Category Archives: Random


Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Morning tulips at 08:20


Midday tulips at 12:30


Afternoon tulips at 16:00


As is the typical English terrace-house style we have a tiny patch of land out the front that I call, entirely jokingly, “the front yard.” Most people seem to do one of three things with their “front yard”:

  • Grow weeds/grass/hedges.
  • Pave or concrete it.
  • Store excess junk (seriously, right in front of their house.)

Then again, some people aren’t completely soulless and like to enjoy the sight of arriving home, and generally improve the look of their street. I like to think myself one of these. We get the best sun out the front, so it is destined to grow leafy summer herbs and perhaps a chilli or two. Normally I’m an entirely practical gardener, but thought: why not herald in the spring with tulips! ’tis t’ dreadful British weather ‘at does it y’.

These tulips were bought as bulbs last October, kept in the fridge until late November (we were in Australia), then planted out. Aside from that very little was done, the pots were filled with a 50/50 mixture of sharp sand and potting mix the previous season. So easy even a total retard ought to manage it.

The boxes I have in at the back are also full of chives, which I intend to let flower (we have plenty more out the back – chives are less flavourful if you let them flower.) The one in the middle has a nice spring growth of French tarragon too (roast chicken is on the menu next weekend I think.)

Up against the wall are dianthus (Iced Gem), geranium (Elizabeth Ross), and ajuga (Chocolate Chip – the one with the blue flowers.)

Odd one out.

I was expecting only the crimson pointy tulips, somehow this one got mixed in. By luck alone it ended up in the middle of one of the terracotta pots and works rather well visually.

Pot of crimson.
Crimson close-up.


Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

After not having written anything here for some time I break my silence merely to mention that I’m migrating to a new server right now. In the unlikely event that this causes a problem (i.e. bounced email) you now know why.

I shall endeavour to write something somewhat more interesting in the less than completely distant future.


Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I enquired about the availability of plots in the allotments around the back. Apparently there is a 29-long waiting list. The allotment only has 27 plots. That must add up to quite a wait! A pity, as the allotments are all of a 1-minute walk away. I’ve followed up by asking about the Old Hale Way allotments in the north of Hitchin. Will be interesting to see what the waiting list there is like. It is a much larger site with 141 plots. Unfortunately it is probably a 20 minute, or more, walk disant.

There’s a funny coincidence in the name. My final highschool was Hale, in Perth, and that makes me, I suppose, an Old Haleian. Speaking of Old Haleians, people in the family may be interested in a Dec08 news item about Bruce Bennett.

Anyway, might just have to do what I can with the tiny patch of shady mud in the back yard again this year.

Feeling tired after spending several hours assembling Ikea furniture. My sister flies in on Saturday and will be staying for a while, so we got some new furniture. It showed up today, a load of flat-packs. Just in time too.

Kat and I took the day off, Friday and Monday as well. An extra-long-weekend of our own making so we can Get Some Stuff Done(TM). I have a shopping list as long as my arm, and a TODO list that is even longer.

Anyway, up early tomorrow so I can fit in drinking espressi before picking up a hire car for the weekend. It is nice to have a car once in a while.

Got the Whole Process Wrong?

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I have to wonder, sitting down just now, at practically 19:00 on a Sunday, to relax somewhat for the first time this weekend, if I have got something terribly wrong here. I cannot stop, any moment not spent doing is a moment wasted. Even my relaxation now is limited. I do find writing this note quite relaxing, but I have a stew on the stove and work, of a sort, that must be done before dinner – lest I let people down, which is the sinniest of sins.

Today’s horridness starts at about 10:30, because that’s the appallingly late time that this lazy monkey got out of bed. The weekend alarm is supposed to be for 08:00, dammit, isn’t that lazy enough already? (My weekdays start at 05:30, so 08:00 is pretty damn generous.) 2.5 hours wasted from the outset. After cooking breakfast, cleaning up, and heading out, I should not have sat down for 30 minutes to have coffee. Sins upon sins.

We inspected some furniture, since we generally lack in this department and my sister is moving in in a couple of weeks. Would be nice if she didn’t have to live out of a suitcase. Then, not immediately fulfilled in the wardrobe department, we did some minimal grocery shopping.

Once home, and it is about 14:00 by now (where does the time go,) it was time to cook. Soup first, a beetroot and celeriac job spiced with cinnamon, juniper, bay and a bit of cayenne. Steak and kidney hotpot next, kidneys are a bloody bugger to prepare. Suddenly it is 17:00 and time to clean. Dishes, and sweeping, and mopping, sigh, oh my.

Quarter to seven and I’m sitting in this chair, writing this text, a little exhausted already.

Now I have a website to create!

How do people do it? As introduced: what’s wrong? Should I not cook, succumb to the soporific monotony of shop-bought meals and soups? Sleep much less? Perhaps there is something extremely wrong with my time management – a constantly niggling fear of mine. The food I make does us for a week. I feel I’m being efficient here, but right now I feel maybe this is foolishness.

Anyway, I’m wasting time. I’ll contemplate cooking less, in an effort to achieve more. Cooking, after all, achieves little more than momentary enjoyment. Too large a time cost, not enough payoff? Are other things I could do, ostensibly more valuable in the long-term, a better use of my time. The blueprint is that ultimately we must be content, possibly even happy. I have a feeling that somewhere in my head something is miswired, ultimately I must be just plain busy. With anything, to the point that perhaps my subconscious prioritises on busywork over effective work.

We must achieve. Effectiveness is key. But, without prescience, how much hope do we have of choosing to execute even semi-optimal long-term-productive actions? One thing is stupidly obvious: inactivity will achieve nothing. And to me inactivity is synonymous with passivity. But labelling something as passive is not always so easy. (Take TV for example: I don’t own one as a matter of quite thoroughly considered principle, but I’m not going to say it is absolutely passive and I often feel there is a facet of modern culture, social depth, and learning that I have chosen to ignore in this instance. I can see, and even regret, bad sides to every “good” decision I make.)

So, in short: I must do, Do, DO. In the hope my doing is valuable? Or perhaps just because doing is the ultimate excuse.
I could have, but I was busy.

My Chapel

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

We went and had a closer look at that chapel yesterday. It really is rather nice, even seems to be in pretty decent condition.

The last couple of passed planning applications are available online, the UK is pretty good with that sort of thing. Thanks to land registry information we can also see how much it last sold for.

So, the previous owner got planning approval passed to convert the place into a two bedroom home back in April of 2006. At the end of the year it was sold for £315,000, no work having been done. Failed dream? Perhaps the owner found out exactly how much it would cost to actually have the work done. Perhaps the whole aim was to get planning consent then sell it on.

The current owner doesn’t seem to have been happy with a 2 bedroom conversion. And in November 2007 got planning permission to convert it into a 4 bedroom residence. Four bedrooms? It is a 6m by 14m rectangle! The planning permission comes complete with architectural diagrams [PDF], the owner was going to fit all this in by digging out a basement. Clearly he had, or thought he had, deep, bulging, pockets.

I guess the pockets weren’t as deep as expected, here we are a year later and it is back on the market. This time for 285k, that’s less than a 10% drop since, pretty much, peak prices. Could maybe knock off another 10% – could even be worth putting in a 250k offer. Though, for me, 200k would be more realistic. But even then, what of the cost of actually making the place a home? It would have to be astronomical, surely. I should get a guy down at the pub to browse the plans, and see what he thinks. Probably pointless though, getting a mortgage is hard enough right now – borrowing even more on speculative post-conversion value? Probably more likely to get a “yes” asking a banker if he’d like a stick rammed up his backside. And where would we live in the meantime? Would the council let us live in a caravan on site? The poor old neighbours would think the pikeys have moved in. Not bloody likely.

The council is a whole other ball game of course, their way of ensuring only the “right sort” get the place is to make it twice as expensive to do anything. The trees are all under protection orders of course, which is fine by me, I want the trees – but of course this means you need to consult a qualified arbourist before you so much as step foot in the direction of one of them. Before a single bit of work is done, scaffold-grade protective barriers must be erected around the trees at a British-standards specified distance (also requiring specialists no doubt.) Of course, the other thing you have to do is pay for a full archaeological survey of the site – and probably have an archaeologist around while you dig out the basement, assuming you have the money to go all the way with that plan (in reading all the fine print, it seems the archaeological survey condition is only on the basement-plan approval, the 2 bedroom one doesn’t have it.)

The site itself is quite large, at a third of an acre, and has housing all around it but separated by a good buffer of space. It is just crying out for a lush yew hedge – which would have to be acceptable, yew hedges and churches are like bread and butter. There’s a site layout plan in the council records as well. Given all the trees there is probably limited scope for a productive garden, but I’m sure I could manage something.

As for the history of the site, it is part of the old Caldicott School site, that page includes some history including when the chapel was built (1909.) Locals in the pub tell us its most recent public use was as a youth club, mostly used as a boxing gym. That’s when it was under control of some kind of youth trust, before being sold into private freehold (with preservation conditions attached) to raise money or something.

Potential galore, for someone in possession of both dreams and money. Enough dreaming for now though, back to work tomorrow and on to the finalé of 2008. Must try and just forget about it.

Bought a bottle of 18yo Glenlivit today, only one 10,000th the price of the chapel, it’ll just have to do I think.


Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Christmas hey? There goes another one of these “year” thingys, almost. It has been more than 3 of the things since I first left Australian airspace
for these antipodean (relatively speaking) shores. Shores, hah, midlands more precisely. Six months in Aylesbury (good ducks), 2 years in Rickmansworth (good looks, zero personality, HHGTTG fame), now 8 months in Hitchin. Hitchin is the sooty gem of the lot. Don’t get me wrong, I love the place.

Where are we now? Kat continues to toil in the “City”, without the infamous London “city” bucks (though they’re reserved for the privileged few these days.) I get by in my little techno-world, haphazard in a way, knowing how to poke the damn computational devices where it hurts. “Our” three bedroom terrace house suits us like an empty suit of medieval armour to a hermit crab. We rent, we vent, and get on with life.

I keep starting to write about what I’m up to, but never get to finish. Last weekend it was roast pheasant, beef and lambs’ liver shepherds’ pie, and butternut and sweet potato soup. Lately I should write about my roast Xmas duck. Crispy spiced skin glazed with orange, honey, and elderberry jelly. But the time escapes me. Perhaps my enthusiasm for writing up my kitchen shenanigans departs, perhaps the numbers add up to zero. It really does take a lot of effort and time to get it right. I should get around to saying something about my “pancetta” too, brilliant stuff. And I stewed a hare two weeks ago. I think I’m living my life from desk to kitchen these days, with a regular detour via the pub. If I can convince myself to spend some money, ever so hard, on a less cumbersome laptop I may be able to use my hour-per-day on trains to get some of these thoughts to text.

Pubs hey? Hitchin is full of the things. But if you’re here go to The Nightingale, around the corner from the station on Nightingale road, and, given the time, The Half Moon, a mile down the main road but, also, always a purveyor of fine ales. For some reason The Sunrunner carries all the “real ale” glory for Hitchin, buggered if I know why, numbers do not equal quality. And quality is all you’ll find at the other two.

Here in Hitchin we ever have our eyes open for a place of our own. And just now a real doozy has been thrown in front of us. By chance we took a loop up over the hill today, over Windmill Hill and down via Highbury. Near the roundabout what did we see? A chapel, for sale. For sale! A chapel!

A little investigation leads us to believe it is on the market for £285k. Which is, possibly, just barely affordable to us. But it is probably an empty shell of a building, not suitable for habitation. Certainly not something I’d ever subject Kat to (I could probably happily live in a culvert myself – so long as it has electricity and landline/3G.)

Seriously though. Near the middle of town, only a little further from the station than we are now, a third of an acre. No idea if it is freehold/leasehold, or of other pertinent details. Is it listed? “Conservation area,” must be. Is there a basement, photos indicate it is likely. How bad is it inside? Sure, it isn’t on the scale of my earlier castley postulations, but ever so more realistic. Tantalisingly so. Damn it.

Anyway, merry new near, and such. I hope life, and business, goes well for all. Over and out. Monkey boi.

Compare and Contrast

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

It is a mantra from my highschool days studying English Literature, we were always asked to “compare and contrast.”

When travelling between places I’m always compelled to do just this, though it is mostly futile — the world is far too complex. Travelling to Sydney brings in yet another dimension, I’m comparing Sydney now to my bits of the UK now and also to Sydney then. I lived in Sydney for around 6 years, from early 1999 to late 2005. The subsequent 3 years have mostly been spent in the UK.

Sydney of 2005 is a little different to Sydney of late 2008. In no particular order:

  • It is now possible to travel from Kellyville to the City in a single bus ride which takes just an hour.
  • Some shop fronts have changed, but mostly everything looks the same.
  • Ferrari’s on William street are replaced by art.
  • Oporto’s chilli sauce has changed, for the worse, it just isn’t right any more.
  • It is finally possible to get near perfect espresso in the heart of the city, thanks to Mecca Espresso on King street.
  • Sydney University is looking good.

That last point is worth further words. When they first built the Eastern Avenue building I thought it was pretty awful. Then again, Carslaw and the Chem building are downright ugly (from a more utilitarian era of building.) Now that it has a friend in the new Law building, the road has been paved over, and the landscaping improved that whole stretch looks brilliant. Some of the improvement even seems to rub off on the old Chem building, amazing what some well thought out landscaping can do.

Stand on Eastern Avenue in the early evening, sun still just in the sky, and look through the large glass section of the new law building. It is a painting of Sydney, featuring the UTS building, done in shades of gold. Unexpected beauty.

The new school of IT (etc) building works well too. Standing in the foyer looking up. It is, certainly, less personal and friendly than Madsen was. Little sign of humanity, a small box with a screen to greet and guide you. Perhaps appropriate for a house of techno-worship.

The masterpiece, in my mind, is the refashioning of the lawns between Wentworth and Eng. Smooth lines drawing the eye to the old schoolroom, rather than away from it. A very Australian blend of modern design, curves, sandstone, and bush.

There’s still work in progress, I look forward to visiting again next year.

How about comparisons with England? I’ll wander into these waters, though they be muddy and maybe even dangerous.

Eating out in Sydney wins. The seafood cannot be beaten, the prices are insanely good. People living here are unbelievably lucky in the seafood stakes, and eating out in general.

Sydney isn’t safe on a gourmet pedestal however. While the UK lets us down, severely, in the seafood stakes it makes up good ground for just about everything else. Money buys your dearest desire, so they’d have us believe, and the brute financial power of London draws in everything. You name an ingredient, you can get it. Lamb from New Zealand, oranges from South Africa, apples from Australia, herbs from Israel. I find it hard to believe. This is not the good stuff though, it is merely a guilty convenience. I can leave the lot of it.

They can do meat over there, Australia may be known for its beef but the UK really knows about it and does it right. I’m let down by what I can find in supermarkets, and even butchers, in Sydney. The local produce movement in England is also brilliant. I can usually know exactly what town my fruit and vegetables came from, and how far they’ve travelled. I know where my pork grew up, and what mountainsides my lamb enjoyed. Quite often this is even so in the supermarkets.

I’m sorry to say that the UK wins on food, as far as the environmentally conscious home-gourmand is concerned. If eating out is more your style then stick to Sydney, unless you have money leaking out your orifices.

Beer? Here be dragons. The beer in England, the good stuff, Real Ale I mean, is astounding. Australian beers, even some of my old favourites, are flavourless fizz by comparison. Now, I don’t mean to say that Aussie beer is bad … is just isn’t beer to me any more. More like a beer-flavoured fizzy drink, it has its place.

Chutney, Stew, Beer, iPhone, and Game

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

As I write this there’s 5 litres of chutney simmering on the stove. I find the name used in one of my books rather apt: Glutney! I’m doing away with 2kg of courgettes, nearly a kg of green tomatoes from my poor blight-stricken plants, and a kg of apples lopped from the tree hanging over our fence (from which we’ve sadly binned many kg of apples that’ve fallen onto the concrete over the last few weeks – just think of all the starving piglets that could be enjoying them.) I only wish I had more jars! If the chutney works out well I’ll put some words together along with the photos I’ve taken and whack it up here when I have the time.

There’s also a full, large, Chasseur of beef, potato, and celeriac stew in the oven. This is part of my “decent lunch” scheme. Trying to make up enough food on the weekend to carry through the week. I have so much less free time these days – welcome to the normal world! Thank goodness for boiled eggs and dried fruit, is all I can say. Not that I’m complaining, being busy is both enjoyable and fulfilling as far as I’m concerned. Right now I’m regretting buying pre-chopped “stewing steak” rather than my usual beef shin. Shin always works out juicy and tender for me, but I usually encounter dryness with “stewing steak” – as I seem to have this time around. Oh well, it’ll taste good all the same, hard to go wrong with celeriac.

Last weekend we went to the Letchworth Beer Festival, a CAMRA event, and drank far, far too much Real Ale. Walking back in the chilly evening was a lesson to us: drink enough beer and you don’t notice it is absolutely freezing. This weekend we went to yet another beer festival, a smaller do at the Plume of Feathers pub over in Ickleford (a 30 minute walk away.) The smaller do was far more satisfying I felt, with 15 beers available rather than 50 there is much less pressure put on by bewildering forests of choice. We also met an interesting older (offspring post-university age) couple who seemed to have an interest in “greener” living, allotments, reduced carbon footprints, and all that malarky. There’s some “Green Drinks” meeting every first Tuesday in Hitchin, sounds interesting. Might go an heckle some Greenies sometime, will write about it if we do. Never know, they might be the sensible sort.

There’s plenty I could say about the iPhone at this stage too, after almost a month with the thing. But it’d include a lot of whinging of the “but my Symbian/IQ phone 5 years ago did this so much better” sort, it isn’t worth bothering. Apple aren’t winning any friends of the non-iBimbo sort by being total fascists about the platform either. Too many shitty apps of the same general type, yet they don’t permit apps that “compete” with their built in shitty-apps. Face it, their calender, email, and contacts apps are all painful to use. And talk about lack of any sort of neat integration between applications! (I’ve already complained about the actual phone functions of the iPhone over on that facebook thingymo.) Sadly the new gPhone looks like a pile of dingo crap… but there will be more to come, I expect (hope) to see a good gPhone surface in the future. Not that I’m at all comfortable with a platform that seems to be geared towards giving Google yet more of my information. Despite all the complaining I’m generally happy with the iPhone and do think that it is the best thing currently available on the market for me. The lack of real progress over the last few years is sad though, the iPhone has broken a popularity barrier but not pushed any technology barriers at all.

Getting back away from the technocrap front, we haven’t had much fungal luck lately. We’re hoping for better results from this season, nothing to beat our little Amethyst Deceiver stash from last year yet though. A nice, but rather small, puffball is about it. We’ve come across a couple of fairy rings, but both times in inconvenient circumstances. We’ll keep at it! The haws, sloes, and hips are starting to look good though. Some rosehip and haw jelly could be on the cards, and possibly (post duty-free) some sloe-gin (or vodka.)

On a similar topic, we’re well into the game season now, so some birdies must appear in the not too distant future. It is well past the “Glorious 12th” (of August) after all. Just today we were overhearing a man talking about the 6 grouse in his freezer – my thought on the topic being “you utter bastard.” I’d be happy to have just a couple. I must endeavour to know someone, who knows someone, … etc. High-street market rates for these things are entirely fixed at the “ho ho, we’ll rip off some stoopid yuppies” level. I’m entirely unhappy about paying £4.50 for a little bunny, even if it is a pretty darn good bunny. When we were in Ricky, and before Hambings closed, we’d get excellent bunnies for 3 quid. I need to know a bunny man I think. Or snare them myself, my earlier attempt to snare a pesky squirrel wasn’t successful enough (I snared it alright, but it snapped my insufficiently strong snare wire.) Squirrels are supposed to be rather good about now in fact, fattened up for the winter.

Freckle past a flea

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

As can probably be imagined, I’ve been somewhat busy lately. What, with moving from a work-at-home schedule back into commuters’ clothing. My commuters’ clothing happens to be florescent yellow with helmet and wheels – which, as it turns out, transforms a 1.5 hour commute into a 1.05 hour commute. Significant! Say what you like of “public” (bus) transport, it is as slow as a wet weekend and lacks a certain something. That something being the daily joy of trying not to be run over by a lorry. It’s worth 2×20-minutes of my day though.

I now work for Zeus, and, as my contract essentially states, must serve Zeus faithfully and efficiently. Really, I could be hacking up perl scripts to present cows as a factor of goats and “working for Zeus” would make up for it. That aside, however, this seems a pretty cool group. The sociological difference to Sensory is close to nil, the primary contrast being accents.

On to business. I’ll be back in Oz between October 31st and November 14th, the first week being in Sydney and the second in WA. I dearly miss many people on both sides of my island continent, so that means you should try to keep some appropriate time free … or I’ll be sad! At the Sydney end I’m thinking Sunday (2nd Nov) lunch at James Squire being a minimum requirement. I’m up for just about anything else that week though.

Bring. It. On!

New Job, New Windows, and Devon

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.


What a week! First and foremost, it marks the beginning of a new job. I’ve moved on from the company I’ve worked with since leaving University (before leaving actually) to a new employer up in Cambridge. It’s a significant one for me. My last job always felt like a simple extension of University, in a sense this is my first real move into the “real” world… maybe. Leaving was a very tough decision to make, especially after 5 years. But in the end it was working from home for a year on the opposite side of the planet from all my friends-cum-colleagues that did it. Working from home is truly overrated.

My new company seems a most excellent place. It’s up in Cambridge, so I don’t have to subject myself to London. I like London, but don’t want to go there every day – poor Kat 🙁 Now I’m a commuter of course, and the journey is at least an hour each way. I should be able to keep it down to that once I streamline the travel process and get a bike up in Cambridge (a faster way to get around the town than the buses.)

So, first week down and rather good.


Unfortunately this week is the week the landlord decided to replace all the windows and doors in our place. They did it all in 2 days, impressively speedy – now I’m just waiting to see if they all fall out. That’s 2 doors, 8 windows, and 2 huge front bay-windows. They left the place in a mess too, not happy about that. Not much we can do about it, except tidy up. It is nice having secure windows though, and being able to see out of them is a nice bonus. We’re told the previous double-glazed windows were the first in the street, they were installed 20 years ago. That probably explains why they were all misted up.


To add to the business of the week we’ve had a trip to Devon planned since far before I decided to move jobs. It’s part of a little ritual of ours. We’re keen attenders of the Watford LUG meetings. When we lived in Rickmansworth this was our closest LUG, it was pretty close to home in fact. Moving to Hitchin puts us a 40 minute drive away – and we don’t own a car. There are closer LUGs now, and maybe in time we’ll attend one or two others, but we want to try and stick with Watford as long as is practical. So, our little ritual is to hire a car on the first Thursday of every month so we can go to the LUG meeting on this night. Then we have the car for the weekend and drop it back on Monday.

So we get a weekend of mobility about once a month. To to cap off the week I drove the 3ish hours to south Somerset (just above Devon) after work on Friday.

This weekend we’re going to Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall’s River Cottage HQ in Dorset for a “festival.” That’ll take up most of today, then we stay in Weymouth for the night and explore the coastline on Sunday before driving back up to Hitchin.

A long and busy week, but a good one!