Monday, April 28, 2008

Colleagues and Customers

"Hey, is there a phone called Aqua?"
*searches on intranet*
"Yup, it's quite nice too."
"Oh good, what's it called?"
"....Aqua."

I sometimes wonder if I temporarily black out at work, because it feels like I've turned over two pages at once.

Then, later, I had a fellow phone up wanting to do a homemove - move his account to the new property. He interrupted my opening speil and ordered me not to put him on hold or transfer him elsewhere which pissed me off immediately, but I'm a professional (mostly) so gave him one more chance.
"Ok sure no problem sir, may I have your account number please?"
"I don't have my account number. Your colleague earlier found my details through searching for my phone number, use that."
"That may have been alright for just checking details, but to change anything on an account I would need your account number."

We're really hot on customer validation at the moment with one wrong move resulting in a disciplinary. You can generally bend the rules in exceptional circumstances, but I wasn't going to budge for this prick. We carried on to-ing and fro-ing, with him trying to bully me into relenting (fat chance!) and calling me obstructive. By this time several of my colleagues had muted their customers and were listening in. Then came the crunch:
"Look, you don't wanna mess with me sonny. I know people who are scary you know!"
"You can't threaten me into bending the rules. I'm not losing my job over this."
"You'd better watch your back - I know people who ride motorbikes!"
The fool.
"Sir, I am a person who rides a motorbike, and you know what? SO'S MY MOTHER!"
At which he hung up. My mum's not that scary, honest.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Why I'll Be In A Bad Mood After 2:30pm Today

I'm a Gillingham fan.

(And yes, it does feel like I've stood up at a meeting for Pillocks Anonymous and admitted my reason for being there.)

I have been for a good ten years, and if you'll cast your eye up to your address bar and note the first part of the URL you'll see my normal username. It's a contraction of "James The Gillingham Fan" caused by a limited amount of space on the Harry message board back in 2003. I regularly check the scores if the matches are in progress; at work on a Saturday I've had the BBC vidiprinter up to update me with the text commentary. Many a time I've had to put a customer on hold briefly in order to shout with joy/swear at the screen.

This season it's mostly been the latter. We're on our third manager this year. He's bought in a fair few players from non-league; some of whom have been successful, most of whom haven't. He's replaced the dross left under the old regime with cheaper, more enthusiastic dross. They've tried hard, bless 'em, but with two games to go we still find ourselves 3 points behind safety, sat currently in a position which, if we stay here, will see us playing in a lower league next year.

(A quick aside - it's three points if you win a game, one point if you draw, and nothing for a loss - but you knew that already.)

Quite simply in today's game a win is vital. Lose and we're screwed - even a draw for Cheltenham later today will see us down. A draw will postpone the misery for another week but as our final game is against Leeds, a side who would have won the league were it not for a points deduction at the start of the season, I can't see us getting anything from it. It's our last home game of the season today, and it's kicking off at 12:30pm on the advice of the local police, as the visitors are our old chums from Swindon.

In the late 1970s the Gillingham side was actually rather good. In the same league as they are now, but gunning for promotion to the next league above, a place Gillingham had never gone (and won't do until 2000, when Andy Thomson scored a neat diving header at Wembley three minutes from time to win the playoff final) but a place we'd quite like to go to. Enter Swindon. A report of the home game that year written from a Gills perspective can be found here; similarly the away game report is here. It left a bad taste in the mouth of Gills fans and Swindon are regularly referred to in none too kind words on the Gillingham message board.

We played them again in the late 1980s, with much the same result - them denying us promotion to the promised land. After that we went our separate ways; they always seemed to be a league or two above us, and when we finally achieved promotion in 2000 to what is now the Championship, it was that year that they dropped out of that league, passing us on the way up. (The game at Wembley was won in part by two players we'd bought from Swindon on January 1st that year - oh, we did chortle). Sadly our run in the Championship didn't last, and the start of the 2005/2006 season we found ourselves in this league, in the same league as Swindon for the first time in nearly 20 years. In the run up to the January 14th home game there was much posturing from the keyboard warriors on various message boards - neanderthalic old men looking to prove they still had it by harking back to the "glory days" of hooliganism. Sensibly myself and my Dad were sat in the Town End, near the away support - to give them their due, the knuckle dragging portion of the Swindon fans (and it was by no means the majority) thought rightly against winding up the two bikers. The Gills won that game 3-0, and the yobs departed - off with their tails between their legs, we thought.

Not quite. To cut a blog post that is already getting out of hand short, there were pitched battles all down the roads from the ground to the station, with both groups of fans having yobs who knew nothing better joining in. Being perched on the back of a Suzuki Bandit while all this was going on around us was not my idea of a fun time - a swift escape down a footpath saw us leave this behind, but I was never more glad to have a crash helmet on than that night!

They went down that year, and so last season we were free of them - until they won promotion, and this year shared our league with us again. We played them early in the season at their place, losing 5-0 in a game that saw the end of Jepson's reign as manager. He's since been replaced by Iffy Onuora, who took Swindon down in 2006 and was a tad more successful here, but was only a caretaker and was replaced himself by Mark Stimson, the present incumbent who will be doing his utmost to get us a win today. Last Saturday we drew to a late goal away - Swindon, by contrast, hammered Port Vale 6-0. We need to win today in a game we're likely to lose. Doesn't bode well, does it?

If you want to follow the game, the BBC text commentary that I've been following all season is available here. Kickoff is at 12:30pm. I'd better get going really.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Subconscious

It's rather worrying when you dream that Alex Berditchevskaia (vocalist/keyboardist in Los Campesinos!) is a Grand Sorceress helping you defend a Metro station from a vampire attack.

This may or may not be connected to me spending last night listening to the Los Camp album, and then reading the third book in the Night Watch trilogy.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Advice for today

Be careful. Just, generally.

And if you're wearing sunglasses indoors, you're a knob. Even if you're Zaphod Beeblebrox.

Confused? Listen.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Musings

I think the guy who does the training slides at work is a sci-fi fan. The sample address is 42 Magrathea Crescent, and the sample guy's birthday is 5th November 1955.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Album of 2008

It's April. We are but a third of the way through the year, and already my shortlist for album of the year (not, traditionally, decided until the end) has got seven albums in it. To compare, last year I only made a top five with the inclusion of a re-released Led Zeppelin live album, Garbage's Greatest Hits and Avril Lavigne.

This year the pace was set by The Duke Spirit, roaring back with Neptune, closely followed by Jo Whiley favourites Goldfrapp (which means at work I have one decent song to listen to). These two were followed by no less illustrious company in Blood Red Shoes, Los Campesinos!, Be Your Own PET!, Operator Please, and the current album to please my ears, Johnny Foreigner. I can quite easily see myself taking ages to compose a top ten at the end of the year, especially as Shirley Manson's solo album is apparently finished (but Warners are refusing to release it).

Of course, The Subways album will be treated with the respect and courtesy it's earnt (i.e. I'll treat it the same as the rest and download it first to see if it's worth spending money on, especially after getting moaned at for not toe-ing the line and agreeing that the Subways were the best live show since the crucifixion) , and No Virginia by the Dresden Dolls may be a late outsider...plus rumours abound of new albums from Rammstein, Aerosmith, AC/DC and Jenny Lewis...I'm really, really excited!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sub Red Shoes

(Yes, the god awful puns in my blog titles are back.)

Another tour, another journey, although this time to the slightly nearer city of London. After I didn't make Saturday's BRS gig in Tonbridge Wells owing to my bike dying, and the last two gigs (Subways in Bristol and Be Your Own PET in London) being somewhat underwhelming, I had high hopes for this one, but first we had to get there.

During a lovely journey through the Kent countryside (gazing at sheep, reading the paper and listening to a dumb American woman bleat on about how the world is shit) I got several texts from people asking what the plans were. These quickly evolved like an organic primordial soup but the upshot is I ended up waiting at Victoria for 45 minutes (as detailed below) before me and Katy set the controls for the heart of Uxbridge and went up to meet Jack. Rocketing up the Piccadilly line, at Hammersmith we saw the evidence of someone who clearly didn't mind the gap and wasted perfectly good wine gums. After a change at Acton Town (and for reasons I'll explain later, I can't help but say "bon voyage" whenever someone mentions that station) we made it to Uxbridge and walked to Jack's to dump our stuff. Time was pressing on and our original plan of visiting St Helier station to drink St Helier cider sadly fell by the wayside. Rosie and Olli were marooned in London due to the delay and so, sitting on the train in Uxbridge station, we let them know we were just about ready to depart as the next Met line train pulled in, and gave them an eta of fourty minutes. Two minutes later we got a reply saying "you were on the train that just left, weren't you" and we got off further down the line to meet them on the following train.

We joined them on the train and changed the plans once again, deciding to head straight to Archway for the Blood Red Shoes instore. On the train we had more of the anniversary cake (and had fun wiping chocolate sauce on people, an act that caused Rosie and Olli to not talk to each other for ten whole minutes - god knows how they coped) but at King's Cross when we changed they made up and decided to keep talking. On the Northern line to Archway there's a distinct gap in my memory, so either nothing happened of note or I'm old. At Archway we went to find a pub to sit in, but failing to find one that was suitable we settled on the old fallback of "get stuff from Sainsbury's and find a park to sit in". On our search for a park we found a railway station and sat there instead. For some reason we got odd looks sitting eating cheese on the westbound platform of an overground station in the sunshine, but I took a moment to reflect on it and realised you can't beat silly things like that with close friends - the happiest days of our lives.

Walking back to Puregroove we stopped in along the way and bought presents for the band, and I was delighted when there were more people at the signing that were on the board than non members! We availed ourself of free posters and stickers (which lead to Rosie and Katy sticking stickers on each other's breasts - this was a popular activity to watch) and I bought my copy of the album on vinyl even though it's not out until Monday (and I'm dreading checking my balance online after the last few days). Then, to our dismay but not surprise, the Puregroove fella announced to the gathered people (and there was around 20 people there) that due to time constraints the band wouldn't be able to make it to the signing, and had promised us free stuff or a guestlist spot in compensation. How valid this offer is I'm not sure, as we later found out that Puregroove had told Steven that there were 100 people there in an attempt to guilt him into coming, an act which means that the Box of Secrets LP is the last time I'll buy anything from them for the forseeable future, and Banquet Records of Kingston will be getting my money instead.

Back at Archway we jumped on the Northern line, getting off at Tufnell Park when Rob pointed out that this train was going down the wrong branch for Embankment. Joining Matt, Olli and Rosie in the following train we drank and were merry all the way to Embankment. Rather than change and get the tube to Temple, we decided to walk along by the river, especially as a fair number of us needed the toilet. (I will point out that there were public conveniences just outside the station, we didn't piss in the Thames.) Once again failing to find a decent pub we went straight into the venue, with Matt avoiding sorrow by finding someone to pay money to for a ticket. King's College is a new venue for me, and it was an odd experience getting a lift to the venue - it felt like going to the great gig in the sky! Set openers An Emergency weren't to our tastes so we went and sat down and had cake while they were on.

After they'd finished we went for a wander and bumped into Steven, who was happy to see us (especially Katy with her stickers) and most apologetic about pulling out of the instore. I nipped off to find Laura and give her the jaffa cakes we'd bought her, not recognising her without makeup on. "Hey you" she said, and I gave her the gifts. Back down by the stage we got into position for These New Puritans, who weren't as bad as I said (but to be honest, I just wanted to wind up Rob) but weren't the best support act of the last few days. Edging our way down the front in readiness for the headline act we were discussing Nik the tour manager's worrying likeness to Wolverine from the X-Men films...which, us being boys with two curious girls, led into the inevitable argument over who was hotter out of Rogue and Shadowcat.

The disappointing thing about the set (apart from the obligatory drunk fat man in the crowd) was that the vocals were so low down in the mix, I couldn't hear anything. Not a problem, considering that I knew the words anyway (and Can't Find The Door/Stitch Me Back were fun as it showed who the proper fans were) but it ended up with the somewhat disconcerting feeling where I could hear Conic singing over the band! For the last song of the night Steve (who had been forewarned that there would be a stage invasion during ADHD) asked for a member of the audience to come up on stage and play cowbell. Well, Conic was up like a shot! He looked at me and said "come on, the rest of you come up here" and getting a small measure of revenge for my lone stage invasion at Bush Hall I said "nah, I'll be up when the band start". They started and I joined him on stage.

Given how up for it the crowd were I knew that others would follow, so there I was at the front, still wearing my leather jacket as I'm too tight to get it check in at the cloakroom, pulling people up on stage and generally having a good time. Definitely better than the stage invasions at Subways gigs in Harlow! Sweaty and happy, we stumbled outside to find Rosie and Olli had already left, and so we headed back to Jack's. Changing at Hammersmith we got on a Piccadilly line train towards Rayners Lane, and were told by the PA on the train "if you're just joining my train at Hammersmith, this is a Piccadilly line train to Rayners Lane. If you're going further than that you can always change to the Metropolitan line, but I hope you're wrapped up warm as it's a chilly night. Stand clear of the doors, they might hurt you if they close on you".

The announcements continued in that vein throughout the journey, which caused many people to crack up laughing and - shock, horror - provoked actual conversation between passengers! The best part was at Acton Town where "if you're changing trains here for Heathrow the train directly behind us is going your way so you won't have too long to wait. Bon voyage!". As they were walking down the platform at Rayners Lane I thanked them for an entertaining journey, and shall be writing to TfL to praise them if this blog entry ever gets done. We got back to Jack's, after a nice walk under the stars with the astronomy domine, and had a decent night's kip.

Awaking on Thursday we decided to return to the cafe in Uxbridge station for breakfast, the scene of the infamous "strawberries are animals!" discovery. Fully nourished we jumped on a Piccadilly line train and headed into town, pondering what to do before Sian arrived. I was all for staying on the train until the other end of the line at Cockfosters (*giggles*) but as it was a nice sunny day we decided to walk from Covent Garden to Victoria, via Forbidden Planet and the river. Forbidden Planet is a huuuuuge shop dedicated to science fiction, my mecca. I could have spent a lot of money in there but instead settled for just a Serenity graphic novel. From there we stopped in the Disney store (hoping to see Emily's play) and in the London Transport Museum shop, but left empty handed. Walking along by the river we took plenty of pictures, including one I took of two tourists in front of the London Eye on their very nice digital camera.

Every time I see the Houses of Parliament I get the 1812 Overture stuck in my head. As there were plenty of V masks available for a fiver in Forbidden Planet I was loudly regretting not buying another one to wear around the area - a statement I hastily rescinded upon seeing the large men with sub-machine guns protecting the great leaders of this country. By the time we reached Victoria we were ready for the chocolate fudge cake from the pub in the station, but looking at the menu I realised how hungry I was and plumped for a curry instead. When Sian finally appeared we headed off to ULU, stopping to get a doughnut on the way (and I got a free hot chocolate as well).

Inside the pub we bumped into CJ, who I hadn't seen since Blood Red Shoes at Bush Hall back in October, and gradually people arrived in dribs and drabs as it was Shagga's birthday and we bought him a cake. There were some people there who I hadn't spoken to in ages and had no real desire to speak to again, so after picking up Hansel and Gretal Hannah and Greta from the station stayed talking to them, Jack, Matt, Katy and Sian. We left shortly after 8 and it was a good thing too, as there was only one support band and we really wanted to see them.

I first saw Johnny Foreigner supporting Los Campesinos! in Portsmouth at the end of February. I really enjoyed them, and since being underwhelmed by the Subways in Bristol I was more looking forward to them than the main band. Wandering up to the merch stand to buy a t-shirt Kelly (the bassist) spotted my Los Camp tee and almost squeed with delight. After an all too brief discussion her and Junior had to leave, as they were due on stage to play. We trotted down the front and I let those back at the pub know that JoFo were on imminently. The set was good, the crowd seemed to really get into it and I felt justified in buying the CD as well.

We moved off towards the sides in preparation for The Subways, as it had the possibility of getting manic and wanted to stay clear of it. We weren't wrong, and even on the fringes kept getting bumped. As for the band...if you've seen them any time in the last two years you'll know what to expect. You'll know exactly what to expect in terms of banter, just with a few new songs. It's good, but it's very repeatitive. I think I'll make that my last Subways gig for a while. Jack and I were playing "guess the next song" and doing scarily well. As the band came back on for Girls and Boys at the start of the encore I headed back to the cloakroom to get my bag and jacket and sat at the back for that and the long, drawn out closer of Rock n Roll Queen. I ended up having a really nice chat with Junior and Kelly from JoFo instead!

After escorting Katy and Sian back to the station I got an earlier train from the one that I was expecting, and so arrived at Faversham just after midnight. I nipped into the "tiolet" and then tossed a coin to determine my route home, plumping for walking the four miles rather than getting a taxi. Wanting a proper soundtrack I stuck the first CD of Echoes (the Pink Floyd compilation) on my mp3 player and listened to that. Walking through Faversham towards home I had Another Brick In The Wall to set my pace to, and then out of Faversham on a dark country road with no other stimulation save the stars above me and the lights of the motorway junction in the distance listening to the title track, it was brilliant. Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun came on while past the junction in a dark road towards Boughton which was perfect for the dark farmland around me. I arrived home just over an hour after I left the train (one hour and two minutes) to find that on said train was my JoFo t-shirt. The only thing that went wrong over the whole two days.

London stations: Victoria

Owing to a mixup with timings, I found myself with 45 minutes to kill at Victoria station, so I did what any self-respecting geek would do. But before getting my pint, I had a wander round.

Victoria is the station that all trains from the Chatham Main line from Faversham terminate at. I've visited it countless times, dashed across the concourse in reach of the last train, abused its Dyson Airblades. But rarely have I just wandered round it, so I did. The platform that my train usually arrives at (and often departs from) is platform two, the longest platform on the station. During the many years it was running the boat train would arrive at this platform - it had to be long in order to accommodate the immigration facilities now found at St Pancras. Quite often railtours to the south east and the Orient Express leave from here, so if I'm coming in on another platform (like before the Swindon trip) I'll wander round to my normal platform and see what's what. That said, I normally go through the barriers by platform seven, as there's normally a scrum round the nearer set, and it also leaves me with less of the concourse to battle through to get to the underground.

Victoria station is unique amongst other termini in London, in that it was two seperate buildings knocked through to create one. The shops in the above link are on the dividing line where the old wall was - if you go further along past the doughnut shop and seating towards platform 8 you can see a better example of the wall. This was something I forgot to do during my writeup. Continuing into the "other" station across the immense open concourse (and passing people collecting money for Parkinson's Disease by shaking buckets, something that caused me to laugh out loud and several people to give me a wider berth) I suddenly found myself in the middle of a shopping centre. This sudden change in scenery confused me and I ventured back out onto the station, to the Gatwick Express platforms. Stumbling up an escalator I found myself outside in the April sunshine in a taxi rank, staring at the roof covering my home platforms.

Continuing round the station I decided to enter from the front, taking pictures of each station building before I did. With fifteen minutes remaining before Katy arrived I retired to the pub, sitting on the balcony overlooking the station (if you look carefully below the "Stationary" banner here you can see the chairs I sat on) with a pint of cider to people watch. It got somewhat cold up there, so if you fancy it yourself wear a sweater, but the view is worth it.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Firefox 3.0 beta

So, I downloaded it after reading an article on The Register. Oh sweet lord it's fast. Even on my five year old PC it's quick, and it doesn't have any of the memory leak problems that FF2 has. The only problem is that the Bookmarks Toolbar folder, which previously was hidden away subtley in my folder list, is now slap bang at the top. Given that this is where I keep my bookmarks that I don't want people to see, I feel a change around is in order.

Download it, it's super quick. It's the best thing to happen to me since Katy.

Bemusement

So, I'm standing in Our Price Virgin Zavvi.

I've got a bit of time to kill before Whatever Comics opens, and I'm happily listening to Jimi Hendrix played over the store speakers while reading an article about The Eagles. As it's a nice warm day I'm jacketless, with only a Subways t-shirt hiding my modesty.

(And jeans and boots as well, obviously).

Suddenly, I'm jerked back from 1970s California by a brunette in her late 20s asking me a question. "I'm sorry," I reply while checking to see if I've left my BT pass around my neck, "I don't work here."

"I know that," she says, "but I have a request. I was wondering if you could help me as I'm looking for female fronted rock bands. I currently listen to The Faders and Avril Lavigne and want to grow up, so to speak."

Right. Red rag to a bull. The poor girl had to get a basket as she didn't have enough hands for the amount of CDs she had! Of course, I started with Garbage, then a bit of Blondie, The Runaways, Arch Enemy, Die So Fluid, The Duke Spirit, Hole, Babes In Toyland, a spare copy of You Bring Me Down that I found in the albums section, The Donnas, Nightwish, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Be Your Own Pet and Metric.

The thing is, I can't for the life of me work out what it was that gave it away I'd know about femrock. Were it not for perusing Laura-Mary's Facebook page over my breakfast I would've had even less of a clue.