Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sobering thought

I just worked out that what I have spent on my flat in the last 2 months is worth more than a year's salary in Uganda.

Oh, that's truly scary.

DIY Superhero

Further to my weekend of stress and tears, I was genuinely touched to find that the boy spent Monday daytime doing loads of jobs that needed doing - to my flat.

I suspect part of his motivation is to get me back to being normal again (and not bursting into tears at a moment's notice) but I was so happy and grateful I didn't care. Plus, if that's his intention, it's working. He's my DIY superhero.

Did this quiz online when googling superhero. Turns out I'm Iron Man. Weird.

You are Iron Man

Iron Man
Wonder Woman
The Flash
Green Lantern
Inventor. Businessman. Genius.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test

Moving towards the antiheroes, I am going to compile a list of workmen and their excuses. There must be a sliding scale or a graph I can create (the electrician was two hours late yesterday...due to 'traffic').

So far, I have had:

Workman no 1:
Bathroom Guy

Usual tiny 'finishing off' jobs left undone. Promised to do them by the Saturday. Went AWOL. Only returned my calls four days later saying he had not yet been in touch because he had found it painful to speak after having two teeth out. I didn't point out he'd said this all by text and could have done so four days beforehand. He fsaid he would come on Thursday to finish the job. During all this time he had my spare keys, which I needed to pass on to the wardrobe fitters. He'd also acquired my filler knife. It cost all of £3 from B&Q but it's the principle of the fact I was left without it On the final Thursday, I had to wait for him so I could make sure he did the job, I could take the keys off him and then I would pay him the money in cash. I could hardly give £400 to the wardrobe fitter to pay another workman with. Anyway, I had a meeting scheduled for later that morning and when he had not arrived at 8.15am as promised I called him. At 8.30 he was leaving Clapham Junction, apparently. By 9am he still hadn't turned up. I left for work and my meeting. He called to apologise claiming he'd had a panic attack (I have one every time I go to CJ, which is why I ride a bike). The next day I had to stay late, again, to meet him. This time he was only 20 mins late and had no panic attacks but the first thing he did when he met me was to shove his mouth in my face and point out his new teeth. Nice.

Workman no 2:

This is actually an old situation. A while back my ceiling developed a leak. It was not clear if it was coming through the walls or from upstairs' bathroom. We got the freeholder's preferred plumber in to sort it out because all three of us may have ended up splitting the bill (I was gunning for the 'upstairs' bathroom' option as then they would have to pay the whole thing). Anyway, he came once and said he couldn't find out what the problem was and he would come back at the weekend when I was there. He didn't turn up. He didn't answer his phone. A month later, he calls, explaining he had to rush home to Sth Africa at the last minute to be with his dying father. This, i believe to be entirely true and I can imagine you don't want to phone just any old business contact when you're having to respond to that sort of a situation. The father died, he had to stay on and sort stuff out etc etc. He apologised and said he'd get on with the job. There followed one more visit where he seemed to rip my wallpaper off and little else (I could have done that). Another month passed by before he came back again and announced it was definitely upstairs' bathroom and fixed the leak. I asked him to hold off sending the bill until I'd informed upstairs of its imminence, which I duely did. I've since left him several messages and just assumed he had been paid as he'd gone silent. But when I bumped into my neighbour the other day, it turns out he has not heard from him either. All of this took place back in December so you'd think he'd have got the bill in by now! I've left him two messages explaining that if there is anything outstanding I am about to leave the country and he might want to get a move on. But not a peep...

Workman no 3:
Wardrobe fitter

Wardrobes fitted but small job of re-fitting new shelving to alcove which had been affected by wardrobe installation not complete. Meant to come Monday. Didn't come. Advised them that I didn't care when they came but I wanted it to be done by Friday at the latest as the w/e was dedicated to painting the room. He was meant to come Thursday. Didn't come. Meant to come Friday. Didn't come. I phoned leaving narky messages for both contacts I have for the firm. They called back almost immediately (but long enough for me to find myself in the dairy aisle of Sainsbury's having a conversation about lemon tart) and apologised wholeheartedly saying "I'm not even going to bother you with the ridiculous excuses that I've been given. I'm just going to say we fucked up and I'm sorry."

Bliss. A company which knows how to take the blame. A rare beast...

Check them out if you want a decent fitted wardrobe. I know of competitors, who charge twice the price. But I'm very happy with mine. Even if I did need to get a little stroppy to get the finishing touches sorted!

Mother has her op tomorrow. Inserting a plate and three screws into her ankle. I'm going to call her Metal Mummy from now on.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Computer says "No", I lose the will to go on, and my family must have collectively walked under a ladder

It's been a pants weekend.

Part One: Computer says "No"

Spent all weekened panicking about All The Things We Have To Do and realised on Saturday that it was all getting a bit much.

I realised this when I found myself bursting into tears when trying to get a refund on some £2.49 brass cross angles from Homebase. I'd bought two of them, along with some primer and sealant, when we thought we could just bodge the hall window. Then I discovered there was very little hall window left to salvage and I needed to replace it instead (to the tune of £400). So I was taking back the unused diy stuff to Homebase to get my money back on it or use the credit to fund my ever increasing DIY habit...

Except the computer said No.

The real, tangible cross angles that I had brought back were apparently not cross angles at all but something else called Angles crosses or something very similar which were only worth (shock) a mere £1.79 a pack. The Homebase lady did the sort of customer service shrug we are all getting too familiar with these days and said "I can't refund these. They're not what you have on your receipt."

At this point I was still quite calm and I explained that they had to be what was on the receipt because I had bought no other sort of cross angles, angle crosses, or anything that resembled them whatsoever so if the bar codes did not match, it must have been scanned incorrectly in the first place. She denied this as a possibility, justifying this with the weird new ditact that 'The computer says they are different so they must be different'. Not perhaps allowing for the possibility that stock details change and maybe something had been re-named and re-priced, or maybe the scanner hadn't worked that day and the till operator had to manually enter the product code and just as they were getting to the last number their friend Kendra walked in to the store and they looked away for a nano-second to greet her, causing their index finger to end up pushing a 9 instead of an 8. Or maybe the computer was just wrong.

Anyway, the state of nervous panic that I seemed to have lived my life in over the last few weeks caught up with me and I was humiliated to find myself welling up with tears of frustration. I tried to initially hide this from both the assistant and the boy, but they both clocked it and the humiliation at them seeing me over-react quite so pathetically then just made things worse!

So I blubbed. In Homebase. Oh Lordy.

Part Two: I lose the will to go on

And then I went home and curled up in bed for a few hours before calling the bike shop to see when the CG125 would be ready to pick up (in for an MOT). It wasn't ready. Despite booking it in over a week ago it had not yet been MOT'd and may not be done until next week. So out came the tears again. I shouted at the bike man in my embarrassment and frustration and hung up the phone to blub some more.

The boy came in and gave me a hug and told me (quite rightly) that he thought I was wound a little tightly at the moment and needed to relax. I could hardly get my response out because I was snivelling so much, at which point I had to agree with him. This sort of reaction to everyday stuff just isn't healthy.

So we essentially downed tools for most of the weekend. We still accomplished the draught-proofing and bled a radiator. But doing the latter resulted in losing all the pressure in the boiler - so we had to spend another two hours trying (and thankfully succeeding, otherwise I'm sure there would have been more tears) to rebuild the pressure in my boiler.

And we did a three hour bike training session and popped in for tea at a friend's house. And saw a comedian saturday night, entertained the brother and his girlfriend friday night and watched Shaun of the Dead sunday night.

But compared to how busy life has been lately, that's currently my idea of a quiet weekend.

Part Three: My family must have collectively walked under a ladder

Friday night my brother and his girlfriend come to dinner. We all have a lovely time. They stay the night and go back to Oxford the next day. I then get a message from my brother thanking us for a lovely night but explaining that his new girlfriend is now his ex-girlfriend as she dumped him after he'd dropped her home.

Sunday night I get a message from my Dad. My mother is in hospital, facing an operation after having dislocated her ankle and broken it in three places having fallen off her horse on Sunday morning. She's got to have a plate and screws fitted for life. And she's miserable as hell and thinks it only broke because she's getting old and has got brittle bones. Plus my Dad is fretting about what they are going to do. She can't drive for 6-8 weeks and currently does the school run with my brothers twice a day and looks after four horses as well. My Dad works full time and is wondering quite how understanding his office will be if he can't find anyone to help them out. It's all a bit of a mess.

So, it truly was, a really shit weekend.

Thank god it's Tuesday and life feels better already.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fly me, I'm by far the best deal

I've reserved us some flights. So it's starting to get serious.

I rang up Trailfinders, who are always good when it's not a package, and explained our situation. That we wanted flights with airlines who were liberal with their luggage allowances, that allowed more than one bag, that were happy for us to use the return portion 12 months from now, and that didn't cost the earth.

I happened to get through to someone who knew Uganda well. His wife was from Uganda, and they went back all the time. Aren't Trailfinders great? What's the chances of that happening if you phoned up Thomas Cook?

Anyway, it turns out that Ethiopian Airways offer the largest luggage allowance (45kg) but are really pricey and unflexible on 12 mth tickets. They came in at over £900.

However, Emirates, who allow you to take 35 kg of stuff in the hold AND have over 5,000 movies that you can personally choose from on your unique seat back screen, only charge just over £450 for a 12 mth return. Bargain! Regular flights are only a few pounds cheaper than that anyway!

So we're reserved to fly on 29th April. Leave Gatwick late evening, overnight to Dubair, then onto Entebbe with a touchdown in Nairobi to let some people off. Get to Kampala late afternoon. Long old journey but if we went direct with BA they'd only let us take one bag, 20kg and charge us more for the privilege.

Have to see what the boy reckons but that could be us sorted.

And since dicking around with the photo thing yesterday it appears I cannot even access this blog using Safari anymore. I love technology, it's so messed up!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Plans for the weekend

1. Brother and his new (v cool) girlfriend due round for dinner on Friday night. Unless she gets called out just before her shift ends (she's a firefighter) in which case she may be fighting fires until late - which will mean they may cancel at the last minute. So I have to buy food and be on standby to cook it...

2. The boy and I to paint bedroom.

3. The boy and I paint hallway.

4. The boy and I assess draught proofing requirements.

5. The boy and I do a bike instructoring session with a complicated system of using walkie talkies. He'll be driving my car (which he may have to enter through the passenger side) and using a walkie talkie to direct me on the bike. I'll have the other walkie talkie in my jacket with my ipod headphones plugged into it, able to hear but not answer back his tutoring. Just the way he likes it I'm sure...

6. The bike training session takes us to B&Q where we purchase draught-proofing materials.

7. Reverse of bike training session home again.

8. Undertake draught proofing.

9. The boy and I paint living room (two walls only - saving paint!)

10. The boy and I go to deepest darkest Camberley on Saturday night to see Milton Jones (Very Funny Man).

11. Unconfirmed but possible dinner on Sunday night for friend recently returned from shitty work trip to Australia. If so, boy and I rinse off paint and bike grime and I cook dinner. Possibly with ingredients left over from a potential no-show on the Friday night.

So just your average, laze-around weekend then!

I'm so clever...

I did it! I did it!

For Mac nerd reference, if you need to replicate what I did, download Firefox and log into your Blogger account from there. Then post the image you want to use on a flickr account (could work with Yahoo for all I know - they just were not working when I needed them to be) and then right click on the image in Flickr and choose Copy Image URL. Then go to Edit Profile in Blogger and paste this into your Photograph details on your profile page. Save changes and it SHOULD work.

Just to celebrate, here's another photo from my flickr collection... a jet trail in the sky over The Chellah at Rabat.

Techno Rage

I have been trying to upload a photo to my profile for the last ninety minutes.
It advises me that I need to post the photo first, then paste the url of said photo on said post into the photograph box on my profile. But all I get is error messages.
So I go to blogger help and rather than start a new thread and contribute to the unweildiness of the whole experience, I scan all existing entries on people having problems uploading shots to their profile. Lo and behold they are all on Macs. Recommendations include hosting it somewhere else. I try Yahoo. Create a profile on Yahoo, and upload my photo. "I'm sorry, we're experiencing temporary technical difficulties". Then I try Flickr. It uploads fine to Flickr, but the url pasted into my profile on Blogger just results in more error messages. Trying to just 'add photo' to my page composition does not work either. I get the yellow triangle with the exclamation mark spinning forever with no joy. I've cleared my cookies and emptied my cache. Next step is downloading Firefox, an alternative browser, which I am doing as I type this. If that doesn't work, the next step is to pick up the machine and lob it out the window. Seriously, my techno rage is building...

My other photo

Comparing shots for the headshot next to My Profile...

My photo

Trying to work out how to upload a photo for use in my profile. Apparently I have to post it first. So this may not stay on there for long but here goes....

Monday, March 19, 2007

Flattery will get you everywhere

Feeling miserable when writing up the weekend news of The Rock Through The Car Window incident and I get a voicemail message from somebody urging me to call him back.

No mention of a company, or what its regarding - which usually mean its a telesales person chancing their arm - but I call him back anyway, professionalism kicking in.

Turns out he's a headhunter, having had me personally recommended to him by an industry figure as, and I quote "extremely good at what I do" and wondering whether I'd be interested in a new business director position for the largest integrated agency in the country (and I'm still scanning industry tables to find out who that would be). I had to let him down gently with the ridiculously far-fetched excuse that I'm moving to Uganda (which is true but always sounds like a preposterous invented 'the dog ate my homework' number).

So, with a few superficial words of flattery, my mood has lifted and I feel SPECIAL again.

I'm so easy.

Of course, I'm not interested. The hippos still have me. But I know someone who might be so I send him her details.

And then go back to feeling rather smug.

One step forward, two steps back

Life is taking on momentum of its own right now.

The list of things we have to accomplish and sort out before we go doesn't seem to be getting any shorter.

It works like this. We do something which uncovers three more things that need doing. Or we spend all weekend 'accomplishing' stuff, only to be blindsided by some completely unexpected event.

To illustrate, we spent this weekend at the boy's house, doing countless decorating and DIY joblets that need to be finished. On Saturday I painted his garden fence as he braved tall ladders to go and do battle with the starlings that are nesting in his roof. Then I sewed up his curtains (see how we divide labour along traditional lines....). Then on Sunday morning I did some more cutain sewing as he draught proofed windows and hung the now finished curtains.

Just before lunchtime on Sunday I went outside to start on the job of removing the rally stickers from his car. His little Peuegot has been to central Asia and back again, a fact advertised by the 'London-Tashkent 2005' stickers down the side. However, this is not something he feels future owners of the vehicle may be too enamoured by, so I set about removing them using a sponge, some hot soapy water, and the strength of my own fingernails.

As I worked, my own car was but 10 feet away. I'd paid it enough attention to notice it was there, but little more than that, when suddenly, a passing kid on a bike stopped to gawp at it. I followed his gaze and realised what had stopped him in his tracks was the shattered window on the drivers' side. Some sods had thrown a rock through my car window.

I checked to see whether anything had been nicked. It hadn't. The glovebox was unopened, the stereo front still inside. The bag I'd mistakenly left in the back with my sunglasses and a skirt in had not gone. The security lock was still on the steering wheel, without any sign of being tampered with.

It seems all they were after was a cheap thrill. No doubt kids daring eachother on. Probably the same kids that graffiteed the boy's garden wall several weeks ago.

It sounds so predictably Daily Mail but if I could get my hands on the little bastards... It's funny how angry indiscriminate crime can make you.

There then ensued ninety minutes of being on hold and speaking to various companies including:
1. Insurance companies (to find out I wasn't covered)
2. Autoglass (to find out they couldn't give us a quote as their database was down)
3. Local windscreen replacement companies (to find out it would cost me more than 50% of the value of the car to get done, which given I would be selling it in four weeks time seems rather pointless - I could get more out of it by scrapping it)
4. Insurance companies again (to see if i would be covered on the boy's car should I have decided to scrap mine - the answer being yes, I would be covered, for third party only)
5. The AA (to see if my membership would afford me any discounts for Autoglass who were due to ring back, the answer being yes, I would get 15% off, but they never did ring back)
6. Scrapyards (to see if they had any windows for the drivers' side of a 5 door Peugeot 309.... Our erstwhile friends at J&R Recovery in Hereford didn't have any in, but my friendly breakers' yard at Twigworth - who helped me greatly when I did the PDC rally in the Citroen van - happened to have one)

So I ended up driving the 40 minutes down to Twigworth, wrapped up in all my clothes with the boy's hat and gloves on, heating on full blast. Watched my friendly breaker remove the new glass from the scrap car, paying close attention to how it all worked. Nice man only charged me £10 for it. Then I drove the 30 minutes to my parents' house, where i was due for a Mother's Day visit and dinner before heading back to London. My father and I then proceeded to spend 45 minutes in the snow and hail fitting the new window without breaking too much of the existing car. I managed to snap off a tiny bit of trim and the inner window fitting around the wing mirror but for a Weeden bodge job it wasn't too bad.

But it did mean we had virtually ignored my mother, and left her to prepare dinner for 7 all by herself on Mother's Day. Oops.

Much later, I drove back to London. I dropped the car off where I park it at 12.30am. I went to lock the drivers' side door, only to realise we've obviously buggered up the lock somehow as it wouldn't turn and lock the door. I then shut it, realised it had jammed but couldn't turn the key to get it open again but couldn't be bothered to hang around til the early hours figuring it out. As long as it didn't open I wouldn't get tramps sleeping in my car.

But who knows if Chantal & Peter will still want to buy it. It may be a bargain £125 but the exhaust is blowing, the starter motor is on the way out, half the mirrors are hanging off it at rakish angles, and now it looks like they may have to climb in through the passenger's side.

I will have to break this to them gently and see if they still want it.

And I shall have to apologise to my mother for monopolising events.

And we shall have to find time to do all the stuff we were meant to be doing when we got sidetracked by events...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Taking the wind out of my sails

Yesterday, I biked home with new found theory test pass confidence.

Then. this morning, the insurance company for the dump truck that knocked me off my bike last November finally made contact. It turns out that between us we have lost the witness details (not that it would make much difference as he was not responding to my calls anyway despite being very helpful at the time - which makes me think he's maybe switched phones or something anyway). They are hinting that there is no decision to be made without a third party confirming details of the event because the driver 'was not aware of the incident at the time it occurred'.

I certainly made him aware very shortly afterwards by running after them and hammering on their passenger door so he cannot be denying that it happened at all can he? I showed his passenger the damage to the bike (as the driver refused to leave his vehicle). I can imagine that in a cab of a massive 6 ton truck you may not feel a biker as you gently knock them over (it was not a high speed collision) but if you drive as you are meant to, you should be visually aware of what's going on. Once he overtook me, nudging me all the way over to the right, he should have clocked me in his mirrors, initially at a ridiculous angle, trying to hold on to the bike, and then eventually having to give in, drop it and jump out the way. If he didn't see this, I would argue that, in itself, was negligible.

Anyway, the insurance woman was very nice but getting emotionally worked up about the event again, and the thought that the driver is still denying his liability, meant I suddenly found myself in tears, remembering exactly how scary it was to think that for the sake of a few inches, I could have been crushed beneath a dustbin lorry's massive wheels.

Just because some tired old council driver, at the end of his shift, in gridlock on Shaftesbury Avenue on a dark wintery Thursday night, didn't notice the biker in front of him because he was too busy being agressive with the cabs on his left who were stuck on the junction box and trying to cut across the front of him.

I love biking but I hate how vulnerable we are to twats like that.

And I hate how he has the power to ruin my day, again, nearly six months later.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A biker... in theory

I got it!

34 out of 35 for the theory. Apparently the one I got wrong was on motorway driving - and I am racking my brains to remember the motorway questions that were in the test. I know that the two of them that I can remember I definitely got right - unless I read the question completely wrong - so trying to remember what other question it might have been is really bugging me.

And 62 out of 75 for the hazard perception, which given the confusion surrounding when to click isn't too bad. And yes, I did have a 'are two horses one hazard or two? Should I click once or twice?' moment.

Anyway, I have my theory. Now I have to get in there quickly and book my practical so that I can get the license sorted before I leave the country. Aaargh...

Just the tip of the (melting) iceberg

That's how much of the world I've travelled.

And I am considered, by people I know, to be a bit of a wanderer. When I tell friends and family of my holiday destinations or planned trips they tend to think I'm slightly mental and certainly they believe I have seen loads of 'exotic' or unusual places.

However, you see it for yourself above. I've been to just 32 countries and visited 14% of the world (I'm not sure how they work out the percentage).

It's pitiful.

And without a trip to NYC back in 2003, I wouldn't have any of North America coloured in at all. The fact that most of it is currently red is rather misleading.

Once we get to Uganda, there will be a little red blip just above the little blue blob that is Lake Victoria in the middle of East Africa. And then we'll have to use our new geographical position to do some serious border hopping during our days off. I could cover Kenya & Tanzania and Rwanda which would be easy. And then maybe work our way up to the DRC and the Sudan (slightly risky but hey, I'm competitive).

Judgement day

I sit my theory test for my motorcycle license today.

I have to drive down to Southwark for a 1pm test (on the bike, naturally).

35 theory questions (multiple choice, of which I need to get 30 right) and 14 hazard perception clips (where I need to score more than 44 out of a potential 75).

It's the latter that get me. It's a perfectly simple idea. Show a film of a view driving down a road and get the person being tested to click each time they see a hazard.

At least that would have been the simple way of doing it. But the instructions surrounding the test are so convoluted in that way that only really bureaucratic organisations can devise.

Click when you see a potential hazard. Click again when the hazard develops. If you click too soon, you miss the 'window of the developing hazard' which only opens a few seconds after the hazard first appears. So if you have razor sharp reactions, you lose??? If you click too late, you score less, or maybe none at all. If you click too many times, you are penalised by losing all your points because you might just be clicking indiscriminately.

Confused? I am.

A paramedic I know took the test recently. Some of the hazards she scored full marks on and some she got nil. Turned out, when she saw a school bus unloading at the side of the road she clicked once for every pair of children's feet departing the bus (i.e. counting every child as an individual hazard rather than a bus and a group of kids and one single hazard). This was bad and scored her nil points.

It is strange how we learn to work the system and sit tests the way they are designed to be marked, rather than thinking about the real life implications. She just saw the paramedic's reality of 'every child is a potential hazard/casualty'. And got penalised for it. Where's the justice in that?

Wish me luck...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Soft and sensual?

The Avon stuff has arrived in the world's most massive box. It's big enough for me to consider if I should take it home to use it to pack up some books in but all it contains is a few bottles of the Skin So Soft moisturiser that's mossie repellent in disguise.

And boy, what a disguise. Apparently Royal Marines wear this stuff in the tropics. But when they do, they must all smell like a big bunch of girls!

I'm never going to be able to get the boy to use this as an alternative to mossie repellent.

The bottle is pink. It smells like perfume. And it's called 'Soft and Sensual'.

I might as well ask him to don a wig, slip on a pink satin number and sing Judy Garland songs.

No chance!

...I suddenly remember, I'm moving to Africa!

This picture is currently in residence on my fridge. And every time I walk into the kitchen I notice it and suddenly remember that I'm moving to Africa.

The shot was taken when we had just reached the outlying villages around Bamako, in Mali, after a very sweaty, dusty journey made unbearable by really bad corrugations forcing us to go as slow as 25 mph or fear rattling our own teeth loose from our jaws.

We saw a passing rental 4x4 pass us with a smoking tyre. They'd shredded it without realising, and didn't know how to change it, so our little mini convoy stopped to help.

As is usual on the African roadside, where there was noone, suddenly within minutes we had the whole village's kids surrounding us. Whilst others concentrated on mundane yet essential tasks like changing tyres, I brought the camera out and had a delightful 10 minutes playing with the kids as I shot some pictures. I showed them the results on the display afterwards and they laughed their heads off at recognising eachother. And not one of them asked for anything. No bics, no cadeaux, no money, no nothing. We just all had a laugh. Which was very welcome and a huge relief after all the nastiness that had occurred in Mauritania a week before and the hassle we'd had with the border formalities at Nioro.

So every time I see this picture it reminds me of how friendly our entry into sub-Saharan Africa felt on this last trip.

A second later, time enough for my heart to skip a beat, I remember I'm actually moving there. Next month.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Too many 'stans

Some friends on the London-Tashkent rally with Mount Ararat in the background

The boy has to order a new passport. Turns out, its recommended we have at least 3 clear pages (one for the entry visa, one for the work permit and one for luck). He only has two. Most of his are filled with never used visas from the London-Tashkent Rally of 2005 where he had to turn around at Baku when his co-driver bailed halfway through the trip.

As all of these places ended in 'Stan he found it made for quite a bemused reception whenever he came across local members of the law enforcement in his trip round the US by bike later that year. I would imagine most midwestern cops have not heard of Turkmenistan, Kyrgystan etc.

Talking of Turkmenistan, Turkmenbashi (their self-confessed 'great leader') died while we were in Africa this last trip. I remember the boy and other veterans of the Tashkent rally telling me about all the amazing statues, artwork and public works dedicated to him around the country. And browsing this year's World Press Photo winners there is a charming little photo story which covers just that...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

In sickness and in health

I have been fighting a shitty cold all week.

Took the day off work sick yesterday as a result. Got bored lying in bed so got up and did DIY and then felt like a fraud.

Went into work today and have felt like poo all afternoon. But if I stayed at home, I'd feel ok and quickly get bored again.

They should invent a 'half sick day' for those colds that don't quite kill you but just slow you down enough to make you miserable...

It's springtime for London

It's sunny!

I rode my bike in just wearing jeans this morning and I didn't freeze my arse off!

Do you know, the boy and I have discussed the one downside to heading to Uganda at the end of April. And that is that we will miss the English summer. Which is truly marvellous as long as the weather is good. Last year was glorious (ok, not so much for polar bears, but it did mean you could plan doing outdoorsy stuff almost every weekend without having to have multiple plan bs lined up for what to do if the weather turns...).

And days like today - the first sunny, really springlike day we've had - make you look turn your face up to the sun and look forward to a proper summer. Except we're not going to get it this year because we'll be gone by the time it arrives...

But we are going to get 30 degree plus heat and Hippos, so it's a fair trade.

But I pity the polar bears. Working on a pitch at the moment where we might propose some sort of involvement with Save the polar bears. Its a credible link, believe me, and all will be revealed soon I hope...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Finding cheap mossie repellent

Deet is evil. And all other natural mossie repellent either doesn't work or costs a fortune for a tiny bottle.

We're going to be out in mossie land for at least a year...I had been struggling with the prospect of being bankrupted or giving in and getting malaria.

But then a friend tells me that there's some Avon product which is just an average moisturiser, but apparently Marines use it in tropical climes (and as it turns out, in Scotland to ward off the midges). It's called Skin So Soft.

I google it and discover quite a few people recommending it. I then look on the avon website and discover that its currently 2 for 1 on all the Skin-So-Soft products. So I've ordered 500 ml of the cream for £3 and 300 ml of the oil spray for £5.

If it works it's a bargain. If it doesn't, I'll at least have a year's supply of good moisturiser...

On a seperate note, I've just taken delivery of an order from Amazon. A book on the Rwandan genocide for another local history lesson, and another by a safari guide retelling the awful incident in Bwindi in 99 with 8 tourists being brutally murdered by rebels from the Congo. Cheering stuff.

As a counterpoint to all this death, I also bought Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik by Marie Javins, a travel writer and comic book colourist (and far more accomplished blogger than I) who I recently got in interweb touch with after discovering on her old blog entries that she lived for a while just behind Red Chilli Rest Camp at Murchison. She has been hugely helpful in emailing random tips and memories of what life was like, from how to buy chicken to the price of shower curtains.

Before you move to the back of beyond this sort of stuff is like gold dust. I remember when I moved to Turkey, I never expected to have to ask a tourist to bring out a can opener but unfortunately, it seemed that the Turks were no good at making them and I was tired of opening cans with carving knives and nearly slicing my arms off in the process.

Incidentally, she mentions a guy called Celsius who works as an electrician at Murchison for the UWA and asked me if I could take a copy out to him as he will be surprised and delighted to find he has made it into a book. And it turns out Celsius will also be our electrician at Red Chilli Rest Camp.

That will be something, won't it? To turn up, meet the local leccie and say, "oh by the way, do you remember that American writer Madam from a few years back, she wrote a book and put you in it, and here it is...".

P.S. Can you tell I've been improving my blogging skills? Today's lesson: how to add links. Do you think I went overboard?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Hell is Home Improvement

Last week started with a guy coming in to do my bathroom.

I'd scaled down the objectives significantly ever since discovering we were going to Uganda (a tenant won't really give a damn if tiles are genuine Turkish Travertine or cheap bog standard white bumpy 10x8s - just as long as they are clean and not cracked...) but nevertheless things escalated throughout the week.

Initially, we were to replace all the tiles and fit a new thermostatic shower, replace the light fitting and screw in the door strip that the lodger removed in a fit of pique when she stubbed her toe on it.

By the end of the week, he had to also do a shitload of replastering (I had the old fashioned kind apparently - the stuff that isn't plasterboard and just falls off the wall when you take the tiles off, leaving great big gaping holes into the cavity), tweak the boiler settings, fit a new window in the hallway (ok, this is entirely un-bathroom related) and replace the entire loo cistern and pipes because I knackered the flush a few months ago.

Whilst undertaking the last job, he managed to shear off the seized stop tap to the cistern, flooding my hallway cupboard and the shop below in the process. He had to artificially freeze the pipe to stop the flow for 20 mins (god only knows what sort of kit he carries around with him) while he ran around hunting for a replacement stop tap. Of course, mine was an imperial one and hardware stores only sell metric ones nowadays. He ended up sifting through scrap metal at the merchants over the road and found one for £20. £20??? I've googled new metric brass stop taps and they cost £1.75. Either he's telling porkies or the scrap merchant is ripping us both off.

Anyway, what with all the extra work the original estimate of £1,000 was, metaphorically speaking, out the rotten hallway window. The current estimate now stands at £1,885.

I actually shed a tear when I saw the new bill. That's six months wages in Uganda.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

1001 things to do before you emigrate

Aah, for the first few days after hearing we got the job I was in fantasy mode, dreaming of myself looking slightly dusty but nevertheless terribly glamourous in a pracical kind of way, a bit like Meryl as Kaaaaren Blixen in Out of Africa.

Alas and alack. My mind is now riddled with the thousand and one things to do. I am working my way through telling all my friends and their unbridled enthusiasm and happiness for me is in stark contrast to the worry lines that are on my brow.

When I think of myself in two months time, I instantly relax and go back to fantasy land. However, it's getting from today to two month's time, to a point when I am ready to leave the country with all loose ends tied up.

Things I have done since finding out:
1. Painted a load of tester pots on the wall in a fit of 'I'll just give the place a lick of paint before I go' zeal. Plus I'd had a few glasses of wine so was generally feeling a bit over enthusiastic.

2. Finally got around to cleaning up. Properly. Not just putting everything away where its meant to live. But scrubbing cupboard doors, cleaning ovens, wiping down woodwork and skirting boards and making sure that dust is my lodger no longer.

3. Looked at the newly cleaned house marred only by splodges of ill-applied tester pots on the walls and decided I did not need to re-decorate much after all. Probably in the bedroom when the fitted wardrobes I have ordered arrive. And definitely in the bathroom as that is being retiled as I type. But nowhere else really needs it. Not for grubby tenants anyway.

4. Got letting agents round, panicked about whether rent would cover mortgage and agents fees, phoned mortgage company, enquired about interest only options, did the maths and breathed a very small sigh of relief. I won't make a penny but I should just about break even, as long as things don't go hideously tits up...

5. Went to the dentist and was told I had lovely healthy teeth with marginal gingivitis. Huge sigh of relief and commitment for at least 3 days after the appointment to spending 'more time brushing'.

6. Went to the doctor and grilled the poor man for ages about long term anti malarial options, long term contraception with anti malarial drug cocktail side effect options (turns out Doxy is the only one that affects the pill, but then only for the first month or so, but then again you can only take doxy for up to six months etc) and my completely not embarrassing at all rash on my torso that two previous doctors have prescribed medication for which has completely failed to shift it. As the bloody thing gets much much worse in hot, humid conditions, it's high time to knock it on the head once and for all. Left doctors' with prescriptions for Larium (the one that makes many go doolally, which, if I do react the same way, I take it back and swap it for doxy and have to bridge the six month doxy sessions with bouts of chloroquine, which is not the strongest anti malarial for that area, and when Debbie took it at Murchison she only lasted 3 mths before getting Malaria....), and Selenium body shampoo (for the rash - will have to get the boy to help me apply), and another few months of the pill while I establish whether I really want to put my body through taking it for another year or if I should just defect to the diaphragm.
In the end, the doctor had to ask me politely to leave I was taking up so much time.

7. Taken a window off its hinges to sand down one side which was sticking and replace the handle. Turned out the whole thing was completely rotten. There goes £400 for a new window, being fitted tomorrow.

8. Had the bathroom (almost) 'done'. Gone from a glamourous £3k brief to £1k of tarting it up with new tiles and a new shower and a toilet cistern that works without a special technique that doesn't require guests to invite me in to do it myself (thankfully after they've lowered the lid to hide the evidence).

9. Spent an hour washing off one tester pot in the kitchen. And have so far covered the three testers in the living room in 7 coats of paint (dark greeny grey over cream... needed a bit of extra cover up) and two coats in the hallway.

10. Am excitedly watching bidding hot up on ebay for a few things. All money gratefully received. I am going to be broke as hell. But life is often simpler that way.

11. Booked my theory test for the motorbike license. March 13th. Aaargh. Sat two 'mock' tests online. The one where the boy nudged me in the right direction on a couple of dodgy questions I passed with flying colours. The one where I did it all by myself with him trying not to snigger as he read over my shoulder, I failed. Bought a book on ebay to revise from. Paid for it with money I'd made from the buy it now on a scubapro mask that never fitted me. So it was free. More or less.

Mmmmm. Still got a million things to do. Better get on with it.