Thursday, 20 March 2014

Such Great Heights

What is this, a blog that isn't related to house buying? I'm actually posting something about my regular life these days? Well yes, because I've actually got something I can be bothered writing a blog post about...

So I was relaxing in my room a few days ago, most likely watching Parks & Recreation (it's an amazing comedy series, everyone should watch it) when I got a message on Facebook from my friend and ex-housemate Peter, asking if I was doing much over Easter and might be interested in going cycling for a few days. The initial idea was that we'd take a ferry over to Brittany, do a couple of days along the French coast, and then get another ferry back to the UK. And then somehow from that idea we decided that if we were going to make the effort to go abroad we could fly somewhere and end up in a location where the late-April weather was likely to be a little bit more reliable.

After some brainstorming for places, I suggested Mallorca. It's a place I've been multiple times on holidays as a teenager and I'm pretty familiar with the island, and the weather should be absolutely ideal. It's also Bradley Wiggins' favourite holiday destination and I can't really argue with a TdF and Olympic TT winner. I worked out a rough route around the coast it came to around 300km - pretty much perfect distance for a long weekend somewhere. Sorted. It's been several months since I last did anything proper on a bike (I will very much openly admit I'm a fair-weather cyclist), but a month is enough time to train up. I'll be fine.

Then I actually put the route I'd knocked up into something that gave me an elevation profile (click to enlarge).

Holy fucking shit those mountains. In particular that Cat 1 821m ascent (for reference, the biggest climbs in the UK as far as I can find seem to top out around 650m ascent - and they're all found a long way from Cambridgeshire where the highest point is around 130m).

Like I said, having been there before I was aware that there were some pretty decently sized mountains on the island. I'd just forgotten how pretty much the entire northern coast was hilly as hell. Like, seriously hilly...


Heck, some of these mountain roads are so picturesque and epic that they get their own postcards...

The infamous Sa Calobra climb. Will probably not be attempting...

So we tweaked the plan a little bit, and rather than a tour we'll use Palma as a base and just branch out - it lacks the poetic nature and sense of accomplishment of having done a tour, but in reality it's far more sensible. It means that we can actually bring changes of clothes and netbooks and such without having to carry it all whilst riding. And it means if we accidentally explode our legs one day there's no pressure on us to actually go anywhere the next day because we don't have an airport to get back to, so we can actually be a little more adventurous without fear of it all going horribly wrong. I'll still definitely give a lot of respect to any of the climbs that have more than 500m ascent, given that my current record for ascent in a single ride stands at 600m total over a 90km ride, let alone in one single stretch of climb.

The next thing to sort was flights and hotels, which was a huge faff. In particular trying to phone up hotels to ask them if they either had secure bike storage or would allow us to keep bikes in our rooms. After looking up about 20 hotels and judging by location and amenities and tripadvisor, we finally settled on the brilliantly named Hotel Colon.

The other thing I kind of didn't anticipate was bike hire, because originally I just assumed we'd take our own bikes and hiring would be expensive. I assumed wrong. Once I actually looked things up it turned out that hiring bikes there is disgustingly cheap. You can rent a full carbon road bike for under €20 a day. Not only can I hire a bike for cheaper than it'd cost me to take it on the plane, but I can hire a bike that's better than the one I actually own (and probably in better condition; mine needs cleaning and a new chainset). Unless you were going for like two weeks or had a serious attachment to your own bike I have no idea why anyone would bring their own.

So everything is now booked and I have about a month to get from a state where the last proper cycling I did was a sickening eight months ago, to a state where I can drag myself up 500m of hill and still be conscious enough at the top to enjoy the view. Which means I'm going to have to seriously put some miles in, and probably make a desperate attempt to try and get some hill training done in a notoriously flat region of the country (basically just chucking myself up and down a 60m climb and hoping it makes a difference).

It'd be nice to go and actually get some cycling done that's a bit different and not just the kind I'd be able to do in Cambridgeshire only with slightly better weather for April. At the same time, though, some of the hills are mental. Take the climb to Puig Major from Soller, for example. For one, look at the sodding leaderboard on there - there's like half of Team Sky and a bunch of other pro cyclists at the top. And they still took 35 minutes of pain to get to the top. That climb is basically the same distance as my commute to work, except that it's a 6% average gradient the whole way. And when I get to work I'd still have another 2km left to go...

The one climb I'm hoping to be fit enough to do is the Coll de Soller, which is pretty big but at 500m not totally insane in comparison to some of the other hills. And I remember going over it multiple times as a teenager in a hire car with my Dad - there's a tunnel that cuts out the mountain and is much quicker, but also far less interesting. It's pretty much back to back hairpins the whole way up and is a ridiculous road...

After looking at this picture I'm still not sure how I can consider this to be one of the "easier" climbs on the island...
It'll depend on how much I can get done before we leave, and how I feel once we're there, but that's the personal goal and it's not too far from Palma so it's a relatively safe thing to attempt if I'm completely out of steam once I get to the top. If I can get up and down that thing in one piece I'll be incredibly happy. And if I can't, eh, I'll still have probably enjoyed the trip.

Unless something goes wrong or the whole weekend is a complete wash-out with thunderstorms or something, it's going to be awesome.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Buying A Flat, Part II (The Waiting Game)

After much stalling, the long-awaited part deux of my blog for buying a flat! I say long-awaited not because I was frequently pestered by people to write this, but because I was long-awaiting a point in time where I'd actually have something substantial to write and proper progress since the first post.

Shit has taken forever. It's been ages since my last post (Railton has made like four whole blog posts in that time), and I still don't own a flat. I actually had to go back and re-read my previous post to refresh what I'd actually said so I didn't miss or repeat anything. And I realised that my previous post was written on 5th Dec - over three months ago!

Probably my least favourite part has been the fact that I have been, and continue to be, asked on a regular basis how things have been going. Not because any individuals ask me really often, just because out of the fifty or so people I work with, various friends and family and such, there are a lot of people who are aware that I'm buying a flat and maybe ask me once a month or so how it's going (usually in the way of "So have you moved in yet?" or "When's your completion date?"), which kind of just brings a terse grimace and explanation that it has not been going, I haven't moved in, and I don't even have any idea when I will besides "not in the next week or two". Or in the occasional case a rant about solicitors taking ages and a far more obvious demonstration that they've touched a nerve by asking (sorry Helen...). I get people are just curious or making polite conversation and it's an obvious question to ask, but damn it heaps on the frustration that things are taking forever (and there's basically nothing I can do about it) to also be asked about it on basically a daily basis.

Anyway, I've figured out that basically what has happened is that lawyers have created a system where you have to get lawyers. Then they charge you a lot of money because you have to get lawyers. Then they just spend all their time rolling around the office in large piles of cash and bathing in their solid fucking gold jacuzzi rather than doing any actual work you're paying them for.

Once I had a place reserved and mortgage confirmed in principle, I figured I was kind of most of the way there. Nope. Not even close. The following gif approximately demonstrates what I thought it would be like compared to how it actually has gone:

Or maybe another gif to demonstrate how utterly cack-handed the selling solicitors have been handling the whole thing:

I did my bit. My solicitors faffed for a few weeks and then seemingly did their bit. And then the selling solicitors seemingly took the best part of two months to actually fucking send over the contract and the lease and all the other paperwork for myself and my solicitors to review. And then that paperwork was wrong so I've had to spend more time faffing around and phoning people to get stuff amended and get the correct copies and now, today, literally like 4 months after I put an offer in for the property, I've finally sent a signed copy of the correct lease to my solicitors for them to hold until exchange.

Also, the contract and lease are long as hell. Sixty-four pages long. And it's all in complicated legalbabble, so takes genuine effort to decipher what any of it means. It contains many eye-glazing clauses such as this one:


But for the most part it's fairly sane. Well, for the most part...

I really want a bird dog reptile...

But in general, I can't keep pets without permission from the building owner (above), I can't sublet until I've purchased the rest of the shares in the property, I can't knock walls down or change the exterior appearance - all fairly standard stuff that I expected. I also have to give my landlord first refusal before I can put the flat up for sale on the open market (which is what Clause 3.19.2 details above), but again I'm not particularly fussed over that.

I will say, in the interest of keeping this informative to people who might get places of their own, that solicitors seriously are expensive. The total cost of mine including the conveyancing searches are like £1100, and they were basically the cheapest I could find (shared ownership bumps the cost up though). And from personal experience and anecdotal evidence from literally everyone I've spoken to about it, you have to harass them over the phone. I swear to god that they basically do nothing whatsoever until you phone them and ask them to do it and then maybe they'll stop throwing banknotes over their head and do some work for a bit. How fast my own solicitors have moved on stuff seems to be directly proportional to how many times a week I've rung them up.

So, as current status I'll hopefully get my mortgage offer in the next week or so, and get most of the land searches and stuff back from my solicitors this week as well, which means actually I'm hopefully (hopefully) only two or three weeks away from stuff being finalised and maybe actually moving in!

There are some up-sides to the whole thing having taken so bloody long, thankfully. Namely that in the three-and-a-bit months since I got my original mortgage quote, Woolwich/Barclays have lowered their rates a bit, and I've also got a few more thousand saved up for the deposit, so I'm actually now paying a good chunk less in interest rates on my mortgage than I would have been if everything had gone super-smoothly.Silver lining at least...

We shall see. But hopefully not much longer until Part III :D

(Also inb4 people like Krit and Aki are ironically all "SO HOW IS THE FLAT BUYING GOING WHEN YOU GONNA MOVE IN?" to piss me off)

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Buying a Flat, Part I

(Blog revival, this time not even going to attempt to say I'll post more often, though there'll probably be a few more sequels to this)

So, in the last month or so I've begun the process of buying a flat. And have created this blog for two things. One is to vent, and the other (perhaps more useful) one is to maybe inform friends reading this, because as far as I know I'm the first person out of my closer friends to actually start buying a place rather than renting. And because I'd assume that they, like me, know basically fuck-all about what the hell it really entails.

I'm 23. I've been to a pretty good secondary school and one of the best universities in the world, and I didn't really know jack-shit about what the process for buying a house actually is. Because that's the kind of useful thing that you just never get taught at school. Ever. Not even like it was mentioned but fuck that shit it's in a general studies period so I don't need to go and can't be arsed. It's just not covered.

We get things like:
  • Histograms - I swear nobody in the real world ever uses these except when they're just using the name to technically describe what everyone else would say is a regular bar-chart [for the record, I'm an engineer. I'm aware there's a technical difference], because a bar-chart where values actually depend on width as well as height and none of the columns are the same width just looks completely derp (though is at least better than keeping the bars the same width when the sample bins aren't the same size).
  • The kind of literary devices you only see in artsy novels and poetry - probably not useful to most people. Especially unnecessarily when an annoyingly high proportion of people leaving school apparently don't understand the fucking difference between "their" and "they're", and "your" and "you're". Or that IT'S FUCKING "SHOULDN'T HAVE" NOT "SHOULDN'T OF".
  • How Ox-bow lakes are formed. Like seriously, I distinctly remember learning this in primary school then early secondary school and then *again* in GCSE Geography. I've spent a fair share of time travelling around the UK and I've yet to actually consciously come across one to my own knowledge - I feel cheated at how rare these bloody things apparently actually are that I had to spend so much damn time learning over and over again how they come to be. 
  • Latin... OK that's probably more product of going to a public school.
Shit we don't get:
  • Anything to do with taxes. That stamp duty is a thing (relevant to the flat buying). What the fuck your P60 form is actually for. If it wasn't for the fact that I'm not self-employed and therefore as far as I know all my required taxes just come out of my salary automatically by some witchcraft stealing a good chunk of my money, then I'd have absolutely no fucking idea how much I owe or how to work it out.  
  • That homeopathy is complete bollocks and a complete waste of money and please people stop keeping these twats in business by buying power bracelets and magic water and other dumb shit.
  • The highway code, so that people who haven't explicitly had driving lessons still have at least a vague idea of what the fuck they're doing and how traffic junctions work when they're twatting about on the road (or pavement) on a bicycle in Cambridge.
  • How to write a CV that isn't complete shit. Or actually, how to write a CV at all. Until I got a solid guide from the university careers service about two years ago when I was seriously looking for jobs, my CV was absolutely fucking garbage. To the extent that when I got around to writing a decent one I actually had to start from scratch because it was too bad to re-forge my existing one into anything that would actually class as passable.
  • How to tie a bloody bow tie. And I got a posh private education an' all.
  • Everything that buying property entails, and how you get a mortgage past the fact that you get them from banks...
 I don't know if it's because we're just expected to have all these fairly key bits of information bestowed upon us by parents or other social elders or something, or if there's just this attitude of "fuck it, you're an adult by the time this stuff matters, figure it out on your own". But either way there's a ton of useful life stuff we don't get taught, and that's way before you start getting into fluffier stuff like how to be good in job interviews or basic cooking or relationships or how to tell when people are actually assholes...

I will admit some responsibility here, because we do live in the world of the internet, and I didn't actually bother to really look much of this shit up. I've actually had the whole house/flat-buying plan for about 18 months ago - that I would rent a place for about a year to settle in with my job and confirm I do actually want to keep working there, and then I'd buy a place. Because as much as having to sell it off if I decide I want to move, renting is pretty shit financially. It's basically pissing away several hundred pounds a month just for the ability to live somewhere, compared to a mortgage where you're at least putting a solid chunk of that into personal equity. So yeah, I've had the best part of a year to research this, and I haven't, so can't place all the blame on schools.

Up until about a month ago, my basic knowledge of the whole house/flat-buying process was this:

1) Find house you want and tell estate agent you want it
2) Go to bank and get mortgage
3) ????
4) Profit!

Will say straight up, that step two is horrendously over-simplified there. But first with step one, because that's not anywhere near as easy as I thought it would be either.

First off, I'm looking for a place in Cambridge, where house prices it turns out are brutally expensive. You can either live in a somewhat expensive place in the Fens somewhere, a fairly expensive place right out on the edge of the city, or a really expensive place some useful distance from the city centre and train station.

Secondly, the market moves stupidly quickly. The first place I viewed went up on Rightmove on a Thursday. I phoned, asked for a viewing on Saturday morning. I viewed it, and then I umm'd and ahhh'd a bit over it. Because it was nice, but I kind of figured if the place was really the right place I'd fall in love with it. But then it was nice... but then it was the first place I'd viewed... but then oh never mind because on Monday I was phoned and told that someone else had already bid the asking price. Literally about half a week after I'd first seen the property on a website that I was checking on a twice-daily basis. Fuck.

So I went to see another place, and it sucked. And then another place, and it was amazing. It had the ~falling in love~ aspect that I was worried I hadn't got from the first place I saw. It was a nice size, really good location (near the train station and a leisure complex and two supermarkets), and financially really good.

The place is actually shared ownership, meaning that I buy a percentage of the property from the company that built and owns the complex, and I pay a chunk of rent on the percentage I don't own. In some instances that rent is actually pretty substantial. In this instance, it's a rate of about 2.5% per year of the value - in comparison to the 4% I'd be losing in interest on a mortgage if I was having to buy the whole thing. And I only need to afford a mortage on something that's about £80k rather than £180k.

I was viewing about 7 flats, with at the very least about 15 people viewing them that morning. And out of those 7 one of them (in my opinion) was clearly the best one, so I panic-phoned the estate agent to try and reserve it.

"Yeah sure, just come and fill in a reservation form and give us a cheque for £250"
"A cheque... it can't be cash or card?"
"Sorry, it has to be a cheque"

Literally stumbling block number one. Not one that I'd expect a lot of people might have, but the last time I used a cheque was over two years ago, and I didn't even have a chequebook for my current account, so this involved some scrambling around to find an old one and actually put money into the account that it was for.

So then I go, and I'm all prepped up to fill this form in and get the place reserved. But the questions on the form are really hard. Questions like:

"Please list the name and address of your solicitor"
"Please list the details for your mortgage providor"
"Please provide copies of your three most recent payslips"

Well fuck. Two of those I've not even properly looked into yet, and the other one sure but it's not something I bloody carry around with me (I actually leave them at work because I figure I'm less likely to lose them there).

I'm told it's OK and I can just leave those bits blank and come back to them later (so like school exams then...?) and that I had the property reserved (FIRST VICTORY!). Though at this point I've gone from not even having found a place at 10am that morning, to suddenly NEED MORTGAGE NOW and NEED SOLICITORS NOW and things have gotten very real. And a lot of paperwork to be required. Lots of paperwork.

Will say at this point that mortgages I kind of had a feel for. Because I'd expected I was going to need one (like seriously, you can't even buy a parking garage in Cambridge for much less than £15,000, let alone a place to actually live). And whilst I knew from having heard that I was going to need solicitors, I still had very little idea what solicitors actually did and why I apparently definitely needed them. But I've since learnt that apparently they do most of the weird magic stuff in the ???? part 3 of my current 4 step plan. And they will charge about the same as you'd expect real fucking fairies and unicorns to cost to do it too.


Thursday, 14 March 2013

CeBIT and IEM 2013

So, last week I went to CeBIT, which is, according to Wikipedia at least, "the world's largest and most international computer expo". It's held in Hannover, so conveniently I could stay with md, skipping the faff and expense of trying to find a hotel to stay in.

Travel was reasonably straightforward, though neither Ryanair nor EasyJet seem to fly from anywhere convenient to Hannover direct, so I had to fly to Bremen and then get the train across. Everything went moderately OK, aside from trying to pay for a tram ticket from the airport to Bremen Hbf, as the ticket machine didn't accept anything bigger than a €10 note and as a fresh-faced tourist I only had twenties. As it happened there was a fairly friendly German guy who swapped me some change and also chatted to me on the tram ride.

CeBIT itself was huge. That said, there was a huge amount of serious business IT stuff that I really didn't care for (CRM software, anything SAP, etc). A lot of it is business-orientated, whilst for the most part we were interested in consumer electronics type stuff, so several of the halls we just breezed through pretty quickly.

There were some interesting items, like a company specialising in bamboo computer peripherals (and bamboo as in the wood, not Wacom tablets)

Lian-Li (PC case manufacture) had some fairly novel stuff too

As well as an absolute behemoth of a PC case

The thing was huge. There was a whole section of it where we had no idea what would actually go in there. Or why you'd ever reasonably need a PC case that big.

Loads of Chinese companies were floating around, selling iPhone cases and really tacky gaming mice/keyboards and the like. Also some more interesting Asian things, like Korean robots:

They danced Gangnam Style, obviously. They also have a super Engrishy website. The expert kits cost $1500 though, which seemed a bit pricey for a Christmas present.

There were plenty of 3D printers on display too. A year ago I'd have probably drooled over them, but most of them were pretty ghetto and cheap replicator-type kits for home use, meaning anything they produced was pretty naff compared to the stuff we get off the Objet at work (I'm a 3D printer elitist now, apparently)

Also touch display everything. EVERYTHING. Even touch display air:

As part of CeBIT there's also the gaming hall, home to stuff like previews of the new Tomb Raider release, eye-tracking gaming control software demos, and also the Intel Extreme Masters World Championships, which is where we spent most of our time once we'd seen everything else.

We almost exclusively paid attention to the StarCraft II section, rather than the League of Legends one (because LoL is for nubs and douchebags, obviously).

With $100k prize money IEM is pretty big as tournaments go, and this was also the first proper tournament to have the Heart of the Swarm expansion (released this week) included. Plus it was the first time I've ever seen major eSports stuff live, rather than on internet streams (or GSL in the tiny studio it's filmed in), so that aspect was cool. My inner nerd was happy.

There's the weird aspect too of the players mingling in the crowd between games. I randomly bumped into Stephano (the best EU player, by earnings if not also general opinion) whilst buying a hot-dog, and the segregation between the crowd and the stage/players areas was pleasantly minimal.

As expected the Koreans dominated, and all of the top four were from the Korean, LG-sponsored Incredible Miracle team. A lot of the games were pretty intense though, and it was cool to see how strategies and gameplay developing through the tournament at a pro level with the new expansion units and abilities.

Outside CeBIT the evenings were mostly spent chilling and watching movies (including Fargo, both Total Recall films, the ridiculous Shaolin Soccer, The Shawshank Redemption - probably my favourite film of all time after Pulp Fiction). And md had a cold and muf had a cold, so naturally by the end of the week I left sniffling and sneezing too.

And there was snow. In fricking March.

But yeah, all in all was a good week. Had fun, and it was also nice to get some time off work and blast through some stuff on my Kindle during travelling too (now just over halfway through the 3rd A Song of Ice and Fire book).

Sunday, 3 March 2013


The last nine months or so have not been the first time that I've not made posts to this thing in a while, but they are almost certainly the longest drought. And after every drought, I'll make a post coyly suggesting that I might make more posts on here, but not promising anything. Well not this time. This time I'm promising stuff. Maybe I'll have to handcuff myself to the desk until I write something (like that would help - I'd still be able to Facebook and play DotA perfectly fine), but more posts will get written.

It's kind of neat that since I stopped posting people have actually picked up on it - it kind of showed to me that people did actually read it. Or maybe they had just noted that it was no longer getting spammed on their Facebook pages and were actually commenting in a "Oh, you've finally decided to give up that rubbish thing?". I don't know.

I mostly stopped writing regularly because Uni life started getting way too hectic. And then a whole bunch of things happened that I wanted to write about (the UK Tetris Open and my trip to Korea, amongst others), but I had too much on at the time to do it, and then three or four weeks later it seemed like the time had gone.

The main problem I have at the moment, or have had for the last few months, is that I feel that the only interesting things going on in my life revolve around relationship stuff and personal feelings (which I won't talk about publicly on here because I don't want to), or my job.

I love my job, and it is something I genuinely find interesting and would love to bore people at length with. I attempt to do science, and that itself is typically interesting* and has a lot of cool aspects to it.

Add an oversized lab coat and this is basically my weekday life

The main issue with my job is that it's all commercially sensitive and covered by Non-Disclosure Agreements and such, and therefore I'm not allowed to talk about it. Or not to any level of detail that would actually be interesting. It also means that my nan thinks that I work developing weaponry (I don't) and that's why I can't talk about it, because she apparently doesn't understand any other reason why I'd have to be so secretive.

So yeah, maybe in two or three years when things I've worked on start getting released to market (or the projects are so dead nobody cares any more), I'll have a ton of interesting shit* that I can talk about, but that's a while off yet. But until then the fact is that I spend 45 hours a week doing something that produces next to zero potential content for this blog.

The reason I'm restarting this right now is that I go to CeBIT next week, which should have a ton of interesting things*, as well as the Intel Extreme Masters World Champs. And then a couple of weeks later I go to Barcelona with my parents (yay for holidays where I don't have to pay for everything!). Both I expect should give me some cool photos and stuff to write about, and hopefully spurn a bit of activity here.

As for beyond that, I don't know. I've recently bought a Kindle and actually started reading again, so there are things I'd potentially like to comment on there. If nothing else, I might use this to start doing things that I'd quite like to do but never actually bother with - like proper cooking/baking, maybe getting out a bit more, and all that sort of thing.

So this time, I'm committing to writing more stuff for this again. I'm not committing to what I write actually being any good, or worth reading, but eh, that's not my problem anyway.

As an aside, I'd also like to work on a new theme, because the banner is old and I'm feeling sensible enough to switch from the dodgy white-on-black theme I used to have. I'll probably slowly get around to it, but if anyone wants to help me on that and/or create graphics, I'd appreciate the support.

*May not actually be interesting to anyone who isn't me

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Dalglish Sacking

As much as there were plenty of signs that it was coming, I was genuinely surprised by the news that Dalglish had been sacked as Liverpool manager. I had a brief rummage through blog posts and looked at what I'd said when he was appointed, and I feel that the fairly mixed stance I had then is pretty much what I have now.

To be honest, I feel I can justify a mixed stance given that it's been a pretty mixed season. In the two cup competitions we've been in this season we've finished as winners and runners-up, and that's a fair amount of success given the dire straights we were in when Dalglish took over. That said, the league position is dire, and there's no real hiding from the fact that we've finished 17 points off 4th place, and it's not even worth counting the points away from the title. Admittedly, in the last few months of the season we've had little chance of 4th place and as a result have probably allowed the cup competitions to distract us, but that still doesn't change the fact that fairly solid spending over the summer hasn't been able to produce the results week-in, week-out.

I use the world results, because having watched a solid majority of the games this season I feel that the performances have largely been there, and the results happen. The issue is that while performing well, creating a ton of chances and just failing to convert them in front of goal can be settled by "we were unlucky" for each individual game, when it's happening long-term it suggests that something bigger is up. There were plenty of games this season where Liverpool played some superb football and didn't come away with a result, and it's only the latter aspect that history is really going to remember. We were only one solid finisher away from a very good season, but that's a problem in the squad that Dalglish should have identified and resolved properly (or maybe Carroll just fucked him over by being so goal-shy).

That said, I don't feel that Dalglish has done a horrific job in his first full season in charge. The performances have been good, even if the results haven't, and two cup finals isn't something to just ignore. And whilst our league performance in the second half of the season has been pretty abysmal, the same could be said of Spurs, who have bombed in a similar fashion from where they were in January, it just so happens that they started high enough up to just about cling onto 4th place. But Spurs will be in the Champions League next season, and in a world where clubs are run as businesses that makes a big difference, because that's £30m a year that Liverpool won't be seeing next season.

My main sort of gripe with the Dalglish sacking is that I don't feel that there's any candidate that really leaps out as being the replacement. Villa-Boas is a possibility, and I feel he was a little hard done at Chelsea given the squad he inherited and the lack of support he seemed to get from the higher-ups there, but I'm not entirely sure he'd be a good fit. Plus he has very little actual track-record as a manager, with really only one successful season at Porto to his name. Roberto Martinez seems to be the media favourite, and I'm not sure that he'd really be a great replacement either. He did a decent job at Swansea and has done so at Wigan so far (well, 15th), but I don't really feel he'd necessarily be an actual step up from Dalglish.

My personal favourite for the job would be to re-hire Benitez in the role, though even with the seemingly generous amount of fans supporting this idea I'm sceptical it could ever actually happen. At the very least the Fenway guys have said they want someone who will manage for the next 5-6 years, which I'll take with a pinch of salt but at the very least would suggest that we're not heading towards the same problem that Chelsea have (and Real Madrid had until recently) of cycling through managers at a rate of knots unless they produce instant results.

I don't feel particularly outraged by Dalglish being removed from his post, and I'd be surprised if many fans will, but I do think that there's definitely a possibly to pick someone who won't actually do any better, and I feel that's where the danger lies in this position. The fact that there are apparently no front-runners for the role is something I take a slight bit of issue with, because I feel that the sacking is a tad unnecessary, or at least premature, if they don't already have someone pretty well lined up for the role.

Still, time will tell, and given I doubt the transfer budget for the summer was going to be particularly big anyway, they've got a reasonable amount of time to find a replacement. I just sort of hope that it's not Martinez.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Eindhoven - The Journey Back

It's been frickin ages since I last made a post on here, and as a result I've sort of put extra effort into this one. Like, it has drawings and everything.

Last weekend I was visiting Muf in Eindhoven. Vincent (aka Amnesia) was there because he had some trance festival evening or some shit, and he suggested that while he's spending the weekend there maybe I should too. And because EasyJet flights from Stansted to Amsterdam Schiphol are pretty cheap and easy, I figured that I would.

On the whole the weekend was pretty fun. Tetris and StarCraft were played, Stefan (aka Steadshot) was also there, Tim showed up for a couple of evenings, and as weekends away go it turned out to be pretty chilled and relatively inexpensive. Coming back, on the other hand, was not so fun. And hence shall become the subject matter for this post.

The first joy was getting a train from Eindhoven to Schiphol. Things were nearly a little bit tight getting to the station because I ended up going with Vincent and he was all laid back and French about getting there on time (so laid back that the only reason he was going with me was because he'd missed the bus he was originally going to get), whilst I was a little more stressed because I had a flight to catch and I specifically remember the last time I tried to get a train to Schiphol I'd gotten horribly fucked over after missing my original train.

What was brilliant is that whilst I had vivid memories of a pretty painful train journey from the last time I visited, I'd apparently completely forgotten what was responsible for me missing my train, because I had the exact same fucking problem the second time.

I arrived at the station about six or seven minutes before the train was due to leave, figuring that I should have easily enough time to buy a ticket. At Eindhoven station there are about six ticket machines. Some of them are card only, whilst others accept cards and cash. That didn't really matter to me, given that the ticket is €18 and I didn't have that much on me in cash anyway. The two cash and card ones had queues, and the four card-only ones didn't. However, the four card-only ones do have a tiny little sticker on the front that shows that whilst they accept Maestro cards, but not Visa or Mastercard. Which is useless for me, because of the two cards I have, one is Mastercard and the other is Visa Debit.

The identical ticket machines in Schipol have no issue with my Mastercard credit card, but apparently in Eindhoven they do, and I can't use it. So in a somewhat retarded move I queued for one of the other two machines, figuring that maybe the ones that would take cash instead would also somehow accept my credit card. The woman in front of me finally finished paying for her €11 ticket in 10 and 20 cent coins, and then I got to the front to discover the same tiny sticker at the bottom of the screen telling me I couldn't use either of my cards. Fuck.

No problem. I'll just go to the ticket office and buy one there. So I do, and I queue for what seems like forever behind some guy trying to buy a ticket to Switzerland or some dumb shit without knowing where he's actually precisely going and with the lady behind the desk being equally useless. After a lot of frantic watch-checking I finally get to the desk.

I was pissed off for two reasons. Firstly that it's fucking stupid that you can't actually buy tickets directly with a credit card at the train station in Eindhoven, and secondly because I suddenly remember that I'd had the exact same problem last time and it was why I missed my train then as well. Once bitten, twice shy my arse. I definitely feel that instead of tiny signs that are only visible at the front of the queue, the people running the station should make things a little more clear:

So I frantically dashed to find a cash machine (thankfully there are two inside the station), drew some cash out, queued again at the ticket office, missed my train, but did at least end up with tickets. This time, at least, the only difference was that I'd get to Schiphol 15 minutes later and I'd have to change trains halfway through rather than a direct one. Though the changeover was also a bit of a bitch because the platform I needed in Utrecht was only accessible from the overhead corridors, and not the underground ones because the stairway is closed for construction stuff. I think this was actually fairly well signed in Dutch but I'm not particularly fluent and I was in a hurry. Some girl made the exact same mistake and we ended up frantically trying to find an alternative route to the platform and barely made it on the connecting train.

As it happened the whole panic over trains was totally irrelevant, because I arrived at Schiphol to find that my flight had actually been delayed by two and a half hours. Fantastic.

The delay itself wasn't actually what bothered me. I mean, it wasn't ideal, but the departure lounges have plenty of seating and, somewhat more crucially, an abundant supply of power sockets, meaning that I could kill time fairly easily watching stuff on my laptop. What actually bothered me was the fact that the last train from Stansted to Cambridge was around 23:00, and my flight leaving at 21:45 CEST meant, by my estimates, that I would land around 21:45 BST. Which would give me plenty of time, but that was on the assumption that I was right about how long the flight would take, and that it wasn't going to be delayed any further. I had little confidence in either. Whatever the scenario was, I was particularly not keen to miss the last train home.

One minor bitch I did have from the airport was that I had exactly €6.50 on me, which I'd previously figured would be about enough for at least some sort of meal at the airport. I was wrong, and apparently almost everything is €7 or more, which was a bit annoying. A Big Mac Extra Value Meal in particular was like €6.85 or something excruciatingly just over what I actually had, so I ended up having to pay by credit card instead of my remaining cash.

I got bored of watching stuff on my laptop and went for a wander to kill time. The departure area in Amsterdam is absolutely bloody massive, and it actually took a solid 40 minutes or so of walking to meander my way to the other side, and to then amble back. As I got back to the seating area, I could just about make something out on the departure board that temporarily caused me to shit myself.

My flight being delayed was fine. My flight being cancelled certainly fucking wasn't. Thankfully things got better when I was close enough to actually read the board properly.

Though only better in a milder way. The flight being delayed another 1h15 meant that I was going to be landing approximately the same time that my train to Cambridge left, and I wasn't particularly confident on getting off the plane and through passport control in approximately zero minutes.

This put me in a pretty shitty mood until around half an hour later, when my flight was upgraded to being "Delayed: 22:40". Still not great, but it at least gave me a fighting chance of getting the last train home.

As it actually happened, my estimates on how long the flight took were slightly too big, and I landed in Stansted with around 35 minutes to get through passport control and to the station and all that jazz. I felt confident. Then I just missed one of the train thingies they have to get you around Stansted, and felt less confident. Then passport control took absolutely fucking ages and suddenly I had around ten minutes to get to the station and onto my train. Stansted is by no means a small airport, and I had very little clue which direction the station was, or how far away it would be. Time to FUCKING RUN.

This is when I encounter the my suitcase being an absolute fucking pain in the ass. Now, I quite like this suitcase, because it's just about big enough to fit my laptop in comfortably, whilst being just about small enough to be under the EasyJet restrictions for hand-baggage size (it's pretty tight though - I hate when they ask me to put it in the basket to prove it, because getting it out again is a bitch). As a major downside though, it does have a ridiculous tendency to flip onto its side at any opportunity.

After about five or six attempts to negotiate any sort of corner or break in the ground without this thing flipping over, and failing every time, I said fuck it to the bag and picked it up and ran. Turns out that not only is my laptop and the rest of my crap extremely heavy, but I'm also fucking horrendously unfit when it comes to dashing for trains. Despite this, I somehow managed to make it, and actually had a solid three or four minutes to spare. And turns out that night buses run, which I didn't know about, so I would have been fine anyway and there wasn't quite so much need to make a tit out of myself. But still, I made the last train, and despite the fact that I was going to get home about three hours later than I'd planned, that at least felt like something of a victory.

In an entirely separate firstworldproblems incident, I tweeted that I thought it was stupid that at the Cambridge station the trains to Stansted run from the platform which is furthest from the entrance and requires the most stairs to get to. This wasn't so much a personal bitch, because I was actually travelling pretty light. More an observation that it's a bit dumb to force the passengers who are likely to be carrying the most crap to have the most awkward journey to get to their trains.

What I wasn't expecting was my tweet would be picked up and replied to by the Stansted Express twitter account. It feels really weird for what seemed a fairly private tweet to be picked up like that. Definitely a bit odd, but also sort of cool that they apparently employ a person to do that sort of thing.