Thursday, January 26, 2006

Raise The Red Lantern

Popped into the bank today and got my money back! YAY!

On the way home I popped down to Oxford Circus to carry on getting more acquainted with my new camera by trying a few shots of the Chinese lanterns that have been hung up to celebrate the forthcoming Chinese New Year.

I would have stayed around to take a few more pics around the West end but it's too frigging cold in London at the moment and my hands were turning blue!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Good News...Bad News...

Okay, so the good news is that after waiting so long to get a working land line back, a British
Telecom engineer came along (even ringing me thirty minutes beforehand to let me know that he was on the way) and managed to do in ten minutes what NTL had failed to do in ten weeks!


And a telephoto lens for my shiny new camera also arrived whilst I was at home, so double bonus for not having to go to the sorting office across the local dodgy council estate to pick it up!

The reason I wanted to switch to NTL was because I got suckered in by all the junk mail that they sent me promising how much I could save on my monthly service charge as as an existing cable customer it would already included in my bill and not be an extra charge.

What they FRIGGING FORGOT TO MENTION was that whilst there is no service charge per se, there is something that they call a tariff charge which is ABSO-FRIGGING-LUTELY THE SAME BLOODY THING BUT WITH A DIFFERENT NAME!

So I wouldn't have saved much at all and I'm just so happy to finally have a land line again.

And my TiVo lives again! Yay! No more "Recorded BBC1 9-10pm" nameless programmes!

But with every silver lining, there comes a cloud...

My cloud happened on Friday night when I logged into my bank account online to pay one of my bills and found that I was overdrawn by a VERY large amount!

Okay so, this might be a regular sight for some people but for me, was most definitely not!

I didn't even realise that I had an overdraft limit on this account (having never been overdrawn) and someone had cleaned out what was left of my account and then some!

I was worried.
I tried to rationalise the loss. Thoughts rushed through my head:

- Did I buy something and completely forget about it?" No, way. Too much money gone.
- Had my mortgage payment (my largest monthly expense) gone through two or three times???" No, I checked, just the once.
- Had my nice new camera actually cost me a lot more than I realised?" No, I'm not that stupid! (Even if I was blonde....once. )

Bugger! What the f#@k was going on???!!!

I tried to ring my bank's help line but it had closed 20 minutes before. So great! Now I had to
sleep on the worry too! Well, unsurprisingly, I didn't sleep all that well.

I got up early and rang them up as soon as they had opened.

"Hmmm, yes, we can see three suspect debit card transactions. They increase in amount, each day. That's normal for someone trying to see how active the account is."

"Okay sir, it does look like internet fraud, we'll cancel your card and issue you with a new one
and the money will be back in your account on Monday afternoon."

A wave of relief flooded through me. I felt like the 'quote me happy' guy on the Direct Line
Insurance adverts. "Yes....YES....YESSSS!!!!!"
Still a bit stunned, I uttered a sincere "Thank you!" before hanging up.

Monday afternoon came. I logged on...Still no change, and no replacement card.
Tuesday. The same...
I rang my bank up again. "It can take up to ten days to refund the transactions to your account

"But, the (nice, angelic sounding) lady on Saturday told me that it would be back by yesterday afternoon"
She seemed at bit flustered. "Oh....Well, sometimes these things are done on a case-by-case basis.""Sometimes? I thought, slightly bemused.

"I can put you through to someone who can help. I'll have to confirm your identity by asking you a series of security questions before I can do so though. Is that okay?"
"Date of birth" Check
"Account number" Check
"Sort Code" Check.
"This is easy", I thought.
"The long number on your debit card".
"Errrmmmm, do you mean the old cancelled one or the new one that I haven't received yet?"
"Your current one"
"But it's been cancelled?"
She waited...So I read out the number of the only card I had. She went quiet for a few seconds,
then said "I'm sorry sir but you've failed the security check and I can't proceed further. You'll
have to go along to your local branch with photo ID to carry on. Goodbye"

It was THAT abrupt. She hung up!

Hmmm, so my bank is so secure (good) that even I can't deal with them over the telephone! (bad.)

So today, I popped along to the branch on Baker Street, nearest to work. I kid you not but about
a dozen people were waiting to see three bank staff!

I took one look and walked out. My lunch break wasn't THAT long! *sigh*

I'll give them another chance. Hopefully my new card will be waiting for me when I get home, I thought, so I can just ring them up and not have to wait an hour at the bank to get my money back!

So I got home and looked in my letter box. There was a letter in there but no card.

And the letter...Who was it from?

Why who else but my old best friend....NTL, charging me for a month of telephone charges for a phone that they never installed!

Photo is of Trafalgar Square, taken last week, with me fiddling with the RAW image properties to make it look less grey and boring.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


It's been a while since my last blog. Not too long, mind.

So what happened?

Well, I'd be sat on the train or walking along the street working out blog entries and then get home either late or tired or both and just flake out.

So, no blog entries. :(

But I enjoy the 'creative' release I get from just splurging out a load of old tosh that some people might or might not be interested in, so I don't plan on being one of the
large numbers that give up after a few weeks or months.

I've not been up to a huge amount but have managed to book myself a week-long holiday to Morocco in March to use up the last few days of my holiday allowance. I always make sure that I get max usage out of any time that I can get off. Our company doesn't allow you to carry your holiday allowance through from one rolling year to the next so you lose it if you don't take it.

I can't believe that there are still people who don't use it all up?


I just can't understand. Even if you don't want to travel somewhere, we live in London! There are always loads of things to do or see around the city that there's just NO EXCUSE!!!

There are sooooo many parts of London that, even having lived here for 33 years, I have never seen or been to. And that's just London. What about the rest of the world? And then there are all those virtual worlds that millions of people live their lives

There's just plenty to keep us all busy online. The list is endless!

So cinema-wise, I start the year as I ended it with more films. UGC Cinemas who I have an 'unlimited' subscription with got taken over by Cineworld so I got sent out a new dark blue membership card. It looks quite nice, don't you know! (Crap picture, with flash showing, mind you.)

I've now seen 'Matchpoint', 'Memoirs Of A Geisha' and 'Jarhead' and plan for a bit of escapism tomorrow with 'Underworld - Evolution' and later in the week probably 'A Cock & Bull Story.'

'Geisha' was a great film with amazing cinematography. The film's visuals have rekindled my desire to go to Japan some time soon. Japan seems so different culturally that it fascinates me.

'Jarhead' was basically a testosterone fuelled male bonding session of a film. No blood or guts, just a bunch of big kids mucking about in the desert, so desperate to find the enemy that they had been trained to kill. I came out really liking the film, though it's probably some primeval part of my brain that enjoyed it rather than anything at all cereberal.

'Matchpoint' was, I think, pretty much an American's-eye view of London. Lots of posh people hob-nobbing visiting galleries blah blah blah. Scarlett Johanson looked as stunning as ever and Woody Allen's decision to have a scene where she's in a white top, soaked through in pouring rain was pure genius but the film overall just didn't do it for me. James Nesbitt as a detective at one of my local police stations? Nah! I like a bit of escapism at the best of times but come on! That was pushing things too far! I wonder if Americans will love it though?

In between all this I decided that it was time to get myself a spanking new digital SLR camera. I bought myself a Nikon D70s. So now I can get some serious looking lenses and look like I know what I'm doing when I go around taking photos in London and around the world, when for the moment I haven't got the foggiest. The fun will be in the experimentation. At least with digital it won't cost me anything. Though lenses are bloody expensive!

And it makes a proper shutter sound that is sooo much better than anything else that I've had and sooo looks the business. I've a half day tomorrow so plan on trying out a few shots around central London after I've had my escapism fix at the flicks.
Until then....

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Through The Keyhole

Things looked up today. I really thought that my six weeks of having no land-line and a dead TiVo would be over.

Over the phone, the NTL engineer sounded like a Londoner and not the same muppet that rolled his Rs that came twice before.

And, he sounded like he knew what he was talking about.

And most importantly of all, when he turned up, he had a standard set of keys to get into the ground floor cupboards at my flats where the phone lines are connected up!

I looked at the keys as he took them out of the back of his van.

They were long and made of shiny steel with lots of complicated bits at the end. I'd waited so long to meet these keys. I almost loved those keys. My heart was a flutter...

He tried the first key. No joy. Then the next, it wouldn't even fit the key hole. And then the next until there was only one left. Anxiety gripped me by the throat and throttled away my last vestige of hope as the key was tried and failed to fit the lock.

He looked genuinely surprised! He tried the cupboard next to it where the electric meters for all the flats are stored. Opened first try! WHAT! What's going on here?!!!

He peered down at the keyhole.
- "Someone's been tampering with this. Look. You can see that the screws around the hole don't match."

Sure enough. Someone had changed the frigging lock!

So twice someone has turned up with no keys, then nobody turned up at all on my third attempt to get an engineer out and now, someone with the correct set of keys can't even get into the cupboard 'cause someone has changed the #!'*ing lock!

I think that I'll go off somewhere now and cry....... :o(

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Movie Review Of The Year 2005

Cue flashy music and intro sequence.... Welcome to.....

Nah, forget all that. Well, for those that don't already know, I love going to the movies. I made over sixty visits over the past year and even managed to go when I was in Hungary to see a film (luckily in English) with Hungarian subtitles.

I've actually also managed to not see any out-and-out awful films this year or maybe it's because I can generally take something out of any film that makes it seem better afterwards. A scene, a line, a shot, whatever....

So here, for prosperity, is my list for the past year: (and sorry about the dodgy formatting. I got bored halfway through and rushed this out before I fell asleep at the keyboard.)

(Not crap all the time but also nothing special for its genre.)
Sahara, Strings, Sky Blue, Appleseed

(Shows promise in bits but descends to being just average at times too.)
Criminal, Around the Bend, Madagascar, Silver City, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Longest Yard, Wolf Creek

(Okay, so this depends on my mood at the moment in time but generally if I feel that I have enjoyed the movie and liked it all the way through.)
2046, Ray, Meet the Fockers, Sideways, Robots, Bullet Boy, The Interpreter, The Edukators, Kingdom of Heaven, Ong-bak, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, War of the Worlds, Fantastic Four, Dear Wendy, The Island, Crash, Me and You and Everyone We Know, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Land of the Dead, A History of Violence, The Brothers Grimm, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Producers

Liked, a lot:
(Felt like I had seen and enjoyed an entertaining or sometimes thought provoking movie coming out from the theatre after these. So money, well spent. Things I would buy on DVD afterwards. Yes, I have toooo many DVDs.)
Closer, Million Dollar Baby, A Very Long Engagement, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Ocean's Twelve, Constantine, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Downfall, Mean Creek, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Jacket, Only Human, Sin City, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Batman Begins, Kung Fu Hustle, Broken Flowers, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Where the Truth Lies

And, ta daaaaa......

My Films Of The Year:

The Aviator - Amazing cinematography and set pieces, a fascinating story, an excellent performance from Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn and even Leo was good too. I always think he looks too young to pull it off but he did in 'Catch Me If You Can' and he does here too.

Hotel Rwanda - Fascinating, thought provoking and beautifully shot. A serious story that needed to be told.

The Descent - The most entertaining blood splattered, horror movie for years, bar none!

Serenity - Interesting, well developed characters in an intelligent, amazing and most importantly action packed and entertaining science fiction movie. What the Star Wars prequels should have been. That it flopped at the box office is the biggest disappointment of the year for me!

The Constant Gardener - This film looks beautiful, Rachel Weisz looks beautiful and acts beautifully in a proper 'grown-up' role alongside Ralph Fiennes. A great thriller!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - I've not read any of the books so am not bothered by all the bits that didn't make it into the film. It's three hours long and is a non-stop entertaining fantasy roller coaster ride that doesn't feel over long. Great ideas, great effects and amazing set pieces. Plain good old fashioned fantasy fun!

King Kong - Set pieces to die for. They just get larger and better! A great fantasy movie where the relationship between the girl and the ape takes centre stage like it never has before. Just amazing. A great, popcorn event movie!

Monday, January 02, 2006

So, another year, eh?

It's been nice to have a few lazy days at home over the holiday period. Yay!

But it's back to the usual work routine tomorrow. Boo!

I spent New Years Eve with friends at Camden's Electric Ballroom boogying the night away to the same 80s and 90s tunes that I grew up with. So much for not living in the past!

The place was packed but never so uncomfortably so compared to last year when I went to a School Disco event and you were basically trapped like a sardine at midnight. That was really(!) pleasant.

Hmmm, maybe something different music-wise next year? Who knows?

It was a good night though. Okay so I'm single and my mates have given up trying to set me up, 'cause it just gets embarrassing or annoying or both for all concerned. Tonight though seemed to be more about fun. Which, to be honest was a relief. I needed a good time.

The Ballroom really pushed the boat out on balloons for the zero hour (There must have been, oh...about thirty) though what they lacked in quantity, they made up for in size! They had to be the biggest, most blown up balloons I've ever seen! And as you can see from the top part of the picture above, they had a really sophisticated way of switching the lights, above the DJs' booth from 2005 to 2006 by illuminated an extra strip at the right time *laugh*

The biggest worry of the night was about how to get there and how to get home. There was supposed to be a tube strike on but apart from a handful of strikers staying away and closing down a few stations, everything ran the same as usual. Well, almost everything. The train didn't actually stop at the station that we were supposed to interchange at on the way back, so we had to do a bit of walking to figure out what was open and what wasn't but, in our state, a bit of walking did us a lot of good. We only had to carry one person most of the way, so it wasn't too bad. I'll take the exercise any way that I can!!

I took the other two pictures on the walk back. There were more police along the route than I've seen in a long time too but everyone was in good spirits and I hope that the night was a good one for everyone.

Oh...And resolutions? What are they good for??? Absolutely nothing! (War too.)