Thursday, January 29, 2009

In Belfast

To Belfast for the launch of the report written by the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group On The Past. This brave attempt to start the process of putting the troubles into some sort of official perspective was done at a public meeting at the Europa Hotel, which as everyone knows is one of the most bombed hotels in Europe. It was attended by victims groups from both sides of the sectarian divide; some of these people it was explained to me have not - and cannot - 'move on'. Their loss has been extreme and there has been no justice for many of them. Indeed some of them point out that they have had to witness the men who directed and inspired the violence attain political respectability.

There is a lot of shouting by a minority and not a great deal of listening but finally the speeches get underway. It is an upsetting experience to witness as an outsider but I am struck by the age of the people doing the shouting; taking a tape outside to the truck I look around and realise that outside the hotel the city is full of young people getting on with their lives.

Then later on I meet Alan McGee who helps run a trauma centre for young people called 'Wave'. It is a gentle and warm place to end a tough day with teenagers from both communities sat joking, watching TV and drinking coffee. McGee lost his wife in the Shankill bombing but he has no time for hate these days. He wants to see a line drawn but the scars of the conflict more openly admitted and dealt with. Maybe a commission of some kind can start to do it, but the obstacles are great.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Hole In The Road

Whatever this recession destroys one sector will remain unaffected, that being the group of people who dig holes in the road. I sense these guys will go on and on; they're a self perpetuating industry. I learnt this at first hand last Sunday when a team descended on the pavement outside my window and dug it up with a jackhammer and a truck mounted claw excavator. I was recovering from a night shift at the time but I just knew my rest was over. I think they were fixing a water main.

They went away at three and I thought nothing of it till Ms T came home and announced she smelt gas outside. And indeed it was whiffy. So I rang up the gas emergency line, who sent a squad round, dug another hole to repair the damage the previous team had done, and cut the supply off for two entire days while they did it.

I was visiting my Dad in Manchester during the period of sub zero temps at Hendo Towers but hypothermia has filled Ms T with a lust for vengeance. She has begun an investigation into the hole affair (sorry) and has discovered that the first and the second team work for the same company. It happens quite a lot said one guy from Team No 2. And it's as well you rang, he said, because the gas can pool under a property and one spark can send the whole lot up.


Monday, January 19, 2009

To Twitter

I have started twittering - this one phrase blogging that's all the rage for us wired folk.

Apparently the internet learned of the plane crash in the Hudson from their twitter feeds, so as a news man I must have a twitter account, and see what people are twittering.

But to me it all seems tailored for tiny attention spans. I want readers with the intellectual stamina for at least three paragraphs.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

At The Pictures

One consequence, it seems, of being non drinking is the increased number of visits to the Ritzy to see the crop of Oscar contenders. And what a crop they are; The Wrestler which features what must surely be an Oscar winning performance from Mickey Rourke..Che, which is fantastic, and of course the superb Slumdog Millionaire. This is being marketted as a feelgood movie but it is so much better than that...I may even go and see Kate Winslet in The Reader, but that'll probably have to be on my own, because Ms T liketh Madam Winslet not.

But I wish though that we weren't exposed to some of the Government funded ads they chuck at you before the film proper, time after time. The one that says you're a kid if you lose your licence - which has now got it's own thread on urban 75, the one warning of Sexually Transmitted diseases with 'ghonnorea' stencilled on people's underwear...they do my head in. I presume they keep the Ritzy in business, so I have to be careful what I wish for.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The big Thaw

Time out Walk: Number 21 vol2
Pluckley Circular
Miles Walked:7
Amount of mud collected on boots: 3 tonnes

Alright I hereby take back anything I may have said about winter weather being 'bracing' or 'good for moral fibre or any other such cant. I am starting to heartily detest this Winter and all its freezing short days. I think I like it least when its damp.
We did catch a smidgeon of good weather last Sunday in Kent. Dispensing with the train (which would have been a bus, it being a Sunday) we drove down there and did a seven mile circular walk around the picturesque village of Pluckley. It was a good stretch but my God it was cold. I saw a dead fieldmouse by a hedge; I feel sorry for the wildlife when it's like this.
Pluckley is said to be the most haunted village in the UK (how do they measure these things?) but there were no manifestations when i was there, just as in Wales. There wasn't any drinking in the halfway pub either, since its 'Dry January' at Hendo towers. Why do we make things difficult for ourselves at the worst part of the year?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Hard To Spend Your Money

Frequent sufferers here will know of my endless vacillation over the future of computing at Hendo towers. To wit: should I invest in a new PC albeit crippled by the infamous Vista OS, wait some more to see if Windows 7 delivers an improvement, plump for a Mac, or just do nothing.

We got back from Wales to find the big ageing computer under the desk had died so I elected to buy a machine from a well known and very reputable e-retailer of PCs. £750 was promptly pledged on my (very much in credit) credit card and i sat back to await delivery.

Then I got a surprise; the retailer e-mailed e to say the payment hadn't been honoured. I had twenty four hours to get it sorted with my card issuer or the deal was off.

So I ring the issuer. Yes indeedy my card had been stopped. Why? Well buying a computer for 750 was an 'unusual transaction' so they'd stopped my card. Just like that, and hadn't told me. Further enquiries revealed that not only the amount was the problem - apparently for me to spend anything over £500 is now viewed as a probably fraudulent transaction - but the identity of the retailer was an issue. It is on a blacklist of several big companies with whom you should not trade if you value your credit card's health, according to Kelly in the call centre. Unfortunately the identities of those companies on the list is a secret!

As to why they hadn't rung me (they have all my numbers, as well as the maiden name of my late mother) well 'we undertake to do that within 48 hours'.

So two things of note as we go into this retail crisis. One, spending an amount of five hundred quid or more in one go will get you effectively labelled as a fraudster/victim of e-fraud - unless you tell your issuer that you're going to do it in advance and get their permission (and don't forget you have to tell them when you go abroad now too, or risk a difficult situation at the hotel check out desk). And two, there are now certain retailers, well known and highly reputable in themselves, which are viewed as problematic by at least one big credit card issuer - who doubtless operate as a group when fraud risks are assessed.

I'm starting to wonder about my credit card issuer. They seem to be behaving less and less like a lender and more and more like my Dad. The idea of doing anything on a whim using a credit card now seems ridiculous.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Credit Crunching in the New Year

Sometimes an article in the paper just captures exactly your mood and some of what you're thinking, and it's so bang on the mark you just slap your thigh (whatever) and say: yes , that's it.

Such a piece is found this morning in the Guardian, by the writer James Meek, about the economic situation and what the future holds. If like me you're very worried about what's going to happen to this country of ours I can point you in its direction.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Falling For Wales

I've been to Wales countless times, sometimes for work, more often for pleasure. But I don't recall enjoying the country so much as last week when Ms T and four of our friends rented a cottage in the Brecon Beacons for New Year. It was cold - I don't think the temperature got above four degrees celcius - but this served as an excuse for whisky macs.

The house we rented was built in the seventeen fifties and the visitors book had lots of references to it being haunted, one entry claimed by 'a woman in pink with a dog'. I find ghosts disappear around journalists, inasmuch as I have never seen one and never seen any satisfying pictures of any. But Gareth reckons he heard her banging around on the stairs in the night; his very British response was to shrug and let her get on with it.

The countryside was converted by the freezing temperatures from its usual rustic greens and browns into a spectacular crystal white. People rhapsodise about 'fresh air' but its in places like these you can draw it in and savour the difference.

When I got back I found our big desktop computer had died so I invested some of my savings in a Dell. We will see if this was wise. I'll post up the Wales pictures when it arrives.