Welcome back to my journal, and this has been a really busy month, including socialising, a barn dance, Nintendo Wii bowling, the General Election, Doctor Who, DVDs, Eurovision and even a volcano! So I hope you enjoy.
Sunday May 2, 2010
I’m back from my few days away with AB & SM, which was good fun. A trip which could have been scuppered by a volcano, mind you…
Yes, you read that right, but I’ll get back to that in a moment. Before that, the big news story of the past month should only have been the General Election, to be held in just 4 days time. It’s been the usual spin and promises from everyone involved. And this time around they’ve even had televised debates between Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg for the 3 main parties, on ITV, Sky & the BBC (although the BBC repeated the other 2 anyway for those who missed them). There were 76 rules that had been agreed with the broadcasters, including that the audience couldn’t clap, cheer, or do anything, except at the start and end of the programme, and time limits were set on answering the questions. So it was all very formal, and meant to be a bit like US presidential debates.
I listened to bits of the first debate, but didn’t bother with the rest. But Nick Clegg, who had largely gone unnoticed as leader of the Liberal Democrats, managed to get himself a good bit of attention out of it after the first debate, merely by not being Brown or Cameron. Not that the Lib Dems will win, as it’ll mainly be between the Conservatives and Labour, but it’s going to be a close election anyway. I’m not sure if many people really know who to vote for. My parents and I will sort out our postal votes today to get them out of the way, but it’s still a tricky choice.
Gordon Brown’s chances perhaps aren’t great though, thanks to a gaffe he made a couple of days ago. Not realising he still had a working Sky microphone on his jacket when he got back into his car after meeting more members of the public, he described one woman he’d been talking to as a bigot for her views. Of course, the press descended on the poor woman’s house after that, and then Brown himself turned up, and stayed with her for over 40 minutes to apologise, and later claimed to the waiting media that he had misunderstood her opinions.
But anyway, Thursday night is going to be the usual drawn out analysis of the results as they come in, which I certainly won’t be watching. It’ll be interesting to see who we end up with in charge though. A lot’s been said about the possibility of a hung parliament lately. A party only wins outright if they have more seats than all the other parties put together. If they don’t, then it’s a hung parliament, which makes it more difficult to pass through laws, as the other parties can club together to outvote them – unless, that is, the majority party form a coalition government with one of the others, which will involve agreements and concessions. Or it could be that another election is called, which nobody would want, but anything’s possible.
But it wouldn’t be as explosive as the volcano I mentioned earlier. Mid-April, a volcano exploded in Iceland, and the ash cloud was blown right across the UK and many other European countries. Too high to see from the ground, nor did it impact our health. However, volcanic ash has been known in the past to shut down airplane engines – such as one case of a BA flight over Indonesia in the eighties that lost the power to all 4 engines. Luckily they got them restarted, but it’s obviously a massive safety issue!
So, given the potential risks, the entire UK airspace was closed down, which was completely unprecedented. Even after the events of 9/11 only London was closed. But this time it was the entire country, along with several other European nations. Which of course meant many people were trapped abroad or here in the UK, when they wanted to get home. Cue lots of business for the coach and ferry companies as people made every attempt they could to get back as the days dragged on, or stayed in hotels for as long as they could with whatever money they had.
The government sent over a few Royal Navy ships after a few days, collecting people from Spain in particular. And the airlines were demanding compensation from the governments for losses – not that it was the governments’ fault that the volcano went off of course, but because they had to pay for customers to stay in hotels and to feed them, as well as losses on flights not taken. Only after 6 days were the restrictions finally lifted, when the wind changed direction, and the volcano seemed to have calmed down a bit again, and the ash was assessed to be a low enough density not to affect travel. But there’s always an outside chance that it could come back our way again one day. And there’s a volcano next door to the first, which is twice as big, that could also go off.
So that made the headline news on the day the first election debate was to happen, pushing politics down to second place in the reports. Which was ok – a volcano seems much more interesting! It also threatened to disrupt my mate’s trip over here from Guernsey, but luckily he was able to travel the week after flights started moving again.
Which brings us to this week, and SM came over on Wednesday, so I went to Exeter to meet up with him and AB. We had our traditional KFC lunch that day of course, before popping up to the hospital for SM’s quick check-up, which went alright with no major issues to report. AB didn’t come to the hospital with us – she’s having trouble with her back, knees and hips, so she went off to see her osteopath or physiotherapist a couple of times during the few days we were there. On Wednesday evening she cooked chicken with sauce and rice, which was alright, and we went over to the pub for a few drinks and games of pool, and to play some songs on the jukebox. So that was all good fun.
On Thursday, SM & I had steak and kidney pie for lunch at George’s Meeting House, before making our way down to the bowling alley to do the unlimited bowling offer. But we couldn’t do it because all the lanes were booked for the afternoon, and the guy at the desk admitted that was very unusual. So the two of us ended up walking alongside the river for a bit instead, before eventually working our way back up into town, which made for a pleasant walk as it was peaceful and the weather was nice. We went into the sweet shop in South Street to get some nibbles for all of us, before heading back to AB’s flat. We got some pizza in for the evening from Pizza Hut – ham & pineapple plus a meaty ‘Footie Feast’, appropriate as there were a couple of matches on the TV. While SM & AB watched those, I listened to an audiobook SM had recommended to me – Fry’s English Delight – where Stephen Fry takes a humourous and interesting look at elements of the English language, such as puns and clichés. It’s very good.
On Friday, SM & I went to Burger King for lunch, before trying the bowling alley again. This time we were successful, and had 5 games between us, with SM winning 3-2. Then in the evening SM, AB & I met up with ST, and we went for a Chinese meal, before having a couple of drinks in The Globe. Granted, I accidentally knocked one of those drinks over SM’s lap, but otherwise it went flawlessly! And then on Saturday SM & I had a bite to eat in The Globe for lunch – I had an all day breakfast while he had a burger – before he made his way home, as did I a little while later.
So it was a nice few days away, and the weather stayed nice most of the time too. AB & ST are going to a charity barn dance with Christians Against Poverty next Saturday, and I’ve been invited along, so that’ll be something different. I’m not interested in the religious side of things, and I’m assured they’re not ‘preachy’ people, so it should be good.
Other than all that, work has been fine, mainly getting ready for the election of course, while things are fine at home too. And aside from the election, the biggest stories today are John Higgins being caught up in a scandal over match-fixing in snooker, which has caused upheaval on the day of the World Championship Final (and it’s been a good contest from some of the frames I’ve seen), and a car bomb has been defused in Times Square, New York.
And now it’s back to normal. It’s been good to have a break for a few days. And tomorrow is Bank Holiday Monday, so that’s an extra day off too!
Sunday May 16, 2010
I’ve let this entry wait because of the election stuff sorting itself out, which has taken a big chunk of the week, and there was no point in writing this until the result was clear.
Firstly though, I had a nice night with AB & ST on Saturday. We went down to Whimple, a nice little village, and found the field where the barn dance was being held. Well, orchard is more the word I suppose, there was no barn involved. There were quite a lot of people there – some families with their children, as well as people of student age, and older people too. I’m assuming most of them were members of the Christians Against Poverty charity that it was being run for. AB is a member too, as they’re the organisation that are helping her to clear her debts over the next few years. Looking them up on the internet, they seem to be a reputable group, winning a couple of awards and things. So hopefully they can help her out.
Anyway, there were various stalls with food and drink there, including delicious pork rolls (the pork being fresh from the farm nearby), plus things like hot dogs and pies too, which were nice. There were crepes (i.e pancakes) as well, but we didn’t try those in the end, tempted as we were. For drinks I had one pint of cider and then a Coke, but that was it, as I didn’t feel like I needed to drink a lot that night.
There were a few games going on – football, golf, Play Your Cards Right, things like that. AB couldn’t resist playing a game of football, despite the state her body seems to be in presently, as her back, hips and knees still aren’t doing too well. Maybe her living arrangements have something to do with it. Whatever the cause, hopefully the chiropractors or physiotherapists or whoever she’s seeing will get her sorted out.
There was some dancing at the party too of course. Being a barn dance affair, it was the type of dance where someone calls people into groups, then guides them through the steps, before everyone does it with the band playing folk-type music. And I did get up for one dance, believe it or not. A lady called Vicky asked AB, ST & I if we were going to dance. They both said no, while I said I would if someone dragged me up there, so she offered to. Well, why not? It’s all a bit of fun, I figured, and it was. The dance was rather complicated, involving 2 lines of people, and then swinging around different partners down the line, returning to your first one each time. So part way through we all just gave up and linked arms with whoever happened to be nearest, swapping partners pretty rapidly all the time! We all got a good laugh out of that.
There was a raffle too, but my friends & I didn’t win that. Pity really, there were some nice prizes in there, some of which AB had managed to rustle up – vouchers for KFC and iTunes, for instance, while someone else had managed to donate a gliding trip! So there was quite a variety. Just as well I didn’t win the gliding really – but AB said she would have donated that to her Dad if she’d won it, and I probably would have let her Dad have it if I’d got it.
The event seemed to last for a while – the flyer AB had been given said 6:30pm, but other signs we saw indicated it had opened at 3pm, and there was certainly a fair bit of activity when we got there a short while before 7pm. We left about 11:30pm, when everyone was packing up. Rather than walk back to the station and then back to AB’s house in Exeter in the dark, we got lifts back from generous people there. ST & I went with a mother, father and their son, while AB went back with another family.
The three of us went back to AB’s flat, where we decided to have a go on AB’s Nintendo Wii console. ST seemed amazed that I’d never played on one before! We played a ten-pin bowling game. It took a few goes to get used to waving the controller and pressing the right buttons, but it wasn’t hard to pick up. I ended up getting some reasonably good scores in the end, beating ST once or twice. AB won all the games though, but then it is her console, so she’s played it a lot! There is an aiming line for shooting the ball too, but as I couldn’t see that when standing back from the screen, I couldn’t really rely on it much. But I still did alright.
As well as the standard ten-pin bowling game, which works the same as in real-life, there are variations on the game too. So after a few goes on the main game, we played one called Power Throws. Rather than taking it in turns, each player has 10 shots this time, which they take in a row. However, the pins are re-racked each time, and there are more of them each time. So for the first shot, you’re aiming to knock as many of the 10 down as you can. But for shot 2, you’re aiming for a triangle of 15 pins… the next 21… then, 28, 36, 45, 55, 66, 78, and finally a massive rack of 91! Your total score for each of those is added together – and if you get a strike on any of those set-ups, the score is doubled. I did get a couple of strikes, but only on one or two of the lower numbers. My score was over 450 each time though, which was good for a first-timer I think! We all got between 450 and 500, so it was quite close. I’d had a few strikes and spares in the main game too, incidentally, but then it is a little easier to do it there than in real life! It’s hard to be consistent with it like in real-life too though, as the physics are just as accurate and frustrating on the Wii!
ST went home just after 1am, then AB & I went to bed not long after. The next day, AB had been given some rolls and pork to bring back with her, so we had pork rolls for lunch. Obviously they were cold this time instead of being barbecued, but they were still nice. ST & I had been given a couple of packs of rolls too that hadn’t been used on our way home the night before. So I had mine when I got home, but ST’s didn’t get that far. Not realising that her packet was open, they spilt on to the road when we got out of the car near AB’s place! Still, she did get half of the pork joint that AB had been given, so she didn’t miss out completely. Nothing much to report for the rest of Sunday though – we just lazed at AB’s place, and I got a train home mid-afternoon.
So it was a nice little break, especially after a fairly busy period at work last week. Because, of course, it was election time. There were posters and signage boards to do for the main polling station where the results for our area would be announced. We printed a large set of about 6 roller banners, to form a giant picture at the back of the stage – in fact, it ended up being too wide for the stage, so the end ones had to be curved in a bit. But it looked good from the pictures I saw. I didn’t do those banners of course – but I did have to type up some large table place names and big signs to go on boards, as one colleague was away with a cold for a couple of days, and another was on holiday. I’d helped with numbering the ballot papers the previous week too of course, before my half-week away.
But on Thursday, the big day finally arrived. The news channels were all in their element, particularly the BBC, who have done a brilliant job at covering all this as usual. But Channel 4 did do their own Alternative Election Night too, which I recorded and watched during the week – with people like Jimmy Carr, David Mitchell, Charlie Brooker, etc – and that was pretty good. They gave a funny, and often rude, slant on the whole election, while also giving some important updates and having a few discussions on the big issues too. And Have I Got News For You recorded and broadcast an election special the day after the election, which was also fun.
But anyway, I didn’t stay up to watch the results come in of course. I stayed up until about 12:30am. The exit polls seemed to be of the agreement that we would have a hung parliament, which happens when no party holds more than 50% of the seats on offer, to give them an absolute majority. Some thought the Lib Dems might have a rally after Nick Clegg’s success in the televised debates. And general opinion felt that the Tories would be up, and Labour down.
And they were pretty much right, mostly. The Lib Dems actually ended up with a few less seats, to their disappointment, but otherwise the predictions were fairly accurate. And we did end up with a hung parliament, as the Tories ended up just shy of the majority they needed. There is still 1 more seat left to declare as I write this, after the death of a candidate, but it won’t change the outcome.
It was now up to the Conservatives and Labour to try and find a way to rule the country, by doing deals with other parties. The Tories were in the better position, as they could form a coalition by joining up with the Lib Dems, to form the majority they needed. Labour, on the other hand, would not have a majority from the Lib Dems alone. They would have to form a minority government, unless they could get all the little parties to join up with them. Unlikely, but anything’s possible.
In any case, Gordon Brown was still Prime Minister while decisions and deals were attempted. He did offer to resign by the time of the Labour party conference in September, but he was just trying to hold on to his position for as long as he could. A futile attempt, as it became clear after a few days that the Tories and Lib Dems had made a successful deal with one another, compromising on various issues.
Suffice to say, Tuesday the 11th was quite a big day, or certainly the evening was. Coming quite by surprise to some, Gordon Brown emerged from 10 Downing Street to announce his immediate resignation, before going to Buckingham Palace to have it accepted by the Queen. He walked out of Downing Street with his wife and, never before seen in public like this, his 2 children on the way to the Palace.
Shortly after that, David Cameron went to the Palace to be confirmed as the new Prime Minister, our youngest PM for two centuries, whereupon he returned to Downing Street to give his welcoming speech. Mainly talking about difficult times ahead, and that the Tory-Liberal coalition should help to form a stable government.
Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, then became the Deputy Prime Minister. He and David Cameron held a press conference in the garden behind 10 Downing Street on Wednesday – during which Cameron was asked if he regretted, when once asked what his favourite joke was, saying it was Clegg. This resulted in a humourous moment with Clegg pretending to go off in a mock huff and Cameron calling him back. Other appointments were also made during the week of course, with a number of Liberal Democrats being given important cabinet posts alongside the Tories.
Will it work? Who knows? It would be great if it did, and if the country prospered as a result, but it’s going to be far from easy. Indeed there are some who feel that we could have another election later this year. Maybe October, maybe earlier, or maybe next year. The coalition want to set a fixed 5-year term of government to try and give them a chance to avoid this. But, even though they’ve made compromises on various aspects of policy, it could only take 1 disagreement to make the coalition fall apart. And hard-liners on both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat sides aren’t too thrilled with their leaders getting into bed with each other, so to speak. And if the coalition don’t do a good job, there’s a very high chance Labour would get back in by a landslide whenever the next election is held. The Tories and Lib Dems would lose a lot of support, and it could even destroy a smaller party like the Lib Dems. So it’s in their joint interests to make it work. But there’s a lot to be done, and there are no simple fixes to the UK’s deficit, economic recovery, etc. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
That’s been the big story of the past few weeks, so there’s not much else left to mention. Well, the volcanic ash is still closing some airports on occasion, including today, so the volcano in Iceland is still rumbling away as well. But that’s about it really.
Sunday May 30, 2010
Unsurprisingly, things have been much calmer and more steady lately now that the election’s over. At work I’ve been getting into raising and processing invoices to help out a couple of colleagues, in particular so I can cover for them if they’re on holiday. And my section manager went up to IPEX (the International Printing Exhibition) at Birmingham’s NEC, which seemed to go well, as he came back talking a forms production system that might be useful for us, and we’ll see what it’s like when the company comes in to demonstrate it.
The HR department have also sent around guidelines for the World Cup, which starts in a couple of weeks, as if they expect everyone to be absent for it. Which I doubt will happen. There might be a bit of skiving I guess, but nothing too disruptive I imagine. But hey, talking of football, I came joint third with a colleague in our Fantasy Football game within the department this year. All we did was pick out a list from The Sun at the start of the season, put 50p in a week, and that was it – no transfers or anything complicated like that, you just stuck with the same team all year. I did a little bit of research when picking out the team to start with, but never expected to get anywhere with it, not really knowing anything about the game. So third was quite a surprise, and netted me £10.50, so I can’t complain! We’re going to have a World Cup sweepstake too by the look of it.
At home, I’ve finished watching all the episodes of Hi-De-Hi!, from all 9 series, which I’d never seen all of before. It’s not one of my favourite sitcoms by any means, but it’s still alright. And I’ve also been watching a new series on DVD called Chuck. It’s an American action comedy about a guy called Chuck who inadvertently gets all the government’s intelligence secrets downloaded into his brain, meaning he has to be protected and used for what he knows by a couple of spies, making him a spy himself. Which sounds like an absurd premise when I was first told about it by a friend, but I looked into it, and when Virgin1 started running it from the beginning, I gave it a go. And it’s actually rather good. Very funny, and great actions sequences too, I’ll give them that. So I’ve already got the first 2 seasons on DVD. They’re running a third season in the States, and they’ve been approved for a fourth season as well, after not being sure if they would get it.
Other DVDs I’ve got to watch include more from The Bill, Series 7 of The Two Ronnies, a live Dire Straits concert (Alchemy), and Ross Noble’s recent series about his trip around Australia, which I’d only seen one episode of before. Ross was on Have I Got News For You this week, with Bruce Forsyth making his second appearance as guest host, and it was a very funny episode.
Doctor Who has also been on, with part two of a story about the Silurians, and with the surprise death of Amy‘s boyfriend Rory at the end – although I suppose they could find a way to bring him back if they wanted to, such is the nature of sci-fi. But if he has gone for good, he had a good run up to that point. Indeed, it’s still proving to be a very good series in general. And I’m looking forward to the downloadable adventure games, which are 4 free bonus interactive episodes, which tie in with the series and take you to places that they can’t on TV.
Saturday also brought Eurovision, from Norway this year, which was the usual cheesy nonsense. Our entry, called That Sounds Good To Me and performed by Josh Dubovie, was written by music producer Pete Waterman, so one would have hoped it would be decent and score well. But I didn’t find it that great, and neither did Europe. For the 3rd time in 8 years, we came last, with just 10 points! We gradually slipped down and down the last few places on the board as the results came in. We were only a point’s difference from Ireland, but they took a few steps away towards the end. They still didn’t do that well though, despite their confident, powerful ballad It’s For You by Niamh Kavanagh sounding quite good.
France’s song didn’t get too high either, despite it being the simple, catchy type of tune that, unlike most Eurovision songs, you have half a chance of remembering later! Spain got a second chance to perform theirs at the end after a fan invaded the stage during their first attempt, but they didn’t get too high either. And people in the Norwegian stadium were booing Russia every time they got points, which is hardly in the spirit of the contest. I’m guessing there’s some political reason for that.
Anyway, it was Germany that won this time around. It was as good a way as any to kill a few hours I suppose, but you do wonder why we bother entering sometimes! Germany’s song had, in fact, been a huge #1 hit in their country, and elsewhere by the sounds of it – meaning people were singing along and already knew it well. One can’t help feeling that the UK should take a hint from that!
Still, none of that really bothers or interests me hugely. I listen more to the music I download anyway. The Rolling Stones re-released Exile On Main Street recently with extra tracks, and which was one of the few re-releases to get to number 1 in the album charts last week! Just shows they’ve still got the power to get there, even if getting to that spot requires nowhere near as many sales as it used to.
I’ve also downloaded the soundtracks to all 6 Harry Potter films to date, having caught up with them all on DVD too. So now I’m up to date with the 6 films and the related 6 books, different as they are. Just the last book, and the 2 films that they’re working on from it, to go now. I’m glad I haven’t seen anything that spoils how it all ends so far!
As for the news, the coalition government have outlined the first £6 billion of cuts they’re going to make, while David Laws, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has had to resign after it was revealed that he was claiming expenses to pay rent to his gay partner. British Airways workers are still striking over pay, pensions, and the loss of travel perks, with no sign of the bad blood between them and the management ending soon. And BP are still trying every possible way they can think of to stop the oil that’s been leaking into the sea near America for the past couple of weeks, since a big explosion destroyed an oil rig. It’s already caused environmental chaos as you can imagine, so it needs stopping. It’s just difficult to fix when it’s deep beneath the water.
The Iceland volcano, meanwhile, seems to have calmed down a bit. Flights have been disrupted a little bit again recently because of it, but not as severely as the first time around. And that’s about it really!