Last night Pierre L commented that he doesn't use RSS and prefers a system of receiving alerts by email to tell him when the blogs he reads have been updated. This struck me as an ingenious idea, since many people either don't want to use RSS or can't because they are using older software that doesn't support it.
So tonight I've been hard at work building and implementing just such a service, and at last it is finished and ready for use! If you choose to subscribe to the service, you will be contacted by email to inform you immediately that I've updated the blog. Subscription is free and open to anyone, regardless of whether or not you use the existing RSS Feeds.
The emails you receive will look something like this:
This email has been sent to you automatically to inform you that Ignorminious has updated his blog.
At 18:59 on 30 May 2007 Ignorminious posted a blog entry called: On Social Networking.
To read the post, click the link below: http://ignorminious.co.uk/index.php?a=210
You have received this email because you subscribed to Update Alerts from Ignorminious' Misty Mind. If you no longer wish to receive these Alerts, click the link below:
If you wish to subscribe to the new service, you can do so by clicking on the link at the very top of the page called Subscribe to Email Updates. You can unsubscribe at any time by following the link at the bottom of the email.
Information on this new feature is available in the FAQ.
If you have any questions, please drop me a comment!
Although perhaps the reserve of a small but talented minority, it is becoming increasingly common for bloggers to create videos for their blog. Obviously these consist of a little more than reading a blog in front of a camera, but they are seemingly a good way to make the content of one's blog more varied and interesting.
Whilst I'm pretty sure I could master the technological side of creating videos, whether amusing flash animations or real life clips of crazy stuff, and then get them on the web so that YouTube may happily stream them all over the internet, I reckon I lack the creativeness to come up with anything worth watching. I also lack a video camera, but that is another matter entirely.
I've often wondered what it takes to be able to do something that is visually impressive. I've occasionally appeared in or helped film amusing home videos with friends, and for the last two years an hour long DVD has been produced of my summer holiday, but that is kind of my limit at the moment. People have often told me that they find my blog funny, and not in a bad way, so I guess in a way it must be, but there is a difference between being funny on paper and being able to be so in real life.
Assuming I were to master such skills, I would still have the problem of my camera-phobia. No, I'm not afraid to appear in front of a camera, but I'm afraid to use one for anything other than the usual old holiday snaps. It doesn't matter whether it is a still frame camera or a video camera: I can take loads of photos/videos of my friends, family, tourist attractions, stuff that belongs to me etc, but I don't seem to be able to take any of anything else. I've often thought it'd be nice to take pictures of what I see on a daily basis; the scene on my road when I leave the house in the morning, a picture of a crowded bar that I'm working in, a traffic jam that I'm stuck in. Stuff like that really. Just snap shots of ordinary life through my eyes.
But I can't do it. Whenever I get out my camera in a public place, I find myself making a show of pointing it as far away from any people, houses, cars etc as I can. You see, I'm always worried that if people notice me taking a photo of my road for instance, they will think that I'm taking a photo of them or their house or car, and that I must be doing so for a particular reason that they won't like. I guess it extends from the 'Are you looking at me?? mentality in society today that says you can never make eye contact with anyone ever for fear that they will knife you for it.
As such, I will never be able to photograph or film anything of interest outside my own bedroom, and so shall never be able to create videos for my blog.
My brother just MSN'd me to let me know that a large package has arrived at home for me with Amazon markings all over it. At first I was rather confused, but then remembered my Amazon wishlist. It seems, according to the list that three items have been bought for me!
Given that I have yet to direct my parents to the list, I can only assume that this means that someone who reads this blog, ie one of my readers, has not only gone to the wishlist, but has also bought me something from it. Or in fact, three people have. Or one person has bought three things. Or one person has bought one thing and one person has bought two. Or something.
The point I am trying to make, beyond the fact that I am somewhat surprised, is that I am extremely grateful to whoever has so kindly gone to the trouble of getting me something. I feel very appreciated :-)
Obviously, I won't know who and what until my birthday on 10th of June, but whoever you are I promise to love you forever. I shall report back and send out proper thanks on the day itself, but I felt I needed to write about this now because I'm most very excited!
Recently, Petite Anglaise let slip that she was now a member of several networking sites, including Facebook. After reading her post it struck me that the concept of online social networking has recently gone far beyond simply belonging to Facebook or MySpace, or Bebo or any of the others. That was the old social networking. Social networking just now seems to be about having everything.
When I first signed up to Facebook, around a year ago now, I did so using my real identity and for the benefit of my real world friends. I never once imagined that I'd be linking it to my blog, which serves a totally different audience. Merging those two worlds simply never occurred to me.
But now it seems it is the done thing. Really, you can't say you know someone unless you read their blog, look at their profiles, check their LastFM playlist, send status updates via Twitter and look at their photos on Flickr.
So, in the interests of remaining young and trendy, I hereby give you a link to my life: http://uwe.facebook.com/profile.php?id=286600176. It is scary just how much of me is in there. Certainly more than I have previously told you about here, but no more than is known about me by even my vaguest university acquaintances.
So, I've done something for you. By linking you to Facebook I've reconnected this almost anonymous blog back into my real life. If you know me here, now you can know the real me as well. But, in return, I want you to do a little something for me in exchange:
I want to know a little about the following services: LastFM, Twitter and Flickr. All these three are now essential parts of the online world, and I know nothing about them. What exactly is it that LastFM can do for a music lover such as myself? What exactly is Twitter and why is everyone talking about it all of a sudden? If I already have about a million photos in Facebook, why would I want to upload them all again in Flickr?
If you have used or are using any of these services, please leave a comment filling me in about them. If you think they are good or bad, I want to know about it!
And in exchange, I might just accept your Friend Request on Facebook ;)
Like most people in the blogosphere I'm really not one for subscribing to every campaign on the net, but this one is different. It seems, previously unknown to me, that a fellow blogger has been taking the most outrageous abuse from somebody by the name of Felicity Jane Lowde, who has apparently been sending the most awful messages you can imagine to Rachel North for over a year now.
On 2nd April 2007, Lowde was found guilty of repeated stalking and harassment and is now on the run, frequently sending more messages of abuse to Rachel from internet cafes in the London area. The following information I've copied directly from Girl with a One Track Mind, from whom I first heard the story:
This is where you can help. If you are in London and spot Lowde, please contact the Metropolitan police on 020 7230 1212 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 stating that you have a sighting of Felicity Jane Lowde, convicted stalker/harasser, who is wanted for arrest and sentencing.
Do not approach Lowde. Rachel states, "Please do not do anything that could jeopardise Lowde's safety, or her arrest and sentencing. Please do not respond to her or anything she says. Please just help the police do their job of bringing her to justice, and hopefully getting her the psychiatric assistance she needs." So if you do spot her, just note her location, try to get a photograph of her on your mobile phone (if you can) and then immediately report her to police.
I hope you will all join me in spreading the word about Lowde and will keep Rachel in your thoughts until this ordeal is over.
As anyone who looks at the natural course of technological evolution will tell you, the faster the technology gets, the more you can do with it. As such, no longer content with merely delivering masses of text and images down our high speed phone lines as and when we require entertainment, it is increasingly customary for bloggers to branch out into other forms of communication.
The most popular option for the computer savvy blogger wishing to test his metal against the other 70 million blogs all vying for our attention is to supplement their written posts with a Podcast of them reading the post in question. Personally, I think this is a brilliant idea. Not only does it give those who find reading off a screen difficult on the eyes the opportunity to enjoy the posts without squinting, but it gives the rest of us the opportunity to carry our blogrolls around on IPods, catch up in the car, or combine our RSS feeds with the ironing.
Unfortunately, much as I'd like to, I will not be introducing Podcasts to Ignorminious? Misty Mind. The reason for this is simple: I hate (and I do mean hate) the sound of my own voice. Like most people, in my own head I sound cool, sophisticated and eloquent. Like most people, I get a nasty shock when I speak out loud. My words are often mispronounced and insufficiently clear to allow others to understand what I'm actually trying to say. When reading out loud I'm unable to read ahead of where I'm speaking, which means I can never adjust my tone to match the way I actually want the sentence as a whole to be spoken. The result is that I read in a monotone, often stumbling over words I've misread and continuously adjusting my pace to allow my eyes to catch up with my mouth.
For reasons that even I can't understand, this is a problem that affects me as much with my own writing as with anyone else's. I suspect it might be because I tend to compose my sentences using a structure which my brain can just about muddle through whilst reading in my head, but which is simply too much when I try to coordinate reading and speaking.
The only solution I can think of would be to have someone else read it for me. Stephen Fry or Hugh Laurie would be my first choice, as both of them are superb when it comes to this sort of thing, but I'm pretty sure neither of them currently read my blog, or if they do they are lurkers. Even if they did, I doubt either of them would be prepared to record themselves reading my posts every time I write them, and even if they would do it, I can't afford to pay them.
So dear friends, until such time as I learn to read out loud whilst doing a convincing impression of someone whose voice I don't hate, this blog will sadly have to remain a text only affair.
Outside the weather is grey and depressed and by mid afternoon it has started to rain. Not surprising really, given that this is the start of a traditional bank holiday weekend in dear old England.
I am restless. Having failed to plan anything fun to do with my long weekend and with absolutely no inclination to leave the house until the sun makes an appearance again, I am left with my computer for entertainment. It quickly tells me all I need to know with regards to cinema and theatre listings, namely that the former is uninteresting and the latter unaffordable, and by the time I've sipped my first coffee of the afternoon, the irritation at having nothing to do has been replaced by the irritation that I have nothing to blog about.
It is a frequent problem, especially at times when nothing very exciting has been happening to me. I could go down the route of blogging proper and keep a diary of what I do from day to day, but I don't wish to be responsible for the death or departure of any of my readers. Once again my mind begins to wonder what I can do to improve my blog in some way; to make it a better read.
Not for the first time, I turn to Meet The Bloggers for inspiration. It is, after all, the show that first convinced me to begin blogging properly and so embark upon this site. It is an interesting series, and one which I'm very glad the Beeb has thought to leave on the internet, because it puts you in touch with a wide variety of different bloggers from all over the world, each with different styles, themes and opinions, but all of whom have become successful and well known members of the blogosphere.
Episode 3 reminds me a little of my original ambition for the Misty Mind, which was to write about my observations in the world around me. For whatever reason I seem to be a fairly unobservant individual and consequently have turned to writing simply about my thoughts on my life. Other people I know could probably master this idea and turn it into something quite readable, but unfortunately my outlook on life tends to make my posts as uninteresting, even to myself, as I perceive the world to be around me.
I have a long standing theory that amusing observations and commentary on everyday life can only be successfully undertaken by someone with an American accent. I don't know much about regional accents state side, but I imagine a mild New York accent would do quite nicely. Not that it matters, since I'm stuck with good old English RP, but if it helps you to read this, a New York accent is a liability I shall allow you to take with my character.
It is hard to know what sorts of observations are interesting to the internet at large. Some of the ones I make on a day to day basis might even offend people, regardless of how obvious they are. For example, whilst in Tesco yesterday, I observed that not one of the half a dozen people I encountered in the chocolate and biscuits aisle, myself included, was of a sufficiently slim disposition to be able to justify buying anything other than rabbit food on the weekly shop. One particularly large lady zigzagged from side to side filling up her trolley with almost every chocolate covered product in the shop, presumably vindicated by the small bag of carrots poking out from the bottom of the basket.
If that isn't interesting, would anyone be interested in knowing that the average man approaching a bar will glance at the pumps to find out what draughts are available and then make a quick decision before ordering, where as the average woman in the same position will ask for a pint of something that she knows she likes and will then ask what similar drinks are available when informed that the beverage of choice is not sold there. I don't mean to suggest that there is anything wrong with the latter approach of course. In fact in many ways it strikes me as being far more sensible. If you are not especially knowledgeable about beers then it seems to me to be far more logical to ask the bar keeper for advice than simply relying on pot luck to get a drink you will enjoy. After all, if they have been in the job long, your average bar tender should have a much better knowledge of the drinks he sells than your average customer.
The bad weather has prevented me from observing any more interesting little characteristics of human behaviour over the past 24 hours, and so I shall finish here, eat some form of dessert whilst listening to another 15 minute episode of MtB, and then watch my favourite source of New York living: You've Got Mail.
With a mere 17 days remaining until my 21st Birthday, I've decided to be a little organised and create myself a birthday list; or rather, an Amazon Wishlist. I don't know whether anyone else has this problem, but every year I spend the weeks running up to my birthday thinking of loads of things that I'd quite like to ask for as presents from people, but whenever anyone actually asks me what I'd like, I can't remember a single thing on the list.
This isn't so much a problem with the big things as with the little ones. CD's, DVD's, books etc seem to pass in and out of my brain at the rate of about 10 a day, and keeping track of them is near on impossible, so I've decided to keep them all written down in one place where I can find them again when I get quizzed about present ideas.
If anyone is curious about what I'm interested in just now, the wishlist can be found via the link at the top of the side bar and at the bottom of the page. I've linked it to the blog for convenience as much as anything. After all this is my home page and it is the easiest place to direct friends and family to if they want to see the list.
Obviously I don't expect anyone here to make use of it as none of you actually know me, but isn't it nice to have a good nose into someone else's life once in a while?
Edit: Have now fixed the links so that they show my wishlist, not your wishlist. *headdesk*
On Sunday I took a couple of hours out of my busy schedule to go to the cinema. A little bit of organisation saw me there in time to watch the trailers for new releases before the film. And as we went from one to the next, I couldn't help but notice that not one of the half a dozen films being advertised was an original, they were all sequels. Not only that, but most of them weren't even the first sequel in their particular franchises either.
Now I'm not entirely opposed to the idea of sequels. In fact I quite like them. It can be fun being reunited with characters you like for another adventure. It's like watching a long running series on TV. But this really is a little over the top. The main problem with sequels is that they simply aren't as good as their predecessors. It is ok if they have been prewritten as a two-part or trilogy, with a continuous story line that links back to itself and which makes it seem like one long film. But when the original film ties itself off perfectly ok and then they make another one just to cash in on the success of the first one, I find that terribly distasteful.
The most obvious example is of course the Spiderman films, the makers of which vowed the other week to keep going until they can't make any more money out of them. This is a very poor attitude to film making if you ask me. Ok so I know these things are big business and a sure bet will be more likely to attract investors than a fresh new idea, but this is supposed to be an art form, and it makes me sad to see it being rogered by fat studio executives intent of bleeding the paying public dry.
So, what sequels are around at the moment? Well, Spiderman 3, Shrek The Third, Die Hard 4.0, The Bourne Ultimatum (Bourne 3), Pirates of the Caribbean 3, 28 Weeks Later, Alien V Predator 2, Boogeyman 2, Fantastic Four 2, Butterfly Effect 2, The Goonies 2, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Hills Have Eyes 2 and Hostel 2.
And that is just in the near future! Ok, so like everyone else I will probably find myself watching half the films on that list, but like most people I will probably be disappointed by what I see, and annoyed that no one seems to be bringing out anything new and original for me to love. Over the last few years we've had loads of epic new movie formats come out, but this year it seems that we are destined to re-watch old stuff, which isn't exactly my idea of a good time.
On the other hand, Next, which is what I actually went to see on Sunday was fantastic and at least slightly different from anything I've seen before. Go see.
I pause in the middle of a sentence to look up and check the time. Whilst I'm moving my head I figure I might as well have a look around the room. It's the same story everywhere; exam desk covered in paper and pens, chair just behind it and busy student working to prove that they are worth something to the world. A pattern repeated 200 times over across the room.
As my eyes move from one side to the other, attempting one of those furtive glances into space that all exam takers need whenever staring at the paper becomes too much, I accidentally make eye contact with my neighbour, a thin blonde girl who I'm pretty sure I've never seen before.
We both look away with such rapidity and force than an observer might fancy our visions had set fire to one another; burning into each of our brains. Of course, it is nothing more than the scold of guilt, knowing that though nothing passed between us except mutual expressions of boredom, a sharp eyed invigilator could misread an attempt to cheat.
Later a mobile phone goes off, somewhere to the left of me, where the coats and bags have been dumped. It's a pretty little tune, but all the same the punishment for a switched on phone is severe, and 200 people simultaneously will the caller to hang up. Eventually they do, but not before I've observed a mouthed conversation between two of the people in front of me; friends asking each other whose phone it is. Apparently it belongs to the girl immediately in front of me, whom I imagine grinning the guilty grin of one who's just gotten away with murder.
A minute passes before the phone goes again, mystery caller number one apparently unaware that there is an exam on. This time the atmosphere is that of quiet amusement. I see the chief invigilator walking over to the bags, a wide grin barely concealed on his care worn face. For some reason he always reminds me of John Reid, the outgoing Home Secretary. No idea why; perhaps it's the accent.
Luckily for the unfortunate girl, the caller hangs up before the offending bag can be located. Unluckily they call back again a minute later, seeming unable to fathom why anyone would be doing anything more important than waiting to talk to them. This time the bag is found, and the last we hear of it is the fading ring tone as it is carried out of the room.
This is for any men who've never had the misfortune to use a public toilet and for any women who need yet more proof that men are weird.
The Unspoken Rules Intended for Normal Allocation of Loos (U.R.I.N.A.L)
1. When approaching an occupied bank of urinals, always use the one furthest from any other blokes.
2. If there is someone at each end of the row, use the middle urinal.
3. If there is an even number of urinals, use the cubical instead to make sure you don't have to stand nearer one bloke than another.
4. If there are only two urinals and one is in use, use the cubical instead.
5. If resorting to cubical usage, keep the door open, just to remind everyone that you aren't in there because you have something to hide.
6. If you don't know anyone there, don't say a word and don't make eye contact.
7. If you do know someone in there, or have come in with someone, talk as loudly as you can, in the deepest voice that you can manage about something manly, like football or 'screwing lots of birds?.
8. If you do have to use the urinal next to someone else, move in quickly, with confidence and get on with the business in hand without hesitation. Only gays dither on their way to take a piss.
9. Do not look at your neighbour under any circumstances. Don't even allow your eyes to wander away from looking straight ahead. If you do you will probably get punched.
10. Under no circumstances turn round if someone calls your name. Even if you only move your head to the side, you could be having a size up, which will get you punched, and turning your whole body round is likely to result in you accidentally peeing on someone's shoes, which will also get you punched.
11. When you've finished, shake quickly and effectively. Too much shaking and you?re having a wank, which will get you punched; too little and the effect is much like coiling up a hose pipe before you've allowed it to drain fully, and that doesn't look good down the leg of your trousers as you walk back out to whoever you are with.
12. When all is finished, turn and walk away as quickly as you can. If you feel that washing hands is necessary: make it quick, avoid soap where possible and always wipe them on your trousers rather than waiting for the hand dryer.
So at last my time with catering services is drawing to a close. It's been coming for a while now, what with continuous talk of budgets and cut backs and reduced hours, but until now it had only had a marginal effect. However, when I walked into work on Thursday I was greeted with the knowledge that this would be my last regular day time shift. Unfortunately there simply isn't the cash to pay me to come in on anything other than special occasions now apparently. In a way I guess I'm glad that I've been let go for unavoidable financial reasons, rather than because anyone had found my rants about how awful the management are, which I recently realised would look rather bad if ever they were read by people in the know.
I've got rather mixed feelings about all this right now. On the one hand, I was looking to leave for the summer fairly soon anyway, and having them begging me to stay would have made the decision that much harder. On the other hand, the gradual erosion of my hours over the last month or so has significantly dented my finances, and not being able to work extra now that I have the free time to do so isn't any help whatsoever.
Still, it isn't all bad yet. As term draws to a close there are the usual run of end of term events that have afforded me a few evenings of good ol? paid employment. I'm not sure they'll make a huge impression on my pay cheque, but as the bosses of Tesco always say: Every Billion Counts!
I think the strangest thing about being made redundant, aside from having to say goodbye to a number of good friends I've made over the last 7 months, will be having free time again. What with university and work, I've had almost no time to myself in Bristol since November. Even on days like today, a Saturday, I find myself being asked to work for several hours later, and that really can disrupt your weekend.
Looking on the bright side, as ever, it'll be helpful to be free over the coming weeks to try and source myself a proper job and a place to live. There is much research to be done if I am to discover what jobs may be open to me, especially before they all disappear for another year. The last thing I want is to be working behind a checkout for 40 hours a week just to try and pay my rent.
Knowing my luck, that last sentence will see my future job applications turned down on the grounds that I'm a snob. Ho hum.
I have a decision to make about the appearance of the blog that I feel would be best made after a bit of consultation. No, not the way the government do it, where they say they'll consult people and then seem to go ahead and make the decision anyway without asking me a single question, but real consultation with you, my real readership.
The issue is as follows. Every time I come across a new blog, I get ideas for side bar items from what I see being used elsewhere. It seems that the fashion of the day is to pack many extra things into the side bar as possible, from 'Best of Blog? lists to Flickr links and IPod playlists. I'm all for this I have to say. I think most readers are interested in learning as much about the bloggers they read as possible and having a million and one sidebar links seems the easiest way to do this.
The problem is that the more things you add, the longer the sidebar becomes. At this rate, it is taking the average reader several months to scroll from top to bottom, which is clearly far too long to be sensible. So, what I propose is this: I'm going to reduce the font size of items on the side bar from being fairly large, as is currently the case, to being really rather small like everyone else has them. Font sizes vary from blog to blog, but a lot of people these days favour the smaller writing as it allows you to put far more into a small space easily.
The reason I'm asking is that I always worry that people won't be able to read smaller text, which wouldn't be fair as I don't want anyone to get eye strain on my account. So, your thoughts please: Are you happy with small menu items? Can you think of any blogs that have their links set too small so I know what the minimum is, and is there anything you would like to see on the side bar that you don't at the moment?
?There'll be loads of fascinating people there. It's going to be really interesting! Lots of bloggers and people interested in Web 2.0 and business and stuff.?
'I'm not sure, what I'll be doing then and whether I can spare the time and blah.?
'It'll be fun!?
'Look, here's a link to it:?
I click on the link and scan down the page. The excessive use of the colour pink isn't overly encouraging, and nor is the orientation of the conference, which does seem to be aimed entirely at the fairer sex. Women, Business & Blogging reads like a list of interests on my Facebook profile, but I can't help feeling a tad out of my depth reading about a conference that incorporates all those things.
I look through the list of speakers, expecting to see none that I recognise and not being disappointed. Then my eye falls on one name I do know, Meg Pickard. Wait a minute, that can't surely be the Meg Pickard. I check the info page and am rewarded with a link to Meg's Blog. I was right, it is Meg whose blog I now read and whose sister is Anna little.red.boat!
Suddenly the prospect of going to a conference looks even more exciting than when I agreed to go and get pissed in Paris for four days in 6th Form in order to attend a one day conference on the European Union with my A Level Business Studies class.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!
That's right, once more I have bravely attempted to sort out the stupid mess that is our gas supplier. Let me tell you all about it:
Having worked out after a full 2 months that the British Gas Minute is in fact an infinitely long period of time that may never come round, we assumed that they probably weren't planning on getting back to us at all. This caused our delightful landlady to stick her nose in when she last graced the house with her presence a few weeks ago.
Nobody is quite sure what she did exactly, but we think that she phoned Transco in order to find out who supplies our gas and they told her it was supplied by a company called London Electricity. She then went and phoned them and, according to H who was here at the time, gave them my name and told them that I would be phoning them back to sort the problem out. None of this was communicated to me as the landlady, having done all this without asking my permission, then proceeded to scarper without leaving a note before I got home. In short she never told me a thing about it.
A little research told us that London Electricity was taken over at some point by EDF Energy, the supplier we want to be with but who for various reasons can't take control of our account. So today I phoned EDF and was lucky enough to get a very intelligent and helpful lady on the line, to whom I explained the situation. She then went away and did some research and returned to me to explain the problem
It seems that British Gas installed the gas supply at the behest of the landlords over the summer so that they could fit central heating to the house. It seems that when they did this they failed to include the serial number for the gas meter in their records. Unfortunately this number is needed to tell British Gas what sort of meter it is, so that when EDF contacted them asking to take control of the account as we'd signed up with them, BG couldn't pass on the information required.
For reasons unknown, neither BG nor EDF thought to contact us and tell us this, so until today that is how the situation remained. Once this had been made clear I produced the serial number for the meter, as well as the current reading and the reading on the day we moved into the house in September. Apparently the EDF people are now speaking with the British Gas people and together they have promised to sort it all out.
All things being well, we might just have a bill before the end of the year :)
Continuing on the subject of utility bills for the moment, I've just finished paying the quarterly electricity bill. This should have been dealt with a week ago, but unfortunately there were a few problems when I came to open the bill. Or rather one problem: It was for more than double what we were expecting.
We sat round, J, H and I and looked at it. Our previous two bills had been estimates, so we weren't surprised that this one was up on the last, but this was way up. Eventually we discovered the problem. We have two electricity meters in our house, one in use and one that is redundant. Normally when we receive our bills there is a page for the active meter and a page for the redundant one, the latter reading straight zeros. This time however there was a bill of over '60 on a meter that shouldn't be costing us anything.
This all seemed rather odd, especially since the electricity bloke had come to read the meter just a week or two before. According to his reading, we'd used about a million units of power since the meter had last been read. We checked the meter ourselves and surprise, surprise, the guy had misread it. In fact, he'd written down two of the numbers the wrong way round, thus increasing our usage many times over.
We immediately phoned EDF to point out their mistake and unfortunately they didn't believe us. We must have been on the phone a good 20 minutes before J managed to persuade the woman on the other end of the phone that a) the meter was redundant, b) it had not moved in all the time we'd been here, c) it still read what it had always read, not what was on the bill and therefore that d) the guy had made a mistake.
EDF lady then rather sheepishly told us that a correct bill would be on its way to us as soon as possible.
And so a warning to all my readers: Don't just assume that your utility bills are correct because someone came to read the meter. Despite appearances, electricity men are human too and they do make mistakes. Don't be afraid to complain if you think something is wrong.
It's 1:39am and my mind is buzzing. Far from falling asleep, even as I type, I'm full of energy and my brain is threatening to literally bounce out of my head and off down the road. I've just finished reading The Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry, and I loved it. Like all Fry's books, both fiction and non-fiction, it is extremely well written, funny and imaginative. It is such a page turner that I've read three quarters of it in just the last two evenings.
The reason why this book has got me in such a happy state of excitement is that it has a happy ending. Without a long epilogue, everyone is better off by the last page than they were on the first and everybody's lives are shaping up to be much better (unlike this keyboard which is currently amusing itself greatly by randomly missing out a letter or two in every third word that I type).
This elation; this high that I'm currently on has got me thinking about why it is that we are all such suckers for stories that end happily. Read a few books, watch a film or two and go and see a play and you will be unable to miss the fact that most stories, regardless of their structure or genre have happy endings for at least some of the sympathetic characters involved. Not all stories of course, but most. It seems that we really can't stand to become attached to these fictional entities without vicariously experiencing their happiness and knowing that they will be ok in the end.
Nowhere is this more evident of course than in a romantic book or film, where the entire story focuses around that feeling of pure ecstasy when the protagonists walk off into the sunset to live happily ever after. It is the feeling that allows Mills and Boon to survive in a world where everybody's a literary critic.
Yet even in action films, horror stories and sci-fi adventures, writers seemingly can't resist throwing in a bit of the magic that is ensured to boost their creation to the top of any box office sales or Readers Digest best sellers list. So, why do we love it so much? Well, quite simply it is all to do with hope. I heard a programme on Radio 4 the other day in which some author or other was saying that in order for a main character to exist they have to go on a journey of learning and must somehow be better for it at the end.
This is the case with all happy ending stories, no matter what their plot is. A character with a not very good life goes through an experience which makes them happy-ever-after. In the case of The Hippopotamus, the protagonist was an aging, drunken, failed poet who, as the book goes on begins to see himself a little more as others see him, and gradually his alcoholism and cynicism melt away and his writing inspiration returns to him. By the end of the book he's making an effort to be a good father and godfather, he has got himself a date with a pretty girl and he has just handed himself a publishing deal to write a novel, a full 20 years after his entire life went down the drain.
This brought hope to me, because my life, while nothing like as bad as his, has as much potential as anyone's to wind up on the rocks (if it hasn't already) and the message of the story was that such lives can be turned around and that the bad things in each of us can be fixed. Perhaps it is just my own neuroses that are satisfied with such endings, but I really do think it is the message of hope; that things will get better, that appeals to all those who feel that their lives are incomplete in some way.
Perhaps one day my hopes and dreams will be fulfilled, but in the mean time, I can highly recommend Fry's book (or any of his others) to anyone who really loves a good story. Utterly fulfilling, vexing, compelling and thought provoking.
For a long time now, I've had people ask me why it is that I keep a blog, and I never know how to reply. There are so many reasons it seems silly not to have one to give. Recently I've been reading Shaggy Blog Stories and as a result have been exposed to a much wider range of bloggers than I am used to. I think they probably all have their own reasons for spewing out the words that they use, but these are mine.
Firstly, I enjoy writing. A lot. Back in my school days I was considered a very good writer, but what is good for an 11 year old is generally considered pretty poor for an adult. Hopefully I've improved a little since then but I'm under no delusions about my writing ability. Even if I were to be considered above average for a layperson, I'm not even close to the standards of a professional writer, and so I've never made a career out of it.
Like many people, I'd almost definitely attempt to write a novel at some point in my life, and like most of those I'd fail upon realising just how difficult and time consuming it would be to do it properly. That is why blogging is useful to me. Here I am writing every day for half an hour or an hour or something; just a thousand words or so about nothing in particular to keep my brain ticking over and remind me that actually I do know how to speak English reasonably well when I wish to. It helps me exercise the part of me that would like to write a novel, if only it could take control of the rest of my brain, and as with all forms of exercise, by the time I'm through, it is exhausted and ready to stop bugging me.
Writing blogs is pretty helpful for anyone wishing to develop their typing abilities. I'm not a very good typist at all, but playing with the keyboard for a little while each day is definitely the best way to improve. If only I could use more than two fingers at a time... Likewise spelling, grammar and punctuation are much improved if you use them everyday. Before I began this, the majority of writing I did was on MSN, and it really isn't helpful at all if you want to learn proper words rather than a whole series of abbreviations.
A lot of people start blogging for the sense of community it provides. They enjoy reading comments and writing on the blogs of their own readers all the time. Oddly enough, I started blogging for completely the opposite reason. Before Ignorminious? Misty Mind, my soul blogging interest was Ignorminious? Scrap Book, my Live Journal account. Live Journal is far better suited to community blogging than anything in this neck of the cyber woods, and I have a good group of friends there. However, I felt trapped into writing to please an audience of people I knew in real life, and it seemed terribly restricted. The obvious answer seemed to be to take my disused web space and start a new blog afresh for an audience of people I didn't know in real life.
These days of course things have changed a bit and I have a lovely little niche of readers who keep me feeling loved with regular comments. This community is nothing like as solid as my Live Journal equivalent, but at least here I'm read by people who are actually interested in what I have to say, not just people who feel they are obliged to do so because they are my friends.
The last reason is one that I discovered over the last few days in my exams. Like most people writing essays, I've always struggled to get started. After the first paragraph or so I'm usually fine, but that beginning bit is a nightmare to get onto the page. It seems writing here so often has helped me out a little there, as I found myself writing sound introductions to my essays without even having to stop and think, because I'm so used to doing so all the time anyway. In fact my whole essay structure is much improved upon this time last year.
If you are a blogger, what are your reasons for blogging? Do you do it for the same ones as I do, or do you have a motivation I've never even thought of before? Answers in the comments section please :-)
Today it is exactly a month until my 21st Birthday. Scary. Aside from not having thought of a single thing to do to celebrate the day, I feel as though it's all happening far too fast. It can only be a week since my 20th, I'm sure. At the moment I don't even know which side of the country I'll be living in when the big day comes round.
It seems slightly odd that most people plan their 21sts for years in advance and have big parties thought up and all planned by now. I might have a few mates over to watch a DVD or two, but only if anyone is actually free. Perhaps I'm turning into one of those people who forgets to celebrate their own birthdays and never knows how old they are?
So, with such an important anniversary approaching, maybe it is time to take stock of where I am in life? Well, I'm more or less where I expected to be at this point. I'm still at uni, still single and still living in a house that may fall down at any time (H nearly got locked out earlier because her front door key no longer seems to want to go in the lock. Most odd!). The only unexpected thing as far as life plans go is that I'm not graduating for another year yet, which really is quite a long time.
Yesterday I had the first of the exams which I'm hoping will stop me from being trapped in this hell for even longer. It seemed to go pretty well. I never allow myself to be overly optimistic about exams before the results come out, but it felt better than any that I've done recently. Another exam today, although I'm far less confident about this one. I've no idea why I stuck with a module that clearly wasn't suited to me, especially as it was an optional one.
If the exams go well and I don't have to repeat any more modules, I might just be able to get a graduate job next year at the same time as finishing off my degree. At least that is the current plan. If I manage that then I will be able to find a real place to live at last. Something newly decorated where tenants aren't treated like shit just because they are students. Ok, so I won't have achieved all this by my 21st, but I hope to be able to report back in as year and a month to tell you that all my current goals have been achieved.
And who knows, if I'm very lucky, I might even have found a girlfriend by then.
It seems I have been challenged by Mr.X to reveal 7 random things about myself, so here goes:
1. Once upon a time I used to be a fully trained and qualified life guard. I did a week long crash course during a holiday in 6th form and then did very little with the qualification thereafter. For a few months I worked at my local school swimming pool, but it got damaged by flood water and vandals and was closed for a while. By the time it reopened I'd gone to university, where I failed to get a job for nearly a whole year before starting work in a leisure centre towards the end of my first year. A little while later I moved to the other side of Bristol and, having failed my driving tests, was unable to get there to work the next year. By the time I did learn to drive successfully, my qualification had long since expired.
2. I've only ever left Europe once in my entire life, which was to go to Kenya in 2004. I've never been to America and I've never been to the Far East. Despite this, I've been abroad more times than I can remember, with Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, and Russia being some of my more unusual holiday destinations; when I did a coach tour of the Baltic States in 2006. Somehow I've always managed to avoid following the rest of the country to Spain and I've never made it to Italy, although I'd very much like to go one day.
3. I always fancy myself as the sort of person who'd be into extreme sports and yet have never really tried any. I did a brief taster of climbing and abseiling once and have kayaked in calm waters a few times, but that is it. I've never been skiing, sky diving, skateboarding, bungee jumping, snowboarding or motor racing. I've long suspected that I'll have to find myself a girlfriend who's prepared to kick me up the backside and make me get on with it, although that isn't suitable criteria for finding one.
4. I've probably been to the cinema more times on my own than with other people. It's hard to be sure since I don't keep records, but it seems like a reasonable guess. Like most people I used to think going by yourself was the saddest thing in the world and I was never prepared to do it. Sadly though, since I've been at uni the supply of people who wish to go and see films with me has pretty much dried up. Since I think not having anyone to go with is a pretty shit reason for not doing something I've given up waiting for invites or trying to find people to take along, so now I just go by myself. In fact, I don't believe I've been to the cinema with anyone else at all during 2007.
5. I can't get on with anything else whilst I'm part way through a blog post. Right now I have stacks of revision to do, I need to find something I can eat for lunch as it is nearly 4 already and I need to go food shopping since I have almost nothing edible left in the house whatsoever. Sadly I can't do any of these things until I have finished thinking up some more random things about myself that aren't too incriminating.
6. It is taking me longer than most to come up with a career plan. Many people know what they way to do by the time they finish their GCSEs and have to choose A Levels. Some know even earlier. Most have a pretty good idea by the time it comes to choosing a degree course and the rest usually figure it out near the beginning of university. I'm now very close to the end of uni and I still don't know. Although I'm possibly interested in 'something in management? I really have no idea beyond that. I guess I've been left with too much choice, being able to go into almost anything, and not enough enthusiasm for any of the ideas I come up with.
7. I always struggle with this sort of thing because I want to say positive things about myself but can't. That's not to say I'm a particularly negative person or have low self esteem or anything, just that positive things are harder to think of. I'm always looking to better myself as a person and because of this, I tend to focus on the things I don't like and wish to change about myself. There are plenty of good things there, but as they aren't something that I perceive to be a problem, I don't tend to think about them very much. Perhaps I should practice more often...
Hopefully some of you will have found this interesting. I've decided to tag Sally and Yaxlich to carry on this chain, as I'm sure they both have interesting things to say.
One of the most irritating aspects of writing a blog & or anything else for that matter & is the way that you often have ideas that you wish to write down but don't have the time to do it. Then, when you have the time, your inspiration has left you, and even if you are able to remember what it was you wanted to write about, you can no longer write the post as well as you intended.
On Friday night, I went to bed with my brain literally buzzing with blog ideas, many of them no doubt inspired by reading Shaggy Blog Stories before going to sleep. On Saturday morning I woke up, still bubbling away with fantastic things to write about. In fact, by the time I'd showered, I'd pretty much written four whole blog posts in their entirety in my head and was just itching to get them typed out.
Sadly though, this was not an option at the time, as I needed to get back to Bristol that morning and so would have to wait until afternoon. One thing led to another, as is often the case and so here I am, early on Sunday evening, wanting to blog these ideas but no longer able to. Unfortunately, though I still remember the subjects of my posts, the ideas that were going to turn them from an awkward collection of badly formed sentences into literary masterpieces have now all but buggered off to sunnier climates.
I'm beginning to wonder if the creative side of my brain runs off solar panels or something. It can't just be coincidence that at the same time as I find myself struggling to engage my mind in anything more taxing than staring at a blank page, the weather takes a turn for the worse after weeks of beautiful sunshine. Perhaps if I grab my laptop (forgetting that it doesn't work) and jet off to Monte Carlo to unload my posts, whilst sipping on a drink that costs more than my car, the ideas will all come flooding back to me...
Do you ever get the feeling that the entire world is conspiring against you ever achieving something?
On Friday I went to see Spiderman 3 in Basingstoke. As the lights came up at the end, I observed with some annoyance that it was quarter past 8. This was most inconvenient since I was supposed to be somewhere else at 8, the film having run on for a good 45 minutes longer than I'd accounted for.
I left the cinema hurriedly and made my way back into the Festival Place shopping centre, where I'd parked. I already knew that I didn't have any change for the car park, so I went to the first cash machine I came across. It was out of order. The second one seemed to be working but the queue was large and not moving.
I decided that rather than waiting around forever for the machine I'd use the time to find out exactly how much change I needed, and so I took the lift up to the payment machine. Luckily I found that it would take notes as well as coins, which meant I wouldn't need to try and blag change from anywhere after visiting the cash machine. As I moved to retrace my steps to the lift I spotted a sign apologising for the inconvenience that would undoubtedly be caused by the machines not yet accepting the new '20 note. Presumably they need an engineer to go round all of the payment machines and switch off the security device that stops people inserting monopoly money into the notes slot.
I returned to the cash machine to discover that the queue had at last died away. I rushed to the nearest machine before anyone else could get there and inserted my card. Everything went as planned until I asked very nicely for a withdrawal of '10. The ATM went and thought about it for a moment before telling me that it was out of tenners and I'd have to get out '20 instead.
I cross my fingers and press 'Yes', hoping against hope for an old note. The machine dispenses a brand new note.
Fuck! Still, nothing could be done about it now. I couldn't very well drain my bank account in the hope that the infernal machine had an old twenty in it somewhere. Instead, I looked around for an open shop that might give me change. At that time of day everything was closed and all I found was a Burger King. On my way in I spotted a sign informing me that student discounts were available with a NUS card.
Way I saw it, if I was going to be forced to buy something just for some change I might as well get it discounted, so I went up to the counter and ordered a small portion of fries. These were produced and I was about to hand over that twenty when I found it being refused. Apparently a small portion of fries is in fact free with a student card. Brilliant.
I attempted to rectify matters by ordering a small milkshake, but apparently the machine was broken. Eventually a sprite came my way, '20 was handed over and '19 and a penny were returned to me, some of it in the right change to pay for the damn car park.
By the time I got into my car I was already 35 minutes late for my evening out but the fun was not over just yet. I couldn't think of anything to do with the food I'd bought that wouldn't result in it being flung across the passenger seat the moment I screeched round a sharp bend, so I was forced to sit there and eat all the chips and drink enough of the drink to make it safe before I could leave.
And all that because I didn't have '2.50 of change on me. They really need to look at getting car park payment machines to read debit cards.
As I was driving along the M4 today I was struck with a new theory about why people speed. The government and road safety campaigners have quite a few ideas on this. Some claim it is because we are all thoroughly immoral. Others suggest it is poor education on speed limits. The more preachy members of this community will bellow from the pulpit that it is proof that the modern motorist doesn't give a crap about other road users and is perfectly happy to kill as many as is possible. It has even been suggested by Whitehall brown nosers that people speed because there aren't enough speed cameras on the roads.
This is not the reason though; not even close. The real reason why your average driver allows his motor vehicle to slowly creep up and over the speed limit is because there is nothing more arse-achingly dull, tedious and irritating than trying to hold a car at exactly 30MPH or 70MPH or whatever the limit happens to be. Neither cars nor drivers are designed with this purpose in mind. Even if you keep your foot in exactly the same position on the accelerator pedal at all times, the variations in road surface, incline, wind speed and scenery guarantee that your overall speed will fluctuate considerably.
If the machine were up to such a challenge, the driver is definitely not, what with moving muscles in the feet, changing traffic conditions and attractive girls in short skirts walking along the pavement. There is so much to react to when behind the wheel of a car and the speed limit really shouldn't be one such factor.
The truth is that every second spent checking your speed for fear of seeing that awful flash in your rear view mirror is a second you aren't watching the road and what is going on around you. God knows how many times I've had to brake hard to avoid someone because my eyes were glued to my speedo, battling against the forces of nature to keep that blasted needle directly in line with what the signs say as I shoot past them.
So, I've got a new plan. Instead of having exact speed limits we have limit ranges that are designed to give drivers a bit of leeway on the roads. This is how it would work: Instead of 30MPH meaning 30MPH exactly, that speed would become the target speed that drivers try to aim for. So that they aren't forced to check their speed more often than is advisable, they are given an acceptable range of maybe 5MPH either side. That way, so long as everyone is driving at approximately the right speed, no one need worry too much about being caught and so will be able to concentrate more on actually driving around.
Yes, yes, I know that this idea is supposed to be already in place, what with acceptable 10% margins on speed cameras, but I've known people being fined for going less than 1MPH over the limit, so clearly it isn't working as it is. Well publicised rules with plenty of lenience to drivers is the best way to more on from this current predicament and restore faith in our roads and those who police them.
Over the last couple of months there has been a lot of media coverage of people having problems installing Microsoft's new operating system, Windows Vista, due to a few incompatibility issues. Since I know many of my readers may be having the same issues, or will do when they upgrade in the near future, I thought I'd share with you this helpful guide that a friend of mine passed my way, entitled 'How to install Vista in 2 minutes:?
Man, was that guy pissed off! So far as I can tell, the version he destroyed was a copy of Vista Home Premium Upgrade, which I myself bought for '149.99 back in February. You can't deny it takes a lot of frustration to go to such lengths for a YouTube video!
Today I'm happy to announce, my copy of Shaggy Blog Stories fell through my letter box, carefully encased in strong cardboard.
Yes, yes, I know the book is old news, but I think I was running short of cash at the time and so I had to put off buying it until now. I've not started reading it yet as I kinda want to savour it. In fact, I don't know how much of it I'm going to read and when.
I think what I might do is read one blog a night before bed. I know that is really slow, but it can be my end of the day treat to myself, and at least that way I won't find the short story structure too repetitive for my delicate literary stomach.
If anyone else still has not bought this book than please do so, as it is a fantastic book supporting an amazing cause.
And it'll make you laugh too; and laughter is the very best of medicines.
As sunny day fades into sunny day, I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of furniture in our garden. Unlike my house last year, it seems that here the landlords & in their infinite wisdom & have decided not to include the usual garden chairs and table. While I'm not bothered about the table so much, the lack of anything to sit on is thoroughly frustrating; especially in this beautiful weather.
For countless years our garden played host to a pair of apple trees which, until last summer, dominated the garden and made it feel quite enclosed. However, these trees were cut down, and in their place a lawn has begun to spring up. It is a virgin lawn and although it is becoming increasingly thick and strong, there are still many patches of exposed soil between the clumps of grass. Since it was not properly laid but grew as a result of neglect, it is also on thoroughly uneven ground, the result of all this being that I can't really sit on the grass as an alternative to having a chair.
This irritates me no end, not least because there are few things I enjoy more than sitting out in the sun on a hot day reading a book. I guess it was for that reason that I left the safety of the garden this afternoon and preceded on foot along the road, mainly just for the purposes of walking, but also with the hope ever present in the back of my mind of finding somewhere to read my book in peace.
J had suggested I walk through the park that runs round the back of our road. I'd never been down there, but from what I'd seen of it from the main road it seemed to have a bit of the green space I was craving, so I figured it was worth a try.
To say it has a bit of green space is something of an understatement. The park in question (although I didn't know it at the time) is the Oldbury Court Estate; a huge plot of land in the middle of the urban sprawl that rivals St James? Park in London for both size and beauty. The site used to be private land, presumably belonging to a Lord Oldbury, but that was back in the day and now it is open grassy field after open grassy field; each one bordered by a range and quantity of trees I've never before seen in a built up area. Not that built up really describes it, for although there is city on all sides, it feels like you are miles from anywhere.
There are paths all over the place, and you could probably kill several days if you were to try and walk each one. For those who may tire of the bright sunlight on the open greens, the River Frome is not too far along the path, and with it comes the shady seclusion of a river valley lined with foliage. Down here it is peaceful and, aside from the odd fisherman or dog walker, not many people are about.
I spent some time walking the banks of the river before I eventually ascended once more, tiring quickly as I climbed the steep path back into the main park area. Once there I did indeed read my book, on a small bench in the middle of an open green with nothing around me for yard after yard, where I remained for at least an hour before I had to leave.
What amazed me so much wasn't the place itself, although it is thoroughly beautiful and well worth spending time exploring, but the fact that for the last year I've been living barely a minute's walk from this incredible place, yearning for a touch of the countryside I miss so much when I'm in Bristol, and I never knew the place existed, despite having walked and driven within a few feet of it more times than I care to imagine.
It is ironic that I should find the park so soon before I leave and so my message to you is this: wherever you live, however long you have lived there, whether you love it or hate it, do not underestimate the place you call home. Everywhere has secrets and you will never uncover them by sitting in your living room or at your computer, wishing you were somewhere else. Take a walk around and see what's out there. For all you know there may be a little piece of paradise just round the corner, waiting to be found.
P.S Although as usual I have Googled the picture here, unlike usual, it is actually a genuine picture of what I'm talking about. I stood for a full 5 minutes next to this sign trying to work out where on the map I was supposed to be.
At the first bang my world shatters around me, as though the noise itself were sufficient to break apart physical matter, or else reality itself. At the second bang my eyes open and I realise the world just gone was in fact one of a dream. A split second later comes the third bang and I recognise it to me the sound of a fist on my door.
Next comes a voice, loud and impatient.
'Mark, please move your car!? The voice appears to belong to D, H's boyfriend, who J and I generally refer to as Monkey Man.
'Whemiwhtshapninwhoruwhtuwntythfuck?? I reply, still not entirely sure of the situation. After a moment I work out that H and Monkey Man have decided to go somewhere this morning and for some reason are taking H's car, which rarely goes anywhere and which I cleverly blocked in when I got home last night.
I pull on some clothes and step outside, blinking in the strong sunlight. J is there also, waiting for a lift and seemingly amused that I've been woken up to play musical cars once again.
'You look like...? she begins.
'Like someone who just got woken up?? I finish the sentence for her. 'Like someone who should be in bed for another hour? Yep, that's me!?
I get into my car at begin to manoeuvre it onto the road when I am stopped by a wave of morning traffic, which won't be able to get by with me sat in the middle of the road. H comes over, opens my passenger door and suggests that if I just pull forward a bit, she should be able to get through. In my tired and confused state I consider this for a minute. It occurs to me that if I pull forward more than 6 inches, I will be sharing space with the Fiesta in front of me, and given that we both exist in the same dimension, this would cause quite a lot of damage to both vehicles. Granted, I'd come off better than if I went up against the white van that had been parked in that exact spot when I came home last night, but that is scarcely a comforting thought.
I mutter some dark things about blondes being allowed to drive cars and then pull off down the road, coming to rest a few houses down, where the pavement is less crowded. Once H has gone and J has been picked up, I reverse onto the drive, go back inside and go to bed.