Just Nathan

A musical offering, in parts
September 19, 2005
Gordon Brown Ate My Weekend

I filed the self-assessment forms online for Mum, Dad and me this morning. What a palava! Once I have gathered all the papers together, and made my own rough estimate on a spreadsheet, it still takes around an hour per form to file the return.

Our tax system is so unnecessarily complicated and the amounts of money due for refund and to be paid so trivial. Everybody grumbles about tax, but for me its the time spent administering such a small amount that really got to me.

Now for my real rant. I tried to buy my car tax disc from the DVLA web site. It is an example of e-government at its worst. I have already renewed my insurance and MOT, so I sat down at my computer with the documents listed on the web site.

And then the 'fun' began.

First, I entered my car registration incorrectly with an '0' instead of 'O'. My bank account login recognises such a mistake and suggests entering the correct alphabetic or numeric character. The DVLA web site just tells you it doesn't recognise the registration and throws you out.

Next, my insurance renewal wasn't recognised by the system database. Of course, as I am the first owner, the insurance, MOT and tax are all due on the same date, but apparently the database takes longer to catch up with the insurance renewal than the 2 week window in which one is permitted to buy the tax disc (from 15th of the month before it's due, or a 1,000 fine if you're a day late).

Finally, despite having my MOT carried out at a big chain of garages, it turns out that they are not yet issuing compatible electronic MOT certificates, so my online DVLA application was thrown out anyway.

After a frsutrating hour online, I put on my shoes, walked the 10 minutes to the Post Office at St. Andrew's Street, queued and paid for my new tax disc.

When I returned, I filled in the feedback form with the points I've made here. But the freeform text box was limited to 200 characters so it cut off the rest.

As an example box-ticking in e-government it's an excellent example of just how stupid people can be. I wonder what proportion of vehicle owners would be able to make a successful online application using this crazy system?

Posted by nathan at 10:34 AM | Comments (0)


September 18, 2005
Three men and their babies

Guppies, mollies and who knows what else is lurking in our fish tank.

We cluster round the bowl, cooing and counting the fish which seem to be intent on proving their potential for replication. There seem to be at least thirty baby fish at various stages and our first is now a young adult.

It must make a funny sight... for them.

Posted by nathan at 08:00 AM | Comments (0)


September 17, 2005
The working weekend

I don't resent having to work at the weekend. But to be honest it's a sign of my stress particularly over the past couple of weeks that I've been pretty bad at completing a couple of difficult projects that need to be sorted out before we go to Italy.

So despite my hard work in August, I can feel I'm heading for an essay crisis this week coming.

Posted by nathan at 07:28 AM | Comments (0)


September 16, 2005
We are the champions my friends

Need I say more?

Two down, one to go.

Posted by nathan at 10:07 AM | Comments (0)


September 14, 2005
Magic Roundabout

I'm off to the land of the Magic Roundabout for my interviews. Back on Thursday afternoon.

Posted by nathan at 06:58 AM | Comments (0)


September 12, 2005
Still no hint of a Geordie accent

Robin and I had supper with Jonathan at Kymmoy this evening (ok I've been going there too often recently). It's good to see him thriving and to know that Fiona and Emily have settled in Newcastle.

When we were working on a project in the North East last year, I had my first real exposure to the friendliness and positve attitude of people in the region. I guess I'm a bit too much of a dyed-in-the-wool southerner to have thought about it much, but the vision and commitment shown by many of the people we met was quite inspiring. The North East lacks several of the advantages we have here in Cambridge - the skilled workforce, established technology economy, University base and proximity to London. But the people I met in Newcastle were more human.

Posted by nathan at 10:10 PM | Comments (0)


September 10, 2005
Shaking my li'l toosh

We don't go clubbing often. It's not snobbishness on my part, I'm quite happy to mix Parsifal with the X-Factor depending on my mood. Of course anybody who knows me would realise that I'm naturally happier with Mahler than on the dance floor, but it is very liberating to lose that inhibition of self-consciousness and just let the music take over.

My difficulty with clubs is somewat different. I find myself inadequate and all the good-looking topless guys quite intimidating as they gyrate and preen themselves with conscious artifice. The smoke and elbow to chest proximity with so many other people is a little claustrophobic. And there's an implied pressure to stay on until the party ends. But I overcome these qualms and join the short queue underneath the arches at Charing Cross.

We take a couple of beers and stand at the edge of the underground dance floor, Alfred by my side. The music carries its own energy, a positive force wells up in my body. I feel very physical - and I'm immediately aware of how alien this is to my normally cerebral self. It's primitive, the onset of a mating ritual perhaps, but my hips start swaying and my feet tap as I step out onto the dance floor, into the light. I don't mind how I look - I don't even think of 'music and movement' at primary school, but match my dancing to the music, to Alfred and to the flashing lights. My eyes are occasionally distracted by other people dancing by or bumping into me, but the music, the energy, the flow is infectious. As the mood shifts and hardens from track to track, my movements become more energetic and the cares of the week are washed away in a cloud of dry ice, green and purple lights.

But there's always a Zeitgeist moment - usually after an hour and a half or so, when the smoke becomes a suffocating miasma and I suddenly regain my self-consciousness. Why am I here? It's so smoky. I don't like this music. I'm so ugly in this sea of beautiful men and women. I want to go home.

We walk the London streets, along the Strand and through Covent Garden before reaching the hotel with its icy-cold air conditioning and brick-hard bed. As I fall asleep, the lyrics of the dance pulse faintly and flutter behind my eyelids. We hold hands.

Posted by nathan at 05:09 PM | Comments (0)


September 09, 2005
A weekend in the city

So, off to London today for a meeting, and on the way found out that we've been shortlisted for all three contracts. My relief (and I have been really stressed out by all this) is tempered by realisation that there are still the interviews to go and other hats in the ring.

The Kingsway Hall Hotel on Great Queen Street is a 3-star hotel masquerading as a 4-star. At least it had a gym, so I could do my run on the treadmill and then relax in the jacuzzi and steam room. After a decent early supper, we went off to see our final Prom of the season. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the Crouch End Festival Chorus (who said nothing good came out of North London)? The pieces were Debussy La Mer,
Mark-Anthony Turnage From the Wreckage (UK premiere), Sibelius Luonnotar and Ravel: Daphnis and Chlo - Suites I and II. Competent but not memorable. The Turnage piece was pretty interesting though, with the trumpeter requiring three instruments.

We came back to the hotel to freshen up (it has been unbearably muggy today) and then went off to Heaven. It was an evening of contrasts.

Posted by nathan at 11:49 PM | Comments (0)


September 07, 2005
Filets de perche et frites - an interlude

I spent the day at CERN with a colleague looking at a few technologies, and then went down to the centre of Geneva to sit by the lake at the Bleu Rhne restaurant with a plate of Genevoise fish and chips and a metallic Pinot Noir (my fault entirely). The sun shone on the lake, the Jet d'Eau sparkled and we people-watched for a while before taking the number 10 bus to the airport and an aeroplane back to the UK.

Posted by nathan at 11:45 PM | Comments (0)


September 06, 2005
Est a pizza

Not diet food, but it tasted good. Even in Luton Airport.

Posted by nathan at 05:55 PM | Comments (0)


September 05, 2005
The week ahead

It's Monday morning and I'm off to London on the Worst Anachronistic Groaning Nightmare for three meetings, then I'm off to Geneva on Tuesday and back late on Wednesday. After an August spent at my desk, I'm back on the road! At least that'll keep my mind off the bid outcomes for a few days.

Posted by nathan at 09:05 AM | Comments (0)


September 04, 2005
Absolutely Fabien

We spent yesterday evening in the company of Fabien and Baz. A pleasant time with much wine and supper at Kymmoy. At least it took me away from my project write-up.

Alfred has booked tickets for us at the Cirque du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall in January. We saw a DVD of one of their productions a few evenings ago. Amazingly athletic and accomplished acts that will, I hope, astound us even more in live performance.

Posted by nathan at 07:14 AM | Comments (1)


September 03, 2005
The jar, viewed

Isn't it weird, when one becomes sensitised to a word or phrase? Once encountered, it reappears in a variety of contexts shortly thereafter.

I'm currently experiencing this phenomenon in respect of the word 'atomised', in the context of 'an atomised society'. I am about two thirds of the way through Atomised, which our reading group will be discussing in October. The words 'atomised' and 'atomised society' keep popping up now, most recently in the context of the lawlessness and breakdown of society in New Orleans in the wake of the disaster of hurricane Katrine.

If you don't believe me, read a July 3rd article by John Harris on Live 8 which contains the following:

"...it doesn't seem entirely misplaced to see the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, far more than the original Live Aid, as the decisive harbinger of a very modern archetype: those periodic spectacles that suspend the usual rules of our atomised society, and are built around huge, emotion-strewn crowds. The big draw, it seems, is the thrilling feeling of significance."

Adam Ash also has something to say about it, as does GNN.

My direct reference, which can't find on the Internet, was a comment on BBC News yesterday about the looting in the streets of New Orleans and Bush's slow reaction to the disaster being evidence of the atomisation of society. That line of argument is partly about whether Bush would have reacted faster if the people left behind in New Orleans were WASPs rather than poor and predominantly black or elderly. (I think the answer is just that he was enjoying his month-long holiday in Texas and avoiding returning to the line of body bags coming back from Iraq, but you know the respect I have for him).

So, apart from the issue of 'atomisation' (to which I'm sure I'll return), has anybody else experinced this phenomenon of sensitisation to a word or phrase?

Posted by nathan at 12:14 PM | Comments (0)


September 02, 2005
The M6 goes to Amsterdam

Oh weh! How I wish we'd been at last night's Mahler 6 prom. It was a revelation, even on the radio.

Mariss Jansons, the new music director of the Concertgebouw orchestra performed Mahler's 'tragic' 6th symphony. The hammer blows of the fourth movement - however anticipate - made me jump out of my skin as they foretell the win tragedies that Mahler himself was soon to face: his daughter's death and the diagnosis of his own fatal heart condition.

In contrast with the Cleveland SO / Mst performance that we attended on Tuesday, this M6 seemed to weave the powerful yet supple resources of the orchestra into an ever shifting tapestry of rich emotions. As the symphony winds its way to an inexorable conclusion, I am caught in its flow, trapped in its vice.

The Andante movement was played second, followed by the Scherzo third. The luxury of listening whilst sitting in my living room prompted me to reread David Matthews' essay in the Mitchell / Nicholson Mahler Companion, where he makes a strong case for preservation of the 'original' order (Scherzo / Andante). As a side issue, this essay is the weakest in the Companion for me as Matthews limits his discussion to the two well-known disputes about M6 (the order of the inner movements and Mahler's removal of the third hammer blow in the fourth movement). I guess this unevenness in style allows the individuality of the essayists to shine through.

I went to bed with the hammer blows of fate thudding around me.

Posted by nathan at 06:15 AM | Comments (0)


September 01, 2005

Bach's fugue plays on and in my mind. My footsteps echo in the stairway as I ascend in circular motion, describing an unclimbing spiral in the mist. To what end?

Posted by nathan at 06:35 PM | Comments (0)