HNY2008 from me to all of you!
I must get round to doing my review of the year for 2007.... Someday!
I'm delighted to announce that Gareth failed in his challenge to beat me at Star Wars DVD Trivial Pursuit. It was very close, but I took the title 2 rounds to 1. Gareth took his defeat like a man and issued a return challenge for the next get together. I was happy to accept.
Gillian, being uninterested in Star Wars acted as question master (doing a supreme job) and then managed to pick up Gareth's spirits by steering the Scottish team to the narrowest of victories at normal DVD Trivial Pursuit. Serena and I suffered greatly at the hands of the "Wheel of Death" on multiple occasions!
This defeat was for-ordained in a way, as Serena and I have lost before in a very similar manner to Jase and Charlotte. They have denied us access to a rematch though!
Given time there may be some Genus III action today for the ultimate in Trivial Pursuit tests.
If I am the Left Hand and Legal and General are the Right Hand, then does that make the Agent (middle man) the Dick? Mine seems to be!
Having been told that I am to start work on Wednesday 5th December and that I would receive the paperwork through the post I have been unable to raise my agent since. I have received no paperwork and now that I have phoned L&G's HR department they have told me that they think I am starting Monday 10th December.
Oh well, three more days of freedom!
So what have we been up to? Well we just came back from a week up north, where we spent a few days with my parents in York before heading to Edinburgh for Jocelyn's christening at St Giles' Cathedral. We then drove all the way back down, staying over in York on the way back.
We did the journey in two cars, so we could swap cars with Serena's parents for the return journey. I have my old red Honda Civic back and will be trading it in some time early next year for something bigger. Serena now has her Mum's Honda Jazz in trade for her Nissan Micra.
To make the journey a bit more bearable for Lauren we bought a portable DVD player on which she watched hours of Teletubbies and In The Night Garden whilst I listened to audiobooks on my MP3 player! Serena and Jocey happily listened to Classic FM in the other car. In fact Jocey was exceptionally well behaved on the drive and is turning out to be a little angel!
We are now well on with spring cleaning our whole house in preparation for Christmas, as we have a house full for both Christmas and New Year (our trip to York for New Year has been canceled and my parents are coming to us instead).
Beyond that I finally have a start date for my job at Legal and General, after they decided to carry out a full five year reference and credit check on me! That meant capturing info from our stay in Australia, so the whole process seemed to take forever. I start on Wednesday 5th December.
Both Serena and I have been really good recently as well, going to the gym, eating healthily and I have also been taking Lauren swimming (although she doesn't really like it yet). It was paying off as I had lost 10 lbs, but I suspect the unhealthy eating of the trip to our parents will have undone some of the good work.
Plans for the immediate future are finish the tidying and get the house straight before the Weegies descend upon us in a fortnight and a family lunch with Jase and Charlotte celebrating Charlotte's 30th birthday! Then it will be polishing my shoes and finally having a shave! Being on the social for so long means that my beard is rather bushy!
I am short on time now, so here is a quicky on last weekend's What Hi-Fi Show in London.
Serena, Lauren, Jocey and I managed to look round for a good couple of hours before the girls were bored and we got to demo pretty much all of the major TV makes and models that are out there.
Both Serena and I agree that the hands down winner was the Pioneer Kuro range.
If you are looking for a screen above 40" then the rest of the competition didn't come close!
The photos are on the family Flickr site here, but here is one for you to drool over!
This week's gaggle are:
and the piece-de-resistance
I feel honoured!
My birthday treat to myself was The Orange Box expansion for Half Life 2.
As well as including Half Life 2 and the Episodes 1 and 2 expansions for it, the key component for me was Team Fortress 2.
TF2 is an online shooter that follows on from a really old Half Life mod called Team Fortress Classic (a conversion of a Quake 2 mod called Team Fortress - surprisingly). TFC had been my favourite online shooter of choice for many years and the TF2 update for it is just as much fun.
The game play is pretty much identical and the new graphics engine is brilliant (cartoon style rather than super-realistic). and overall it makes my purchase worthwhile!
However The Orange Box had a bonus... A technology demo called Portal which had been converted into a game. The game is a "not too tough" puzzler and has only about 5 hours of game-play too it, but the work they have done to add atmosphere and a plot to the game are just brilliant. As far as freebies go there is no comparison - this one rocks!
The Cake is a Lie!
You may remember that I played the demo of World in Conflict a few months back and really liked it. Well Jase and Charlotte bought me the full version for my birthday and I have now completed it!
I have to say that it was an excellent game with the single player campaign lasting about 20 hours.
I have tried out the online play modes and am less then thrilled, as there are very few servers and those that are there are ruled by gangs of Admins who always play together and wipe the floor with newbies like myself! I'll stick to Team Fortress 2 for my online gibbage!
As Gareth pointed out in his comments below, our new monitor has a built in webcam. His suggestion that we will use this for naughty purposes in unfounded as we have had a webcam running for many months now and this integrated one is just a bonus that we should not need to use.
Serena's parents have a similar integrated webcam on their laptop and most weekends we video conference with them so they can say hello to Lauren and Jocey. Our old webcam was not behaving so we currently use one of Logitech's many excellent contributions to the PC world.
For simplicity we have configured Skype to automatically switch on the camera when we chat and this always comes as quite a shock to my friend Lawrence when we blether over Skype! I have to hit the "Stop Video" button rather sharpish!!!!
My trusty Iiyama LCD monitor died on my birthday having given us 4 years of hard earned service. I checked with Iiyama and it had run out of warranty around Easter so there wasn't much we could do - the repair cost was unlikely to be worth the hassle.
As part of my delayed plans to build a new PC I had always intended to buy a new monitor and had been eyeing up Alex's Samsung Beast since he needed my help setting it up a few months back!
However only a few days before my bereavement I had read a review of the new Viewsonic 22 inch monster and even though it worked out a few pennies more than the Samsung I decided that it was the one for us!
Well the monitor arrived on Tuesday and talk about a faff to set it up! The digital setup refused to play ball and I had to resort to an analogue connection whilst I worked out what was wrong with it.
I spent 30 minutes of the phone to Viewsonic's techies and got no help whatsoever, just a we don't know but we'll ring you back! (When?)
Anyway I ploughed on and decided to wipe down the drivers and to start afresh.
Bingo... I updated the graphic drivers and instantly everything worked fine. I then installed the monitor drivers and it all went to hell again!
Third time lucky? I uninstalled all the drivers again and reinstalled the graphics drivers and decided that Microsoft's generic "Plug and Play Monitor" driver seemed to be much more reliable than Viewsonic's own, so I left it at that!
Anyway after 2 days I am very pleased. Running games at full screen is beautiful, although it does tax this poor PC a little bit! DVDs look good and 1080P HD Trailers I downloaded as a test look amazing (apart from Beowolf which looks shit! - stupid CGI animation.).
Now I just need to get used to surfing in widescreen!
About a month ago I received a letter from HM Revenue and Customs regarding the 3 months from January to April 2007. Apparently they were concerned that they had no record of me earning any money and hence didn't pay any taxes! I have to say I was touched by their concern!
They gave me a lovely form to fill in on which I detailed all the inactivity that filled those months between leaving NAB and the end of the tax year.
Anyway time rolled on and I was far too busy with Lauren and Jocey to worry about it until I received a rather long letter from the Revenue on Monday! It told me that they had reviewed my last 5 years of tax payments and had come to the following conclusions.
Hence they enclosed a cheque for the difference!
Each year was covered off by a different page of the letter and I was cacking my pants by the time I got to 2006-07! Nice to see that NAB finely managed to do something in my favour!
That little refund paid for this rather fine monitor!
I am pleased to say that Lauren is well enough today to go back to nursery, which means that Serena and I can have a rest!
Having 2 kids seemed pretty much like having 1 for many weeks, but when Lauren is ill she demands so much of your time that suddenly you cannot achieve anything during a 24 hour period!
Anyway, I have lots of things that I wanted to blog about, if I can just remember what they all are!
Hence they will be presented in a random order!!!!!!!!!!
Well the new monitor is here (it came yesterday) and it now works (the supplied drivers don't work, but the default Windows ones do) after nearly 3 hours of fiddling.
Unfortunately Lauren is not well so we have kept her home from nursery and I haven't got time to do a catchup post.
More when I can.
I have had 3 interviews with JP Morgan and then heard nothing for nearly 3 weeks... My agent was convinced that getting the 3rd interview made me a shoe in for the role.
I just found out that they have decided to proceed with an internal candidate.
I am both gutted and mightily p'd off. It took them 2 months to decide that whilst keeping me hanging!
How many jobs have I passed over because I wasn't hunting seriously for the last few weeks?
As all parents do, we have hundreds of photos of Lauren playing in the park. Two recent ones were culled by Serena and have not been published on Flickr, but I think they show great comedy moments!
Since Daddy is poor, Lauren starts dealing (raisins) in the playground!
Does your mummy make you wear these too?
Julian just flagged me the news of my second favourite author's death.
I knew he was ill as I infrequently read his blog but the news that he lost his battle is very saddening.
RJ is best known for his Wheel of Time series of books, which I reread last year, back to back (books 1-11 anyway). Previously I had gotten fed up with them as they seemed to go on forever, but reading them straight through gave the weaker books direction and purpose they seemed to lack before.
According to RJ's cousin, RJ had sat down with his family and told them the rest of the story of Rand Al'Thor and friends as a "just in case" and he had spent his last few months dictating as much as possible. I expect someone will publish the final (1 or 2) books and I will read them, but I suspect that the ghost writer won't quite be the same.
You will be missed!
PS George R R Martin - if you are reading this - you had better not die!
I haven't had much time for gaming recently, for obvious reasons, however I have been fascinated by a game called World in Conflict for quite a while now, so I downloaded the demo a few weeks ago.
The demo consists of a tutorial (needed), the first level of the single player campaign (about 1 hour play time) and limited access to some multiplayer online action.
I haven't tried the multiplayer yet, but I loved the tutorial and Level 1. I just wish I had time to play the rest of the game! I won't be buying it as I can't dedicate the time any more to playing, but I can highly recommend that you check out the demo.
There was a news article in the Daily Mail yesterday that is echo' d on the BBC News site today.
Doctors want the ban on mobiles to be relaxed (as they want to use them) and scientists say this is a bad idea.
PatientLine and PatientCall (the two companies who bought the rights to bedside telephone charges) obviously want a full ban! They charge between 10p and 26p per minute.
Oddly, yesterday the consultant obstetrician's phone went off during Serena's surgery and no-one batted an eyelid! She just got the midwife to answer and ploughed on with removing the placenta!
Fortunately Serena's room seems to get a reasonable signal so you can ring her direct on her mobile!
We expect her and baby to be home sometime tomorrow.
So what have I been doing recently?
Job hunting (obviously)... I have had 4 interviews (no rejections yet) in the last 7 days and beyond that it has been family duties with Lauren's birthday parties.
I did manage to squeeze in The Bourne Ultimatum on Friday. It was OK as films go, no better or worse then the previous two incarnations - a 7/10. I did enjoy the trailer for Shoot 'em Up. Now this looks like a fun film!
Here is the 18 certificate trailer:
Serena finally finishes work on Friday (although her bosses keep sending her home early) and we have the final scan tomorrow - so we will know if it is going to be an elective C-Section or an attempt at a normal delivery.
We get a regular email from "Mumsnet" and this includes regular updates of what to expect from your child now they have reached a certain age. Here is what we received this morning (most of which is scarily accurate):
Your child at two years
People talk about the terrible twos but this is unfair. This age is no more terrible than any other (talk to parents of teenagers). Your child will be busy developing her self-awareness and exercising her will. You can't do that without making a few waves.
* * *
How she behaves: She'll be behaving increasingly like adults do, wanting to make demands on you, and becoming self-centred in the genuine belief that the world revolves around her. Along with this newly discovered sense of identity, she will not ask to have her navel or tongue pierced but will be fiercely possessive about her things and negative about anything she doesn't want to do.
Temper tantrums become works of dramatic art, with screaming and sometimes biting and kicking. She may be angry, sad and happy again (all emotions felt intensely of course) within a short space of time. About one in five children of this age have at least one tantrum a day. Aggression is also common from now until three - don't blame the television, it's human development and will be phased out when she's better equipped to express herself. Best not to be aggressive in return (e.g. to bite back so she can see it hurts), it's not a concept she can relate to - other people don't have feelings that are nearly so important as hers.
If you insensitively choose this time to have another baby, she may be completely furious and insist it go back to the hospital straight away. Jealousy is normal for a child who is suddenly displaced as top small banana. Do not expect her to do anything but hate the new baby and you may be pleasantly surprised. Do not leave them alone in a room together because your two year old's natural inclination is to torture her rival. She is not evil or mean-spirited she's a poor little two-year-old whose heart is momentarily broken. Make a fuss of her, downplay the baby and leave cooing until after your two year old's in bed. Buy her sack loads of toys as compensation.
Along with emotions such as jealousy, comes fear of noises such as fireworks, and unfamiliar animals and objects. Bedtime may become a battle of wills because she has enough sense now to object to being shunted off to bed while everyone else is having a fine old time downstairs. This battle lasts until adulthood.
* * *
How she thinks: She'll have a short attention span but more complex thoughts. If she feels secure she will widen her social attachments to like other children and adults and realise that although her mother goes away she will come back and exists even if she can't see her.
She finds it hard to make decisions and can seem paralysed by what's the best option (who isn't?). She will also be attached to her routine; try dressing her before breakfast and she'll be most offended if that's not what you normally do.
She will be aware of rules and rehearse them out loud so you will see her saying "no" seriously to herself before doing something that's life threatening. When she achieves something she will feel proud of herself, and she will try for longer to do things, like pedal a tricycle. That's not to say she won't hurl herself off it and howl in frustration if it's not going well.
Your child is learning by imitation, so be on your best behaviour. She will follow you around, sweeping with a broom (does anyone still do that?), picking up the paper and looking very serious. She can now remember things over 2 to 3 weeks.
* * *
Her physical achievements: Now is the time for potty training but she will take the lead, announcing she has done a pooh and asking to be cleaned up (not always - some children hate being cleaned). She will also pull down her pants. Don't take this as a sign to throw her onto a big scary toilet and tell her to get on with it - gently gently is the preferred approach. She should get familiar with her potty with her pants on first. If she wants to get up don't plonk her down again - give her time. If necessary lie to your mother-in-law if you feel under pressure. Bladder control comes later.
She'll now be able to run well, walk up and down stairs one step at a time, and jump off steps. She may be able to ride a tricycle. She'll increasingly try to dress herself and will turn pages in a book one at a time.
* * *
How she plays: She will start to enjoy playing alongside or increasingly with other children. Sharing is still unusual because children this age are too possessive and sharing is just not a concept they can embrace. But they will socially interact, in groups of two usually. Sometimes play is friendly but it can be rough. Best to keep an eye on them and encourage the friendly bits. She will start getting her toys to do things, like feed another toy or whack her. She starts to enjoy make believe play and you will hear her giving orders to her dolls and teddies. Sometimes she may sound as bossy as you do.
She will also like to wrap and unwrap parcels and do simple big jigsaws and paint on large pieces of paper.
* * *
How she speaks: She understands longer sentences and you in turn will understand more of what she says. You will still be her interpreter but her vocabulary is up to and maybe more than 200 words (I hesitate to say this as this was never the case with my children - please don't worry). She'll follow simple stories and enjoy them. Best of all she will start saying "Love Mummy".
* * *
What's in her mouth: She's getting a second set of molars at the back - and you'll be wondering if teething ever stops.
Tomorrow is Lauren's 2nd birthday party.
Other than getting ready for that, life has been quiet.
I have signed back on. I have fixed the PC (pretty much). I haven't had time to burn the DVDs everyone asked for. I have been searching for jobs and getting only a few nibbles.
PS I was going to update "Celebrity of the Week", as they were filming in Chiswick this morning, however I didn't recognise anyone!
Well last week was not the best, but still life moves onward. Having pulled my finger out job hunting, I decided to have a bit of a "Me Day" on Friday (last chance to have to some fun that requires spending money). I met up with an old friend (Tom) for lunch and whilst heading home got stranded, due to the local flooding which closed Shepherd's Bush down.
I decided to wait the water out in the cinema and went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Having read the book a few years ago and finding it the worst of the 6 so far (purely because it was all over the shop) I wasn't holding out much hope of an improvement over Goblet of Fire (my favourite of the films), but I was pleasantly surprised. The book has been cut to ribbons and the plot that remains moves along quite fast and the action plays out well.
Not as good as GoF, but definitely worth a watch. 8/10.
After that I found that the water had receded enough for me to get home, which I duly did.
Given Serena's success on Wednesday and that we hadn't defrosted anything, I decided to order all of Serena's favourites from the local Chinese Takeaway. The food was great and arrived spot on 7 pm as requested. Unfortunately Serena got held up with a couple of major disasters at work and didn't get to eat hers until 10.30 pm!
Whilst waiting for Serena I watched Poseidon on Sky. I thought that would be awful, and it wasn't! Still only 6/10! The original is way, way better!
PLz do not PARK in this BAY We all PAY 4 Bays in Mews. and you put me out hving your car here. If you get Towed out as we have CLAMPING. Its down to you Thank you.Well I consider this very un-neighbourly, given that there was only one extra car parked there at 7.30 this morning.
My countdown at the top of the blog has been heralding the arrival of the no smoking laws in England. Now that it is here though, the news is dominated by other stories.
The thought that the two London car bombs were placed - one to cause fear and one to hit the crowd as it flees - is sickening to me.
Yet it was clear that those party-goers out in London were refusing to be scared away.
Following that the car bomb in Glasgow showed me too obvious things. Firstly people in Scotland clearly saw themselves as being out of the firing line as far as terrorism was concerned and secondly, now that they are in the firing line they are even more bloody minded about not being affected by it.
The fact that members of the Glasgow public assisted a policeman in arresting one of the two "bombers" is a credit to the Scottish people, given that the stereotypical "Weegie" is portrayed as being a police hater.
Having worked in Glasgow for a number of years, none of this surprises me though. Apart from Yorkshiremen I don't think I have come across a collective of people who are more bloody minded that the west coasters of Scotland!
Doctor Who supremo Russell T Davies has spoken about his reinvention of classic villain The Master for the current series. Speaking to Radio Times, Davies said: "John Simm's incarnation of The Doctor's nemesis is thoroughly contemporary. Previous Masters seemed to appear on a whim, merely to thwart The Doctor with a throaty cackle."
Referring to the character disguising himself as politician Harold Saxon, Davies added: "The moment I thought of having an evil Prime Minister, I thought, 'That's the key to it!' How much fun would The Master have in that role?"
I have the feeling that this could be quite noisy, so the case will need to be well soundproofed!
After a swift catch-up weekend and a re-record of this week's episode following the thunderstorm we are now up to speed and hanging on the cliff!
Blink was great! Those Angels are going to haunt Serena's dreams for days. Poor Lauren got a fright too when I paused the episode and it just happened to be the first time you see their fangs. She ran to Mama for a hug! :(
I LOVE John Sims as the Master! I reckon it took him 0.2 seconds to accept that job when the phone rang!
Anyway, more tomorrow I am sure!
Now I just need to save up enough money (as Serena would kill me if I put this on my Mastercard so soon after our holiday)!
After much reading and pontificating I am starting a new project (home not work).
We are planning on moving house sometime in the next year so that we can be closer to both Serena's and my work, and we could do with at least one more bedroom if not two with the forthcoming family expansion.
Because of the planned move I am not buying any of the technology I would like until I see what space I have to set it all up in. The items on hold include a new gaming PC or Laptop, Amp and Speakers for the TV / DVD and Sky HD.
However I am going to go ahead and start speccing up a media centre. Budgets are still tight so soon after a holiday, so I don't expect to place any orders for a couple of months but this is one part of our home setup I want to get up and running sooner rather than later.
My initials thoughts fall along these lines:
I'll run ideas for each component past you on here and once it is up and running I'll show off here as well! Feel free to interject at any stage as advice on anything listed is more that welcome.