absolutely packed, so there really wasn't enough room. Plus, there was only a single drinks service, and absolutely nothing complimentary. I guess that's the price of travelling economy class. Still, that's also worse than I've enjoyed on any previous trans-Atlantic flights.

Incidentally, I saw neither my Mum nor LC's while in Iceland. Nor Kerry Katona for that matter.

While over there, I was staying in the Hilton. But I should probably clarify that - this wasn't one of their top-end signature hotels, but rather one of their more modest budget locations. Really, it was more like a Premier Inn. Still I had a comparitively huge room (they were packed when I arrived, so I ended up with a handicap-access room, hence the larger proportions; I didn't complain), and it was everything it really needed to be.

Most of the rest of the trip consisted of work. I was there for fifteen days, and I worked fourteen of those. I did take the second Saturday off, mostly because there's a limit to how much you can do. But that was fine - as I see it, I was there for a particular purpose, and if I can better achieve that purpose by working very long hours for a short period, then so be it. It wasn't like I was over-endowed with options - if the choice is 'work' or 'sit round the hotel room', it's not a difficult choice.

(I actually did quite a lot of my work while sitting around my hotel room, and actually that was often more convenient than working from the office, but that was purely incidental.)

On my day off, I raced around various place. In the morning, I went to see the cathedral in St Paul (named for a different St Paul). Here's a couple of pictures:

I also went to see Fort Snelling, which was constructed at the joining of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers in 1820, and which was at that time the furthest outpost of 'civilisation' in the US. While there, I saw demonstrations of musket- and cannon-fire, which were extremely interesting. I actually had never seen a 'real' gun fired before.

Actually, that was probably the high point of my day. I'm just a little annoyed at myself that I never took any pictures. Oh well.

After that, my host and I had lunch, and then I made sure to go and purchase LC a nice present, to make up for being absent for so long.

Speaking of LC, we were quite fortunate that we were able to communicate using Skype while I was out there. I made sure to set this up before I left, and it made a huge difference - especially on those days when I was working out of the hotel, when we could use the video function.

And that's mostly that. One evening I went to see "The Wolverine", which was okay, though I missed the first five minutes due to going to the wrong cinema. And it was hot and humid out there, though I'm told it was unseasonably cool, and that things are about to head into winter quite fast.

Oh yes, and there's the ice cream. On my day off, my host took me to an ice cream parlour, where I had a huge chocolate-dipped cone filled with two nice flavours (one of which was banana and chocolate; I think the other was strawberry, but I forget). Anyway, that was nice, right up until I tried to bite into the cone itself. At this point, the non-chocolate-y bit twisted and collapsed in my hand. Thereafter, the whole adventure was something of a scramble - could I finish the ice cream before it melted all over my hand? (The answer, unsurprisingly, was "no".)

Actually, my diet there was pretty terrible. Meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, lots of soda, coffee, and huge amounts of beer. Very little fruit or veg... and yet, somehow, it seemed to do me a huge amount of good. I really don't understand these things sometimes. Oh well. (Plus, no Irn Bru! The sacrifices I make sometimes...)

The flight back was much better than going out. Because I'd needed a flexible return date, I'd been booked into Economy Comfort class, which had the same seats as Saga (First) Class, albeit without the fancy meal and the champagne before takeoff (seriously). So, I had loads of room, loads of comfort... and was too tired to really appreciate it. I spent my time watching crap sitcoms, while lamenting that the light wasn't good enough to read by. Of course, I was too tired to read anyway, but it's the principle of the thing.

(I still didn't see any relevant Mums in Iceland on the way back, but I was only there for about 45 minutes - just long enough to buy a wonderful mug with Vikings on, and to visit the toilet. Still, I fear the adverts may have been lying.)

And that was my second adventure.

The Adventures of Steph/ven: #1: Sardinia

It seems hard to believe, but a mere five weeks ago I was on the first full day of my holiday in Sardinia. We were on holiday with LC's family (hereafter known as Les Chocolates!), having flown out with Jet2 on a non-stop flight from Edinburgh, via Leeds (not sure how that works - don't ask), to Olbia.

Sardinia is a lovely island, with fabulous beaches, lots of sun, and good food. It's also very expensive, being the only place I've yet seen where fuel is more expensive than in the UK, but not absurdly so, I guess. The week was marked with a whole lot of resting, a lot of reading (hence the list of books read in my previous post), some sight-seeing, and a total lack of stress. Well, for me at least.

We had rented a villa near the sea. Here's a picture of the view from our balcony:

Good, isn't it?

The villa was very nice, although it was a struggle to keep cool - the power was a little ropey, such that if we ran the Air Con in all the rooms at once, the breakers would trip. So, we had to be careful not to overload the system. Other than that, though, it had everything we needed and, crucially, didn't have some things that we were better without - specifically, an internet connection.

The view at night was rather spectacular. Because we were so far south, and also because of the sea on the horizon, when the moon rose at night it was a distinctive blood red. Naturally, that was difficult to photograph well, but it was spectacular to behold.

The food was also rather agreeable - lots of fresh fruit and veg, fresh bread, and pizza. Lots of pizza. (Of course, Sardinia is known for its fish, being an island, but that was mostly not for me.) Of course, many of the menus were in Italian only, which proved a touch tricky since I don't speak any Italian (though I did manage to order some ice creams on a couple of occasions - and no, I didn't just speak English loudly and slowly). Still, my habit of just ordering at random served me well... apart from that one time my pizza came with anchovies.

My one major culinary adventure came at a restaurant where the menu was in English. However, under my "try something new" policy, I felt obliged to try something I hadn't seen on a menu before:

In case you're not sure what you're looking at, that's octopus, with a tomato and lettuce salad. It's fair to say that it's not what I expected - I had expected it to be similar to squid (which I like), but it proved to be much more like tuna (which I don't so much). Still, I ate it... and then was glad to move onto my main course!

The other amusing anecdote from that same restaurant comes from our last night there. As is our wont, LC and I decided to dress up and go out for a meal alone together on the last night. Lord Chocolat gave us a lift down to the restaurant, and no sooner had he departed than we were greeted by the news that they'd had a power cut, that their oven had just stopped working, and that as such they could offer us anything except pizza. Which, given most of the alternatives were seafood, was a bit of a weakness.

So, anyway, we dined in their garden as the sun went down. LC had mussels again, while I tried the ravioli (which was okay, but not stellar). In time, they lit the candles. It was all rather nice.

And then they kicked us out. This wasn't surprising, really - by that point they'd had to turn people away (it was too dark), and we were by then the last customers. So, we paid, we left, and then we walked home. My only regret was that we couldn't have the long-awaited ice creams as we went - the same power cut had affected the whole street, including the ice cream parlour. Such a shame.

Still, there were soon to be other adventures featuring ice cream in all its glories...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Getting back into it...

Sorry I've been away. For the past several months I've been oppressed by two factors: Firstly, I've just been too busy to blog regularly. I would frequently get a post together, not have time to edit it properly, and abandon it half-finished. Secondly, for most of that time the most interesting thing in my life has been work, which has been in very high gear. However, with my "no work talk" rule in place, that didn't leave me much to blog about.

Still, I'm hoping now to do a better job, and will indeed try to commit to posting something at least once a week. We'll see how that goes!

#27: "Pathfinder: Rasputin Must Die!", by Brandon Hodge
#28: "The Reverse of the Medal", by Patrick O'Brian
#29: "The Folklore of Discworld", by Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson
#30: "Queen of Thorns", by Dave Gross
#31: "Persuasion", by Jane Austen (A Book from The List)
#32: "The Hunger Games", by Suzanne Collins
#33: "The Letter of Marque", by Patrick O'Brian
#34: "The White Company", by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
#35: "Pathfinder: The Witch Queen's Revenge", by Greg A. Vaughan
#36: "Called to Darkness", by Richard Lee Byers