Archive for the 'Hmmm' Category

Forever Behind the Curve

After months of absence, I logged in to two internet entities: google reader, and wordpress.

Apparently, google reader will cease to exist shortly, and I must expend valuable energy locating an alternative and transporting all my feeds (all, oh, twenty of them) over to the alternative. This will take ten minutes, which is a disaster.

WordPress has changed its welcome page and bits of its user interface, again.  Can’t they leave well enough alone? Perhaps it has been a gradual evolution, but I’ve been away for long enough that the changes have hit me all at once.

Oh, and it is still snowing in London. It’s April. I am in an incredibly bad mood as a result.  It is time for horticultural therapy,  but NO the ground is frozen, the wind blasts needles up noses, and our heating is broken. The weather has been like this since November. Thank lard I escaped to tropical climes last month, or I might have been driven half mad by dismay.

Hello, internet. How are you?


Well, Mildreds!  Life as a full time employee trying to impress is certainly harshing my mellow.  I spend approximately 38 hours a week working, and twelve hours travelling.  In between that and sleep I somehow have to squash in two social lives, several hours of catching up on The Voice, and pursuit of my advanced certificate in Lounging.  I’m expected to assist with tedious minutiae like food shopping, meal preparation, gardening, and laundry, but at least I finally cracked and hired a cleaner.  Most days I count myself lucky I’m not responsible for anyone else’s wellbeing. 

And of course there are the many hours I spend patiently tolerating my home being ripped apart around me.  

I hope you’re all well. 

When last we spoke, I had promised photographs of the finished spare room.  I regret to inform you that I am unable to do so at this time.  There are several reasons for this.  

Chief among these is the fact that for reasons I can’t quite fathom, a benevolent spirit hasn’t flown down from the ether and given me an SLR camera.  Instead, I continue to use my iPhone camera to take crappy pictures. 

Another reason is that I have apparently misunderstood something about how and where my iPhone stores pictures, or suffered a memory relapse, or both.  I swear I took some photos of the spare bedroom  several weeks ago when it was freshly finished.  My technological idiocy ate them and belched up a big cloud of zeros.  

Why don’t you just toddle into the spare bedroom and take some more?  I hear you ask.  Well.  WELL.  

I hardly know where to begin.  I think K-man fears a 2013 moratorium on home improvement and so he sprang so swiftly into action that before I could draw breath, the contents of the study had been emptied into the spare room and I was being pressured into choosing paint colours and replacement furniture.  

The content of the study includes no less than 14 years worth of pointless paper that we hadn’t got around to filing or shredding.  There’s no point moving shit back in that you really should throw away, right?  So, the spare room is full of an assortment of paperwork loosely categorised into piles, a superfluous computer table, a deconstructed refectory table, a bin-bag full of shredded paper, and seven million tools K-man insists he can’t put back in the garage yet

But the study is done and ready for its close-up.  It’s a crying shame I don’t have an SLR or know how to use it, but I thought I’d bring you pictures of the study while I still have my sanity. 

As ever, let’s remind ourselves of the journey so far.  



This mural from hell is where we began.  



The seascape isn’t easy to live with, so we made a temporary fix using what we could forage from the locality. 



To the distant eye, this looks OK.  What you can’t see is the cracked ceiling, and the bits of yellow smudge on the woodwork, left-over from the seascape.  We were too lazy to paint the woodwork, and just slapped on paint to cover the worst, knowing that later we would do the job properly.  It was an eyeball-saving emergency situation which required urgent energy.  We lived with this for two years.  

After one weekend and a few evenings of K-man’s effort, we have ended up with this: 



I don’t know about you, but I live for grainy images of someone else’s house.  Anyway, the walls are smoothed, the ceiling is re-papered, and the woodwork is painted.  The only shit thing that remains is the cheap laminate floor.  Re-carpeting the house is the next phase.  We bought new furniture from some gent on Ebay.  The filing cabinet takes up much less floor space, and is a 1930s antique tambour-fronted gem.


 The desk is an old library desk (we think) and it’s perfect for my child, Mac.


The colour on the walls is Farrow & Ball’s Mizzle.  To the naked eye it looks exactly like Light Blue, which we painted the lounge and dining room in.  I’m sure the people at Farrow & Ball could tell the difference, but I can’t.    



Now that the giant refectory table is given over to Christmas Family Entertaining Duty (I’ll tell you another time how I came to agree to having everyone here for festive fun), there is enough floor space to open the sofa bed and remain in the room at the same time.  I know!  Revolutionary. 

Of course, it looks quite good now, because there’s still a sizeable mountain of crap in the spare room that needs to be reintroduced into its natural habitat.  I’d like a lamp for the top of the filing cabinet; K-man wants an in-tray to stop us piling all the paperwork that arrives on the kitchen worktop until its centre of gravity becomes too high and it falls over.  I’ve lost count of the important documents and bank cards I’ve called Whatever Company to ask why the hell they haven’t sent, only to discover them months later when we finally deal with the paperwork. 

Newly-decorated studies are like new stationery – a thing of inspiration.  I honestly believe I will now file things instantly, and never lose important paperwork again.  

The Competency Challenge

I applied for a job perfectly suited to me – I am the human embodiment of the person specification for the role. I got as excited as it is possible to get in the knowledge that chances of success are infinitessimal, until I read the detailed recruitment process.

Satan’s minions themselves could not have contrived a more torturous experience.  We’re not talking about a job stacking shelves, but neither is the role SCREAMING MEDICAL EMERGENCY RESCUER.  For the last ten weeks I have been engaged in this process. At times, the stress barometer needle hit hurricane incoming. I shut myself off from the world, because I don’t like to inflict myself on others when I’m like this.

As we know, embodying the person specification does not an automatically successful application make.  These days even the simplest application form – for it is always an application form, and never a CV and covering letter for the jobs that appeal to me – requires a full day to think up and write down examples demonstrating numerous very specific competencies.  Please provide, in no more than 250 words, an example of when you have successfully used influence and persuasion to obtain a positive outcome for an individual or organisation.

I filled in the application form, took a deep breath during which my life flashed before my eyes, and pressed send.

Comfortingly, this is a mass recruitment and the number of positions nudges double digits.  Not so comfortingly, my conservative estimate for the number of applications is in the quadruple digits.  A few months ago I applied for a 0.2FTE six-month fixed term fairly specialised role for which I was also well-suited, and upon not being shortlisted and telephoning for feedback, was told that they had received 265 applications. K-man is a recruiter and once dealt with 600+ applications for one job.  It’s a bear pit.

A few weeks later I received an email asking me to participate in online tests: I had made it through the first cull and now my ‘verbal reasoning’ and ‘inductive reasoning’ would be assessed.  For verbal reasoning you’re given a paragraph of text and after reading it, have to say whether a statement is true, false, or ‘can’t say’.  Inductive reasoning is a pick-the-next-diagram test.  I’m fairly good at inductive reasoning, even the ones with three or four rules to identify. 

The bad news is that a monkey with a cold outperforms me at verbal reasoning. The problem is that the text may contain opinion – “X’s report states that the sun will not rise tomorrow” – and in determining whether the statement “the sun will not rise tomorrow” is true, false, or ‘can’t say’, I naturally pick ‘can’t say’, because whether or not X says it will does not make it so, and I veer toward questioning everything (thanks, dad).  In my view, strictly speaking, further evidence is needed.  The problem is, I usually get that kind of question wrong.

I practised, and practised.  I bitch-slapped the part of my brain that delves beneath the face value of statements.  Some of the test instructions say ‘true’ equates to ‘is a reasonable conclusion based on the evidence in front of you’, which is more philosophically pleasing when considering the nature of truth, but doesn’t really help me with my root failing.  

Then, I discovered I had booked a holiday overseas during the scheduled interview time.  The potential employer said flexibility was unlikely but advised me to take the tests and then we’d talk if I got an interview.

The online testing system hates Macs, so K-man had to bring home a laptop from his office. This pisses me off, because it is hardly as though Macs are new and revolutionary at this stage of the 21st century.

The test was horrible.  I had to answer 50 questions in 40 minutes, and I thought I was going quite quickly when I looked up to see half the time left and a ‘progress’ bar showing I had completed 14 questions.  Gah!  I panicked, and started giving myself ten seconds to think about things – towards the end I was narrowing to two options and just taking a punt. 

I still didn’t finish.  I thought for sure I’d blown it. Never mind, I thought, at least I don’t have to choose between an interview and a holiday.  K-man told me they make those tests impossible on purpose; it doesn’t help recruiters make decisions if everyone gets 100%.  I didn’t believe him.

Two weeks later, wonders will never cease, I got invited to interview.  I decided to go on holiday and fly back early to attend the interview.  A coach would pick me up from the top of a mountain at 4.15am and take me to the airport, and a cheap flight would whisk me home.  I would be back by lunchtime the day before the interview.

I bought a new suit, prepared all my documentation (passport, driving license, degree certificates, proof of my NI number), and packed lots of revision and preparation information.  Sadly, because I was at one point led to believe there might be flexibility in interview timing, by the time I booked my appointment all the decent slots had gone.  I ended up with one that meant I had to fall out of bed at 5.45am to make it on time.

Snowboarding was great, but I was pretty bruised and battered, and had severe chin-chafing from my coat by the time I was ready to go home.  I looked beaten and I hurt, although the most serious injury sustained was when I walked into the corner of an open window-pane. 

I was outside the pickup location at 4am.  The coach failed to show up at the top of the mountain. Thanks very much useless excuse for a coach company, I would yes indeed miss my flight home. I will cut the very, very long story short and say that eight hours later I made it to the airport and at significant expense booked onto the next flight to the London area (although not the same arrival destination) and arrived home a murky puddle of exhaustion in the early evening. 

When I arrived at the interview two other candidates were there at the same time, enabling me to surmise that I am in the last 36-or-fewer candidates.  We went into a room and carried out a 1.5 hour written test, before being separated to face an interview panel and the dreaded ‘competency’ questions.  There was an internal candidate in my group – damn you, internal candidate you were really lovely, and I hope we BOTH get jobs.

The written test was similar to tasks I’ve carried out professionally before, and while I wouldn’t say I walked it my usually-reliable internal post-mortem only picked up a couple of things I missed.  My interview didn’t go badly, but that’s all I can say with confidence.  The panel gave off zero clues: there was no pleasantry, nicey-nicey, or laughing.  There was barely any smiling.

For the first time ever, I restrained myself from attempting to relieve a po-faced situation I am finding stressful by cracking a ‘joke’ or making a leftfield wry remark.  Personal growth!  I haz competency!

At least I hope so.  I really want the job.  Apart from the fact that the internal candidate told me the organisation is filled with wonderful people and the best place she has ever worked, I just want to be able to stop looking, to stop agreeing to things people ask me to do even though I don’t want to in case there’s a good opportunity at the end of the line.  I want security.  I don’t want to juggle three slippery fish anymore. 

On holiday someone told me that at this stage, the recruiters will have decided you can do the job.  The only question is whether they think you can do it better than a sufficient proportion of the other candidates.

I’ll find out on Friday at the earliest.

Reasons to Love London: No. 47

I work in central London.  On my way to work it is not unknown for me to witness the burnt-out shell of a motorbike being doused by fire-fighters.  Ambulances siren their way up and down the major route outside my office window.  Diesel engines in their death throes amble past, all deafening low-frequency noise and very little motion.

And yet a three-minute walk from my office is this lunch-haven.

This is a tiny corner of one of London’s famous park squares.  Check out a map of the city and you’ll see they are all over the place.  Today, while eating my lunch in the centre of one of the busiest cities in the world, I listened to the birds sing their hearts out for 40 minutes.

Let's Play Probabilities

A few weeks ago I noticed coo-ing and flapping sounds in the house.  Further investigation, and the sound of mortar tinkling down the chimney, led me to conclude there was a bird in the spare bedroom flue.
I ignored it, since birds fall down chimneys all the time and the world nonetheless turns on its axis.  The noise eventually ceased.  Today, I have released around fifteen large bluebottles from the upper floor of the house.
What is the probability that there is a rotting dead bird carcass stuck half way up my chimney?  Bonus points if you can correctly guess the probability that I’m going to stick my head up the  aforementioned flue for confirmatory purposes.
Last week, K-man did a load of laundry which included my most expensive hiking socks: a pair of wigwams purchased in Canada for the hefty price equivalent of around ten of my finest English doubloons.  I only have one other pair of proper hiking socks – an absolutely stellar ten year old pair of Bridgedales which cost 8 doubloons and are still going strong.   I love a product that lasts.
When the laundry was brought in from the line, only one wigwam was in attendance.  I have hunted high and low inside and outside the house, including in the vegetable patch.  The sock, my most expensive sock, is nowhere to be found.
What is the probability that I will ever see that sock again?
I have been pondering, in a vague and uncommitted manner, the notion of doing a PhD for some time now.  It is time to either pony up with the commitment or run whimpering into the night, and yet because my highest-level academic qualification is in procrastination I still don’t feel like I have garnered enough information to make a meaningful decision.
To force myself to be serious, or at least enable myself to head in the direction of real actual serious consideration – instead of excitedly telling people about my idea and leaving it at that – I spent a lot of money on a book* about the application process and how to figure out what to do and when it needs to be done by.
Today I set myself the goal of reading the book.  It’s 4.45pm and I’ve read exactly NO pages of the book.  What is the probability that I will read the first chapter today?
* clearly, the price of a book is inversely proportional to the number of people interested in reading it.

Oof. And Product Loyalty.

Wow.  I’m still here!  Yes, I am.  I have been trapped in a horrendous vortex of work.  Three weeks ago I started yet another part time job, which sucks up two days a week.  I took the job for its more lucrative pay packet, but a collateral benefit is that I get to be in an office with other people and banter and camaraderie. There’s only so much Dickensian academic office-building and being managed entirely on email I can take.

Plus, my academic job is hard.  Mind-bendingly, headache-inducingly, more-hours-than-I’m-paid-for hard.  It’s good to get a relaxing break in the form of normal office work each week.  In the past two weeks I’ve had three academic after-hours events for which I am unpaid, and which result in a home-time past 9.30pm.  I still love it, but when the Chief Brain is in town, as she was last week, all merry hell breaks lose.   I’m trying to make the most of it, since my contract expires at the end of June.  Who knows what I’ll end up doing after that.  I’m no further forward with the PhD proposal, you’ll be unsurprised to learn.

I need a fiscal insurance policy, hence the new job.  For the next two months I’ll be working part time + part time = full time x 1.2.  Lard.

This week I’ve been sick.  I didn’t have time to be sick, so I ignored it.  Jen came to visit, and it was lovely to meet her.  She didn’t seem put off by the fact that most of my words were a half-formed croak, which was fortunate since I couldn’t bear for her to be in town and me wuss out by being ill.  On Tuesday and Wednesday night I took some hefty anti-splutter medication which kicked a nasty bout of insomnia to the curb and gave me the ability to work ridiculously hard again this week.  By yesterday I was audible and able to meet Fuzzy for drinks in sunny London without dying.

Which brings me to the sun.  Sun!  Nothing is nicer than London in the sun.  People are happier: they smile in the street, soaking up the rays.  There’s a fine line between London in the sun and London in the unbearable 30C+ heat, and we’re walking it right now.

The sun in London has sartorial significance too: my flip-flops must be brought out of hibernation.

I’ve had the same pair of Havaianas since I visited New Zealand for the very first time, in early 2005.  During the last six years they have pounded the pavements of London and Wellington.  They’ve been with me to Fiji, Australia, Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Borneo, Kuala Lumpur, Angkor Wat, and a variety of Indian cities.   We’ve been through a lot together and I think of them less as an accessory, and more as old friends.

The sad truth is that they’re elderly friends at this point, and finally this year I’m forced to acknowledge the real risk that the toe-post might detach from the sole at an inopportune moment.  I was forced to procure another pair of flip-flops.   Inflation has surely struck: the original pair cost NZ$24, or around 8 quid.  For the replacement pair, I just shelled out 13 quid and they were on deep discount.

I don’t mind too much, and here’s why: I would rather pay for one good pair of comfortable flip-flops than six pairs of sub-standard ones which last one season.   If I find a product I like and which lasts, I’m a pretty loyal customer.

I was careful to order the exact same style in the exact same size, but when I unboxed them I wondered if I’d accidentally ordered a pair of canoes.  I laid my gentle old friend next to the new unbroken upstart.  Observe:

The upstart is bigger, and by more than a smidgen.  I can forgive vertical embiggening, which difference is of course accounted for by years of my heft being applied.

But that much of a difference on the horizontal plane?  What is up with that?  Do they shrink over time?  Google turned up the possibility, and also that Havaianas sizing is reasonably random.  Now, I can forgive (just about) there being different size standards between different retailers.  But the same product?

They fit, just not in the exact same way as my comfortable old friends.  In fact, I’m struggling to throw my old friends away.  I’m not a hoarder, but this feels like betrayal.

So I’d like to know.  Specifically, I need assurance I’m not insane.  What products inspire bizarre old-friend style loyalty in you?

Havaianas didn’t pay me to write this post.


Loft Bored

After the fireplace, I issued a dictat: no more interference with our living space until 2012.   Initially K-man attempted a particularly obtuse interpretation, informing me that I meant no tradesmen in our living space.  He, on the other hand, could completely redecorate our bedroom over the next four weekends.

Certainly not.

Home improvements will be confined to places we don’t live in: the garage, the loft, and the garden.  Don’t worry, vicarious home-improvers!  There’s plenty to do even within those zones.  At some point we must paint the hallway, and since that only requires the repositioning of one small cupboard, I might relent during the summer.

This morning at 8am it was mooted that today, we should board our loft.  It wasn’t mooted by me, yet barely two hours later I found myself wearing my DIY gloves and lifting 18kg loft-boarding slabs from a trolley and into Vernon’s boot.  Shortly thereafter, I found myself again clutching 18kg of awkwardly-shaped loft board, balanced precariously on our flimsy loft-ladder, bellowing in pain with microscopic pieces of chip-board and assorted insulation fibres falling gently into my contact lenses.

The point of this painful exercise is that we have a huge amount of crap we don’t want to get rid of but don’t necessarily want to see every day, and are a bit sick of tripping over.  We didn’t used to have piles of crap, because we used to live in a small flat with one under-stairs cupboard for storage.

Then, we moved to a three-bedroom house with a huge loft, and lo! it is written that all available space will be filled.  And so it was that two sets of parents, one sibling, and one friend begat acres of their own crap for us to store for them because we now have the most space.  We began shoving things ever further upstairs.

This comes with its own particular peril: if the loft isn’t boarded the crap might very well make an unscheduled visitation to the rest of the abode, via the ceiling.  An even bigger risk is that one of us will be searching for that 14ft of copper cable we could swear is around here somewhere, and accidentally fall through.

I’m not a fan of the loft for two reasons.  First, the risk slipping off a beam and putting a foot through the ceiling.  Second, this oddity:

The black thing in the middle of the photo.  It’s like a half-finished gimp den, filled with crap we inherited from people who owned the house before us.  K-man thinks it is a darkroom.  It’s dark alright: I get a shivery feeling if I get too close.

Seriously, who builds a dark-room a nerve-jangling pirouette across inch-wide ceiling-joists?

In addition to the detritus inside the house, boarding the loft will finally allow us to get all the half-full tins of paint out of the wood-store and into the loft.  Which will mean we can put wood in the wood-store.  We can rip out the piece of shit kitchen unit that was installed the garage at some point in 1972, shove all the crap it currently contains into the loft, move Dino forward three feet, and fit two racks for our bikes so we don’t have to undergo a complex game of pedal disentanglement each morning.

The benefits are undeniable, but that doesn’t make it any less painful to deal with.

It turns out (hurrah!) that I am hyper-sensitive to the insulation fibres and dusty environment of the loft space.  I almost puked from coughing.  We only have one dust-mask and I keenly offered it to K-man because, let’s face it, we’re both much happier if I’m not given the opportunity to supervise.  I provided remedial board-lifting skills when required, and went outside to plant potatoes.

We could only fit enough boards in Vernon to do half of the space, and we’re both too lazy to make a second trip today, or possibly ever.  All the crap will fit on the boards K-man has already laid.   It only took 9 hours.

DIY that solves four problems in one day – this is the kind of DIY I can get behind!


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