Thursday, 16 August 2007

A day in the life

Knowing that I'm away next week and not wanting to get further in arrears with my blogging, I've described below a day in my life. When you're busy or unimaginative (or, in my case, both), it's a perfect page-filler. It's what lazy bloggers do.

Today started unconscionably early. At about 3am it started raining (well, it *is* summer in London). Due to some work that's been going on in our sleepy little terraced house, there is scaffolding in the garden outside my door. Some fool has placed a length of open guttering on the scaffolding which collects rain and splats it on the ground outside, about two feet from the head of my bed. While more than half awake, I was determined not to open my eyes and find out the actual time as it would mean minutes of worrying about sleep rather than getting any (sleep that is). I rolled over and tried to get back to sleep. I guess I succeeded. I must move that gutter tonight. I'll put a reminder in my phone.

My alarm went off at 6:30, waking me to the news on BBC's Radio FiveLive. Talk radio is a safer bet than music for waking up, and I'm petrified of oversleeping. So much so that there have been occasions where I have woken up out of habit at about 6:35 on a Saturday or Sunday - and in some cases rocketed out of my bed to get ready - only to remember that it is infact the weekend. Notwithstanding the sleepus interruptus, it's pretty sweet to hit the sack again, realising you don't have to get up for another five hours.

After listening to the radio spout sh!t for a few minutes, I get up and hit the shower, shaving and brushing my teeth while I'm in there. You might think this efficient but its almost a necessity: there is no room to shave and brush teeth elsewhere in my "bathroom" (it's in the space under the stairs). As I leave the bathroom I notice water gathering under the toilet bowl again. I honestly don't know how water drains from the bathroom, and I've been using it for over a year. It sometimes gathers there, but when I clean it, which includes pouring copious amounts of water on the floor, it all goes. Weird.

If I'm lucky I'm back in my room getting dressed at 6:55. Today I'm going to the gym after work and I packed my bag last night - I wouldn't have time in the morning. I catch the 7:10 Thameslink train, which means I have to be out of the house by 7:00. So I head off down the alleyway (known to us as Dog Sh!t Alley, for obvious reasons) to the train and jump on after buying The Guardian. The train usually gets in to Luton about 7:35, during which time I've usually read the news section, sometimes the sport and some of the G2 section, while listening to my iPod. The trip isn't all that bad really - you got through the green belt, so there are some lovely rolling hills and fields. In London, it's nice to see that every day.

I think about what I need to do today. I want to do one application and knock off as much correspondence as I can - I am waaay behind with correspondence (which is informal letters sent to council seeking advice before putting in an application). As there is no statutory time limit for it we just can't make it a priority. Applications have a time limit and meeting these deadlines has a direct impact on funding received from the central government.

I hop off and immediately realise I haven't bought my new weekly ticket , so I can't get out of the station. So I head up to the office and buy one. £62. That's not a penalty fare either - its the same every week.

I take the leaky overpass towards the town centre - honestly, I don't know why they bothered covering it. I should have my brolly open. It's at this stage I decide I'll do a "day in the life" entry on my blog, and today will be that day. On the way to work I pop in to Tesco and grab some breakfast. Today I go for a pear (sometimes its bananas). Next door I grab a coffee at Costa. The two girls in there know me well enough to give me a discount (only £1.80 for a medium - bonus). Although I don't even engage in small talk with them. They must want me. One of them is Lithuanian (she has a flag on her name badge). I meant to mention it to her when I went there in Feb/March, but the moment's lost now.

And then I trudge off to work (in a lovely town hall built between the wars - although it has inflexible working spaces), getting to my desk by 7:55. My desk is a mess. Awash with paper and notes, just as you'd expect in a council which has a paperless office policy. I log on to my computer and open up my systems, and also have a peek at news websites: BBC, The Age, SMH, The Australian, The West, Fox Sports, Cricinfo. I look for articles and usually collate them into a word document and read them if/when I get a chance/need a break during the day. I've always been a news junkie.

Wednesdays are good because the Backpacker blog on the Fairfax websites is updated. It sometimes gives me some good ideas but mostly it's a bit outdated, as if the author travelled to Europe in the early 90s. It seems to me to be for vicarious travellers rather than a genuine tool or source of advice - it seems to present stereotypes and idealised accounts rather than what happens on the ground. But the comments from punters usually mention that, and their comments are actually where the blog gets its value.

Anyways, once I've scanned the websites I start looking at my work. Its not a matter of what's due today - most of what I do is well past expiry - but what is the most urgent. There are always hold-ups: missed consultations, objections, technical reasons why it has to go to committee rather than be done under delegation which delays it by about three weeks.

Come 9am those of us who are drink tea get another hit of caffeine. I never make the tea but always wash the cups, so I do my bit. I also open a blank email. As I think of stuff I need to do at home that night, I add it to that email and send it at the end of the day. Sometimes it includes draft emails to send out of my gmail account that night. I'm writing the blog into this email also. I never use my work email for personal stuff otherwise - no one has my email address at work (and I can check my gmail on my phone anyway).

My manager sees me about an application I did yesterday. There are a couple of corrections needed and the applicant needs to send something else in before it can be determined. The Environment Agency (which is like the EPA back home) require site investigations to be done here prior to determination, and recommend refusal if it's not done. Applicants often don't know one is required until we get EA's feedback. I don't see why it can't be a condition of approval. Infact I think legally if something was refused on these grounds it would be absolutely demolished on appeal. But we've tried to approach them about it and they are steadfast - no, actually they're stubborn. The bloody bureaucracy in this country. I swear, if I wasn't part of it, it would drive me nutty.

For the planners out there, the conditions we impose, incidentally, are virtually identical to those used for Acid Sulphate Soils back in WA: the "triple barrel" conditions seeking desktop study, then if something is likely a soil assessment, and then if something is found complete remediation.

Contacting the applicant and agent (i.e. the planner or architect that acts on their behalf) is not a major issue, except yesterday I said there was no problems with the application and they'd get a decision within a week. Frick. I call him and he's OK with it - he always will be if I couch it as "determine it now and refuse or determine it later and approve." But I hate doing that when its not the applicant's fault for the delay, especially when its overdue already.

I move on, make the other changes needed so this will sail through ASAP once the assessment is dealt with by EA. And I finally get down to the work I set out to do today. It's 11:15.

I potter through a report for a site I vaguely remember visiting (I took photos though), but otherwise have not really looked at or formed an opinion about. This is not unusual - if an applicant calls I might have a look at it before it's time to determine it, and advise them of changes, but otherwise there just isn't time. I remember the site - I thought this was a refusal, and got into an awkward conversation with some of the neighbours about the application. They want it approved as the land isn't being used at the moment. I remember they were fixing a car or something - about three of them, may have been shift workers but could also have been unemployed. Either way, they were big blokes and I was a touch intimidated by them. I remember being glad the conversation was over.

Turns out this one will probably be refused, but for different reasons than I imagined. There is a history to this site, but what they propose hasn't been tried before (and, having a history, the owner should know how far they can push the envelope). This council treats flat conversions very cautiously - very worried about the impact on the character of the area because the house will be used differently. That's fair enough, but it's a tougher line than I've seen elsewhere in the UK. Without a nearby precedent to establish acceptability, this application is gonna be difficult to get through, and as it relates to the principle of the proposal, there's no real way to amend design etc to make it acceptable.

But I won't get this finished before lunch.

At lunch I have to run some errands: visit a couple of banks thanks to Barclay's pathological inability to set up internet banking for me. I was gonna get a haircut too but as I'm going to the gym tonight I don't fancy dealing with clippings and stubble while sweating profusely so it can wait until tomorrow. The sun has mercifully shown its face and there is some respite from the rain. I run the errands, avoid the kids on school holidays and the guy bellowing to all and sundry that we must let the Lord into our life, and look around for my favourite food stall. While lunch is normally a straight-laced chicken-and-salad-roll affair, I treat myself to a Caribbean feed every Friday. My normal guy hasn't been around for a few weeks, so I've been going to another bloke. There is a massive Caribbean community in Luton (and also a large Pakistani population) so I'm spoilt for choice. But my bloke does a curried goat which is fantastic. Anyway he's not there. I'll keep looking tomorrow. I head back to work and scoff eat my roll al-desko.

After lunch I find a couple more tidbids about the application I'm looking at. It might be approved after all as there are flats nearby, although not on the same road. I go for approval, draw up some conditions (there are no real guides for this, which is a bit disconcerting) and send it through to my line manager. She will check it and send it on for determination under delegation. Hopefully I can move on to the corro now, and crank a heap of them out, sausage-factory style.

In the last few minutes the bloke I work with has said he's able to go out on site tomorrow arvo - which means I can too. Without a car here it's the only way I get to see sites, and neither of us think it's ideal, but it'll do for now. And as a bonus, that means I effectively get Thursday arvo off. I won't be sitting in front of a computer at least. And it means I can organise meetings for the rest of the week around this also - I have a couple ahead of next week's committee meeting, including one regarding an application that is likely to be spectacularly refused.

I check the weather for next week's trip to Bulgaria and Romania. It'll be 34 in Bucharest when I get there on Saturday. Brilliant. Not really all that relevant to the day's events, but I had to slip it in somewhere.

I manage to get two letters belted out before 5pm. Both of them should have been responded to in May. Like I say, not really a priority!

I leave work at 5pm and get the 5:14 train back to West Hampstead, which gets in about 5:48. It's pouring rain again. On the train I do the Sudoku and Kakuro from the Guardian. I walk straight to my gym at Swiss Cottage. The walk takes about half an hour, but unless I'm really rushed it seems pointless to catch a train two stops in order to do physical exercise. I don't usually go on Wednesdays - usually its Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I want to put a load of washing on tonight and I don't want sweaty clothes in my room for two weeks while I'm away.

My gym routine is well known to those of you I have complained to: two and a half hours total divided into an hour of cardio, an hour of weights and half an hour of core strength work. I go twice a week (in theory - I haven't been twice in a week for about 6 weeks now for various reasons - including a fire - but today is the second time I'll be there this week), and while I complain it does feel good to come away totally knackered and satisfied that you've exerted yourself a bit. It also releases a heap of stress and gives you time to yourself.

My main challenges in my routine are the rowing (4 sets of 500m on full strength, with a one minute break - I do each set in about 1:43), shoulder press (3 sets of 15 at 20kg, it never seems to get easier), and lateral raises (3 sets of 15 with 4kg weights in each hand). The rowing machine is particularly difficult - I'm usually totally fingered at the end of it and need to sit there for a minute or two doubled over to recover a little. Today I had to sit down on a couch for five minites afterwards, pouring sweat. Once I've done all three, about a third of the way through my routine, its all downhill and fairly easy from there. I weigh myself at the end of it, deducting a couple of kilos for the sweat soaked clothes hanging off me (and that's a conservative estimate - I'm a sweaty boy, and today it was worse than normal).

I shower, get dressed, and yet I'm still sweating - its pouring off me onto my backpack as I lean over it. I head over the road to M&S Simply Food and grab a small side salad, and that's dinner: usually a three bean salad or couscous or something like that - low carbs, high protein and only a couple of quid. I walk back home and get back at around 9:45pm, put on a load of washing, catch up with my lovely housemates and check my home email. I also get on Facebook (I'm not addicted - I can quit any time I like) and check the day's Dilbert comic (Dilbert rocks), and chase up things I have to do for the upcoming holiday, e.g. check if there are any guided walking tours of Bucharest. Once the load of waqshing is done and hung up - and when I'm done on the computer in front of the TV - I retire to bed, reading a bit of Le Carre's The Honourable Schoolboy before dozing off to sleep at about midnight.

So that's my day. It probably reads every bit as boring as it actually is.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Birthday Shenanigans

Thursday was my actual birthday. The highlight of the day itself was obviously chatting to the folks back home (awww). But it was also good to head in to work and make jokes about it "turning 29 again" and so forth - jokes which most of you are already more than sick of. That said, I might turn 29 again next year: I haven't decided yet.

I left work slightly early and headed to town to drink with whoever rocked up. We went to The Cock in Oxford Circus (I love the Cock). A few too many cheap beers and the odd bicycle-rickshaw ride, followed inexplicably by a late night feed of Chinese, saw me "safely" in to bed at about 1.30 or so.

So I was pretty sprightly on the Friday. Following a slightly more difficult day at work I headed local to meet up with some more buddies and await the imminent arrival of Eammon from Ireland, a former housemate and not a small drinker. Molly, his lovely girlfriend was making the trip too (on her birthday no less), and they were crashing at mine for the weekend. He said he'd be "touching down at Stansted at 9:30pm so should be at my place by about 10:30." Not much chance of that - it was midnight by the time I met them at the tube, but before that Heather and I had shared a nice meal of pizza with authentic ( i.e. non-English-speaking) waiting staff.

Luckily, it was too late for us to be tempted into a beer, so I got my much needed sleep finally that night.

Saturday they'd planned to do a bit of sightseeing before getting on the lash with me at my birthday. We headed out for brekky locally which included some kick-ass milkshakes, and I sent them on their way, while quietly home to read and rest up for the massive night that was to follow.

And a massive night is exactly what I got. After getting there a little late, I caught up quickly (I don't know with whom - I seemed to be setting the pace actually, whether I liked it or not). It was great of everyone to come, but I hardly got to speak with anyone for any period of time - especially before my eyes glazed over after Roly, Eammon, Liam et al bought me my present...

Uh, thanks guys. It pretty much ended my night. I should blame them all for it though - from what I remember I was pretty reluctant to share. I also remember being offered a drink afterwards from a mate, whatever I wanted. I asked for Absinth for some reason.

Still, I was bundled into a cab and got home at about 2am.

After a slowish start the next morning, we headed to my local Nando's for Molly's first experience there, and Eammon's first since leaving Australia more than three and a half years ago. It was orgiastic for me.

The day itself was billed as the hottest day of the summer, all of 30 degrees (Celsius!). So we headed to a pub recommended by Liam, the Grand Union - on the canal of the same name in Maida Vale. We got there at 2pm (an hour late - sorry Greg), and were kicked out at 11pm. Not much happened in-between except a lot of drinking and talking sh!t. Brilliant.

After nine hours drinking, we weren't content, so we headed to an arts club nearby and drank for another hour, including ladyboys. Brilliant. We got home about 1:30am. I said goodbye to Eammon and Molly then and headed straight for bed, with my alarm going off at 7:30am that morning (a one hour sleep-in).

I felt rough that day at work - and for most of the week - but what a fantastic weekend! A big thanks to all those that made it along, especially those who travelled from afar - I wish I could have spent more time with you! And Sunday was spectacular!

Can't wait to do it all again (including turning 29) next year.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

All Fired Up

Tuesday is fire alarm day at work. At 2pm the alarm goes off, just to test it. Today it went off and I was on the phone. Fantastic for the bloke on the other end.

Then I realised i was hungry. I hadnt eaten yet because it wasnt lunchtime - it was only about 11:30. It was an actual alarm. So we evacuated the building and had a lovely half hour chatting and standing in the sun, waiting for the all clear. It's a rare luxury to have the sun in England, but to be able to bask in it during a work day - well, that was special.

I'd been tired all day because I went to the gym last night, and I knew I'd be at the gym tonight too, so some of the fatigue was premeditated. The day seemed to drag on.

I got to the gym at about seven, ready to hit my usual circuit. About an hour into it the alarm goes off. I've got a decent sweat going but we have to evacuate. Another fire.

This time it was the polar opposite. It wasn't cold outside, but as soon as the I cooled down and my sweat cooled with me, I was standing in cold wet clothes waiting to be let in. Not quite as goood as the daytime. It was a genuine fire too - quite a big one in the basement apparently, and we saw heaps of smoke coming from the roof. But after an hour we got our stuff and had to leave - we couldn't go back into the gym.

Pretty freaky though: two real fire alarms in one day.

The moral of the story: if you're gonna start a fire where I work, do it at about 2pm on a Tuesday as we'll all think it's a test. But if you do intend to do that, make sure it's a sunny day.