Category Archives: Random

No Letchworth this Weekend

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Looks like the showerless place has been taken already. Guess someone was willing to forgo showering as a reasonable compromise for being damn close to the town centre and rail station. Given the low rent, location, and back-yard it isn’t unimaginable. It does have a bath of course, we could’ve probably fitted one of those shower heads that attaches to a tap, a bracket for it, and a shower-curtain. Maybe. Kat and I had decided it wasn’t an unlivable option and that we could fall back to it if the other place didn’t work out. No longer possible.

I’m still waiting on the “other place.” It was supposed to be ready for viewing this week but this has not turned out to be the case. The owner still has the builders in, or something. Time is running out, we need to have a place to move to on the weekend of the 26th/27th … only two weeks away. The paperwork and credit-checks take about a week we’re told, so we really only have a week.

I desperately hope we don’t have to fall back to an apartment. 🙁

*sigh* I hate this crap, stressful and distracting.

Letchworth, another one bites the dust

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Yesterday I took half a day off to inspect a place in Letchworth (it’s a 2 hour tube+train journey each way.) The place had much potential! Small but roomy enough for the two of us. In a bit a messy state, but that’d be professionally fixed before we got there. A smallish electric-top stove, but I found a gas connection behind it so we’d have the ability to put in something nice. A back yard to die for, seriously. Massive by UK standards, maybe 10m wide bu 30m deep, and in two parts with a dividing hedge. Clearly the back ⅔ was once the veggie garden but has been grassed over at some time. There’s a fruit tree in the middle of the rear section, probably apple, and blackberry vines throughout the hedging. The yard was a bit rough around the edges, but that’s exactly what I’m after – something I can play with without worrying about messing up manicured lawns.

The place would be dead quiet, set back far from the road (a cul-de-sac), seemingly surrounded by older folk, and with nothing but extensive gardens and greenery to the rear. Only a 590 metre walk from the station according to my GPS, walking through the central shopping district. The entire route open, well lit, and probably very safe.

Problem: No shower! Tiny little bathroom, but that’s OK. But no shower?! C’mon? Bloody English.

*sigh* So, good yet fatally flawed. It’d be an ideal purchase, a little work and you’d probably make up for any short-term value loss (unless things go really pear shaped.) In the long run it’d be a safe investment I’d say, thanks to the location. Not sure if it’d be freehold or leasehold, but if the latter it’d have about 900 years left as this is part of the original Garden City “demo village” built in the early 1900s. The building is certainly listed though, probably grade II, so there’s very little prospect of extension the place. It’s end-of-terrace so an end-side rear conservatory may be allowable (I think the place at the opposite end has an extension of the sort.) That’d provide for a better, more open, kitchen space I think. Also, maybe, a sympathetically designed far-rear-shed-cum-office could be possible. Gah, I shouldn’t be thinking about this stuff, depressing.

I’m trying to arrange to see another place this week. On paper it looks good. According to the agent I spoke with yesterday the area isn’t as nice, but should be safe. It’s twice as far from the station compared to the place I looked at on Monday, I timed the walk today: 10 minutes at a brisk pace (probably 15 for Kat.) Not too bad. In the evening I tried researching the street but could find no record of crime in the area and nothing else untoward. The main claims to Internet fame seem to be that a taxi driver is registered there and the Letchworth Buddhist centre was, until recently, located at one end. Being the location of a Buddhist temple is surely a good sign, right? Maybe we’ll find out.

I also tested out the commute to Kat’s work (The City) using the non-fast train since the direct LET-KGX trains only run during commuter hours. I went via train to Finsbury Park, then Victoria line to Kings Cross, then Northern to Bank. After walking from Bank to the vicinity of Kat’s office 1 hour and 10 minutes had passed. Not too much more than the current commute (barely over an hour.) However this was the slower-than-fast train, double-however the time was taken from Letchworth station and doesn’t account for walking from some other location in town. Overall it shouldn’t work out as too bad a commute though, not worse than the current arrangement anyway.

(As for Colchester, not possible for a couple of logistic reasons.)

Looking at Letchworth

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Today we trekked to Letchworth and spent the day there. I’ve mentioned Letchworth before, the “garden city,” it’s one stop north of Hitchin on the Cambridge line. It has an interesting history, though I’ll leave it up to Wikipedia and various other sites to document the details.

What I have to say about it is: we’re keen on it. We’ve now seen Stevenage, Hitchin, and Letchworth close-up and have a good feeling for these original three moving options. Stevenage is out, we were very disappointed by both the old and new town centres. Picking between Hitchin and Letchworth is difficult though, they’re very different places. The main drawback of Hitchin is that it there is a 15 minute walk between the town centre and the rail station, which significantly limits the viable housing locations (must be somewhere between the two, essentially a 7.5-minute-radius circle.) In Letchworth the train station is central so the viable area is a 15-minute-radius circle around the town centre.

In a practical sense there isn’t much else to differentiate the two towns. They both have a large number of shops. Hitchin has, perhaps, a few more choices for the same things. Letchworth has a much larger supermarket, though we do try to avoid the things. They both have butchers that look good (judged by ample advertising of game being available on-season), acceptable coffee places, and some central green-space. Hitchin is much more historic, while Letchworth is greener and more open. This latter point is is probably Letchworth’s main attraction aside from the better transport arrangement. Hitchin’s opposing next-best major attraction is the large and regular market (3 days a week.) As far as the market goes though, Hitchin is only a 5 minute train ride away followed by a 15 minute walk (weekend trains seem to be every 30 minutes.)

Coffee is at least a little important of course. In Hitchin we didn’t see anything much in the way of coffee places other than Starbucks… could be worse. In Letchworth the only chain place we saw was Costa, which is about the same as Starbucks as far as espresso goes — the huge bonus of the Letchworth Costa is free wifi (Starbucks has wifi but it is stupidly expensive for casual use.) Neither of these options are really great on the espresso scale and won’t make up for the loss of Rickmansworth’s Cinnamon Square and Coffee Cube goodness. So, using Costa-wifi, we hunted down other coffee places. We found a couple of promising options and gave them a try (we actually found 3 but the 3rd seemed to not do coffee at all, that’s the ‘net for you.) The first seemed promising but turned out to be terrible, ick. The second didn’t seem promising, we thought we’d found a “caff”, but turned out to be surprisingly good. This latter place was Moon’s Café in “The Arcade” off Letchworth’s main drag “Leys Avenue.”

No doubt we haven’t tried all the coffee places in town. Also, according to the sites above and one of the agents we spoke with today, there are big plans for the “café culture” in Letchworth. Well, that remains to be seen and I can’t imagine it’ll be seen in a hurry. Promising though, the plans for the town centre do look good.

Some other differences include:

  • Rent is lower in Letchworth, maybe about 100 quid difference between equivalent places.
  • Despite being one stop further away from London, Letchworth has a slightly faster train service to Kings Cross. A 25-minute no-stop train every hour.
  • Real estate agents are friendlier, that’s probably just luck though. We dealt with 2 very pleasant agents today (Country Properties and Willows), but in Hitchin spoke with 4 that were either indifferent or even bordering on hostile and 1 that was very good (Norgans).

On the topic of agents, I’ve got all the way to here without mentioning how we went with looking for places today! The summary is: so/so. We looked at two places. The first was about 15 minutes walk from the station (our limit) and can best be described as “poky.” It also smelt of cigarette smoke, a smell you generally have to replace the carpet and repaint to get rid of. The second place was an apartment, shitty kitchen, no outdoors space, and on the ground floor. In other words: the exact opposite of what we’re looking for (we only looked at it because it was on the way back from the previous one.) The only thing these two places had going for them was price, one was a full £400 a month less than our current rent – for good reason though.

It’s not all bad, there are two decent looking options but one requires 24 hours notice before inspection and the other isn’t ready for inspection yet. Hopefully I’ll be able to arrange to see them sometime next week. They’re both semi-detached and available in the right time-frame. One is more central being only 2 minutes from the shopping area and 10 from the station (opposite side of shopping area.) The other is a bit further out, 15 minutes from both the shops and the station. However this latter one seems nigh on luxurious and, on paper, seems to be our pick.

In the end I think we’ll be focusing on Letchworth for our move, it’s far easier to target just one town. Time is ticking away, it’s now less than a month before we have to be out of our current place.

Mr Chicken said

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Mr Chicken said …

I have a feeling that the author of this SMH article is taking advantage of the situation here, despite of the seriousness of the news item. Beginning 4 sentences with “Mr Chicken said” seems just a little too deliberate.

John Chicken is a rather unfortunate name though. At least he’s probably going to most be addressed along the lines of “representative for the defence,” I assume (or whatever the proper court-speak is), and if he gets to Judge it’ll be plain old “your honour.” Doesn’t change the fact that he’d be Judge Chicken though.

Of Homes and Cars

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Not as romantic as it sounds I’m afraid. These “garden cities” (worth reading, it’s interesting) are a product of “modern” town planning ideals, sprouting from one individual in the late 1800s. The idea “took off”, so to speak, and the design principle has been re-used extensively in the US and Australia’s own Canberra is cut from the same mould as well. Good old Wikipedia has all the details, I’ll leave it at that.

Letchworth isn’t too bad, it lacks the quaintness of Hitchin but dreams and reality are often separated by chasms more vast. We had a look at a place in Letchworth today, and all-in-all are in favour of it. We do have a little more research to do but know that the crime rate is low, similar to Rickmansworth, much lower than Northwood, and far lower than more central London locations we’ve considered. Train-wise there is a pretty fast service into Kings Cross that takes 35 minutes, so it’d probably suit Kathlene OK. Recreation-wise the train gets to Cambridge in 35 to 45 minutes and Hitchin in only 5. I don’t know if Letchworth itself has much entertainment for us, but there’s a largish shopping area (far larger than Ricky) with the usual High Street shops and even a cinema (not that we ever go to the cinema, maybe twice in the last 2 years.)
The particular place we looked at is a little the worse for wear, but isn’t terrible. Our place in Wollstonecraft was of similar age and deterioration, but at least this place isn’t mouldy. We’ve been living in an apartment that was built only 6 years ago, so our perspective has changed in this respect. The place is a middle-terrace house (neighbours through both side walls) and has three upstairs bedrooms, two of a good size and one of a reasonable office size. The potential office room is quirky, painted in sky blue and adorned with a Winnie the Pooh character strip and appliqués. Most importantly, the back yard is large and the stove is gas. We’re told the landlord is an easygoing guy and happy to let tenants paint and decorate the place! Not sure what I think about doing my own painting, not when I don’t own the place myself. There’s a little maintenance work required, but this is apparently “in progress” (mainly just two cupboard doors that need to be reattached and a fridge that needs to be disposed of.)

The trek to the station is probably a 15 minute walk, and would be less than 5 on a bike. The area in general lacks the “natural” beauty found around Rickmansworth though and we’d certainly feel more compelled to go for a car. By fortunate coincidence the young lady who drove us to the place has a Mini! It’s a Cooper and she’s had it for 3 years and had no problems. Generally very happy about the car and very positive about her experience with it. I have little to complain about as far as our Mini went over the long weekend. Five days with quite a bit of driving and only 20 quid of diesel required to top the tank up. Speedy, responsive, corners well, and much roomier than expected. My primary practical complaint is that the left-foot rest is too close to the clutch, even after 5 days of driving I kept getting my foot caught on the rest when depressing the clutch – very frustrating. The second complaint is about the far-left-and-up reverse position, on several occasions I went to shift from 3rd to 2nd and found myself too far to the left to pull down to second. The third complaint is that having the tacho dead-ahead through the steering wheel and the (huge) speedo in the centre console doesn’t work for me. I never look at the tacho, I’d rather have the speedo in front of me. The latter two I’d get used to pretty quickly, not sure about the first though.

With a car getting into the town centre would take only a couple of minutes, and Hitchin town centre would be less than 10 minutes away. It’d also be a safer way to get Kat to and from the station if the hour is late. The property has no lock-up garage, but the low crime rate seems reassuring (no bars on any windows down the street is always a good sign.) The socio-economic profile of this part of Letchworth is a strange one, fairly low-income (high welfare), jobs in retail and skilled labour, married, both working, children. Not us, in other words. So the Internet tells us anyway. Also, property prices are bordering on the affordable – which is intriguing. It all adds up to “what’s wrong with this place.” In August 2007 there was a shooting, one car full of young fucktards attacking another – supposedly not gang-related and remarked upon by most sources in the area as highly unusual. All persons involved were arrested, a bus blocked their cars in and the police were on the scene very quickly. Still… not a good story.

The reason we’re looking at Letchworth and considering the particular place we inspected is one of bad timing. We visited 6 letting offices and in all were told the same story, since January letting demand has soared with no rise in supply. Places in Hitchin (and also Letchworth) tend to go within half a week. The offices say it’s “one of those times,” conversely they’re not selling anything at the moment either. It’s interesting to note that it turns out that most agencies run a letting office as a hedge against property market fluctuations, letting isn’t as lucrative but it becomes busier in times when buying (and maintaining mortgage payments) is difficult.

In the end the pluses:

  • Large back-yard in a roughish state (yes, that’s what I want.)
  • Off-street parking (i.e. English-style concrete front-yard.)
  • Loads of space with three bedrooms, a large living room, and a reasonably sized kitchen.
  • Quiet area, in a corner of the town not on any direct through-routes (we’re told the neighbours are elderly.)
  • Rent is so much less than what we currently pay that the difference would cover most of the monthly cost of a new car (and we’d be paying a lot more if we moved within Ricky.)
  • Of Letchworth:
    • Good sized shopping district.
    • Large Morrisons (supposedly a good thing in the supermarket stakes.)
    • A Cannons (5 minute bike ride away), chain-gym usually equipped with too much cardio crap and no squat-rack but also cheap (if you’re with PruHealth.)
    • It’s fairly green and leafy, if not close-by any good nature reserves or woodlands.
    • Good train connections to places that are great to visit and work (i.e. Cambridge & London.)
    • Linked directly to King’s Cross, so also simple to get to Eurostar (less than 2 hours to Paris maybe?)
    • Bus connections to both Luton and Stansted airports, which aren’t far away.


  • Needs some work (but not much.)
  • Not very close to station (we’ve been spoilt living a sub-minute walk to the local station.)
  • No lock-up parking, in the case we decide to get a car.
  • Of Letchworth:
    • Modern and lacking character (but near to places with loads.)
    • Possible youth crime issues, despite low crime rate?
    • Hard to get to Heathrow (we use BA more often than not when flying, but that could change.)
    • Distant from Watford, although in the same county (we’re keen to keep up with Watford-LUG.)
    • No good nearby woodlands or reserves that we can see, what small woods there are appear to be on private land.
    • The name of the place, despite the “Garden City,” makes me think it’s full of old men in trench-coats.

We have a lot to mull over in the next couple of days. We don’t have a deposit down, so knowing our luck and given the demand we’d want to decide it’s a goer sooner rather than later if we’re to go that way.

I’ve mostly finished other summaries and write-ups of our visit to Cambridge. But now it is time to get dug back into work! I’ll probably dribble the rest out over the next week. I’ve also got some text down for the Hare salad and casserole entries… all to come in the fullness of time.

Ah, the complexities of life.

Marketing Weekends

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Weekend Angst

I get a bit upset when I have what I consider a “zero productivity” weekend. This is one of those weekends, so now I’ll try and band-aid the mental wound with these inadequate words.

On the topic of productivity, first in line to qualify is having written some code, something I spend some time doing on many weekends. Usually this ends up being something related to work, which doesn’t bother me at all. In a way it is my attempt to ease the feeling of “behindness” that almost all software developers seem to suffer from. (AFAIC if your work and your lifestyle don’t fit together “synergisticly” you’re probably in the wrong game.) Not having done any such work this weekend hurts more than usual since I ended up taking unscheduled leave on Friday, by the time I’d lost more than half the day to unforeseen complications there was little hope of rescuing it. I could, maybe I should, be doing something about that now, I’m already feeling bad about it.

Next most common, after work-code, is code related to an entry on this site. I usually have 3 “in development” entries sitting around waiting for some time, typically only 1 of these will see the light of day though as the time it takes to write such entries often wears out the original inspiration. That’s one of the problems of course, to really achieve something takes time. Technical writing more so than other things as it is in my nature to try and be as complete as possible, if there’s code I’ll have usually ensured it compiles and runs at every stage, if it’s more general I’ll get lost chasing things into every nook and cranny — but I’ll get things wrong despite all this.

A third sort of code is “random project” code, but I’m less good at getting into these as I just never have a long enough run of time available to really get stuck in and achieve something… there’s a whole list of Django playing I want/need to do. That’s the advantage of playing at a little technical writing, it may take hours … but it doesn’t usually take days. I’ve downloaded the Android SDK three times now and have all kinds of ideas bubbling around for that, but where’s the time?

After code and related technical writing on my “productivity check-list” is any other writing. These here words count, and it’s my last-ditch effort to have done something this weekend that I can consider productive. Admittedly it isn’t a very good effort, but it’ll have to do. It always strikes me as unusual that I do spend so much time writing (OK, typing) since transforming thoughts into words and those words into sentences really isn’t one of my skills. When it comes to writing I’m generally inadequate and slow (there goes more time!) At times it really pains me, maybe this is why I do it, a form of psychological masochism. People who write well garner my greatest respect, and there’s no guilty pleasure quite like reading their words. So here I am, aping their efforts, much like an orang-utan who’s grown up to think itself human.

The final things I consider properly productive are cooking, especially experimentally, and exploring. However both of these don’t really blossom into flowers of accomplishment until I’ve written about them. They can be considered guilty pleasures for which a certain atonement can be gained through the act of documentation. (Much like code in a certain respect: there’s a lot of fun to be had in the quick hacks that get things working but then comes the “cleanup”, which is rarely much fun.) When it comes to cooking the atonement will often take twice as long as the sin, this, I guess, is only proper.

I introduced this entry saying that this weekend has not been a productive one, in fact last weekend was rather abysmal as well. I did get the roast hare entry out at least, but I didn’t get much else done (my backlog is depressingly huge and may be in need of a purgative dose of rm.) I’m not at all comfortable with these “documentary of my life” types of entries, it is truly bloggy laden with all the derogatory connotations of pulp. But there you go I guess, now that I’ve offloaded this small chip of angst in far too many words I’ll continue with some true bloggishness. I’ll try to keep the rest short at least.

Last Weekend: Chicken, Markets, and Minis…

We kicked off our weekend by picking up a little free-range organic chicken from our favourite local butcher, Hamblings. Mr (or, maybe, Miss) Chicken went into the fridge and we wandered up to the only real farmers’ market that seems to happen in these parts. The market takes place at the Rose & Crown, Ricky’s best, but unfortunately distant (30 minute walk), pub. The market tends to be on the smaller side, but it’s better than nothing. As an added bonus the Rose serves good food and has good beer.

Market Produce
Market Produce

At the market we picked up a small selection of veggies to go with the dinner, some onions, beetroot, white carrots, and a swede. All but the latter were roasted, the beetroot first peeled, rubbed with olive oil, wrapped in foil and in the oven at 170°C for 90 minutes then left in while the chicken roasted – truly the best way to do a beetroot I believe. The swede turned out to be quite a revelation! Not something I’ve ever bought in fact, very foolish of me. Anyway, chopped it up and boiled it in loads of water (along with 3 little new potatoes I had lying around) to which I’d added a tablespoon of balsamic, a tablespoon of sugar, and a chicken stock cube. When the swede and potatoes were soft I passed them through the medium disc on the food mill. I stirred though a good knob of butter and half a tablespoon of balsamic. A most excellent substitute for dreary old mashed potato!

The chicken was rubbed down in plenty (100g) of butter that’d been mixed with loads of finely chopped lemon thyme and oregano. Blasted in a 210° oven for 20 minutes, wined (into the pan, not over the chicken), turned down to 180°C and left for a further 30 minutes, then rested in the open oven for another 20 minutes. Divine! One roast dinner, chicken for an omelette the next morning, more carcass pickings for a roll each later in the day, and the carcass into the freezer for a future stock. (Despite all this I still consider the weekend to be a failure for productivity, I’m insane? Probably.)

Roast Chicken
Roast Chicken

Most of the rest of the weekend was spent in a state of near-catatonic worry and stress over moving, transport, and the future. I don’t think I achieved much at all on any of these fronts, except maybe that I kind of like the convertible Mini Cooper model. We may give in an get a car you see, especially if we move somewhere less connected than Ricky (heh, that’d almost be difficult.) There’s so much difficulty in the whole car thing though, first of all: they cost so much; secondly: fuel, insurance, and maintenance mean they just keep on costing. One debate: to get an older and cheaper but less efficient car; or a new, expensive, and sub-100gm/km car (no Mini quite makes this grade though, but they’re close enough AFAIC.)

It’ll probably never happen, I’m just too adverse to spending money. Another of my insanities.

Almost forgot something. At the market we tried and enjoyed several delicacies from Fat Man Chilli and had a chat with the men themselves about growing chillies in the UK (versus Australia). We came away with a bottle of green chilli sauce (coriander, ginger) and a jar of chilli, apple, and calvaos jelly. We also picked up two bottles of scrumpy windfall-apple cider from Millwhites Cider, we later wished we’d picked up a few more bottles!

This Weekend: Real Ale, Bags, and These Very Words…

The current weekend breaks down to two significant occurrences. On Saturday we finally made our way to the Land of Liberty, Peace & Plenty. It is truly a sin that we haven’t been there before! It takes a little longer to get to than the Rose & Crown and is much closer to Chorleywood than Ricky so I’m calling it the area’s best pub (and the Rose & Crown can retain its title of “Ricky’s Best Pub”.) You don’t have to take my word for this though, they were a finalist for the CAMRA pub of the year, and are the Watford branch pub of the year (for the third year running.) Six real ales on tap, I managed to squeeze three in (including a very good stout that wasn’t on tap yet). Kat had just one, but that’s because she tried the Perry and a half of a cloudy Scrumpy (both very good.)

I want to write much more about this, but time runs short. It’s a great pub and goes on the “reasons to stay in this area” list that’s causing me much stress at the moment. We also planned to drop out to Wendover to visit their farmers market, but the 30 minute train ride, horrible weather, and £16 train fare were a total turn-off. A pity, since we could have grabbed some more of that cider there. There’s something wrong with the economics of paying that much to travel somewhere by train when it costs a fraction of that for someone with a car and in the end you’re probably going to come back with less than 16 quid’s worth of goods!

The second significant occurrence for this weekend was today’s trip into London. We popped along to Spitalfield market. This market really didn’t excite me much, the best thing about it I guess is that it runs on Sunday when most other things aren’t open. That said, we did achieve the goal that prompted us to make the trip: bags! Given my continual resistance to spending money I live with things beyond even the point that they fall apart, I’ll go ages without something once it has died. I’ve needed a decent satchel for a long while, I’ve been using a black enviro-bag with Supré branding for the last year (it’s a good thing the brand isn’t recognised here of I’d probably have been mobbed and beaten to death by skin heads (if you pay attention to UK news it appears that getting beaten to death by skinheads|gangs|chavs|whathaveyou isn’t uncommon here.)) Meanwhile Kat’s preferred bags have all fallen apart (and Kat has much the same problem I have when it comes to buying things.) Some catalyst was required to push us over our spending hang-ups.

The catalyst, most geeky, was BoingBoing. A short while ago they posted a link to Stabo because they were making some funky trousers made from old army tents. While the trousers were interesting I found the bags on their site more alluring, fairly rough but robust looking items. In the flesh the bags are as good as they looked, they certainly seem tough and have a rough sort of charm that appeals to me. So I now have a bag, it happens to fit my largish laptop quite well too. Stabo make these (and other goods) themselves, here in the UK (up in Cambridgeshire) and try to source materials sustainably and locally. Kat wasn’t as keen on the Stabo bags (a little heavy, and maybe a little too uncomplicated;) and the other stall with leather bags that interested us had unfortunately used rather smelly leather (cheap leather I assume, it smelt a little like a tannery – if you’ve never smelt a tannery be thankful.) Kat did find herself something she liked though, a roomy canvas job that seems quite sturdy.


Next Weekend: Life, the M25, and everything…

There’s a saying about Londoners, it’s: The Universe doesn’t end at the M25. The M25 is a motorway around the whole of greater London, it probably takes 2 hours to do the full ring (in the unlikely case that the traffic is flowing fairly well the whole way around.) We’re inside the M25, barely, and funnily enough when it comes to moving this bituminous border seems a force-field of almost impregnable strength.

I may be breaking the barrier down however. On and off I’ve been researching non-Ricky living alternatives, and my latest “find” is Stevenage. This is well outside the aforementioned edge-of-the-world but is, in a way, closer to London city than we are. The train from Stevenage to Kings Cross takes nearly 25 or 30 minutes, so Kat could probably get to work from there faster than she does at the moment (40 minutes to Kings Cross, then onward a few stations.)

What else has Stevenage got going got it? It’s on the Cambridge line, 45 minutes to Cambridge. Even though it’s overground rather than the tube the travel cost will only be a little more than getting from Ricky to the City. It has a pub that has won the CAMRA “North Herts pub of the year” award two years running, Our Mutual Friend (can’t find a website.) They have a farmers market, I don’t know if it is more often than monthly but monthly is the best we get here anyway. It looks like there’s a lot of green-space around the place.

There’s possible negatives too. Though the train trip is fast it doesn’t look like we’d be able to live anywhere near the station (it isn’t in a residential area.) It could be even more of a late-night-drunken-chav town than Ricky (possible?) While it all looks very green it doesn’t look particularly forested.

Too many questions, so we resolved to take a more direct approach. We’ll be spending next weekend (the whole long weekend) in Cambridge. To add to the “tasting things” aspect I’ve arranged to hire a Mini Cooper D(iesel) for the whole weekend too. So we’ll be exploring Stevenage, Cambridge, and surrounds for four (or more) days. It’ll be fun! Though I’ll be stressing the whole time about the lack of productivity, se la vie. It’d be nice if the weather wasn’t so horrible next weekend, but I expect it’ll suck.

I’ll be trying to relax a bit over the long weekend, but I expect it won’t help much. We’ve given our notice for May 5th, a date that’ll be upon us like a speeding Kenworth. That’s life for you though… incessantly being run down by semi-trailers.

(I’ve spent more than two hours writing these silly notes… I knew I’d feel bad about it in the end and I do. sigh)


It is perhaps somewhat disingenuous to suggest I’ve had an idle weekend. We’ve been up around 09:00 both days, explored and enjoyed a highly rated local pub with excellent real ales, done our shopping, taken a trip into London, explored a previously unvisited market, bought ourselves entirely utilitarian goods, done a little cleaning, organised a “weekend break” in Cambridge, and I’ve read half a book of collected and annotated H.P. Lovecraft stories, and cooked three meals including 14 serves of cauliflower soup that’ll last us a couple of weeks. breath Still, I feel a deep sense of failure, in my mind the weekend has been one devoid of desirable achievement.

(Yet I continue to waste my time on these words! It’s a curious and nostalgic dilemma, the feeling is much like that of University-era procrastination — doing things other than the things we know we should be doing.)

The Problem with Rickmansworth

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

It isn’t something I’d ever expect myself to say about a place, but the problem with Rickmansworth is that it is too quiet. OK, so that isn’t really the right way to put it though. It is rather noisy, as far as noise of retards in cars and drunken idiots go. I mean, I guess, culturally quiet. Is that the right word now? It’s really a question of the wrong sort of culture. It’s 18:30 on a Sunday and we’ve had a pretty damn tiring weekend of cleaning, what I want to do right now is relax in a café with an espresso, even a bodgey chain café. But the chain café here closes at 18:00 on a Sunday and that’s that, no espresso for me. Getting an espresso machine and making my own at home isn’t a solution either, I want to head out and sit down somewhere.

Back in Sydney we’d wander up the road to New Orleans at just about any time of day, any day of the week. In the CBD you’d have your choice of bodgey chains but even a few OK places (like Jet in QVB) to serve you a coffee later in the evening. City Extra doesn’t do great coffee, but I could sit there at midnight and sip their non-great coffee (not that I did that very often.) Though I don’t really recall how much this applies on Sundays, which weren’t exactly brilliant even in Sydney.

So, with a definite move coming up we have to ask ourselves the question: to stay in Ricky or to move away? The problem with staying is that it lacks the sort of living conveniences we’d prefer, like late night café, a good deli, a bit of cultural diversity in shopping (just one asian/oriental shop would be fine, sure Waitrose has various “foreign” sections but it just isn’t the same.)

The problem with moving away is that after 2 years we’re finally settling into the place. There’s a lot of open countryside and great woods for walking and we now know them quite well. We know the best pubs in the area, though unfortunately they’re more than a 30 minute walk away. We know a good butcher, though he’s shutting down in a few months. We have a pretty good coffee place to go to, though the hours really aren’t great. We have at least one friend out here too, and we really have very few friends here in the UK. We’ve also started getting along to the quaint little Watford-LUG meetings and it’d be a pity to suddenly pull out of that.

This evening we wandered out only to remember, on getting there, that the shitty coffee place closes at 18:00. So we took a wander down High Street and came to the junction with Church Street, Kat said something like “a crossroad, which way shall we go”… Yep, it’s another of those little crossroads in life. Where will we live for the next one, two, or more years?

Staying in Ricky is going to be the easiest thing to do, and given a good place on the ground with a backyard it is certainly going to be better than the last two years (which have been pretty good.) I’m sure I’ll be very happy with such a move. We could also move to a nearby area, such as Croxley Green or Chorleywood. But they’re both quieter, have far less shops (we’d probably cycle into Ricky for shopping if we moved to either of them), and make the already long train ride into London even longer (only 5 minutes though.)

Another option that is still in the area is Watford, but almost everyone we’ve ever asked about Watford says it is a shithole. That’s not really doing a great job to sell the idea of moving there to us. In the end I expect it’d mostly be much the same but bigger. Bigger isn’t any use if you still can’t get coffee at 18:00 on a Sunday evening. It is a culture thing, if the local coffee place was open at 19:00 on a Sunday we’d be the only people there. Poms spend their evenings in pubs drinking too much beer.

I think the sort of thing we’re looking for would be found closer in to central London. It’d require some research to be sure though, and as you get closer in the chances of being able to afford the rent on a place with a back yard diminishes pretty quickly.

We can’t have everything though, I guess.

Someone suggested to me recently that it’d be really easy to move to the US. I don’t really know if that’s true, but they were in a much better position to know than me. Even if it was simple in the paperwork sense it wouldn’t be simple in any other sense, one such move per decade is enough for me. We’ve got at least another eight years to go with the UK.


Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

This morning just after I went to bed at about 1AM the whole building wobbled, plates rattled on the shelves, something fell over in the front room… I was kind of spooked, although the whole event lasted only a few seconds and didn’t even wake Kat up. Last time I felt a house move was back in 2005 when I was living in Haddenham and there was a huge thump that shook the place. That thump was a single shock though so very different, at the time I thought it might have been a supersonic flyover (there are air bases all over the shop here), but that’s also something I’ve never experienced. The next day it turned out that thump was a gas reservoir exploding more than 20 miles away!

So, an explosion was the first thing that came to mind last night. But, while brief, the shaking lasted far longer than you’d expect from a shock wave. I looked out the windows, no telltale flashing lights or shouting (not that there’d be any if it was a gas explosion 20 miles away.) No mushroom cloud on the horizon (the thought did cross my mind, very briefly.) I had a peek at several news sources online and saw no interesting “breaking news.” So I went back to bed thinking that maybe it was all in my pre-sleep imagination!

It’s 13:00 now and I’m looking at the day’s news for the first time… it turns out the shaking wasn’t hallucinated, it was an earthquake! The UK’s second strongest on record and strongest in 25 years (measuring, according to various sources, anything from 4.7 to 5.3, and apparently there was a small 1.8 aftershock at around 04:00.) Pretty crazy stuff. A fun reminder of just how tiny and insignificant we are, scurrying around on the surface of this great big ball of hot rock.

Stephen Fry on OSS

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I didn’t know, until just now, that Stephen Fry has a blog. It doesn’t stop there however, he writes about technology and, furthermore, open source software. This is just crazy, I didn’t think the man could be any more godlike. Some choice articles from his blog:

It’s delightfully varied, check it out.

Talk Talk isn’t a “morning person”

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I’ve been on the Carphone Warehouse “Talk Talk” plan for quite some time now. Generally I’m happy with it. Call costs are great, for example our calls to Australia are about 50 times less than they were with BT. ADSL is generally stable, and download throughput close to the 8Mbit rating. There just one niggling problem: I can never turn off my ADSL modem. If I do turn it off, as I did last night, then I can look forward to several hours of unstable ‘net access the following day. What happens is, after powering up the modem, every 10 to 20 minutes the connection drops and comes back 30 seconds later. It’s a fresh connection each time, so new IP address and all existing SSH sessions need to be restarted.

I depend on ‘net access for work since I work from home. I can do almost everything without a connection. But getting up and running on a Monday morning tends to be a pretty ssh-intensive period. Mainly email and fresh checkouts, also of note if that our SCM (Perforce) requires connection to the server to edit files. I should look into running a local mirror/proxy of something I guess. Anyway, this all means that I never turn off the ADSL modem now. If I don’t turn if off the ADSL connection will remain rock solid for days at a time.