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Old Alumni Part 2 – Alex Cameron

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Alex Cameron and I first met at college. He was a fun andAlex_Profile_small.jpg unconventional dude, with unkempt hair, a loud voice, a quick wit and
a tendency to go that one step further than everyone else. At one
memorable party, while we were busy drinking and telling Charlotte
Vaughan how nice her house was, he was busy removing all the internal
doors from the entire place and hiding them, before moving downstairs
and exploding an egg in their microwave. He was that kinda guy.
We left college, went our slightly separate ways, and I
occasionally met up and talked with him about computers and old
friends. Then, a couple of years ago, he burst onto the scene –
starting a Mayfair-based company (Digital TX) and harbouring an
incredible idea that could take on the likes of Sky and Virgin Media.
It was always going to be tricky, but if anyone could do it, Alex
could with his enthusiasm, knowledge and downright audacity. He gave
speeches, consultancy, advice, the whole works. He began to know
everybody. He, frankly, was on his way to a dang good future, and he
wasn’t shy of letting everyone notice.
And then, last week, I received an email from him titled “The Offer Of
A Lifetime”. Ominous, I thought. He was over in America, getting finance for his company, and someone had offered him a job. Not just any job, mind you – it’s an absolute
stonker. He’s been offered a multi-million pound deal as a “director… for the newly formed Digital Hollywood consortium”, as he put it. After I’d read the email, a couple of swearwords of admiration passed my lips. If anyone deserves to be obscenely rich, Alex does…
I remember saying at college that Alex, despite finding him a great guy, would end up either incredibly successful or face down in a ditch, such was the wild but brilliant antics. Thankfully, it seems the right path has prevailed! The culture shock of piles of money and success can often bring about that nasty second option – although I think Alex is level-headed enough to cope. Go get ’em, Alex!

Moving In – The Aftermath

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I take it back. There are two things that are great about moving house at Christmas. moved.jpgFirstly, it’s the ultimate way to keep in trim while loading your body with turkey and chocolate. For the two weeks after we moved, there were endless tasks to be done – informing all the companies and friends of our new address, buying essential domestic stuff, putting up pictures, mistakenly knocking holes in the wall, desperately trying to cover them up before anyone noticed, that kind of thing. It’s a veritable workout every day. And secondly, the sales are on. On the strength of this, various things have arrived throughout the last few weeks – a fridge, meaning that we don’t have to suffer the mini-fridge any longer; a tumble dryer, meaning there won’t be clothes draped around everywhere; a bed and mattress, meaning that we can sleep (and what a bed it is, too); curtains for the entire place; and, for vanity’s sake, a surround sound system and a new piano. Amusingly – or not – this has all coincided with Revenue and Customs deciding they’ve forgotten to tax me sufficiently – and adding £500 to my tax bill for the next couple of months. Better stay in for a month, I guess…!
So, the house is very nearly done. We’re still after a dishwasher, and then there’s the garden to consider. Honestly, this house-buying malarkey is a task and a half. But, in a couple of weeks, we’ll be ready to announce an event that people have been asking about ever since we announced we were moving – the house-warming! As we’ve all grown up, maybe we’ll have Spritzers and canapés instead of beer tubes, silly hats and pizza. Probably not, though…

Blown Away in Leeds

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“Oraclecoursethangyouverymuch.”
I was still trying to wake up after an early morning start. The
geek-based course was about to get in full swing, and all the various
course teachers were coming in, vulture-like, picking off the
delegates one by one. Their enforced cheeriness grated slightly after
half an hour spent trying to find a car park in Leeds, a task only
marginally easier than forcing jelly down a drain. However, they did lighten our spirits on the drab, rain-filled morning. I even started looking forward to five days of database training. Sadly, people with personalities generally don’t train people in databases, as I discovered when a small Indian man shuffled round the corner. He announced the course in a thick Indian accent, showing all the excitement of a morgue assistant finding another dead body down the back of the incinerator. We all glanced at each other before shuffling off behind him to the training room.
By lunchtime I had at least learned something – never underestimate a boring man. He seemed to know everything there was to know about databases and computers in general. His problem, sadly, was that he was not good at conveying that knowledge. We could only understand every other sentence and developed a system of nodding whenever he looked at us, attempting to show we were following every word. It took about an hour to tune into his accent, and a further hour before I got into the groove of the difficult topic. Luckily the course notes we comprehensive enough to bluff my way through.
Lunch was not particularly inspirational either. Cold salad, hastily knocked together quiches and orange juice filled the vapid hour before the afternoon session. Thanks to the smokers insisting on going outside in the freezing wet weather to puff on their cancer sticks, the room got colder and colder. It was, frankly, a relief to go back into the training room, and perhaps this was precisely the reverse psychology we needed. The afternoon went with a bang, and before I knew it we had finished the first day. I managed to get to the car park without being blown off course – coinciding the course with bad weather was a possible error – and got into my car on the top floor. “Dammit”, I thought as I saw the NCP car park ticket on my passenger seat. “Please pay on the bottom floor,” it mentioned. So, downstairs I went, wallet in hand. A wallet, it turned out, which caught the notice of a woman sitting huddled on the bottom stair, looking as if she was waiting for someone. Me, as it turned out. “Nice weather,” I ventured, trying to be friendly as I searched for the ticket machines. “Yeah. The machines are other there.” She pointed to a darkened corner of the room. As I opened my wallet and got out wads of cash – NCP managed to charge £14 for 7 hours of parking – she piped up again. “Yeah, I may be homeless but I can be useful.” Here we go, I thought. After a wail about her life story, I felt compelled to give her a couple of pounds. I told myself off as I wandered up the stairs, but it was too late. She had probably bought a quarter pound of brown by the time I’d reached the top stair.
I had arrived in Leeds on Sunday afternoon for the five-day marathon and booked into the closest hotel I could find. It managed to be situated beside a chinese restaurant and a TGI Fridays, which gave little choice for healthy eating – but a big choice for deliciously overpriced fodder. I was here that I returned that first afternoon. As I entered the hotel for the second time that week, a large gust of wind heralded my arrival, blowing everything around me off the table. Hell of an entrance, I think you’ll agree.
After a meal at TGI Friday’s, some newspaper reading and email sending, I settled down to a good night’s sleep.
And that’s how it’s been for the past five nights. The weather has got worse – my mother phoned on Tuesday to check how close I was to the especially windy Pennines – the trainer’s accent has got bearable, and I’ve actually learnt a whole load of useful stuff. Today I’m off home, back to my wonderful girlfriend, my wonderful new house and a whole load of DIY…

All Moved In!

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I’m not entirely sure you should be allowed to move house over Christmas.
movinghouse.jpgFirstly, there’s the financial absurdity. December is an expensive month anyway, without having to hire vans, feed helping friends, pay solicitors and start a lifelong mortgage. Then there’s the sheer organisation needed – for me, organising my morning’s breakfast is a bit of a struggle. So, here’s how Christmas went, Wibbler-style.
Moments after I wrote the last entry on here, the computer was switched off. NTL are not renowned for their efficiency – as a former post highlighted – and I resigned myself to defeat when they told me of a 2 week delay in transferring the services to our new pad. The delay horrified me, as you can imagine. So I employed a tactic straight from the annals of MoneySavingExpert.com. I claimed that Sky could install it in a week, and I wondered what NTL would be able to offer instead? Cue slight panic at the other end, culminating in 3 months of free NTL bills as an “apology”. I’m going to have to start lying more, I reckon…
So, back to the Big Computer Switch Off. Comprehensively tangled wires fought to say outside the packing boxes, and it was while I was grappling with them that Nick turned up.
Nick had very kindly taken a day off work to help clear our complete tip of a flat. The first thing we needed was a van, and off we trundled to Apex Van Rental in Burpham, only to find I’d forgotten a vital piece of identification. “You’re one of *those*, aren’t you,” said the woman on reception, clearly indicating that I needed a few more brain cells. Nick burst out laughing, while I nodded and sheepishly got back in Nick’s car, tail between my hefty legs. Eventually, we found the ID and got our mitts on an enormous van for only £25 a day. Bit of a bargain, I thought, especially as I’m bound to wreck it before sunset.
Slowly, throughout the morning, Michelle, Nick and I made a human chain down the two flights of stairs, piling the van high. Well, fairly high – it seems all our worldly wealth can be contained in half a van, which is a tad depressing. At 11am, a call came through that started a bodily wave of relief – the sale had been completed. We’d legally gained a house, and a whole load of never-ending debt. Woo!
At 2pm, after much-needed Domino’s pizzas – Texas Barbeque and Pepperoni Passion, since you ask – we set sail for the new house. There, waiting for us, was the previous owner, keys in hand and eager to show us how the house worked. And then… and then. The previous owner walked into the distance, and we all looked around in wonder. It was a great moment, and we took it in.
Only for about 5 minutes, mind you. We’d barely had time to investigate the garden before half of Michelle’s family breezed in with advice and cleaning products, giving the house a good once-over. They were closely followed by DFS, who with spectacular timing had managed to deliver on the very day ot the move. After we’d made them take the sofa covers off and put the wooden sofa feet on, a strong smell of leather rose from the seats. Then Sarah and Michelle’s sisters rocked up, plus her aunt, niece and nephew. It was like Piccadilly Circus.
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur, if I’m honest. I slowly became less and less excited – and more and more tired – as the trips backwards and forwards from the van and the flat took their toll. Michelle and I slumped into bed at 12.30am. The lights of the large Esporta gym over the road flooded the front bedroom as we dozed off – who needs a gym when you can have a workout like this?

Online food shopping – why on earth not?

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foodshopping.jpgI’ve just completed our once-monthly online food shop, and it it reminded me of someone the other day complaining that they couldn’t afford the delivery charges. But there really is no reason not to do it. We live on the second floor of a place with no lift, and every time we shop online at Tesco we get the added bonus of seeing the exasperated face of a bloke lugging four of five crates of food up two flights of stairs. It’s fun, I assure you.
So, in a moment of full-on philanthropy, here are the arguments against online shopping – and the answers to knock ’em down.

1. They can’t usually deliver when I want.
Far be it for me to promote someone who’s already the top of the grocery pack, but Tesco are the way forward. They have two hour slots for delivery (if that’s not enough, Ocado from Waitrose do one hour slots) and can usually deliver within a day.

2. You have to pay for delivery.
True, you do. But with a little knowhow, you can cancel out the charge. You can get £5, £10 and £15 off your shopping total by using the codes listed on the Tesco Voucher Codes website, or reading the Voucher Forum on MoneySavingExpert.com.

3. It’s not secure.
It’s as secure as going into any shop. In fact, it’s more secure than that, as all the transactions are done by computers rather than people. So if you buy anything anywhere with a credit card, there’s no reason not to shop online for food.

4. You can’t potter around picking up other things you might like.
No you can’t – and this is surely a good thing, no? You don’t spend money on things you didn’t need in the first place, you don’t add more inches to your waistline, and you don’t add more pennies to Tesco’s bulging moneybags.

So what’s not to love about online food shopping?

Liver Damage

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We don’t have many excuses for a lad’s night out these days. I’m buying a house (more on that in another post, I’m sure), Nick’s getting married, and Jac’s working all the hours god sends him. But last Friday, we managed it – and with it came the realisation that we’re definitely getting on a bit.

We didn’t rush out to the bars and clubs, which is the first indication that something has changed. We “stayed in for a couple”, conscious of our wallets and bank balances. After several bottle of lager and sessions on the XBox 360, we left and headed straight for McDonalds, eager for a piece of cow to line our stomachs with. Jac looked a little out of place amongst the gold hooped earrings and shell suits, so we rapidly left and found the first bar of the night. In fact, it was TGI Fridays, as Nick was eager to try a fun cocktail and wasn’t taking no for an answer. I tried to be cool and had a Mojito – apparently the “in” drink according the to the bible Heat. I’m not too good at being cool – I got bits of crushed mint leaves stuck in my teeth. A good look, I think you’ll agree.

All £4.70 of Mojito went down in a flash. I’d been looking forward to the night for a while, and I was downing drinks like George Best. Next stop was Lloyds Bar, a posher version of Wetherspoons. Well, I say posher – essentially the only difference is music and big screens. The drinks were cheap, and Jac – ever the spendthrift with rounds – immediately sensed his moment had come. After buying the drinks, he positioned himself under the stairs to the upper floor, so he could ogle the female legs and short skirts that went up. “I’m single,” he reminded us.
Then, the biggest decision of the night, and one which I’m sure every drinking person in Guildford was asking – which nightclub to go to? Harpers – which used to be called The Drink until its owner planted his ego on the name – was the safe option. Completely overpriced, but the music in the Voodoo Lounge section was always good. When Nick and I were little – I was 19, he was 26 – we would always go to the other nightclub in town, Cinderellas. Now renamed Time, the club is and was a tiny shoebox, but in those halcyon days we visited several times a week. It became our local club – we knew the doormen, the people inside, and everyone was our age. We haven’t been for years, mainly because it’s a good while away from the main bars. If we went to Time and it was rubbish, that would be it for the night. So, inevitably, we chose the safest router, and headed for Harpers.

It was the worst decision of the night. £10 to get in, and there was no one there. The drinks were £4.70 each. We were floored by our bad luck. But it did give us the option we all secretly wanted – a visit to Time.

We wandered up the hill to the club, and instantly felt a whole lot better. Good music, friendly faces, and plenty of women for Jac to get his teeth into, as it were.

There were several highlights. In the middle of a popular R’n’B song, Jac and Nick dissolved in tears as I loudly asked the DJ if he had Inspector Gadget. He couldn’t have looked less impressed if I’d asked him to shove a hot poker in an unfortunate place. Jac attracted a large young lady, who he managed run away from several times during the night, while Nick reminisced on the good old days and threw a few stylish shapes on the dancefloor.

After I successfully made Jac and Nick stay until 3am, we meandered into the Kebab House, ordering the last kebabs of the night. We even managed have another XBox session before finally giving in at 4.30. It was a good night. We’re not that old yet…

Phone Idol

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Ringing in the changes: Now that’s the kind of rapid rise career to have. Charles Dunstone set up Carphone Warehouse with £6000 savings. 15 years later, he’s just bought the once-mighty AOL UK. And all it takes is guts and a bit of luck…

Done Up Like A Musical Kipper

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I’d like to think of myself as internet-savvy. I do almost everything on it nowadays – from the monthly food shopping to paying bills, buying DVDs and CDs, it’s all done on my computer screen. In the six or so years since I started playing with the internet, I’d like to think I’m aware of every internet scam out there.
I mention this because last night I happened upon freeipods.com. The website sounds utterly preposterous – getting an MP3 player worth £250 for nothing sounds like fool’s gold. Apparently they get commission from the number of people who sign up for their sponsors. Sounds odd, but it’s been on Newsnight and the BBC News, and I know of one person who has actually received one, so I thought I’d sign up, What can I lose, I thought?
So, the sign up was straightforward. I chose a username and password and burst into the members page, eager to find riches. I was faced with several options for sponsors I needed to sign up with – DVD clubs, casinos and the like. However, one caught my attention – an MP3 site offering cheap access to thousands of high-quality MP3s for a low one-off charge. Compared to Tesco or Napster downloads, it was a bargain – $19 for lifetime membership. $19 for an Ipod, I thought, and away I went to sign up.
Not, obviously, without checking its authenticity first, of course. A quick search on Google didn’t throw up too many warning signs, and the little padlock on my browser indicated that it was a secure site for my payment. I was all set to go. Plugged in my payment details, got confirmation…. And then nothing. No web page with MP3s, just a page telling me how to use other programs to get them. Click, nothing. Click, nothing. A warm, gooey, unpleasant feeling seeped through my body. I’d laughed at countless internet newbies signing up for scams, putting them down as unbelievably naive. I’d had been taken for a mug, and now some nefarious criminally-minded bastard had my debit card details. I was INCENSED I tell you, more at my complete failure to notice the scam than anything else. If it can still be a scam when it has a secure trading site, what’s the point in having the secure padlock icon?
And that is why, at ten to eleven last night, I was on the phone to a wary woman from Alliance and Leicester, explaining that I’d signed up for a dodgy website and there was a distinct possibility that they may use my card details for a new Boeing 737 they’d had their eye on. After I explained that it was a music website and not some sordid den of carnal knowledge, she was much more helpful and stopped my card immediately. So, for the next seven days, I am debitcardless, which frankly is a relief for my bank manager.
And I don’t think I’ll hang around for that iPod, either.

Hold The Line

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About a year ago, I geeked out on mobile phones and bought an O2 XDAII. It was a thing of beauty – a large touch screen and countless useful features that essentially made it a small computer. “Now I don’t have to spend hours in front of the computer!” I announced to Michelle’s obvious glee. Add to that the fact that a friend’s boyfriend had got me a Friends and Family discount for life, and I was a happy bunny. I remember picking it up in Slough, sitting in a lay-by, firing it up for the first time and phoning Michelle, unable to hide my glee.
Times have moved on, of course. The initial glee has given way to slight inconveniences. For example, when I go out on the town, where should I put it? It fills an entire jeans pocket, and if you accidently drop the thing in a drunken haze it’ll no doubt reward you by springing into a thousand pieces. Add to that the constant crashing (it’s a Microsoft system, you know what they’re like), and the fact that loading applications onto it usually caused something else equally useful to stop working and the joy has faded. So, three months ago, my eyes rested pleasingly on the new Nokia 6680. Techy advances mean that it can do almost everything my XDAII can do, but without looking as though you’ve got a laptop stuck to your ear. My recent trip to a conference in London had only whetted my appetite further – the Nokia representative there had one, and was salivating almost as much as I was.
So, naturally, I phone O2 on the day the phone is launched. “I’m afraid, sir, that the phone has been delayed a week. Phone back next week.” So I did. “I’m afraid, sir, that the phone has been put back another week. Sorry. Try phoning next Monday.” So – again – I did. And I think you may be able to notice a pattern here. In fact, for the next 14 weeks they advised me to phone back the following week, and I had no option. I was aware that there was a huge demand for the phone and if I missed the boat by even a day they would be sold out. Finally, yesterday, £9.52 later – I’ve worked out the exact figure for a nice little complaint letter I’m drawing up – I was allowed to order it.
It’s taken 14 phone calls, around an hour of waiting on hold and countless swear words, but it’s arriving tomorrow. The little bugger better be worth it.