Friday, March 23, 2007

...and breathe

I handed in this term's major project today, which I am quite pleased with. You would have thought that it would be a cause for celebration, especially having worked on it solidly for 14 hours yestarday, but it's more a case of 'two down, four to go', and the mountain I still have to climb is quite high.

I know that I've been really bad recently at answering my phone/responding to texts and all the rest of it, for which I apologise. Please don't take it personally.

On the positive side, I did really enjoy the Case-Study I have just handed in (once I got in to it), and I am off tomorrow for a week of living the simple life on Iona with a group from the Chaplaincy. I need the break and I am really looking forward to it.

See you when I return.

Part Two from the Columnsphere

You’ll be pleased to know that – for the purposes of this column at least – I have disembarked from the train. Instead, I have headed for our aesthetically challenged campus, and I have made a few observations. For example, there is definitely a correlation between going in to the Computer Science department and the number of people with long hair and beards that one is likely to see.
I had been wondering why the powers that be in the library have deemed it necessary to cover up the 'Issues' and 'Returns' sign with a banner displaying 'Books In' and 'Books Out'. This is a University, after all; why should we need things to be dumbed down? But then I realised that I was clearly being optimistic as I ascended the stairs and opened a door marked 'No Mobile Phones' only to find someone talking in to one.
Before you get bogged down in the talk of the library and Computer Science and brand me a geek let’s head across to the Parade Bar (of which I am quite a fan). Surely the current arrangement of making the gentlemen use the lift is not a sensible one. Actually, to avoid confusion I should perhaps say “travel via the lift”. I would have said that it’s an accident waiting to happen, but it looks like it already has given that the lift was ‘out of order’ on my last visit. Personally I’d only had one pint before I made the embarrassing mistake of pressing the wrong button and chatting to a random stranger before the doors eventually opened again and revealed that we’d gone nowhere. The excitement of the lift is not the most noteworthy thing about the Parade for me recently though. That accolade goes to a bloke who came in and started chatting to the group reclining around an adjacent table, whilst I was enjoying a Happy Hour pint. As the conversation continued he proceeded to drop his trousers. His boxers fortunately spared me the gory details (as it were) but I was disturbed nonetheless. His friends at the table didn’t seem to mind though and it appeared that the dialogue continued normally until he pulled his trousers back up again and said his goodbyes.
In light of my non-story last issue about the girl on the train, I was asked if my flirting technique has ever actually been any good. Would it have been a good thing if I had thought of something to say? My mind unfortunately wandered back to a time when I had been shopping for a pint of milk and I met a friend on the way home. Whilst we were chatting, a beautiful young lady with whom I was vaguely acquainted passed by on the other side of the street and I rather awkwardly called her over. She apologized for not having replied to an email I'd sent, and so I thought that “don't worry, we [my friend and I] were just saying how life is a bit crazy at the moment” would be a good response. Except that somehow what came out was “I was just saying that I'm crazy”. The fact that I was wearing a scarf with sheep on it probably backed up my inadvertent statement. As the song goes, “you say it best, when you say nothing at all”.

[printed in Impact on March 18th 2007]

power to the people

Originally uploaded by JP1984.

I was walking through Bath the other day and up ahead of me I saw a crowd of hippies waving placards and heard the sound of cheering and car horns. Before I started to wonder why these people had nothing better to do with their Saturday morning my mind was occupied with wondering what they were demonstrating about. If this was Newbury, the theme would have been the bypass (and rare snails) and the protestors would have been up trees. If this was Oxford, it would be about animal rights and I’d be in danger of being branded a murderer. In London, on the other hand the crowd would be formed of people who cannot understand why the rest of us mere mortals haven’t understood the simplicity behind world peace, and think that the rest of the world would be kind enough to disarm themselves should we ask nicely.

But this is the Westcountry, and as I drew closer I learned that their goal was in fact to ‘save Churchill House’. Compared to the other buildings that they have just knocked down I guess it’s quite nice, but – and admittedly I don’t know the history – I can’t see what the fuss is about. Walking on didn’t enlighten me as to why there are so many people who had nothing better to do, but I did think that if I had a car it would have been quite fun to beep my horn a lot as I drove through town.

Friday, March 16, 2007

on being Dave Gorman

Following my usual tradition of posting like buses ("you wait ages and then they all come at once") I was surprised to log on the other day and find that I had apparently sent myself a 'Friend Request' on Facebook.

Except of course that I hadn't. It was instead someone who is fortunate enough to share my name.

So, now I have one 'friend' with the same name as me. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of Dave Gorman's book and find a few more, before writing a book about my escapdes. The thing is however, Dave's book (Are You Dave Gorman?) was written in the pre-Facebook era when finding someone of the same name involved calls to strangers in the phone book, sandwich boards, specially printed T-Shirts and trips to Israel. I may be wrong, but I'm not sure that sitting in front of the computer searching Facebook would make for quite as interesting reading.

Catch-Up Splurge

Time, it seems, is at a premium at the moment, with deadlines fast approaching. However, I have had to go to Cheltenham today (for an eye appointment; I was not on a cheeky trip to the races) and I am enjoying the breathing space offered by my return journey. It's the first opportunity I've had in a while to make some sounds in the blogosphere, and so here are some random musings about life in recent days.

I think I shall begin by commenting on the "efficiency" of the local council. As a student, I am exempt from the pleasure of paying council tax, but the council have had issues keeping their records up to date for my previous house. I hope it's all sorted now, but I've been through a spate of being contacted by my last landlady as she tries to chase up information the council already have. The pattern has been as follows. The council write to her, asking for information about her tenant (me) in the period concerned. She lets me know that the council need the information. I ring the council. They tell me that they have the information already. And whilst we're on the subject of ringing the council, I am going to rant about the recorded options menu. Not only is it verbose, and therefore time consuming, but the recorded voice is never in any hurry to spit the words out. It seems that the stereotypical 'jobsworth' mentatlity has even infiltrated the automatic phone system.

Rather excitingly I also had to endure the council's phone sytem for another reason this month. Our house is devoid of recycling boxes (and consequently full of "recycling") and so I decided to rectify the situation. After eventually getting through to someone, the good news is that said boxes are now on the way. However, they're only "expected sometime in the next four weeks". If I had nothing better to do I could walk across half the country to collect one in that time. I might even have the time to take some influence from a bloke I saw recently in Oxford and learn how to unicycle.

It's election time on campus for the SU, and although there are one or two noteworthy items in the sea of posters - "Your mumma may or may not be fat, but FAT Paxton is," for example - there is nothing to convince me that voting for any of them will prove to be useful. Admittedly manifestos are available, but those that I've read don't inspire much confidence. Three candidates running for entirely different positions seem to think that it would be their job to try and improve the bus service, whilst one bloke running for 'VP Welfare and Campaigns' asks voters to elect him for the position of 'VP Welfare and Communication'. Personally, my involvement so far has entailed telling someone that I thought the whole thing was a joke, before being offered his business card which highlighted his presidential campaign.

I'm nearly home now, so I'd best go. Before I do though, I should add that if you're in Bath on Saturday you really ought to come to the Chamber Choir Concert at 7.30pm in St Mary's Bathwick. It'll be good.

Monday, March 05, 2007

JP's Corner of the Columnsphere

I LIKE travelling by train, on the whole.
Should I get bored with watching the
world go by I am usually able to use the
time productively; writing a newspaper
column, for example.
There’s no shortage of material here,
either. Currently, I feel that the woman
across the aisle who has been sporadically
bursting in to ‘song’ deserves a mention,
and I find it a bit odd that the bloke
opposite me has just donned a cycle
helmet. I don’t know about you, but
I’m quite a fan of people watching (not
in a stalker-type way, fear not) and the
train is a good place to indulge in this
particular past-time.
When I think about it, the notion that
I can sit in close proximity to so many
people, possibly even for a few hours
of my life, and not interact with them
really is quite strange. It’s as though
there is some an unwritten rule that
no matter how extroverted, you must
become entirely absorbed in your own
personal space upon boarding a train.
Every good rule has its exceptions of
course, especially if the train grinds to a
halt somewhere, but the conversation is
rarely groundbreaking.
The same pattern can be seen across
all forms of public transport; making
eye contact with anyone on the London
Underground, for example, is not The
Done Thing. The advent of the MP3
player is quite probably to blame for
reinforcing this mindset; these days, most
trains and buses are like Glastonbury’s
Silent Disco without the dancing.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t see the
attraction in feeling obliged to talk for
ages about someone’s neighbour’s hip
replacement (especially when I have a
column to write) but it would be nice
if we were less anti-social.
Things must surely have been
different at one time. A couple I know
first met on the train and for me the very
idea carries with it an air of romance.
I missed my chance recently when an
attractive young lady boarded my train
and sat opposite me. Things proceeded
She smiled at me.
I smiled back.
I continued reading
She looked out of the window/did her
make up.
She smiled at me.
I smiled back.
[repeated numerous times until I got
off the train].
Surprisingly even I couldn’t think
of anything to say, and ultimately the
story is pointless, though I have been
left pondering whether or not one could
ever start a successful relationship
with the words “does this train stop at
-I’m not bitter, but whilst we’re talking
about trains I am am forced to end
with a small rant. You may be aware
that overcrowding has been a problem
recently in the Bath/Bristol area, and
as I understand it, interference from
the Department for Transport (DfT) is
to blame. The same DfT who’ve just
announced plans to implement road
charging and spy on us in the process.
I wonder if it will apply to ministerial
limousines… I shouldn’t be so negative
since the there will be a massive
environmental benefit: imagine the
reduction in carbon emissions there
will be when everyone in Britain is
forced (by poor public transport and
unaffordable road charges) to stay at

[taken from Bath Impact on March 5th, 2007].

mafia murders in the Abbey (and other things)

Waking up at 4.30am and slowly realising that I was in Bath Abbey was for me on a par with the time I woke up at 4.30am and slowly realised that I was at Stansted Airport, on the way to Sweden. For the day.

Fear not, however, I was not drunk, and I did know why I was there (in both cases).

Friday night was the termly student prayer vigil in the Abbey, and it was a quality time. After a couple of rounds of Mafia - in which the answer to the question "is he double bluffing or just very stupid?' was the latter - we watched a short video and broke off to spend time praying. Prayer 'pods' (complete with fairy lights!) had been set up at different points around the Abbey and it was great to have the opportunity just to reflect and focus on God, before reconvening as a group.

Eventually it was time to set up camp (I found that kneelers made a good matress) and have some kip. Despite waking briefly at 4.30 I slept well, to be woken at about 7 by some dulcet operatic tones. I enjoyed the music until I learned - disturbingly - that the singer had been given male hormones until she was 17 and consequently had a 7 octave range.

The day dawned beautifully and we were afforded the opportunity to ascend the tower and pray for the city before tucking in to a hearty cooked breakfast.

I found the whole thing very enjoyable, and really got a lot out of it.

As weekends go, this one has certainly been a good one; having caught up a little on sleep on Saturday morning I made the most of the nice weather and explored the local area with some friends. I then went to see Hot Fuzz (good) with some other friends, followed by a Hobgoblin in the Hobgoblin (a dive). Then I strolled home enjoying the lunar eclipse. Isn't a blood red moon meant to be some sort of omen?

After doing some work on Sunday morning I headed off to Oxford for some banter with some friends, an evensong-sing-song and dinner in the ‘Nose. It was quality. Mr Prozzillo – for conducting Super Flumina just for the sake of it – I salute you.