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Thursday, December 31

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Wednesday, September 22

Labour Leadership - vote for 1, get 5?

Labour members have had to vote for 1 of the 5 Labour leadership candidates. It's a shame they can't select all 5 because a composite Frankenstein leader would be unstoppable:

  • David M for brains and to stick with Blair's 3rd way
  • Ed M to be humble, apologise for mistakes and make changes where necessary
  • Andy Burnham to be "ordinary bloke" to appeal to the masses in the way Blair did
  • Ed Balls to be the attack dog to savage the other parties
  • Diane to appeal to the under-represented in policies & add a bit of left-wing spice
What chance of the winner having all 4 losers in the Shadow Cabinet?

Despite Ed M coming up the inside track, I reckon his older brother will pip him to the post.

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Monday, August 9

USA 2010 Holiday: Day 1 - Strike

There was a tube strike. So, I had to get a coach from Golders Green to Victoria before getting a 2nd one from there to Heathrow. The first coach arrived on time but got stuck in London and arrived 20 min late. So, I missed the 2nd coach. There was a long wait for the 3rd coach and there was a massive queue. When I got to the front, it was booked up. I tried to get a taxi but guess what, there was a massive queue for that. I asked a lot of people if there were going to Heathrow & offered to pay half the cost but no one spoke up. Were they not going or did they not want to share with me?

One kind lady offered to share the cab – but she was only going to Hammersmith. I jumped at the offer. The cabbie said the motorway was packed so advised me to get the Heathrow Express from Paddington. So, after crawling to Hammersmith, we went to Paddington – or at least the outskirts. There was another traffic queue. I got out 5 min away & the fare was £37.

I took the train but arrived 30 min after my NY plane left. I feared having to wait a day for another flight and to pay for a new ticket. What was my budget – a good NY price e.g. £300-£400? I went to the Continental ticket desk with trepidation but she surprisingly offered to change my ticket to the evening one for free. What great customer service. I had a 7hr wait for the 1830 flight. The first few hours went slowly. When I went to check-in, I asked for a window seat but wasn’t given one. I was asked to ask at the gate for one. The Continental rep managed to get me a window seat later on. More props for Continental service. I hope it doesn’t decline when they merge with United Airlines.

The flight was delayed by 20 min due to ground congestion. It arrived on time. I took the train to NY Penn Station. Phoned I to meet there the next day. Then I took the Long Island Rail Road to get to Flushing. Both journeys were quick although there was a 30 min wait

When I got off at the Flushing/Main Street station, I found myself in Asia Town – Korean & Chinese shops. I spent 15 min walking the wrong way and another 30 min going the other way to the Flushing YMCA – at 12:30 am. I got a room key but found out I needed a key for the shared bathroom and one was missing so I have to go to another floor. The room was fine with a working TV & AC. There was a plastic undersheet but a large fitted cupboard & rail for clothes. Here's a photo:

News stories – cuts to school buses for older kids (parents protesting / taking legal action), woman who was stopped by police when her daughter had asthma attack & died trying to get law to force police to undergo CPR training & refreshers,.5 democrats trying to NY AG for Albany in Primary.

Friday, January 1

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Wednesday, July 15

Budapest III - Caves, the Danube & the Opera

We went to the Palvogzi Stalactite Cave and the Szemlo Hill Cave. From our hotel, we crossed the Margit Hid bridge, overlooking Margit Island, where cars are banned into Buda. We needed to find the local HEV train. After much searching, we discovered it underground!! We took it and then a bus to reach the caves.

With the sun searing us with 33 deg C heat, it was refreshing to be chilled to one third of that temperature. The first 6cave had impressive looking stalactites and I was impressed by the still dripping mineral water. The cave is a dynamic system and it was different yesterday and will be different tomorrow. A guide spoke Hungarian but we had a sheet of paper in English, giving explanations of the different parts of the cave.

It was discovered in the 1930s when a sheep fell down a hole into the cave but not well explored or developed for tourists until the 1980s.

The second gave was a 15 minute walk away past houses in the burbs. There was a small but interesting exhibition with a 3D model of the caves as well as crystal samples. Yet again, there was a guide but no paper tranlslation, alas. This tour lasted about 50 min vs 15 min from before but seemed less interesting. No stalactites but technically named popcorn & cauliflower formations.

In the afternoon, E wanted to go to the Hungarian State Opera House tour, as there were no performances in July due to the holidays. It was overpriced at HUF2800 with the very annoying HUF500 photo tax. I detest it. A way to sponge money off people with cameras and|or make them buy leaflets and postcards. For professional photographers, there should be a (substantial) charge but not for amateurs. It started late, no doubt to get in as many punters as possible (there are only 2 tours a day). With the many different language groups, it was a squeeze. The neo-Renaissance design was impressive and the guide was well-informed during the 40 min tour. It was interesting to hear that 7 kg of gold was used and the building was part funded by Emperor Franz Josef who decreed it should be smaller than his beloved Viennese Opera House. It was indeed smaller but more beautiful so he only saw 1 act here.

I then went on to St Stephen Basillica and managed to get to the top of the coupoula which gave a fine vantage point over Pest.

I joined E in the evening as he wanted to go on a guided 1hr boat cruise up and down the Danube. With a multi-language radio commentary, the cost was HUF3000, a little overpriced as it did a big circle. However, a lot of information was packed in and the at-seat drinks service was well used.

We went to an all you can eat & drink buffet place with restaurants in Buda & Pest. We went to the former, which charged HUF4500. The latter was 20% cheaper. It was a good spread with a theatre grill with 4 types of fish, including catfish & shark as well as chicken in various marinades. There were several types of soups including goulash as well as hot meat dishes, hot and cold vegetables, cakes and ice-cream. The food was delicious and the unlimited beer, house wine & soft drinks went down well. The drinks service varied depended on the collared waiter.

Replete, we waddled back over the Margit bridge to our hotel.

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Tuesday, July 14

Budapest II - Baths, Terror & Fish

As Budapest is famous for its baths, it was time to try one. The Szechenyi Furdo with its outdoor pool sounded like the ticket in 33 deg C heat.

It was a few metro stops from our hotel. We plunged into the thermal pools at varying temperatures. Then we ventured outside and enjoyed swimming surrounded by fantastic architecture and bodies. Some were older than others. We spotted the chess-players but there were at a table rather than in the water. I looked for a traditional massage but found it booked up. Only the Thai massage was available but unaffordable at 3 times the price.

Then, it was time to walk down what my guidebook called the most beautiful street in Hungary, Andrassy Ut, due to its leafy ambassadorial residences to its big brand shops. We, on the other hand, headed to the Terror Museum. It is devoted to the repression of the Hungarian people under repressive dictatorships. First, the Hungarians allied with the Germans in WW2, then they were occupied by them. Finally, they were occupied by the Soviets. There were moving videos, with subtitles but the interrogation room, the torture instruments and the cells were the most memorable.

We then stopped for lunch at a restaurant that had a terrace behind bars - how appropriate. I had pork crackling over noodles and sheep cheese. The noodles turned out to be more like spatzle or macaroni. It was a heavy meal but with only a few bits of pork. However, they had spicy fish soup on the menu, a Hungarian speciality.

I then went to St Stephen Basilica - there were a service on but I did not fancy paying to see his mummified right hand. Access to the top had been shut.

So, after walking along the most famous shopping street in Budapest, Vaci Ut, I am reminded it is like Amsterdam Damrak.

I walk back the way I came to go to the same restaurant for their fish soup but despite ordering 2, E does not get one. It is good when it arrives but strangely, they kick us out at 10pm.

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Monday, July 13

Bratislava II - Devin, Budapest I - Goulash

To get out of the cities, we take a bus to Devin Castle, a ruin about 5 miles from the city. It is normally closed on Mondays but we are let in paying a reduced charge as the exhibition rooms are shut. The view of the Blue Danube and the Brown Moravia is spectacular.

When we get back, to cool off, I get 3 flavours of ice-cream for 1 euro to cool-off.

The train to Budapest is 10 minutes late again.

We get a metro to the hotel, which is pleasantly air-conditioned.

We wander in the dark to find a recommended restaurant, Mensa, with a 70s vibe. I have my first authentic goulash and it is tasty.

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Sunday, July 12

Prague IV - Train, Bratislava I - Back to the Future

It is 400km from Prague to Bratislava, about 4.5 hours. The train arrives 10 min Sign outlate. However, it is a 70s classic, with individual compartments & sliding doors for 6 and there are fans. We make an unscheduled stop at a train station to pick up refugees from an overheating modern express. We meet Aussies on their way to Vienna. 2 of them complain about the cost of living in Dublin. They get off at the next scheduled stop.

The train finally arrives in Bratislava 20 min late. After studying the various bus and tram routes, it looks like we need to take the trolley-bus. No. 13 - lucky for us. We arrive at the 15 storey Hotel Kjev. A throw-back to the 70s communist era, with its massive reception, thick brown swirl carpet and wooden furnishings. Our view on the 11th floor is great and the welcome is friendly. The hotel is past its prime. Curved ceramic towel hooks have been broken off and replaced by Ikea hangars in the bathroom. However, it is next to Tesco and I pick up some Hungarian biscuits for the office gannets.

We walk down to the Danube and thence to the compact old town. I find a recommended restaurant but it suspiciously posts no prices so we walk on to a cobbled streets lined with al-fresco restaurant seating. I order a traditional Slovakian dish and we share a bottle of wine - our first on this holiday. The meat, pork, bacon and sausage comes on a skewer. The roast potatoes have smooth skins and the sauce is very tasty.

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Tuesday, April 14

Heard on the Metro: Office consumption

"I try not to eat after work. I've eaten so much at work."


Saturday, April 4

Watchmen review


I went to see Watchmen and enjoyed it immensely. It's a rare good superhero film as I've often been disappointed with many of the Marvel creations. Unexpectedly, its superlong 161 minute running time passes quickly.

The film faithfully follows the graphical novel. The SFX are understated but effective and there are familiar themes such as
  • What do superheroes or "masks" do when they suffer a mid-life crisis?
  • Do the ends justify the means?
  • Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?
  • Is it better to die for the truth or live a lie?
Alas, the villain killing off the masks is easily deduced.

Only the blue-skinned Dr Manhattan has superpowers but we never find out why and how brutal killer, Rorsharch's mask keeps changing pattern.

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Sunday, February 15

Heard in a Shop: Portal problem

"I don't understand this push and pull."


Tuesday, January 20

Barack Obama 2 becomes President

Congratulations to Barack Obama JR on becoming the first, black US President. Let's hope he doesn't get assassinated like other inspirational Americans, such as JFK, MLK & AL.

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Saturday, January 3

Murray's marvellous: wins world championship

Congratulations to Andy Murray who won the World Tennis Championship today in Abu Dhabi. He did it by beating Rafael Nadal in the final, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 after beating Roger Federer in the semi-final, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 .

Murray for a Grand Slam this year, I think.

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Wednesday, December 31

Sterling Slumps: Travellers' Travails

With the British pound plummeting to the point where:

£1 = 1Euro = $1US = Y100

where can British travellers go without bankrupting themselves? Well, the British tourist board and trying to get people to stay at home, to boost the economy but for those who want to leave Blighty, I have a few suggestions.

For countries whose currency hasn't shot up against the pound, try ones which have had a civil war - Kenya, had its hotels shot up - India, had a bigger financial meltdown - Iceland, or have inflation of 230M % - Zimbabwe.

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Thursday, December 18

Egypt:: Diving Dahab

I've had a cold and a cough for the last few weeks, even before leaving London. I didn't want to dive as having my ears explode when unable to equalise or having a coughing fit at 18m depth is not much fun. Today is the last day we spend at the coast in Dahab, so as I got through breakfast without coughing, I decided to risk it. I phoned up the dive company and they said I could fit in 2 dives if i was quick.

I sauntered along the road to downtown Dahab and flagged down a Jeep.
I arrived at the dive centre and prepared for a refresher dive as I hadn't dived since January 2007 at the Great Barrier Reef. We entered the Lighthouse and refreshed some skills. We swam further and saw some coral and fish but not as spectacular a display as the time I snorkelled at the Blue Hole.

For the second dive, we went to Banner Fish Bay and we saw a blue trigger fish, a giant puffer fish, a scorpian devil fish, and a cornet fish. They were interesting but the quantity of fish was far lower than the Blue Hole. Towards the end of the dive, my ears started popping and I couldn't equalise properly.

After getting out of the water, I felt weak and my ears were suffering. Now, I have to face an 8 hour overnight bus journey back to Cairo, followed my a full day of market, museum and mosque visits.

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Monday, December 15

Egypt: Snorkelling at the Blue Hole

We travelled in pickup trucks for 10 min from our hotel to the Blue Hole. I got my snorkelling gear on and clambered down some rickety wooden steps. I swam out a few metres and could see coral at a depth of about 30 cm but most of it was dead.

I swam out 30m further to find live coral and hundreds of fish. Alas, till I do the PADI Advanced Open Water Naturalist course, I can't name them but can only describe them as orange, black and purple with yellow fishnet stockings.

There were divers below me. One had 2 air tanks on his back and was carrying 2 others. He obviously wanted to stay down there for hours. I could see why.

The water was especially salty, giving me a lot of buoyancy, even without a wet suit. I floated still for many minutes at a time. I swam over the reef and encountered choppier waves so I swam back to the calmer side.

After an hour I got out and rested on an ottoman. There was a row of shacks with low-slung chairs with cushions as well as a waiter service for food and drink.

In the evening, I went out with some of the tour group to see Chelsea draw against West Ham inside a restaurant that looked like a beached ship. We grabbed a BOGOF meal deal and I had noodles.

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Saturday, December 13

Egypt: Luxor to Dahab

The 13hr bus journey started at 10pm and we settled down to watch Tropic Thunder, not a funny film. I got about 4 hr sleep, until we stopped at a service station to get a drink and use the toilets.

We reached the Dahab Paradise hotel at 11am and it looked picturesque from the front. Each room had a balcony that overlooked a pool surrounded by palm trees, with the Red Sea in the background. However, on entering the rooms, the luxury ended, they didn't have a fridge or a TV. The hotel was one of many dropped in front of the cliff side.

I walked towards the centre of Dahab and encountered wandering camels and goats as well as a decaying cat. Unlike Hurghada, we were back to half-built and decaying buildings, amongst rubbish-strewn streets. Only the mosque looked well-built.

In the afternoon we met up with the ferry group and they looked green. Most of them were sick as their ferry was small as was flung from side to side and up and down on the choppy seas. The bus was a much more comfortable option in the end.

In the evening, we got minivans into the centre of Dahab and ate at the El Capone restaurant. I had my first Egyptian fish. It was like cod and baked in tin foil and vegetables. It was very tasty and I was glad to get some cooked vegetables as I had been avoiding unpeeled fruit and salad vegetables that might have been washed in tap water. Apparently, the water does not have bacteria that makes foreigners ill but lots of chlorine that they are not used to. So, they get sick when they drink the equivalent of swimming pool water. The food was good and we were giving a free starter of garlic bread and dips as well as a free desert of chocolate cake and tea. Some people tried the shisha but I did not.

We went back to the hotel by getting a taxi. As there were 5 of us, a pickup truck was found and 4 of us set in the sun deck.

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Friday, December 12

Egypt: Balloon Ride

The tour company offered a sunrise balloon ride over Luxor and the Valley of the Kings for an eye watering EGP600. So, T & E checked out the tour companies lining one of Luxor's streets and found the same package for only EGP250. I wondered what would be missing but was convinced by those 2 to sign up.

We woke at 4:30am and were waiting in the hotel reception at 5am. There were people from the tour group waiting for the official balloon ride pickup there, also. We were picked up about 15 min later and taken on a 1 min bus ride to the Nile, whereupon we had a coffee and a cake for breakfast. Then we had a 1 min crossing across the Nile and got into another bus to get to the balloon launchsite. We arrived around 6am. We were in a patch of earth, surrounded by about 4 other balloons being lit up by orange glows from the gas burners. Each balloon was tied with a rope to a minivan to stop it taking off prematurely. One of them had members of the official tour company booking.

The 4 balloons took off but we were still waiting. We had to get airborne soon as sunrise was at 6:30am. At 6:20am, we climbed into the basket at the bottom of our balloon and it was then inflated. We took off 5 minutes later.

We ascended to 1600 ft and could see the fields and farms of Luxor. We could also see Hatchepsut's Temple and the Valley of the Kings. In the distance, the rising sun illuminated the mountains with a yellow tinge. There were about 10 other balloons around us, both above & below.

The intense heat over the burners singed a passenger's hairspray and I had to shield my camera to protect it. Someone else's ears popped as we drifted higher.

After 45 min, it was time to land. Our pilot told us we might have a soft landing, which would be an Egyptian one or a rough one, which would be an American one. We got into our brace positions by grabbing onto the internal rope handles and squatting.

As we hit the ground, we were dragged along it for a while but slowed as the ground grew grabbed onto the balloon. We clambered out of the balloon just before new passengers got in. We travelled back to the hotel by minivan and boat and got a t-shirt, as well.

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Egypt: Karnak & Luxor Temples

We visited 2 temples close to our hotel in Luxor. Karnak temple was dedicated to the worship of Amon and it's the largest temple in the world. It's area could encompass at least 4 Notre Dames. It had 134 22m columns and no roof but still had skylights.

Luxor Temple was a 10 min walk from the hotel and the last one we would see on this tour. It was built by Amon Hotemp and had an example of Egyptian porn, with the portrayal of a sperm, even though at the time, the Egyptians had no way of seeing them. This is a mystery alongside their ability to build the pyramids and cut certain stones without diamond.

In the evening, we had a 4hr bus journey from Luxor to Hurghada. There, instead of the crumbling and half-built buildings of Luxor & Aswan, was a modern American-style mall. We picked up food for our dinner and the following day's breakfast. Some went to the Golden Arches.

One group opted to upgrade to a hotel stay in Hurghada followed by a 3hr ferry trip to Sharm-El-Sheik and then a short bus ride to Dahab, our eventual destination. I didn't one to pay another EGP400 so I resigned myself to a 13hr bus journey the long way round, NE and then Se to Dahab.

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Thursday, December 11

Egypt: Valley of the Kings & Hatchepsut Temple

Today, we went to the Valley of the Kings. I explored the tombs of Tut Moses 3. After a long climb up steps and down steps into a boiling cave, I came across hieroglyphics, that looked as if they had been drawn on stone with felt-tip pens. The tomb of Sety 2 was more impressive. The hieroglyphics were carved on the walls and their original colours of red and blue could still be seen. There was a mirror beneath the sarcophagus, which showed the statue on the bottom of the sarcohagus lid.

Then, we went to Hatchepsut Temple's. This was a few minutes drive from the Valley of the Kings and was in resonable condition. Queen Hatchepsut built the temple and pretended to be a man by wearing a beard. She claimed to be the offspring of a god and was both male and female. However, during her son's reign, he destroyed part of his mother's temple.

We also went donkey riding. It seemed I was on the verge of falling off but I managed to stay on. The donkeys liked overtaking and undertaking each other and squeezing into non-existent gaps left by their friends. I learnt that pulling on the right rope could make the animal go right. However, stopping was beyond it. Fortunately, the owners stopped the donkeys with a shout. It was fun, once I got used to having my legs splayed out wide.

In the afternoon, I and 2 others booked a balloon trip over Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. Our tour company wanted EGP600 but we found a company in town charing only EGP250. I know our tour company makes a profit but to charge more than double is ridiculous. We will be flying tomorrow. Let's hope we don't come down with a bang on a budget.

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Wednesday, December 10

Egypt: Kom Ombo & Edfu Temples / Luxor

Today, we visited the Kom Ombo Temple. It had a couple of mummified crocodiles, which were worshipped as gods.

Then, we went tot he Edfu Temple, which was dedicated to the worship of Horus. Both had hieroglyphics but some were damaged. Edfu had characters depicting medical instruments.

In the afternoon, we travelled to Luxor. Y told us the hawkers were more persistent and more sexist. I went to the market and was hassled by a guy trying to sell me his jacket for 10 minutes. He followed me down the road. Another guy was trying to assist him then he tried to chase him away. Finally, he told me he was carriage driver 41 asked for money for chasing the jacket seller away.

There were fewer spice merchants in Luxor, compared to Aswan and more clothes sellers. There were also lots of people selling fruit & vegetables and some selling meat.

I was getting hungry so I went to a local fast-food chain outlet. They sold pizzas, fried chicken and filled baguettes. Most of these last had chicken or meatballs and cost over EGP20 but I found something for only EGP7.50 - fried liver. I had some and it was tasty, with green peppers.

In the evening, we went for dinner and I chose stuffed pigeon for its novelty value. Yes, it does taste like a fattier chicken and there was more rice than pigeon meat in the dish.

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Tuesday, December 9

Egypt: felucca cruise

Today, we had a mostly free day in Aswan. In the evening, we went for a 1hr long felucca cruise. The felucca has no engines and no toilets - so I didn't opt for a 2-day cruise on one. It was pleasant for a short time and in the middle, one of the sailors laid out his wares, trying to hawk jewellery, boxes and statues.

The group is made up of mainly Aussies and Kiwis, most of whom are travelling as couples. There are a few Brits and some brother/sister and sisters travelling together. There are a few single people, too.

In the evening, we went to a restaurant and I had a lamb kebab, which was kebab meat, served with French fries - not in a pitta bread. Afterwards, I walked back through the market, amongst stalls with multi-coloured spices, including saffron.

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Monday, December 8

Egypt: Aswan

After a reasonable night's sleep, we arrived in Aswan after 17 hours. This hotel had a pool. We went to the Philae Temple by boat. The Temple was dedicated to the god Iris. This was very impressive as it had walls filled with hieroglyphics. The temple was actually moved block by block in the 1970s otherwise it would have been flooded after the Aswan Dam was built.

We saw the dam but it didn't look too impressive from where we stood. It was paid for by nationalising the Suez Canal.

Then, it was time for another shop visit, where we were showed how papyrus was made and invitied to buy pictures and pieces with our name written in hieroglyphics.

In the evening, we went by boat to a Nubian dinner, held in a community centre. It was cooked by families and comprised fried chicken, a vegatable & potato stew, tahini, beef in pastry and soup. It was pleasant. Then, there was the entertainment. First, there was a band with a tambourine. The dancers were all men and they danced with banners. Then, they danced with sticks. Finally, they grabbed members of the audience to dance with a stick. At the end, a man in a grass skirt shouted at people to get them to join him and he shouted random phrases, which they tried to repeat - they didn't always succed. Then, he got lots of people up to dance a conga-type routine around the room. The enterntainment was a bit cheap and relied on the audience too much but at least it didn't take too long.

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Sunday, December 7

Egypt: Pyramids

Today, we went be coach to see the Pyramids. First up was the Saqqara stepped pyramid. Then there was the Titi Pyramid. We could go inside and had to bend double to stagger over to the burial chamber. There was very little to see inside.

Then, we went to the 3 great pyramids of Giza. There were impressive on the outside and we were told that there was little to see on the inside and it was going to cost 50% more again to get inside so I didn't bother.

We were all shocked by the camel drivers coming up to us and asking to take photos / go on a camel ride. It all starts with an innocuous conversation about where you are from etc.

We went to lunch at a buffet restaurant and then went on to a perfume shop, where you could get any big-brand perfume replicated at a discount. The tour company has built in a number of these shop visits. No doubt they get a cut of each sale.

In the evening we went back to the hotel. I thought it would be located in downtown Cairo but was actually in the countryside, somewhere near Giza. I had dinner at the hotel. Our guide, Y, recommened the grilled chicken and the burger but not the lasagne, so I had the former. It came cold and I was told it was the weather. I sent it back and got one that was positively glowing and had a couple of bread rolls thrown in.

We prepared for our 13 hr overnight train journey 1000 km south to Aswan. Or maybe it would take 17 hours. Y said that the food on the train might be dodgy so he would take us to a supermarket to get breakfast. We pitched up at a Shell petrol station shop and we bundled bags of cakes and cookies for for our morning meal.

We waited at the station and had to let 2 trains go by without boarding. I had no idea where they were going. Finally, we got on. I was sharing a compartment with 5 others. The seats reclined a bit but the compartment had no door. No stop the corridor light disturbing us, we pulled on our purloined airline masks. We were interrupted throughout the night by tea & coffee venders zooming throught the corridor.

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Saturday, December 6

Egypt Exploration.

I am off to Egypt today. To save on the hassle of organising transport as the sights are spread around, I'm booked on a package tour that will be full of Aussies & Kiwis.

I booked a flight with Egypt Air Lines because it went direct, didn't have too early or late departures or arrivals and was cheaper. And it showed. They had a 777 but with a terrible configuration. There were small flip down TVs and they showed Mamma Mia. Not so bad but it was a Japanese dub with Arabic subs. Fortunately or unfortunately, the songs were left in the original English.

The food was just as bad. I had the choice of squid or beef and chose the latter. The rice was hard and black. It stuck to the train. The beef had dried out and was tasteless. However, the tahini was chilled but tasty.

When I asked for a beer, I was shot a dirty look - they obviously don't carry booze on account of the fact that most Egyptians don't drink.

However, I was impressed with their business class marketing. It's known as Horus class. Nice to be treated as a god rather than a mortal.


Monday, November 10

Salutations civil service

I started today in the civil service.

I am an Executive Assistant to a Senior Director. I'll be commissioning work on his behalf and briefing him on it. I'll also be supporting him when he goes abroad on business. Other projects will include promoting his department internally and improving the system of administrative support for him and his managers.


Thursday, November 6

Farewell financial advice

Today was my last day as a financial adviser. I'm leaving for financial reasons. I was not making enough for me or the company. With the approaching downturn, I could see my prospects could only get worse.

My employer was also cutting commission and re-organising territories which would mean I would have to travel further and spend more time travelling to see customers.

After the territory reorganisation, I still hadn't received details of customers in my new territory. That's another sign that it was time to go.

I will be looking forward to not having to make appointments by phone, arriving at empty houses and being told that the customer does not want to improve the financial situation as well as getting my evenings back.


Monday, September 22

Darwin Award Nominee: Train terminates tryst

And the winner of this year's Darwin Award should go to this couple, as reported by the BBC

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Friday, August 8

Many fat ladies

The 2008 Olympics started at 8pm (China Time) on 8/8/08 because the number 8 is considered a lucky number by the Chinese.

And by C & A who got married today as well. Not at 8pm but rather earlier in the day. However, the cutting of the cake took place then.

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Olympics: the Banality of Branding

What's with all this branding talk on TV. Even the BBC is at it. They no longer talk about the British team or Great Britain but it has to be "Team GB". Will Auntie be flogging t-shirts with that moniker on them?

Not content with ruining this Olympics, the next one is no longer the London Olympics or the 2012 Olympics but "London twenty-twelve". I hadn't realised I was living in twenty-oh-eight. What about all the non-Olympic events scheduled for 2012? What will they call themselves?

The branding culture isn't confined to sport. In insurance, the staid and nineteenth-century sounding Liverpool & Victoria company has rebranded itself "LV" and whatever happened to charming London Zoo? It now calls itself "ZSL", which is short for the distinguished and scientific Zoological Society of London.

Or, is this text-message abbreviation gone mad?

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Sunday, July 6

Wimbledon: Fantastic Final

I've just watched the greatest tennis match of all time or at least the greatest one I've seen. Rafael Nadal overcame a lastlustre Roger Federer in a marathon 7 hour rain-interrupted match 6-4 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-7 (8-10) 9-7. Federer worked hard to come back at the end of of the 3rd set but he was let down by poor backhands in the first half of the match and errring forehands in the second half.

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Thursday, June 26

Wimbledon: Torturous Thursday

I arrived for my yearly sojourn to the home of British tennis at around 11am. I usually go on Monday and Tuesday during the first week but this year I'm going on Thursday and Friday to meet up with different friends.

I was due to meet R but he and his girlfriend decided to arrrive at 7am to queue for tickets. That's like hard work for me. By the time, I had joined the queue, I was told that I might get in at 4-5pm. I thought the stewards were trying to put me on. I texted R and he said he had to queue 3 hours and was now in a good seat.

The queue moved slowly and as predicted, instead of the usual 1-2 hour wait in the past, I did have to wait 5.5 hours and I didn't get in till 4:30pm.

I think the wait was a lot longer for lots of reasons:

  • The South queue had been abolished. In theory that should have made no difference have the number of the ticket booths was unchanged but I think there was a difference
  • Overnight queuers were now allowed to camp in the quiet and comfortable surroundings of Wimbledon Park rather than on the noisy and hard pavements of Southfields.
  • It was sunny and warm
  • It was getting to the end of the week and I'm sure people were starting long weekends with a spot of tennis watching
  • The Brits were playing - Andy Murray & Chris Eaton were drawn today
I did manage to catch Jonas Bjorkman and Alicia Molik play in the mixed doubles, Sebastian Grosjean lose against Richard Gasquet and the Williams sisters triumph in the doubles. R saw Sharapova and Eaton lose.

I'm going to have to think about what to do next year if I don't score a ballot ticket - either an early start or maybe crash at J's place.

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Wednesday, June 11

The Apprentice: She was robbed

It was a comedy of errors in the final tonight. Claire Young and Lee McQueen chose to associate their aftershave with the dangerous allure of gambling whereas Helene Speight & Alex Wotherspoon had an innovative but ruinously expensive two-stage bottle & constantly bickered.

I couldn't believe Lee won The Apprentice. He lies on his CV but gets caught out last week. He should have been fired immediately. He treated Lucinda Ledgerwood badly the week before and yet he still wins. Claire should have won it. She might have been tough but at least she kept her iron fist in a velvet glove. He is all iron. Yes, he needs rounding off but he is all straight edges and sharp corners. He is going to bruise people in Sugar's empire.

And what is a reverse-pterodactyl anyway?

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Friday, May 9

The Apprentice: Ladies Day

With my job as a financial adviser, I'm out most nights and have to resort to taping "The Apprentice" series 4 for weekend viewing. So, I haven't been able to give you my usual post-screening commentary as I did over the last couple of years.

However, having seen Week 7 dominated by women for both good and bad reasons, I had to comment.

First was the first double firing of this series of the 2 Jenny's: Jenny Celerier - the fungus in the boardroom with her poisonous game-playing, insults and attempted bribery and industrial espionage and Jennifer Maguire, who despite claiming to be the best salesperson in Europe, couldn't plan, was colour blind and couldn't read.

I think Alan Suguar fired JC because Kevin Shaw, last week's losing project manager failed to bring her back into the boardroom after she came up with the idea of sending cards to save the environment and then revealed she was sending fewer cards during a sales pitch. He wanted to fire her then. He admitted as much on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. She didn't help herself this week by trying to sabotage the other team's tennis racket and he felt she lied about her knowledge of kosher but I think she just mis-communicated her basic knowledge. This week he got his chance by choosing the candidates he wanted back in the boardroom. He broke the rules by doing this. He's done a double-sacking before but this new development has set a precedent. It means anyone in a losing team can be fired.

Secondly, on the plus side, Sara Dhada & Lucinda Ledgerwood both did well on the winning team with their planning and preparation and got kudos from Alan Sugar's PR man, Nick Hewer. Alas both have been criticised in the past for not doing enough but Sara won her task in week 3 with the Indian pub food & Lucinda ran a very smooth project in week 5 with the ice cream and was unlucky to lose, despite not having arguments in her team. They showed you didn't need to be aggressive, gossipy and manipulative to win. They showed a kindlier, gentler approach to business and sales. I hope they go far in the series but I fear they will be cut to pieces before the final, for all the past criticism of them, which may have been fair to some extent but was overblown and wasn't the main reason for a team losing a task.

I was shocked by the end of week 6's episode when Lee McQueen, who won this week's task was one of the Chief Inquisitors condemning Sara, for apparently doing too little. The cabal had attacked her in the boardroom and continued back at the house. They had no right to attack her in a group. Raef Bjayou defended her, to his credit and he won a lot of fans for it. At the beginning he seemed an upper class twit to me but he has got on well with those who are neither prince or paupers and isn't condescending, supercilious or patronising at all.

I hope Lee thanked and said sorrt to Sara for helping him win this time and treats her better in future.

For all that, I'd like Raef to win The Apprentice this year, although I can see someone like Claire Young challenging him despite her sniping, interference and lack of support. Alan Sugar seems to be giving her several second chances, including her sabotaging of Alex's rug negotiation.

Tre Azam is writing a blog on the current series and you can find out what happened to him and the rest of the 2007 Apprentice candidates.

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Sunday, May 4

Heard in a Bookshop: Militaria Memories

"Tanks! Oh, I love submarines"

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Saturday, April 26

Heard on the Metro: Culinary Confusion

"They've got tacos with sausage and bacon"

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Wednesday, April 23

The Apprentice: Food, Glorious Food

What is with Alan Sugar? It must be his surname. He seems obsessed by food.

In week 1, he got the candidates to sell fish.
In week 3, he got the candidates to sell pub food.
In week 5, he got the candidates to sell ice-cream.

So, 60% of the tasks so far involve shifting food.

I wonder if going to get his soon to be new Apprentice planning a new style of gastro-pub where you can get fresh fish and home-made ice-cream on the menu.

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Friday, April 18

Barcelona 2: Las Ramblas & Flamenco

I went to the famous Las Ramblas. As the rain fell and the pedestrians hid under shop awnings, it looked pretty unimpressive. Walking north, I only saw stalls of florists.

As the rain stopped and the sun came out, so did the people. I came across more interesting vendors. They were selling birds at one stall, including a crowing cock. At another stall, there were rabbits and hamsters. A third had fish.

I went into the Boqueira market and came across food vendors including fish, fruit, vegetables, meat and cheese. Around the corners of the market building, there were tapas bars. At one recommended by Ryanair´s inflight magazine, there was a long queue. Even worse that the last place with a queue, there wasn´t a menu. So, I gave up and went to another tapas bar. I managed to order some food by speaking in French. After all, the French border is only 80 miles away.

In the afternoon, I followed the Modernist route, checking out wavy buildings by Gaudi and his contemporiries ^sic^

In the evening I went to an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant. There was a choice of spaghetti with white or red sauce and stodgy pizza with various tastless colourings.

However, the paella was reasonable as were the salads. The 8 types of ice-cream and a free beer made the menu worthwhile.

On my way back, I went to a flamenco show at a restaurant. There was a singer, a guitarist and a female danceer. She was reasonable but the show came alive when the diners took to the stage. At one point there were 10 people doing their imitations of flamenco. There was a short interlude where a dozen people dance the macarena at ever-increasing speeds.

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Thursday, April 17

Barcelona 1 - Picasso and tapas

I caught the Ryanair redeye 0630 departure from Lord Foster´s flying monument, Stansted Airport.

I went there last night by bus and got there at 0125. There dozens of people sleeping on floors but the airport did not seem as busy as in the past. I found 2 chairs to sprawl out on and caught a few hours shut eye, with the aid of a can of K.

The airport awoke at 4am. I was woken by the hustle and bustle of movement.

I queued to checke in and waited behind a family. They realised that the max. luggage wait that Ryannair allowed was only 20kg. So they had flipped open on their suitcase lid and were desperately takling out clothes and putting them in other bags. They kept dragging their suitcase, flat side on the floor, towards the check in counter.

I strode through the chill morning breeze to get on the plane. Unlike most of the passengers, I walked to the back of the plane and climbed the steps. Hardly any seats were occupied so I grabbed a window seat. I was joined by 2 guys. The one who sat next to me said he had never flown before and apologised in advance for being sick.

The flight was uneventful. No projectile vomitting occurred.

Unlike the its sterotype, it was cool and raining in Barcelona. Of course, we didn´t arrive at the main Barcelona - too expensive for the passengers, who, according to Michael O´Leary, would "climb over broken glass", to pay 1p and 1c for their tickets, as I had.

We had arrived at Reus (Salou) which is 80 minutes drive away, according to the bus timetable. We arrived in 95 minutes. On the way, I helped some French women who had no map and no idea where the bus was going to arrive. So, I showed them my Time Out Barcelona map and gave them a route to their hotel on La Rambla.

As it was raining steadily, I took the Metro to Barceloneta. It´s in the Old Town between the beach and the Barri Gothic region, where my hotel was located.

I find my hotel, it was at the top of a 5 storey building. The terraced building had floors with offices of companies and homes on them. I walked up and got my key. As promised, I had blagged a double room for a single room price. The room was strictly no frills and no luxury no TV, toilet, shower or wardrobe!! There was a rail with hangars and a sink, though. It was clean, to boot.

I was hungry now, having only eaten some steak in pastry for breakfast. I went to a tapas bar. It was packed. I can´t read Catalan. So I pointed at some black morsels and asked for some. I got black pudding. I saw a ham roll and pointed at it. I got it. There was a menu and I recognised the Catalan speciality, Botifarra. I asked for it and got it in a roll. I saw Sardina on the menu. I asked for it and got sardines in a roll. To drink, I asked for beer but was told there was only cava or water. I had cava in a wide, flat, glass.

In the afternoon, it showered in bursts, I went to the Picasso museum. I liked his 44 interpreations of Velazquez´s Las Meninas. There was rotating display of sections of the original painting together with Picasso´s version of people with offset eyes and triangular heads.

In the evening, to escape another shower, I went into a restaurant and had rabbit with chocolate. The rabbit wasn´t very large, tasty or hot. The chocolate wasn´t very distinctive, either.


Saturday, April 12

Heard at a Swimming Pool Changing Room: New moves

"Hello. I'd like 2 cucumber rolls and 2 avacado rolls"
"It'll be an hour. OK"
"My name is Theo."


Wednesday, April 2

BIS lecture: NASA's Plans for the Future

I went to a British Interplanetary Society lecture on Human Space Exploration: NASA's Plans for the Future. It was given by Dr Bill Barry who tries to put a friendly face forward for NASA in Europe.

The key points are a return to the Moon in 2018 using uprated Apollo-style vehicles. Interestingly, the heavy lift launcher, Ares V will use uprated Saturn J-2 engines, as well as the Space Shuttle External Tank & Solid Rocket Boosters. After 7 day stays, there are plans for 6 month stays a few years later as a base is built up.

Here are my rough notes:

- Complete ISS assembly

6 person crew, Soyuz mission every 3 months instead of every 6 months

- Retire Shuttle (2010) – after HST repair & 11 more ISS support missions

Constellation – NASA’s new human spaceflight capability programme

-Orion – get crews to ISS (from 2015)

-COTS – commercial orbital transport system. Get cargo or crew to ISS. NASA matches private money

3 DRMs

- Travel to ISS and stay at ISS for 6 months

- Moon mission for 7 day stay (4 crew)

- Moon mission for 6 month stay (4 crew) -


Ares 1 – launches Orion crew vehicle

Ares V – cargo vehicle, launches Earth departure stage and lander

Crew , transfer vehicle and lander rendezvous in LEO.

Lunar Themes

Not a destination driven programme – ie just return to the Moon for the sake of it

Civilisation – extend human presence for eventual settlement

Global partnerships – unite nations with common objectives (China, Russia, ESA, Germany, Italy, S. Korea have plans for lunar orbiters / landers)

Science – about Earth, solar system, universe and human place in them

Economics – lunar activities to benefit Earth

Exploration – test technologies for Mars and future missions

Public – Encourage students and develop workforce


Lunar outpost – 2018

Ares 1 – first test launch – April 2009

Orion – first launch escape system test – late 2008


Shuttle Solid Rocket motor & external tank, Saturn V (J-2) engine (70 tonnes to Moon in future vs 45 tonnes for Apollo)

Lunar architecture

Use solar power, then nuclear power on Moon

Outpost ( 6 month stay) after sorties (7 day stay). Develop and mature ISRU

Locate at pole (eg S. Pole, rim of Shackleton carter – almost continuous sunlight) & maybe water ice at bottom of crater


Q) 1000 people on Moon by 2040?

A) Expect first lunar landings 2018-2020. Launch 1 mission every 6 months. Build outpost 2-4 years. Mike Griffin (NASA administrator) thinks a Mars landing is feasible by 2035. Not having a destination programme increases robustness of funding ie can’t scrap programme if goal is abolished ie do missions based on funding, to Moon, Lagrange point, NEO, Mars whilst building up vehicle capability & technology

Q) What factors could slow down or speed up programme?

A) National pride and competition could re-start space race. Budget cuts could slow down programme. Russian monopoly on human transport to ISS after end of Shuttle could be a factor if they charge too much

Q) Too much use of heritage technology, not encouraging new technology?

A) Save money and lower risk. Encourage private sector by matched funding via COTS programme. Once these vehicles are built, NASA can develop technology. Also, Orion & Ares vehicles could be used to go to Mars. Griffin believes our children will still be using them.

Q) How can UK be part of this programme?

A) Canada has contributed with robot arm. Hence, it has had several astronauts. Griffin would like UK to be involved and has invested personal time discussing this. UK could participate through ESA or bilaterally. Architecture set up so other countries can join in.

Q) What about assembling Mars mission at ISS?

A) Technical features such as high inclination for Russian launches might limit this option

Q) Does Moon mission lack wow factor?

A) It is a PR issue. Different interest groups eg scientists, public

Q) Will UK be too late in joining human spaceflight?

A) NASA said UK doesn’t have to buy a whole Orion flight. Canada got astronauts for a small investment in robot arm. Other European countries got astronauts from relatively small technical contributions.

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Sunday, February 10

Review: Strawberry Shortcakes


I went to see Strawberry Shortcakes at the ICA today. It's a film that is part of the Japan Foundation's touring film programme, "A Life More Ordinary: A Portrait of Contemporary Japanese People on Film". The programme aims to bring to the UK Japanese films that don't fall into the usual import fare ie there are no bullets to the head or blood splatter, no clashing katana or bizarre ghosts with long hair.

Perhaps the Japanese don't want us to think they're obsessed with sex, violence, robots & monsters.

In a documentary style, Strawberry Shortcakes follows the life of 4 Japanese women in Tokyo: a prostitute, a receptionist at her brothel, an OL, and an artist. It focuses on how they make a living, their inner thoughts and their relationships with men. It's based on a manga by Kiriko Nananan.

I thought it was an interesting film, with 4 female leads, which allow female characters to come to the fore. The acting was effective, if a little stilted but perhaps that's just the typical behaviour of the Japanese female in a patriarchal society.

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Tuesday, February 5

Overheard on a Bus: Homophobia not Racism

"Be a bitch to your gay friends but don't be a bitch to a black woman in London"

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Friday, January 18

All rise for the TV

What's up with TV audiences nowadays? They're standing up. I noticed Top Gear started the trend a few years ago with getting rid of chairs and making their audience stand up.

Now, I've seen that It Pays to Watch, makes its audience stand up.

Instead of filming in locations with seating for the audience eg big televsion studios it allows the programme makers to film in a wider variety of locations. Top Gear is supposedly filmed at an airfield and it looks like the audience are in a hanger. What's IPTW's excuse?

Is this just a way off saving money on big studios and filming in smaller locations with just a couple dozen people standing around?

Why not go further and cut out the audience?

I liked the good old days when there was massive audience in a big studio. I've been to recordings at the BBC's Wood Lane studio as well as the Elstree studio where I saw Who Wants to be a Millonaire and the LWT Tower's studios on the South Bank.

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Wednesday, January 9

Frozen Face 4: Feedback

I had a shock today, albeit a pleasant one. The GP I saw last week about my frozen face, Dr C, actually phoned me up to find out how I was. This was the first time I GP had ever phoned me to find out my condition. Kudos to her. I'm afraid she's young and she'll learn to be cynical and not bother in future.

I said there was no change and she said that her brother-in-law had developed the same problem as me and had no noticed any improvement despite taking the same steroids. She said that he been taking 60 mg of prednisolone instead of the 30 mg, I'm taking. She had asked him where he had got that figure from. As he's a doctor, himself, he decided to super-size his dose and wrote out a double-dose prescription for himself. Of course, she said, she wanted to protect me from the side-effects but hopefully my body has had a week to resist them and can now be in a good position to resist the downside of a double-dose.

As I've received a bottle of 100 minute 5 mg tablets, I calculate I still have 52 tablets left, which should allow me to have 4 days of doubled doses, which is 2 days more than the recommended course.

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Tuesday, January 8

Financial Advice Exam 3 - results

I passed CeFA-3 getting merit passes in both the retirement and protection section. 80%+ is needed for this compared to 90%+ for a distinction.

The next exam, logically enough, is CeFA-4 where I have to show that I can:

"apply the knowledge and understanding of modules one, two and three in order to apply suitable financial solutions within the regulatory and ethical framework"

The first 3 modules cover:
  • UK financial services industry, regulation and ethics
  • Investments and risk
  • Protection
  • Retirement
I'm planning to take this exam by April 2008.

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Double Trouble?

I went to see my rheumatologist today. I told him that the steroid injection had helped. The pain in my wrist had reduced but had no abated completely.

I asked him if there was any possible connection between the inflammation in my wrist and the inflammation in my face, diagnosed as Bell's Palsy. He confirmed that Bell's palsy is what doctors diagnose when they don't know what the problem is.

Contrary to what the GP said, he then said that it was possible the 2 sources of inflammation were connected. He got very excited about a possible connection as he had looked for this with other patients but hadn't found it. So, I could be the star subject of his next paper, if there is a link. This link could be sarcoidosis or snappily shortened to sarcoid, which is an auto-immune disease causing inflammation whose symptoms include arthritis in the ankles and paralysed facial muscles.

On the other hand, sarcoid tends to affect the lungs first and my chest x-ray showed nothing untoward. The rheumatologist was going to send me for a lung function test but said that with my frozen face, I couldn't do the test. It probably involves blowing into a cardboard tube, which I think is used to check for asthma and other breathing problems.

To find out if there is a link, he ordered yet another test for me on 15/1/08. This will be a Gallium scan which will involve being injected with radioactive 56Ga which has a half-life of 78.3 hours. If the compound used is Gallium Citrate, it should concentrate in inflammed areas. 2 days later, I will get scanned on 17/1/08 and sources of inflammation should show up.

Apparently, if the doctor can see a panda on my scan, I have a 95% chance of having sarcoid.

I will see the rheumatologist on 29/1/08 for the Gallium results.

After all this speculation, it the uncovering of a possible link between my afflictions, it was time to forgot all that and travel to my CeFA-3 exam which started in 2 hours.

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Films: they're not set in the good old days

When it comes to films, The Guardian's Joe Queenan is a technophobe.

I guess he doesn't like 24, with Jack Bauer's nuclear-powered mobile phone and his PDA with GPS that gets a signal from a dozen satellites immediately.

He doesn't just want films made like they did in the good 'ol days but also set in the good 'ol days.

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Thursday, January 3

Financial Advice Exam 3

In my spare time, I have been studying for my IFS financial advice exams. Instead of studying for them, I have been watching lots of free French DVDs from the online rental website, Lovefilm. They've give me 3 months free membership as I cancelled my last free trial before I had to start paying. So, those lovely film lovers have let me watch dozens of DVDs for free, including all 7 discs of 24, series 7.

I have to pass all 6 of them of being authorised by the FSA. So, having passed 2 already, I have 18 months to do the other 4.

At the moment I am studying for the 3rd Certificate for Financial Advisers (CeFA) exam, CeFA-3, which has units in Retirement & Protection, both of which have to be passed separately, with a 70% pass mark.

The exam is on 8/1/08.

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Wednesday, January 2

Face Frozen 3: Hell's Bell

I phoned up to see a doctor in the morning but they were booked up.

I phoned up in the afternoon and finally got an appointment. It was at 15:40 but I had to wait till 16:15.

The doctor was very young - late 20s or early 30s and she was quick to diagnose. She printed out a sheet of information of the Net and read it out to me. Sir Lancelot wouldn't be doing that.

The doctor said I had Bell's Palsy. This is an inflammation of the nerves to the face. It wasn't a stroke or Lyme's disease. So, there's a good chance it will clear up but it could take several weeks to several months.

She was slower to prescribe. Steroids improve the chance of recovery but she didn't know how much I should take so she rang several doctors to find out. Is that a sign of poor training, lack of experience or conscientiousness? I don't know but it's the first time a doctor has ever done that in front of me. In the past, they've usually left the room.

I'm to take 30 mg of prednisolone but they come in minute 5mg capsules so I need to carefully count out 6 of them without dropping them. Finding them would be difficult as I can't close my right eye and it's getting very teary. So, I have to go for the Snake Plissken look and wear an eye-patch.

Unfortunately, the one I have seems to be for mini-Me and barely covers my eyeball, let along the whole eye.

I thought that wearing that I won't be able to drive because of the lack of stereoscopic vision to judge distance but the doctor said one-eyed people can drive. That explains the tail-gaters behind me, I think.

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Monday, December 31

Face Frozen 2: Diagnosis Denied

I phoned the Doctor to get an appointment but everyone had the same idea and they were booked up. So, I didn't go to a Walk-In centre. I went to have tea with X. She actually meant dunch or should that be linner but I was stuffed after having a good lunch. I managed to cram in a few pieces of Dim Sum in my mouth without them falling out. I even managed to drink tea without it dribbling out. I sounded like an alcoholic and she could barely understand me.

For New Year's Eve night, I met up with E in the pub. We have a few drinks and with all the celebrations, he had trouble understanding me. It was cleared that my frozen face wasn't defrosting.

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Sunday, December 30

Frozen face

I woke up and my face felt strange. The right side of my face was swollen and paralysed. I couldn't wink, or smile on that side. My non-moving mouth meant I spoke with a lisp and a slur. When I tried to eat or drink, I had to shove things into my mouth as the right side wouldn't form a proper seal to avoid the refreshments falling out.

I went to see P. He said:

"I don't want to worry you but you might have a mini-stroke"

Great beside manner, good thing you didn't study medicine.

What a great year it's been. First, the arthritis and now, this. Will I live to see 2009?

If not, let my death be quick and painless - preferably in my sleep. Somehow, I think bits of me will fail to work and the end will be slow and agonising.

I decided to see a doctor tomorrow.

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Saturday, December 29

2 Worlds at War

I went to my sister's flat yesterday for the first time and we played Halo 3 together for the first time from 3pm till 1am with only a 2hr break for dinner and to watch The Kingdom.

Halo 3
It's an evolution not a revolution. The weapons are similar to Halo 2 and 3 and there are a few new vehicles such as a Judge Dredd-style bike and a jetpack. The missions are similar to Halo 2, even down to tackling armoured spiders by jumpling onboard and shooting out the engine core. The storyline consists of Master Chief teaming up with the Covenant Arbiter to defeat the Covenant Prophet. Co-op means someone has to play the Covenant, which I did not like. The graphics are a bit better than Halo 3 and the music is just as good.

The game is clearly built for online play as the offline version only has 10 levels and we completed 8. So, it's a short but pleasant game without the extension of online play.

The Kingdom
Micheal Mann does topicality with a film about the Middle East, specifically an FBI investigation into the shooting and bombings of Americans in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For those who need it, there's a short history lesson for the country and how the Brits & Yankees carved up the land and then came back to grab the oil. It's a reasonable film, painting a civilised portrait of the Saudi colonel, played by Ashraf Barhom, helping Jamie Foxx & Jennifer Garner's culturally insensitive infidels. Both performaces seemed enervated in the heat of the desert. Mann is my favourite director but The Kingdom, which he produced, isn't as good as my Mann favourites, Heat & Manhunter. Peter Berg directs.

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Tuesday, December 25

Happy Christmas

The Christmas tree by night

The Christmas tree by day

The Christmas turkey with sausagement and sage & onion stuffing

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Saturday, December 22

Freed Information

The Times reports 59 things that would have stayed secret had it not been for the Freedom of Information Act such as:

"The Thatcher Government concocted a plan to search for the Loch Ness monster using a team of dolphins"

and more seriously:

"Foreign diplomats – who have diplomatic immunity – were accused of rapes, sexual assaults, child abuse and murders while working in Britain"

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Thursday, December 20

Science Suffers

Hooked by the challenge and interactivity, I went to to Ice Station Antarctica, the Natural History Museum's temporary exhibition,. I asked how long it would take to go around and was told it would take 1 hr. For the £7 ticket price, an hour of edutainment seemed reasonable. I'd pay a bit more or a bit more cinematic entertainment.

I went into the exhibition and the first room was about the only place in London that was colder on the inside than on the outside. It was cooled to -10 deg C which I learnt is a hot day in Antarctica.

I was disappointed with the exhibition as there were only 2 interactive exhibits - a snowmobile simulator and a divers' simulator. They were both superficial but fun. I was denied more than 2 goes on each simulator as I needed to get my ticket scanned - so my score can be accessed on a website. I'm not sure why I need to do that.

The rest of the area comprised of photos, text, videos, equipment and a mockup of a room in a polar base.

I finished going around in 1/2 hr and felt ripped-off. I wrong in the comments card that it was only worth £3.50.

It seemed to be an advert for their main sponsor: British Antarctic Survey which I had to pay to experience.

On the plus side, I did learnt that divers work in the Antarctic, people drive snowmobiles to hunt for meteorites and scientists look at penguin droppings to find out what they eat.

I then went to the Science Museum to window shop in the gift shop. There were lots of toys and interactive experiments but I was shocked to see that they had eliminated every single book. In the good old days the shop was lined with books on several walls. I know kids have to be entertained but this dumbing down has gone too far.

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Christmas markets

To soak up the seasonal atmosphere, I decided to go to some seasonal markets. I went to one at the foot of Tower Bridge neat to City Hall but it was a disappointment. There were only a few stalls and half of them were shut.

So, I decided to go to the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. Now, that's what I'm talking about.

It had a fairground with traditional favourites like:

A carousel of horses

A helter skelter to slide down

A ferris wheel

As well as attractions there were stalls selling Christmas decorations

There was also traditional food & wine like German Gluhwein & frankfurters

I also saw this fabulous Christmas tree when I went to the Natural History Museum.

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Tuesday, December 18

Wrist Pain: Occupational Health Interview

My company asked me if I would be referred to a company to discuss my illness. I had no good reason not to go so I agreed. The stated reason is to help me with my illness and ensure that I can continue working. My cynical take on it is a check to see if I've been pulling a sickie and they will be getting data from my doctor.

I had a morning interview with the outsourcing occupational health company in central London. I discussed my wrist pain with the doctor interviewing me. She asked me what treatment I had. I told her that I had had a cortisol injection.

She asked me, "Did you have it injected into your wrist?"
I replied, "No, it was injected into my bottom", in a deadpan manner.

Without batting an eyelid, in true professional style, she countered, "So, it was an intra-muscular injection."

She dictated a letter into her dictaphone to my GP asking for details of the injection. She wanted to write to the rheumatologist but I said I thought he was too busy too reply and she agreed saying that rheumatologists are very busy.

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Tuesday, December 11

Wrist Pain: Cortisol injection

I went to see my rheumatologist and found out my chest x-ray was negative for TB. After all the negative TB tests, I thought he would finally admit that I didn't have TB. So. I asked him. He replied:

"There hasn't been any evidence of TB."

So, that grudging response is the nearest thing I would get to an admission.

He said the next step was a cortisol injection. He offered me the choice of having it injected into a muscle or into the wrist. It would be more painful to have it injected into the wrist so I opted for what a thought was the easy and comfortable choice of a muscle injection. I thought the injection would be into my arm. He sent me off to the nurse with a note. She told me to drop my pants as she was going to inject it up my bottom. I feared for my comfort returning on the bus that day.

It was a painful prick but I managed to sit down 10 minutes later. The injection has helped a bit although I do sometimes get shooting pains in my wrist, which I never had before. I wonder how long it will last. Next time, I might need the cortisol injected into my wrist.

I will be back to see the rheumatologist on 8/1/08.

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Thursday, November 29

Overheard on the Underground: Romantic Romania?

"He wanted to book a romantic weekend but nearly picked Bucharest instead of Budapest."

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Wednesday, November 21

Wrist Pain: Mantoux result - Spot the TB

I went to the hospital for the second time this week. (first time on Monday to get the Mantoux injection) I had a nice red spot at the injection point on my arm and the nurse looked at it. She got out her black felt-tip pen and drew 2 parallel lines with the distance apart equal to the diameter or the spot.

This highly scientific test takes its results from the spot size. More than 1.5 mm diameter and you've got a TB infection. Less than 1.5 mm diameter and you've not got the infection but have got the BCG antibodies ie a weak form of the infection.

My spot size was exactly 1.5 mm. The nurse wasn't sure how to interpret it. She consulted her colleague. Apparently even a large spot size might be a false positive!!

She thought about sending me for a chest x-ray which is another way of detecting TB. Why wasn't this suggested first. Probably because it's more expensive and has a longer waiting list. She wanted me to come back for it. I persuaded her to send me for one today, as I would have to take yet more time off work another day.

I went to the x-ray department and had to take a numbered ticket before I could speak to anyone. After 20 minutes the counter had ticked up to my number. I spoke to the receptionist. She said I was in the wrong place!! I had to go to the Accident & Emergency X-Ray department. Why couldn't I have been told that by the TB department? It wasn't obvious to me that I needed an x-ray due to having an accident or an emergency. I had wasted a lot of time.

I went to the A&E department but didn't have a long wait for an x-ray. Unfortunately, I couldn't understand the x-ray technician as English wasn't her first language and she wasn't anywhere near fluent in it. Let's hope she didn't over-expose the x-ray photograph and sterilise me in the process.

I'm going back to the rheumatologist on 11 December. Hopefully, he won't want to continue his hunt the TB game and I actually get some treatment for the arthritis. It needs to be tackled quickly as research shows that tackled late, it gets worse more than tackled early.

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Tuesday, November 13

Wrist Pain: Third Time Unlucky?

I finally saw my usual rheumatologist - free for the first time. He seemed to take a different view from the other rheumatologist and wasn't interested in talking about drugs to minimise the arthritis symptoms. After negative blood test and biopsy results, he still wanted to do a further test to eliminate TB. He seems to be hoping I've got TB rather than arthritis and keeps looking for evidence for it.

So, I've got to go back to the hospital next Monday to get the Mantoux test administered by injection and then on Wednesday to see if there is a reaction to the injection.

In any case, I'm going back to work tomorrow. The plan is to work 25% part-time in week 1, 50% part-time in weeks 2, 75% part-time in weeks 3 and back to 100% in week 4.

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Monday, November 5

Heard in a Supermarket: Fryer's Delight

"We're going to eat French Fries. Do you want to eat them with us?"

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Tuesday, October 30

Wrist Pain: Diagnosis

I turned up on time. I had to wait 1.5 hours. Even though the rheumatologist I had seen privately twice and his name was on the letter, I didn't get him but got someone else, as I predicted (He was just the "consultant presiding" but doesn't turn up). She went over the biopsy results.

The good news was that I didn't have TB.

The bad news was that I didn't have TB.

I have arthritis in the risk. It isn't rheumatoid arthritis so it seems to be a generic inflammatory arthritis that can't be positively identified as the rheumatoid variation.

It's incurable and progressive.

She said that there were different drugs to try and deal with the symptoms but didn't know what her male colleague was going to suggest. I said I should have seen him or she should have spoken to him before I arrived. She agreed. She was keen to offer me leaflets for different options, instead. She seemed to be fobbing me off and procrastinating making a decision on which drug.

There were leaflets for 2 options. From the Net, they take up to 3 months to work but only work in less than 50% of the patients and have significant side-effects.

Possible side-effects:
  • nausea
  • diarrhoea
  • abdominal pain
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • rashes
  • drop in fertility
  • turns urine, sweat & tears orange

Possible side-effects:
  • nausea
  • hair loss
  • ulcers
  • rashes
  • fatigue and feeling like having the flu
  • increased risk of infection
  • liver damage (exacerbated by alcohol)
  • lung damage causing breathlessness
She looked at my wrist. At the time of the biopsy, I was told that the stitches were dissolvable. Now, we could see the black stitches were still there and she thought they were nylon so would not dissolve. So, I hadn't been given an appointment to take out the stitches!!

Furthemore, I had to wait 1/2 hr to get them removed and I will have to go back to the hospital on 13 November to see the first rheumatologist, to find out what drugs he thinks I should take and stop boozing.

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Heard on a Bus: Life imitates Art

"I'm going to see Dr J. She looks like Yoda from Star Wars."

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Sunday, October 28

Heard on the Metro: Hangover Cures

"I'm sorry I didn't answer my phone yesterday. I was hungover. All I cared about was eating and X-Factor."

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Night Tales

After watching the late-night premiere of Planet Terror, I had to catch the night bus home.

At 3am, there wasn't a bus to my home, so I had to walk down the hill.

Boy, did I see some sights.

I noticed that for 100m on the left-hand side, there weren't any lampposts. Then, for another 100m, there were lampposts but they were either switched-off or broken down. Kudos to the council for keeping green and saving cash by only lighting one side of the hill. Never mind safety.

Then, forced to walk on the right-hand side, I strolled past a darkened window, illuminated only by the flashes of a wall-mounted flatscreen TV.

A few minutes later, I saw an Asian couple, smirting outside their own house.

The cream on the cake was a couple in a car parked up. The headlights were on and the engine was running. She was lying with her head on his lap. What was she doing down there?

In an ordinary suburban street, as night falls, everything changes & dark desires are played out.

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Friday, October 26

Heard on a Bus: Taxing Thought

"You pay too many taxes to be unhappy"

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Thursday, October 25

Quiz: Films of the 1990s

Try this film quiz and see how well you know films of the 1990s.

I scored 8/10 and the average is 6.35/10.

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