Friday, 21 December 2001

Old News - Newsletter December 2001

I don't have much to tell you... no major international trips anyway - so it's all boring!

The past few weeks have been a (literal) blur of drinks and dinner, with xmas do's, farewells, reunions and birthdays. Add in a few pub lunches and gym sessions during the day (not necessarily in that order) and you might understand why we've barely stirred from the flat over the weekends. Plus it's bloody freezing now. They say we might get a white xmas down here, or at least a damn cold one!

We have made a small effort to do some sightseeing though, and a month or so ago we went off to Shrewsbury to see S and L. Shrewsbury is a gorgeous town - a bit like York without the tourists.

Then a few weeks ago we walked from the Millenium Dome (thought we should see it before it finally gets torn down) to the Thames Barrier which is very impressive. We had coffee in the Tearoom there to defrost and then scampered back home to watch videos feeling slightly smug.

And a week or so back we went up St Paul's Dome. It's quite a long climb, and we had to hurry as they were about to close for a function, so I reached the top hot and sweaty - then got so cold I had to come straight down again! I've done it before in warm weather, so I didn't mind!

My company xmas do tonight (last week was the department do), and Mountain Man's tomorrow. The weekend to recover and then xmas (we're going to my Mom's). Then Mountain Man heads to SA and I tag along with J and T for New Years - and then the poor liver might actually get a break!

Tuesday, 6 November 2001

Old News - Newsletter November 2001

Yes we are safely home in one piece, in spite of flying Egypt Air, and touring a Middle Eastern country! I have to say that I never felt in any danger (although we both had the jitters on takeoff from London!), and the Egyptians were really friendly and took pains to tell us how welcome tourists are in their country. Heavily armed police and solidiers were thick on the ground everywhere too, which was nice to see.

I didn't see a single American, and even the English were few and far between. Mostly Germans and French around. Places where the guidebook said we should expect to queue were empty, and it felt like low season, not the height of high season! Nice for us, but the locals are frantic for business... which is perhaps why they fleeced us so thoroughly - but I hear they do that anyway!

After spending 4 hours in Heathrow (3 hours early for checkin, and then the flight was delayed. ugh) we finally landed in Cairo around 1am. We got to sleep at about 2 with big plans to be at the pyramids for sunrise. Seeing as the sun rises at 6am, we missed that, but got there at about 8 instead!

The pyramids of Giza (3 big, 6 little) stand isolated on a desert plateau. They really are awesome, and we had a nice stroll about in the cool morning air. It was still quite peaceful as the hawkers and camel drivers hadn't arrived yet. By 9 it was getting hot, and so we got talked into a horse ride all around the plateau, past a muslim cemetary, and then to a perfume and papyrus shop (hmmph). We proceeded to part with way too much money, as we had no idea of the relative costs, paid the horse man and took a stroll uphill past the sphinx with the idea of now entering the great pyramid of Cheops.

After 10 minutes of beating off dozens of camel drivers, boys with postcards, old men with mules and would-be guides, we finally got caught out by a bloke who asked to see our tickets, and then wouldn't give them back until we had followed him into and out of several tombs, sarcophagi, shafts, tunnels and mounds - expecting to be mugged any second. We then had to pay him a huge amount of money for the privilege. By this stage we were so hot, dusty and annoyed that we gave up on the pyramid idea and caught a taxi into Cairo for lunch and the Egyptian museum.

This was amazing. Miles of sculptures and artifacts of ancient Egypt. All the goodies from Tutenkhamun's tomb are there too, and we had a good look at the famous golden death-mask, and tons of solid gold statues and bits and pieces. By this stage we were a bit tired, so went back to the hotel for a siesta before heading out for a dinner cruise on the Nile. We were on a 3 story boat - with 3 restaurants - and had a buffet dinner, followed by a belly dancer and sufi dancer. They were both excellent! Sufi dancing originates from some religion where they spin round and round until they reach a trance. A man dressed in weighted colorful skirts spun in the center of the room for about 15 minutes, spinning extra skirts over his head and performing other tricks at the same time. Quite impressive!

The next morning we flew to Luxor at 6, so got up at 3:30am (ugh) and checked in to our hotel by 8. We managed to organise a guide and minibus that picked us up at 9, and headed off to the West bank. Our guide was a recent graduate from Tourist school, and extremely eager. I have never heard anyone babble so many names, dates and places. And expect you to remember them too. He got really annoyed if we didn't pay attention, and by the late afternoon I could have thumped him.

First we pottered around the temple of Hatchepsut (yes, where all the tourists were shot in 1997), then went to the Valley of the Kings and went down 3 tombs. These are essentially a long deep tunnel decorated with hieroglyphics, culminating in a room with a sarcophagus and lots of treasure. Of course they were all plundered millenia ago. The mind boggles to imagine the treasure that would have been in the tombs of the important kings who ruled for decades, when you think that Tutenkhamun only ruled for a couple of years and his treasure was astronomical! The paintings and hieroglyphics are in amazing condition, considering that they were painted 3 or 4 thousand years ago! It must be the dry desert air.

Then we went to the Valley of the Queens and went down a few tombs there, and then had a late lunch (via an alabaster shop where Mountain Man spent close to half an hour knocking 10 Egyptian pounds off a statue - about £2. Not sure who won!). Egyptian food is nothing to write home about. It's a bit like Turkish - all fried, spiced and greasy with rice and pita bread. I went right off it after a day or two and started pinching rolls from breakfast instead!

In the afternoon we went to the East bank and the temples of Karnak and Luxor. I'm afraid by this part of the day it was all a bit of a blur of columns, obelisks, pylons, statues and paintings, but it was really amazing and awe inspiring. We finished our tour at 6pm, absolutely shattered!

I'd mis-read our itinerary, and we had an extra day in Luxor. This was brilliant as we'd already 'done' the tombs and temples. We slept late, and chilled out next to the pool all day. We were in a rather swish hotel, with terraced gardens leading down to the bank of the Nile, and then a huge floating swimming pool with sun deck and bar. Very nice! In the evening we went for a sunset felucca ride (ancient-style sailboat) which was everything I'd hoped it would be. Quietly drifting down the Nile, watching kingfishers diving for fish, and little fishing boats rowing about near the reeds. Unfortunately we ended up paying double what we'd 'agreed' on, which spoiled it a little.

On Tuesday we took a bus to Hurghada on the Red Sea. We stayed in the most incredible hotel I have ever seen, with 2 swimming pools, a private beach, shops, restaurants and bars all inside the grounds. We spent the afternoon on the beach, and organised to do a couple of dives the next day, followed by our advanced PADI course. The diving in the Red Sea is superb! Loads of coral and fish, and we were lucky enough to see moray eels, stonefish, lionfish, an eagle ray and a shark. I got so excited about the shark that I spat out my mouthpeice, and by the time I found it again the shark had gone! The dive boats and guides were excellent, and the equipment first class - made me realise just how basic Thailand was!

We had an idyllic few days in Hurghada, although the few times we left the hotel grounds on our own we were so hassled by the locals (perfume, papyrus, alabaster, jewelery, where are you from, come into my shop, check my english... bug bug bug!) we went scampering back inside!

Then flights back to Cairo and London and Winter. the clocks have gone back, and now it is dark well before 5. There was ice on the cars this morning, and I have unearthed my gloves and scarf... hat will follow soon! *sigh*

It really was an excellent holiday. I had a wonderful time, and it rates as one of the best trips I have ever done. Pity about the huge hassle factor... but that's just the way they are. Very smiley and friendly with it anyway!

Friday, 26 October 2001

Old News - Newsletter October 2001

Well, I can hardly sit still! 2 hours to go and I'm off to Heathrow to catch a flight to Egypt. I have hardly slept the last few nights, and I'm so worked up now that I'm trembling! Either that or it's the 3 cups of coffee I had this morning to get my eyes open. Tonight we land in Cairo (Pyramids) at midnight, spend Saturday there, fly to Luxor (Valley of Kings etc) on Sunday morning, and on Monday we bus to Hurghada on the Red Sea for the rest of the week (Diving and snorkelling). Head back to Cairo next Saturday, and land in London next Sunday. woohoo!

Egypt is one of the places I have dreamed about visiting since I was little. I am so thrilled and excited to actually be on my way to the Pyramids! Truly a dream coming true!

The political situation seems to be reasonably stable there at the moment, so as long as we don't walk around shouting anti-muslim slogans we should be fine.

Hmmm, what else have I been up to?

The first week after Mountain Man got back from Peru was pretty quiet, with him struggling with his jetlag, and me struggling with his jetlag. He came right by the weekend, and we spent it catching up on sleep!

2 weekends ago we went over to Brussels to visit A and P. A is contracting there in SAP at the moment. They took really good care of us, driving us all over Belgium sightseeing, and guiding us through Brussels to the best sights, restaurants and watering holes.

We took the Eurostar there on the Friday night, went for a few drinks and ended up eating hot chips in the street at 1am (a Belgian speciality (!)). Saturday was a slow start, and then we whizzed off to Bruges, an absolutely stunning medieval town with canals and gorgeous houses etc. We ate lunch at a pavement restaurant overlooking a canal, and then pootled contentedly home for a rest. That evening we went into the centre of Brussels, to the Grand Square, which is really impressive - especially when lit up at night. The entire area is swarming with restaurants spilling out onto the street, and we had glorious mussels (another Belgian speciality) and seafood outside in the balmy evening. There was an Anthrax scare nearby, and we had to leap to one side and grab the tables out of the way of a fire engine at one point, but otherwise a very congenial evening! On the Sunday we went out for a late breakfast, then went exploring around Brussels, and caught the train home.

Last weekend I went along to visit my Mom, and Mountain Man had a boozy boys weekend. Mom and A are working as housekeeper and groundskeeper for a huge estate (North Aston Hall) in Oxfordshire. The Hall has 16 bedrooms, each with full bathroom with claw-footed tub etc, on 3 or 4 stories. There are also various sitting rooms, and every single room is fully furnished with all sorts of expensive ornaments and linen. Walking inside made me feel as overawed as entering the Lord Nelson in Cape Town. My Mom has her hands full keeping it up to speed! When the family come up from London (!) for weekends and holidays she has to cook and clean for them too.

The grounds are 200 acres, and have been quite neglected. Alfons is beginning to make a dent in what needs to be done, but he is working all day to clear barns, sort out equipment and mow. There used to be a private 18 hole golf course in the grounds, but that's been left to grow over for the last few years. There are also formal lawns and gardens, a huge indoor swimming pool, and tennis courts to look after. They are extremely busy!

Work is still boring. They were going to finally go live next week, but 2 days ago suddenly noticed I was going away (hellooooo... I told you months ago!) so have moved it to the week after. Then I expect I will have lots of changes and bugfixing to keep me quiet. We also have a French version to be released sometime... yay. I've settled down a bit, as I have no option but to stay. I'm lucky to be in a job at the moment with the recession, so there is no point in rocking the boat! Delphi jobs are always hard to find in London, and the American recession has spilled over onto the London IT market. *sigh* I would love to go contracting again though. I miss the money and freedom.

Mountain Man is feeling it worse than me though. Some of our friends are travelling through South America (hi guys!) and he is sick as a parrot with envy. If we were still in the contract situation he'd be with them! I'm not so sure about myself, as the letters home all sound a bit primitive and jungly... but I'd probably enjoy it if I was there!

Cheers for now!
We're off to see the mummy, the wonderful mummy of ..er

Wednesday, 26 September 2001

Old News - Newsletter September 2001

Mountain Man is off in Peru doing the Inca trail at the moment, back in a week. Unfortunately the trip fell right between 2 of my deadlines, so I couldn’t go. Rather upset about that, really, as my deadlines have just been moved yet again so that I would have been able to go!

The events in America are not really affecting us yet, although there is a lot of sabre rattling in Parliament. I knew about the first plane within minutes of it happening, and was watching from that point onward. We got no work done that afternoon, just watching online or listening to the radio. They let us go home early, mainly because no work was being done I think, but it was nice to get away from the centre of London! We were all flinching at every plane overhead!

Things were a bit tense and jumpy for a couple of days, but seem to have settled back to normal now. I don't believe anywhere except America is a target. If we do end up in the 'war' things might change, but I'm not losing sleep over it. I should be at ground zero if anything happens anyway, so with any luck won’t know about it!

The only real effect it has had is on flights! Mountain Man was due to fly BA to Dallas on last week Sat morning on his way to Peru, and they were only allowing American Airlines in to the US. He and his mates were at Gatwick by 6am on Sat for a 10am flight, and ended up flying to Cuba on Sat evening instead! He finally got to Peru yesterday! I just hope his flight home is OK.

Hmm, what else? The only interesting thing I’ve been up to lately is taking Mom to Paris for a long weekend about a month ago. Mountain Man was meant to go with me, but there was a huge hassle with his UK and French visas all expiring at the same time, and he couldn’t come. Luckily my Mom was in England, and I phoned her frantically on the Thursday morning to tell her she was flying to France with me on Friday morning!

She got back late that night, and the on Friday morning we flew off to Paris, arriving midday. We had a very interesting navigation from the airport into the center of town, and then walked from the station to the hotel to get a sense of our map’s scale. It turns out it was pretty big, and we were very hot and bothered by the time we found it! However, after a shower and change we ambled back out and took a stroll to the river. By this stage my feet were killing me, so we sat down and had an ice cream looking over the river. It was now evening, and we hobbled back to the hotel via open-air wine cafes, and a glorious dinner outside too. The whole weekend was hot and sunny – the days in the 30s, and the nights around 25.

Over the Saturday and Sunday we went all over Paris on the open-topped bus, hopping off here and there for a closer look. In the afternoons we would find a tree and/or café to while away the hottest hours before exploring the backstreets looking for a congenial café for dinner. It was such lovely weather, and the crowds were so crazy that we decided to go into only a couple of places, and rather to walk around the streets and parks. We are determined to go back in winter to see all the museums and galleries though.

We got back to London on Monday, after a very long and stressful journey. Charles de Gaulle airport is one of the most grungy and uncomfortable I have been in - surpassed only by Kathmandu. I'll be taking the train next time.

Not much else going on here. I had dinner with Tara on Friday, and by 3am we'd got through 3 bottles of wine. Saturday was rough, as I went to Stonehenge and Salisbury with Mom and A (who had a bad cold). Luckily they were driving and I could doze in the back seat! Mountain Man and I are going to have to go back and do it again properly, as the place is stunning.

Sunday I slept late and woke up feeling great. I've downloaded the audio books of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (I want to refresh the story before the film comes out) so I did loads of domestic stuff while listening to it. Mom left A languishing in bed and came to visit me in the afternoon, and after she left I dug out my sketching stuff and did my first decent drawing in several years. I'm getting back into it I think, and it's going to be a joy to do it again this winter. They're not very good yet, as I am very rusty, but there is hope. It is satisfying in spite of the result anyway.

Work is crap. I really can't give a damn at the moment, after the latest deadline shift. My live date is now the middle of October. I still can't believe I met their insane 3rd Sept deadline only to have the work left mouldering for the past month. Bastards. We are now held up by hardware problems. There are the odd things still to do, which I am eking out. None of my managers can program, so they know nothing about how long it should take anyway. I've downloaded some French lessons, which I listen to in the background as a distraction... sod this recession, I want to go back to contracting. Moan moan – I’ve just come back from the pub where a few of us were complaining about work, so I’m a little worked up.

Tonight I am having a fondue with T and J. Then a couple of days to recover from that, and we are out for drinks on Friday. T wrote her doctor specialist exams this morning, and will get her results on Friday, so either way it will be a piss up. They only pass the top 40% so it is touch and go.

Then Saturday to recover from that, and on Sunday morning Mountain Man should be home. The last couple of weeks without him have flown - it is very wierd to think he is in South America at this moment! It feels like he should be at work on the other side of Waterloo station!

Wednesday, 22 August 2001

Old News - Newletter August 2001

It seems I am becoming as bad as everyone else when it comes to regular email!

I'm working very hard, as we are fast approaching our live rollout date! Very very scary, as it is not nearly finished! Same old story... every IT project seems to be the same. My project is now in beta testing – which means lots of unhappy users are making it crash a lot! I am enjoying working here though, as I get left alone to do my own thing, which is nice. I think I'll stay for another year at least. Mountain Man is quite settled in at his place too, although it is a wrench getting used to permanent after contracting for so long. Every now and then he starts getting very restless!

Mountain Man and I are meant to be going to Paris for the weekend, as it's a long weekend. He hasn't organised his visa yet though, and we fly on Friday morning! So I'm getting very stressed about it... if he doesn't manage I'm going to take my Mom instead - still fun but not quite the same!

I lied when trying to get Friday off, and said Mountain Man had sprung the weekend on me as a surprise (other way round actually). A few weeks ago another girl in the office got proposed to in Paris, so there is a lot of teasing going on about my weekend break, and everyone will be looking at my hands when I get back! I keep telling them I'd drop dead of shock if it happened, but they don't believe me!

Tonight we're off to see U2 in concert - should be good.

Mmmm, what else? We haven't been up to all that much, just work and gym etc. My Mom has been staying with us off and on for the last month or two (long story, tell you another time) so we've had a live-in housekeeper - very nice indeed!

Mountain Man is off to Peru to do the Inca trail in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately it falls right between 2 of my deadlines, so I can't go. Rather upset about that, really. ho hum, he'll have to go again sometime with me! So things are revolving around his trip at the moment, with trekking gear accumulating all over the flat!

Things are quiet otherwise. T is studying for doctor exams, so we haven't seen her in ages. And at the weekend I'm a bit weary after a frantic week, so I rarely make it down to Wimbledon where the rest of the gang stay. I'm also a little low on cash (although I've finally balanced the books after 6 months!) so the odd dinner and movie are the extent of my social life!

I will not be going to SA in the foreseeable future. I have already earmarked all this years’ leave, and I don't see me going to SA next year either. So much to see, so little leave! We have booked a trip to Egypt in Oct/Nov for a week, and that's the last of my leave for this year. Sigh - another Christmas and New Year in London, ugh. Mountain Man will be in CT for 2 weeks arriving on Boxing Day (!) so I'll be on my own for New Years too. mmmph. It'll make a difference not to have the usual drunken row on New Years Eve I suppose!

Cheers for another couple of months!

Thursday, 5 July 2001

Old News - Newsletter July 2001

Suddenly it seems a month has flown by since I last wrote! I guess I've been busy!

We're still working very hard, and going to the gym a couple of times in the week, so the days zoom past. My Mom arrived 3 weeks ago, and has been looking after us very well! Cooked meals waiting when we get home is very welcome, not to mention she's taken over the cleaning too. What a pleasure! It's been great to catch up on years of news too... so the evenings have shot past as well! She's struggling to find work as she's trying to get live-in couple work, and everyone wants to meet A first. He gets here in about 2 weeks time when things should pick up. In the meantime she's spoiling us rotten and looking after my garden!

Mountain Man and I took a week's holiday in the South of France 2 weeks ago. We flew to Lyon on Friday night, caught a train to Avignon on Sat morning and spent 2 nights in Avignon. Avignon is in Provence, and the Popes were based there for about 50 years a few centuries ago, so it's rather grand on a lovely small scale. A most imposing fortress dominates the town, and the city centre still has well preserved city walls. We did a daytrip to Nimes on the Sunday, which has lots of Roman remains, including an amphitheatre where they still hold plays and bullfights.

Then Monday we went to Nice, which we really liked. Although it's a huge city and quite commercial there is a large 'old quarter' that is quite bohemian and laid back. Tuesday morning we caught a ferry to Corsica and spent 3 nights there. We travelled all over the island, taking a train ride through the central mountains which are spectacular! It's a gorgeous place, and we're determined to go back again.

Then we got the ferry back to Nice at midnight on Friday, and spent the day in Monaco on the Saturday. I wasn't that taken with Monaco, as there isn't much to do or see, and no local beach. Mountain Man had a great time following the route of the Grand Prix, as I whinged along behind him up the hill in the heat. It was nice to get back to Nice and chill out on the beach in the evening!

Then Sunday we spent travelling back to Lyon and landed in London on Sunday evening. A very full trip, and we were pretty tired for a few days afterwards!

Not much else going on at the moment. We're madly busy, and the days are too short!

Saturday, 2 June 2001

Old News - Newsletter June 2001

I see it’s been a few weeks since I last wrote – things have been very busy over here. I am pretty much settled in to my new job. I’ve been moved on to a brand new project, with incredibly stupid deadlines – but that seems to be the norm in the IT market. It’s rather nice to be working from scratch after a couple of years of inherited code though! So I’m very busy and the days fly by.

Mountain Man and I are being reasonably good about going to gym a couple of times per week too, which makes the evenings very late. On the nights we don’t gym we usually seem to end up meeting friends for drinks or dinner – I can’t remember the last time I had a cooked meal at home! Real yuppie lifestyle at the moment… We’re feeling quite perky with it though – maybe because of the gyming. Not much weight loss happening unfortunately, but I’m hoping it’s because the flab is converting straight to muscle (wishful thinking). Desperately trying to get bikini-ready before we go to Provence in 3 weeks. A very long awaited summer holiday at last – I can’t wait for a week in the sun!

Last weekend was another long one, and we took the Tuesday off too and went away to Wales with J and T. In typical fashion it rained for 3 days out of 4, but the Tuesday was stunning although chilly, and I got a bit sunburnt. We got a lot of reading and videos done, and J took us on a few misty drives around the coast. We managed to have a couple of braais on the patio overlooking the bay, and otherwise patronised the local pubs and restaurants. It was a lovely restful weekend, although we didn’t get much sleep and got home feeling a bit weary – might catch up next weekend!

My Mom is arriving in 2 weeks, and I’m really looking forward to seeing her. She and A are coming over for about a year, looking for a housekeeper/handyman post on an estate somewhere. I hope they find one in England so that I can easily visit!

A nice quiet weekend planned now, and I hope to catch up on some rest!

Thursday, 10 May 2001

Old News - Newsletter May 2001

Well, I am starting to settle in at my new job. It is really nice being a permanent employee again, with an entitled lunch hour and set working hours! Plus I don't have people breathing down my neck all the time to make sure I'm 'earning' my rate. I'm not doing much yet, just trying to learn their system. Myself and another new (also SA) chap are taking over from 2 contractors who are leaving at the end of the month - so I spend most of day scrolling through reams of code. The people are very nice - quite a young team and rather laid back. I think I'm going to like it here.

My office is really close to the Thames, behind the London Eye, and we can see it through most of the windows! Today is stunning, and if Mountain Man can't join me for lunch I am going to have a walk along the riverside at lunchtime.

Summer seems to be peeping around the corner at last. The last couple of days have been warm, and the odd lovely sunny spell. Having said that I got caught in a downpour yesterday lunchtime! Had to nip into a coffee shop for hot chocolate until it stopped!

Last weekend was pleasant - we spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at J and T's. Saturday Mountain Man played golf and I vegged around nursing my job-celebration hangover. On Sunday Mountain Man went to The Church (rough club only open between 12 and 3 on Sundays) and came rolling home pissed at 4. I went to the gym instead, and felt quite smug as his hangover kicked in in the evening! Monday was a public holiday and we took it easy.

Friday, 27 April 2001

Old News - Newsletter April 2001

Today it is my turn to be the sick person coughing and sneezing in the internet cafe. I caught another cold the other day which is taking ages to go (I'm sure I got it from this place to begin with!).

I am still unemployed - it's been a month now and the charm has worn off. I am also out of money and am spending my tax savings. And no, I don't have any other savings apart from some Unit Trusts doing really badly! I've spent most of the last 2 years out of work and done some serious international travelling, which has used up my money as I made it. I am currently 2 months in salary arrears, and I can't afford to pay myself. Nice. I am starting to look at permanent roles now, as the contract market in London is really bad. I went for an interview on Wednesday for the shift-work job, and they rejected me - wah! Been feeling a bit flat about that, as I'd thought the interview (1 and a half hours thereof) went well, and got all excited about it, only to be turned down. I think my last workplace is trying to get hold of me, but I'm not that desperate!

The new flat is nice. It's very quiet, and I have painted the bedroom a warm yellow and got new bed linen in the same colour so it's warm and cosy. The lounge I have painted a warm peach, and it has changed the whole atmosphere. The whole flat was painted a pale cream, which is OK, but dull and boring and in this climate you need warm bright colours. We're not meant to change anything as the place is rented, but I don't care any more. If they object when I move out I am happy to paint it back to cream. I have also put up a couple of heavy duty shelves in an alcove in the lounge. It's kind of in a dead space behind the door, and I have moved all our boxes of hiking, skiing, camping etc gear out of the bedroom and into the shelves, which has also made the bedroom feel a lot more welcoming. Mountain Man keeps his bike below the shelves too, and it is a very handy space. I have got an extendable shower rail set up in front of the shelves, and now I just need to get some material for a curtain to close off the storage area.

I am going to put up a heavy duty shelf in the bedroom next week to act as a desk, and then I can move our free standing shelves onto it and set up my printer etc, which at the moment is in the lounge. I found a stack of abandoned chipboard cupboard doors outside against the building, and have been salvaging them as my shelves. I guess they're not wanted as they are out in the rain and starting to go rotten. It's a lot easier than trying to get a proper desk, and will be way easier to move. Now I just have to find a wall unit for the TV and books!

The flat has a little flower bed in front of the lounge windows where I have planted out all my geraniums and they are looking very happy. I am growing all kinds of patio and hanging basket plants from seed, which I will plant into the flower bed and into window boxes when they are big enough. It's been fun watching them germinate and slooowly get bigger. Funny - everyone thinks a 'basement flat' is below ground with no windows, and I keep having to explain that we're just sunken by a foot or so, and get plenty of light in the lounge. The bedroom's a bit gloomy as it faces an alleyway, and that's why I've painted it bright yellow! We haven't used the garden yet as it's still quite wet and cold, but I am really looking forward to summer and having a private place to lie in the sun, and to have braais and sundowners!

I am going to dig out my drawing things next week too I think - it suddenly occurred to me that I could be doing drawing in all this spare time rather than moping! I also joined a gym on Monday, and started a diet (all this hanging around at home has piled on the pounds!) so I am taking advantage of my free time while I still have it. Now all I need is some hot weather so I can tan, and I'll have the housewife thing down pat!

Thursday, 19 April 2001

Old News - Newsletter April 2001

Hi all

Sorry I've been so quiet, but I have to use an internet cafe at the moment, and I always seem to have someone with a streaming cold next to me, so I get out as fast as possible. Today the bird next to me is sneezing and coughing up a storm - lovely!

Our Easter weekend was great - we arranged at the last moment to join friends on a trip to Ireland. We had a superb time - wierd ferry crossing times notwithstanding, and saw a lot of Southern Ireland. It was stunning, and we had a balmy days followed by wet and chilly ones - so we had all seasons in one weekend. We're all very keen on going again sometime.

I started job hunting yesterday, and have a couple of possibilities lined up. Not perfect, but we shall see. One involves shiftwork - 8 hour shifts rotating - which I am not convinced about - but it's close and is offering a LOT of money. The other is in Bracknell, and takes about as long to get to as my last job... they also want to pay little money so I'm not terribly interested. Will keep you posted if I get to the interview stage.

Hmmm, what else? I have run out of money, so can't do any more decorating at the moment. I had fun moving seedlings around this morning though.

Monday, 26 March 2001

Old News - Newsletter March 2001

Hi Everyone

We have found a place to stay, in Kilburn, and will be moving on Thursday! What a relief. Now I just have to pack, move, unpack and find a new job. No worries!

Anyway, let me tell you about Switzerland before I forget. My Aunt‘s boyfriend has an apartment in a tiny resort in the Swiss Alps called Alpes de Chaux. My Mom had arranged to go there with Aunt for 6 weeks from the beginning of March, and invited me to join them for a bit. So on Monday the 5th March I caught a plane to Geneva and then made my way by train, tram and taxi to their place. An interesting trip, and the first solo navigation I done in years. I got there with no problems, despite having forgotten £700 worth of currency at home.

The apartment in Alpes de Chaux is very nice. One bedroom, open-plan kitchen / lounge and a bathroom. Mom and I slept on sleeper couches in the lounge, with sweeping views of the valley and the mountains opposite. Unfortunately you really need a car to get around, as it is an hours walk from the nearest station – so we did a lot of walking! Mom had been taking skiing lessons with the object of being able to ski with me, and the next morning we got up early to hit the slopes. Here we encountered a couple of snags:
1. Mom had learned on 1m skis, and the shortest they hire locally is 1.5m.
2. Mom had never been up the local slopes, which make her nursery slopes look flat.
3. Mom had a horrible cold.

So we get to the top of the draglift and Mom is terrified, can’t turn, and is feeling weak as a kitten. After half an hour of picking her out of the snow she and I took off our skis and walked down. She went to lie down, and Aunt and I skied a bit. Aunt’s a pretty good skier, and we did the run a few times, then met up with my Mom again. Mom’s nerve was a bit shattered, so we hired blades (v. short light skis) and went to play on a flattish bit of slope for the afternoon to get her nerve back.

The rest of the week we took it very easy, as a thaw set in and the slopes nearby were nasty. Plus Mom was ill, Aunt not keen to ski, and I was lazy. So we went to Montreux and looked around a castle, did some hiking and read a lot.

Mountin Man arrived late on Sat 10th, my birthday. We all had a lovely fondue, and turned in. (I’d hired another studio apartment nearby to have some privacy, and after he left on Monday Mom shared it with me for the rest of the week, as Uncle was arriving and we wanted to give Aunt some space.) On the Sunday Mountin Man and I skied to a village called Bretaye, and Mom and Aunt came via foot and tram. As this village is a bit higher the slopes were good, and Mountin Man and I did every run in the area – most of which were red – while Mom practised on the nursery slope! The light was horrid, and it rained most of the afternoon, so I think we must be pretty good skiers now. Mountin Man is much better than I am though, as not being to see doesn’t upset him. We skied back to our resort at the end of the day, and I spent most of the time on my face. The runs back were all South facing, and very melted, so you had to skim from patch to patch and turn on a penny between grass and gravel. Not my strong point and I haven’t fallen that much since I learned to ski!

On Monday the weather was still bad, and I was exhausted. Mountin Man whizzed up the slopes while I had a late morning, and then he joined the rest of us for lunch before heading home. As he left it began to snow, and didn’t stop until the next afternoon!

On the Tuesday afternoon I dragged Mom kicking and screaming back up the run. We’d managed to find short skis at the local shop, and the snow was perfect. There is a section of the run that is wide and easy, with a draglift coming back up it, and we practised there. I got her to follow me down about 6 times, then we walked back home for a G&T. The next day we came down about 10 times, and got a bit faster. The day after that she was overtaking me and later I got her down a steep narrow section of the run, and the next day we did the entire blue run! She did really well, only wiping out a couple of times (and discovering what it is like to dive face first into the off-piste. ‘Face-plant’ as we call it). I was very impressed, as it is not an easy run for a beginner!

We spent my last day hiking across the valley, and I navigated back last Monday. It was wonderful to spend so much time with my Mom!

Since then I have been back at ABB. They go live today or tomorrow, so I am trouble-shooting 3 days a week. Luckily they have finally found someone to take over my section, so I will not be coming back after Wednesday. Mountin Man and I spent last week flat-hunting, and I spent most of Friday looking at flats. The one I chose is very close to Kilburn tube, and a basement flat. For those back home – this means the flat is sort of sunk down a few steps below street level. I think this is a good thing, as every other place I looked at involved 3 flights of winding stairs! It is a one-bedroom, with a big lounge, decent kitchen and nice bathroom. And main selling point is – it has access to the garden! Behind the building is a huge garden – nothing fancy, but a place we can sit in the sun and braai. I have really missed having a place to get outside.

On Friday night I was celebrating, and got through nearly 2 bottles of wine. S came down from Aberdeen for the weekend, and he and Mountin Man went out to meet B etc. I woke up with a horrible hangover, and Mountin Man and S got home in the afternoon feeling the same, so we lay around and watched videos. That night we went to dinner with T and A, and Mountin Man and S went out clubbing with B and J etc afterwards. Then on Sunday we all went for a pub lunch… A weekend of excess and for once I admit it. L got home from Nepal last night – sounds like she had a great time!

This coming week is going to be a blur of packing and moving.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, 1 March 2001

Old News - Newsletter March 2001

Hi all

Spring is springing over here at last. Trees are starting to blossom, bulbs are coming up and I have begun getting hayfever already. It is still light when I leave work in the evening, and the sun is actually up when I arrive in the morning. In spite of this we are in the middle of the usual February cold snap – snow has swept most the country and is forecast here later today. It is going well below freezing at night, and we are all moaning about it in the traditional fashion.

I have 3 days left at work, and am going flat out trying and finish bits and pieces. The project is very close to deadline now, and all the developers are extremely stressed. I did a demo this morning that went well, so I am slacking off a little this afternoon. I am going to spend the next couple of days documenting, as the person who takes over from me is going to have a nightmare. My section has been worked on by 5 people, all with different styles. And nothing has ever been written down, so trying to take over is not much fun! They did ask me to extend my contract, but they only asked last week, which is rather short notice. I had already booked my Switzerland trip, and there is the house-hunting problem too. I have offered to come in part-time after Switzerland, but haven’t had any feedback on that. If they take me up on it I am going to boost my rate through the ceiling!

I haven’t been up to much as I’m working very hard in Farnham in the week, and on the weekends I am very tired and don’t feel doing anything! The weekend before last all my housemates were away, and I spent it sleeping and watching videos.

This past weekend I got home at 8 just as my housemates were going out to dinner, and I decided to skip that and relax at home instead. On the Saturday I started touching up the paintwork in the flat – we are taking no chances on not getting our deposit back! I was running around removing posters and picture-hooks, then filling holes and painting them. Then because we can’t quite match the existing paint colour I have to roller the whole wall with a thinned layer of the new paint to camouflage the patched bits! I’ve done the walls in my bedroom that don’t have heavy furniture against them, and I’ll do the others when Mountain Man is here to help. On Saturday night we went to T’s brother's housewarming. It was very pleasant, and at midnight we were standing outside braaing in the snow! Different. We got home at 2am, and then on Sunday got up early and went out for a pub lunch with James, Budge and Whale, and a lot of people I didn’t quite get introduced to. I left the pub at 3:30 to run errands and do my ironing and packing for the week, and was asleep by 7 – I was completely knackered! The rest of the house got home at 11 – a very long (and mostly liquid by the sound of it) lunch! They then proceeded to play classical music at thunderous volume, and I blessed the soul that invented earplugs as I shut out the racket and drifted back into dreamland.

Some of my workmates have a really grungy digs in Farnham, and they have started having me over for dinner once a week. It reminds me a lot of when I was a student, and most of my friends lived in dodgey digs! Anyway, it’s a pleasant change from sitting alone in the B&B, and after the third glass of wine I don’t notice how bad the place is. Last week I could barely walk home, so with any luck I will take it easy tonight! I joined a mob of work people at the pub after work last night, and when I got to my B&B at about midnight I found they’d turned off all the lights, including the ones outside. It took me ages to get the door unlocked (I’d only had 3 pints, so shush) as I had to feel for the keyhole and then try and get the key in the right way up. Then I groped my way through the hallway and up the stairs, terrified of knocking over one of the many knick-knacks the place is filled with. I couldn’t find any light switches, and gingerly made my way to my room, praying it was the right one! I shall have to keep my wits about me tonight in case they do it again!

Mountain Man gets home on Sunday, and I am really looking forward to having him back. It’s been a long 3 weeks without him! Then I fly out first thing on Monday. I am really looking forward to it! My Mom called me last Sunday, and she is getting the hang of skiing, and having a great time. My last skiing trip was very intense, with the whole group determined to ski as far and as long as possible every day, with just a quick break for a teetotal lunch. I’m pretty sure that this trip will far more laid back, with plenty of gluwein at lunch, and leisurely runs afterward! We will probably do other stuff too, as the others are there for at least 6 weeks and so can focus on more than just skiing. It should be good fun!

That’s about it from me!

Wednesday, 14 February 2001

Old News - Skiing in France Feb 2001

Hullo everyone

Well, back home after 2 weeks skiing, and no broken bones in our group. Lots of bruises and aches, but that seems to go with the territory.

We went to La Tania, between Courcheval and Meribel in the French Alps. It is a tiny resort, with 2 pubs, 5 restaurants and one shop! However, by taking 2 lifts you have 200km of piste at your command (Piste – wide runs where they have compacted the snow to form a firm even surface for you to ski on). 8 of us had booked for 2 weeks and another 6 for one week. As the chalet holds 16, we pretty much had it to ourselves. Another Aussie/Danish couple was with us on week 1, and 8 poms on week 2. All really super people – we were very lucky. The chalet is run by 2 English girls who cook and clean, and we were spoiled rotten. The more adventurous among us got the hang of skiing from the run right to the chalet, although it was a little hair-raising!

In week one 6 of us took lessons to try and sort out our technique. The instructor had us skiing on one leg, using the poles, and trying to look decent, as well as taking us down some rather difficult slopes. Also lots of different terrain – ramps, moguls (evil humps) and off-piste (that’s a couple of feet of soft snow which swallows your skis and throws nasty surprises at awkward moments for those who don’t know). Jolly hard work, but only in the mornings, so we had the afternoons to play around and catch up with the others. Then in week two we did a bit of exploring. There’s a nasty bug going around – Tara got it the first week, and I got it the second. Spent 3 days in bed, and was a bit feeble afterwards – great way to spend a skiing holiday! Sounds like the other valleys are good for skiing though!

Hmmm, what else. I had a go at snowboarding one afternoon, but I don’t really like being in contact with the surface quite so much (Mountain Man of course was boarding down blue runs after 2 hours)! Most of our group switched to snow-blades in the second week (very short skis), and they are great fun. Very easy to turn, and you don’t go as fast as skis. The guys were jumping things and skiing backwards on the first day! One afternoon a few of us took a walk along a cross-country track / road, and got bored so struck off into the woods on a path. A very icy, slippery, sheer path! Lots of clutching at trees and shrieking! Then Mountain Man decided it would be fun to bum-board (bit of plastic you sit on and slide out of control) down the blue run. Fun to watch anyway and he made it quite far before bailing out!

Apart from that, lots of wine in front of the log fire, board games, cards and conversation. A superb holiday!

Funny how warm London feels after the Alps! It is nice to be back, with so many shops and restaurants to choose from – and what a pleasure to be understood. My French is VERY basic – just tourist phrases, and most French people do not speak English.

Mountain Man is in South Africa for the next few weeks. I wish I could be there too – I am craving some hot sun! As he flew out last night, we had Valentines on Sunday. It actually worked rather well, as the restaurants are not too busy and no one was stressed. Then on Monday I was meant to be back at work, but couldn’t face it so bunked. My ‘tummy bug’ had a relapse! Actually I’m almost fine now, but I have an intolerance to some foods (meat, dairy, fruit, alcohol and coffee so far – what does that leave!) so I’m not quite 100%! It seems to be the same bug I had in Nepal… thought we’d be safe in France!

2 weeks of work left! Then I am going skiing AGAIN in Switzerland with my Mom and Aunt! Mom’s got one week to learn how before I get there. Heh heh heh.

When I get back I have 2 weeks to find us a new home, as we are all moving out at the end of March. I can see some floor-squatting happening again! Mountain Man and I are looking for a place on our own for a change, L is globetrotting, and T is moving in with J. Everyone else seems to have found places to stay now, so the Bayswater doss-house is closing down!

Let me go back to pretending to work!