Monday, 31 August 2009

Winter Hill

Well I made a valiant attempt to cycle all the way up to the Winter Hill TV transmitter but didn't quite get all the way. I was quite close however and reached an altitude of 318m (just over 1000ft) but decided to turn back as it was a long way to get any closer and also getting a bit cold. I did manage to get some pictures this time too!

One very scary part of the ride was going up the rather steep hill with motorbikes whizzing down but leaning into the corners and being VERY close to me. I can accept that some people like having fun on country lanes by speeding along them but really they need to have some consideration when passing cyclists.

If I get some nice weather again I'm going to prepare a little better and plan a route that takes me up the other side of Winter Hill as I think this would allow me to cycle right up to the base of the transmitter, the road I took today wouldn't lead there as far as I can tell.

Finally, here's the view of the route from Google Earth, I wish I knew a way of adding the altitude, direction and speed values onto the path so it gives a better indication of when I was working hard to keep going.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Manchester Pride Pictures

I've uploaded all of the pictures to a Picassa album, here are just a few samples of the fabulous sights to be seen at pride.

The X Factor

I've always professed to watching and enjoying the initial stages of the programme where those who clearly have no talent, though have the unshakable belief that they do, attempt to argue against insurmountable odds that they know better than the likes of Simon Cowell.

This is supposedly a case of mass schadenfreude on the part of us, the viewing public, but if you don't think about it too much it helps to ease your conscience! Also, I always considered that those that put themselves forward are fair game for public ridicule since they obviously have a choice and no-one has had a chance to persuade them otherwise.

However, someone I spoke to last night had a friend who went through the process, apparently even getting as far as boot-camp, and what actually happens seems far less fair and equitable than I thought and in fact appears to be very cruel in the extreme.

First of all the initial thousands of auditionees are seen by producers for the show, not the judges, which makes sense when I think about it now, obviously, this person said to me, the judges don't have time to see every single person face-to-face. So this pre-screening is done by nameless others and there are several stages before anyone gets as far as the judges.

After all of the hullabaloo of the judging and selection for boot-camp we are led to believe that further work, effort, and performance can get you into the next stage. However, it seems that the selection has already been made, this person's friend accidentally saw a copy of the list with names already circled.

I guess this bit isn't too surprising and in some ways it is slightly excusable; by this point there will be obvious favorites or particularly saleable, I'm sorry, I mean worthy, contestants so very little is likely to change.

After hearing what really happens I have to say I've gone off watching the show and now view it as unfairly cruel and exploitative. I think a better way would be to empower people to make and sell their own music, online obviously, as this at least gives an even playing field with no greedy TV or music executives to profit from others humiliation - alot of those deluded enough to think they can sing when they can't need to learn this lesson and not be publicly ridiculed.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Back home from Pride

I have to say that the parade was fabulous and at times very moving, I had tears in my eyes because of some of the groups there and the slogans on the flags or placards. There were also notable people that were just so sweet and nice like the guy who helped me up onto the wall so I could see the parade better or the girl that just stopped me in the street and told me, completely sincerely, that she thought my boots looked fab.

There was also the general atmosphere and fun of just being in a place where everyone is totally accepting or, at the very least, has seen much odder things than me and won't stare or be shocked.

But I didn't start the day well and it wasn't an entirely pleasant end either having to endure a complex train then bus journey home with very loud and drunk football fans, some of whom made a few comments, I'm guessing they were about me though I could be paranoid. I did have a lovely chat with a girl on the train who had had an even more complex trip up from London and talking about all sorts of things meant that part of the journey flew by.

Also I left earlier than planned because I lost touch with the few people I knew that were at Pride and could no longer take wandering around on my own and feeling like the only sad and unwanted single person there. I think next year I should at least plan ahead and go with friends.

All in all it was definitely a worthwhile experience and I have (hopefully) some fantastic pictures of the parade and a few other shots that might be decent enough to publish, I'll post them tomorrow. Now, I need to get to bed and rest my aching feet!

Rain, rain, go away

Well, I guess it was too good to last, the weather hasn't been too bad so far but it's come on a little now so i'm sheltering under the brolly while also resting my feet.

Hopefully things will brighten, and warm, up so that I can go on enjoying pride because it has been fab so far!

Extreme offense

I am on my way to pride and i have just suffered horrible verbal abuse and have no other way to record it than the blog since i have no paper or pens.

At Chorley rail station there were two men at the door selling tickets, i was served by the older of the two, large build, greyish hair, slightly spiked, wearing glasses. If was helpful and, after some complications where my card was declined, i got my ticket and went to opposite platform to wait for the train to Manchester.

A few mins before it arrived i noticed the guy near the corner of the station on his mobile and heard the following two phrases: 'yes, in a mini-skirt' and 'looked like Dick Emery'. I think he noticed I was watching him and i think he turned away and i didn't hear any more comments.

I didn't know what to do and just looked at him a few times trying to seem like i knew what he said and make him feel uncomfortable. Then my train arrived and i got on.

I'm writing this now to record what happened and also for proof of time and date.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Six hundred and twenty seven!

Doesn't really have the same ring as "One hundred and eighty!" but this number has much more significance to me: this was the oestrogen level in my latest blood test results!

Strangely the testosterone level is sticking resolutely around 2.0, it's only been as far down as 1.7 so I'm assuming that it's not really going to budge much now which is fine as it's in the middle of the acceptable female range.

One thing to bear in mind with the oestrogen level is that this is just over 24hrs after applying new patches so I would guess the average level is going to be a bit lower. It does help explain why, over the past few days I've felt a little discombobulated - I'd forgotten to change my patches (left it nearly 5 days!) so my levels would have been very low compared to this peak value.

Anyway, it seems that all other levels are normal so I should be fine to continue on with the medication I've got and let the hormones do their work.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Change Your Mind

I LOVE this song!

Question: What film is the song from? Answers on a postcard!

Risotto with Pesto

Well, I wasn't convinced I'd done this right and I ended up with enough for a whole weeks worth of meals so at best I'd have to say it's a qualified success, or at least not an unqualified disaster.

Here's what I did:
  • Put water + chicken stock cubes + olive oil into a pan and heat on low setting (3-4 out of 9 on my hob)
  • Cut two cooking onions into small pieces and add to the stock
  • After a few minutes when the stock is starting to heat add the rice - I used a pint glass full which was way way too much!
  • Now panic that you've done this all the wrong way round and spend the next 10-15mins stiring rice+stock and adding more water
  • As the rice nearly gets to the point of being cooked add 400g (two packets) of 'seafood selection' including the fluid in the packet
  • Add small amount of cheddar cheese (strong), peppers (cut into small pieces), lots of black pepper
  • Cook a little longer until the rice is done and then add about 150g of pesto (I had a jar of Sacla pesto), stir in thoroughly and allow to heat through - turn the hob off at this point if it's electric
Yes, it was all very random and completely down to luck that it was even barely edible and didn't all just stick to the pan (any offers of doing the washing up for me will be appreciatively received). I think the amount of black pepper (I put in loads of freshly ground black pepper) and the pesto (just enough, not too much) gave the risotto a nice warm/hot taste and interesting flavour. Probably won't get it right again ... which is fine as I have enough for about five more meals I think!

Caster Semenya

I have very little interest in Sport but obviously the story about Caster Semenya is of interest from the point of view of gender and potentially, if the scandalous whisperings are true, also in a transgender light.

I was going to initially write about my reactions on seeing the story in the BBC news this morning as a subsequently did a little research and that made be consider some different aspects and keeping these different views apart made some sense.

So to start with my initial reaction on seeing the clip of her winning a race was "wow, doesn't she look masculine" and "her mannerisms seem a little male". That second thought I quickly justified and discarded on the grounds that how someone walks, holds themselves, and moves could be influenced by alot of things, for example simple social factors of wanting to fit into a 'male' environment.

The 'masculine' thing got me thinking though, the very word implies a stereotype that is totally wrong. This athlete, in common with others in her sport, looks 'muscular', not 'masculine' but you will find that in almost all cases women in sport will be described as the latter not the former.

This obviously makes the assumption that men have muscles and women don't, at least on average. But that can't be right, most of the men I have encountered would simple pass as average in terms of build, I would certainly not describe them as muscular. And I guess this is going to be true in general; while normal guys probably do have more actual muscle development than equally regular women (and there are hormonal reasons for this) it is not so obvious and certainly not enough to make a huge distinction.

It is certainly fine to point out average differences between men and women, the problem comes when the facts become used to support a stereotype which is then used as the basis of reasoning and further assumptions.

Regarding the gender test, it is interesting to read that athletes have failed and then subsequently been cleared, or that there are medical conditions which can result in failure but which are not actually considered by many experts to give any advantage to the women concerned nor reason enough for them to be disqualified.

It should serve as an example of the complexities of gender and the difficulty in applying the simple labels of 'male' or 'female' when you consider what is involved in this testing and that it's not just a matter of a cursory examination of the person concerned.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Loneliness is bad for the environment

It always use to bug me that B would leave the TV, or radio, or both, or even several of these on around the house. She did this a little when I was there and I guess probably more when I wasn't. I also suspect that it use to really bug her that I'd go round and turn them off!

But now I do the same thing. I leave the TV on and don't really watch it, I listen to music in the shower, I stay up later with the lights on and even with computers running and open at FaceBook (and that's got to count as a complete waste of power let alone time).

I wondered why I wasn't going to bed as early and why I have recently taken to this rather wasteful use of energy. Obviously while I don't have a job my usual routine is a little out of sync (I'm use to getting up at 5:30am and rushing around) but I think it's also that I am lonely.

When you have someone else in your life there are more important things than TV and radio, and certainly when you live with another person there is much more of an incentive to get to bed early even if it's just to be there, lying side-by-side, maybe reading a book or talking, or thinking, or any other manner of things apart from the obvious, all of which are equally intimate and fulfilling.

So I guess my aim should be to not be lonely and in that way I'll be doing my bit to help the environment!

("Make love not waste?")

Monday, 17 August 2009

Testing time (update)


Testing time

As part of my job hunting I had to take an online Java test which is meant to adapt to the answers you give and adjust the difficulty accordingly. Since I've been in permanent employment for the past four and a half years and before that not really having to do any serious job hunting, it's been a while since I've done anything like this.

So, how did I do? Well, I don't get to find out yet, the results are sent only to the company who wanted me to take the test. I did remember some of the questions and so I've checked my thoughts on these and I did catch at least one or two of the sneaky tricks they had, though equally there are a few I think they tripped me up on.

One of the big features of these tests is code that no competent person would right; it's legal according to the language specification (or at least parts of it are) but it would immediately get thrown out by even the most cursory peer review. This is why I always valued working as a trainer or mentoring, essentially those with less experience generally do 'think the unthinkable' and ask questions that you just never dreamed of!

Anyway, just have to wait and see how I did and hope it was enough.

Aside: I was looking into Java generics, trying to understand how it worked from the JCP book I have. The book spent pages and pages with examples and comments intended to put the reader at their ease by admitting that this was all a little confusing and didn't really work how you would expect.

Too be honest this rambling list of the differences, exceptions and important notes concerning rules you MUST remember for the exam was confusing me and I really just wanted to know how it all worked, how did all this functionality get represented at a low-level. So I ran javad and decompiled java.util.List to see how the magic worked.

What I discovered was that all the generics functionality is simply a compiler 'trick' and there is no under-lying implementation. The information that pertains to the generics syntax is stored in attributes which are an extensible feature of the classfile format. This article gives a pretty good description of the mechanism, which is admittedly quite neat.

Now why couldn't the book have explained all this? Armed with this knowledge all the complicated rules and exceptions make perfect sense! Why burden the reader with a multitude of disparate facts when knowing the how and why of something makes it so much clearer?!

Erm, rant over I think.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Catching up

Just a quick post before I go to bed and hopefully the ones tomorrow will be a little more positive after a good nights sleep and some quiet reflection.

A lot has obviously happened over the past few weeks and months and I think, given everything, I've done remarkably well to stay unbelievably cheerful and positive and sooner or later everything was bound to get on top of me.

It is easy to fool others, and yourself, that everything is fine and there is nothing you need or are worrying about. But it's not easy to do that constantly, it eventually catches up with you and just needs something to push you over the metaphorical edge and things get too much.

I do have a few things lurking around in the back of my mind that I'm worried or confused about and have just not been facing up to. The thing that has added to my worries is the realisation the fact that today, after visiting my son (to give him his birthday presents), my parents would not be travelling the 2miles from his home to mine to pop in and see me.

I know it only sounds like a minor thing but imagine how you would feel if you were actually shunned by your closest family, the people who you thought would love and care about you no matter what.

I think I am probably too tired now to even consider my feelings, let alone describe them. I hope sleep will help bring some peace and order to my thoughts.


I've always said that I don't look good, nor am I attractive in any way in relation to how I look (though I think, given hormones and selection of nice perfume I at least smell nice). But this, I maintained was a completely objective assessment and based entirely on a sensible and rational list of faults.

Now I'm beginning to realise, after lots of friends constantly telling me I look fine, that it's not just a rational thought it's that I don't, in any way, believe that I am attractive, nor will I ever be able to accept that notion. And it's not something that can be argued to shown to be an incorrect belief. I do know what things make be look better/worse, I actually do have some sense of style, coordination, and possibly even a degree of fashion sense (all of these even in small quantities representing a huge and worthy achievement). No matter how good I may be able to say that I look I don't really believe it though.

Something related to this occurred to me on my road journeys this weekend; the clothes I wore to travel in showed off my figure and, given that other vehicles on the motorway, e.g. vans, trucks, and such, have a higher viewpoint the occupants could actually be looking at me without, at least at first glance, seeing anything to make them think I was other than a genetic female.

The same could be true for anyone passing me in the street and not really looking at my face, or seeing me from behind. I do have definite curves now (particularly in tight jeans), and a chest and some cleavage (not the worlds best but still visible). So it seems logical at least that I might at least draw some attention because of that.

However, this is just something I'd never considered before. It never crossed my mind that anything about me would draw any gaze apart from for negative reasons! I think I'm reaching a point where I really need to think more about my outward appearance to at least try and come to terms with it.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Sunday lunch ... on Wednesday

Away this weekend and just fancied a roast dinner for a change so had it tonight instead of on Sunday. Not conventional I know but it still tasted fab. And the smell was amazing - cooked the chicken with olive oil and black pepper coating it and half a garlic bulb inside. Potatoes and parsnips par boiled and with some oregano as well.

I actually really quite enjoy cooking and you shouldn't infer from this blog post that I'm new to it at all. Thankfully my Mum had my sister and I cooking tea as a way to earn extra pocket money and also passed all she knew about baking as well. Also credit to being at university for four years (you soon learn to cook when you have to) as well as B for some advanced cookery experience as well.

Now if only I had a dishwasher!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

And I thought I had plenty of padding!

But apparently my bum is not as well-cushioned as I thought it might be because it still hurt a bit after returning from a 30km (20mile) cycle ride today! As I mentioned in the previous post Sunday had to be a more active day to fend of certain boredom and also to get some exercise! Got all the ironing done before hopping on my bike.

I had another ride around Rivington reservoir and the countryside surrounding Chorley. There is something about cycling, I think it's the fact that it's simple and I can focus almost everything on it and forget anything that is bothering me, or at least give consideration in a somewhat detached way. I've also taken to cycling with my headphones on and 'happy' music playing at loud volume - helps make me feel happier and also works as an aid for getting up hills or speeding along, peddling in rythm to the beat.

I actually wish I'd got pictures of me on the bike and from the various sights along the route but I haven't for several practical reasons, the main one being that I don't like to stop unless I have to because I always think it's best to keep going in case a break too long means I seize up and can't start again.

I have to say that there were alot of people out cycling along the same routes; I know this because most of them seemed to be over-taking me! In my defence most were on road bikes and also clearly had muscles tuned for serious cycling. I did manage to pass one mountain biker and whizzed away, spurred on by some particularly up-lifting music! Small victories can make a big difference!

The other thing which I find so pleasant and disproportionately cheering to me is just the politeness and acknowledgement of people you meet on your way. I couldn't hear exactly what one older gentleman, out for a stroll, said as I cycled past him. I guess it was something simple along the lines of "good day" or maybe "good luck" with cycling up the hill ahead of me, but just his cheery demeanour and attitude was so nice.

It's the same with the other cyclists to see along the route as well, most will nod a greeting or smile and acknowledge your presence even when distracted by the arduous peddling up a particularly steep hill.

It occurs to me that my love of cycling and shopping, particularly in the Trafford Centre, have something in common and that is being around people who are, on the whole, happy, cheerful, alive, and quite often, polite, good-mannered, and just radiate a certain optimisim about the activities they are engaged in whether it be enjoying the fresh air and exercise or the enjoyment of retail therapy!

The bottom line is this: just get out and about, that in itself can be the most enjoyable thing in the world.

Busy week

As I mentioned before, I have had a very busy week since returning from the holidays and it's probably worth a quick mention of everything that I've been up to in order to catch up:
  • Met up for shopping and cakes (well Tiramasu) with a fab person from blog-land
  • Continued that night out by having a a few drinks on Canal Street as well!
  • Met up with for lunch an ex-work colleague, followed by
  • Meeting with an out placement service (help me with CV etc)
  • Having my son stay for another night after we saw G-Force at the cinema (it's silly but entertaining if you like that kind of thing)
  • Playing football (badly - and not just letting him win) with my son in this lovely weather - really tired me out!
All this was interspersed with general bits and pieces and obviously job hunting, sending CVs, and trying to sort my life out.

Saturday was a totally lazy day when I didn't get out of PJs until well into the afternoon - I think I needed that wind down time but I got bored towards the end which was why Sunday had a little bit more activity in it.

Legoland and Windsor

It's taken me a while to get around to posting further pictures and commentary on the holiday with my son as I've just been so busy! I'll cover this weeks activities in another post and for this one concentrate on the fun from the holiday.

We've done the Legoland trip a few times and we've managed to stay in the Marriott hotel in Slough each time which is good because of it's location and ease but also because I'm still clinging onto Gold status so get access to the executive lounge (didn't actually make any use of that this time but it's still nice to have). We also go with the same plan each time; head into Legoland to go to the shop on the day we arrive and then do a full day afterwards (saves the distraction of buying Lego getting in the way of enjoying the rides etc).

We had really nice weather for the Sunday we spent in Legoland and, armed with my son's camera (well his Mum's) I got a few snaps of some of the things you can see on the rides. I had to take a picture of the scarey Tarantula since my son is so fond of reminding me that I'm scared of spiders (and heights).

We didn't do that many rides and this one was fairly sedate but did at least show off the models that there are in the park. The Legoland Village is actually quite an impressive sight as well (no pictures this year, got plenty last time) and it still fascinates my son which I think is quite impressive considering he normally likes doing activities more akin to running around than looking at things.

One ride we did go on, having queued for some considerable time, was the log flume, better known as "Pirate Falls" at Legoland. It's years since I've been on one of these and I agreed simply as it was the lesser of many evils - as I mentioned above I'm scared of heights so what I can deal with it pretty limited when it comes to roller-coasters and such rides. I'm not bothered about getting soaked though and we did the Viking ride last time which actually was alot of fun.

I wish I could post the picture they took of us going down the Pirate Falls, it is an absolute classic. My son looks absolutely terrified but, if you look carefully you'll see that at least he is brave enough to have his eye's open, I couldn't even manage that! I was telling him, and myself, all the way up that we'd be find and just get a bit wet and that it wasn't really that high. Right up to the point that we started to tip over the edge ... and then I realised that I really am absolutely terrified of heights and just clamped my eye's shut! The txt from my son's Mum summed it up quite succinctly: "Wimp!".

The following day we headed into Windsor with plans to go on the big wheel there - you can guess that we didn't for the reasons mentioned above - and visit the Castle as my son wanted to see this and the soldiers. I suspect I looked like a bit of a tourist while we went round Windsor Castle, can't think why though.

Before coming down to Windsor my son had, rather perceptively, remarked that I "wouldn't pay for seeing the Castle". Not entirely sure how he picked up on that but I guess I haven't hidden the fact that it rather annoys me having to pay to see something that we (as British tax-payers) essentially own or at the very least contribute to the up-keep of. I think my far-from Royalist attitude comes from my Dad but I think I tend to take this view independantly as well.

However, a few things changed my mind about this. For one thing you can now get free admittance to the castle for a whole year for the price of the entrance fee which seems quite reasonable to me. Also they had opened the Moat Garden and that was frankly beautiful and amazing to see.

The other thing that really made feel the visit was worth the money, was my son's reaction to the inside of the castle. He was obviously taken by the armour, guns, swords and other things that I guess boys will always be intrigued by but he was also fascinated by the coat of arms on the ceilings of one of the halls and we spent a good 10minutes trying to look for our favourite ones. He spotted some really interesting ones and it really was amazing to see him totally interested in something completely unlike the usual things.

Before we had gone in the castle and taken the bus tour (see previous post for the affect on my hair of that little trip), he'd been feeding the Swans on the Thames and I got some lovely pictures of him and them. I particularly liked this one:

I really can't put into words how much fun it was to have a holiday, even such a brief one, with my son. I simply can't describe how proud I was of him or how much it meant for me to be walking around holding his hand and having him chattering away and being such a smart, intelligent, funny, interesting, kid. There are just no words to describe how FAB he is!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Windswept and erm kinda interesting!

Well this is the state of me after a day out in Windsor, including a trip on an open-top bus! As I write this my feet are also recovering from walking rather too far in shoes that were a bit too high - they may (hopefully) have looked good but were far from practical!

Anyway, we had a fab day out, my son was wonderfully entertaining and amazingly well-behaved and a good time was wonderfully had by all! Now it's time for bed, heading home tomorrow.

Sunday, 2 August 2009


I heard this story on the radio while driving yesterday. I wasn't paying much attention to the the news, it was just background noise keeping me awake and mildly entertained. However, as soon as I heard a few bits about this I could feel my blood start to boil.

Essentially it seems that a photographer who liked, as he says, the "architecture" of this particular church took some "erotic" photos of women at the location and now there is some kind of moral outrage and calls of blasphemy which seem to have culminated in legal action.

First some technical points - I'm not sure what the rules are regarding pictures involving property, are the owners entitled to some royalty if the photographer profits as a direct result of the setting? Would this apply to church land? Does church land count as private property? I guess there could be some straight-forward business considerations here which is fine, if the church could legally make money by being used as a location in this way all well and good.

As for this being blasphemous or morally wrong I find that prudish at best and in actually fact quite offensive and repugnant! How dare they vilify erotic art by making a claim that it is in some way 'wrong' or should in any way disgrace those who were married in this church or have loved-ones buried there. Propagating such vile, repressive and, in my opinion, downright evil views is the cause of many problems in society today. What gives any organisation the right to sit in moral judgement over natural sexual acts? Yes, I know they seems a really silly question when clearly almost all of the repressive and puritanical legislation passed in the UK/US (and probably everywhere else in the world) is due to ridiculous religious interference in governments or pubic opinion!

These prudish views are insidious (and insipid in my opinion) and permeate through many aspects of culture and society and are hugely damaging. The news story got me thinking about myself and the fact that I'm not exactly the most worldly-wise person there is, and I don't recall a huge amount of positive influence when it came to erotica; it's still viewed by many as something that may cause offense at the very least or even worse something that should be hidden. And that is so wrong, such a message should be spread, quite the reverse should happen.

Religions should stop trying to dictate moral standards by persecuting people and condemning their actions. Instead they should try leading by example and being accepting, understanding and open. Clearly this is an impossibility however, certainly give the evidence of history so far.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Pictures in the mirror

I thought I'd be done with taking pictures of myself in hotel bathrooms, I always thought it was a little desperate and certainly not the most photogenic lighting!

At least now I have a valid reason, the photo is documenting my hols with my son and while I look a bit tired tonight, wait until you see the state of me after another 3 days of this!

In all fairness I should say that, while my son has been very excitable and has talked lots he has been very good and really does have such good manners, I am so proud me him.

He's said some very clever and funny things but I'll just mention the one pertinent to this blog: he asked which Star Wars Lego figure I wanted and, when I picked Ahsoka exclaimed "why do you always want to be the girl?!". There isn't really a short answer to that one!