Archive for the 'Life' Category

Moving somewhere


“Yah. And Clementine knows somebody who can get us on the Mahiki guest list.”



Welcome to the neighbourhood.

I have moved. Or, rather, a couple of months ago I moved. This was the first conversation I heard in my new area, spoken by a couple of 17-year-olds on a bus. It is, I think it is safe to say, sufficiently more upmarket than the delights of Tooting, where I was previously residing.

There, I walked to the tube station and looked smart. Here, I wear the same clothes and look like a hobo. I walk past two schools on my way to the station. I’m sure anxious mothers are already ringing the police about the scruffy looking man who walks past at a set time every day [1]. As opposed to scruffy men driving by in their 4x4s. That’s quite alright.

I quite like it around here.

This isn’t to do with any kind of aspirational stuff about moving to a better area and polishing my driveway every day in the hope of getting an invite to the country club. And if, in the unlikely event I have a daughter any time soon, I’m certainly not bloody well naming her Clementine.

No, this is more to do with the general niceness of the area and the house, which I’ve managed to find myself renting through good fortune and I love to bits the people who’ve made this possible.

The area has a lot of green bits and pieces. This is important to me. I grew up in Devon. I’m used to see cows outside my bedroom window. Trees were a given, not an optional extra. Tooting wasn’t big on trees, although we did have some fox cubs living in our back garden, which were cute. A pain, but cute.

So, the new place has trees. And also grass. Never underestimate the importance of grass. Just as a rug ties a room together, so grass ties a neighbourhood together. So, yes, trees and grass and plenty of wildlife roaming around.

There are also rather quaint churches and long bits of grass and trees for people to walk on, all of which seems somewhat of a novelty in London. There’s even a village green where the local pub team play cricket every Sunday. Cricket! On a village green! That’s probably even better than my Devon village has managed for a while.

Then there’s the house itself, which is lovely and has a garden, which also has grass and is big enough to plant things around the side of the grass. For a while now, I’ve been wanting a garden to plant stuff in. Ok, so the house at Tooting had one, but you had to negotiate the fox piss and the garden itself was a little, well, untended.

So, now I have a garden, and I’ve planted stuff in this garden (in addition to the other stuff already planted), and I’ve now found I’ve become one of those people who actually welcome rain in the summer because it’ll do the garden good.

Not that my attempts at becoming the next Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall are overly spectacular. I think the birds ate my lettuces. I’ve managed to kill half the beans. I’m not sure if my parsnips are alive or not. But the onions are very happy, and the leeks are coming on nicely, and I think I should get a decent amount of potatoes. If nothing else, I should be able to make a nice stock come the autumn.

I’m also planning on getting more adventurous. There’s already parsley and chives, so I may well create a herb section. And I have squash seeds ready to bring on. I quite like the idea of being able to pick my meal out of the garden.

Oh, bugger it. I clearly am moving towards the aspirational end. I’m still not calling my bloody daughter Clementine though.

I quite like it here. In fact, scratch that. Despite not having a 4×4, a posh accent, or snappy Paul Smith suits, I really like it here. Even if all the 17-year-olds can get onto the Mahiki guest list. They can have their minor royals. I’m quite happy with my vegetable patch.

[1] There are a lot of young families in the area and the mothers are, well, a tad overprotected. The other day, while walking to work, I hear a scream a little way in front of me, as a mother caught up with her errant child who had wandered off ahead of her. “Don’t you ever go off out of my sight like that again,” she admonished. “You saw what happened to that little girl on the news [I presume this was Madeline McCann]. Anybody could take you, that man over there could take you.”

Thanks for that. I just happen to wear jeans and T-shirts or the like each day rather than suits, and now I’m a child-snatcher. I appreciate the mother’s point, I’d rather she picked somebody else to make it with.


And another bit on why Twitter is so essential to my life

In the old days, a train delay on the morning commute would leave me sitting in the carriage like a lemon wondering whether or not to chance it on the buses. Today, when the train was halted at Clapham Junction due to a ‘major security alert’ my first thought was to get my BlackBerry out and leap on Twitter.

It’s perhaps understandable to be a little concerned and jumpy when you get announcements like that. Then you also start mentally working out how the hell you’re going to make it into work and which other routes were crowded.

One quick look at my Twitter stream told me there were plenty of police and sirens around Waterloo, so that place was best avoided. A quick search for both Waterloo and Vauxhall (using dabr’s search) told me there were plenty of other people stuck on trains and a bit confused as to what was going on.

But there were a few people Twittering that the trains to Victoria were still working, so I immediately changed platforms and hopped on a Victoria-bound train.

Keeping Twitter open, and continuing to search, it became clear that the alert was due to a suspicious vehicle or package near the Queenstown Road station that had caused the shutdown.

I was also Tweeting what I could find out and to let people know that buses were a nightmare but there was no delay on Victoria-bound trains. I also sent an email to everybody in my office – many of them catch trains into Waterloo so would have been hit by the delay or would be just starting their journeys.

Pretty soon, Tweets were coming through to say the package was a false alarm and trains were moving again, but very slowly. Plenty of others were, it seemed, also Tweeting their journey and the info they’d gathered.

By keeping an eye on Twitter it was relatively easy to keep on top of the situation and work out where was best avoided. Result: I was late into work but not as delayed as I’d have been without Twitter.

What’s more a couple of colleagues saw my email and took a different route into work, while other colleagues stuck on trains at least had a reasonable idea of how late they were likely to be and could plan accordingly.

So what, you may say. Well, here’s what. This may have been a non-event in the end, but to Londoners on their morning commute it was a big deal (Waterloo was a trending topic for a short while).

Now, in terms of news, it may just make a NiB in the evening freesheets. Possibly one of the rolling news channels or news websites may have got something on it quickly. But Twitter was more helpful than their of these at 9am this morning. It was also a lot more helpful than the train station staff who knew very little other than they’d been told to hold all trains.

And there’s the rub. It helped manage and ressaure during a slightly confusing real-time breaking (non-)news story. I’m guessing anybody else travelling into work through Waterloo this morning who happened to be on Twitter had a much better idea of what was going on and where to go than their colleagues. Should any journalist have wanted to piece together what was going on this morning, all they’d have to do would be to search for Waterloo on Twitter.

All thanks to a bunch of people typing 140 characters about how their journey to work was disrupted. Without them, I’d probably be wandering lost around the roads of Clapham and Battersea.

On being dirty, southern and a twit

The best kind of nights, I’ve always found, are the ones where you end up in a completely unexpected place. Last night, for me, that unexpected place was a fascinating in-depth discussion of Belgian politics and media, and contrasting it with the UK.

This isn’t normally what I spend my nights down the pub doing, but then it’s also a neat illustration of why I enjoy going to the assorted social media meetups. Or in this case, Tweetup.

Back in December, Lolly and I decided we’d quite like a Twitter meetup that was easy to get home from (The Shoreditch Twit is ace, but for those of us south of the river, it’s a bit of a trek back) and the Dirty South Twit was born.

The first one was a nice chilled evening drinking cocktails in Clapham with a bunch of people who’d never really met before, but were all on Twitter. Then we both got a bit busy, remembered we’d do another one and organised the DST2 at the Roxy Bar and Screen in London Bridge.

It also happened to clash with St Patrick’s Day (completely unintentional on our part) and Guinness were kind enough to help the craic with assorted hats, inflatable pints, T-shirts and other goodies. Oh, and free booze. I’ve now got a few cans sitting in my kitchen needing care and attention. They really were too good to us (well, it was the 250th anniversary of signing their brewery lease in Dublin. Any excuse for a party is good enough by me). You can see photos here.

But one of the joys of these events is, as well as catching up with a few familiar faces, you get a chance to speak to people you’d never normally meet, such as PBizzle, Rufus Evison and Julie Bodart and Pascal. Somehow with the latter two, I got onto the topic of Belgian politics and media (not entirely randomly, given that she’s Belgian).

There’s some fascinating differences between the UK and Belgium. It certainly doesn’t sound as if blogging is as big over there as it is amongst the media in this country. The regional press also seems to thrive, mainly because there isn’t one main national paper. Instead the big papers are split between the Flemish and Walloon regions, depending on their point of view. I’d imagine it’d be a similar thing here if Scotland were larger and really agitating for a split from England.

I’ve taken a mild interest in Belgian politics since they went for around nine months without a proper government in 2007 / 08 and found the political system, basket case though it was (probably outdoing Italy in places), fascinating.

Certainly from Julie and Pascal’s point of view, our government seems a lot more stable. Yes, I probably replied, but it also makes it quite dull. And harder to kick the bastards out, I didn’t add. Certainly I’d appreciate something to re-engage me with the political process and makes it seem exciting and interesting again.

Ok, it may not be entirely fun when you’re living in a country that can barely form a government let alone rule effectively. But at least it makes things interesting. Hell, I’m very jealous of America where, thanks to Obama (and, dare I say it, probably helped by the fact Bush was the previous incumbent) politics has become interesting, cool and sexy again. Go on, try and apply any of those three adjectives to our political system, I dare you. You’ll fail miserably.

I’ve gone a bit tangential here. But that’s kind of like the conversation last night. I met some fascinating people at the Dirty South Twit, had some very interesting conversations (I won’t recount the whole Belgian politics and media chat, partly because I can’t quite remember it all) and had plenty of Guinness. And that’s why I love Twitter meetups.

A slightly more coherent, less tangential write-up, with no mention of Belgian politics, is on the Dirty South Twit blog.

British Gas: Much better

Back in May, my patience snapped with British Gas’ customer service and whipped-up one quick mini-rant. After today, I’m happy to take this all back, as they’ve been absolutely fantastic.

Without gong into the fascinating and extensive history of the aging boiler, having got back after Christmas it was clear the appliance was sick. Very sick indeed. And that meant the house was cold. Very cold indeed. Three layers of clothing plus three forms of duvet were just about enough to keep me warm.

And here’s where British Gas came into their own. I rang up and got an appointment for the next day (today) ‘between 8am and 1pm’.

At 8am their engineer rang to say he’d be twenty minutes. Twenty minutes later, he was beginning to give the whole thing a clean and once-over, plus replacing a few parts. And then declared the boiler was on its way out so kindly left behind a form recommending the landlord replace the boiler before saying to call if anything went wrong in the next hour.

It might be because it’s New Year’s Eve and may be a bit quieter than normal, but the service was quick, efficient, friendly and excellent.

It’s all too easy to be somebody who sits ranting at a keyboard at any perceived slight, which is why I rarely like blogging about the failings of assorted companies unless they get to the point where it’s either let or steam or lose sanity. Last May, I’d definitely reached that point.

But I think it’s also fair that, if the same company gets something right, it’s only right that I redress the balance, especially considering I get a fair few hits each day for ‘British Gas Customer Service’.

Of course I’m not arrogant enough to assume what I wrote in the spring had any effect on them, but it’s nice that when dealing with a company you’ve had bad experiences with in the past, that they surprise you.

***NOTE: Since writing this a few of you have used the comments below t rant about your bad experiences with British Gas. That’s cool, I have no problem with that. After all, I did the same when I run out of patience with them last year. And, as I constantly bang on about the power of the web to get things done, I’ll leave them there unless the commenters want them removed.

What I will say, though, is if you’re upset with British Gas’ customer service (and lawd knows this doesn’t appear to be an uncommon occurance), you might be better letting off steam elsewhere. There’s probably some excellent consumer forums out there where people will be able to give you advice on how to kick them into action. And, if British Gas has any sense, they’ll monitor these places. Again, I’ve no problem with you letting off steam here, but other than catharsis, it probably won’t be a great deal of help in getting the problem solved.

Also, just to clarify, this post is nothing to do with British Gas whatsoever. I *always* disclose if a blog post is the result of a PR pitch. This one isn’t. I just thought it was only fair, after ranting about them, that I should at least offer praise for them getting something right.

And to people who’ve emailed me asking if I think their problem is acceptable customer service, the answer is it probably isn’t. But beyond that I really can’t help. I’m not a gas engineer, I know absolutely nothing about boilers and I don’t work for British Gas. I can offer sympathy, given that I’ve been in similar situations, but nothing else.

Seriously, just because I’ve had one good experience and one bad experience with the company doesn’t mean I know everything about how the system works or am qualified to offer advice on your boiler. If you’re really having problems, try Energywatch or Ofgem, or They will probably be far more useful that I can ever be on this. Much as I’d love to fix you central heating, I really can’t.

Right, hope that clarifies stuff. Rant away, although if you’re being exceptionally abusive I may delete your comment. And I don’t reply to abusive emails, no matter what you think I’ve done to my non-existent sister.***

Having a good old wine

Imagine you’ve got a brand to sell. You’ve only got a limited amount of stock, but are going up against around 20,000 other products, all of which are only slightly different to your own. On top of that, it’s quite difficult to get it stocked in major retailers, who pick a few different brands and often drop prices far lower than you can go. Oh, and the majority of people aren’t really sure what the differences are between the different brands.

Sounds like a bit of a problem, doesn’t it? And, if truth be told, it’s probably not massively differnt from the issues facing the wine industry in this day and age.

It’s the reason that Rob MacIntosh from The Wine Conversation is a great proponent of taking wine into the social media arena and energising the conversation to raise awareness of the different types of wine.

It’s also the reason why he sponsored the December London Blogger meetup, where he told the assembled crowd of the challenges facing the wine industry and why they need to engage in social media outlets.

When you think about it, this approach makes sense. Wine enthusiasts, as Becky notes, are equally as excitable and as obsessive as, say, music fans.

But while there’s plenty of huge music sites and blogs, Rob told the assembled crowd that the wine blogging community is, in relative terms, still very small.

It’s a huge challenge facing Rob, other wine ethusiasts, and small vineyards that produce some excellent wines. But social media is an excellent way of getting the message out there. Where there’s a niche, there’s a community. And where there’s a community, you’ll get curious bystanders.

With review sites and sharing among the forefront of Web 2.0, if the formula is right, there’s no reason why searching for a good wine to unwind with or to go well with your Sunday roast shouldn’t be as simple as finding a good restaurant via Google.

It’s one of the reasons the London blogger meetups are such a good evening. As well as an opportunity to meetup with other bloggers – familiar and not so familiar faces – it always provides food (and drink) for thought.

And, of course, there’s always plenty of drink. In this case, wine.

Rob had arranged a wine-tasting session after the talk, with a great variety to try. Sadly, I had no notebook and can’t remember the exact labels of them, but the Rioja was excellent and the Riesling went down a treat as well.

I also had a brief chat with Rob about UK wines – still shunned in some quarters. Me, I was converted after trying a rose from the Yearlstone Vineyard in Devon.

Again, it was another fantastic night and I ended up having a few more glasses than planned, but it was great to chat to Becky “You’re not leaving yet” McMichael, Chris Reed (who took more notes than me on the wines), Jaz Cummins and Wadds. Another great night, and I know what to bring to the dinner table for Christmas this year.

Dirty South Twit: venue confirmed

Just a quick note about the Twitter meetup event on Monday I’m co-organising – The Dirty South Twit.

We’ve now confirmed a venue – the Adventure Bar near Clapham Junction. There’ll be 2-4-1 cocktails and the same offer on Peroni. Nice.

There’ll be a lot more chatter on our Twitter feed in the run-up to Monday and you can become a fan of Twitter meetups on Facebook (Sadly I couldn’t make the last Shoreditch Twit, but I’ll be at the next one, for sure).

If you’re on Twitter and want to come along for a drink and a chinwag, all are welcome 🙂

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January 2023

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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com