Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Christmas Everyone

Bury is still in firmly in the grip of the Artic weather that has been the norm across the country as of late but the Lancashire hospitality I've become accustomed to is keeping me warm.

The sub-zero temperatures are being accompanied by clear blue skies and bright sunshine so it's lovely and crisp outside and there hasn't even been a hint of rain, very unusual indeed ;)

I heard my first siren today!  A sound that is so familiar in Shepherd's Bush is a rare occurrence in these more rural parts.  I do miss the hustle and bustle but it's nice to be in more peaceful surroundings every so often.  At some point Sarah and I will no doubt have to find some sort of compromise but we'll save that for another time!

We ran the final few errands in town earlier and all the presents have been wrapped ready to assume their place under the tree. Not sure what the plan is for tonight but I'm sure it'll involve a few beers and a good feed :)

Brentford's Boxing Day game at Yeovil has been postponed so the later season fixture pile-up is well on track!  I'm driving back on Tuesday for the Tranmere game but I may get an extra couple of days in Lancashire if that too falls foul of the weather.

Bury are away at Shrewsbury on Saturday so I can't even make the short trip to Gigg Lane for a football fix.  The little corner of west London I found in Tesco will have to keep me going!

Wishing everyone a very merry and happy Christmas .

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ring Ring. Ring Ring. Rings Around the World

My weekday lunchtimes are usually spent either strolling around the environs of West Kensington or the in the free gym we have on-site.

There's way too much ice on the W14 pavements to make it worth going for a walk today and I'll go to the gym after work tonight so I've been messing around with my new phone.

My 18th month O2 contract ran out last Monday so I upgraded on Tuesday from my rather tired looking Nokia 5800 to the highly regarded HTC Desire.  It's my first non-Nokia phone since joining the mobile age in July 2000 and all I can say is WOW!!  It's an amazing bit of kit with so many features and I've been taken aback by the sheer number of applications that can be downloaded to increase functionality.
Of course there are social media apps, mapping apps, alternative web browsers and music clients that are well publicised but I've also downloaded emulators and games that make my phone think it's a Gameboy, Megadrive and SNES!  I've had emulators on my PC for years but didn't think that I'd get them for a phone.  I've also added the quintessential smartphone game, Angry Birds.  It was one of the first things I downloaded and is totally addictive.  There are just so many levels!!

The only downside with the upgrade is the change in contract.  Out went unlimited data, the ability use my inclusive text allowance to send both texts while abroad and photo messages and in came having to pay a fiver a month for 500MB of data and text charges for things that were previously free.

My line rental is £25 so it's £30 a month in total with the additional fiver for data.  I previously had a £35 a month contract with a 30% discount through an offer at Sarah's work but sadly they have changed their mobile provider to Vodaphone so I couldn't get a discount this time round.

I'm quite lucky that I can claim my phone line rental back from work as long as it's below £25 so up to now it's been covered entirely.  I have heard that I may be able to claim up to £30 now so I'll give it a go and see what happens.

The loss of unlimited data is a real negative though.  Especially as the HTC Desire (like all decent smartphones) has so many apps and widgets that need a constant web connection to make best use of them.  The unlimited data I had was wasted on my 5800.  It was the phone Nokia brought out in response to the iPhone but didn’t have anything like the functionality to make use of the luxury of unlimited data.  I mainly used it to check football scores, not exactly data intensive!

When I’m at home I hook the Desire up to my wireless network (to be fair the 5800 could do this as well) so I think the 500MB a month limit will be OK for when I'm out and about.  I can also use BTOpenzone and The Cloud wireless hotspots, although there seem to be some issues, so I should be pretty well connected wherever I go.  If we had a wireless network in the office it would be perfect but there's no news of one being setup anytime soon.

One thing the 5800 did excel at was being a SatNav.  Nokia snapped up Navteq a few years ago and rolled out OVI Maps to all users with a compatible phone.  I have installed Google’s Navigation app so only time will tell how well it compares.  I’ll test it out on the drive up North later this week.

Just as long as the battery life holds up, these smartphone really do use up a lot of juice!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Snow Stopping this Cold Snap!!

Sarah's intent on watching Sports Personality so it seems like a good time to hop on the laptop.

I love sport but have absolutely no interest in Gary Lineker, Sue Barker et al. harping on for two hours.  I can barely watch a full 90 minutes of football on the TV without getting bored so this would be unbearable!  Sarah's already taken down the number for Jessica Ennis and is chomping at the bit to vote.  Who knows what she'd do if there wasn't an Athletics representative on the shortlist!!

I hope AP McCoy wins it.  He is without doubt the greatest jump jockey of all time and this year won the Grand National for the first time in his career.  It was the only major race he hadn't won and coupled with him winning the Champion Jockey title for the 15th straight season it's about time he got the popular recognition his achievements deserve.

What with all the snow it's been a pretty quiet weekend.  The Brentford game was called of on Friday which turned out to be a wise decision.  We had a short, sharp dumping of snow in west London on Friday afternoon and I thought the ref (good old Andy D'Urso!) might have been a bit hasty but yesterday there was a deluge of snow all over the country with all but 8 League and two Premiership games being postponed.

We've not had a home league game since 13th November and unless I can persuade Sarah that it is worth coming back from Bury on the morning of 28th, in time for the Tranmere game at GP, that'll be it for me and Brentford in 2010.  We're away at Yeovil on Boxing Day which, weather permitting, gives us a decent chance of continuing out fine away form.  We won 2-0 at Southampton last weekend to push the continuous away victory run up to five.  Andy Scott rather cheekily called it our most comfortable away win of the season.  Nothing like rubbing salt into a defeated opponents wounds!!

We did play at home against Charlton on Tuesday in the Southern Area Semi-Final of the Johnson's Paint Trophy and sneaked through 3-1 on penalties after a 0-0 draw.  Thankfully Extra Time there is no extra time and we should really have won the match in the 90 minutes.  Richard Lee saved the first three Charlton penalties, the second and third saves were world class.  Watch the highlights if you don't believe me ;)  Exeter await in the two-legged Area Final and hopefully we'll get through to our first game at the new Wembley.

This year will be the first time I've spent Christmas with Sarah in Bury.  I've been up for New Year before but never for the big festive event.  It'll be a marked change from the quiet Malcolm Christmas' I'm used to with aunties, uncles, grandparents and cousins turning up to the Bell household throughout the day.  Looking at the forecast it looks like we'll be buzzing up in Meg a day earlier than I expected, maybe there is hope of a morning of 28th return after all!

Oh here we go.  Fat boy Corden is rolling out on to the stage to do his Smithy routine again!  Surely it's been done to death now!!  It can only mean there is a World Cup review on the way, great!

Living deep in QPR territory the snow has given the locals ample opportunity to add their ever so special tag to stationary street furniture.  With them sitting pretty (although not quite as pretty as 10 days ago having lost their first two league of the season against Watford and Leeds) sightings of the blue and white hoops are becoming ever more frequent.  Fair play to them though, and it'll be a real achievement for them to make it back into the top tier having been out of it for almost 15 years.

If QPR do go up all three LBHF teams will be in the Premiership and we'll be the only west London team not feasting on the millions of pounds available at the top table of English football.

Faced with all that I thought it was only fair that me and Sarah had the opportunity to put our own little footballing messages across.

Not quite as bold as the scribblings on a few of the cars down the road but they made me smile earlier today when I saw them again and will no doubt do so again tomorrow while I walk the mile and a half to work in W14.

It's the simple things that keep us football fans happy eh!?!

It's almost time for The Apprentice final so I'd best wrap this up.

Tony McCoy has just won Sports Personality of the Year.  Hopefully Stella will make it two out of two for me tonight :)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Is the Smart(odds) Money on Brentford?

The annual report and statement of accounts for Brentford FC were released yesterday.

I'm not one to take too much interest in the off-field goings on at TW8, it is a subject that tends to divide fans, but it's always interesting to read about how the club is fairing financially.

Here are the highlights:

- After tax BFC lost £1,264,664 in 2009/10.  In 2008/09 the loss was £495,263.
- Our net debt on 31st May 2010 was £8,512,915.  Up from £8,303,278 in 2009.
- Average attendances rose from 5,707 in 2008/09 to 5,985 last season.
- Turnover increased by £197,191.
- We made £501,893 net profit from transfer fees.  We made a loss of £8,774 the previous season!

It's pretty worrying to see that losses increased by over £750k and the debt is around £8.5m.  However unlike a lot of other clubs we are in a very privileged position.

Since January 2006 Bees United (BU), the supporters trust I'd encourage all Bees fans to join, have held the majority (around 60%) shareholding in BFC and currently have three representatives on the BFC board.

Having already given BFC an interest-free loan of £4.5m, last summer Matthew Benham (MB), a Brentford fan, and owner of the Smartodds company agreed to buy the BFC shares held by minority shareholders and also invest £1m a season for five seasons.  The deal also gives MB operational control of the club for the five years.

At the end of the five years BU has the opportunity to pay back the £4.5m loan and buy his shares to give them around a 95% shareholding.  If BU do not take up this option MB has the opportunity to buy the BU shareholding which will give him a 75% share.

The plan is for BFC to become a Championship club and this deal has given us a real chance of achieving this.  The partnership between BU and MB means that BFC can incur operating losses without a threat to its future.  A future that was seriously at risk before BU took control of BFC from Ron Noades at the start of 2006. 

Andy Scott has been backed by the board with the largest budget of any Brentford manager and after a disappointing start to the season Scott has steadied the ship.  In the league games since the start of October we've won six, drawn one and lost two. Scott was named Manager of the Month for October (yes, as it the norm we did loose our next league game!) and we're on a run of four straight away wins and sit 13th in the table.  Our home form has been hit and miss with good wins against Charlton, Wednesday and Peterborough tempered by miserable performances against Rochdale, Oldham, Bournemouth, and MK Dons.

We've not had a game for a couple of weeks having been 'giant killed' by Aldershot in the first road of the FA Cup and the Notts County game postponed last weekend so the team should be rested and raring to go at Southampton on Saturday.  I just hope the lay-off hasn't seen the team go off the boil.  Five straight away wins really would be a great achievement.

So why these musings about the finances of BFC?  Well Greg Dyke's Chairman's statement at the start of the accounts paid tribute to us Brentford fans and it made me proud to be a Bee.  The club was at in trouble before BU took over an MB made the £4.5m loan.  Perhaps not as at risk as in 1967 when news broke that then Brentford chairman Jack Dunnett had been in secret talks with his QPR counterpart Jim Gregory about moving them into Griffin Park and flogging Loftus Road, but things were seemingly pretty dicey.

There isn't much glamour supporting a lower league team and every now and then it's good to hear that your efforts are noticed and appreciated.  I hope BFC don't mind me reproducing the comment here:

Before a brief note on Lionel Road I wish to thank all Brentford fans for their continued support. These are very difficult economic times and there are many demands on supporter's time and pockets. Your enthusiasm for a Club which has languished in the bottom two divisions for nearly sixty years (bar one season) is remarkable and your board is working hard to ensure that we have the best possible opportunity of delivering on what we all want and that is a financially viable, self-supporting Club playing in a modern stadium and consolidated in the Championship.

The line about us languishing in the lower divisions for almost sixty years really brought into focus how small we are compared to the other three west London clubs.  OUCH, typing that hurts, but it's true no matter what we think as partisan Brentford fans.

After a dismal relegation from League One in 2006/07 and first season in League Two, (be honest Bees fans, we all expected to get up at the first attempt!), we got our act together won the division the following season and had a great season last term to finish 9th.  OK performances at home this season haven't been great but we are well positioned on and off the field to have a decent tilt at promotion over the next 3 seasons.

Keep the faith Bees fans I'm certain we'll get there in the end, erm, maybe!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

She Drives Me Crazy!

A month in to the Malcolm-Bell driving experiment and I've come to at least one conclusion, the Bell element is highly volatile.  She's one hell of a backseat driver!

Sarah's already very protective of the kitchen, actually that's not entirely correct.  She's very protective of the hob but couldn't care less about the dirty plates + the sink = washing up equation.  So it shouldn't have been such a surprise to me that when I'm driving, like when I'm cooking, she still wants to be in control of the action.

She fixes an almost constant gaze on the speedometer when we're on the motorway.  If I dare to stray over 70mph I'm berated for going to fast and if I happen to get what she deems to be too close to the car in front, well, the language is enough to make a grown man blush!

As soon as Sarah realised that last Sunday was going to be bright and sunny she started on at me to go for a drive.  For some reason she thinks that all I want to do on a Sunday is loaf on the sofa and watch sport!

IMG_2771After suggesting we go to Blenheim Palace only to be instantly rebuffed she started going on about a 'mystery drive'.

I took this to mean the New Forest because she's always gipping on about going there.  How right I was because as soon as we set of I was told to point the car in the direction of the M3.

Of course she knew the best route but I took her on a little west London tour.  We headed off through Chiswick, Brentford and Isleworth (free commentary of local landmarks included at no extra cost) which as it turned out (Sarah looked it up on Monday) was the best route.

Ninety miles, two hours and bleeding ears later we were in Beaulieu.  Actually, truth be told, apart from traffic on the way in to Lyndhurst, it was a smooth and stress free drive.

IMG_2806Shhhh, don't tell Sarah but I'm actually starting to enjoy the freedom of driving.

It's very convenient being able to hop into the car and head off straight away.  No waiting for buses, Tubes or trains although a tenner for the coach up to Brum for the Carling Cup match last night was too good an offer to turn down.  That latest awayday is a for a whole other post...for that read once I'm over the result!

We got to Beaulieu, parked up in the Motor Museum (thankfully we'd both been there and done that as kids), and map reader Bell took us on a tour of the area.  We took in the Beaulieu River, parish church, cricket green, and then headed into the woods (oh do behave!) for a roam amongst the trees, pheasants and deer.

IMG_2784We watched a helicopter whiz off from a field but the find of the day was a restored number 11 London bus taking day trippers around the sights.  Looking at the destination board made this sad W12er smile, Shepherd's Bush is everywhere.  In fact today more than ever with the Bush trending on Twitter because of a Hitler lookalike on a W12 bus.

After a couple of hours roaming we headed to Monty's Brasserie but they had stopped serving food so it was just a Guinness for me and a Coke for Sarah because she was driving the return leg.  The co-joined Montagu Arms Hotel certainly caught our eye, especially the Michelin Star restaurant.  Something tells me that we'll be having dinner there sooner rather than later!

My next cross country car jaunt is to Market Harborough in a couple of weekends time for a bit of a Uni meet-up.  Sadly for you readers (are there any?!?) I'll be making the trip alone so there won't be any gipping to tell of.  Don't worry though the weekend after Sarah and I are back on the road together and there is bound to be something to tell!

For now it's cheerio.  There's a pile of post-dinner washing up that needs to be done before I'm allowed a brew.  I think I need a union!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wormwood Scrubs Up Well

Last week was a week of firsts.  On Wednesday I went for a run around Wormwood Scrubs for the first time, on Friday I drove to a clients for the first time and on Saturday the Bees finally won their first away game of the season!  WOO HOO!

Located in the north of LBHF past the BBC on Wood Lane and A40 the Scrubs regularly features in the Minder episodes Sarah and I routinely watch while we're sat at the living room table having dinner.  I guess you could say it's become 'our thing', one of many no doubt!

HMP Wormwood Scrubs (Grade 2 listed don't you know!), Hammersmith Hospital and the Linford Christie Stadium line it's southern perimeter while to the north and east it's bounded by railway tracks.  The Old Oak estate lies on its western boundary with one of its roads, Braybrook Street, being famous as the site of the Braybrook Street murders.

Braybrook Street murders, 1966

Three Met Policemen were murdered on 12th August 1966 and there is a memorial headstone close to where the incident took place.  The most famous of the three men who played a part in the murders is Harry Roberts.  He's still in prison 44 years later while the other two are dead.  Football fans are most likely to be aware of the song, used to taunt the police, which features his name. 

Jake Arnott's second novel called 'he Kills Coppers' is based on the murders and in 2008 ITV produced a three part drama of the same name.  It's avaliable on DVD for £3 if anyone is interested.

After jogging up from the flat I completed three laps in 55 minutes.  I took in all the 'sights' following the perimeter of the grass as best I could and have mapped my route here.  The lap is fairly flat and at 2.25 miles it's a decent length.

As I expected there were people walking dogs, kids having a post-school kick about and other runners doing their usual Scrubs lap/s.  What I didn't expect to see were people flying kites and model aircraft enthusiasts recreating their own Battle for the Skies.

Turns out there is an area dedicated to the flying of model aircraft with signs warning of their presence and a large notice that sets of a code of conduct.  There is also a pony centre for fans of all things equine.  Isn't it amazing what is unknown but available on the proverbial doorstep.

I roped Sarah into doing a lap on Sunday afternoon and hopefully we'll run up there, weather permitting, most Sundays now.  We also did a couple of laps of the stadium track (Sarah just couldn't resist) and judging by the wide-open gates anyone can get in there.  Just outside the stadium gates there is also small collection of outdoor gym equipment although it could do with a spruce-up!  In fact calling it equipment is being pretty generous.  There are a couple of pull-up bars, benches and random dark green thingies.  Yes, that is a technical term!

As we walked back to Scrubs Lane I started thinking about how people seem to bemoan the lack of facilities in their local area, especially those that are easily accessible for kids.  There certainly isn't a lack of facilities in W12.

Wormwood Scrubs has marked football pitches with goals, an athletics arena, all weather pitches for five-a-side football, hockey and netball.  There's an all weather tennis court that also has basketball rims, chuck in a couple of kids playgrounds and there are plenty of facilities for the local community to use.

I also think the Scrubs would be a prime candidate for a new Parkrun event.  The events in Richmond Park (there I am again!), Old Deer Park and Wimbledon Common aren't exactly local and there are seem to be plenty of local pavement pounders on the streets of W12.  Something for me to think about setting up perhaps, any other budding volunteers out there?

I was a both nervous and excited about driving to see Oxfam on Friday.  I woke up at about half five and then just drifted in and out of light sleep.  For me that’s a tell tale sign that I’m about to embark on something new, an adventure.

Since we brought the car down from Bury, Sarah has taunted me about my driving.  She reckons I can't drive or at best I’m useless so it was good put an end to that chat by driving up to Oxford.  For my first ever solo drive of any note it was a piss easy start.  A jaunt up the A40/M40/A40 to Oxford and then a short hop across to the business park where the Oxfam HQ is located.

On the way home I took a detour to Griffin Park via the M25/M4/A4 to pickup tickets for the Carling Cup game at St. Andrews next Tuesday but typically the offices were shut.  No biggie though because I cycled back later in the afternoon and got them.

I'm looking forward to using the car more although I'm not one for just hopping in a car a going for a drive.  It’s great to have a choice of decent size supermarkets within easy reach and it'll be good not having to rely on the train and lifts.

Sarah, the 'burden' days are over!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Get Settled, Get Curtains Drawn

Another weekend is coming to an end.  Dinner's been eaten and the night is drawing in.  The clocks go back in two weeks as we say goodbye to BST and welcome back GMT for the winter.  The central heating has been on in the flat for the past couple nights, autumn is here and winter is on its way.

I actually don't mind winter.  Cold, crisp and sunny mornings are a joy to wake up to and help make up for the grey wet days we get more and more used to at this time of year.

Saying that it really doesn't rain that much in London not compared to Sarah's beloved North West anyway.  In the four and a half years that we've been going out it's only not rained in Bury once when I've been up there.  It was even raining the first time I went to Bury, Easter Monday 2002.  That really was a miserable day!

It was 1st April and the joke certainly was on Adam, Gabs, Paul and me.  Traipsing up to the relegation threatened Shakers expecting a nice Bees win to help us on our way to promotion.  Nothing ever goes to plan as we were well beaten on surface that was almost totally bereft of grass.  End of season came around, Bury did indeed go down while we finished third, made it to the play-off final and lost without even mustering a whimper to Stoke. MIS-ER-Y!!

Eight and a half years later I'm going out with a Bury lass and looking out for the Bury scores.  They had a nice 4-3 win away at Torquay yesterday having been 2-0 down in 20 minutes.  Hopefully they can join the Bees and near neighbours Rochdale in League One next season.  We're up to fourth bottom after the 3-0 win at Tranmere yesterday, still in the relegation zone but at least we're showing signs of life with two wins in three October games.

Yesterday I did my third straight Parkrun, something I've only managed once before.  I went round in 21:14, my best time since July, and finished 36th out of 197.  I finished 36th last week as well and 35th the week before.  If I'd have finished 35th this week I would have won a prize, damn the bloke who managed to keep me at bay in the final 100m ;)

As my number of Parkuns increase I'm becoming more and more interested in how and why my times change from week to week.  I was 57 seconds quicker this week than last, a pretty dramatic increase.

At Richmond there is quite frequently a noticeable headwind as the course climbs and then flattens just after halfway.  Last week however there was a pretty strong headwind over the first half of the course as we undulated our way down Sawyers Hill to Sheen Roundabout.  As soon as I felt it my time was done for.  My mind was confused, annoyed and resigned to defeat after about 750m.  I wanted to stop but you just can't, can you?!?  No, especially not having got my arse out of bed earlier than on a weekday and cycled to Richmond.

The number of runners varies from week to week so I'm also interested in my finishing positions and times.  As I mentioned earlier I've finished 35th, 36th and 36th in the past three runs.  In the Summer I did three runs in a month and had times of 21:06 (32nd), my PB of 21:05 (33rd) and 21:06 (22nd).  I don't wear a watch so three consecutive runs within a second of each other was pretty cool.  Now I have three consecutive runs within a place of each other, also pretty cool.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Not All Great In TW8

It's been a grim grim 36 hours in and around W12 (and in Britain in general judging by the coverage of Man City v Newcastle on ESPN) so having blogged about my close encounter with Uxbridge Road last week I thought I'd take the time to have a ramble.

Following on from little sister's birthday on 1st September mine wasn't far behind on 7th.  As usual I didn't arrange to do anything!  I'm never really fussed about celebrating my own birthday and turning 33 really wasn't anything to get excited about!  The previous weekend me and Sarah went for a a few beers around Westbourne Grove and then had dinner at Rodizio Rico.  I suppose that could count as a birthday meal ;)

Whenever we've been to Ricos before we've been able to sit at street level, so I was a bit disappointed that we had to sit downstairs.  It's a bit too bright down there with the white walls and it seems a lot more cramped.  There isn't as much atmosphere either because the kitchen is on the open-planned ground floor and you get to see all the cooking action.  I have to admit my mood wasn't helped having seen Brentford get soundly turned over 3-1 at GP by Rochdale in the afternoon so perhaps I'm not being totally fair.

September was a mixed bag for the Bees.  Mostly next to useless in the League, we ended the month bottom, but through to the fourth round of the League Cup (for only the second time in our history) having seen off Everton on penalties after the game finished 1-1.  There were great scenes at GP when we equalised and pitch invasion aside, it was another special Brentford moment when Phil Jagielka missed his spot kick to give us the win.

Thankfully yesterday we began October with a 2-1 derby win over Charlton, but September had all Bees fans starting to fear the worst.

To be fair the month started off OK.  We deservedly beat the then leaders Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 in a game televised by Sky and got the usual 0-0 draw at Bristol Rovers.  Then came the Everton game and we all thought the season had finally got out of first gear.  Sadly it wasn't to be as we drew 0-0 at home against Hartlepool, meekly surrendered 1-0 to Leyton Orient on a chilly Friday night in east London and then lost late on 1-0 at Brighton.  Five games, five points and one League goal later we found ourselves bottom of League One with fans starting to wonder if it was going to be another season of shattered dreams in TW8.

Anyway, September is over and after yesterday's win were up to (haha!!) second bottom.

Dan and Jenny came down to stay in the Bush last weekend and while Jen went off to indulge herself in the shoe-fest that is the new Selfridges Shoes Galleries me and Dan went to the Emirates to watch Arsenal loose 3-2 to West Brom.  He's finally got himself a red membership so should be down for a few more games over the coming seasons.

For the most part Arsenal were terrible, wonder where I've heard that before!  It was 0-0 at half-time with everyone's favourite 'keeper Manuel Almunia saving a Chris Brunt penalty but 3-0 to West Brom after 73 minutes.  Arsenal did manage to get it back to 3-2 by the end of the game but the sixty or so thousand Gooners leaving the ground at full time were a frustrated bunch.  It certainly makes you realise that us football fans are a fragile lot no matter what level of football we watch.

Right, enough of the football chat.

I've started the on the Spanish trail again.  There are a lot of familiar faces in the class and a few new people. It's good to be back in the classroom ready to crack on the summer break.

However, the biggest thing to happen this month will be a shock to most of my mates, Sarah and I bought a car.  I know, a CAR!!  We are the proud owners of a 2006 (56 plate) Renault Megane.

Sarah's brother wanted to get himself a new car so we gave him the £5k he had left to pay off on his car loan.  A pretty good deal I reckon.

I've hardly driven since I passed my test waaaay back in 1995 so it's going to be a bit of a rapid re-education.  I've driven a few times since then, mostly on holiday, but I'm going to have to get back up to speed pretty quickly.  Besides, it's about time I got driving because 15 years is a long old time between passing your test and getting your first car!

Ooooooh Just think of all those Bees away games I can go to ;)

He's Taken A Dive Ref!

Thursday morning started out like any normal working weekday.

Alarm went off, I got out of bed later than I should have, and I got my trusty bike out of the dimly lit, slightly damp and heavily cobwebbed old coal bunker where it lives.

I set off on my usual jaunt to work but before I knew it I was sprawled on the road outside Shepherd's Bush Market tube station!  Luckily I was in the bus lane and perhaps even luckier I wasn't being trailed by one of the big red beasts that roam London!!

Grazed Elbow
It's pretty amazing how quickly your natural instinct for survival kicks in because I was up off the tarmac in a flash collecting bike parts that had dotted themselves over Uxbridge Road.  A few people came to make sure I was all right but I was in a bit of a daze really so I can't really remember what they said to me.  I could see that I had a few cuts and scrapes but I was just intent on trying to work out why I had took a dive!

Road Rash
My initial thought was that my seatpost had snapped but it was still in one piece and securely attached to the frame.  It was sans saddle though so the blame had to lie somewhere pretty close.

So, I had the saddle, the brackets that secured it to the post and I also had short bolt that looked like it had sheared in two.  That's exactly what had happened because one of the securing brackets still had a the the other half of the bolt screwed into it!

I'm still not sure how a heavy duty bolt can just snap but I needed to get it fixed so headed across the green to the new-ish W12 branch of Cycle Surgery.

Having unsuccessfully tried to secure the saddle with a new bolt (to the surprise of the staff it turns out that there isn't a standard thread on saddle brackets or bolts!) I had to get a new seatpost.  More bike expense but it was up and running again and I was finally on my way to work.

Chain Ring Cuts
As you can see the cuts and scrapes aren't too bad and I always wear a helmet so that saved my head from any bumps.  A few bruises are still a bit sore but compared to what I could have ended up with, broken collarbone, broken wrist etc. I'm all OK.  The solid Malcolm frame did a good job :)

One thing coming off the bike has made me think about is how wise it is for the Boris Bike scheme to run without providing helmets.  I've not heard of any major incidents and the majority of hires seem to be for short hops in the rush-hour or at lunchtime so perhaps it's not worth adding another factor that will limit use of the scheme.

I had a little smile to myself on Friday morning as I rode past the spot of my downfall, hopefully I won't be re-acquainting myself with the tarmac any time soon!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

1st September 1980. A Day to Remember

Thirty years ago something happened that changed the life of a little boy who was a week away from his 3rd birthday...his sister was born.

Carla Ruth Malcolm was born at West Middlesex Hospital on Monday 1st September.  She was late, although just a week compared to my two, and she brought with her a book and a lollipop as a welcome gift for her new older brother.  The book is still on a bookshelf at mum and dad's, the lolly didn't last very long ;)

Mum and dad had a new daughter, I had a new sister and nan had a new granddaughter.  A whole world of fun was about to begin.

I can't really remember life without my sister, but it can't have been half as much fun as it has been since.  She was an instant playmate as well as someone to look after and care for.  Like any siblings we've had our moments but nothing has ever come between us and we're still great friends.

Family holidays in England, Ireland and as we got older abroad were exciting and action packed.  Be it charging around, playing games or splashing in the pool, the pair of us kept each other company doing all the things that brothers and sisters do.

We're very different and at the same time very similar.  If she reads this she'll most likely think I'm a soft prat.  To be fair if she wrote something like this I'd think the same!

It's no great surprise that we went to the same the same primary and secondary schools or that we both did geography at Uni.  There are differences though most of which have become apparent as we've grown older.

She's had an annual cinema pass for a number of years whereas I've had a Brentford season ticket!  Geeks in different ways!

A better example is the fact that I can't stand going to the cinema and much prefer going to gigs.  I'd much rather be stood in amongst a buzzing crowd with a beer than sat quietly in a cinema watching the latest blockbuster.  Carla can't stand the jostling, I love it.

She still lives at home but I flew the nest less than six months after finishing Uni and coming back to London.

I've worked for the same company since graduating in 2000 but Carla has never wanted to join the Monday to Friday rat race.  She spent a year in Canada in 2002/03 and a year Down Under in 2005/06.  I've only had a couple of three or four week holidays!

She has just completed a masters in Countryside Management at Capel Manor and spends a lot of her time volunteering.  Puts me to shame really as I'm your typical office bod who turns up late, most likely doesn't work as hard as he should and spends too much time on the pop!

Still, we're family and that's all that really matters.  Carla, I'll have a few Guinness for you after work on Friday surely you can't begrudge a little celebration on your behalf ;)

Happy Birthday little sis.  Here's to 30 great years and all things being equal, 30 more. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

You are my Brentford, my only Brentford...

Considering the 2010/11 season is almost three weeks old I haven't blogged much about Brentford. Truth be told there hasn't been much to shout about. An opening day defeat at Carlisle was followed a week later by Walsall at GP and yep, another defeat.

In between those two games we did manage edge past Cheltenham in the League, OK, Carling Cup. We'd not beaten them in five previous attempts so it was good to finally beat the relative newcomers to the Football League.

Last weekend we took a good point away from Swindon Town's County Ground. We lost 3-1 home and away to them last season so it was a decent point and our League campaign is up and running.

We drew Hull City in the second round of the Carling Cup, and as you can tell, I was really looking forward to them coming down to Griffin Park!  The reason for my total lack of enthusiasm for a game against a team newly relegated from the Premiership was (and still is) because for the 1990's and first half of the 20th century, Brentford were a better team than them and it's hard to get away from that way of thinking.

I still find it hard, as do most Bees fans I reckon, to think of Fulham, Stoke and particularly Wigan as established Premiership teams.  Recent Brentford history shows we've been better than all of them but have never grabbed the opportunities when they've presented themselves.  A terrible play-off record, including Wembley (loads of quality in that 1997 Crewe team) and Millennium Stadium (shit that Brentford team was good) defeats, have poured cold water over promotion hopes at regular intervals and led to the dismantling of many a team well equipped to play in the second tier.  Relegation to the basement in May 2007 (although it was on the cards months before the dreaded final day of the season) hit the club hard but there is renewed optimism around the club since bouncing back from our two season stint in League Two in May 2009.

A great ninth place finish in League One last season has led to major investment in the playing squad over the summer and we appear to be in a position to have a real go at promotion over the next two or three seasons.  Of course, with investment comes expectation and the GPG was awash with negativity following our two defeats.  The point at Swindon has helped to ally some fears and this is where (eventually) Hull City come in.

On Tuesday we had a great result.  A 2-1 win (Bees view, Hull view) and a place in the third round for the first time since 1991.  All of a sudden the negativity has been replaced with a renewed confidence that we have what it takes to push on into (at least) the top six.  Oh the fragile and fickle mind of a football fan, what a world we inhabit!

Fingers crossed we get a decent draw, a winnable home or top Prem team away will do.  Most fans will echo this list of teams that we want to draw and those we want to avoid.  Any takers for Wigan away?  It's bound to be them now isn't it!?! 

Saturday sees Rochdale, bloody hell even they've got executive boxes, in TW8.  They are in the third tier for the first time since the 1973/74 season, 36 long long years ago, having finished last season in the final automatic promotion spot from League Two.  So far they've drawn two and lost one in the league so they've had a better start than us!  They've also won on their last two trips to GP so I'll be heading to GP a little nervous but expecting a win.

Three points on Saturday and we'll be cooking on gas.  YOU REDS!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Two in 24 Hours!

You wait a week for a blog update and then two come along in 24 hours!

The foxes are at it again and Sarah's just piped up to say that they are quicker than me, charming!  She's gone downstairs now to flood the bathroom again!

We've just watched another episode of Minder!  I've got the V+ box set to record the series so we have a seemingly never ending supply of episodes to watch.

Today's episode, Back in Good Old England, was the twelfth from the third series (not season!) according to the great  More often than not Minder episodes are a who's who of British TV.  Today's episode featured Norman Beaton who is better known as Desmond from the classic late '80s early '90s comedy Desmond's, check out on-demand episodes on SeeSaw, and Pete Postlethwaite the great stalwart of British film and television.

My Spanish classes finished at the end of the school term so I'm loving having Wednesday nights free.  Finishing work at half five and getting home before six is a rare luxury and one I could get used to :)  It's just gone 22:00 and it feels like I've been at home for ages.

IMG_2627Talking (well, writing if we're splitting hairs) of Wednesdays, Sarah's brother is a helicopter engineer in the RAF and last Wednesday we went down to RAF Odiham for their annual family day.  I've not got much interest in things military but it was a really good day.  Sarah's parents came down from Bury so we all had a good look around the base, watched planes and helicopters buzzing around and then watched a gig put on by men and women stationed at the base.  Sarah's brother was in the second band and having been taught to play by their dad, the old boy was chuffed ;)

Oooh, just seen that Nick Clegg was in the the Bush today to launch the coalition's vision for social mobility.  Shame he chose Shepherd's Bush Village hall as the venue because the Tory council want to close and flog the building!  It's always good to see MPs getting some stick and by the sounds of it this was a pretty feisty photo call for the deputy Prime Minister.  More details here.

IMG_2679Sorry, where was I. Oh yeah, last Wednesday.  After the gig we all went for a meal in a local country pub which always gets me thinking.  As much as I love London, there is something special about going to a country pub for a few (too many) beers and some top notch grub.  This place didn't disappoint but did leave me and Sarah with a dash for the last train from Hook and a ride on the 295 from Clapham Junction back to W12.

A night on the beers certainly wasn't the best way to prepare for the 2010 edition of the Superstars Decathlon!

Last Thursday and Friday saw 16, erm, 'athletes' compete in the third decathlon at Battersea Park Arena.  I was pretty confident of a decent showing after somehow landing second place last year but this time round I was well below par.  My day two performance wasn't helped by the evil mozzie bites I received on the first day, my left leg took on an elephant-like appearance, but it was my disastrous showing in a couple of less the less traditional events that helped seal my mediocrity.

IMG_2700The final event for the previous two years was a dance off in Clapham Junctions so called 'Premier Nightspot' Wessex House, don't be fooled, it's shit!

This year however we had karaoke to add one final insult to the injury!  It wasn't a case of just getting on the mike and singing a song of choice, oh no, that would be too easy!  We were each given an artist and song with strict instructions that appearance was just as important as vocal performance.

I drew Pink and her song Get the Party Started which as it turned out was an OK draw although not as cushy as Sarah who was given Franz Ferdinand.

We all got changed at the arena and then headed to find some taxis, not an easy task for 16 people dressed in various levels of drag and in the end we hopped on the bus!  Sorry to all the poor commuters on the number 44, still, we must have livened up an otherwise dull journey.

Now for the moment I know you've all been waiting as Pink.

Not a great resemblance but nature didn't really offer me much of a chance this time round!  For more of the same have a look at this Picasa album.

Right, I reckon it's time to say goodbye after that photo!

Time to watch game two of the Giants' three game road trip in Philadelphia.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lifelong Learning

Thought I'd get in a quick post tonight while I wait for Sarah to get in from work.

She's busy writing the critical analysis component of her final APC submission and is entering the final furlong of the graduate scheme she's been on since September 2008.

It's been so far so good because she's already passed the Postgraduate Diploma in Real Estate that she went to South bank Uni once a week to study and received welcome pay rise.  Fingers crossed there will be more to come come the end of October.

I've often thought that I'd like to get back into education.  I'm going to keep on with the Spanish and sign up again for another year in September, but sometimes I wonder if I should jack in the job and do a GIS masters.  Birkbeck Uni offer a part-time course which is an option but I don't know if I'd be able to handle working and then having to study in the evening.  It's hard enough trying to motivate myself to do a few pages Spanish homework and I've got a verb drill book that I haven't opened in 18 months!!

Then there is the cost.  Sarah's course has been paid for by her work as part of the graduate scheme she's on, are there employers out there that would pay for a 32 year old to go back to Uni for two years?  Maybe there are and I've just not been looking hard enough, it's tough to find the motivation after 10 years at the same company!

Anyway, enough of all that.  We've started to look for somewhere head off to for our winter long weekend away.  At the moment Prague looks to be the favourite and we might even be able to drag my best mate Dan and his wife along with us.

ca0 445

Last year we went to Montreal and we've been to Iceland and Cologne in previous years.  Sarah did have an eye on New York but I seem to have been able to fend off that idea ;)

I like to make it to one new country a year and I've not been to the Czech Republic before so Prague will tick off another country.  Saying that we did fly into and out of Geneva when we went skiing but I don't think I can really count a couple of hours in an airport as 'doing' Switzerland!

If we do book the trip with Dan and Jen Prague it's bound to be a great weekend away.  When they come down to London or we head up their way we always have decent weekends.  Beers, wine and good food are always top of the agenda and now that there's a Jamie's Italian in Westfield we can even have a rivalry with their nearest branch in Oxford!

On the subject of Westfield I've just seen an item on BBC London about the possibility of courts opening up in empty premises in said shopping centre and others around the country.  Is it a coincidence that this has been proposed the day Brentford's #1 blogger rocks up there with his accomplice, Robin Hood, in tow?  Rob from the rich and give to the poor wasn't it?!?

Only joking lads ;)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It's All Kicking Off Again

For the 72 teams of the Football League, the football season kicked-off last Saturday. The tarts in the Premiership start their season this weekend.

For the second season in a row Brentford started with an away game at Brunton Park.  Sadly there was no repeat of last season's 3-1 win with the Bees going down 2-0 in a dismal performance.

 Tonight attention has turned to the League Cup and we're playing at GP against Cheltenham Town.  It's 2-1 at the moment and I'm listening to the Bees World commentary.  It's been pretty crap since half time with the Robins having got a goal back and seemingly bossing the play.  After such a dominant first half performance it's looks like were going to be holding on for the last quarter of an hour!

After England's piss-poor showing at the World Cup (there's even a crap friendly tomorrow night!) and the inevitable slating of the apparent 'cream' of English football it's great to have the Bees back playing week in week out.  Last season we finished 9th, a great showing in our first season back in League One after a couple in the basement, and this season we look well equipped to make a decent push for the play-offs.  Not that Bees fans will be looking forward to that, we've got a dismal record in the end of season lottery!

It's Walsall at GP on Saturday and I can't wait to get back amongst the usual faces.  There's even a new Bees fan, Paul and Lynda had a baby boy just over a month ago and he's already looking good in his Brentford romper suit :)

My last blog post was about the Brits at the European Athletics in Barcelona.  Turned out to be a very good championships with plenty of great British performances :)  Mo Farah did the 5,000m 10,000m double, super Jess won her heptathlon gold (although it was closer than a lot of people expected), Andy Turner took gold in the 110m high hurdles and Phillips Idowu won long jump gold.  We even managed to dominate a couple of events with two British 1-2's.  Chris Thompson took silver behind Mo in the 10,000m with Dai Greene and Rhys Williams taking the top two podium places in the 400m hurdles.

To many people's surprise, Sarah said he didn't even deserve to be in the final, Mark Lewis-Francis took silver in the 100m and there were plenty of other good performances which the BBC have done a good job of summing up here and in Tom Fordyce's blog here.  The two 4x100m relay disasters didn't happen, right ;)

IMG_0139Last week myself and Sarah were in Rhodes for leisurely weeks holiday so she missed the final two days of competition.  The V+ box came to the rescue again and she was straight into the living room to watch the recorded coverage as soon as we got back to the flat on Sunday at 06:45!  If this isn't the behaviour of a total athletics geek I don't know what is!  I had a few hours kip like any normal person would!

The temperature was around 40°C for the whole week so we didn't do much during the day.  We had a self catering apartment in the chilled out and very well run Cosmos Maris complex close to Lardos Beach so stayed around there during the day and then headed out for dinner in the evening.

Lardos was the nearest town, about a 25 minute walk away, so we went there most nights.  We did have a night in Pefkos and also one in Lindos but Lardos was much more convenient and a lot better value.

We finally ventured out last Friday (ooooh, just realised this Friday is Friday 13th!!), to the large waterpark near Faliraki ;)  I'd not been to one since a school trip to the Ard├Ęche in my second year at St. Mark's and I wasn't all that keen to go.  To tell the truth I was a bit nervous.

After a gentle introduction on a few of the tamest slides we started to move on to the more daunting attractions.  I actually think we went on the worst ride quite early in the day.

The 'Sting Ray' has a really steep drop-in which only becomes apparent once you've sat down on the ring and given yourself the heave-ho on the railings and by that time it's way too late anyway.  I've found this on YouTube:

It probably doesn't do the drop-in justice but it is pretty scary the first time.

I'd also never been on the steep slides before but after a bit of persuasion from Sarah I took the plunge.

From left to right are the Turbo Slide, Kamikaze and Free-fall.  Your brain tells you that Free-fall is the worst because it is a steep, straight drop but I thought the Turbo Slide was the worst.

After going  over two humps in quick succession you end up airborne for a split second before going into a tight curve.

The Kamikaze has just one hump which again sends you airborne for a short while but you're soon down the steep part of the slide and heading horizontally to the plunge pool at the bottom.

Although it doesn't look it, the Free-fall slide is the easiest ride.  Like the Sring-Ray it's the view from the top that is daunting and after that it's just straight down to the horizontal final few metres.

My advice, don't look down...

If you've made it this far you'll no doubt be glad to hear that Brentford held on to their 2-1 lead to book their first appearance in the second round of the League Cup for three seasons.

Here's hoping for a decent draw when it's made.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Going For Gold

No, not the classic pan-Europe general knowledge quiz show that ran on the BBC for many a year, but the GB (and NI) athletics team at the European Championships that began today in Barcelona.

In fact we've already had a great start to the championships with a 1-2 in the 10,000mMo Farah claimed the gold, four years after collecting a silver in the 5,000m at a rain-soaked championships in Gothenburg, and Chris Thompson (I can see his Wikipedia page expanding a bit over the next few weeks!) took second place and with it the silver.

Sarah is a total athletics geek and spends many an hour watching YouTube videos while looking up historical reults on Wikepedia so I've had to set the V+ box to record almost six hours off BBC coverage each day this week.  She's catching up on this mornings action (Sarah, it's only bloody qualifying heats!!) while I write this and won't appreciate my Sarah is a geek chat!  Ahhh well.

Team GB should have a decent chance in a number of events.  For the men, Phillips Idowu should claim gold in the triple jump and naughty drugs cheat Dwain Chambers should be first over the line in the 100m.  Hopefully Martyn Rooney won't disappoint in the 400m and Dai Greene has a decent chance in the 400m hurdles.

The scrummy Jessica Ennis is a shoe-in for Heptathlon gold and other women with a decent chance of gold are Jenny Meadows in the 800m and Lisa Dobriskey in the 1500m.

If all those come in Charles Van Commenee will be in line for a fat bonus!

The Olympic Stadium has had a lick of paint since I saw it at the end of January.  The track has been relayed and is now blue and the grass on the field looks in a much better state.

This is how it looked six months ago:

Barcelona Olympic Stadium Stitch

And this is how it looks now:

Quite a difference!!

Away from the action in Barcelona, some wise old owl has decided to hold the championships every two years going forward.  This means that the next championships will finish just 26 days before the start of the 2012 Olympics.  Seems a bit of a silly idea to me and one that will surely lead to the devaluing of future championships, especially the ones that fall in Olympic years.

In London today there was an Olympic countdown event because the games will begin two years today.  The 2012 Olympic Stadium seems destined to become a football ground which for me is a real shame.

There is a lot of hot air being spouted about the legacy of the 2012 Games.  As far as I'm concerned one of the major legacies of London 2012 should be a world class athletics stadium in the capital of England.  I don't want West Ham or Spurs to get a new ground on the cheap and I don't want London to be left with another multi-use stadium that has constant pitch problems!  Saying that, the Stade de France seems to be able to cope with football, rugby and athletics so perhaps all would not be lost if the stadium did host multiple sports.

On a more positive note, looking at the photos of the countdown event we are going to have two cracking 2012 legacies.  The aquatics centre and velodrome are going to be world class venues for many years to come.

Jul. 27, 2010 - Aquatics Centre. View of the continuing work to clad the distinctive Aquatics Centre Roof. Picture taken on 23 Jun 10 by Steve Bates.

The velodrome looks quality with a year of work still to go.

July 27, 2010 - London, United Kingdom - epa02263019 General view of the London 2012 Olympic velodrome in London, Britain, 27 July 2010, during a media open day to coincide with the Olympic site opening in exactly two years time.