Tag Archive: Swansea

Year of the…Blank


Although January was a fairly active month – in terms of social activity, there has not been much worth of pen and ink (or its 21st century equivalent). So that’s why the lack of blog posts. There’s been the usual gaming sessions, pub quizzes, work stuff (plus trips to Swansea and Bristol) and random activities that comprise of 21st century living. But other than going to Bristol (city centre rather than one of the suburbs), there has actually been nothing “new” to enjoy. Is that the theme for 2017? Take comfort in the familiar?

Something I did manage to do in both Bristol and Swansea was to visit the board game shops. I know, other folk in new places will make a beeline for the cultural sights, others the pubs, me – the board game shops. My lack of general life aside, I enjoyed my trip to both stores: The Gamers Emporium (High Street Swansea) and Excelsior Games (Bond Street Bristol). Both stores had play areas, bigger than those in Leisure Games but that’s not exactly difficult – no offence guys. And the stores were tastefully arranged showing the stock (sealed and opened). I felt compelled to make purchases in both of them (Eldritch Horror expansion Signs of Carcosa and Boss Monster 2 + some card sleeves) cos you have to support these businesses otherwise they’ll become something pointless like nail bars or tanning salons.

So looking ahead to February and beyond, there isn’t much more to note at present other than the usual run of birthdays and weekly activities. There’s the possibility of heading off to Dublin later in the month with work, might even be the day before my birthday. I’ve been trying to think of stuff to do either on the momentous day or that weekend but so far, I’ve drawn a complete blank. Well, that’s not true, there have been many ideas but all of them rejected for…well, pretty good reasons actually. If I don’t get something in diaries soon, it’ll be a re-run of last year’s couch fest. 

I think the vague plans I was formulating to head to Boston in late March are postponed – cash flow is an issue at the moment. The collapse in the pound has hit my finances too. I hadn’t noticed until January just how much more money I was haemorrhaging from my monthly stipend. I think these things are going to bear much closer scrutiny for the time being. It’s incredible how the newspapers aren’t screaming about this phenomenon but considering the political affinities of said papers, it’s not all that surprising. Put it this way, any dreams of home-ownership have receded even further away. Unless I can get a mortgage on a cardboard box around the back of Waterloo station.

Lastly, if you [happen to] read back through the reams and reams of material appended to this blog, you’ll see that I have a tendency to name years, sometimes after things that have happened to me, occasionally in response to other events. I’ve narrowed down 2016 to several possibilities before I settle on one: is the Year of Death – in response to the celebrity bloodbath? The Year of the Achilles – after my damn ankle issues for most of the year? The Year of the Sole Survivor – after enjoying Fallout 4 so much? The Year of Mitteleuropa – after my trips to Berlin, Austria and Slovakia? Or perhaps the Year of Stupid Decisions? I don’t think the latter requires any explanation. Comments on the back of a postcard please.



Stupid Leap Year

It’s not right you know – just because this planet has a wobbily orbit around the sun, we have to suffer for its imperfections by adding a calendar day every four years to balance everything out.  Most of you don’t mind but for the 0.03% of us born between 0:00 and 23:59 on 1st March, the effects are more marked as we are forced to prolong birthdays by a whole twenty-four hours.  And what’s worse is that this leap year is on a Monday so I was paid the wrong side of the weekend.

*harrumph* (said in a growly, Odo-type voice).

Hell Fortnight is not quite half way through and I want to chuck in the towel – what do I mean by that?  Well, it has been a while since I last cracked open the laptop so I’ll rewind a little:

So ages ago, I agreed to do a meeting in Swansea for colleagues in DVLA, giving a presentation on my least favourite but most topical subject, Cross Border Enforcement.  I figured it’d be a nice, simple affair, overnight in a decent hotel, catch up with people and done.  But then after I agreed, I re-read the date that I’d need to travel as 28th February.  The same 28th February that I’d earmarked for birthday shenanigans (see last blog entry for further whining/gluttony for punishment).  Not so bad in the grand scheme of things I guess – there’d be other opportunities.  Then up comes Nottingham for a workshop which I’m kind of in the lead on (folly of taking on responsibility folks, be warned!).  Although that was a one day thing, I foolishly elected to try and do the family thing that trip.

It was…heartbreaking.  I won’t say why, I need to protect the identities of those involved but sufficed to say, it was the lowest I’ve felt for quite some time.  At least I can report that the Park Plaza in Nottingham (thank-you booking.com)  is a very nice place to stay with great rooms and great breakfasts.

As part of my ongoing learning and development, I’ve been allowed to apply for (and was subsequently accepted on) a 2 day training course in Berlin on 7/8 March to learn how to work with Germany – what makes ’em tick politically, how to negotiate, understanding the differing points of view etc.  Get in – not quite March 1st as I’d have liked but a very close second.  Until after I accepted and I saw who my fellow course attendees were.  Tubster is one of them (two days with that voice alone might drive me to random or deliberate acts of self harm) and there are a couple of other people who make me gag (minds out the gutter people).  So that definitely took the sheen/lustre off of things.

But with Mr Beer’s birthday plans on 5th March which we’d negotiated and I’d committed to, going out early wasn’t feasible, not without an earful.  So I wanted to take a couple of days out for myself after the training event.  Uh – no.  Y’see, despite my best squirming and buck passing, I now have to go to frigging Brussels the evening of 8th March for A ONE HOUR MEETING WHICH IS UTTERLY POINTLESS TO ATTEND.  Naturally after I begrudgingly booked the tickets, I thought of a thousand ways to get out of it (from simply refusing and taking my chances with repercussions to an elaborate scheme worthy of Baldrick).  Point is – no fun for me, two days with gargoyles, one day competely wasting my time and I’m fully expecting the migrants to storm the channel tunnel that day or something equally homicide-inducing.

#firstworldproblems?  Probably but damn it, I’m too old for this ess-aitch-wun-tee.  As Mary Archer might have said.  Or not.

So yeah.  Rage.

In other news, I downloaded Star Trek Timelines to my iPad t’other day.  Good game, much better than Star Trek Trexels as it feels a much better experience, a little truer to the original show.  And with the voice of John de Lancie as Q to boot!  Premise: random temporal anomaly pops up, shatters dimensions and time so that all Trek characters can come together in a series of missions.  Some want to re-write history, others want to solve the mystery behind what has happened.  Suffice to say, there’s a series of missions to solve, some real time, some “put your group on a quest and see what happens later”.  And of course, there’s the opportunity to buy your way to victory faster by putchasing in-game currency for quicker access to the better items and characters.  A wonderfully diverting game which only has one flaw – the need for an interweb connection to play it.  Cannot be played off line.

Whilst in Nottingham, I found a copy of Zombi (aka Zombi U, one of the Wii U launch titles) for the Xbone.  Played it once (my character died after two hours) so far.  Doesn’t seem that bad although the story seems a little contrived.  The gameplay is ok although as a Londoner, I wish they were a bit more accurate with how things have been depicted.  I personally would have loved to stumble past my flat (if GTA can model a city…) fighting the hordes of the undead.  Also purchased in Nottingham was – A NEW DENIM SHIRT THAT FITS.  Yeah, it had to be an XXL sized shirt, of course which is a blow to morale but it fits properly and that’s all that matters.  And they said they could patch my (increasingly threadbare) old shirt if I took it in which I might just do.  It seems a bit facile to get excited but I am a relic of the 80s remember, it was cool to have anything denim back then.

I also restarted the single player campaign on GTA, just to follow a different path (where there were game choices, I want to see how the other options pan out).  I found a download code for some in-game money in the box which I hadn’t claimed – supposedly 500K for the single player and 500K for the online game but I haven’t been credited for the single player.  Might whine at Rockstar and say WTF guys?

Board game news – Bought 7 Wonders + Leaders Expansion (very popular), Shadows Over Camelot The Card Game & another Munchkin mini-expansion.  I’m calling them all birthday treats and quietly ignoring the cost.

Oscar Boycott – didn’t really work, five seconds of net-rage and then the world gets on with the rest of its existence.  There are better ways of working within the system to change it, not to pout and flounce-delete.  But what the hell, who am I to tell these actors how to and how not to behave?  I’m sure they’ve got savvy behind their decision-making, after all, none of them have ever been associated with projects that were right-stinkers…

Was in Swansea Thursday/Friday last week but not for Beaujolais day (though that did inspire me to root out the relevant scene from Abigail’s Party). Work purposes and had a great lunch in Jack’s café. Anyway, whilst waiting for my train, I had a spare hour and treated myself to a copy of Star Wars Battlefront which had just been released. 

Had a few games at the weekend, haven’t formed an overall opinion yet but here’s what I do want to share:

First – there’s no story, no narrative. That was a great part of Battlefront 2, the story of the 501st troopers. The game is mostly aimed at online gamers with a few solo-type missions which feel more thrown in as training missions. Second, it feels that luck plays more of a factor than skill. Whomever spots another player first is generally the one to kill them. And there’s no taking cover from shots apart from manoeuvre which seems daft given the maps and how much junk and debris there is on a map. The aerial combat is alright though I think auto locking on makes it a bit overly simple. And secondary weapons have a ridiculously long recharge time considering an X-Wing is supposed to carry 6 torpedoes which can be dual-linked. I think Rogue Leader on the Gamecube is a much better multiplayer experience for space combat.

The graphics are wonderful and the game plays very smoothly, even with 20 people duking it out on a map with all sorts of explosions and running around of sprites. The sounds are the usual Star Wars fare, I don’t think any new music has been written especially for the game. The voice acting was also good – the old voice actors doing our beloved characters. Battlefront is a fun game and worth a play but it’s only a middling experience and doesn’t feel like a particularly _worthy_ addition to the series. I may change my mind with expansions but there’s a fair amount that just needs fixing.

Speaking of Abigail’s Party, does anyone else think that Lawrence willed himself to die at the end when Beverley said that she was going to stay with him?

Still Heading West

So first of all, I guess I want to thank Sony. Oh I’m still annoyed by most of their goddawful devices (Greystation and those dreadful, dire handheld consoles) but the headphones I’m using are Sony and over a year later, they’re still functioning beautifully. My iPhone volume never has to go above 50% to listen to music clearly, even on a packed tube train on the Bank-Liverpool Street stretch of the Central Line (without a doubt, the noisiest part of the network). And there never seems to be a clash between swapping jacks out on my 3DS and iPhone and iPad and laptop and whatever other device it gets plugged into (Joey’s blackberry for the latest piece of YouTube humour springs to mind).

Apple – take note of the above, please make earphones that last more than fifteen picoseconds.

Coming into Reading now, I’ve passed through this town/city (?) multiple times but never gotten off here. Perhaps I should make time just to see the place once and glimpse at the world behind the concrete edifices cloistering around the station. Actually the above sentence is a lie, I have disembarked from the train at Reading, to change to a Theale train. So there.

Considering this is a “peak train”, it’s not particularly full though I suppose it is a Friday; I don’t think it’s half term until w/c 18th Feb though as I recall, the February half term is set depending on the local authority. Some are on half term next week, others the week after. This week, the District Line has been full of school parties, presumably heading towards South Kensington and the various museums down that way. That sort of activity is frequently scheduled just either side of school holidays but does not for happy commuters make. Especially those who like to play 3DS without kids hanging over seats gawping at your screen…

Very sad news the other week about Sony shutting down what is now called Sony Liverpool, formerly Psygnosis. Another Great British game designer crushed by an overseas, myopic giant the same way Rare was splooged over by Microsoft. Another reason to hate and despise Sony, and wish for their humiliating, painful downfall. Angrymuch Heather? The only reason I happened to think of that was because I’m listening to a Turrican remix (by the brilliant Jeroen Tel) which sounds like the in-game music for Bully/Canis Canem Edit, a game by Rockstar, another Great British – or at least founded by Brits – institution.

Birthday planning news – finally talked through the party with Andy D at the Griffin and discussed options, logistics etc. I think we have a plan though the kitchen team are going to come up with alternative options for the dinner menu, not because my choices are unrealistic but because two heads, three heads etc are better than one. Though I have to insist on Frikadellen, won’t budge on that one. What that leaves me with is the bill, the decorations and polishing off the playlist. I don’t have too much else to worry about as the rest has been sorted out.

Random jump – one question I failed to ask at Cascade yesterday (as I wussed out yesterday) that why do we need urgently to respond to the Laidlaw recommendations? The Laidlaw report really does strike at the fundamentals of the modern office environment which have been changed too radically, too quickly – read 7.5 of the report. Isn’t it better to take a little time to sit, think and consider what’s really at stake here rather than apply a sticking plaster to an open, festering wound? And it is a wound – whilst the language used is suitably politic, the implications are clear – we have some serious problems. I don’t think that’s a career endangering comment as it’s nothing that isn’t already publicly accessible. I’m just rebranding it in my own way. As Sexy Lexy Luthor says, Freedom of Speech is a wonderful thing, when nobody is listening.

Actually, that’s something I do feel strongly on, the fact that posting comments in an online space about your employer can lead to disciplinary action if they take issue. After all, work/life balance is increasingly blurred these days and I thought that managers encouraged feedback these days. If someone feels so strongly as to post something negative online, surely it should spur you on to examine what it is about your working practices that lead to people taking such a public step. Granted, something like “ZOMG my manager is such a dick” is a little crude and should be dealt with. Sometimes, you can’t be sure that those who need to be listening actually are doing so, being wrapped up in other concerns. It’s easy to forget the basics when considering the variables.

I’m not going to dissect the Laidlaw report itself, that’s already been done by countless analysts in the media and at the teapoint. But it’s a chilling warning of how when things go wrong, they go wrong. And again, WE TOLD YOU SO.

Have something of a nagging fear that the snow predicted/happening in the north is going to suddenly swing south and hit Swansea with the full force of Jadis the White Witch. Chiefly as the BBC’s weather forecasting ability veers on this side of utterly incorrect, even though they’ve re-employed the Schaf. I don’t want to be stuck anywhere owing to the weather, even at home. I get the urge to do the opposite of what I’m supposed to do, too Eunice Parchman in that way.

Did I really write ZOMG two paragraphs ago? Ugh, I feel so dirty.

Right, quittin’ time, some AoE 3 methinks or Civ V – bless ya Steam.

I’m on the move again today folks, this time over to see the good people in Swansea for another DVLA visit. We’re talking IT systems and specifically, the new build they’re putting together for a demonstration. And of course, I’ll be sneaking in a visit to see Big Ian down in the Print Team.

This has of course necessitated getting up at 6am (why would anyone willingly rise at this time?) and a panic-induced dash half way across town as I always fear missing the train. Oh, some doddering old git soaked my jeans this morning whilst he was loving coating his car with hot water to remove frost. He threw the dregs of the water onto the pavement and I swear he knew I was coming down the road so they got me rather than the actual concrete. I’m thinking of urinating on his BMW door handles by way of revenge; hyper-childish I know but it’ll make me feel better.

So I’ve managed to boot someone out of my seat on the train and cheated the woman sat opposite me of the lion’s share of table space by getting here first. All in all, it’s been a mixed bag of a morning and there’s another four and a half hours to go before the midday pit-stop. After our meeting, we’re going on a meet n greet session with various colleagues before coming back to London.

You know what, my stupid PC has downloaded the latest virus scan updates and ordered me to restart now. Given how the stupid thing got me when playing Age of Empires the other week by rebooting me in the middle of a game, I’m going to terminate this blog post now and resume later. So you can have two today.

Social Notworking [sic]

Still no update from Paris – I finished it on the train but haven’t decided which piktchaz to upload.

I have decided to consider whether or not to sell my soul to the devil, that particular hell-demon being Mark Zuckerberg. Not in a personal setting but as chair of the Lambda Network. A couple of network groups have set them up, not least because government IT practices are so restrictive that one is all but forced to consider alternatives in order to effectively conduct business. Whilst corporate functions state they are happy for staff to engage with each other, to network and socialise, they really, really don’t make it easy.

But let’s not go too far down that road lest there be tell-tale tit snoopers browsing. So yeah, I’m considering setting up a FB page, dragging the Network into the first decade of the 21st century…*rolls eyes again*. Thing is as I’ve deliberately eschewed this site, I’ve no real idea as to the practicalities of how it all works. I might well have to delegate this task assuming I can find a willing sucker volunteer to take it on.

Swansea on Monday was very not bad. The weather was clear (except where I could see a grass fire in progress with half the hillsides obscured in smoke) and I achieved everything I wanted to do. Met up with John at the station and we went to meet two of his friends who happened to be in town; also DVLA colleagues. Tried some local brews in the Weatherspoons – one was not bad but don’t think I’ll try the other two again, not that I can remember their names. Then we went over to Cosmo which is a huge Chinese buffet restaurant that serves over 150 dishes including starters and puddings. There was a large Indian selection of dishes, presumably to up the vegetarian quotient. I managed to snarf three plates of food but two hours later I was wishing I hadn’t as I had trapped wind and indigestion for the rest of the evening. In fact I still felt somewhat uncomfortable the next day.

We met with our various counterparts in DVLA and obtained the information we wanted as well as providing advice on various topics of interest. What more can one expect from such visits? Also had a quick lunch in the canteen which consisted of a salad plate, mostly to counterbalance the previous evening’s gluttony. After a subsequent meeting/chat with Ian of the DVLA LGB network, it was back off to the station to hop onto the train and head back towards London, kicking a bunch of girls out of my reserved seat which was perversely amusing. Journey back was better than the outbound journey though we got stuck behind a slow moving freight train at some point and suffered a 20 minute delay.

One mad dash through the capital to Vauxhall and I arrive at the quiz tired and sore as that wretched bag seemed to get heavier with each step forward. Surprisingly the pub was empty but we’re guessing that as the £300 jackpot had gone, there was a sudden lack of interest. The most intriguing part of the evening was when Andy disclosed the season scores and there are only two points between us and Team Science (in the wrong direction). So we need a 31/40 in the next four weeks to pull things back.

According to scuttlebutt (actually Joey having emailed), Ceajay and Alex took part in the quiz on their ownsome and didn’t do quite as well as previous weeks. So we planned to really rub it in and managed to get a couple of good digs at our colleagues. The fact that we won the main quiz AND won three of the bonus prizes AND almost won the cash prize I think really settled any arguments over the main contributors for Yoshi’s Island. Our bonus prizes were four pineapples, four 2012 annuals (real tat) and five A Touch Of Frost DVD box sets. I kept two annuals because nobody actually wanted them and one of the DVD sets.

Left the pub on a high but by the time I got home I was really in a ratty mood, partly because of the bag issue, partly as my bus stop is closed whilst Thames Water rip up the road so had to get off early and partly because some of the local peasant trash decided to play arseholes on the bus. I didn’t want to go to bed in a foul mood so had a bath and re-read some Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years. Eventually crawled between the sheets at 2am knowing full well I was going to spend much of Wednesday yawning.

However, this wasn’t to be or at least in the morning because as soon as I came into the office, I was off to the Treasury to pick up the signed Regulations and handed them off to DfT Legal. Then back to the Treasury for a CSRA meeting, pissed off the Home Office Rep (who much to my disgust looked like and sounded like the Seahag) by arriving late. And then a very late lunch of Sunday leftovers before going out to see Brendan at the Griffin. Swapped birthday gifts and I alas was in a moaning sort of mood thanks to being quite fatigued by this point. Got home pretty narky and almost picked a fight with the Doctor. I think he had a strop but can’t really be blamed because I was tempted, sorely tempted to use him as an emotional dartboard.

Yesterday at least was a bit calmer in terms of work and leisure and I was even able to get down to Kennington Tesco for a bottle of sugar-free Dr Pepper. Paul and Andrew’s leaving drink was that evening and down we went to the pub en masse, ate lots, drank lots and returned home pissed as newts. Huzzah!