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The life and times of james Hart: his family, his music, life in Luton and his occasional escapes onto the internet.

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Friday, 24 June 2005

broken

Well, everything's a lot cooler around the house now that the rain has finally come - the sky has been grey all day, sapping the warmth but not the humidity from the place, so it's still a little uncomfortable to be, well, anywhere.

Fortunately Ella and Christopher don't seem to be bothered too much by thunder and lightning, so the occasional flashes and rumbles were practically unnoticed.

Hopefully the general (typical British?) climate will resume some kind of stability over the next week - I've got some time off work, spending it with Beth and the children. So if you don't see anything from me for a little while, you'll know why - I've gone into (much needed!) internet exile for a few days...

Links of the day

  • www.sensiblesundays.co.uk : I came across this website by chance - Kid Carpet is playing at the same venue (except during the week). It sounds really chilled, friendly and yet entertaining; I'm going to have to go to one of these events - perhaps even put a small open mike set together?

  • www.urbangolf.org : now this is my kind of sport. Hitting tennis balls around town with a golf club? Great fun!
  • www.jaguarurbangolf.co.uk : and now you can play it on-line. Which has annoyed the urban golf chaps - isn't it always the way that advertising executives make good use of the internet, though? rathergood.com have done quite well out of it, mind...

  • www.ip2location.com/free.asp : slightly different to the whois.co.uk, and the really handy Demon.net DNS tools, with this site you can find out who owns an IP address and where they are - great for looking through logs.

Posted by james at 10:00 PM

Wednesday, 22 June 2005

Melting and making poverty history

It's been really hot again the past few days (oh no... I have a feeling I'm going to start moaning - just think of the kittens!) Suffice it to say, though, my quality of sleep has suffered, and I don't have much of an appetite - there might not be much left of me come autumn!

However, I'm doing my best not to take personally the fact that the XFM breakfast show haven't played my over-exuberant lawnmower-infested song. the previous one I submitted to them, I can understand them not playing (it was truly, and deliberately, awful) but this had at least some redeeming features - including fine backing vocal work by Suzanne, and a catchy chorus.

As Beth said, though, I should set my sights on next year's song for Eurovision... or the year after... or the year... well, I hopefully have a few more years on the planet (if I don't fall to melty bits this summer!), so perhaps my Muse will return to me by then.

Work's been busy - it's nearly appraisal season, so I'm attempting to give the engineers plenty to do so they can report lots of successes and the like. I'm supposed to be writing up the next rota, too - an onerous task, which requires careful precision. I have, however, managed to put it off thus far, though, preferring the option of sorting out huge audio servers of doom that refuse to record between midnight and 1am.

Oh - you'll probably have noticed the "Make Poverty History" banners draped all over the site. Beth bought one of those white bands yesterday, and, while researching it, discovered the little javascripty thing on their website, so I thought I'd show my solidarity.

I already have a Beat Bullying wristband, but I don't think two is excessive (they're all the rage, you know!); I'll wear a white one with pride next to it, as I passionately believe in both causes - everybody deserves better than to go through life in need, or in fear of their own safety.

I'm still not entirely convinced about Live8 though, I'm afraid. There is a rather twee, 'white middle-class'ness about it* and the fact that Ethiopia hasn't really improved in the twenty years since the last time gives me the feeling that they're not really going about it quite the right way.

Yeah, I know - it shouldn't be belittled - every effort towards a united world is welcome, and whether through faxing my MP about cancelling national debts or spending six months in Cambodia, I know there's a lot I can - and should - do to help.

(*As a comedian recently said there are only two things you can be mocked for these days - one is being middle-class, and the other is being ginger...)

Posted by james at 9:36 PM

Sunday, 19 June 2005

blogneglect

I can't believe it's been nearly ten days since my last entry. Why? Because of this: XFM's "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" competition.

How could I not turn down an opportunity to hide away in the studio for a while, working on a song that extols the virtues of a hot British summer (like wot we're having)? If you'd like to hear how it turned out, please take a look at the main site.

Christopher and I - post haircut(Just between you and me, though - I wrote the song in Germany, and I really dislike hot weather!)

I have pictures and things to post for at least the last couple of days I was on my course, so hopefully the missing days will appear over the next couple of days (especially if it's too hot to leave the house!) This catch-up will, I'm sure include Christopher and my occasional, yet reluctant trip to the barber's...

(Oh.. and my new CompactFlash wi-fi card has arrived, meaning another tedious blog entry about my iPaq's on the way - sorry!)

P.S. Wasn't the last episode of Doctor Who spectacular? I'm going to have to watch the whole series again sometime..

Posted by james at 11:14 PM

Wednesday, 8 June 2005

midweek recovery (Tag 4)

Well, Wednesday's been and gone already! It started a little earlier than normal, since I wanted the exercise of walking, but thought it would probably be best to take the taxi back to town, since I wanted to do some shopping for little trinkets to take home for the children.

So Richard (my old boss) and I did the morning stint - which is mainly uphill - and arrived in reasonable time for a cup of coffee and a quick email check before the course started.

Today's material was all-new (in fact, many bits were under development, so they couldn't be sure about whether it would end up like that!) which meant plenty of concentration, and the day went rather quickly.

The evening shot by as well - I took a wander around the town before the shops shut, to buy some trinkets for the children, mainly, and couldn't resist having a kebab for tea... OK, so not particularly teutonic fare, but at least I struggled through ordering it in German without too much hilarity ensuing.

Although Bochum's tidy, sunny and quite hospitable, it's not home, though.. only two days to go until I see Beth and the little ones again!

Posted by james at 10:35 PM

Tuesday, 7 June 2005

In the swing of things (Tag 3)

Today seems to have gone very quickly; I try to get up at about quarter past seven, so I can shower and pop out for some breakfast (there's a bakery round the corner that serves breakfast - a selection of large rolls filled either with meat or cheese. I made my selection (although I can't recall what it was called) and sat with a cup of coffee, listening to some old Radio 4 comedy on my iPAQ, before returning to the hotel and listening to Today until the taxi arrived.

Mobile phone houseMuch of what we did on the course today was revision, although there were a few bits on the new technology, and we were able to simulate a server crash - which, for obvious reasons, we couldn't do in real life - to see how the backup database kicks off (well, it kind of didn't in this case, but the lecturer put it down to some of his colleagues fiddling with the settings... a lesson for us all there!) before we made our way down the hill back into town.

On the way I saw a remarkable sight - considering the uproar about the supposed effects of the radiation, I was very surprised to see a mobile phone mast sticking out of the roof of a fairly standard townhouse; perhaps they're getting a special deal on their mobile (or at least taking advantage of the good reception!) It put me in mind of an episode of The Simpsons, where Lisa's bedroom is turned into a transmission room for a cellphone company.

After a quick trip to Aldi for a light tea, I tried to get some music done. I have the makings of a rather silly song called "earworm" although without a musical keyboard, sequencing it in Logic was a bit cumbersome. When Ade called me to ask if I wanted to pop out for a drink with the boys, therefore, I found it difficult to refuse...

Much like English pubs are, on the whole, the same wherever you go, it's also the case with German bars - I suppose apart from the decor (they like orange and brown for some reason) there are plenty of similarities, including - unfortunately - the smoke. I had a couple of glasses of wine and then wandered back to the hotel; it's nice to be able to amble round a quiet town - unfortunately, I wouldn't think twice about avoiding Luton at night, and even Bexhill has its share of nutcases who are only out to cause trouble.

I'm walking up to VCS tomorrow morning - I'd like to get back into town a little earlier if possible, so I can buy a couple of small presents for the children. Who knows what strange (obviously only strange to a foreigner like me!) things I'll see then!

Posted by james at 9:19 PM

Monday, 6 June 2005

eight euro supper yum! (Tag 2)

8 euro supperI'm not sure a stay in a hotel could get much better than this... I have a bottle of Pinot Girigio, brie, bread rolls, a Pot Korma (yeah... I know!) and strawberries to finish as I laugh through I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue on Radio 4 (long wave.. but only just!).

It's definitely preferable to going out into the smoky city and shouting over the crowds to work colleagues with whom I have already spent much of the day, and all for less than 8 euros (so much less than it would cost to go out, too!) In fact, I even managed to pick up a small travel kettle from a shop on the way down from the course (five out of the seven of us did the hour and a quarter walk - it was perfect weather for it, and we had a real laugh) so things are definitely looking up. I daresay I'll be making good use of it over the next few days, since I've bought some camomile tea and some soup. Once I've finished this entry (and returned to the hotel - it'll hopefully be possible to upload it using my USB memory stick and an internet cafÉ down the road) I'm going to settle down with a glass of wine and a notepad, and work out the lyrics to a song.

At the moment the idea of a tune called "earworm" appeals to me - with a very catchy hook... obviously! No links, today - I've not had particularly good internet access!

More, tomorrow - possibly including a tour round the (admittedly quite dark, even with all the lights on) hotel room. I'm sure you can't wait!

Posted by james at 7:56 PM

Grüße von einer deutschen Tastatur

Just a brief entry for today - I wrote one this morning but haven't yet had the chance to upload it yet...

Opportunities to expose my very poor conversational German have been very few and far between - reassuring the taxi driver last night that we were quite near to the hotel (he had no idea where we were supposed to be going) and asking for a "McCroissant" this morning for breakfast have been about the limit so far!

I'm hoping to get my hair cut later, though - the main problem I have is that because both my French and German are really rusty, the words get muddled up. "Ich mochte mein cheveux ... er... cutten, bitte" I think it'll go well, although I don't know what the Teutonic style is, these days. Maybe I'll wait until I get back to Blighty (despite the cost being almost three times as much!)

Best get on - coffee break's over...

More later!

Posted by james at 3:02 PM

Sunday, 5 June 2005

Guten morgen aus Deutschland (Tag 1)

squished bottleWell, I'm here - I arrived at Dortmund Airport at about quarter to ten (German time); the flight was fine, although there was no opportunity to say "I can see my house from here" since the plane went a bit too fast off the runway (I don't think that was avoidable), and I was in an aisle seat.

Brian (the other chap who was flying from Luton) was a seasoned traveller, and, having sat in the 'jump seat' (a spare postition in the cockpit) before 11th September, had plenty of interesting facts. Take, for example, the fact that - because the air's so thin outside - the cabin is pressurised; when the plane gets to 30,000 feet - its cruising height - the pressure in the cabin is actually much lower than on the ground. In fact, it's as if the plane was flying at 6000 feet - I proved this by opening my bottle of water when the plane was at its zenith, and then sealing it. See the picture (right) for the evidence!

EasyJet plane and lots of concreteDortmund Airport is really odd - almost the reverse of Heathrow, in that it is modern and extremely expansive, but very quiet. The benefit of this was that escaping was quick and untroublesome. We were dropped off at the hotel by a taxi driver who didn't really know where he was going (reliance on GPS is never a good thing, especially when it tells you to "fahr links" and it's a right-only turn) not long before half-past ten and I checked into my room.

I was rather disappointed to see that there were absolutely no tea or coffee making facilities; previously when I'd stayed here, the room had a little kitchenette, and although there wasn't a kettle, I could heat some water on the hob. Much as I dislike moaning (so this paragraph will be the end of it, I promise!) the recently installed wireless network is supposed to be '>A HREF="http://www.ipass.com/" TARGET="LINKS">iPASS' friendly (such that I could log onto the BBC network) but told me it wasn't, and the room is on the ground floor at the back of the hotel, so I can hardly pick up any radio station... Now that feels better.

I've just heard this bizarre news story on the radio - now that is what I call superstitious. Come examination season, I think there should be a nationwide ban on rolling single dice.

On the upside, the room has a 'back door' to a small garden area, with a tiny little patio on which, if it weren't throwing it down with rain, I would enjoy sitting out. Maybe later.

My challenge for tomorrow: there's a barber's just round the corner doing hair-cuts for €7 (about £4) so I shall try and speak enough German to get my hair trimmed in the continental style. Is that such a good idea I wonder?

Posted by james at 10:16 PM

Saturday, 4 June 2005

led astray...

Off to Germany tomorrow evening (woo! Exciting! I'm sure I'll probably forget something, though...)

I was thinking, while playing with Christopher's LED keyring earlier, how LEDs could be used for decorative home lighting - environmentally friendly, and colourful.

Colour changing spotlightA little research brought about these rather wonderful products:

Maybe one day every home will have them...

Posted by james at 9:23 PM

Friday, 3 June 2005

This is the coastal town...

Christopher looking at the 'Gherkin'Christopher and I ventured 'down south' yesterday to see my Mother - it's something we like to do occasionally (actually far too rarely) since it doesn't cost too much with a Network Card and the train journey is always entertaining and not excessively long. We caught the first off-peak train out of Luton on Wednesday morning and arrived just before lunch.

We've still not done the touristy bits of London, although there was plenty to see from the train - especially since we crossed the Thames and could see the Swiss Re building, Tower Bridge, the London Eye and 1 Canada Square - four of the architectural highlights of the capital.

Maybe he'll be too young this year, but I would love to take him to London for London Open House - two days in September (the 16th and 17th this year) where 500 buildings in London are open to the public (including, excitingly enough, the Gherkin - wow.. the views would be spectacular, although a four hour wait could put me off a little!)

Christopher and his Grandma on the seafrontAfter we'd arrived and had lunch, there was no way I could resist a walk along the seafront - it was spitting a little, but we still spent a while on the beach, picking up pebbles and shells as 'souvenirs' and then returned via the supermarket (to buy tasty scones for an afternoon snack).

I went out for a drink with Jon that evening, revisiting some of the old haunts (so little changes in Bexhill.. it's a shame the pubs are still so smoky; if only more places would be a like The Wyvern round the corner) before returning back to Mother's to take a look at her computer.

Thursday was quite blustery and showery, so we stayed in for most of the day; Mother had gone to a lot of effort to reproduce (completely freehand!) some old Fletcher maths workbooks, so Christopher did some of exercises before we played with the family's childhood Lego collection.

We departed Bexhill Station just after 5pm and Beth picked us up, two train changes later, a little after 8, having had a picnic tea on our journey and entertained/irritated the commuters with our antics!

Links of the day (more daft games for the weekend...)

Posted by james at 3:08 PM

Wednesday, 1 June 2005

Charm Offensive

Armando Iannucci's Charm Offensive recordingIt's been a long while since Beth and I have been to a radio or TV recording; there's not really any excuse, especially since I work in Central London, and they're free to attend (apart from the cost of Beth's travel down).

I've always been a real fan of Armando Iannucci - one of the geniuses behind Alan Partridge and the producer of the legendary The Day Today, so when the opportunity came to see his latest show, Armanda Iannucci's Charm Offensive, I couldn't let it pass.

Armando was joined by Phill Jupitus, Lucy Porter and the marvellous Dave Gorman and my jaw was aching by the end of the hour-and-a-half recording. (It's available on Listen Again until the 8th, although you're unlikely to hear my guffaws, mainly because there was an irritatingly noisy man behind me.

Free Armando Iannucci-based entertainment.. it rarely gets better than that..

Oh - just for completeness, his latest work, The Thick Of It is on BBC Four - a very dry political comedy with unpleasant government advisors and swearing in it.

Posted by james at 6:14 PM


 
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