My university friend Richard was doing some paperwork at his house and found a magazine published in the late 80s with three of my poems in it, each of which I’d written to capture one single moment or emotion. For no other reasons than it’s fun for me to rediscover my younger self, and because right now it actually is a hot evening in July, and also because I want to pretend to be all sensitive’n’shit, here’s one of those poems:
It is a hot evening in July. You and I
lie, naked, on the bed. My cigarette smoke
dances in the sun’s fading rays, and hangs in the air
like angels, waiting. Are you awake?
Yes, it seems that you are.
You run your fingers through your raven-black hair,
slowly. Your eyes are half-closed. Your eyelashes are long.
Your skin is pale, glazed with sweat. Your lips are wet.
Stubble in your armpits. Nipples dark, erect.
One of your legs gently massages the other, so slowly.
I lie back, exhaling slowly, and kiss you.
But you do not kiss me.
I have often noticed this: you will reciprocate,
but not initiate. A clock ticks somewhere.
You retain fragments of a fractured innocence:
You remind me of a fallen angel. There are no words.
A smile comes to your lips and I say, What’s funny?
You do not reply.
It is a hot evening in July.
It is a hot evening in July:
humid; quiet. You sigh.
We breathe heavily, in unison.
The sound of next door’s radio
floats languidly through our window to the world.
You hum along, inaudibly. I light another cigarette as
you shift to your side to face me. I stare at the ceiling
and send a smoke ring drifting
which hangs over your head and dissipates.
Your hand rests on my stomach, your head on my chest.
My free arm around your shoulders.
I can hear your heart beat.
I can feel your heart beat.
Somewhere a clock is ticking.
You look up and smile to me; our eyes are solemn.
And then you kiss me and I could cry.
It is a hot evening in July.
As we approach a council and European election in UK, and are a year away from the General Election, the government is crowing that its years of austerity politics have put Britain right again. House prices are booming (in the South East) etc. 1.2 million new jobs are (apparently) created (but what kind of jobs?). “Welfare has been capped and immigration controlled, so our economy works for those who play by the rules”, say the Conservatives.
It doesn’t feel like a Golden Age of prosperity here in my past-its-heydey suburb of South Birmingham. Our high street supports two family butchers, and a greengrocer. But there are also two slot machine shops, several discount shoes and cheap clothing shops, as well as a slew of charity shops and places to sell gadgets/ jewellry for cash.
Here are some photos of my local high street; it takes 10 minutes to amble along this route – approximately 400m to walk up, cross the road, and walk down again.
There’s an Oxfam charity shop:
A shop selling plastic stuff and canned food for a pound:
A PDSA charity shop:
A cheque centre (for cashing cheques at a commission) next to an “Entertainment centre” (where people can buy sell phones, games consoles, DVDs etc):
A British Heart Foundation furniture and electrical store, where people on low incomes can buy cheap used furniture:
A branch of Pound Stretchers:
“Money for Gold Rope” where you can sell your jewelry:
Debra charity shop for cheap used furniture:
Cash converters, where you can sell your TV, DVD player. There’s always a queue to sell at weekends:
A Marie Curie cancer hospice charity shop next to a British Red Cross charity shop:
Acorns Children’s Hospice charity shop:
BetFred bookmakers, next to Scope charity shop:
Albemarle Bond pawn shop:
Bright House, a shop that provides “high-quality, branded products to credit-constrained customers, through affordable weekly payments. Our bespoke credit management processes enable our customers to get the goods they need, in a way they can afford”. It’s basically a high-interest hire purchase shop; the front page of their website today advertises a “representative APR of 64.7%”:
British Heart Foundation charity shop:
Charity shops do great work, and I love poking around them for CDs and books. But when most of your high street is charity shops, it’s difficult to believe the triumphant cries of “recovery!” from the millionaires in government.
2013 was a fun year. It saw my 5 year anniversary at Opera – which I actually missed when it came about, all the more surprising when I consider that I’ve never done one job for this long. (Previous records were Programmer/ Analyst at AT&T from 1988-92, Teacher at Amnuay Silpa School, Bangkok from 1996-2000 and Web bloke at The Law Society from 2004 until starting with Opera in ’08.)
As befits a tech company, I didn’t receive a carriage clock or gold watch. Instead, my CEO began following me on twitter. So now, I always wear a tie when tweeting. Just a tie.
Professionally it’s been an interesting and fun year. I got to visit Italy, Spain and Romania for the first time. Spain saw me in Barcelona twice, although the first time doesn’t really count as I was trussed up in a business suit and incarcerated at Mobile World Congress to leverage synergies in an aircraft hanger-sized conference venue. I have yet to go inside Sagrada Familia, so if any Barcelona conference wishes to have me in 2014, you know where to find me.
I also was invited to return to Scotland, Russia, Germany and The Netherlands and had the “fun” of two week-long trips to West USA in three weeks. Jetlag-a-rama. All worth it though, to mix with people who make the Web.
I’ve been spending time working directly with Opera’s desktop team. In 2013 we moved from using our own Presto rendering engine to using the open-source Chromium engine, and rethinking all of the features and UI. Results have been encouraging, but there’s more to do, so I’ve been working on gathering feedback, community engagement and planning next releases.
Working in products has been as interesting as I hoped it would be. Users talk very little about Web Standards – which has been my focus (=obsession) previously, but are very vocal about features and UI. I think this an encouraging sign for the Web generally; as browsers auto-update faster and rendering engines become more interoperable, there are fewer sites requiring specific browsers (although just as many breaking the web by requiring an iPad/ iPhone).
Due to the shocking revelations from Edward Snowden, In 2013 I’ve gone from the kind of person who mocked tinfoil hatters to someone who’s checking the signature of a Tails ISO. At Handheld Conference, my friend Aral Balkan announced IndiePhone, a new design-led, open-source Operating System and phone. I look forward to seeing how it develops, but fear that the tendrils of the NSA are too enmeshed in the infrastructure of the web to allow anyone to be free of intrusive surveillance unless they join the tinfoil-hatters in setting up the kind of countermeasures that consumers won’t understand or be able to do.
Some of you may know this already, but I can now announce it publicly. 2014 approaches, and promises to be an astrologically significant year as Jupiter turns retrograde, just as Saturn reaches the mid-point of Scorpio and as Mars enters Libra.
If you’re rich and consider yourself “Quite Spiritual”, you’re invited to one of my workshops. The first, which will take place on the Spring Equinox near Glastonbury Tor where the leylines meet, is Secrets of Mayan flower remedy healing: channelling the crystal tarot for wealth and success.
In this two day Meditative Chakra Healing and Negative Energy Banishment Retreat™, you’ll learn:
some regurgitated bits of the Upanishads that I found on free Kindle books that explain how your Soul can never be destroyed but, by conflating it with some misunderstood terms from pop science books, is Quantum Mechanically “remembered” in the fabric of SpaceTime, meaning that your spiritual essence forever vibrates in trees and flowers.
how the secrets of the Ancient Tarot’s “High Priestess” card affects your karmic balance
how to use some attractively polished stones to raise your Magnetic Resonance during Magnetic Pole Reversal, which can otherwise block your creativity by flooding you with “Negergy” – a kind of negative energy that I personally discovered during my time at an ashram in Spiritual India (Thank you).
how the power of song can free the shackles of your spirit bringing a feeling of lighthearted one-ness with your fellow Truth-Seekers and the Universe, through a process of Astral-hyperventilation™.
how to visualize what you want to create – and you will electromagnetically attract the object of your visualization.
how to commune with Angels in a group meditative attempt bring about World Peace, Prosperity and Increase.
This warm, friendly, creative, meditative space costs just £499+VAT. Mung Beans and Scrumpy are provided (bring your own roach material).
Please indicate your interest below. (Note, we don’t take Bitcoin as that’s pie-in-the-sky nonsense).
You haven’t got one from me. But don’t feel weepy or left-out; nobody has. I don’t send them. Not just because I’m a miserable old curmudgeon (though I am) but because I think it’s silly to spend money on cards, money to send them (often via plane) so you can put it in a landfill after 10 days.
I’m not shy about talking about having multiple sclerosis (largely because I have supportive employers so I’m not constantly in fear of being fired as many disabled people are). So from time to time I get blog comments or emails from crazies who tell me that multiple sclerosis is caused by coffee/ aspartame/ invisible MS rays from the evil Quaziquarg, Lord of the Quarg People.
These people simply don’t understand the nature of scientific cause and effect. My fist and their noses would serve admirably to demonstrate how this process works.
Not to be outdone by Sil’s 15 Minute Meals done by an idiot, here’s the lunch I cooked my yesterday for my brood as a change from normal roasts, to unanimous acclaim and a request to do it for Xmas dinner.
Enough chicken legs for everyone
8 good sausages (I used Sainsbury’s best Pork and Apple ones)
Loads of thyme and some sage (out of the garden)
Half a chorizo ring
Jar of black olives (cheapo ones are fine)
4 cloves of garlic
Some pickled chills if you like a tang
butternut squash (or courgette, or potato, or whatever)
2 – 3 parsnips, depending on size
4 or 5 good size carrots
3 oranges (and some lemon/ lime if you want)
olive oil, salt, pepper
Purple sprouting broccoli
Get a large baking dish, and pre-heat the oven to about gas mark 5.
Lay the chicken in the baking dish. Cut sausages into 3 pieces, and throw them into the tray. Chop chorizo into fingernail sized chunks, throw them on. Peel and chop the squash, carrots and parsnips into decent-sized chunks – about half the size of your thumb (too small and they’ll disintegrate). Throw it all on. Ditto olives and pickled chillis.
Juice the oranges and pour it over everything, drizzle olive oil over it all (not too much as the meat will produce its own fat).
Finely chop garlic, some orange zest and pour it over. Add some salt, and black pepper and lots of sage and thyme. Wuffle it around with a wooden spoon to make sure everything is oiled and seasoned. If you like tang, put pickled chillis on the top. Don’t chop them; that way, they’re easily identifiable and can be removed for people who like the flavour they impart but don’t want to eat chunks of palate-scouring chilli.
Put it in the oven. Open bottle of wine to let it breathe. Drink a glass of it to test it. 25 mins later, turn everything over in the dish and put it back.
About 1 hour after you turned the oven on, put the kettle on and boil some water. While it’s boiling, put peas and broccoli in a microwavable bowl, add 2 tbsp of water, cover and nuke for 5 mins.
Serve everything. Use juices left in pan, veg water, a glug of wine and water from kettle plus a Knorr Chicken Stock Pot to make gravy. Eat it all.
Total cost, excluding wine, about £15 for 4 people.
I remember being thrilled when the 1989 revolution happened. The Guardian-reading Amnesty member in me was appalled when he was executed along with his wife on Xmas day, but the other half of me thought “gotcha!”. Tellingly, at his show trial, he and his wife Elena were accused of “suppressing the soul of a nation” which he doubtless tried to do. But, ironically, he didn’t achieve it. The reason that Romania fascinates me is precisely because it shows that brainwashing, personality cults and a quarter of a century of brutality didn’t suppress everyone. At some point, the people will rise up and free themselves. I hope the same will happen in North Korea and Iran, too.
Every wannabe despot should watch the video of Caeausescu’s last speech, and note the incredulity in his face (about 50 seconds in) when he realises that the game’s up; the people aren’t taking any more. And wannabe despots should be very scared by it.
Bucharest was called the “Paris of the East”, and it certainly has its fair share of elaborate buildings, wide boulevards and imposing structures. The historic centre is delightful, full of bars and restaurants. Unfortunately, half of it was razed, and its inhabitants banished to soviet-style concrete blocks in the suburbs, for a preposterous People’s Palace ordered by Caeausescu, who was shot before it was completed.
The Palace has 1,100 rooms and is the second largest building in the world (after The Pentagon). Our hosts took us on a guided tour; it’s impressive because of the size and workmanship of the fittings and decoration but, like Ceausescu himself, is dull, flatulent, pompous and uninspired. It’s a fitting monument.
I was in Bucharest for SmartWeb Conference, and what a treat it was. Excellently organised by EvenSys, it was invented and curated by Gabi because he wanted to go to a front-end conference but couldn’t, so decided to organise one in Romania. There were people from far and wide in the country, as well as some from Hungary and further afield, and a real buzz. It felt like a nation’s Web community coming of age, and it was a great pleasure to witness and be a part of it.
I don’t usually follow recipes from magazines, because they usually need zillions of ingredients and take ages to prep. But I had six people around for dinner, and a whole leg of lamb, so Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Six-hour spiced lamb with 40 cloves of garlic seemed a good choice. (All of us like garlic, but it’s not actually death-by-alium, as you don’t crush the garlic, just add it to the juices.)
It took about 10 minutes longer to prepare than any other roast, and that was toasting the spices and pulversising them in a pestle and mortar, but it was time well spent as it was absolutely delicious.
It did list some ingredients I didn’t have, so I adapted it thus:
For the sauce, I didn’t have paprika, caraway or fennel. So I added a couple of cloves, and some chilli flakes (about a teaspoon).
After the first 30 minutes, when you’re supposed to add a cup of water, I added a mug of water and a cup of red wine. (I knew my guests would want lots of gravy.)
An hour before the end, when you add all the garlic, I also added a couple of sprigs of rosemary from the garden, a couple of handfulls of black olives, and another cup of wine.
The gravy was really intense, even before I squished some cloves of garlic and a few olives into it and sieved it. The remaining olives tasted great for people to munch while the meat was resting. I served it with carrots that I cooked around the lamb for the last hour, potatoes roasted in goose-fat, Yorkshire puddings, roast butternut squash and boiled broccoli and cauli.
Possibly my dullest-ever post, but two years after moving into a somewhat run-down Victorian house in South Birmingham (West Midlands, UK not Alabama) I’ve used lots of tradesmen – on one memorable occasion, I had 2 plasterers, 2 roofers and an electrician in at the same time.
These were all recommended to me by people I trust, and I can definitely recommend them to anyone else.
Badger Windows – a double-glazing company recommended by a friend, that didn’t try a hard sell or do stupid shenanigans to “give a discount”. They turned up when they said, did the job cleanly, and didn’t ask for money up-front, but invoiced a month later. (I regret using Anglian previously – they mucked around with installation dates, had to come back because the factory had sent the wrong thing then had to be called back because the new double-glazed door had a draught.)
Decorator, wallpapering, painting
Andy Day (0121 733 7359) decorated my previous house. Ten years later, we moved out and the decoration was still really good so we hired him again. He redid almost all of my new house, hanging paper immaculately on 10 feet high walls. He turns up when he says, takes half an hour to eat his sandwiches, and leaves at six until the job’s done. He was recommended to me by a police officer and is also a very nice bloke, which is helpful when you work at home and have someone in your house for 3 weeks.
Andy Day (above) recommended Dean Beach (07833 974859) who did some beautiful work clearing artex off, skimming and repairing some walls and broken coving (from when electricity had been installed half a century ago). Very good price, takes real pride in the job.
My brother recommended Gary Coles (07949 739056) who painted the eaves on my three-storey house, sorted out a couple of leaks, capped some chimneys for a very fair price, without trying to tell me I need a new roof (which the surveyor said I might).
Jason at Knight Security (they do burglar alarms too: 0121 706 5799) added some lights, light switches and plug sockets, lowered the main fusebox (it was 10 feet up – hard to deal with in the dark if the lights go!), installed extractor fans in the shower. Recommended by two different friends.
Jason the electrician – who’s also a guitarist – recommended his mate Paul (07902 624295) who’s both a plumber and a drummer to install a new radiator in a radiatorless, cold hallway. £150, including the radiator.
Handyman, shower installation, tiling, handmade oak garage doors
I recommend my old schoolfriend Matt who did loads of stuff for me. Drop me a line if you want details.