take one woman with low self esteem, but quite good hair
add one moronic illness
stir in some medication which causes hair to fall out
mix it all up and this is what you get...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Never say never? Oh, all right then... 

Ten things I would never do

(as requested by Alan o'the Sharp)

  1. Have children

    Not deliberately anyway, though if nature decided to throw that at me, I'd have to work out how best to deal with it. I met Big at 31 - we both have some life to be living together and children simply do not fit in with that nor do I think they ever will. As you may know from reading my blog, I do not do things just because everyone else does, I question almost every aspect of my life on a regular basis. I cannot see that having children would answer any of the questions I have.

  2. Have a wedding list

    Materialism gone mad. In some ways, I'm glad my nearest John Lewis is about 50 miles away, so that I am only rarely subjected to the throngs of couples shuffling around the home department with their little handheld devices, choosing expensive homewares. No, no, no, wedding lists are irrelevant, greedy, wrong, wrong and wrong. And wrong. Make them stop, people!

  3. Buy a high-performance or status symbol motor vehicle

    Cars are transport devices to be used in moderation when there is no alternative. That is all.

  4. Put adverts, paypal buttons or wishlists on my blog for my own benefit

    I choose not to. To my mind it is not in the spirit of blogging as I understand it. My view.

  5. Binge drink

    There are occasions when I don't understand my fellow countrymen. Usually this feeling arises when I am in a town centre on a Friday or Saturday night, observing the swaying, yelling, vomiting, micturating masses. I feel most acutely that I am a misfit, but in this respect, I am glad to be a misfit. Just bear in mind if you spend an evening with me and you're drinking, I won't be and I will remember. Everything.

  6. Answer or fiddle with the telephone while driving

    I refuse to believe that you're so important that you can't either wait until you reach your destination or stop somewhere safe to pick up a message and return the call. If you are that important (e.g. you're an ambulance), then your vehicle will be equipped with appropriate communication devices and a non-driver available to deal with calls.

  7. Refer to any football team as "we" unless I was actually playing in the team (which would be very unlikely)

    Another case where I struggle to feel that I am related to my fellow countrymen and one of the few issues (along with private versus state schooling) which divide Big and me.

  8. Drink Red Bull

    Do I need to explain this? Just so very wrong.

  9. Knowingly drink instant coffee

    I think it was time spent in France which turned me around on this, even though my Frenchman was an advocate of instant coffee in the mornings, when coffee is allowed to be weak, milky and insipid, used as it is as a dunking and crumb storage device for anything from a croissant to a stale old madeleine. I drink much less coffee now than I used to, but when I have it, it has to be good.

  10. Drink tea as an accompaniment to a savoury snack

    It's writing out these kinds of things that makes me realise what a freak I am. But no. I will not eat crisps (for example) with a cup of tea. It is, quite simply, wrong. Sweet (not savoury) biscuits and cakes are the correct accompaniment, if anything. The exception to this is a British style cooked breakfast, which *must* be accompanied with a mug of strong, hot tea. Never, never coffee.

Anx has spoken.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Running out of excuses 

I have the membership card now.

The photo on it is a couple of years old - it's one of the set I got for my monthly Travelcard when I last lived in London and soon lost the will to play the City slicker game. My hair is lighter in the photo but from chemicals rather than sunshine. I have since learned to fully embrace my natural raven.

I know how to get in now.

If the outer gate is open, I follow the path past the Prep school and then round to the left, just beyond the basketball hoop. If the gate isn't open, I have to go through the main door of the Prep school (using the door code), along the corridor and out the other side. Once I'm there, I use the card to open the door, sign in and leave the card at reception. Changing rooms are signposted.

The (modest) membership fee has been paid, though this is often unrelated to actual attendance at any sports club, as many well-intentioned new year's resolvers can attest.

All I need now is to know the timetable - when I can go and when I can't. Once I have that information, there really will be no more excuses to be made.

But when I stood with Big at the door, on the outside looking in, I became wistful. As I watched the lithe, young things effortlessly carving their way through the water, performing elegant tumble turns at each end, barely making a splash as they glided up and down, I wondered where my own, clumsy, breathless attempts at swimming fitted into this display of athleticism and quickly concluded that it just didn't.

I really want to start swimming. I know how good it will be for me, how it could complement and even replace the running. The school pool and sports club is incredibly cheap - a fraction of what I'd pay for a "proper" gym - and located just across the road. If I can just dare myself, just allow myself, to be crap at it for a while. To be surrounded by people who are miles better than me and to be okay about that. To put my hated body in a swimsuit, take a deep breath (both physically and metaphorically) and just get on with it. After a while, I may become average or even mediocre. That will do.

I did it with running - I never thought I would.

Just need to dare myself.

Monday, November 27, 2006


I squeaked a high-pitched squeak - probably waking some sleeping bats - and froze, my eyes staring at the floor.

He recognised the signs - they could only mean one thing: I had spotted some kind of creepy-crawlie.

"What is it?"
"A beetle. A big, red, shiny beetle - like an oversized ladybird. It ran under the fridge"

I had watched it scuttle under there from somewhere around the area occupied by Big's foot.

I was surprised at how calm I was. Usually, in this situation, I would have screamed and run away. When we had a May bug pay us a visit - after it had taken care to spend several minutes repeatedly head-butting the window from the outside to herald its arrival - I screamed and ran to the top of the stairs where I sat, whimpering. After hearing some muttered profanities and the crunchy thud of Birkenstock on bug, I was informed in a resigned tone that it was now "safe" to come back down. "Just don't look under the shoe - I'll deal with it later."

Yet here I was, still in the kitchen, after having established that there was a large, red beetle in the vicinity.

Big started to pull the fridge away from the wall. We both imagined that this would chase the beetle out from its hiding place, but there was no sign of it.

"Are you sure it went under the fridge?"
"Yes, definitely"

I decided to take the opportunity to sweep up the dusty debris while the fridge was out of the way. This done, Big began to move the fridge back again.

Then he spotted it. He laughed.

"Your so-called beetle..."
He bent down, picked it up and handed it to me
"...is none other than a cranberry."

And so it was.

Friday, November 24, 2006

On the home straight 

Following this:

But I have never before experienced such a traumatic rollout of the application (and I have installed it on two previous occasions). This site has challenged all the initial assumptions which were made when the software was originally designed and written (both done before my time, I hasten to add). Having said that, it was originally designed as an interim solution for one site only, until the all-singing, all-dancing third-party ERP package was adopted company-wide. Needless to say, the all-singing, all-dancing third-party ERP was never and is never likely to be adopted company-wide. So now the "interim", one-site-only, in-house written software has become the permanent solution across the organisation. A familiar story, in my experience.

It has been a rough ride, but I think I'm on the home straight now.

English Version

We installed a new piece of software in a factory.

At first it didn't work properly so we took it out again (previous post refers to this).

Now it works.

But it has been quite tough to get it all right.

Monday, November 20, 2006


"You will each need to provide in advance or bring with you a 'topic' for a Room 101 game" said the invitation to the party.

It was a games and quiz party, hosted by one of my Southampton crew. I was looking forward to seeing them again.

Room 101 - a place to banish all those things which annoy us on a regular basis. "L'embarras du choix" is a phrase which springs to mind. So many annoying things to choose from - it's rather like going to an almost empty car park. The difficulty is not in finding a place, but in deciding which one to use.

There are obvious choices: Chelsea tractors in urban areas, bicycles disobeying the Highway Code, Virgin Trains, call centres, junk mail - but with these, there was always the risk that someone else would have chosen them. I had to think of something original.

I racked my brains whilst peeling and chopping the onions for the chili con carne. One of the onions was being particularly tiresome. I'd reached the final layer of brown skin: one of those layers where the skin is securely affixed to the onion flesh and is not inclined to be removed. Not only that, but it had achieved a level of brittleness not entirely called for in an onion. The skin could only be removed by scratching at the surface and would come off in tiny shards, some of which would lodge themselves painfully under my fingernails. The required scratching would also release onion juice into the atmosphere, from which it made a beeline directly to my eyeball.

Yes, yes, I could have removed and discarded the whole layer of onion flesh, but with some onions, this can result in losing half its volume. Plus, I didn't want to be defeated by a bulb vegetable.

I muttered under my breath. I may even have told the onion to go away (in a rather impolite way). This annoying onion had put me off my quest to come up with an annoying thing to put in Room 101...

Hold on...

*the sound of brain cogs engaging*

"That's it!" I cried, eyes wide with excitement.
"No-one else is going to put an onion in Room 101!" I declared. To myself.

Not all onions, of course. Most of my cooking repertoire would be wiped out in one fell swoop if I were to banish all onions. Just those tricksy ones with the brittle skin layer.

All I needed was an onion-related prop to bring to the party. I thought of going for the simplistic approach of taking (wait for it) an onion, but that seemed a bit dull and predictable. I'd watched the programme and usually the guest would bring a cardboard cut-out of the object concerned, so I resolved to find a picture of an onion - Mr Google being the obvious place to look - and print it out on the colour printer at work since we only have a black and white laser printer at home. The plan was hatched and was deemed to be good.

Except for the fact that I arrived home from work on Friday evening and realised that I'd forgotten to print a picture of an onion. We were travelling to Southampton the following day.

So what's a girl to do when she needs a picture of an onion?

Reader [pause for dramatic effect], I painted one.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thoughts arising from a failed software implementation 

Yes, I know it was the printers which were the real show-stopper. Without the printed output, production simply could not continue. Hardware and networks are not my responsibility, not my area of expertise. Production was threatened, so we had to pull out and revert to the old system we were trying to replace.

But software is my responsibility. I could have tested it more thoroughly; I should have tested it more thoroughly. My testing should have emulated exactly how the system would be used in the production environment.

But everyone knows that, sometimes, a programmer will only test to prove that something works. This is a subtle, yet significant, point. It's when you get someone else to test it that the cracks will show. In a department of this size (where size = woefully inadequate), when all you have is one developer (that'll be me, then) to design, build, unit test, function test, system test and install, it's hardly surprising that there were cracks. As far as I'm concerned, though, there were too many cracks - none of them insurmountable, but every one of them revealed that I had not done my best. That I had not produced work of the highest quality. Every one was a further nail in the coffin that my career has become.

There is a strange duality in my attitude towards work. Whilst I know that, in the grand scheme of things, what I do for a living is utterly pointless and adds nothing useful to society or to the world and only serves to fund the bits of my life which remain when I am not at the office, I still take pride in my work and aim to produce systems of a decent quality.

I was in a hurry. This project is my ticket out of this place. The sooner I get it done and dusted, the sooner I can leave here, have some time off in December and start my new job in the new year. I'll admit, I rushed it and, unfortunately, it showed. Whichever way I look at it, I didn't do my job right and for that, I feel ashamed.

I can only dust myself off, fix the bugs, wait for the printers to behave and try again.

But it is hard not to beat myself up, particularly as it's one of the things I'm good at...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Being anxious about not being anxious 

Feedback from various write-ups of last weekend’s blogmeet suggests that I do not appear to be anxious at all. Hard to believe, they say, that the woman we met is the same woman who writes all that anxiety stuff.

Inevitably, I began to fret about this. Does it mean I’m really fake, that I wear a façade, that I’m a fraud?

I began to ponder on why I chose to characterise myself (and my blog) in this way.

When my other blog was snatched from me by unfortunate circumstances, I wasn’t entirely sure that a new blog would rise from the ashes. I wondered whether I could go without. I tried, but of course I couldn’t, so I started to wonder what I could call my new blog. I didn’t want to use anything which would allow it to be found again, so anything containing my nickname was out of the question.

I did actually create another blog, named in recognition of my attitude towards my so-called career. It’s probably still out there in the blogniverse, as is its sister gmail address, floating around like the satellite bits and general space junk which continue to orbit uselessly around the earth. (Yes, here it is).

I also remember opening up the old blog again, just for a couple of posts, before I made the decision that I needed a new place.

A book that I’d read recently was "Status Anxiety" by Alain de Botton. I knew from the title alone that this was a book which spoke to me, which captured how I felt about my existence. Being a blogger had exacerbated this feeling, by allowing me to come into contact with lives and lifestyles which seemed preferable to my own, by confronting me with people who could write better, who were classier, cleverer and wittier, who had followed their dreams, taken risks and achieved their potential, rather than shied away, taken the easy options and ended up in a state of stagnation, lurching from one pointless job to another.

Blogging, like nothing else before it, had amplified all my inadequacies and left me with a deep-seated and more-or-less constant anxiety that the way I was living my life was just not good enough. Status Anxiety seemed like a phrase which summed me up and "Anxious" seemed like an appropriate name for someone who suffered from anxiety. The new blog and accompanying persona was born.

I've always been a worrier. As a child, the loss of my father at an early age had left me with a feeling of precarity. Every time my mother went out, I would fret until she came back.

As an adult, I worry about all sorts of things. Just ask poor Big, who has to scrape me off the floor each time I get myself into a state about something, be it money, our house, my job (convinced that it's only a matter of time before I get sacked for spending too much time on the internet), our garden, my health (with both parents dead by the time I was 27, I get the feeling I don't have very good genes), his health, how others see me, how I see myself, my so-called career, my inertia in changing it. I fretted about going to that blogmeet for weeks. I suffer from anxiety attacks when I go to the doctor's, when I have an interview, if I have to confront someone or if I have to make a presentation in front of other people.

Are these normal worries? I cannot say. I can only tell you what goes through *my* mind on a regular basis. These thoughts are not severe enough to stop me from going out into the world, leading a relatively normal life, being sociable, laughing, chatting and engaging with other people.

But they are always there, mostly simmering in the background, bubbling over from time to time and being patiently wiped away, until next time.

Perhaps "Anxious" was not the right name to choose. It is not all of me, it does not define me. But it is certainly a part of who I am.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


"We'll need to set the video"

The anticipation of future frustration and exasperation was visible in his expression as I reminded him of this fact.

Damned parents' evening. There aren't many programmes which we mind missing, but having seen last week's tantalising trail and realised that he wouldn't be home from school in time, the disappointment on his little (34 year-old) face was too much. It was no good: we'd have to scrabble about on the floor, brave the dusty, tangled web of scart cables and sockets and try to work out which buttons on which remote control pressed in which order would result in a successful outcome.

Having located a suitable tape on which the action on screen was discernible in amongst the "snow", I set to with the video remote. I needn't have bothered; it didn't work. I scrabbled around upstairs for a change of batteries. I needn't have bothered; it still didn't work.

"I can't program it without the remote!"
"Well, you'll just have to press record on the VCR when it comes on, then,"
"What if I forget? What if I get distracted by... well, you know..." [she thinks: blogging, most likely].
"Set a reminder on your phone."

I set a reminder on my phone so that it would bleat at me a few minutes before the programme was due to start.

"What if you don't hear the phone?"
"But it's not on silent or anything,"
"But what if you're in the kitchen? Or at the computer," [he thinks: blogging, most likely]
"I'll hear it!"

He gave me a look. I picked up the phone and stuffed it into the elasticated waistband of my "leisure pants".

"It's on vibrate."

Satisfied that all bases had been covered, and having carried out a "test" recording, he set off back to school.

I must say, it was worth it. The presenter is no slick professional, but instead a passionate, enthusiastic, eccentric host. I laughed and cried (sometimes all at the same time) at the story of "Tommy" the buzzard. Not least because it's a very silly name for a buzzard. It was truly wonderful viewing.

Big has made me share his passion for wildlife in general and birds of prey in particular. I can now recognise buzzards soaring and gliding high in the sky as I travel around the West Country, where they are now thriving again. I can spot a hovering kestrel a mile off. I bought him a Falconry Experience here, which he loved and where I even ended up having a tawny eagle fly to my hand: a terrifying yet phenomenal experience.

In short, he has opened my eyes to much more of the beauty this world has to offer. Bless.

Aside from all that, though, I still think it's time we got Sky+...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Shop anxiety 

A convenience store. The sort of store where medicines are behind the counter, rather than on display. I have been tasked with getting Big some paracetamol to ward off a potential bout of man flu.

After waiting an interminable amount of time while the assistant puts four eight-packs of beer excrutiatingly slowly into individual plastic carrier bags for the previous customer (he's probably got his car a couple of yards away - does he *really* need them all in bags?), I finally present my purchases (milk, bread) on the counter.

"Could I have a packet of paracetamol, please?"
"Yes, any preference?"

*thinks: preference? Paracetamol is paracetamol, surely. Okay, there's "Panadol", but I can't see any up there on display*

"No, just... well, paracetamol..."

*fumbles around the display of remedies*

"Nurofen okay?"

*thinks: I don't know how to make this any clearer. My only weapon is that of repetition*

"Um, no. I wanted paracetamol"

*looks bewildered*

Luckily, the Duty manager steps in, identifies the paracetamol and the exasperation levels return to "normal"

A supermarket. The "Handbaskets only" checkout (at least this way they don't risk offending my pedantic eye with a "10 items or less" sign).

There are two customers in front of me, their purchases segregated by those plastic separators with "Next Customer" emblazoned upon them (with the odd "Handbaskets only" thrown in for interest). The customer immediately ahead of me grabs another separator and puts it behind their hoard, allowing me to place my items on the conveyor. Another customer waits behind me, with the largest bottles of cider I've ever seen. I can see another separator, but the checkout operator has put it on the conveyor just adjacent to the metal slide which is used to convey the separators to waiting customers. It is just out of my reach. I wait until I can edge closer, lean over and grab the separator, placing it between my purchases and those of the cider drinker, concluding that the checkout operator had obviously accidentally "missed" the metal slide.

As she prepares to scan the goods of the next customer, she picks up the separator... and places it once again on the conveyor, adjacent to the metal slide. As she moves the conveyor forward, so the separator moves forward - she has to keep pushing it back, flustered, because it's getting in her way. Meanwhile, other customers have arrived, waiting to place their items on the conveyor and trying to locate a separator. They too see it, have to lean to get it and so the cycle repeats itself.

I observe with some amusement her stubborn refusal to place the separator on the metal slide. I imagine that she is a checkout anarchist, seeking to challenge our preconceived ideas about how a checkout should operate. Maybe she is employed by one of those hidden camera shows to observe the reactions of customers to her flouting of checkout etiquette.

I refuse to be drawn into the trap, act nonchalantly, pay for my goods and leave the store, amused, intrigued and bewildered.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The post-blogmeet serenity post 

Meeting other bloggers, especially - but not exclusively - the famous, infamous, fabulous, popular, successful ones, is always a nerve-racking business in its anticipation. But I think it's something which needs to be done from time to time, especially if you have an ongoing battle with blog anxiety.

What it reminds you of is that behind the multitude of blog personae, whether they be honest, confessional, aloof, witty, obscure or downright surreal, are a bunch of diverse, funny, intelligent, often shy, sometimes bonkers, utterly unique people. Yes, people! Humans! Furthermore, any inadequacy that I may feel in blog society is of my own making and therefore within my control.

I may not be able to compete with some other blogs in terms of number of readers, comments, critical acclaim, adulation or lucrative and exciting deals, but this is not a reflection on me as a person. As a human.

Once again, I come away from a blogmeet with a rare, almost serene, feeling. These are good people. I am a good person. We all write stuff. Sometimes the stuff we write is noticed by others, sometimes it is not. That's all, really. And whether we are noticed, paid vast sums of money, mentioned in the mainstream media or languishing in obscurity with a handful of readers is not indicative of real-life hierarchy, as much as it might feel like it sometimes.

I needed reminding of that, I think.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Old school blogging 

I've been tagged.

Name the person who tagged you

8 things about you [which, hopefully, I haven't told you before...]
  1. I used to be a biker chick, riding pillion with my 6ft5 French boyfriend. I loved the effect of taking off the helmet, shaking my long hair out, lighting a cigarette and striding together into a bar in our leathers, helmets hooked onto our arms, looking intimidating when in fact both of us were pussy cats. What I didn't love so much was:

    • When his old trail bike used to stall at the traffic lights (something it used to do on a regular basis). Being a kick-starter which required a particularly violent kick to get going, I would have to dismount so that he could restart it. One time, I lowered my right foot to the floor, intending to carry out the "hop sideways and slide other leg off" manoeuvre, but I'd wedged my foot in the kerb so my only solution to getting off was to fall sideways to the floor in an inelegant heap.

    • When we travelled from Lyon to Brussels to "start our new life together" (ha ha ha ha ha). After ten hours on the bike, the pain in my buttocks was so severe as to almost make me forget that I was wearing a balaclava and red, waterproof dungarees. Almost. Not a pursuit for the glamourous.

    • Trying to brush my hair after a long ride with my hair sticking out of the helmet. Agony. Lots of squeaking. Eye-watering.

  2. I have no curtains in my house, only blinds - some of which I made myself. We used to have bamboo blinds on our bay window in the lounge. I loved the look of them, but realised that, with the light on in the lounge, a passerby could see *everything* through the blinds. So, I made some opaque blinds out of calico which could be used in three ways: covering the whole window, covering only the bottom half of the window (but not obscuring the sash window lock, so the window can still be opened) or covering only the top half of the window. I like making things.

  3. I can't cook a roast dinner. Okay, chances are I probably could, but I just don't attempt it because it scares me too much. I get stressed when there are too many things happening on or in a cooker - my ideal is two pots on the hob: one for pasta, say, and one for the sauce. Cooking a full English breakfast scares me for the same reason.

  4. I harbour an ambition to rollerblade to work. The idea of gliding into the office every day strikes me as unutterably cool. This could become a reality when I start my new job (1.3 miles from home, map-measuring fans), but will probably be hampered by my complete lack of balance, inherent clumsiness and a fundamental, proven inability to skate.

  5. I have a very good ear for music. I can listen to a tune and pick it out on the guitar, whereas Big has to look up the guitar tab on the Internet. No matter how hard I try, I just don't *get* guitar tabs and can't play from them. I used to be able to read proper music (I played the 'cello) but it takes me a long time to work it out nowadays.

  6. I worry about my addiction to white mice. If I'm on my way to work and know that there are some on my desk, I'll really look forward to getting there so I can eat them. I guess it's one way of ensuring that I actually get to work.

  7. I have a morbid fear of vomit. This is one of the reasons I don't drink and why I leave social drinking events early. If I am in a situation where I think someone will vomit, I go into a panic attack - racing pulse, uncontrollable shaking - and attempt to immediately remove myself from that situation.

    This happened on the train home last Sunday. I spotted a young man in front of us who did not look well. He kept putting his head in his hands, looking up to catch his breath and seemed very unsettled. I knew he was about to vomit and could feel my nervous reactions starting. He asked his mother where the toilets were and disappeared up the corridor. The toilet was engaged and I saw him lurching towards the window, hand over mouth. At this point I told Big I wanted to move to another carriage and why. He rolled his eyes at me, but knew that I wouldn't take no for an answer. It ruined the rest of my journey home as I contemplated the scene and replayed it in my mind.

  8. Though I haven't lived in a Francophone country for 10 years, I still occasionally find that the first word or phrase to come to mind is a French word which I will usually, but not always, translate into (sometimes awkward-sounding) English.

Tag 6 people
I've said it before and I'll say it again. I do not tag!