A very frustrating day

The working day started pleasantly enough with a drive North through the snow. A blizzard on the M1 wasn’t exactly great, but the snow covered hills were quite pretty. And I got to listen to the new Mark Tavener comedy serial on Radio 4.

The main reason for going up was to install a wireless network. I’d ordered the kit a week or so ago so it was all waiting for me. I was expecting it to be plain sailing with the network up and running in a few minutes.

Not so. I spent hours trying everything I could think about to try and get the access point to work. For another hour, I logged onto a website and asked for help — and mostly people got me to try again the things I’d already done. Finally, I got on the phone and spoke to DLink tech support, and they first of all sent me down to PC World to buy a crossover cable and try everything all over again. On the second call to the helpline, we went through everything again with the new cable before, a long time on hold later, they finally told me that perhaps the kit was faulty and I was best off returning it to the vendor and getting a refund. And here’s your call number, thank you for calling.

So, with the expectation of a refund from ebuyer.com eventually I made the third trip of the day to PC World to buy new kit, and walked home via a chocolate shop.

And began the process over again. Trying to get the kit to work. Alarmed that some of the bits were missing and the drivers referred to Windows 98. The disk was so shoddy it had no installation routine. I tried everything I could think of, asked friends for help, tried the routines on several different machines including one that actually was Windows 98. Windows XP installations were all a bit sniffy: point the system at the driver and it coldly reports: “this is not the correct driver.”

Eventually, I gave in and phoned the Netgear tech support helpline, and some nice, but very quiet people with American accents first told me to register the product on their website and then phone back. At least with Netgear there wasn’t much holding. Eventually, however, the helpline staff took me back through everything I’d already tried, and a few things a colleague had had a go at as well–and finally told me that evidently the kit was faulty and maybe I should return it to the vendor and get a refund.

This was not a good track record, and took ten hours or more to accomplish. Partly, I suppose, it’s due to the fact that I was deliberately saving money and buying old tech: 11b access points and not the more up-to-the-moment 54g technology. These bits of kit have been gathering dust on shelves for years–hence the W98 drivers and no-one knowing how to fix things.

So I drove home in the driving rain to the end of the World Tonight–and heard a great report from Shrewsbury from voters in the farmers’ market and the WI. I felt moved to suggest it to Pick of the Week.

God, I’m knackered.

Curry four nights in a row

Friday night, I got in quite late after spending an embarrassingly short time at a colleague’s farewell drinks. I really didn’t fancy cooking by the time I drove home, so went to our friends at Food Junction and brought home a steaming paper bag of meat dhansak with poppadoms and chapatis.

Saturday night, P’s sister phoned and asked if we fancied going out for a meal, and nominated one of our fave haunts, the Balti House where we spent a very convivial evening with really nice people. A few pints greatly helped, and we had a riotous time with the usual bizarre conversation. Another curry, and another evening of feeling uncomfortably full.

This afternoon, I went to another rally with our candidate for Nottingham East at a community centre just around the corner from here. Standing room only. Honoured Guest was Baroness Kishwer Kahn Falkner who came up to talk to us about her work for human rights in the House of Lords, and the perils of recent legislation. These meetings are dominated by Pakistani Muslims, who would be affronted at the prospect of a meeting without food, so out came huge trays of chicken curry, brown rice with chick peas in it, and a curried bean dish. There was something white and sweet for dessert, almost like rice-pudding, but not so ricey.

Now I’m standing in the kitchen typing this on my laptop whilst I cook tomorrow’s dinner before putting it in an empty ice-cream tub and leaving it in the fridge. I know I’m not going to have much time for cooking, and there’s not much quick in the house, so I’m saving time by making my dahl in advance. Curry, four nights in a row.

The dahl is rediculously easy to make, from a recipe that came to me from a cix conference. Simmer 300g of lentils in a litre of veggie stock with a chopped onion and some garlic for 20 mins. Add a tin of tomatoes, and three teaspoons of Indian spices (eg cumin, garam masala and curry powder) and simmer for a further 20 mins. Can be re-heated, is very tasty, and healthy and probably vegan (although check stock cubes…) It might even work as a sandwich spread. The only thing you have to look out for is that it will stick if you don’t keep stirring, which is why I’m typing this in the kitchen, rather than up in my office 3 flights of stairs away.

It’s been a good but busy week: I’ve started and finished designing a newspaper for a key seat, and spent some time in Chesterfield, where more of my job will be now that a colleague has decided to go back to teaching. Saturday was East Mids Lib Dems Regional Conference, which was better fun than they have been in the past. I had another outing as a trainer, repeating material from the Saturday a couple of weeks ago, and I wore a new suit to some very favourable remarks from stunned people who’ve never before seen me in anything smarter than jeans.

We had a fascinating budget meeting in the council on Thursday. We were all set for the long haul of examining turgid documents with figures in the 800 millions about how much money Nottingham City Council will be spending in the next 12 months. 10 minutes in, our glorious leader interrupted proceedings to point out that a misduplication had happened with the committee papers: one section had been reproduced twice, while a vital bit of information wasn’t there at all. The meeting finished almost there and then, but not before a Labour councillor, who’d been paying much greater attention to the numbers than I can any more highlighted a calculation error on p38 where numbers didn’t compute like they were supposed to. Red-faced accountants and committee clerks muttered apologies, and swore the papers had been proof-read by at least 3 people who’d failed to spot the howlers. This is my second budget going through the council since I got elected, and I still find the process very confusing, so I can only be impressed by the people who understand it well enough to spot the mistakes. I used to be good at figures when I was doing my maths A level, but 8 years of not practicing and my mental arithmetic skills are now really, really bad. I’m not entirely sure it’s real money: when councils get money from the government, does it sit in a bank account gathering dust until it gets spent? It’s certainly real money when it pays my allowance, and it’s real money when I pay the council Council tax…

Anyway, a long meeting finishing early gives you ‘meeting gain’ — the second lot in a week since a scoping meeting for a scrutiny project on Tuesday also finished early. So, Tuesday’s meeting gain time was spent ‘just browsing’ for a suit, which ended up with me actually buying one after a cute and attentive assistant at Slaters literally sized me up as I walked in through the door; and Thursday’s meeting gain was spent picking the suit up after they’d made some alterations. Apparently average people with my chest and wasit measurements have longer arms and legs than I do.

Right, whilst I’ve been standing here typing, tomorrow’s dahl has finished and I’m ready to pack it away and go to bed.

Leader, a distincly new era dawns

Disastrously, now that my CSI affliction is no longer taking up so much of my time, something new has come along to keep me at my desk well through the wee small hours. I’ve treated myself to a copy of Sid Meier’s Civilization III, a strategy game where you basically take over the world, and win by building a population up from a small group of settlers who don’t know how to read, to a massive civilization covering the face of the planet building a spaceship. I last played this obsessively on a laptop from my room in Germany during the six months I spent in Magdeburg as part of my degree. My daily routine there was a shocking combination of spending all day in the IT suite reading UK newsgroups and all night at home hunched over my desk playing Civ II, avoiding the frequent and noisy corridor parties in the hall of residence. I had only three hours of teaching time, and no commitments whatsoever apart from eventually producing essays that would lead to being awarded Scheine, that would prove to my tutors back home that I had done the minimum needed, academically-speaking, to progress. My time was filled with other pursuits also: a lot of sightseeing on DB Wochenendtickets, since it didn’t take a lot of time to exhaust the potential of Magdeburg.

I’ve spent days of my time since last weekend eyeballing an imaginary world whilst my little men battle it out in three entire games of Civ. For a game where you have to invest such a lot of time, you can get your ass whupped and lose the entire game in just a few seconds at the end. You spend 4 hours building the United Nations, and then lose a vote in the blink of an eye. Whilst it takes a long time for another nation to wipe you off the face of the earth, strong nations can build a spaceship only a few turns after completing the Apollo Program. I haven’t won a game yet. In Germany, I got to the point where I could win the space race every time. It’s going to be a few weeks until I learn to whup the new AI. And then, I understand, CivIV in the Autumn.

Not, of course, that I have a few weeks spare to devote to learning to play a computer game when we have a General Election to win. Election fever is certainly beginning to strike following Labour’s spring conference heralding in the mini-conference season. Ours is only a few weeks ago, and I’ve still not sorted out a hotel for Harrogate.

Not a lot of time in the coming months for the domestic stuff, so I’ve been catching up a bit on the things I’m supposed to do every week and haven’t done for far too long: cleaning out the fish, sweeping the kitchen floor, making lemon curd. Erm, dearie me, the cooking is far more interesting than the cleaning. I’ve made a panettone for breakfast on Valentine’s Day tomorrow. This hasn’t risen as much as it should have, but then the recipe calls for a 8″ tin, and I was keen to try out my new 9″ tin. What a difference an inch makes, eh?

And — oh my. No connection, but I’ve just discovered that thinking poof’s crumpet Alistair Appleton has a blog. Gosh, I feel priveleged to find out what’s behind the front man for Cash in the Attic. No really. And from my brief look at it, he seems a really great guy, as well as looking a million bucks. There’s thoughtful stuff about Berlin (although he doesn’t seem to know, despite having lived in Germany for six years, that the plural of Biergarten is Biergaerten, not Biergartens), a Rufus Wainwright gig, presenting the Proms.

And, oh the photos! Be still my beating heart.

Diet be hanged

The diet has gone to pot recently, and I’ve not been recording what I eat. Unfortunately, what with the being busy and all, a lot of my meals have been junk food consumed in my car.

On Saturday, I helped run a training event for the first time since I went to training for trainers a couple of months ago. And it was quite good fun. Lots of interesting people, delivering material on campaigning that I know quite well. I could handle most of the questions, and my colleague and boss could pick up anything I couldn’t. Here’s a picture of us outside. Can you see me?

I did have to put a suit on. My one suit, bought for 50 quid when C&A closed down all those years ago, has unfortunately spent the last six months (since Bob and Dawn’s wedding) screwed up in a pile on my bedroom floor waiting for me to get around to taking it to the dry cleaners. Which I finally did with, ooh, hours to spare, before actually needing to wear it again. It doesn’t really quite go round me any more, and so I think it might be time to fork out for a new one. Plenty of opportunities to wear one coming up!

Friday night, Issan Ghazni, our PPC for Nottingham East, held a public meeting to celebrate Eid, and our guest speaker was the new Lib Dem MEP for the North West, Sajjid Karim, along with our own local MEP Bill Newton Dunn. Approximately 200 people turned up to the event, judging by my quick headcount–that’s quite a lot! A lot more would have turned out if it hadn’t been a Friday night, with many people working in taxis and restaurants, and unable to come. I was taking photos, and I must write up a press release tomorrow. And I must remember to take a tripod with me in future to meetings like this one where you want to take audience shots. Without one, you either get blur because you can’t hold the camera still for a long exposure (above), or you end up with wrong-emphasis flash photos where you can see the front row in sharp relief, but nothing but blackness behind them.

Bed now. My eyes are hurting again.