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Catching up with life…

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Over the last couple of months, work has been more than busy. For those who don’t know – and those that usually forget every time I tell them – I’m a Software and IT specialist for a pharmaceutical company that seems to be growing exponentially. My combination of roles is taking it’s toll though. As the company grows, I’m feeling a bit like the last bit of jam at the end of the jam jar – rather thinly spread. Two large IT projects have been launched, while all the time supporting the UK software base, conducting all the training and being a general IT monkey. Getting in at 8am and leaving at 7pm is not a load of fun – and hopefully after a bit of discussion last week things will pan out well in the new year.
And because of this – and the 4 websites I’ve built recently – nothing really happened on wibbler.com, as several readers are at pains to point out.
However, I this the site is due a revamp, don’t you?

A journey to nowhere

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There are very few places in the UK that haven’t been touched by
technology. But at 4.30am on Monday morning, I started
travelling towards one of them.
Most parts of west Wales can best be described as remote, and the previous night I swotted up on the location – a place called Aberporth, which would be far better named as Nowhere. Here it is.
The first two hours of the trip to Nowhere were a pleasure, with barely any cars on the road – who in their right mind would be up at that time on a Monday morning, eh? – but it was when I crossed over the Severn Bridge (who, to my horror, had upped their toll charge and wiped me out of cash for my morning paper) and climbed into the Brecon Beacons that the journey slowed to a crawl. There was no doubting the picturesque landscape that I was able to fully take in as I slowly creeped up the hills and dales behind an enormous truck. It took
thirty minutes to find a suitable place to overtake, and it took all my rallying skills to achieve the move.
The company I was visiting was deep in a virtually uninhabited village. There were no signs, no road names – and after using the navigational services of two local tradesmen and a map I found the offices down a small dirt track.
And it was there that I spent two days talking about the wonders of the company I work for, how we could help them – and no doubt save the world at the same time. The exaggerated hyperbole that comes out of my mouth is really top-notch nowadays. I’m fairly sure I could sell ice to an eskimo.
In between the two days, I stayed in an enormous room at an enormous hotel in the middle – again – of nowhere. There was no mobile phone reception, and very well hidden internet access, meaning that for the first time in years I had to make my own entertainment. I went shopping in a place called Cardigan – where, according to a cheery shop assistant, the sweaters apparently don’t come from – and read half a book. It was actually surprisingly liberating to be free from technology. My friend Simon B lives in a mobile-free zone near Guildford, and purposely hasn’t installed a landline. His home time is free from interruptions. I can’t wait to try it.
Despite the no-contact revelation, however, it was good to get back into the land of the living. But to my horror, on the very day I got back to the office another company a few miles from Aberporth we looking for my services. I didn’t think it was possible to have more than one company operating out of there. Looks like my no-contact experience is about to get another showing…

Pagans and other humdrum Scottish notes…

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“So are we only going to expect updates to the mighty wibbler.com when you meet celebrities?” said a solitary email that flooded into my mailbox a few minutes ago. Now, less of the sarcasm, mister. I suppose I should be glad that someone’s noticed there’s been an update – my audience must have dwindled a little over the last few months, while I flew around making business and personal ends meet and generally working myself into a frenzy. As it happens, I came back last week from Edinburgh. It was a dull week, by all accounts – the glorious sunshine that bathed the south of England didn’t manage to reach the wilds of Scotland – but the hotel made it all the better. It’s the only Edinburgh hotel I’ve stayed in, one where all the staff make a decent stab at looking happy about life. It’s called The Glasshouse, a converted church that sits at the bottom of an ominous hill. An ominous hill, I found out the next morning, that hosted a “pagan sex festival” the night before, which may explain the random clothes I saw as I looked out my hotel window. I mentioned it to my friend Marcel, who immediately incriminated himself by identifying the event as the Beltane. “Ah, I remember those days,” he muttered, allowing me to inwardly combust with shock and awe at this seemingly straight-laced man.
Anyway, Edinburgh’s nice. Very nice. But not nice enough to make me long for home on the third morning up there. There’s nothing like a girlfriend, a 40″ television and an XBOX 360 to come home to on Friday evening, let me tell you…

A Zen in IPod clothing

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I’ve been toying with the idea of an MP3 player for a while. My assumed role of Chief Geek within my friends and family circle means that everyone assumes I’ve already got one – creative.jpgbut I have been holding out. Mindful of the mantra that’s been drummed into me as since I was very small – and those who’ve seen me will know that must have been a *long* time ago – I hate following a crowd. In my mind, the Apple Ipod has been far and away the best MP3 player for a while, a fact that meant I cannot get one. My recent trip with Nick to the Best of Stuff Show showed, however, that nothing matched up to it in any way. However, I have finally discovered what may be the zenith of my affections – the Creative Zen Vision:M. It isn’t out in the UK yet, but as you can see it’s very similar to the IPod but can do a whole lot more – a fact that warms my cockles. This review is certainly complementary. And it means you’re not tied to iTunes, or following the crowd. In short, it won’t make you a chained-up sheepy lemming.
But hey, I know there are more geeky people than me who will read this. Anyone got any other recommendations?

That’s yer lot…

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2005 is winding down, and with it come the annual reviews of the year. For quirky current affairs, try BBC News Magazine‘s selection of lists – from “100 things we didn’t know last year” to “The Best ‘and finallys’ Of The Year“. For photo collections, take a look at TIME’s Best Photos of 2005,or the REUTERS 2005 Photo Showcase – or maybe you’d prefer the BBC’s more UK-based “The UK in 2005“. If you’re feeling slightly more geeky, try PCWorld’s Best Products of 2005 or Kottke’s Best Links of 2005.
Whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, have a good time!

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…

Switzerland – Minus seven, and I was still laughing…

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Last time I visited Switzerland, you may remember, I was waxing lyrical about the sheer amount of brothels. Not the wonderful cheese, the spectacular mountains, the glorious Swiss chocolate – but brothels.
And now, at the risk of being utterly stereotypical, I shall discuss at length the quality of Swiss beer. No, actually, first I shall let you in on my trip. And then discuss at length the beer.
It was a trip that had been put off since early January, and my experience of Switzerland before had made me eager to sample more. This time, three of my colleagues were on the plane with me for the three-day jaunt – Ian, John and Dean, who hails from Ireland and had come via a Westlife concert – don’t ask. Ian, John and I managed to meet – almost by accident – at Heathrow Terminal 4 on Sunday afternoon, and after checking in with the first check-in assistant I’ve ever witnessed with a personality, we headed for the bar.
Finding the bar was tricky though, and we split up to search. An excited call from John later, and we were in the Duty Free shop, trying 3 different types of vodka cocktails for free. “You’re meant to buy the bottles afterwards” came the distant call from the waitress as we hurried into the distance, our stomachs warmed considerably courtesy of Smirnoff.
Boarding the plane, Ian remarked that my lack of furry coat may be a problem in Switzerland. “No,” I retorted, “they’re closer to the equator than we are. If anything it’ll be warmer.” My ill-thought logic was woefully off-piste, as confirmed by the helpful captain as we looked over the frozen landscape a couple of hours later. “Best get your woolies on,” he cheerily advised, “it’s minus 7 degree centigrade down there.” Christ, I muttered.
We landed remarkably smoothly despite the Siberian conditions outside, and sidled off the plane in awe at the landscape. Switzerland is reknowned for its beautiful scenery and towering mountain landscapes, but I was blown away. Time was not on our side though – it was getting dark and there was a 1 hour train journey ahead of us. Switzerland’s transport system is legendary (at least in my eyes), and after momentary directional confusion, we found the train and reclined in leather-clad luxury for the smoothest ride I’ve ever experienced.
The hotel, just 100 metres from the station, was a pleasant surprise too. Decked out in classy glass and red leather sofas, mirrored ceilings and a glorious bar, it was manna from heaven at 10.30pm on a cold night. We dumped our bags, met Dean, tested the bar, and then slept. Slept well.
The following three days were a mix of training, evening drinking, laughing, resplendent restaurants and a battle for sleep. My colleagues, I discovered, were genuinely amusing, and I laughed until I cried at least three times a day. There were many hundreds of comical moments – from Dean’s initial greeting as he met us in the bar (as he passed the bar with his travel bags, we misheard “two secs” as “group sex”, a greeting that will forever be repeated on future meetings) to Ian’s “petit peu/petit pois” confusion and Dean’s description of the Irish traffic light system (“orange means put your foot down, red means you’re good for two more cars). I was struggling to stop giggling for most of the trip. The main company bod over in Germany, a large Bavarian man called Herbert, was a drinker beyond compare, and we managed to stay up until 2am every day, sampling the Swiss beer like there was no tomorrow.
Ah yes, the Swiss beer. Now, Dean had informed me of a little known fact at our first meeting about the difference between beer in the UK and Ireland and beer in the rest of Europe. According the gospel of Dean, there is a chemical in the UK beer that is banned in European beer. This chemical, I was informed, causes hangovers, in some complicated way I was unable to fully grasp. “Surely not,” I replied, “I’ve never heard that before”. So, in true British style, we decided to test it out. Nine pints of lager and a good sleep later and Dean’s theory was proved correct – we woke a little sleepy but otherwise completely fine.
And there, my friends, is the secret to the drinking skills of other Europeans. The drink because their beer is actually tasty and because they don’t get hangovers. There are all sorts of questions that arise from this, not least why we have that darned chemical in the first place, but we were content to test the theory every night for three days. On the last day we toured Zurich city centre, and discovered an odd mixture of lapdancing clubs and many, many clothes shops. Its architecture is very like Milan, if you’ve ever been, and I’m eager to visit again, despite their extortionate taxis.
So, another trip to Switzerland finished. Safe to say I was in need of a rest, and slept for most of the next two days. Now I’m back in the land of the living, and eagerly awaiting the next excuse to visit…

Bloggerheads – a daily dose of enlightening cynicism

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If you ever feel happy about the state of politics in the UK today, take a daily gander at my erstwhile friend Tim’s site bloggerheads.com. It’s through Bloggerheads that most of the UK’s internet-based political opinion, analysis and linky goodness comes from. A daily dose of cynicism does you good, and in Tim’s case the points he makes are often inspired and completely true.
So, what’s made me cynical today, entirely because of Tim? This:
The Sun hides bad news for the Government behind fluffy headlines. Every. Single. Time.
Taking away your right to protest.
Also, old Labour figures are leaving with a nasty taste in their mouths. This storming leaving speech (full speech here) by Labour MP Brian Sedgemore is simply wonderful.
But sometimes, all I get from his site is hope. Hope that one day the stuff he puts on there will be taken up by the masses and get noticed, that Blair and his cronies will be shown up for what they are and chastised for what they are doing. Hope springs eternal from these links:
The Disappearing Labour Party.
It would take just one person to bring down Blair.
And then Tim, Clive and I go and tell everyone to Back Blair. What are we thinking?

Alex and Millie de la Salle – Married at last

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It was a sunny, Saturday morning. Birds were tweeting, leaves were rustling and, possibly more importantly than all of that, Millie and Alex were getting married. Not only that, but they were getting married is what I later found to be one to most remote locations in England – St Mawes, in Cornwall. Michelle and I had arranged to pick Mark (an erstwhile, long-suffering friend from my days at Sun) and his delightful girlfriend Julia. Excitement literally oozed out of me* as we sped off down the A roads, eating into the 520-mile round trip with all haste.

After an hour, my excitement was flagging. The placid ride of my hired Vauxhall Vectra had lulled me into a coma, and Mark was gently snoozing in the back. Suddenly, Mark hit the jackpot – “We should look out for animals, say the animals name and then do the sound associated with that animal” he announced, and forthwith we launched into a load of MOOOOs, BAAAAAs and OINKs without embarrassment. This however proved a struggle for me – my cry of “SHEEP, MOOOOOO” was greeted with large titters and wild applause.

Four and a half hours and two wrong turnings later, we arrived. St Mawes is everything we were promised – a paradise by the sea.. The tranquil, picturesque village surrounded a wide bay, and the bright sun set it all off nicely. Our hotel was right on the seafront, and after dumping our luggage we headed for the nearest pub to meet the others.

Well, I say nearest. We in fact passed 5 pubs before climbing a long hill to the planned meeting place, a rather posh hotel. A few drinks were had, and then we snafled back to our rooms to prepare for the night ahead.

Millie has plainly been keeping a few things quiet. For as we walked into the grounds of her dad’s enormous seafront house, we discovered just how rich he really is. The enormous white Georgian home was set in about 3 acres of gardens, all of which was open to the public. At the bottom of the garden, a small round pergola overlooked the sea. This astonishingly beautiful place was the setting for Millie’s wedding. We were in awe.

The rest of the night was a little hazy. Alcohol took effect half way through the meal, but I have photographic evidence that we enjoyed dancing for hours in the dance tent set in the grounds. The photos are here. They do not lie.

The following morning were were all suffering the effects, and as we drove home Michelle and I reflected on the events of the past day. It may be 253 miles away from home, but it’s a paradise on earth. Congratulations, Alex and Millie de la Salle.

* Not strictly true.

The Long, Dark Stag Night Of The Soul

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“The husband who wants a happy marriage should learn to keep his mouth shut and his checkbook open.”
Groucho Marx
Saturday was the Six Nations rugby cup final. Although, not least because the shower of fools managed to lose against the French, I won’t be talking about it. No, an event that eclipsed all others also took place that night – Matt’s stag do. Get a cup of tea – it’s a long story.
It was a cool, clear morning. The promise of copious drinking and a strip club brought to mind my mother’s advice – “Line your stomach, darling, and you won’t go far wrong.” This turned out to mean bananas and milk all round, and as I left home for Guildford that morning to meet Matt (Michelle’s brother), James and Paul, my lonely banana skin served as a foreboding reminder that things were about to get messy.
In fact, messy seemed an understatement. Take for instance our opening salvo, a few swift halves in Edwards bar in Guildford town centre. A quiet place, you’d think, at 2pm on a Saturday. Three scousers, who looked barely out of their nappies, decided that now was a good time to show how very hard they were, with the victim being some poor, misguided fool who had objected to them. Cue a minute of fighting, four on one, involving chairs and all sorts. It was a severe pasting, but the victim won no points for yelling after every break in pummelling “Come on then!”. They already had – and they did again five minutes later, finally finished with a blood-curdling sound of head against door frame. A good start, we thought, and swiftly left through the blood-spattered door to board a train for the Big Smoke.
Leicester Square was the obvious starting point and we made for the Sussex Arms, mindful of the need to pace ourselves to last the night. A few drinks and an Aftershock later, the plan was in ruins. We bounded merrily along, past the Nags Head, past Covent Garden with its wide, intricate arches and on to the Boks Bar. Rugby-watching was the plan, with a view to celebrating England’s victorious win, and the Boks Bar served us splendidly. A Female Tequila Dispenser was installed in this bar, and she had a particularly wiley way of getting a drink out of us. Togged up in Lara Croft garb, the shot glasses were arranged at conveniently racy points down her torso, which she proudly offered with minimal embarrassment. The picture of her kissing Matt was a great shot, and made us thankful we’d brought the camera. The tequila, however, was disappointing – at ?3.80 a shot, it was watered down, and Matt confronted her with the revelation that while we thought she was downing the shots with us, she was in fact swigging from another water-filled bottle on her left hip. To top it all, she walked off without giving change from ?16. By then, of course, alcohol had taken hold, and we couldn’t have cared less.
We watched the rugby. We cheered. We groaned. We threw things. We bloody lost. By then, Matt was suffering. He’d had his head in his hands for around 20 minutes, and we thought it was high time he got some air if he was going to last the night. It worked, in a way we’d never envisaged – within 2 minutes, he’d emptied his stomach. We pressed on.
Two more had joined us – Mo and his friend, who for completeness I’ll call Gunter. I have no idea of his actual name, but he was German, and a cheery bod. Eager to reach the climax of our night, we grabbed the fifth taxi we could find – the first four were either full or ignored us, rightly guessing we might be a bit of a handful – and sped away to Spearmint Rhino, the Gentleman’s Club.
We made it. More to the point, Matt made it. He was disasterously unwell, and his poor preparation (distinct lack of beer tolerance build-up, 3 hours sleep the previous night) was clearly telling. Once in, he headed straight for the great porcelain bowl, while we sped on to the main room.
And, frankly, what a place. I’ve waxed lyrical about the Caf? de Paris nightclub in my time. This was Caf? de Paris with strippers. If you’re going to go to a strip club, this is plainly the place to be. Mo got a round of drinks to shove in our gaping mouths, and we settled down on a plush red sofa. Topless women danced around, and homed in on us like flies. To save my mother’s blushes, I shall merely say that fun was had, especially by our german friend, who ended up ?120 lighter. After a brief geeky moment wondering if any of the young ladies was the “mysterious literary sensation” Belle De Jour, we left, noting that Matt the stag clearly wasn’t having the time of his life thanks to his unpredictable stomach.
We staggered home, amusing ourselves with the astonishingly near retail store of the company I work for, marvelling at the 130-step circular stairway down to Goodge Street tube station (possibly the most challenging drunken moment of my life), and bumping into my old friend Kate and her sister at Waterloo station. I cannot for the life of me remember what she said, but she’d just been to the party I was due to go to before Matt’s stag night reared its head. I think I said “small world” several hundred times. We eventually surfaced in Guildford early on Sunday morning, considerably worse for wear.
A fantastic night, so thanks to James the best man, who conceived the whole sordid idea, and to Paul, whose witty banter had my cheek muscles aching with pleasure. And to Gunter and Mo, whose dad owns my local Indian restaurant the Madhuban (which happens to be the best I’ve ever been to). And to Matt, who provided endless hours of amusement looking like death warmed up. For all I know he’s probably still recovering.
Now all that remains is to get the long-forgotten camera back from the strip club…