Friday, March 31, 2006

Ding dong the bells are going to chime!

OK, not in the morning, but sometime. Yes, the big news this week is that I proposed to C, & in a moment of weakness/madness, she said yes. Bling has been purchased & there’s no going back now. Not that I’d want to.

Went to the Jewelry Quarter in Birmingham to pick the ring ( There’s over 100 jewelry shops there, and the choice was mind-boggling. I went expecting car salesman tactics and obsequious staff and was very pleasantly surprised. They are clearly used to people wandering in with no real idea of what they’re after. After changing our minds several times, the final product is a rather fabulous 9-diamond cluster on an 18ct white gold ring.

First thoughts are for a small winter wedding. Watch this space for further news.

Back to more mundane matters. In cube world, it’s all change. A major reorganisation kicks in next week. Lots of new staff and new responsibilities. So it’s the perfect time for the Finance Director and the head of the business unit to up and leave. And as for succession plans? Well, let me know if you hear any. The FD job has been advertised, but a successor isn’t likely to be in place before September.

Its euro millions lottery rollover week, so if the numbers of my office syndicate come up then there will be even more vacant posts. Just to be on the safe side though, I’ve made plans to be in work as usual on Monday.

Travel notes

Aggravating – It’s the commuter rush hour on the Valleys line into Cardiff. I usually catch the 8:15 train from Abercynon. It’s usually 4 carriages long and is completely full by the time it gets to Cardiff.

So on Tuesday, they (I can’t call them managers because they don’t) decide to run a 2-carriage train. Its standing room only from Abercynon and by Cardiff it’s like a tin of sardines. Great planning Arriva Trains Wales. It costs them money too, since the guard can’t get through the train to sell tickets, large numbers get a free ride.

Rugby notes

Lashing rain & a muddy field meant that points were hard to come by against Glamorgan Wanderers last Saturday & the only winners were the people getting paid to wash the kit – and they had to earn their corn this week. The two teams in brown drew 5 each. Very disappointing since Ebbw are definitely on the up and must have fancied this game.

It wasn’t for lack of effort though. The withdrawal of makeshift out-half Jon Hawker during the warm-up followed quickly by a nasty injury to scrum-half Alan Lake (dislocated shoulder – out for the season) meant that a radical reshuffle. That said it was always going to be a battle of the forwards, and Wanderers’ pack, including a couple of Blues “ringers”, were a real test. The pack fronted up (© Mike Ruddock, OBE) well but at the end was out on its collective feet after three games in eight days.

They’ll get a rest now, since there’s no game this week. It’s the Principality or Konica or something else cup this week, and having lost a close one to Aberavon in the last round, we’re watching from the sidelines.

Next game is on 8 April, a home one for me since its Ebbw Vale at Pontypridd. I suspect I might get a bit of stick off the boys on this one, wondering who I will be supporting.

TV notes

The Apprentice – Jo the nutter has finally gone. The show will be a weaker for her departure, but she was a complete liability in everything that she did. I predict a future for Jo as an all-England gurning champion.

As you read here last week, Syed teetered on the brink. “Would I buy a second car from you? No!” says Sir Alan. Got to be favourite to be gone next. If it’s the girls it’ll be Sharon, the Scottish lecturer with no leadership skills whatsoever.

Running notes

Hour went forward last weekend and the evenings are light. But it has lashed with rain all week, and I’m not yet sufficiently into a routine to go out in all weathers. One 5k in Bute Park is all I have to show for this week. Tentative plans call for a summer 10k before the usual Swansea 10k in the autumn.

Squirrel notes

Amazingly, the industrial strength, metal peanut feeder has lasted well thus far. Famous last words, I know.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ebbw wins!

Happy tenth anniversary to our Brother and Heather over the pond in Shrewsbury, MA.

And Helen, good luck with the new house. Hope you have some great times there.

Spent the weekend in west Wales. Even though it’s called the Cwmwennol Country House Hotel, it’s not much more than a big B&B. Perfectly adequate as a base for Saundersfoot and Tenby though.

Saturday afternoon on Saundersfoot beach the challenge was to stay upright in the face of a howling gale. The sand dunes were piling up in the High Street – you start to realise how Egyptian temples can be lost for thousands of years when you see sand dunes up against parked cars.

The chip shop on the front was the perfect place to revive ourselves. Milky coffee and chips all round.

Despite living in Wales for all of my 40+ years, Sunday was my first visit to Tenby. What a pretty place. Helped by a cloudless sky and winds a bit less brutal than the previous day.

Went to a funeral on Tuesday. Huge turn-out: the people of Merthyr really are the salt of the earth. Everyone adjourned to the upstairs function room of Aberfan Constitutional Club where chicken legs, sandwiches and sausage rolls were laid on, all washed down with a few lagers. Mid afternoon there was a disco. Honest.

Travel notes

Enjoyable – The Metro has been launched this month as a freebie paper in the Cardiff area. Nice to see it being handed out at Pontypridd station this morning. Clearly Ponty is part of the metropolis after all.

Rugby notes

After an encouraging performance at Bedwas last Friday, Ebbw Vale finally came good on Tuesday night with an excellent win over Aberavon. Some key players coming back into the side after long absences – Andrew Bevan showed up well, Chunky seems to be back to his form of old, Jon Hawker had a great game at outside half, and the whole pack performed well – especially in the line out.

After a drought of rugby, it’s a torrent now. Another big game this Saturday when fellow basement dwellers Glamorgan Wanderers visit. I’ll be there.

TV notes

The Apprentice – if Manny is a world class presenter then I’m Donald Trump. Doesn’t Jo get it – she’s in the boardroom despite putting in her best showing to date. It’s a matter of time for her and Syed.

Running notes

Now that the evenings are getting lighter, it’s possible to get out running after work instead of lunchtime. Good run yesterday with C around the Common. Will have to get back into the running habit.

Squirrel notes

Another squirrel-proof bird feeder bit the dust this week. I didn’t realise that plastic was a staple of the grey squirrel’s diet. Moved on to metal feeders now. It’s a matter of time before the oxy-acetylene torch is out though.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Rugby season?

The saga goes on of trying to get a rugby match played at Eugene Cross Park (home of my beloved Ebbw Vale RFC). Last home game – 14 January, a full two months ago. The club treasurer must be crying in his beer at the lack of income through the turnstile and over the bar.

In the last two weekends, the home game with Aberavon was snowed off and then Pontypridd cried off with just two days notice, citing international call-ups to the various international games going on.

There are just 7 weekends left in the rugby season, and we have 10 games left to play. There’s a blank weekend in that lot too – the cup still gets priority and as a result our 1 April game with Llandovery has been postponed. Looks like the season will run into June at this rate.

Travel note of the week

Enjoyable I – Beautiful drive through mid-Wales up to Llangoed Hall on the weekend. It snowed heavily on Saturday night/Sunday morning, and the views around Storey Arms were spectacular.

Enjoyable II – Seeing ducks take to flight as they flee from Marvin. A wonderful sight. The ducks, not Marvin. He’s on a lead at Llangorse Lake but the barking is aggravating the birds all over Powys.

Aggravating – When I go up to London (thankfully not that often) I tend to stay at a Travel Inn near Kings Cross. Its modern, spacious, reasonably priced, but most importantly, its quiet. A bolthole away from the madness out on the streets. This time I got a room directly overlooking said madness. Asked for a move & then ended up next to what seemed to be the extractor fan for the whole hotel. So much for peace and quiet.

Rugby note of the week

The international weekend didn’t really surprise – Italy were robbed of a win over Ireland earlier and Wales were there to be taken. A poor Italian out-half saved Wales’ bacon. Was cheered by France’s demolition of England though.

TV notes

Top shows in the VJ household right now – House on five and The West Wing on More 4. Top well-written dramas with characters that aren’t all super-heroes. Honourable mention to The Apprentice: OK, so Alan Sugar isn’t Donald Trump, but it’s enjoyable nevertheless. But if that bunch of whack-jobs is the future of British industry, heaven help us all.

Movie notes

OK, I know it’s easy to be wise after the event (in this case the Oscars), but the best movies I’ve seen in recent months were Crash, Brokeback Mountain and Walk The Line. Crash was a good thought-provoking film. As a ensemble piece no characters really stood out, but I can’t argue with its Best Movie award. If Reese Witherspoon wins an award for Walk The Line, then Joachin Phoenix should have got two. He's in almost every scene in the movie and acts everyone else off the screen.

Went to see Syriana last night. Top movie, although I’m not entirely sure I understood what everyone was up to. Let me summarise: USA oil people and CIA bad, Arab infighting, Clooney podgy, Damon nerdy, don’t use the pliers in the bathroom.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Rob and Amanda, good luck for a wonderful life together. You deserve it.

Happy 40th birthday, Big D. As for me, I put that one astern a few years ago.

The major event of the past week was a long weekend in Madrid, which got off to a spectacularly bad start. We were mugged.

Travelling on the Metro from the airport to the hotel we must have stood out as tourists, laden as we were with holdalls & rucksacks. It was a busy and rainy Saturday night, and it seemed as though every Madrilèno was on the platform. As we got on to the train, so did a very agitated and pushy guy. He proceeded to grab at me and as I bent forward to work out what he was up to, I felt a hand trying to nick my wallet from my back pocket. The first guy was a decoy. I turned and grabbed the guy behind me and as we tussled he dropped my wallet. He fled, along his accomplices – there must have been five all told in the gang including the decoy. The moment of relief at saving my wallet was short-lived; C’s handbag was opened and her purse stolen during the commotion.

All this happened in the time it takes for the Metro doors to open and close at the station. Not a great start to a holiday.

It improved though, as it had to, and high spots were visits to the Prada and especially to the Reina Sophia museum with its Picassos and Dalis. Guernica is simply stunning.

Travel note of the week

Aggravating – Sorry EasyJet, delays are one thing, but keeping everyone in the dark about them is quite another. The flight back from Madrid was scheduled for 9:25. At 9:15 there’s an announcement of a one hour delay, followed quickly by another setting the delay at “around two hours”. Now, I don’t know much about flying planes, but I do know that if the plane isn’t getting into Madrid until 11:00 or later, then they must know that it didn’t leave Bristol on schedule at 7:30, the same time that we are checking-in. Why isn’t it possible to tell everyone when they check-in that there is going to be a delay? Why the big secret?

Bristol Airport has to cop some grief too. Apparently we "took them by surprise" when we landed. We had to wait 10 minutes for steps so that we could get off, and for another 20 minutes before the bags were unloaded. This when there was not another plane in the place. Still, the roads are nice and quiet and 3am.

Rugby note of the week

9 weeks left of the rugby season, and Ebbw Vale have 10 games left. A couple of rearrangements have been fitted in, with the ill-fated Maesteg home game yet to be re-scheduled. Check the fixtures on the official website - a link is on the right. Its still up to the players and coaches to turn this thing around. Leaving aside all the politics of relegation criteria, just winning a fistful of key games is going to be everything through March and April, starting with Aberavon on Saturday.

How many do we have to win to stay up? Who knows, but Bedwas, Pontypool, Llandovery and Glamorgan Wanderers are all beatable. Graham’s website has all the info. (

Squirrel notes

Quiet in the garden with a soft layer of snow blanketing chez VJ. Our garden looks as nice as everyone else’s when they’re all covered in snow.

English Nature ( has stacks of useful advice on nature-friendly gardening. Me though, I just put out the birdseed, shoo the squirrels and follow instructions from C.