Suddenly, London

It is, unfortunately, easy to get nostalgic for a place that maybe never existed, and if it did, was over as you were being born. But you can feel it as the hills roll past on the way to Haddenham and Thame Parkway, a tiny railway station on the way to Marylebone, traveling past enclosed fields that have likely had their enclosures set for hundreds of years. The seductive call of a Jerusalem that never was. Sheep dogs being trained on the hills

You come back once a year and you can feel the country changing. The creeping Americanisms, your home town moving on and building itself anew for the 21st century, ripping old parts out with no thought as to the memories you made in them. After all, you’ve gone now. It’s not your place anymore.

And yet, the muscle memory of knowing exactly when to turn, of the cottages racing by, replaced by the terraces; the post-war consensus survivors smiling at you and whispering ‘it wasn’t a dream, we did this, once’. The modern shoebox estates, where everything is crammed together and the green disappears. The towers as London approaches, much fewer in number, but Trellick still standing proud, brutal, and at long last, loved.

Walking up the steps to the Royal Festival Hall, Saint Etienne’s ‘London Belongs To Me’ coming on random play, like the iPhone just knows, big smile as the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Hayward Gallery come into view and the book sellers are putting out their tables. And walking up straight into a group of Pelican books. They knew, too.

But even as the Tate Modern’s huge chimney breaks out in front of you, there’s the realization - this place meant and means so much to you, and you’re happy to be back, but it’s not yours anymore. You don’t belong here in in the same way you did even five years ago. You can visit, but London will never belong to you. The construction cranes lining the sky across the water announce that it will likely not belong to your friends here for that long, either.

Saying all that, had a good time in London yesterday.

Suddenly, Britain


It takes a bit of getting used to being back in a bedroom that is literally smaller than my bathroom, and I’m not entirely convinced that the sun even came up today, but it’s good to be back home.

I’m not entirely sure that my sister feels exactly the same way, seeing as how I’ve spent the past 48 hours wearing a Father Christmas hat and making sure that she’s full of festive cheer. I have to hide the knives1.

A week of work awaits, then a quick trip to London (my first in two years!!), and finally: CHRISTMAS!

plays Slade very loudly

  1. though she probably already scored the biggest burn of the holiday by saying that listening to my music is like being trapped in Phonogram. [return]

Suddenly, Durham

The week in Atlanta was…odd. I spent most of it in the hotel as the client’s office firewall prevented me from talking to things on the Internet I needed to use to do my job. On the bright side, it meant that I was able to talk everybody into my staying here in Durham this week (given that I’ve been essentially working remote this week anyhow). So, hurrah! A full, final week in Durham before I fly home for Christmas. I just have to finish packing. is going to be down this year - I simply didn’t have to get it all reactivated in time (or add the new bits I wanted). There will hopefully be something to ring in the new year, though, if I can get it finished on time…

Suddenly, Atlanta

China didn’t happen, so instead I found myself helping to make a Thanksgiving dinner in South Carolina a large portion of last week. And a good time was had by all; Nerf wars that began at 7am (you have to get up early to fire foam darts at your brother, it seems), three different board games, pull-apart stuffing rolls that we didn’t burn to within an inch of their lives (thus atoning for last year’s disaster), and also answering the question ‘what do you do with a kilo of pound cake that didn’t come out of the pan properly?’

(pound cake pudding, it turns out)

Then, all of a sudden, back in the car, driving back to NC early in order to prepare for a last-minute trip to Atlanta. A last-minute trip that will run pretty much up to December 11th, when I fly home to the UK. It’s not exactly the gentle ending of the year I was expecting.

smartctl says no

It has been probably about a month, but I’m still trying not to think about the mess of computer parts on my bedroom floor. In particular, a dead 1Tb drive that contains over ten years of accumulated data.


And of course, like a proper person involved with computers, I tell people to make backups all the time, but is there a backup for this drive? Ha. Funny story: I was upgrading the firmware on my NAS to enable S3 backup when the HDD died. There may have been cosmic levels of rage when I discovered it was dead, but I could only maintain that for five or ten minutes because I still had work to do. Now that I’m in something of a fallow period (the trip to China isn’t going to happen at this point), I have time to come back to it.

Initial attempts to resuscitate the drive have not gone well; I suspect that I may have already wrecked things with a wild fsck. I forgot the first rule - make a disk image if you can. Right now, I’ve put it through the chamber vacuum sealer and thrown it in the freezer for the last attempt to save it tomorrow before I give it up for good.

The worst thing is that I really don’t know the extent of what I’ve lost. I know that there were rare films, TV shows, and comics on there, which is annoying but not entirely irreplaceable (the complete works of Grant Morrison! Including Near Myths and Steed & Mrs. Peel!). But I had also used it as a place to store things like the Quartz Composer installations I’d made to relieve space on my newer SSD setups. Some of that may be recoverable from my Time Machine backups. If I’m lucky.

It’s not as bad as the black mold in the basement on Trinity. But I can’t help the feeling of loss, even if it is just a bunch of zeros and ones on an ext3 filesystem.

But, like a good British person, I will go back to repressing it and lining up the torrents to rebuild.

This Week, I Have Mostly…

I’m not even supposed to be here today. I was supposed to be on the other side of the world, taking in the vast urban streetscapes of communism (with a hefty slice of command capitalism on the side, of course). But it was not to be, at least not this week, anyhow.

However, I did have to have some surprise vaccinations on the off-chance I would be in a plane for most of this weekend. These came on top of a raging sore throat; as a result, my immune system has been lying down and crying for surrender all week. As a result, I have been essentially living on Strepsils and Lemsips all week. So much blackcurrant!

I am tired, still sick, and looking forward to Christmas for a proper break. Less than a month to go until I head back to the UK for a bit…

Congress of Berlin

The Congress of Berlin (in 1878) made a watershed in the history of Europe. It had been preceded by thirty years of conflict and upheaval; it was followed by thirty-four years of peace. No European frontier was changed until 1913; not a shot was fired in Europe until 1912, except in two trivial wars that miscarried. It would not do to attribute this great achievement solely, or even principally, to the skill of European statesmen. The decisive cause was no doubt economic. The secret that had made Great Britain great was a secret no longer. Coal and steel offered prosperity to all Europe and remade European civilization. The dream of Cobden seemed to have come true. Men were too busy growing rich to have time for war. Though protective tariffs remained everywhere except in Great Britain, international trade was otherwise free. There was no governmental interference, no danger of debts being repudiated. The gold standard was universal. Passports disappeared, except in Russia and Turkey. If a man in London decided at nine o’clock in the morning to go to Rome or Vienna, he could leave at ten AM without passport or travellers’ cheques-merely with a purse of sovereigns in his pocket. Europe had never known such peace and unity since the age of the Antonines. The times of Metternich were nothing in comparison. Then men lived in well-founded apprehension of war and revolution; now they came to believe that peace and security were “normal”, and anything else an accident and an aberration. For centuries to come men will look back at that age of bliss and will puzzle over the effortless ease with which it was accomplished. They are not likely to discover the secret; they will certainly not be able to imitate it. — A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848-1918

A Small Respite

This is likely my last quiet weekend of the year, which is a bit crazy. But, in a nice twist of fate, it has also been the first in a long time where I haven’t been working. So of course, I spent Friday night lying awake until 5am on Saturday morning.

Today has been main wandering around the house like a zombie, giving myself caramel burns, cleaning chocolate molds, and watching BBC dramas from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and, thanks to my trusty VPN, the latest Who.

(five rounds rapid!)

Oh, and the ironing. Always the ironing.

More updates on the cryptic-ness to come.


Do not under-estimate the restorative powers of giving out chocolate to small children for three hours. After a rather difficult month (and more), it was wonderful to be able to spend the evening acting silly, cackling like mad (I was a mad scientist, after all), and hearing loads of children whispering “this house is the best house - they have a lab and they’re giving out full-size candy bars!” as they wandered back to their parents.

Thanks to Tammy and Robert for inviting me down to celebrate Hallowe’en with them, and remember, kids: only experts should attempt to extract the brains of Jack O’Lanterns!

(all the work above was done by Tammy and Robert - Tammy especially spent months pulling all this together. All I had to do was stand, cackle, and give out sweets!)

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