Monthly Archives: February 2016

My gears are still being ground in 2016

gmg

Bet you never thought you’d see this picture again, did you?

I was supposed to be writing a “happy alone time” post tonight about how I’ve been relaxing this weekend, and indeed will be doing so tomorrow as well (I’ve got to stay in to let in the gas man), but in fact I’ve got a number of things to moan about, and a number of famous companies to name and shame for their awful service.

(Obviously I should include a disclaimer that this is all my personal opinion and experience, and thus protected by freedom of speech!)

As if it wasn’t bad enough that I hurt my toes recently, and so have been hobbling around everywhere (hence doing nothing this weekend), and that I’ve had to cut down on my personal trainer sessions, so I feel bad (and still short of money!), and that it’s constantly cold, despite beingalmost March (I really hope the weather doesn’t copy 2013 and stay cold until April!), I’ve been let down this week.  For one thing, the “catchall” address at my personal e-mail domain at Fasthosts, which receives all e-mails sent to any address at surname.org.uk that isn’t in a pre-defined mailbox, turned out to be full on Wednesday, and I only found this out when I checked it in webmail format after noting I’d had no e-mails from Meetup.com (who haven’t upset me, hence their name isn’t in bold) since Tuesday evening arriving in Outlook.

It turned out that although I’d only used up 15% of the allocated space, I’d also used up the maximum number of e-mails (yes, you can have “too many” e-mails in there without them taking up too much space), and they hadn’t notified me!  I dread to think what I might have lost if I hadn’t realised — and this is on top of how I couldn’t connect to their servers properly in late 2014, when I was trying desperately to apply for jobs and suffering from bad mobile signal as well (but don’t worry, 3 have been adequate recently, so they’re not getting a mention here).  I’ve just recently paid them for another year of e-mail hosting, so what can I do?

But now let’s focus on this weekend, and two particular foodstuffs I won’t be buying again: Linda McCartney pies and Hovis sliced bread.  Now, normally I’d endorse anything vegetarian, but the pie in question was soggy and undercooked even after 40 minutes in a pre-heated oven, something which never happened before they changed their packaging, so clearly they’re doing something wrong now (and I’ll be getting the Quorn ones instead).  As for the bread, well, it was so weak and insubstantial that the mere act of trying to spread butter with a knife tore it apart — what’s the point of bread you can’t spread butter upon?  Is it only suitable for toast?!  I used to get Warburtons, which had served me well almost since I moved to Finchley and started making my own lunches, but Tesco stopped selling it in half-loaf size (I can’t buy a whole loaf because too much of it would go off before I could eat it), and so I have to buy whatever’s available… maybe I’ll stick to rolls from now on?

Most of my ire, however, is reserved for the Co-op Bank, who I joined in 2013 and now want to ditch entirely.  I’ve hardly used my account with them since joining Halifax in 2014 (they give me better terms), and foolishly I thus stopped checking it.  I managed to get overdrawn in late 2015 (partly because they still let you take money out at cashpoints even when you’re overdrawn, and partly because PayPal, who I’m also angry at, have made it so hard to set my Halifax account as the default).  Even though I paid back what I owed in early January and had my account at zero, they still charged me £40 in January, and didn’t notify me (they thought a letter before Christmas sufficed), and since I didn’t realise I was overdrawn again until today, in addition to being charged £10 unauthorised overdraft fees in January and February, I’ll have to pay another £10 in March in full and final settlement, plus interest (fortunately less than a pound).  All because they don’t apply fees right away, they make you WAIT before you know how much you owe!  I only kept this account open for emergencies anyway, and now I’m going to cut up my Co-op debit card and be done with them forever, because I really don’t need to lose £70 right now.  But hey, their former chairman has to pay for his coke somehow, right?

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Now I’ve finished watching this, it’s time for “South Park” on my morning commute

I suppose the one good thing about this incident is the lesson I’ve received in taking responsibility for my finances, instead of just leaving things.  Not only will I continue to check my Co-op account until I can close it and do away with them forever, and make sure I pay through PayPal only if they use the right bank account, but the financial hit has inspired me to finally put my old Gatchaman DVDs on eBay (these are the ones I was slowly buying in 2005, and which were replaced on my birthday by a single box set of the entire series, which takes up considerably less space).  If I can get suckers customers to pay the prices I’m after, it’ll make up for my losses… and maybe then I’ll be tempted to sell my copy of Stephen King’s The Bachman Books that includes “Rage” (which he allowed to fall out of print due to real life school shootings), for rather more than the £1 I paid for it in a charity shop.

(Don’t worry, I’d split the money with the shop in question — unlike the Co-op bank, I’m ethical!)

As for the other things, well, I’ve wanted to leave Fasthosts for a long time (I doubt anyone in the IT industry would even try to persuade me to stay!), so I’ll make sure to leave them before 2017, no matter what they do to convince me otherwise.  I’ll also avoid the two products named above like the plague: it sucks when I try to save money by making my own food only for it to blow up in my face, but I’m not going to let it get me downhearted, and will avoid eating out, or even getting lunch at the supermarket, for as much of March as I can muster…

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Giving up

fcnoooMy latest romantic failure occurred during the Valentine’s Day weekend: yet again, a woman in her 30s who I found both physically and mentally attractive, and who liked me enough to go on two dates, had stopped responding to texts.  Maybe it’s a damn conspiracy to stop me ever getting laid (though it could only be Asimov’s Eternals who are responsible, since it’s beyond the wit of any government agency), but yet again, I found myself wishing I could just stop caring.  Fortunately, matching with someone new on that (non-Tinder) dating app I’ve been using so much lately, reconnecting with someone else I’d lost touch with, and having a nice time at salsa dancing have collectively cheered me up again, and I shall indeed continue trying to, well, start my love life.

However, I’m going to need to make other changes in my life, for both health and financial reasons.  For one thing, I’m greatly reducing my chocolate intake… yes, I’ll wait while you all gasp incredulously, since it’s not even Lent yet… finished?  Good — it’s hard to do with Easter eggs in the shops, but I need to lose more weight and get in shape properly, and my spare tyre is the final aspect of my physique that needs improving.  I should stop having mochas at work, but sometimes it’s the only way to make it through a tiring day, and unchococolatey coffee is simply too awful to contemplate…

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Sleeping instead of watching Seth McFarlane animated comedies?!  The horror!

I should by rights also stop eating out so much, especially considering how many times I’ve been on dinner dates that haven’t worked out (so both a waste of money and a futile intake of calories and fat?).  I will in fact be going out less during the cold snap in February (since it’s easier to keep my room warm if I start early in the evening), so that issue should resolve itself for now.  Moreover, it would be healthy if I stopped staying up late on work nights, and BBC3’s move online has taken care of this for me: I’ll no longer be watching Family Guy and American Dad! every evening, something I’ve done since I first got a digibox (and hence BBC3) back in 2005!  Both shows have been a big part of my life, entertaining me every weekday evening and also at weekends, but I guess now is the time to move on (at least until they’re on ITV2).

One thing it would tear me apart to give up is personal training, as I like my (ahem) torturer, and always feel the health benefits of this exercise (well, once the pain subsides).  However, seeing him is a very big expense, second only to rent and more than my monthly Tube fares, and I’m certainly going to try to reduce the frequency with which I see him, as I’m unlikely to increase my bank balance overall if I’m paying him every single month.  It’s not impossible that I’ll be voted the winner of his recent improvement competition, and thus earn four free sessions (equivalent to £200), but since my rent’s going up this year, and since I really need a holiday, I’ve got to make changes in my expenses.

I think I’ll give up being a member of my IT agency, however, as they only told me today that I’m too late to take my CCNA module, due to it having been over two years since June 2013.  I feel like I’m down £250; I’m not happy with them since they didn’t warn me at the time that something I’d paid for was about to expire, but I’m also cursing myself for taking so damn long with Windows Server 2008, and not only for this reason.  Still, I won’t give up on my IT odyssey: perhaps they can help me at work with training… though my boss has already threatened to send me on a customer service course in April.

(As I’ve probably said before: if I’d known in June 2013 how bad things would suck for me in 2014 and 2015, I’d have kept that money and found a way to stay on at Camden… but would I have ended up regretting that instead?)

scumdogs

Sorry Scumdogs, you’ll have to wait for the Purple One to finish; please don’t dismember him on stage…

And finally, for a week at least, I’m giving up listening to Gwar on endless rotation when walking to and from work; instead, I’m listening to… Prince on rotation, which is a novel experience as I’ve only recently obtained most the music of his that I have (with plenty more to get, at least up to 1992 when he went nuts).  Mind you, I had to split Lovesexy into individual tracks after ripping, thanks to the CD being one long track for no sensible reason!

Don’t worry, I’m still listening to classical music as well: just today I bought Beethoven’s 9th on CD (to make up for his disc missing from a compilation I got from a charity shop).  In other musical terms, I shall give up not playing the guitar, since I now have extra free time and thus no excuse not to practise.  I just wish there was a tune I could play using only D, A and E chords (other than “My Lovely Horse“, of course), just so I knew I was making progress… ah, something I can do with my regained evenings before bedtime!

Unless I play video games instead, of course…

It’s a dirty job…

Gorged on guts, gouged-out eyes
Captives fill the breeding hive
Desecrate their sovereign world
Bloated, bloody, drunken churl
Cultures crumble, races die
Stench of midgets fills the sky
Smashing skulls with ghastly crunch
Pretty soon we’ll break for lunch!
—Gwar, “The Obliteration of Flab Quarv 7” (This Toilet Earth)

ygdwygdNow that the crisis I was facing has passed, it’s time, finally, for me to talk about my job — the true beginning of my IT career, and how I nearly lost it all…

My average day starts badly, due to it being the damn winter; it’s hard getting up in the cold and dark, and even harder trying to make lunch as well as breakfast, but mostly I manage at least the latter, and set off just after 8am, turning off Chris Evans’ breakfast show on the radio and walking or running (depending on the exact time) to Finchley Central Tube station.  I’m wise enough to know the times that near-empty Northern Line trains come down from Mill Hill East, and time my arrival so I can get a seat on a train that’ll take the Charing Cross branch.  I settle down to watch the first half of an episode of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman on my smartphone, pausing this and putting on music (be it classical, Gwar or recently-bought) in my Bluetooth headphones as we get close to Warren Street station, from which I walk across to the Marylebone area (via Fitzroy Square, with the BT Tower, er, towering above), petting any dogs I encounter.

(On a bad day I get off at Goodge Street station, which clearly was not designed to be a destination for commuters — it can take five minutes just to get into a lift to the surface, and walking up 136 stairs is no picnic either!  And on a really bad day, I have to change to the Victoria Line at Euston… ecch!)

Turning off my music and clipping my ID card to a belt loop on the side of my jeans, I go up to my office, turn on my PC, have a drink of water, and see what IT support tickets we’ve got to start the day with, passing on any to do with the members’ database or the website to the appropriate people, and seeing what I can resolve out of what’s left.  My tasks for the day can range from simple things like replacing printer toner, troubleshooting Outlook or network drives, through to helping home workers with Citrix issues, in between which I’m also working on preparing computers and laptops for people to use, perhaps in offices in other countries of the United Kingdom.  My team support me as I support them (despite some bad jokes and playful mockery!), and I get on with just about everyone in the organisation, knowing some by sight and others by where they sit, but always trying to help.

Since I run around the building, up and down stairs (though I try to use the lift if I’m traversing more than one floor, sometimes it’s just quicker to use my legs instead), I get hungry and tired, usually buying lunch at Pret A Manger (it being a posh enough part of London that there’s one on every street instead of a Subway) and eating over a Stephen King novel, and, until recently, making myself a couple of mochas every day.  I’ve had to stop the latter, however, because as my workplace is an association of health professionals, they can’t be seen to make chocolate or sugar too “available”, and thus I seldom make myself caffeinated drinks, since I don’t like coffee on its own.  This is a shame, as the coffee-making machine in our office always made me think of a Gwar track, “The Issue of Tissue (Spacecake)”, from the same album as this post’s opening quote.

(And just to complete the trifecta, the name of my employer is a three-letter abbreviation very similar to the title of the most controversial song on that album… no, don’t look it up on YouTube, I’ll get in trouble!)

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Duuun-da-da-dun-dun-GATCHAMAN!

At the end of the working day, usually I go straight across to Goodge Street station and try to get a seat on the Northern Line home so I can watch the second half of the day’s Gatchaman episode (the mid-episode ad break buffer music makes me realise I’m on my way home), though often I have to stand as far as Archway, thanks to all the selfish people — gasp — using public transport at the same time as me, and not giving up their seat!  On these occasions I stand there listening to Gwar, and find myself sincerely hoping people are offended by the noise leaking from my headphones — well, hey, Gatchaman is quieter, so maybe if I could sit down…?

I still go to social events now and then, and on these occasions I walk to a nearby Nando’s or Ed’s to get dinner, and perhaps then visit the shops on Tottenham Court Road before heading off to the event.  Sadly my yoga teacher has left the country, but I still go to salsa classes in Old Street, or climbing or seeing my personal trainer at the Castle, and sometimes I even meet a girl for a date.  One way or another, however, I come back here, either to make and eat dinner over post-2005 Doctor Who or Torchwood (or anything else I’m watching religiously at the time) and then play video games, or if I’m back late, just shower, write in my diary (and possibly this), watch Family Guy and/or American Dad! (at least until BBC3 goes off the air), and finally go to bed and read classic Judge Dredd comics until I’m tired enough to sleep, hopefully before 1am…

You probably don’t think this sounds much like a decadent playboy lifestyle, but it’s kept me happy over the past few months — more so than when I worked for Camden and only really enjoyed my life outside work (and then only once I started going to Meetup.com events).  However, I came close to blowing it: four weeks ago my IT manager took me aside and spoke sternly to me, telling me I’d had numerous complaints against me (including from the chief executive), and that perhaps customer service wasn’t really for me, the technical side of my job being something “anyone can do”.  She also thought I was condescending to people without necessarily realising it, “huffing and puffing” when asked to do things, and making users feel I didn’t know what I was doing, but said I had two weeks to sort myself out…

face

Not me, apparently (or at least not in January)

Naturally, this tete-a-tete left me shocked, as although I know I’ve made a few mistakes in my interactions (the trigger seems to have been an incident that week where I asked the nice lady in the office services team to resend an e-mail to helpdesk with the description of the problem in the body rather than the subject), I’ve never really felt impatient or snappy with people, especially compared to my time at Camden, and honestly thought I was succeeding as the “face” of my team.  It completely blindsided me, and I spent the following three weeks (yes, I know she said two, but still) wondering if I’d have a job by the second week of February…

Fortunately, my follow-up chat on Monday confirmed that I’d been doing a hell of a lot better, earning no further complaints; my boss said I’d “turned it around”, and that she knew how hard I work every day (even if a lot of it is just elbow grease).  Thus, I no longer fear for my job, or indeed that my entire career in IT has stalled before it’s even begun; obviously I won’t let myself get complacent again, thinking they can’t possibly fire me (though part of me wonders whether my boss was facing a rebellion from the team and chose the path of least resistance), and will continue to be scrupulously nice to our users, while also (it has to be said) lying to them to cover up any more serious issues we might have.

This week I’ve felt an awful lot better about my life, back to my old self — or further indeed, as I’m acting more confidently at work, making hardware-related decisions (with proper confirmation where necessary) instead of deferring everything, and resolving many problems with help from behind the scenes.  One member of my team has been a real mentor throughout my time with the organisation, to the point that I would call him senpai… but since he’s away for a few days (he has a family, unlike decadent playboy Dave-ros here), I’m once again the main person in IT that the users initially speak to when they have problems — so I’m back to being the redoubtable “face” of the helpdesk.  And with the boss away during the half-term holiday, and the loudmouth joker of the team also off today, one might describe my Friday as almost blissful…

(Now if only my love life could follow the same improvement, instead of setback after setback — but that’s a story for another time, inevitably!)

My kind of gal

Framegrabs from babysimpson.co.uk

MAD Magazine fold-in shoulder blades that sum up my opinion perfectly

I’m still not going to talk about work right now — Monday will be time enough for that — and so tonight I’m going to talk about the other big aspect of my life: finding a woman.

(Suffice it to say, I wish I could go back to women being my biggest life issue!)

I won’t repeat what I said before about the one significant romance of my life being with a girl in Michigan, over 17 years ago, but I will reiterate that I’ve been going on a lot of dates over the past couple of years; perhaps I’ve dated more women than most guys, but almost all of them have been one-offs — and to make matters worse, in all but a handful of cases, I’ve been a bit relieved, because the women in question didn’t feel right.

No, I don’t mean that in the sense of the Groucho Marx quote, “You’re only as old as the woman you feel”, I just mean none of them seemed like the right person for me, either physically or mentally.  Thus I think it’s time I worked out precisely what it is I’m looking for (you know, Law of Attraction and all that), and worked towards a goal.

Ay, there’s the rub… no, wash your minds out, you know perfectly well I didn’t mean that!  Over the years, even my idea of the type of woman I find physically attractive has been challenged: although I always thought I’d be with someone tall, slender and long-haired, I’ve met women with short hair, or glasses, or petit or plus-sized physiques, and have thought “ooh, she’s rather nice” — though of course meeting them as people and not merely beholding them as objects certainly helped in that respect.

It gets even stranger: at one point in my early teens, I felt I would never fancy a black woman, perhaps because the only “women of colour” on British TV at the time were children’s presenter Floella Benjamin (never liked beaded hair) and newsreader Moira Stewart.  Then one day I saw the contraversial Michael Jackon music video “In the Closet“, featuring a certain Naomi Campbell, and thought (words to the effect): she got it goin’ on!  And nowadays I meet black women that I find very attractive; indeed, the ones I’ve liked have all had very dark skin… but then, I’ve long been a lover of dark chocolate, know what I’m sayin’?  I like honies who be eighty-fi’ percent cocoa, awww yeeeaaah!

(Let’s leave aside how I later found out she was a bullying, soulless harridan who couldn’t even write her own book, since my mum likes her on some reality TV show or other…)

Truth be told, I seem to like women from all races, though as I’ve said before, my greatest attraction seems to be for blondes, and also Far Eastern women.  However, it’s more a question of which women find me attractive, and while there was a time I got a lot of attention from Chinese university students (oh, what a burden!), at the moment it seems to be women from the Indian subcontinent.  Hey, I won’t turn down a woman I fancy just because she doesn’t meet some unrealistic ideal of the “perfect woman” — after all, the first girlfriend I ever had (as I’m sure you’re tired of me reiterating) was a petite Hispanic with curves, rather than a statuesque blonde!

Looks are important, because there has to be some kind of physical attraction (hence why I’m also taking care of myself), but personality is essential — as I’ve found recently, it can compensate for physical attributes that might otherwise put me off.  Alas, this would seem to be where I’ve had the most trouble, as although I’ve been on plenty of dates with women I find physically attractive (or could perhaps look past certain flaws), it’s been hard to find those with whom I could have more than a polite chat, or who wouldn’t think I’m “coming on too strong”.  This is why American women have always been my best bet, because (thanks to their nation’s culture) they’re willing to date men they’ve just met, to take compliments on their cuteness, and to kiss on a first date without assuming it means the guy’s a scumbag.

(And no, it’s not my “Briddish accent” they like, I’m sure!)

I’ve had my own theory about being able to talk to people — the notion of “gears meshing” with some people and not with others, which doesn’t mean either party is universally interesting or boring, just that only certain combinations are compatible.  I want to feel happy and interested talking to a woman, but it goes deeper than that: as you know, I’m a strict and unrepentent vegetarian, and while I don’t require a woman to be one too, I find myself hoping to find one who would tolerate my vegetarianism and let me cook for her.  In addition, I hope for someone with strong opinions on politics and morality, perhaps even an intellectual who isn’t just into reality TV, but who is well-read and well-spoken, and thus understands me when I talk right posh, innit?

I would also like to be with someone who is a little wild and unusual, who doesn’t mind me being a nerdy metalhead video gamer (perhaps even being one herself), and might even watch Doctor Who with me… in other words, someone who wouldn’t stand with hands on hips tutting at me for not “growing up”.  Someone who is unashamedly feminine as well, and likes to dress sexy — because although I believe in gender equality, I also believe women have the right to dress “like women” if they’re happy to do so, and that I have the right to appreciate this without feeling like some evil chauvinist (because women shouldn’t be obliged to be feminine, and are of no less value as people if they aren’t).

So, to summarise: although I’m open to suggestion, and not exactly limiting my options, my ideal woman — perhaps my future wife and the mother of my children — would be a tall, slender feminine blonde, intelligent with strong opinions and ethics, but also rebellious and adventurous, and from the USA.  Kind of like… like…

ts_lw

Yeah, that’s about right — the only woman I could ever be with is fictional!

(P.S. Some late news: not to jinx anything by saying too much, but since I began writing this post during the week, I’ve gained more evidence that a woman who has at least spent significant time in the United States would be good for me… she’s even heard of both Kenny Everett and Gwar!)