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Favours for Favours

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As I sat in a 3 litre 5-series BMW at the Stoke crossroads in Guildford, tucked into some House of Commons Victorian Mints and mulled over on my recent lunch with Boris Johnson, a smile spread across my lips. This, I concluded, had been a very good month.
Let me explain, firstly, the vehicular privilege I’ve been dealt. Over the past couple of months, several people have been replacing their company cars at the office. Car dealerships have been eagerly offloading cars on a regular basis for the potential buyers to sample, the arrivals of which – for someone who isn’t due a new car for another year and a half – has been torture for me. Naturally and selfishly enough, I wanted a piece of the action – and every time a new car rolled up, I’ve been as helpful as possible to the Financial Manager, in the full knowledge that he is the Keeper Of The Car Keys. So far it’s been working unbelievably well. My current haul of week-long “test drives” includes two new BMW 3-series beasts, an Audi A4 and a Lexus GS300 which, despite the caramel colour of the exterior making it look like a large Werther’s Original, was far and away my favourite and typically way out of my league. The whole car thing has taught me a very vital lesson, though, and that is that just because a car has a BMW or an Audi badge doesn’t actually make it any better. My trusty Peugeot 407 does many things better than the BMW 3-series for far less money. I suppose its the wheeled equivalent of choosing designer clothes. No actual benefit, but less people point and laugh.
The BMW 5-series, though, is a corker. A definite first place tie with the Lexus. It is black, with a black leather interior. The car was my Managing Director’s before he left the company 10 days ago – and I spied it looking lonely and redundant in our office car park last Thursday afternoon. Cue a helpful computer-based favour for my Financial Manager and hey presto, the BMW keys were in my hands. I’ve been swanning around in it all weekend – showboating it at traffic lights, getting many “you can’t afford that” looks from passers-by and generally being a typically awful BMW driver. It’s been very useful to be on the receiving end of BMW-based abuse though. Firstly, it turns out that the car handles so well and makes you so confident that you can’t help but drive arrogantly. And secondly, it’s very easy to feel victimised. When people brush past the car, I half expect a vindictive key scrape down the side. Whenever I try to pull out of a junction, I have the disconcerting feel that everyone is ignoring me on purpose, and if they had their way I’d never be able to pull out at a junction. Still, it’s a small price to pay. Worryingly, I’m starting to like these cars…
And then there is Boris Johnson. Those who’ve been regulars will know that I am a big fan of Bozzer.
And as the amount of visitors to my Boriswatch site grow, it’s clear I’m not alone. In return for various geeky favours to Boris and his right-hand woman Melissa, I have the pleasure of popping up to London for lunch and a chat with them, usually dragging Simon B along for fun. I also visited the ITV studios for his chairing of the quiz show Have I Got News For You a few weeks ago (the report is here on Boriswatch). And now that David Cameron’s seen sense and promoted him, Boriswatch popularity is going through the roof, which puffs my geeky heart with pride.
So, all in all, a good month. I didn’t even mention the Stuff Magazine Show I visited in London (where Nick and I found several things we wanted that would drain our bank balances) or the old friend that presented Top Of The Pops. Maybe next time…

Er… hello.

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Eh? What was that wooshing sound? Oh, I see. It was almost a FULL MONTH with no posts. As usual when this kind of thing happens, I could list all the various things that have conspired to foil posting anything of relevance – but on this occasion I think I’ll just tell you that in the next few days I’ll be retro-adding some posts on the more interesting things that have happened, involving Top of The Pops, marriage, resignation, drugs, technology and (as ever) Boris Johnson. Just a small wait, eager webwatchers…
New posts:Nothing’s Permanent

Into the Jaws of the North…

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I bade farewell to the office contingent, offering my last pieces of advice and advising on the best course of action if I failed to return. I was off, I said, to a dangerous place. A place where drinks are a penny a pint and where even Boris Johnson would be lynched. I was off, my friends, to Northern Liverpool.
The five hour trip started with a shock. Bombing along the M40 at a rate of several hundred knots, events came to a head. To kick off, a BMW – what else – had cut me up, deciding without warning that my lane was far more superior for his car. Within a second the car phone rang and, thanks to my ability to constantly fiddle with technology, the auto-answer feature helpfully and surprisingly answered the incoming call. And as a finale, before I’d even managed to answer the mystery caller, an improbably large and very green grasshopper emerged from the sealing of my driver door, twiddling its antenna as if to announce, “And for my next trick…”
Needless to say, I was stunned. I was happily driving along mere seconds ago and now here I was swerving out of trouble while finding an intruder in the car. And, of course, there was a mystery caller listening intently to all of it. Eventually I found my tongue. “Hello?” I uttered – and was relieved to find Paul D’s stepdad on the other end. The call having been answered, my next worry was my new green friend. God alone knows how he got in, but out he would most definitely have to go. I pulled over and opened the car door, shaking its metal frame in and out to dislodge the grasshopper while trying to pretend nothing was amiss to the caller. This was no mean feat. I temporarily lost concentration on the insect and when I regained focus, it had gone. I never did find out whether it flew in or out of the car.
Luckily, the rest of the journey was more humdrum. I found out half way through that I was actually heading for Lancaster which was a huge relief. After finding the hotel and munching through a small supper, I bedded down.
The morning broke with an argument outside. Attributing it to early morning blues, I dressed and trundled downstairs to find myself in the thick of World War Three, with several veterans arguing over their bar bill. Leaving them behind, I made my way to Heysham Power Station.
That’s right – a power station. A perk of my job is that I get to go to wierd and wonderful places and power stations are certainly wierd and wonderful. Housed in the wastelands near the sea, the stations have their own microcosm, their own way of life. And, in an unreported side effect of the recent terrorism, not reported on any maps which made it a bugger to find. I arrived a good half an hour late, before enduring a thirty minute search of my belonging, a test of my laptop for viruses and my power supply for legality – and an airport-style search of my clothes. Contrary to popular opinion, the safest place to be at the moment is in a nuclear power station.
All the while, I was being educated by my “mentor”, someone who is responsible for my whereabouts at all times. For example, did you know that every forty years a nuclear power station has ended its useful life and a new one has to be built? Also, were you aware that every nuclear power station is beside the sea so that the sea water can cool the nuclear reactors? Or that every employee is on an ultra-rare final salary pension? Or that after every station is shut down, people man it for ten years, twiddling their thumbs, in case anything goes wrong?
Then, finally, I was in. And as I was travelling home an hour later, I begun to question whether to whole travel/work ratio (a whopping 10:1 on this trip) was cutting a little off-balance…

The Fat Labour’s sung

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It’s all over. Labour, inevitably, has managed to hold on to its lead. Give it credit though – they tried hard. For instance, the overseas army and navy soldiers – the great majority of whom do not know why the hell they’re out there and wouldn’t be supporting Labour – *accidently* didn’t receive their postal voting slips until it was too late. And when John Humphries, editor of the BBC today programme, went to vote he found that his vote had already been cast. By someone else. Mariella Frostrup phoned the show and said the same had happened to her. Presumably this didn’t just happen to them in particular. And in a final insult to all who may think this election is fair to all, a tally of the votes so far cast shows that in fact Labour came second polling 35,906 votes fewer than the Tories. but the way the system is balanced, Labour still win with a large majority. As Richard from Manchester said on the BBC page ‘Labour victory: Your reaction‘, “Scotland has its parliament, Wales its Assembly yet they are in effect deciding who governs England. Time for an English parliament on the same basis as the Scots.”
As ever, Boris Johnson’s columns hit the nail on the head. “If Labour is re-elected,” he warned three weeks ago, “it will be with the help of one of the most gerrymandered systems in the western world.”
But still, there’s no need to be overly bitter. The reduced majority means that at least the government can’t railroad their proposals through, and at least another term of Labour will mean we’ll definitely want to see the back of them next time…

Boris, Blogs and a Chinese…

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Behind me, as I stood gawping at the diminutive man behind a ticket kiosk in Guildford Station, was a brightening summer’s day. True, it was only March, but the temparature had ramped up, the air was breezy and so far everything had gone to plan. I’d breezed into the station at 9am and worked my way to the front of a small queue for tickets. I asked for a Travelcard. The man asked for ?22.50.
I spluttered. I gubbled. I feebly protested. But it seems, at 9.15am, a Travelcard costs ?22.50 from Guildford. Still, I thought, hang the cost, I’m not missing today’s action.

hocpass.jpg

I was due to be in the Houses of Parliament for a meeting in Boris Johnson’s office, a quick tour around the House of Commons and House of Lords, followed by lunch in Portcullis House and, later on, a much sought after invitation to a weblogging conference in South Kensington. This, I surmised, was not to be missed.
As it turned out, I arrived in Westminster an hour early. On the way, I discovered why visiting political bigwigs cannot understand the fuss about the London Underground – because from Waterloo station to Westminster, the tube system is immaculate. Free from dirt and litter, with everything working perfectly and impressive designed to boot.
I emerged just in front of the Houses of Parliament and sauntered round the corner. Before me stood several political hacks, including the ever-present Andrew Marr, whom I nearly knocked flying. He’s much smaller than he appears on television.
After a walk along the Thames, I decided I may as well try and find Melissa, Boris’s right-hand woman. Once again, like my visit a couple of months ago, a quick frisk and I was in the Central Lobby of the building. It’s deceptively easy to get in, something that unnerves me every time. I asked a loitering policeman to call ahead for Melissa, and within minutes she breezed through one of the countless doors leading from the lobby. “Simon!” she exclaimed, as several looked round in surprise, “great to see you. Come this way.”
And so it was that at 11am I was sitting in Boris’s office, taking in thegreen furniture and Boris’s enormous desk. I even took a few photos while I sat, waiting for my cue to visit the House of Commons
chamber.
The House of Commons is much smaller that it looks on television. So is Robin Cook, unbelievably. And after getting a little bored in the House of Lords – most of the Lords were either asleep or too old to speak coherently – the Boris posse (myself, Melissa and Boris’s reseacher Olly) sat down for a taxpayer-subsidised lunch in Portcullis House, a huge and impressive building accessed from theHouses of Parliament through bunker-style tunnels.
And then, after helping Melissa with some website-related revelations, we were on our way to the second event of the day – the “Blogs in Action” Conference at the Polish Club. I was originally expecting a club full of shiny surfaces, but it turns out it was a club exclusively for VIPs from Poland, and it was a huge building. There was eventually around 70 attendees, and after a chinwag in the bar we headed upstairs for two hours of discussion on weblogs. Nokia were there; Vnunet were there; academics, famous bloggers and blogging companies were all there to hear the gems from the panel of five. It turned out to be thoroughly interesting, with Nokia evangelising about blogging through their new Lifeblog application and Tom Coates (of Plasticbag fame and winner of many website awards) telling us his views on where the whole thing is going.
Even for me, it was amazing how mainstream blogging is becoming. Newspapers like The Guardian (whose blogging supremo Neil McIntosh was also speaking) have their own Online and Observer blogs, and Vnunet have developed not only their own blogs but their own weblogging system for visitors to use.
By far the most interesting speakers was John Dale, who heads the IT Development at Warwick University. He and his team have created warwickblogs, a facility for university students and staff to get their own blogs simply and easily. It has been a huge success, and his combination of clever advertising, great webpage design and homegrown coding is possibly the best implementation of blogging I’ve seen so far. The general theme of the evening was that blogs are transcending geekery, and becoming useful tools for people and companies alike.
By 9pm, the presentations were complete, the wine and nibbles were run dry and Melissa, Dennis and I pitched up at an “All You Can Eat For ?4.95” chinese near South Kensignton tube station. “that sounds like a challenge” I remarked, and within twenty minutes I could barely move, such was the amount of food on offer. An excellent end to the day, we all agreed in the taxi to Kings Cross station…
UPDATE: A full commentary of the conference here, and a full transcript here. Also, pictures of the speakers here.

Natural Born Disaster

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“It’s like nature has held a terrible secret, and has decided to reveal what it can do.”
Tommy Maung, volunteer
It’s time for the obligatory post about the Asian Tsunami. The devastation shown on television is extraordinary – so extraordinary, in fact, that my mother spent most of last night describing it as “biblical”. Certainly, as Boris Johnson says this morning, there’s no one to blame, nothing we can do to prevent it, so we may as well watch, wonder and help in any way we can. And there I was last night, watching, thinking how good it was that so many people were donating, never once thinking that I should be donating myself. I’ve got debts, I argued internally, and they’re far more important.
Except, of course, they’re not. It took my mother’s suggestion last night to spur me on, and this morning I donated ?50 to the Salvation Army.
So, lots of questions come out of this “biblical” event. And here are a few of the answers, in true internet-linky style.
What is a Tsunami?
Come now. Don’t you remember those geography lessons at school? If you were too busy flicking rubber bands at friends and enemies, here’s a good explanation from the BBC of the phenomenon.
So what happened this time?
Well, the BBC again comes up with the goods, with this description of how events unfolded.
Where can I see video footage of the devastation?
If anything will spur you on to donate hard-earned cash, the videos will do it. Waxy.org has all the videos and links he can muster – and he’s always adding more. Watch and wonder.
Blimey. Where can I donate?
I thought you’d never ask. Here’s a list of websites currently accepting donations.
I want more!
Easy, tiger. Try these links: Lost Remote, 2Bangkok, and BoingBoing.
UPDATE: For further incentive to donate, this may help. Warning: graphic and gory, but a scene that will be repeated many, many times over – and also one which may never be shown by the media.

020 7360 1007 – the dirty swines…

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It’s not often I get called by a mystery number. So when I managed to miss calls from a London number this afternoon – 020 7360 1007 – while I was busy teleconferencing at work, it set me thinking. Who could it be? Those Channel 5 interviewers, telling me I’d made the cutting room floor? Boris Johnson, phoning for a quick chat of David Blunkett’s demise? Fond hope, I thought, and tried to call it back. It cut off before ringing. Odd, I thought. 3 further attempts also failed.
So, Google came to my rescue. It seems that the number is used by fraudsters to illicit money out of you, and faking their number so that you can’t call them back. Many others have been caught out, according to this blog. I’m unsure how it spins its money – maybe I’ve been charged for making those unsuccessful callbacks. Maybe if I’d picked up, I’d have been landed an astonishingly heavy phone bill next month. Another dodgy number is the less respectable 0870 011 04 15.
So, how to get rid of the little blighters? Well, the only way I’ve found is to ask dodgy sales callers to stop (they’re legally obliged to do so), and sign up free for the Telephone Preference Service. Or, as one poster said, tell the mystery caller, “Yes, that sounds interesting but first I’d like to talk to you about Jesus.”

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

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The grey office buildings sped by as the train picked up the pace. I was busily reading the newspaper, trying to forget that in an hour I would have a camera shoved in my face and a TV crew hanging on my every word. I had been invited up to London to be filmed for a segment of an End of Year Show for Channel 5 and ITV, a fact which was in turn exciting and nerve-jangling. Boris Johnson had been sacked, I was deemed the foremost expert on him. Very good of them to think so, I said, and after goading from my manager and friends, I accepted their invitation. I donned my best white top, conducted an extra-through shave, and travelled up sharpish.
The graffiti on the line was getting increasingly tiresome, and I was pleased when Waterloo came into view. There was little time to amble, and I raced through the crowds and down the tube escalator, desperately looking for the Northern Line platform.
Within 20 minutes, and an astonishing 30 minutes early, I’d arrived. The venue was a posh hotel near Marble Arch called The Leonard, and I approached the reception desk with a air of superiority. “I’m here to be filmed. Where should I go?”, I asked, and brimmed with pride as I noticed the reverence I was suddenly being shown. I waited in the foyer, nervously drumming my fingers and rehearsing the lines I’d prepared on the journey up. Before long I was summoned to a large suite of rooms, and in the main room stood a large television camera, a large umbrella, a bright light and the producer. Both the producer and the interviewer were friendly to a fault, put me at my ease and told me that they may only use a little bit of my monologue, if any, as I was a late addition. They also were astounded at my height – and this caused considerable problems with the microphone and camera alignment. As they struggled to raise the height of their equipment, I went through the facts I had prepared. And then – AND THEN – the camera started rolling. I forgot everything. I tried reeling off Boris facts, witticisms and anecdotes, extolling the virtues of an all-encompassing Boris-led country, and managed to pull a couple of suitable passages out of the bag. However, everything I’d prepared went straight out the window, to my eternal regret.
After 40 minutes, my first foray into the media was over. I’ve no idea if it was good enough – in fact, even if it was good enough I’ve no notion of whether it’ll be squeezed into the programme. My fifteen minutes of fame may be over before I’ve even noticed…

Missing In Action; Presumed Busy

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You may be thinking that the lack of posts on wibbler.com shows the dull, slow-paced life I must be having. Quite the opposite, in fact, and that means very little time to post the wonderful, action packed events that have graced the last few weeks. For example, there was:-
– the paintball expedition, where I sustained bruises that were still coming out a week later;
– the visit to Fright Night at Thorpe Park, which entailed 2 visits to the wettest ride in the park, long queues for every other ride and even longer queues to get out of the car park;
– the leaving meal of my old boss at The Pier, which resulted in my first visit to chilly Oxford and a series of particularly appalling renditions at karaoke;
– the designing/building of part of the Fat Face website, done and dusted in little over a week;
– the designing of two other sites in under two weeks;
– the Grand Get Together with 16 of my nearest and dearest, all congregating in Zizzi’s restaurant in Guildford, on a table designed for 12 people;
– A visit to Nick’s house with Sarah and Michelle for a night of drinks, games and pre-birthday presents;
– A knees up with Nick last Friday in Guildford, where we cobbled together an ingenous business plan in a drunken haze.
– Visits to the gym four times a week with Michelle, with a view to turning my body into slightly more of a temple;
And last, but not least – Boris Johnson. Boris Boris Boris. He’s been in the news a lot lately for better or worse, and Boriswatch has been inundated with visitors – an average of 5000 a day for the last two weeks. And then last Friday in a hail of media fire, he was sacked. Cue calls from Sky News and the BBC, asking for comments and interviews – and it all came to a head yesterday, with your humble host popping up to the House of Commons for a lunch date with the great man himself.
So what I propose is this. I’ll blog a selection of these events over the next week of so, and you sit there with the patience of a saint. Sound reasonable?