Wonderful AppleTV

With a son in the first few months of his life, the time that my wife and I spent going to the cinema has been sadly curtailed.  I don’t like renting DVDs, partly because I hate sitting through adverts for films have no intention of watching, and partly because I hate being told that Piracy Is A Crime.  Every. Bloody. Time.  A patronising message which is made more irritating by the fact that if I had pirated the damn film I wouldn’t have to watch the message or umpteen adverts.

So, at the risk of sounding like a cheap radio commercial, I was delighted to discover that rentals and purchases from the iTunes store are not only reasonably priced but also free from annoyance.  You pay.  You watch.  You aren’t forced to sit through crap.

Slender Booby

One thing that the nature documentaries fail to cover is quite how bad the Galapagos islands smell. There’s no doubt that the Galapagos are a little slice of paradise, but they’re the slice that smells of faeces mixed with stale anchovy paste.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Sarah and I honeymooned late, in fact we left it until January this year. It is with a little sadness that I write these words because I’m fairly sure that we will never again have such a wonderful holiday or see such amazing things. We were, for example, transported back in time to the 1970s as soon as we stepped onto Iberia’s rickety old Airbus. It’s been a very long time since I saw so much brown in one place (other, of course, than my wardrobe). There was no choice of film and, quite apart from the fact that the actors were all speaking Spanish, the nearest screen was too far away to be of any use to us. So we contented ourselves with the worryingly easy task of removing bits of trim from the aircraft.

By some miracle we landed safely at our destination – Quito, a picturesque town which was constructed little better than the aeroplane which conveyed us there. We didn’t let that stop us though and even Pascal scrabbled up the scaffolding to reach the highest room of the tallest tower of the basilica to be with his one true love. Let me be quite clear here. Sarah and I both have vertigo in peculiarly different ways. Pascal is quite happy with trees and cliffs, certain as he is that if nature constructed them then they can probably be trusted to stay standing. Sarah doesn’t trust nature at all and would rather put her life in the hands of an overweight chain-smoker who wears the wrong sized trousers and shouts ‘Phwoar! Bristols!’ at every girl who walks past the building site. Both, of course, trust gliders – but that’s just a matter of physics.

After a day or two of exploration we jetted off to the Amazon rain-forest to swim with piranhas, anacondas, caymans and all manner of betoothed beasties. We acquainted ourselves with insects and spiders which only seemed to come in large and enormous sizes. And we witnessed monkeys crashing through the trees, much to the annoyance of the owls and vampire bats. The lodge, of course, was beautiful and the food excellent.

The rain-forest was swiftly followed by the even-rainier-forest, a land of frogs, millipedes and humming birds. Actually, it seemed to be a paradise for twitchers – but there was only one bird that I was really interested in watching. The even-rainier-forest also provided us with our only encounter with Incan ruins.

Nearly five kilometres above sea-level the air cannot be described as rich in oxygen. We struggled up the slopes of Cotopaxi, burning nicely in the sun, whilst being guided by a mountain goat Amerindian woman. I’m afraid to say that I took advantage of Sarah’s breathlessness to hurl snowballs at her. Snowball fight on the equator! You’d think it’d be great, right? Wrong, alas. The snow was like powder. Never mind, we both made up for lost time when it snowed in London in April – and we made anatomically gifted snowmen and women. Having decided that the islands themselves were far too smelly, we toured the Galapagos in a sailing boat. We went ashore regularly for walks with iguana, sea-lions (the cause of most of the stink) and boobies. We swam with iguana, sea-lions, turtles, sharks and, of course, boobies. The boobies were most impressive and, as has been commented on in the past, I’m rather fond of them.

The first move of 2008 was from Sarah’s flat in the increasingly stabby south-east of London, but not before Pascal upset one of the neighbours by shouting at her. We moved to a little house in Hertford and immediately set about the task of trying to find somewhere to buy. It was during our stay in the noisy little house that we found the time to unpack the modelling kit and make a little Waggle. Waggle is currently baking, and we expect hir (him’n’her, alright!? Really! Mi spellin int vat bad!) to be complete in March. Ish.

Having honeymooned so extravagantly in January, we decided that our summer holiday should be spent in the U.K., in Cornwall. We camped and it rained. The tent leaked so we patched it up with old bin-bags – it was a veritable tramp palace by the time we decided to donate it to the Eden project for recycling. We will camp again, we promise, but our tent will be bigger, sturdier and more expensive next time! And, dudes, I learned to surf. I caught the waves and stayed on my feet all the way to the beach. Excellent fun, party on – I want to do that again. Any day now I’ll be peroxiding my hair, growing it long, and moving in to a VW camper van. Poor Sarah, waggled up as she is, could only watch and take photographs as she got shot blasted with hail. The holiday was a lot of fun though, and the weather was miraculously fine when we went to see War of the Worlds at the Minack theatre.

We found the house we wanted in Ware and made the necessary arrangements to be seriously inconvenienced and pissed about by the mortgage company. Which they duly did. So well done to C&G – I don’t think that you missed a single opportunity to mess us about. Thankfully, we were assisted by a supremely competent solicitor. Since then we’ve been nesting – mainly lining the nest with books, I think. Our kitchen is almost finished, although I still need to sort out the under-stairs cupboard. Our living room is almost finished, although the floor needs finishing. And our bedroom will be finished once we’ve slapped some paint on the walls and I’ve papered and painted the hoofysaurus cupboard. Then we can get to work on Waggle’s room.

It’s been a busy year. Busy and fun. We’ve been to paradise, sold a flat and bought a house, and we are expecting our first child. I have a sneaky feeling that 2009 will be even more eventful.

Public Transport

Let’s get the positive stuff out of the way first. I like trains, provided that I can get a seat.  I especially like long train journeys in first class – I get a reasonable cup of tea, a fairly peaceful journey and I can read the paper.

I hate the underground.  It’s smelly, stifling and there’s nothing to look at except for the armpits of ones fellow travellers as they grasp the hand rails (there’s never room to sit).

I hate buses but, since I live beyond the reach of the underground, they’re a necessary nuisance.  I particularly dislike many of my fellow passengers and, in particular, the spineless wimps who put up with hooliganism meekly – or, worse yet, thank me when I don’t.

Strangely enough, I don’t particularly hate the inconsiderate ‘yoofs’ who do so much to ensure that bus rides are as unpleasant as possible.  I was yoofish once and, whilst I never graffitied or listened to my music at disturbing volumes (mainly because I didn’t have the means), I’m aware that I was probably quite unpleasant in my own way.

No, I hate the spineless wimps who won’t stand up for peace, quiet and good manners.  Their excuse is inevitably that they don’t want to get stabbed or happyslapped.  What?  And I do?  I’m hardly built like a boxer myself – I’m in no position to defend myself from a knife or, worse, a gun.  The difference is that I have a healthy sense of perspective and I realise that the chances of being attacked are tiny.  Let’s face it, if they weren’t then such attacks would cease to be newsworthy. The streets will, I promise you, be far safer when everybody firmly (but politely) learns to say ‘excuse me, but would you please stop doing that (whatever it is)’.  Trust me. It works. But if you see me doing it and you’re grateful, please don’t thank me. Just remember not to be so much of a coward yourself next time.

Most of all though, I hate Ken Livingstone for giving free travel to yoofs – come on.  Make them pay like everybody else, and put the extra revenue into paying conductors – life will be so much more pleasant for everyone who has to use public transport.

Dear Steve

You confess to having brainwashed your children. Nice.  It won’t work, of course.  Children are independent and they’ll do as they damn well please.  You can’t even stop them from doing something that might harm them later (like drugs for example), so banning them from using products and services (like the iPod and Google) which are way better than anything from Microsoft is somewhat risible.

Of course, whether or not brainwashing works, a better solution would be for Microsoft to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by Apple and Google.  If Microsoft can make a better product than its competitors then its competitors will go out of business – after all, who would buy a product from a small company if the big one can do the job at least as well?  I’m not even thinking of search engines or music players any more.  I’m thinking of an operating system – Mac OS X (which you have doubtless also banned your children from using).

Windows is a leviathan.  It commands so much market share that anyone buying a computer would be foolish not to buy Windows – unless there was a competitor at least twice as good.  After all, you’d need a damn good reason to throw away compatibility with the world’s most used OS.  Windows has two such competitors.  My favourite is Mac OS X and its feature set goes way beyond Vista but without the precipitous hardware requirements.  Of course, Mac OS X requires you to have a computer made by Apple – but since you’ll probably need a new computer to run Vista anyway, it’s worth considering.

Some people claim that they don’t want to be locked in to a hardware manufacturer (as if being locked into an operating system is any better).  Okay, I can sort of understand that.  I run Ubuntu on my PC.  I find that it’s far more capable than Windows, more secure and (at least as far as I’m concerned) easier to use.  It looks nicer too, to my eyes, and it’ll run on virtually any computer.  It’s free too.

Some people will still object that they need to run Windows programs.  In most instances, of course, they don’t need to.  Open Office is Microsoft Office compatible (and free too), and there are many other applications that can be used in lieu of those written by Microsoft.  On those rare occasions that a Windows program is required, Crossover will run Windows programs natively on either Mac OS or Linux.

So come on Steve, give me one good reason why your kids – or anyone else for that matter – should use Microsoft products? Oh, and ‘because it’s your company’ isn’t a good enough reason!


Strange as it may seem, I think that Microsoft is being unfairly treated when it’s asked to unbundle parts of Windows in order to comply with European monopoly law.  How would we, as Mac users, feel if the next version of Mac OS X contained no compression software, no web browser, no DVD player or even Quicktime?

That isn’t to say that Microsoft shouldn’t be slapped down firmly for being monopolistic, but the E.U. lawyers should work out exactly why Windows has a monopoly.  It has a monopoly because important bundled applications or frameworks – like Windows Media Player, .Net etc. only work on Windows and on no other platform.  Similarly, the forthcoming Zune will work only with Windows computers.

iPod may currently be dominant, but it isn’t a monopoly because it will work just as well on Windows as it does on the Mac.  Quicktime works exactly the same on Windows as it does on the Mac – DRM and all. Mac OS isn’t a monopoly because, even though it only works on Apple hardware, it doesn’t lock the user into using a particular operating system to use the files it generates.

I sincerely hope that the E.U. spots Zune and forces Microsoft to make it work with the Mac – DRM and all, or forbids its sale.

Dear Jacques

This is an open letter of thanks to Jacques Chirac. I publish it here so that the good people of the world can see for themselves how indebted I feel towards him.  If you can’t remember this particular storm in a teacup, you can read the story here – How Jacques lost the Finnish vote for France.

English Version

Dear Jacques,

Thank you for your kind comments about the English, our cuisine and our trustworthiness that you made on Sunday.  Many of the more excitable newspapers in this country lambasted you for it, but I saw greatness in those words.  Who but a genius, a true lover of all Englishness, a man such as yourself, would commit political suicide and hand the glory of the Olympics to a rival nation?  In your infinite wisdom, you scuppered the Paris bid and handed the honour to London.

I have always been a Francophile, but now I am greatly in your debt as well (although I am quite untrustworthy, so I have no intention of paying up). You will always be welcome at my home, where I will be delighted to feed you stodgy stews and ready meals purchased from one of our many fine supermarkets.

Yours sincerely,


French Version

Cher Jacques,

Je vous remercie des aimables commentaires que vous avez passé dimanche dernier sur les Anglais, notre cuisine et notre fiabilité. Un grand nombre de nos journaux plus susceptibles vous ont raillé pour cela mais j’ai vu une certaine grandeur dans vos paroles. Qui d’autre qu’un génie, un véritable admirateur de toute anglicité, un homme comme vous, commettrait un suicide politique et passerait la gloire d’obtenir les Jeux Olympiques à un pays rival ? Dans votre sagesse infinie, vous êtes arrivé à torpiller les chances de Paris et passer un tel  honneur à Londres.

J’ai toujours été un francophile, mais maintenant je vous suis aussi tout à fait endetté (bien que je sois peu fiable et n’aie donc aucune intention de payer). Vous serez toujours le bienvenu chez moi où j’aurai grand plaisir à vous offrir des ragoûts bourratifs et des repas tous préparés, achetés dans l’un de nos excellents supermarchés.

Veuillez agréer, cher Jacques, mes sincères salutations,


Boot Camp

Deep down, in the depths of my soul, I’m a luddite.  I didn’t like PowerPC when Apple first unleashed that on the world.  I was cold about the shift from NuBus.  OS X seemed to be a disaster. On all these counts, I was wrong.  Apple knew what it was doing, although I’m still not convinced by the switch to Intel.

This time though, I’m certain that an own goal has been scored.  Boot Camp, the technology that allows Mac’s to boot Windows, has to be a bad idea.

If a Windows user buys a Mac and then uses it to run Windows, why should they ever learn to use and love the Mac? If a Mac can run Windows Photoshop, why should Adobe bother to develop an Intel native version of Mac Photoshop?  Why should any developer
develop for Intel Mac? Finally, Apple is a hardware company that just happens to write an operating system.  If fewer people are using its OS, why should bother to spend all that money on continuing development?

I’ve been proved wrong in the past.  I’m not visionary enough to see the wisdom of Apple’s manoeverings.  But I wish they’d stop scaring me and right now I’ve got a sense of impending doom about this.

The Luckiest Man Alive

I’ve just returned from a holiday with Sarah, my ex-girlfriend, in St. Lucia. We stayed away from the tourist resorts, as far as possible, we ate Creole food, went scuba diving and walking in the rainforest. We explored the Soufriere volcano and we bathed in tropical waterfalls. Paradise. But why do I say ‘ex-girlfriend’? Well, when we were in St. Lucia, and frolicking under a tropical waterfall, I went down on one knee and proposed to her. I am the luckiest, and happiest, man alive. Sarah said yes. So she is no longer my girlfriend – she is my betrothed. Or fiancée as she would have it, but she is partly French. Continue reading “The Luckiest Man Alive”

Small Island

Okay.  This is my second stab at writing the minutes.  The first was creative.  Even by my standards.  It was also entertainingly abusive.  But you won’t be reading any of it because a) I absent mindedly threw it away.  Irrevocably. Or b) I only dreamed I wrote them  – in which case I need to get myself some better dreams.  I’m going with the a) theory, but I must admit that the b) theory isn’t entirely out of the question.  Whatever.  Either way I can’t be arsed to be creative again, so what you get is what you get.  Provided I don’t absent mindedly trash these minutes as well.

Sangeeta, unfortunately, couldn’t come.  A double pity since she chose a very nice pub – with no smoking. Always a bonus.  James thinks that she might have been sick with desire for him, but I think that she was just feeling a bit ill – as, indeed, I would be if I fancied James.  Get well soon, Sangeeta.  Sarah couldn’t come either.  That, incidentally, isn’t my fault.  I hope.  Paul was also absent.  Absent and suspected of having been kidnapped by the moonies.  Jon pointed out that he seemed a bit distracted last time we saw him, and James suspects Paul has relocated to Waco.  I hope not.  Finally, Claire couldn’t come either because she’s still trying on new shoes.

The book we read was Small Island by Andrea Levy.  It was Sangeeta’s choice.  Jon enjoyed it.  It was, he said, very well done.  The characters were convincing.  he was surprised when Bernard started narrating his own story – Jon had assumed that he’d be the villain character, and that he’d never introduce himself.  He liked the way that the different points of view contradicted each other.  It was sometimes heavy handed, and Jon wasn’t particularly keen on the fly-and-dog-shit brooch.  Dog shit.  It’s quite a pleasant phrase isn’t it?  It trips off the tongue in such a way as bring a smile to even the glummest face.  Jon didn’t think the book was profound, but it was easy to read – although the opening chapter, Queenie in Africa, was rubbish.  He read somewhere that Small Island is the most popular book for reading groups at the moment, and that just about says it all.  He reiterated that Time’s Arrow was awful.

Ilona enjoyed the book.  She read it very quickly over a week – she thought that she’d missed bookclub and thereby cunningly escaped the tedium of having to read a book.  On discovering that she hadn’t missed anything after all, she panicked and read it in a rush – discovering that reading isn’t so bad after all.  She liked the different perspectives on the same incidents, and she found Small Island to be a real page turner, an easy read.  It was interesting to see the way the characters developed.  I may have gotten some of that wrong.  Whilst writing the minutes I also seemed to be busy inventing new letters – the result being that I can’t actually read my notes.  Ilona also liked the way that the characters spoke in dialect.  She could ‘hear’ them speak.  John concurred.  Ilona thought that the story was quite upbeat, and she couldn’t take it entirely seriously.

James thought that the book was very realistic – he could visualise the period.  He had mixed feelings about it, also the balance was in favour of his positive thoughts.  He was particularly concerned by the opening chapters – he thought that the book would be in-your-face and worthy.  Most of his fears were allayed until the coincidence, the reappearance of Michael Roberts, which James didn’t think quite rang true (i.e. he thought it was bollocks).  On the upside, he liked the title.  And he liked the way that nothing sensational happened.  He felt that it was steeped in realism, with credible characters.  So, overall, okay.  With a few niggles.

I agreed that the coincidence was a load of bollocks.  I found Small Island to be quite slow to get into, and it certainly wasn’t a page turner.  I didn’t dislike it, but I wasn’t gripped either – and so it took me longer than usual to read.  I liked the way the characters evolved as the story progressed – there was no black and white, just shades of grey.  Bernard turned out to have a redeeming feature, and Queenie displayed the capacity to be callous.  The only character that I felt was good through-and-through was Gilbert.  I certainly wasn’t gripped enough to want to read anything else by that author.

Sangeeta found Small Island to be a well written and touching novel that explored the theme of post war racism in a moving and sometimes humorous manner. She liked the way the characters were developed throughout the book and thought that the topic was handled sensitively. She thought that Queenie was probably the best character in terms of her naïvety at what to expect from the English way of life and her sad disillusionment at the reality. I guess that since Queenie was English, Sangeeta actually meant Hortense. She liked Gilbert the least, finding him a bit boring, and she thought that some of the war dialogue was a bit long. Overall though she really enjoyed the book – very insightful and a good story.

Sarah didn’t really believe in the characters in Small Island and she didn’t really like them either.  She enjoyed the picture painted of Jamaica in terms of the carnival, the dress, the culture and the food. She was interested in they viewed England as a mother nation even though England couldn’t care less and, as they discovered, treated them very badly when they made it ‘home’.  Gilbert was okay and Sarah wanted something good to happen regarding Michael and Ms. Trouble but it never did.  Maybe it’s because nothing really ‘good’ happens in Small Island that Sarah lost interest.  Everything was tough for everyone and no-one was particularly happy. It gets to be depressing after a while!

Jon also read art books.  He’s halfway through his course, and he’s enjoying it.  He finds medieval perspective boring though.  He’s also been reading Chronicles by Bob ‘short for Kate’ Dylan.  It’s terrific.  There’s no ghost writer, and there’s a great sense of atmosphere.  He could smell the clubs that Bob played it.  It’s a pity that Bob forgot so much because he was drugged up – but he liked the sense of bewilderment in waking up in a new place with no idea how he got there.  It was a bit like On The Road.  Only good. Fantastic.  He’s gearing up for Chronicles II.

Emphyrio by Jack Vance is good fun.  It’s about a kid growing up on a planet dedicated to making arts & crafts, which are then sold across the galaxy.  The heroes father is executed for using a photocopier.  Jon bought the book because he liked the look of the cover. And that’s true. I didn’t make it up.

Jon will be enjoying The Smoking Diaries next month.

Ilona half read The Dice Man by Luke Rheinhart. It’s about a man who makes all his daily decisions by rolling dice and, Jon says, is inspired by a song by The Fall. It’s readable, but not recommendable.  Not exciting at all, and so she got distracted by another book…

…Which was also rubbish. The blurb for Nobody Loves a Ginger Baby by Laura Marnie suggested that it was comical.  It wasn’t. The best bit was the ending – but only because Ilona could get on with reading something better.

The Journal of Mortifying Moments by Robin Hardy is an easy read about a woman with relationship problems, it’s written like a diary.  James commented that it sounds like a hell-fest, but apparently it’s very funny.

Dot Homme by Jane Moore is about a woman who was bought an ad on a dating site by a friend.  With friends like that eh? Apparently it’s very good.

Ilona did read one good, non trashy book.  The Pact by Jodi Picault is about a murder investigation into a suicide pact.  It’s well written, and told from many different points of view. She has nothing else do say – but she said it with enthusiasm.

James read my minutes. They were great.  The best work of fiction that he read that week.  He also wrote a speech – and, apparently, that was great too.

He also read La Pest by Albert Camus.  He read it in French, in case you didn’t guess from the title.  It’s an allegory for the invasion of France by the Germans.  It’s steeped in realism and very good.

To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee is terrific.  Actually,  James hasn’t finished reading it yet so he shouldn’t really be talking about it here.  He hasn’t even got to the trial yet.  He’s loving it, and knows that he won’t be disappointed.

The Empire position of the month is standing at the bar.  Getting drunk.

I read The Riddle of the Titanic by Robin Gardiner.  It was a big load of conspiratorial clap-trap.  Utter shite.  I didn’t finish it.  Apparently the Titanic didn’t sink.  It was another ship.  For the record, I think it was the Titanic that sank – but even if it didn’t, it was still a bloody big disaster.  End of story.  And no, I don’t think that the White Star Line deliberately sank her.  Piffle.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling was crap.  Harry Potter is an annoying little shit.  And I was still conned into reading the damn book.  And you know what?  When the next book comes out I just know that I’ll end up reading that too.

Fortunately, The Rotters Club by Jonathan Coe was great.  Unputdownable.  I was only a toddler at the time the book was set, but I still remember the sights and smells clearly.  Besides, the knackered old busses and unionism persisted into the eighties.  It describes the town where I grew up.  I will be buying the sequel.  Pure nostalgic delight.

The Model by Anaïs Nin is great.  Get it now in Penguin 70’s.  She is the mistress of erotic story telling.  Can’t be beaten.  Hmm.  Actually, beatings have been known to take place in her stories!

Sangeeta also read Morality for Beautiful Girls, The Kalahari Typing School for Men, The Cupboard Full of Life and In the Company of Cheerful Ladies. These are the remaining books in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith and, as you can see, she is addicted! The books are highly entertaining, very light reading but full of wry humour.

The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is a very good book about a man who time travels through life and about his relationship with his eventual wife. It has a slightly confusing style as it moves between years and places but it is worth persevering. The description of how their relationship progresses is, at times, very moving – the girls will probably need their hankies at the end.

The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman is an excellent book. It is Szpilman’s personal account of his life in German occupied Warsaw during the second world war and his extraordinary struggle to survive the torture and horror of this time. It’s really well written and manages to avoid being over sentimental despite the emotional torment and heartbreak he suffered. It was made into a harrowing film.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith is an interesting book which covers the interlinking lives of three different cultures and their family backgrounds. Sangeeta really enjoyed it and found it quite humourous.

Brother and Sister by Joanna Trollope explores an adopted brother and sister’s struggle to find their biological parents and the effect it has on their lives. It’s entertaining but nothing special.

The Mango Season by Amulya Malludi is about an Indian girl who gets sent to America to study and work. She gets engaged to an American, but when she returns to India (during the mango season) she finds that her family are trying to arrange her marriage. The book explores her changed attitudes to the traditional views of her family, and her eventual revelation about her true life. The book is also interspersed with delicious mango recipes.

The Best a Man Can Get by John O’Farrell is a light and entertaining read about a man who leads a double life, unable to deal with true domesticity. Eventually his wife finds out he has been spending half his time living in a bachelor flat and she is not amused. It’s a entertaining look at how the male mind works.

Shopaholic Abroad by Sophie Kinsella is the second book in the shopaholic series and it is just as hilarious as the first. It’s nothing intellectual, but it is a laugh out loud read.

Sarah did read some other books.  I know.  I saw her reading them.  She can’t remember what they were though.  Actually, neither can I.  So perhaps I only imagined seeing her read them.  It’s possible.

I feel I should also point out the I saw The Pixies live.  Again.  They were great.  They always are.  Kim Deal is a Goddess.  Sarah saw them too, and was most taken with Joey Santiago’s superb axemanship. David Lovering is the human incarnation of Animal – no-one bangs the drums like he bangs the drums.  And as for Frank Black.  I wish I could howl like he can howl.  Tame?  Not even slightly. Jon also saw The Pixies, and he loved them too.  He saw them at Reading.  James an Ilona didn’t see them.  They are the weakest link.  But I’ll forgive them.

This month we will mostly be reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  I’ve only read the blurb so far, but it looks like it’ll be a good ‘un.