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(January 2009) Yes, I've grown a beard (again!). This was something that appeared over the Christmas period, and I'm proposing to retain for the time being - possibly until I need to travel abroad again, when I will want my face to match the picture in my passport!
I've had some remarks at work that the face fungus makes me look a bit like Rolf Harris. This has allowed me to talk about "Broad-Brush Architecture" - all very high level - and then wave my hands and say: "Can you see what it is yet?"
(December 2008) A somewhat challenging Christmas this year. Firstly, the was a massive explosion on the outskirts of Rawtenstall where repairs to a gas leak failed and took out an electricity substation. This left us (and thousands of other people) without electricity for 6 hours and with gas for several days. Since our heating and cooking is all based on gas, we faced the prospect of a cold Christmas and not being able to cook our turkey!
Fortunately, Tracey was able to track down a couple of apartments (for us, Seb and his friend Will, and Tracey's parents, who were also affected by the same cut). So we decamped for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and I was able to cook some very passable meals which all seemed to enjoy. We returned on Boxing Day, and the gas supply was finally restored by 4pm. Much better that staying at home and trying to cook everything over a single camping gas stove!
One of the presents I provided for Tracey was a printed version of my Four Square Less One collection of 15 short stories - all wrapped in Christmas wrapping paper, of course. She seemed to enjoy these very much, although at the time of writing she has not finished the entire set.
(November 2008) I have just spend a day coordinating a pilot changeover of network and systems configuration for a banking organisation. Of course, this requires the cooperation of several groups, in IBM and several other organsiations, and was therefore done by telephone conference and email.
The nett effect of all this was just like Mission Control from the Apollo Moon mission days - chaps in ties and glasses arrayed in front of big screens and keyboards, and with headsets clamped over their skulls.
Update: I've just spent two days like this and, in the end, it didn't work. Feep! Crossflatts, we have a problem.
Update: I got it working after the second attempt, and quite a lot more time with headphones glued to my head.
(September 2008) Once again I took Tracey away for her birthday. This time, we stayed at Eshott Hall in Northumberland. This was extremely relaxing. We rather enjoyed the "country house dinner party" style of dining, where all of the guests gather for drinks in the drawing room (7.30 pm sharp!) before gathering at the same large table for dinner. One is expected to entertain one's fellow guests with wit and entertainment - and of course we did our best to perform this function. There was no choice of menu, but the food was really very good indeed.
We managed to have wonderful weather for the entire trip, and were able to take a couple of lovely picnic lunches. On the second day, we had our lunch overlooking a lovely waterfall in Cragside Gardens. We also toured around the area in the Aston, and did a couple of local attractions - including the new gardens at Alnwick, where we spotted her Grace the Duchess of Northumberland inspecting the grounds.
As on previous occasions, I also presented Tracey with a printed copy of my latest novel. This time, it was Death on the New Bridge, the third in my series of novels set in the fictional world of Lyndesfarne. Tracey seemed to enjoy this very much (judging by the way she sat up into the night) reading it through very carefully and marking up the occasional typo or inconsistency. We both came home much more relaxed.
(May 2008) Tracey and I took advantage of the school half-term holiday - together with the long Bank Holiday weekend and Seb's trip to stay with a school friend in Spain - to take a few days away together. We stayed in Lumley Castle, which was fun and, since the weather was unusually warm and sunny, we were able to enjoy a picnic lunch every day.
We also visited Beamish Industrial Museum. This was fascinating and we strolled around here nearly all day.
(May 2008) Tracey has wanted an Aston-Martin for a long time, and now she's finally got one! It's a DB9 - hard-top version - in silver grey.
Looks great, and goes (and stops!) very quickly - indeed, I had to wash to brake dust off the wheels before we took it up to Lumley Castle. We managed to get two (soft and squishy) bags of clothes and all of the picnic stuff in the boot (just!).
(May 2008) Some time ago (back in March, I think), Sebastian wrote a wondeful little poem entitled God and Me which I thought was really rather good.
His school (Rishworth) submitted it to a poetry wiring contest, and the work will shortly be appearing in an anthology of verse entitled Talkin' 'Bout My Generation: Poems From Yorkshire. The book is to be published by Young Writers and should appear in August 2008.
Needless to say, his parents and grantparents are delighted. Well done, Seb!
(March 2008) I have re-arranged the structure of my website, introducing new domains for areas which seem to have attracted a certain amount of general interest. In particular, there are now independent domains for the Lyndesfarne Bridge novels (at http://lyndesfarne.org) and for my popular Cooking for Men recipes (at http://cooking-for-men.com).
(March 2008) I recently went on a week-long trip with a group of male friends to Texas and New Mexico, where we generally behaved like real cowboys - huge steaks, beer and margaritas, out on the range, etc. No actual horse-riding, though.
We also visited the famous white sands at, err, White Sands, also famous for being inside a missile testing range!
(February 2008) I suprised Tracey this Valentine's Day morning: presented her with a wrapped package that contained Champagne (how could it be otherwise?), heart-shaped cheese pastry and a specially-written short story called Hearts and Flowers. She was delighted!
(February 2008) Tracey, Sebastian and I spent a couple of days in the the English Lake District. The weather was astonishingly good for the time of year: bright and warm, with no wind making it wonderful to be out of doors.
The real reason for the trip was to stay at, and eat at, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Cartmel called L'enclume. Tracey and I have been here before, but we took Seb (now aged 13). To our delight, Seb tried everything he was presented with, and enjoyed almost everything - and was even able to give cogent reasons why he did not like the odd item.
Christmas Trip to Red Sea
(December 2007) We spent Christmas at the Four Seasons Hotel in Sharm el Sheikh, on the coast of the Red Sea in Egypt. Snorkling, eating and drinking a little too much, taking a sunset cruise on a "Gin Palace" (rather swish boat!) on Christmas Day - all very relaxing. Pictures are here.
I also found time to write a load of notes for several new short stories, some of which can be found in my Four Square Less One collection.
Tas and Seb go to the Footie!
(November 2007) Thanks to our friends Caroline and Michael, we managed to get a couple of tickets to the Championship League football match between Manchester United and Lisbon, at Old Trafford. Tracey volunteered to take Sebastian. After a few initial misgivings, they both thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
I just love the picture Tracey sent me (taken on a camera-phone)! Seb is now taller than his mother, and growing like a weed.
Trip to Prague
(November 2007) For Sebastian's thirteenth birthday, Tracey and I took him for a long weekend in Prague. This was a complete surprise to him, since we collected him early from school on the Friday on the pretext of a dental appointment! There are some pictures from the trip in the Photo Gallery.
The picture is of the Prague Castle Band, who appear to busk in the square outside the castle nearly every day. They were surprisingly good!
|(September 2007) Once again, I took Tracey away for a few days on her birthday. We again stayed at Waren House hotel, not far from the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. This was a very quiet and relaxed few days, with walks and picnics, and big dinners in the hotel restaurant. Photos here.|
Short Story Published
Update: (November 2007) Leucrota Press changed the cover (slightly). The final one is on the right.
Update: (December 29th, 2007) My copy of Abaculus 2007 arrived in the post this morning. Looks good. Tracey was delighted, and ordered several copies from Amazon to send to friends and relatives.
(July 2007) Tracey and I have just returned from a week on the Kenyan coast. Sebastian was off in Italy with the school, singing, so the grown-ups took the opportunity to get away from it all. We stayed at the Pinewood Village hotel, which is set on the Indian Ocean about two hours south of Mombasa.
We took a suite with a sea view veranda, and barely moved from there all week! The suites have a kitchen attached, and the hotel supplies a private chef to prepare whatever dinner you required. We read a lot, and I was able to write a good many notes for "Death on the New Bridge", the third in my New Bridge to Lyndesfarne series of novels. Photographs here.
Well, it's the half-term holidays at the end of May 2007, and I took Sebastian off camping in the English Lake District again. I wasn't sure whether to go at first, since the weather had been very wet, and the forecast looked iffy. But in the end I chucked all the kit in the boot of the car and off we went.
This was definitely the right decision. Apart from a couple of light showers - barely enough to settle the dust - the weather was wonderful. We went to Silecroft, on the coast once again (photos). We put up the tent, took long walks on the beach, played football and frisbee, and generally chilled out together. (Tracey very sensibly stayed away - busy preparing for her exhibition in Chester.) We came back tired - Sebastain slept all the way back in the car, and I was very stiff in the legs after all that unaccustomed exercise - but it was a good short break.
(May 2007) Well, the huge piece of UK Government work I was alluding to below did not, in the end, come off. Although it was a close run thing, and had me (and the rest of the IBM team) on the edge of our seats for quite some time.
Surprisingly, the higher echelons of IBM management seemed almost pleased with the result - certainly to the point where I was invited to a commiseration dinner at Rules restaurant in the Covent Garden area of London. I was amused by the decor - all stags heads and red plush upholstery. A rather drunken evening, but fun nevertheless.
Now, I'm doing a series of small pieces of work - mainly bids and reviews - while waiting for the "next big thing" to turn up. And of course I'm still writing - I still have to complete the next installment of my series of novels in time for Tracey's birthday in September.
For my 50th Birthday (March 2007), Tracey arranged a surprise trip for me to the Champagne region of France. This was a wonderful event, eating far too much in the restaurant at Chateau Les Crayeres, several interesting visits to Champagne houses and Caves (cellars) and even abseiling down a 100 foot drop into one of the cellars!
The whole trip was terrific, and only very slightly spoiled by British Airways (now FlyBe) to get us back from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport on Sunday evening! This involved an overnight stay in a grotty hotel near the airport, and further delays before we finally got off the ground. So I was very late for my big meeting with the Government. I'll nver fly FlyBe again.
Oh, the joys of working for the Government. Even more so, the joys of bidding for work from the Government.
I've just finished (February 2007) an intensive stint putting together a bid to a large UK government department. This has involved long hours, far away in central London. Of course, the hours get longer as the submission deadline approaches - takeaway pizza in the middle of the night - and then, of course, there is the actual production process. On this occasion, the Government wanted 17 (yes, seventeen) copies of the paper version (600+ pages!), so several of us stayed up all night assisting with the printing and binding. Still, the document looks good - well laid out and with a minimum of typos. I just hope all the effort is worthwhile.
To celebrate the completion of this mammoth task, Tracey and I went up to the Lake District to enjoy a wonderful meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Cartmel called L'enclume. Stayed over, and enjoyed a late breakfast - the first time in ages neither of us have had to leap up early and rush off to some vital piece of work.
Tracey and I have just returned (20th December 2006) from a return trip to the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai. It's on Jumeria Beach, just south from Dubai city. Tracey and I have been there before, just a few years ago, but this time we took Sebastian with us. This was part of his birthday present.
A very relaxed trip, with more shopping (for Christmas!) than on the previous visits. We even managed to pick up a PlayStation 3, which are not yet available in the UK. Sebastian was very pleased. More reports and photos here.
On Sunday 29th October 2006, I was in the downstairs bathroom, hanging up a big fluffy towel. I dropped the towel and, instinctively, moved to catch it again. Mistake! I rammed my left ring finger into the tiled wall. Initially I thought I had dislocated the top joint, but it turned out that I had snapped the tendon which runs over the knuckle. After several tedious hours in Burnley General Hospital Accident and Emergency Department, I had the finger examined, x-rayed, and finally strapped up using an interestingly shaped piece of plastic.
I'm told I'll have to keep the finger in the splint for at least six weeks, and I'll probably lose some flexibility. Apparently, this injury is traditionally known as Mallet Finger, since it is exactly the effect of hitting yourself on the hand with a heavy instrument! Typing is currently a bit difficult, but I was never a touch-typist.
Update: after further visits to the outpatients at Burnley (latest on 30th November 2006), I'm now told that I should keep the splint on for another couple of weeks, and then wear it at night only for another month. This should keep me an opportunity to exercise the thing to maximise recovery.
Update: not wearing the splint for the first time today (6th December 2006). The finger aches a bit, and I have very little flexibility. Perhaps I should keep it on for a little longer?
Update: The finger's more-or-less back to normal now (23rd February 2007). It's healed very straight, for which I am grateful, and I am using it entirely normally now. I still can't quite bend it as far as the others, but that seems to be easing even now.
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