October 31, 2006

Too Flash For My Cash

To my friends’ amusement I’m normally one of those super-organised people who never has an empty fridge, doesn’t forget to send a birthday card and starts Christmas shopping in July. Yes, July … you can great some great bargains on big brands in the summer sales. Trust me.

That’s why last weekend, on a dull afternoon before I got ready to go out in the evening to meet friends, I wrote a list of what I’d already bought and for whom. Then I composed a ‘to do’ list of what else I needed to buy and promptly browsed the internet to take advantage of some earlybird discounts and special offers.

It’s six years’ since the height of the internet boom and you’d think that by now the big name retailers would have learned what customers want from a website. I want to buy Christmas presents quickly, easily, have them delivered to my work address and have a few discounts and ‘3 for 2’ offers thrown in to make me feel all warm and festive. So why do some websites in 2006 still do the following?

1. Have a smiling director on the homepage telling you how eco-friendly and nice to their employees they all are, but not how to buy anything from them
2. Offer a two minute self-congratulory movie on the index page, which you’re told you can’t see (even if you wanted to) until you download Macromedia Flash
3. Lose all the contents of your basket if you press the back button in your browser
4. Not accept your registration details because your address isn’t in the out of date Royal Mail database
5. Have the most popular items out of stock. Sorry mates, you’re not getting a chocolate fountain this year

Happily an hour later I scored gold with some websites that it actually was a pleasure to do online business with – they weren’t too Macromedia Flash to take my cash. And they offered free delivery to boot.

Thanks to Amazon, HMV, Christian Aid Present Aid, Boots and Cancer Research Campaign I will have happy friends and family at Christmas and I can spend my weekends in December making merry rather than barging people out of the way in Woolworths. I can hear my friends taking the mickey out of me right now …

October 05, 2006

Holiday Cold Turkey

It’s two weeks and four days since I came back from holiday. Not that I’m counting …

I spent a week in very sunny Montenegro, apart from the last day when it rained like it was going out of fashion, with nothing to do but eat, sleep, swim and sunbathe. With a spot of toddling along a cliff path in a shallow attempt at athleticism, and some exercise of the right arm when raising wine glass to lips, thrown in.

The strange thing was that for a couple of days I couldn’t get used to the fact that, for once in my busy life, there was NOTHING that I had to do. No timetable where I had to be anywhere (apart from at the airport to catch the plane home), be responsible for anyone or, praise the Lord, do any cleaning. Just one big great fat nothing.

Once I’d got this into my head and stopped looking at my watch to see what time it was, and quit feeling guilty that I was flicking through a tacky gossip mag on the beach instead of doing something productive with my time, it was heaven.

Now I’m back in the real world I guess that this quick five minute time out to write a blog entry is my anarchic (!!) way of reclaiming a tiny bit of that holiday spirit. There are lots of things I should be doing, and I will do them. But here’s to my next short break – New York in November. I’m getting withdrawal symptoms for holidays already!

August 16, 2006

I've been Big Brothered

It's happened. Every year I swear it won't but eventually I can't just say no.

This year I was doing so, so well, even managing to read a magazine round my friend's house whilst she was succumbing to its malign influence. Then at the weekend, so near and yet so so far, I cracked. I watched Big Brother, swallowed all the hype and … I'm planning on watching the final on Friday when I'm visiting my family for the weekend.

The first Big Brother final, back when the programme was billed as a psychological experiment for the new millennium (yeah right, that's why C4 gave the contestants lots of booze and encouraged them to indulge in a spot of naked body painting on the house walls) I watched the first final with my dad. It was new, it had been trailed to the hilt and, in a sugar–coated postscript, the winner Craig the builder (remember him?) gave his winnings to his friend with downs syndrome for a heart operation.

Then, as the series and years passed by, the contestants became more and more outlandish and clued up, and the tasks and tone became more and more cruel. Cue Davina having to whisk ousted housemates past booing and baying crowds.

Series became longer to try and hold interest and attract more high–paying advertisers in the breaks to target the 'yoof' market. But still I watched nearing the end of the series – it kept on reeling me in.

This year I swore it would be different. My lapse at the weekend came about because my friend was visiting and we switched the telly on for five minutes, only to become embroiled in the Nikki/Pete love story saga. Which frankly got rather boring after yet more footage of them clamped together in a clinch.

But still I want to find out who wins, although Pete seems a dead cert. My friend and I wasted ten minutes trying to remember who the winners of the previous Big Brothers were. Here goes: Craig, Nadia, Cameron the Scottish fisherman, Kate Lawler, Antony and er … wasn't there a guy who went on to present children's TV?

August 06, 2006

Blood, guts and rhyming couplets

Last night I went to see Henry VI part III at The Courtyard Theatre in Stratford. The Courtyard opened in July and is an intimate yet deceptively spacious venue with something that the main theatre lacked – comfy seats. Not that my attention wavered for very long during the performance. It was riveting. The visual imagery and direction (particularly of the fight scenes) were stark and arresting, with the audience able to follow the relatively complicated and fast–moving plot.

Jonathan Slinger's portrayal of Richard III to be provided some comic moments, with nuances of the 'Suits you sir' Fast Show sketches. Despite the laughs however, in a story full of vengeance and violence with trails of blood swept around the stage, it was his character that brooded with the most menace.

August 04, 2006

Taking the Dyson for a walk

I've just finished taking the Dyson for a walk round my flat as part of my cleaning sesh. Luckily my flat is so bijou that I can hoover the whole square footage without having to relocate to a different plug. My dabble with domesticity (I've scrubbed the floors and done the dusting too) is in honour of my friend's visit tomorrow. She hasn't seen my flat before and I'm taking her to see a play at Stratford as part of her birthday present.

This weekend bodes well for me not ending up looking like a complete berk, as happened a few weekends ago before my last visitors arrived. My friends from a previous job, who I meet up with about once a year, were coming to see stay for the weekend. My friend Fiona and I had emailed each other to sort out the plans. On the Friday evening I got a text from a strange number saying they would be late. So I rang Fiona's number and got a comedy, breathy voiced 'sorry I'm not able to take your call right now' answerphone message. A few minutes later I rang back and the call picked up.

Except it wasn't Fiona, it was a man who said 'Are you the person who has been sending strange texts for months and saying something about camping?" he said.

"You're not Fiona, you're a man!" I replied.

"Yes" he said.

"We're not camping, she needs to bring a sleeping bag for my sofabed" I garbled. "Have I got the wrong number in my phone? Sorry, I'll delete it. Bye!"

And then Fiona rang me again on the strange number that was her real mobile phone number. Turns out when I changed mobile phones last August I'd entered her number in incorrectly. She said she'd thought it odd that she hadn't heard that much from me for the last year. I said I felt like a complete berk.

Still, at least a good weekend was eventually had by all. And the man with the comedy answerphone message knows he hasn't really got a text stalker…

July 31, 2006

Movie review – The Break Up

On Friday night I went to see the chick flick 'The Break Up' starring Jennifer Aniston. No, it's not about the very long and boring saga of her and Brad Pitt's marriage breakdown, it's a fictional not that long and definitely not boring tale of a couple's split over … a bowl of lemons.

Both funny and poignant, the film looks at miscommunication between the sexes in true 'Men are from Mars, women from Venus' style. Him: "OK I'll do the dishes". Her: "I want you to want to do the dishes". Him: "Why would I want to do the dishes?"

Although the couple's lifestyle is far from realistic – expensive apartment, couple's bowling nights, fancy job in a posh art gallery – the dialogue is pretty much spot on.

Jennifer (according to Heat magazine, so it must be true) is dating her co–star Vince Vaughn in real life. If they want to stay that way my advice to them is never, ever, to attempt a table centerpiece with a bowl of lemons. Jennifer, don't flirt with another man to try and make him jealous. And Vince, OFFER to do the dishes before you're asked.

July 27, 2006

Don't Supersize Me

With Tony Blair speaking out this week on how we should all take responsibility for our health (though he's looking decidedly peaky these days – perhaps a long rest is in order?) how come it's cheaper to buy more food than it is to buy less? I'm not joking. You couldn't make it up.

Last night I met a friend in Leamington for dinner at a lovely restaurant called Case Valle. On a hot, sunny evening, sitting in the covered conservatory area was a real pleasure. The homemade, non–chain food on offer sounded very tempting, particularly as there was a special early–evening offer: any rice or pasta plus salad and a drink for £9.99. We both decided to plump for the chicken and mushroom risotto. I asked for a starter sized portion, which the menu offered, knowing I rarely can chomp my way through a full restaurant plateful and the food just ends up in the bin.

But the bin was exactly where some of my risotto ended up. Apparently I couldn't order a smaller portion of risotto because starters weren't included in the offer. The cost of a starter–sized portion, a salad and a white wine spritzer came to well over £9.99. Now, although I'm trying to be more eco–friendly, reduce my food miles and eliminate waste, it seemed daft to pay more for less. I went for the £9.99 offer. So some of my huge portion of admittedly very delicious risotto went to waste.

Here's a suggestion: how's about restaurants routinely offering different sizes of portions at different prices? Eat less and pay less – think of all that food that wouldn't end up in the bin.

July 26, 2006

Journalism Schmernalism

With millions of blogs out there on the web, I've always wondered if anyone actually reads them. When news days are light the media churns out the odd story about a homeless persons'/whistleblower blog etc catching the eye of a publishing or film company, but in reality the chances of your blog elevating you to the position of the next JK Rowling is as likely as you becoming a supermodel (unless you happen to be called Kate Moss and your blog is spilling the beans on your wild lifestyle).

Which was why, after I published my first blog entry, I was astonished to receive a reply to my 'technorati ping' musing from someone I don't know. Thanks, Helen Ryan, for educating me on all things ping.

In my job as Web Editor at NAGTY, my very small contribution to the world of journalism consists of news stories for the website on all things to do with gifted and talented education. Whilst I'm typing away into the CMS on the Warwick Uni Science Park, people all over the world can read NAGTY's official papers and press releases. But they won't know – or care two hoots for that matter – who I am or what I actually think about the subject.

The spread of blogging's appeal is down to its ability to let everyone be 'journalists' and tell the world what they think and how they feel. Even if they only want to write about what they're having for their tea and how they feel about last night's episode of Lost on the telly. Journalism schmernalism – you don't have to be Kate Adie anymore to have your opinion published. Yes, some blogging is totally frivolous but others gives ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances – such as people caught up in the 7/7 attacks or in the current Israeli/Lebananon conflict – a chance to have their voice heard. Even if there are only a handful of people listening.

I set up my blog after reading my friend Rach's blog. Read her blog here. I really enjoy reading about her cat Apple's antics. Apart from Helen - the person I do not know TM – Rach is the total sum of my readership. Cheers for the reply Rach – I agree the green is dodgy but haven't figured out how to change it. Maybe someone I don't know can illuminate me??

July 25, 2006

Let the blogging commence

So now I've done it – I am officially part of the 'yoof' generation and have a blog. A blog in NAGTY corporate colours no less – bold purple with a sprinkle of Student Academy orange thrown in for good measure. As a Web Editor I feel I ought to keep up to date with technology – ipod (tick) sky (tick) texting (tick – it costs me a fortune each month) – CMS, wikis, yep – but I've never come across a 'technorati ping'. Apparently, with this blog entry, I can tick a box to send a technorati ping. What on earth does that mean? And has it anything to do with pong? Will the computer flick a laggy band at Joe and Jim, my lovely tecchie team colleagues who sit behind and in front of me?

You know, (evil cackle) I might just tick that box and find out …

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