November 07, 2005

20 hours in Milan and ridiculousness of travelling – Part 2

Follow-up to 20 hours in Milan and ridiculousness of travelling – Part 1 from Tongue in Cheek

Okay fine, so it took a week until I carried on from the last post! Pah, not as if anyone reads this thing so as to care!

Where'd I leave off? Covered in bites as I recall… Damn they itched! So I wake up in the morning and go down to take advantage of the breakfast buffet.
If there is one thing my parents taught me to do properly it is to take advantage of free (or pre-paid) things, especially food. Having gotten quite tipsy on the way into Milan because of free drink on the plane and knowing that beer in the airport was on expenses I made sure I got my "money's worth". So at breakfast I made sure the company money putting me up in this hotel didn't go to waste. Many croissants, bowls of fruit and mugs of coffee delivered by the very attractive Italian waitress later I realised I should probably set off to the Hilton for the whole reason I'm here!

The taxi driver who picked me up was a very nice chap who spoke pretty good English (it was certainly better than my Italian which kept lapsing into French for some unknown reason). Got a good guided tour of Milan from the comfort of a Mercedes taxi cab. Did you know that the rivers in Milan are artificial "canal" type things designed specifically to import stone and marble to build the big cathederal there?

No, neither did I.

I'll skip over the details of the conference itself since unless you're interested in automotive engineering and the CAN protocol (with CANOpen as the higher layer protocol) in particular you'd find it painfully dull.
The conference in theory ends at 5, I have a plane to catch so I leave at 4, I get changed out of my suit. It has served me well around the Hilton (where the conference was held) and I've dined out in style but now I have to travel back and I'd be more comfortable in jeans and a scabby t-shirt. In the entrance to the Hilton I realise… Arse, I don't have my keys.
After searching all my stuff (emptying my rucksack in the reception of the Hilton getting some very disapproving looks) and not finding them I deduce I've left them at my hotel. Not being able to speak a word of Italian I ask the concierge at the Hilton to phone my hotel and ask if anything was found. I could've kissed the guy when he said yes.

Outside the hotel I meet the same taxi driver I'd had that morning, freaky? Hell yeah… I'd mentioned what time I'd be finishing and he'd come to pick me up (probably due to the 80 euro fare to the airport he could charge). After explaining the key situation and the fact that a cash machine would be required if he was going to let me leave the taxi alive we set off…

Never, NEVER ask an Italian taxi driver to "please hurry because I'm going to miss my flight". It is a silly suicidal thing to do and is likely to cause premature death and/or heart failure. The man drove at no less than 60mph in the city (at 5pm rush hour in Milan) and then 110mph+ on the motorway dodging and weaving his way through traffic. I have honestly never been more worried in someone elses company as when that taxi driver put his seatbelt on and smiled at me.

We got there half an hour quicker than the most optimistic tour guide had suggested was possible. I had ten minutes to check in for my flight. I tipped him. He deserved it. I had a stiff drink on the plane to clam my nerves from the drive.

The guy was so cool when we arrived that he gave me his card and said "When you come back to Milan give me a call and I show you more of the city", he was a genuinely nice guy. He must've also appreciated the 100 euros I just gave him (15 of which was a tip). I return to the good old (crappy) Midlands and back home and back to work safely in my own car. Think am going to have to go back to Milan and see it properly at some point, whether I phone my mate the taxi driver is another matter (I have his card). Of course luck (or curse) may bring me back to him in that damn scary car of his.

So be afraid next time you go to Milan (or indeed anywhere in Italy probably). Never ask the taxi driver to drive fast… he won't need asking twice.


October 29, 2005

20 hours in Milan and ridiculousness of travelling – Part 1

While I'm busy procrastinating from doing more DIY (I've already literally melted a hack-saw blade already though so I'm feeling pretty happy) so I thought I'd just write a quick entry about my latest little excursion.

Monday night I flew to Milan for some training for work (on an automotive communications protocol if anyone's interested! I didn't think so…), landed at approximately 8pm after undergoing my usual embarrasing searches and things at Birmingham airport.

I am not suited to air travel, I love the act of flying and I will still fight for the window seat at the age of 21 (but then again so does my Dad who is 56…). I just seem to have one of those faces that must scream



Every single time I travel by plane I get searched, not just a quick pat down but taken to one side and almost (but not quite) strip searched. Now I could've understood it with my previous passport photo, I had a #1 haircut and was wearing a leather jacket with a very sullen face on me… Not that I was any different a person then but I could've understood people thinking I might have been a bit of a thug (despite that being about as far from the truth as you could get).
Now however I don't have any "distinguishing" things that could mark me as someone liable to be carrying plastic explosives in his socks (or whatever else they might have been searching my socks for) but none the less even without the machine beeping I get frisked and questioned. The best occasion was in Manchester airport where both my Dad and I got called over to one side just in the waiting lounge after the security checks and were questioned for about 5 minutes by a man in a suit and looking very serious. He took our entire itinery, almost right down to addresses…

The thing that gets me is, are terrorists that stupid? Insane, bigoted maniacs yes, but stupid? I don't think so…
Airport Security Man: "Reason for visiting?"
Terrorist/Me: "Oh, assasination of your Prime Minister and maybe a spot of genocide if my schedule allows"

No, it just isn't going to happen. I applied for the RAF a couple of years ago and one of the questions on the security questionaire was, and I shit you not:

"Have you ever planned to overthrow parliamentary democracy?"

And then the real killer, "If yes, please give details.".

Bollocks, yes you've rumbled me – November 5th, under the houses of Parliament with an obscene amount of gunpowder… Damn these questionaires!

Okay okay, I'm sorry. I understand and appreciate these rules and things like that and I'm all for them really. I'd be far more concerned and have far more to say if I wasn't checked at airports. Questionaires like that just tickle me and somewhat puzzles me as to the rationale behind them. And anyway – do I look like a terrorist?! Is this the face of a man who you should be afraid of!?! Obviously hiding WMD in my beard…

Anyway, I digress – I was initially planning on writing this entry about just my whirlwind trip to Milan and instead wandered onto the topic of my bad luck at airports. So back to Milan!

I speak no Italian, not a sausage. Not even a number! When I attempted to speak Italian I ended speaking in French for reasons which still aren't clear to me. I wanted so badly to thank people by saying merci. I wouldn't mind but it isn't as if I can even speak French that well!
I managed to blunder my way from the airport to my hotel (a 40 minute train journey away) and manage to check in obviously due to my fluent Italian and nothing to do with the fact that everyone there speaks English…

No time to explore unfortunately because by now it is about half 9 and I've got an early start in the morning. Bed. Excellent. Hmmm… itching slightly, must be a mosquito in the room or something (first thing I did upon entering the room was open the window).
Woke up in the morning covered in bites, I stopped counting at 25. A guy at work later gave me the nice mental image of the possibility of it having been bed bugs that did it, nice. Cheers Paul.

Right, am bored now and need to make food! I'll probably write part 2 of this ever growing treatise tomorrow when I get bored of DIY, didn't expect to have so much to write about this!

When is 45 degrees not 45 degrees… Revisited

Follow-up to When is 45 degrees not 45 degrees? from Tongue in Cheek

When the angle is in this house! Nothing is straight, the whole house is pissed, even the bits I had nothing to do with!

I swear I should start charging people to walk around it like those haunted/crooked houses you get in theme parks!

Lethargy… Ugh

Why is it that after a couple of months of a project, lethargy sets in? Whatever it is that you're doing after a certain amount of time (which obviously depends on what it is that you're doing) you just can't be arsed any more and its as simple as that.

No matter how important the job is, how much better life would be if it were done or how many extra marks you'd get when that assignment is submitted you just think to yourself "meh", roll over and have another hour in bed. Or write a blog entry!

I'm writing this sat on a camping chair in my semi-finished kitchen, I so badly want this house to be done yet at the moment I'm leisurely sat drinking my coffee, having my breakfast and browsing the internet without a care in the world.

I've started working 4 day weeks, basically doing 9:00 – 19:00 Tuesday through Friday and then getting Monday off work. This is good for me in a number of ways;

  • I work better in long stretches, I don't like starting and stopping something. So working a long day makes sense because I can get more done

  • In theory I can get more work done on the house in a full day than I can in an evening after a normal days work. Getting back at say 17:30, cooking & eating my tea by 19:00 then "meh" as I like to call it. Nothing constructive can be done in 4 hours, especially since me being the considerate neighbour I am I won't do anything that makes any noise like drilling or hammering.

  • I get a three day weekend if I ever want to go back to Manchester to visit family

  • I get a three day weekend, 'nuff said

But now I'm thinking to myself, what do you actually do in an evening once you've eaten? Mess around on the computer and drink beer for a few hours sat on your camping chair!... Why not use that time to tidy up areas of the house and prepare them for working on at the weekends? Once it is all done it will be a much more pleasant atmosphere for the important things in life such as beer consumption.

Why can't I get this into my thick skull and get past the laziness and do something in an evening, why can't I hit the ground running straight from bed to working hard until I drop from exhaustion like I did in the first month or so of having the house.

I need my zest and enthusiasm back!

October 18, 2005

When Ikea just isn't good enough…

What is it about the male psyche that when confronted with something that isn't good enough or doesn't do what they expect it to do, we have the urge to pull it apart and redesign parts of it so that it DOES do what we want?

I bought some under wall-unit lights from Ikea yesterday with ridiculously bright halogen lights in them. These things (in typical Ikea fashion) are magic. You can just clip together loads of them and power travels along the chain from the end and powers them all. Now you can also get a block that sits with them and gives you extra plug sockets underneath your cupboards! Cunning I thought, "It must be able to power the lights as well since the plugs obviously have power and the light plugs into it"

Plug the plug component into the wall, plug the light into it… nothing. Not a sausage. Interesting… Then I notice the cryptic hieroglyphics on the instructions that have a variety of pictures, some with crosses through and others without. Eventually I got the gist of the thing – the lights needed to be connected to a separate plug by themselves. Balls to that I thought; half an hour, a pair of wire cutters and a screwdriver later I now have power running straight from the socket!

Damn it, when I buy something I want it to work how I want it to work, not how they wanted it to work. Yes, yes, so the reason it was done was because the lights are on a 3A fuse instead of 13 that is on the plug socket but how likely is it that the lights are going to draw that much current!? And if they do, the fuse box will detect it and trip.

Of course this is just one of many instances where I’ve not been happy with something I’ve bought and had to hack something together to make it do what I want. But I’d rather do this and invalidate the warranty than “make do” with something not doing quite what I expect. How many people do this? Is it a male thing? Is it an Engineer thing? Or is it just me being weird?
Hacking things together is something I’ve always done and probably always will, it makes you wonder though why these products are designed in such a way that leaves people wanting more since the majority of people wouldn’t do this!

Tinkering is fun… house fires here we come!

October 09, 2005

When is 45 degrees not 45 degrees?

… When I'm the one doing the mitring. Damn these external corners!!


I've always been a fan of photography, seeing the composure and lighting and trying to get a decent photo out of it. Unfortunately I've never really had the financial resources nor the time to dedicate much serious attention to it as a hobby.
Kind of annoying really since should have joined the photographic society while I was still a student but oh well, as I said – I had more pressing matters on my time and money (the excuses can go on and on! Guess am just lazy!)
Now I'm a fully fledged Graduate though (note the capital G!) I can in theory have the time to explore this and take it up as a proper hobby.

I love travelling, anywhere and everywhere there is something to see. Be it in the middle of nowhere or in the middle of a city there will always be something, though I do prefer to be out in the middle of nowhere. One of the best holidays I've had was in California with my Dad for my 18th birthday. We went to Yosemite Valley, Death Valley, San Francisco, Big Sur and a load of other places. Goddamn are they beautiful parts of the world and I have to go back there some day, if for no other reason than to complete the couple of hikes that defeated me.
These two pursuits make a perfect combination, travel and take photos of it all! Brilliant! I guess there are the financial considerations still but pfft! I'm working (yes Anthony but you also have a mortgage and not that big a wage!)
So to this end I've bought myself a camera. Not just any camera, a proper SLR camera… And not just any SLR camera… A digital SLR camera. I won't bore people by explaining what an SLR is, if you're interested then sure a quick search will turn up something

After much research I plumped for the Canon EOS350D, a brand new model which seemed to be being raved about as the ideal "beginner SLR". Lots of pennies later I now have it sat here and damn is it good.
The problem though is my usual impatient streak strikes again, once I'd made the decision that I was going to get a camera, I bought it right there and then. No waiting, no fussing, just got it. The question now is of course what on Earth am I going to take pictures of while my house is a building site!?! No free time = no time to aimlessly take photos!! damn me and my foolishness!

Ah well, gives me something nice to look forward to, as well as my newly aquired motorbike which is still sat in Manchester and can be the subject of another entry next time I eat breakfast and need something to do! (This blog entry was brought to you in association with Sainsburys honey nut cornflakes and a caffetiere of silly strong coffee)

October 07, 2005

Slowly slowly slowly!

Woohoo, the Warwick Blog guys have finally linked their system up with the WGA and I can post again!

Lots of things have been happening with the house since last posted. Like I have a kitchen! Fully functional with cooker, fridge and hanging pan rack! Its been a nightmare getting this far, so many things needed (and still need) doing and everything has to be done in particular orders with time left between to let bits dry. Everything just gets delayed and pushed back before finally being completed.

Its been quite demoralising actually seeing the slow progress that has been made, I think a lot of that though is that my expectations are too high. I was tiling the floor in the kitchen and a thought came to me – a hell of a lot has been done to this house by either myself or my friends. The thing that I'd noticed was actually the cemented up hole where the downstairs toilet used to be, this made me think that where I was kneeling in the kitchen actually used to be another room, and the bit to my left was another room. All this was now gone and in its place a large kitchen fully tiled and base coated with paint.

On the journey to this point I've taught myself to plaster, something that I was adamant was impossible for anyone to just teach themselves since it was a mystical voodoo art form. My Uncle was the one who told me to just give it a go, so I bought my £30 fancy plasterers trowel and various other bits of fancy kit and gave it a go… And well I'll be, I can plaster! My ceilings leave a lot to be desired (nothing a bit of textured paint can't fix) but you try applying even pressure while working above your head!! Quite proud of myself if I'm honest, didn't think I could actually do practical things like this.

So anyway, I digress – last week I hung the pans up in the kitchen, I stood back and I was happy. I enjoy cooking, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen because I like cooking, I like the social thing of entertaining and cooking for people (and I like eating obviously!) so I've gone all out on the kitchen. I've got a big momma of a fridge (ice dispensing American thing) and a twin oven, all a little extravagent but worth it in my opinion. And I've got a very good set of stainless steel copper bottomed pans which look the mutts nuts. I've had these things for about a year now I'd say and not been able to use them, so to finally get them hanging up from the ceiling in my own kitchen in my own house was quite a moment I have to say. No one else was in the house at the time which is probably for the best since it would've been weird seeing me just staring at the kitchen with a beer in my hand looking oddly peaceful and happy.

I would recommend getting a house to anyone, I'd tell you to think twice before gutting the whole house, I'd definitely tell you to do it a room at a time if possible rather than the approach I've taken which means I'm sleeping in a room with no doors or floorboards let alone decorated. I'd also warn you that it is bloody stressful and there have been time where I have really despaired about the whole thing. But some days have been good, like when I realised just how much had been accomplished in a relatively short space of time, and when the walls in the kitchen were painted. Its the little things like that that are pretty damn good.

Maybe I'll upload some photos in the not too distant future. In the meantime it is back to work and then tonight back to decorating and maybe… just maybe… I'll get a door on my bedroom some day and a living room to relax in!

August 10, 2005

I have a wall!

My house now has a variety of walls! The kitchen wall has now been moved to where I want it to be creating a rather vast kitchen space.
Some people have seen what I wanted to do with the downstairs and said I was a bit silly wanting to have a smaller living room. Downstairs consists of two rooms, the kitchen and the living room. I enjoy cooking a lot so I like to spend time in the kitchen, I also like cooking for other people so I need space in the kitchen to entertain (now all I gotta do is find the friends to entertain!)
A large kitchen diner was therefore a dead cert, especially since the wall was a stud wall anyway.
I have also knocked through two rooms upstairs to create my bedroom which is the same width as the house! I'd briefly toyed with this idea when I first moved into the house but decided against it since the house would then officially be a 2 bedroom house rather than a 3. And then a spark of genius, leave 2 doors into the room so when it comes to be sold I can simply put up the wall again and boom! 3 bedrooms! Cunning!

So now the house is at the stage where everything destroyable has been destroyed. Everything strippable has been stripped and most things buildable have been built. The only things that remain are painting and… plastering. I am dreading the quote for the plastering that needs doing, though it is a necessity. At the moment the kitchen looks like someone has taken a machine gun to the room and put bullet holes everywhere.

But with all this hard work comes pain, my shoulder is now requiring thrice daily applications of deep heat (now remember kids: wash your hands before going to the toilet after applying deep heat), I look like someone has spent several hours punching me in the eyes due to the late hours have been working with no days off (as well as working new full time job).

The end result is so going to be worth it, but the financial cost is starting to mount and show and the physical effects are now starting to become apparent on me.
I'd like to take this chance once again to thank the people who've helped out so far on my house. My Dad has been up and down the country like a madman coming down to help me, he almost got given a season pass to the rubbish dump this weekend he made so many trips.
Gaz and his Dad for building my kitchen wall, while I could perhaps have knocked up something that could pass for a wall I couldn't have done such a professional job and I most certainly couldn't have dealt with the "oh shit" moment!
Lastly Dan you have been an absolute dude so far, so please don't get too bored just yet! Working as hard as you have on someone elses house that you're not even going to live in is something I can't repay and most definitely appreciate.

Anyone know any cheap plasterers out there? Now I just gotta go sell my soul for some more money from somewhere to pay for him!

July 26, 2005

Decorating has commenced!

The lovely wooden panelling is gone; the highly suspect rubble pile under the load bearing beam on the stairs has been rebuilt with gasp mortar! The carpet on stairs is up along with more staples than your average junior school.
By far the best thing though is…

I get to play with a crowbar! Or more accurately; with a “wrecking bar” (can’t decide which sounds best!).

My slave labour pool (aka Dan) is working hard stripping wall paper and paint and other noxious substances (that left my hands disturbingly dry and cracked when I did it) from the upstairs rooms after the planned kitchen wall moving has been postponed. Dan and I have decided that a degree in Electronic Engineering (between the two of us, Dan is foolishly spending another year doing a masters!) is enough of a qualification to build a stud wall ourselves upstairs. Not load bearing, no sockets (that I can see externally, have to hope there are no wires about) and best of all, no door to hang! It will blatantly fall down within a day of having been done but it is all about the experience! ;-)

Anyway, it won’t be the wall of my bedroom, it’ll be the guy who is renting from me so all is good. Though it will form the wall of my study so guess I’d better do an okay job.

The kitchen is fully designed now using the wonderful Ikea kitchen planner (what an excellent way to waste half an hour) and the tiles picked out. Now just got to wait for the wall to be moved and prep for some serious flat pack assembly.
At some point in the not too distant future I’m going to have to pick the colours for the rooms and find a carpet for myself; now for me this is the worst part of the whole project… I’ve not got a clue what kind of carpet I want! Or what colour walls to have that’d go with all my black furniture (which I already have). Current thought is some description of light grey or some form of off white for the walls, and then ??? for the carpet!

Ideas on a postcard!

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