Friday, February 29, 2008

Who'll crack first?

The door slams and the office is left silent but for an occasional customer deluded into thinking someone will answer the phone after hours. When even that dies down there is only the muted sound of scattered sighs.


The dreaded overtime has begun.

We're on our annual quest to count receipts and balance books and as usual we're about two months late in starting, so everybody's under pressure.

"Put the kettle on."

Tea is made and the silence is broken by the rustling of papers as sandwiches and little cakes are produced and offered around.


I am checking amounts in the central accounting program against amounts in the database I maintain. The first look shows a difference of about €300 in €80,000, so I am not unhappy. The second look shows a difference of about €9,000 in €80,000. I shall have to start ticking off amounts.


At the end of the office, a muttered mantra begins as someone starts their own checking process:
"One, three, six, one, point three, three?"
"On, two, eight, six, point one, three?"

After a while, I feel like shouting back: "Amen!", but I keep my nose out.

Figures are running back and forth across the page. I sip at tea and eat a Club Milk bar. The hours wear on. The numbers become a forest of little arrows and check marks. Progress, though infinitely slow, is being made.

Somewhere a imaginary clock begins to tick...

Monday, February 18, 2008

Breaking the Circle

If all those over-paid Astologers are to be believed, you're supposed to have an improvement in luck as your birthday gets nearer. Mine is turning turtle at the moment and it's my birthday in two days' time.

I was in the canteen last week and queuing with a tray in hand. There are two checkouts parallel to each other. If one side of the queue gets busy, or one of the staff has to go get more change, or replenish mugs, or answer a call (of nature or otherwise), the lady on the other side will double-up temporarily. Likewise, if food has to be weighed before purchase. Our canteen caterers sell stuff like salads or breakfast cereals by weight.

So two girls in the queue in front of me were yapping happily away and taking their time putting change into purses and such. Christine, on the checkout nearest me sat impassively waiting for the next customer, me.

Across from her, the girl on the other checkout craned her neck to see what I'd chosen, punched it into the register, twisted the readout my way so I could see that €5 was the price, took my tenner and gave me back a €5 note in change.

Christine, meanwhile, punched a couple of buttons. I supposed she was taking for the meal of the person behind me. I picked up the tray and went and sat down.

"They're saying you didn't pay, Willie," said a colleague, passing by, grinning.

"I paid the other girl!" I said to the universe at large. I got up and went to tell Christine of the mistake. On the way, I bumped into the assistant canteen manager.

"Are you stealing food?" she asked. I presume she was trying to be funny. I ignored her, but I could feel the niggle starting.

I plucked Christine's elbow.

"I paid the other girl," I said, pointing.

A few minutes later, Christine appeared beside me, red-faced. She must have checked with the other girl.

"I'm very sorry," she said. "I didn't see you paying. I really must apologise."

"If I'd been stealing food," I said, trying unsuccessfully to be non-chalant and humourous "You wouldn't have seen me do it!"

We both chuckled a little self-consciously.

Christine apologised again. I said:

"I hope that manager one knows I paid." I pointed over my shoulder at her.

"Oh, don't mind her," said Christine, and scuttled off back to her register.

I did mind. The more I thought about it.... ("Are you stealing food? Ha Ha Ha!")... the more annoyed I felt. Most of the dinner went uneaten.

At quitting time, I walked over towards my bus stop. Here was the canteen assistant manager coming the other way on foot.

"Hello!" I said. I stopped.

I said: "Tell us. Are we all square about that thing earlier?"

She smiled and laughed and went on walking. I stood looking after her, now fuming! Why the fuck wouldn't she put my mind at ease and just say everything was fine? I went home in very bad humour.

There's now a definite atmosphere in our canteen up at the checkouts when I queue there. No-one asks me any more how my day is going, or how my colleagues are that aren't with me today, or if I have any holidays planned. They just take the money in silence. Not quite a stony silence, but silence nonetheless.

If I could afford it, I'd take my business elsewhere. But the job subsidises the food prices in the canteen, making up for how little they pay us otherwise. I'm stuck.

This morning, kick in the pants Number Two.

I got on my usual bus and travelled up to The Square on my way to work. I usually get off the bus a bit before The Square, but this morning I wanted to get some cash from the ATM to see me through the week. The bus pulled in and the driver switched off the engine. I thanked him and stepped off. There was a smallish man of about 50 in front of me, moving along the footpath. He stopped and turned towards me.

"Excuse me," he said.

I thought maybe he was going to ask for directions. I stopped and said:

"Yes, sir?"

He said: "I was sitting at the back of the bus." He pointed. "You got on and looked at me. I don't like people looking at me..."

I blinked.


"I was on the bus. You looked at me..."

"I did not! This is the first time I've seen you today...!" I laughed.

He stood looking at me. I realised he was serious and now that I looked at him he did seem a little familiar. But I had clambered onto the bus this morning without a thought for anything other than my usual twin goals of not falling over as the bus pulled away from the bus stop and finding a seat upstairs.

"Where you sitting behind me or what...? I asked, puzzled. I was trying to get my head around what he was saying. It wasn't sinking in at all.

"I don't like people looking at me."

I thought: "Little wonder, you ugly little fucker."

I said: "I absolutely swear, I did not look at you in any way whatsoever!"

He walked off, mumbling.

Jesus Christ! I went into The Square, mindful that he was walking in front of me by a few yards. All I need now, I figured, is for him to tell a security man I'm following him or something. That would really put the tin hat on the whole business!

Around five o'clock I remembered how he looked familiar. The little bollix lives in Firhouse and.... wait for it.... is often at the bus stop I use every single morning! On his way to see a psychiatrist, I have no doubt, but fuck it! He'll probably be standing at the bus stop tomorrow morning.

"I'm getting a car," I said to myself on the five o'clock bus. I had found myself looking around at the other passengers suspiciously. Who was going to pop out of a bag or a box and twist my noodle this time? Would the other little bollix turn up again? What would I do if he said something?

At home, the third piece of what I hope is the end of this circle of the most bizarre luck there's been around here in ages happened. Herself came home without her much-loved, mobile phone. Surely that broke the charm?

I was so sympathetic on hearing the phone had been left in work. Among unknown cleaners. With keys to the office.

"Oh, that's terrible," I purred. "There, there. I'm sure it will be just sitting there when you go into work in the morning."

So tomorrow, the day before my birthday, I'll have an angry Firhouse gnome gunning for me on the bus to work. My tea will be served by people afraid to smile or joke in any manner. And I shall probably not receive any texts to brighten my day.

Roll on next year.

Happy Birthday to me.... Happy Birthday to me....

Friday, February 15, 2008

It's a hard life

Terrible start to the day. My bus was stuck behind another bus and on the back of this other bus was a twenty-foot high Eva Longoria. I had to sit there wondering if it was a corset or not. I know the nose was not an original. And there was at least a whole can of hairspray involved in the picture taking.

The advert -- for a magazine -- read:

"Why Eva will never be desperate."

Well, your face is on the back of a bus, missus...

Work is a raddled arse at the moment. I shall not dwell on it too much.

Towards quitting time, Herself rang me to say there was a gas leak at home. I suggested she phone the gas company. This was 16:10 or thereabouts.
"Are you in Knocklyon?" she was asked.
"Anywhere near Glenvara?"
"Well... Maybe."
"Oh that's the source of the smell then. We had a gas main pulled up earlier. You can switch your boiler back on."
"Are you sending anyone out?"
"Oh yes."
It's 22:11 and we've not blown up and we've not had anyone with something with a sniffer on its end turn up. Boiler is back on anyway. No smell of gas anywhere. Must have been the gas main in Glenvara, eh?
Clever people, those Bord Gáis customer care folks.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 no worries; got no cares....

Herself starts the day off with that question dreaded by men everywhere:
"Do you remember last night?"
I lie there half in and out of consciousness. A few minutes earlier, I was trying to find a bus home from Wicklow. Then the five-to-eight weather forecast was unceremoniously switched on on the radio and woke me up from the dream.
"Er... No...?"
She throws clean socks and teeshirts at me. I brush them aside as it's getting hard to breathe under the mound.
"I woke up in the middle of the night to find you leaning over me."
"Oh, aye...!"
"And you said: 'I've lost my hug'!"
"I don't remember that."
"So I gave you a hug and you hugged me back. It was lovely. A lovely big hug."
"Feck! Don't remember that at all!"
So, there you go....
I lost my hug....
Wish someone had warned me.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Internet images free-for-all warnings

The Sunday Independent reports today that Internet users need to be careful of what they're posting in the images sections of personal blogs and social networking sites.

In a piece entitled, "Bloggers beware: that private picture could soon be very public", Niamh Horan tells the tale of a Dublin woman who posted a "risque" photo of herself in the "private" section of her profile, only to find it being used in a dating-site advert a few weeks later.

The message that everything Internet should be considered publicly-accessible obviously isn't being learned.

This week, I received an amusing email from my sister to say that her daughter, whose college project on "Family", was due this week, was watching a presentation prepared by another girl when a slide showing my mother, brother, sisters, me and the dog flashed up on screen!

"That's MY family!" my niece shouted out in surprise.

The photo, which has been several years on another personal Internet site, turned up in a Google trawl and was blithely added to the project.

The Indo goes on to say that Tuesday next is the fifth annual "Safer Internet Day".

[Photo of Webcam is from the Logitch Website. Buy their stuff to redeem me.]

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Willie_W at Second Life

Made up an avatar of myself for fun in Second Life. Those who know me, see what you think.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Call for Writers at Kobold Quarterly

Editor of new roleplaying magazine, Kobold Quarterly, Wolfgang Baur, held a question and answer session in Second Life at the weekend.

The meeting, attended by guests from the roleplaying, sci-fi and mainstream media was held at Third Life Styles, the Home of Third Life Books in the region of Beraudes.

The periodical, which was launched to fill the void left by the late Dragon magazine, caters for the Dungeons & Dragons game and is available in both PDF download and in a paper edition.

Its editor is a veteran of the roleplaying industry and edited Dungeon Magazine when it was owned by TSR Inc. He later worked for Wizards of the Coast. Other projects include Open Design, whose adventure scenarios are created with input from patrons who receive exclusive finished works in return for modest financial support.

Wolfgang said: "Kobold Quarterly is a magazine aimed at fantasy roleplayers, in particular D&D and tabletop gamers. There's also room for alternate history, real-world medieval facts and myths, and similar material. Most of it, though, is aimed at playable material for any reader's homebrewed fantasy setting. Naturally, I need writers and artists and, oh yes, subscribers."

"Every magazine needs its regulars, and you might be among the early adopters for KQ. One of the realities of the markets is that they're always changing. Since Kobold Quarterly is new, it's a lot easier to impress the editor than it would be in a couple years. So, if you are interested in the writing end of things, I'd encourage you to step up to the query letters early."

In answer to a query about whether or not the magazine would accept fiction, he said:

"Right now, I am not looking at a separate fiction slush pile. I'm taking nonfiction, game articles, and eventually adventure scenarios. Length [for nonfiction and game articles] should be from 1,500 to 3,000 words, unless you query something else in advance."

The magazine is also to publish roleplaying scenarios at about 8,000 words in length.

"The first of those will happen late this year," he said.

"The easiest way to impress an editor is to put everything in place before the editor has to ask That is, an exciting pitch, or a new spin on a topic that the readership loves. This shows you know the audience. Then, assuming your query is approved, delivering at the requested length and on time.

"I'm always shocked at the number of queries I accept that never come back with a completed article. And even more shocked that writers regularly leave basic things like their name and address off a manuscript."

When asked if a good knowledge of the Dungeons & Dragons game was required, Wolfgang answered:

"It would definitely help, but I'm also taking articles that do a broader view of fantasy and myth. Nonfiction summaries of a particular element (say, castles or sieges) would be great.

"Actually, because D&D is currently shifting to a new edition (ships in June), now's a good time to pitch something that ISN'T specific to the rules."

On magazine art, he said: "I'm always looking for artists, though I say that with some hesitation. The magazine is too small for an art director, so.... Let's just say my bandwidth for art is limited."

"Previous editions of the magazine are available from There's PDF versions and print as well. Ok, the print is largely sold out. The PDFs are still out there for readers overseas (whose mailing costs would be prohibitive) and for those who just don't want paper. I've found [PDFs] a great way to get the issue out in full color, long before the paper version could support that."

Eurovision 2008 preliminaries off to a flying (or at least a feathered) start

Following Ireland's last place finish with 5 points in the 2007 Eurovision song contest, the national broadcaster, RTÉ, is arranging the final preliminary round of choosing an Irish entrant for the 2008 contest. The final, to which the lucky entrant will be sent, is to be held in Belgrade, Serbia, on Saturday May 24th.

A controversial entrant is the puppet, Dustin the Turkey, whose presence in the competitions led to a short debate on the political television programme, Questions & Answers.

For those interested in following Irelands' and other countries' shortlisting and voting results, the site All Kinds of Everything has a very interesting blog and an extensive News section.

From The Irish Times:

"In the past some unkind critics have described Ireland's entries in the Eurovision as turkeys but this year we could actually have a turkey performing our entry.

"The Irish final will be held on February 23rd when the public decides who will represent Ireland at the Eurovision semi-final in Serbia in May. Already the turkey has ruffled feathers with one Eurovision fans' website reporting that Dustin is in the running, with the headline "Puppet to Mock Eurovision?"

"The Dublin turkey has an impressive CV, having run for president of Ireland, recorded with Bob Geldof and made a career out of insulting Pat Kenny and mocking Leitrim. But the puppet will have to pull some strings if he wants to make it to Belgrade. Bill Hughes, chairman of the judging panel, said Irish voters would have a very strong field to choose from.

"The other songs are:
Double Cross My Heart, performed by Donal Skehan and composed by Joel Humlén, Oscar Gorres and Charlie Mason; Time to Rise, performed by Maya and composed by Maja Slatinsek and Ziga Pirnat; Not Crazy After All, performed by Leona Daly and composed by Leona Daly and Steve Booker; Sometimes, performed by Liam Geddes and written by Susan Hewitt; and Chances, written and performed by Marc Roberts, who came second in the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest.

"Mr Hughes said the panel did not choose Dustin's song in a flippant manner. "We did think seriously about it but once we heard it and we all laughed so much we decided it was worth including."

"Ireland had never entered a novelty or humorous song before, he said, and it was just one of six songs for the public to choose from. John Waters, who co-wrote last year's Irish entry, was not getting into a flap over the prospect that his successor could be a turkey. "Don't forget that we are talking about the Eurovision. It's fun, it's kitsch and nobody takes it all that seriously," he said.

"He may have come last, but Waters believes that the turkey cannot lose, because of his novelty value. "If Dustin wins it's a victory and if he comes last it's a victory. The worst thing would be if Dustin came second-last. That would be failure as we would have beaten him." Dustin's election campaigns included promises such as bringing the Dart to Dingle, but he will have to step up his game as he bids for Eurovision glory. The only problem is, will Europe understand him when he shouts his catchphrase "Go on ya good ting"?"

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Why the cat smells marmalade on my leg

I've a head-cold.
Herself has a dicky shoulder.
The weather has been Arctic cold.
This morning Herself knocked over one of our small, cheap, glass salt cellars and broke it into pieces. Bad luck was definitely supposed to follow.
As I'd been promising Herself we'd get one, we bought a small, flat-screen telly for the kitchen today and I couldn't get the thing to tune in until I disconnected all the cables from the grown-up telly and DVD and video player and the digital box and the PC and possibly the service for the whole road. But it tuned in, eventually.
In the meantime, Herself did everything possible to find jobs that would aggravate her sore shoulder.
"Aaargh!" She shouted from upstairs.
"What's wrong?"
"I'm washing the bathroom floor."
I watched the snow on the screen and pressed another button.
"Use the other arm," I said.
There were barely audible murmurings from somewhere upstairs.
There was a twanging, crashing noise from the landing.
"What was that?" I shouted up, as a fuzzy Irish rugby team made heavy work of defeating burly, blurry-blue Italians.
"Clothes horse," came the reply. "I'm putting clothes on the bannisters to dry."
"Use the other arm," I said. "By the way... Did you tell the doctor about that shoulder?"
"I see."
I fiddled with coaxial cable and started tacking staples into the side of the door saddle. The vacuum cleaner started up somewhere behind me.
I stopped tapping, momentarily.
"What is it?"
"My shoulder! I can't finish the hoovering! It hurts!"
"Leave the hoovering then!"
"I can't!"
"Why not?"
"Because it's Saturday. I have to have the house clean on Saturday."
"Okay, I'll finish the hoovering later."
I tapped in some more staples, crawling about on the tiled floor, backing into the dining room and bumping against chairs and one hot radiator.
I hear another "Aaaargh!"
"I'm mopping the living room floor. The bucket is heavy and hurts my shoulder when I pick it up!"
"Use the other hand to pick it up then."
Sweat is dripping onto the floor as I pull cable along behind the radiator, twist it in behind the computer desk and twiddle it under the dining room door into the living room and the TV signal outlet box.
I say:
"Have you taken any anti-inflammatories?"
I plug in the plug and the picture tunes in on Herself's new early-morning putting-on-makeup-in-the-kitchen piece of telly technology.
I say:
"It's working."
Herself meets me in the kitchen and reaching for a glass of lemonade with her right hand -- the one that is attached to the arm that is swinging on the dodgy shoulder -- she knocks it all over the counter. She says something nasty and starts mopping up the spill.
I pass her the rolling pin. She's going to make a meat pie for dinner if it kills us both.
Opening a cupboard (with her right hand, the one that has the dodgy shoulder) she ducks as a half pot of marmalade sails out and falls to its death on the floor tiles below. Apart from the bits of glass glued together by the marmalade, the rest of it goes into a hundred little pieces that scatter all over the place. A large wodge of peel sticks to the side of my leg. We stand looking at it as it slowly slides down the cuff of my trousers, slithers down my boot and finally comes to rest.
"You know," I say. "It's been that kind of day, hasn't it?"
"Yes," she says, through gritted teeth.
Pastry gets a pounding with the occasional accompaniment of a loud