Tag Archives: news

#40Before 40, Challenge #21: Part 2

27 Nov

So, I left you on a cliffhanger yesterday. I was half way through my 21st challenge of my #40Before40. If you missed it, you can read it here.

We are now half way through the challenge and about to watch the 13th episode. I am feeling quite awake and, even though we are not as chatty as we were in the beginning, I think the challenge is going well.

Hour 13:

Show: The bad guys are after Teri and Kim but in true idiotic, women-fleeing-from-the-baddies fashion, they are lost and things are getting tense. Jack manages to save them just in time. Meanwhile it is becoming clear that David Palmer might have some anger management issues.

Us: I’m feeling awake and, although I have seen the series before, I can’t remember what is going to happen next. We have sort of agreed that perhaps the series could be a lot shorter but then it wouldn’t be called 24, would it? I am looking forward to the vegan spicy chili that I have made after the next episode.

Hour 14:

Show: Jack is under house arrest, David Palmer is being blackmailed and the FBI has been infiltrated at hospital security… all in the space of an hour! The Serbian connection once again is mentioned. Everyone seems to have Jack’s intentions completely wrong, apart from Tony.

Us: Stefan’s eyes are heavily than my shopping bags when I say that I am just nipping to the shops for a “few things”. The boys want to sleep but I have a feeling if I sleep that I won’t wake up. They decide to take a power nap so I clear up some plates and dishes from dinner but I am scared about waking them up.

Hour 15:

Show: Palmer confront Jack’s and they realise that they have a connection from an operation in Kosovo that Jack served in and Palmer instructed. During a debriefing, Teri guesses that Nina has had an affair with Jack and she also finds out that she is pregnant.

Us: Stefan seems to be struggling. Mark is on the other end of the sofa and is usually quiet. I am wide awake.

Hour 16:

Show: A terrorist suspect has become the boyfriend of one of the Senator’s staff members, in order to get information about the Senator’s schedule. The bad guys have made it into the safe house where Teri and Kim are staying. They manage to get away just in time but then have a bad car accident, where Teri has lost her memory and it looks like Kim is dead.

Us: We go for a quick walk (it’s now 1am). We are now two thirds of the way through!

Hour 17:

Show: There is an operation to plant a tracker on the terror suspect but the emotionally fragile “girlfriend” messes it up and stabs the suspect instead because she knows that he has only been seeing her to get information. Jack has found out that Teri knows that he had an affair with Nina.

Us: The walk really woke me up. But I need some sugar. And caffine. We take desparate steps. We open the Red Bull.

Hour 18:

Show: It turns out that Teri has also possibly having an affair. The Senator’s wife has destoryed some crucial evidence that will prove her son’s innocent but Palmer has tricked her and he still has the original tape. Kim is now being held hostage at a drug dealers house. I have no idea how she manages to get herself into these situations.

Us: Man down! Stefan is bolt upright but fast asleep. They say never leave a good man behind but both Mark and myself leave him to sleep. I am starting to feel tired now.

Hour 19:

Show: Some files about the Kosovo operation have been found and they reveal an address. Jack goes to investigate. The drug deal that Kim is a witness to is actually a raid and she gets arrested. No one knows where she is.

Us: I decided to join the boys in a power nap. And I am feeling a lot brighter. I think it probably is true that power naps are good for concentration and focus. I might start power napping every hour at work.

Hour 20:

Show: Palmer has decided to come clean about the accusations brought against his son beause he thinks that the voters will understand. Jack is now at the address from the previous episode. It is a prison facility and they expecting the transfer of a highly secret prisoner. The prisoner is the Serbian terrorist who he thought he killed 2 years earlier.

Us: We seem to be doing ok, and only have 4 hours left to go. Stefan is annoyed about the way his countrymen are portrayed on TV. I get annoyed when all British people in television programmes have terrible teeth and sound like they have plums in their mouth, so I guess he has the right to be.

Hour 21:

Show: There is an explosion at the prison as the terrorists are attempting to free the prisoner. Jack releases the prisoner when he is backed into a corner and is taken as a hostage himself. He is in deep shit now. Kim gets herself into more trouble; she is honestly a liability.

Us: We have a group power nap of 17 minutes before the next episode needs to be started.

Hour 22:

Show: Kim is kidnapped again. If she wasn’t it in, I am sure that the programme would be called 6. She just can’t lay low for 5 minutes. Palmer has won the vote. Jack is being traded for the main bad guy’s son, who was the terrorist, who got stabbed a number of hours ago. There is some very inappropriate back massages being given by Palmer’s speech writer, Pattie.

Us: We are feeling a lot happier as the end is in sight. I wonder when the sun will come up because it is still pitched black outside.

Hour 23:

Show: In a twist, the terrorists want to shoot Palmer because the son of the terrorist has now died. Palmer dismisses Pattie because he knows that she has been told by his wife to be a honey trap. There is an explosion at the hotel and Palmer is presumed to be dead. Kim manages to escape (how many times is this now??) and Nina is a rat. She has been talking (not very good) Serbian to the terrorists. She was the mole all along.

Us: I am begin to nod off but I stand up and walk around to keep myself awake. We are powering to the finish.

Hour 24:

Show: Palmer’s wife is bad news and a huge snake in the grass and I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her. Jack kills the main terrorist after Nina lied about him killing Kim. Teri is kidnapped by Nina after she began to get suspicious. Jack and Nina have a face off but Teri has already been left for dead by Nina.

Us: We have done it! I’m not quite as jubulant than I thought I would be but that is mainly because I want to try to go to sleep.

And there you have it. The first challenge completed! Just 39 to go!

A huge thank you to Stefan and Mark, who also stuck with me and helped the night to be more enjoyable than I thought it would be. I am still not convinced that they thought that the series was as good as I think it is but I could listen to Kiefer Sutherland’s voice all day long, so perhaps I am biased.

I am sure that you will read about them helping me with some of my other challenges as well but hopefully those challenges won’t mean that we have to lose too much sleep.

Sleep time

18 Oct

This week BBC published an article about a school in Hampton, who have given alarm clocks to students, so that they don’t have to use the alarm clock on their phones. The school argues that this is a distraction to pupils while they are trying to get to sleep and during the night. I can’t work out if the article has a bit of a unimpressed tone; a “why do they have to interfere with everything?” sort of tone.

I would personally love it, if someone took my phone off me at night. It is completely distracting and I have noticed over the past few months that I am sleeping less and less. Not because I am going to bed later and later, but because I go to bed and use my phone.

First I check Twitter, then Facebook, then Twitter again, because in the 5 minutes that I have been checking Facebook, I have probably missed something of vital importance and my life will never be the same if I don’t catch up. The cycle continues with other apps until I look at the clock and realise it is already 11pm.

Of course, I do have an alarm clock. I bought it a few months ago because I had already noticed that my sleep pattern was gradually getting worse and worse. The thing is that the beeping noise is irritating first thing in the morning (which, incidentally, I know is the point) but I can set my iPhone so that I am woken up by a Take That song.

What would you rather wake you up a noise that completely grates on you or Gary Barlow’s voice? Ok, I know some of you are thinking there is no difference, but there definitely is. A massive difference, in fact. Don’t get me started on how amazing Take That sing live!

The question got be thinking about how much we think that technology has improved our lives, but no matter how much we think our lives have improved, there is always a negative lurching in the background.

As a child, I would often listen to music on my Walkman in bed before sleeping. After four songs, the battery was flat, so it had no impact on sleep. Now I can listen to songs for as long as I can stay awake, by having the phone on charge the whole time.

Maybe my New Year’s Resolution for next year should be to ban the phone from the bedroom and focus on sleep quality. If I do, can someone let’s me know what’s been happening on Twitter while I’ve been sleeping?

You can read the full article that I read here.

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Five years

27 Sep

Five years ago, I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket (still the only one-way ticket I have ever purchased) and one suitcase, ready to begin a new adventure in Switzerland.

It doesn’t seem like five years ago, and I never would have believed that I would still be here five years down the line and be enjoying living here. For at least the first six to nine months, I was convinced that I had made the wrong decision and I was wondering how difficult it would be to move all my things back. I spent a lot of lonely nights (and they were also dark and miserable because of the time of year) not really knowing what to do with myself.

After the first 12 months, I was more settled and learning the language definitely helped. Although at the time, it seems like I was spending a lot of time learning things like “Do you sell salt?” which aren’t so helpful in every day life. I also had a very bad habit in the beginning of never asking for anything in a shop, because I was far too embarrassed. If I needed salt and it wasn’t on the shelf where I thought it should be, I simply did without it. Luckily, I always managed to find the ice cream.

The time of being anxious that I had made the wrong decision is far behind me now. There are still things that annoy me about living in another country. Everyone thinking that you come from London when you say you are English is a particular bugbear of mine; as is the lack of fish and chips and the over abundance of paprika crisps. I still hold out hope that smokey bacon flavour crisps will be introduced here but that hope is fading steadily.

I appreciate that Switzerland is not a country that is for everyone’s taste. I know a lot of people who would struggle to keep up with the punctuality of this country and all of the rules that a well-behaved expat must abide by. For me, this part of Swiss culture has not been so hard to adapt to. I think I have had good timekeeping drummed into me from an early age. To the extent that if someone is two minutes late and doesn’t offer an apology, they are immediately struck off the Christmas card list. No second chances here.

After being here for five years, I have now successfully applied for my C permit. This means that I have the same rights of a Swiss citizen, apart from I can’t have a passport or vote. As the country seems to be running quite fine without my inputs, that’s fine by me.

A change for me will be that I no longer have to pay tax out of my wages, but I have to make a tax declaration once a year. I guess I have been here for so long that the tax authorities trust me that I won’t skip the country without paying it. It should be interesting filling in that huge form for the first time. I will definitely need a dictionary on hand when I come to complete it, as well as a calculator.

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The Good, The Fake and The Ridiculous

23 Sep

We live in a world where we are surrounded by news. It’s virtually impossible to stay away from current affairs. There was a time when our only source of news was news bulletins in the morning, lunchtime and in the evening. Now, news is available 24/7. There is no getting away from know what is happening in the world with smartphones, tablets and the internet.

In my view news comes in three many forms: The Good, The Fake and The Ridiculous. Good news is something that, hopefully, we are all familiar with. Fake news is a relatively new phenomenon, in which news stories with questionable reliability quickly spread over the internet and social media sources. It can be hard to spot these fake news stories and lots of people take them at face values. This can be very dangerous ground, especially during election times where the general population can be more susceptible to believing things that they want to read.

By far my favourite type of news is the ridiculous news; the news that seems like it has to be made up because there is no way that could happen in real life but actually turns out to be true. This type of news has me howling with laughter.

I have spotted two examples of this type of news this week. One of them involved a family calling in the RSPCA, an organisation who protect animals within in UK, because they thought that a rare type of lizard had nested under a bed in their house. Terrified at the prospect of an unusual beast taking refuge in their home, they called to ask for it to be removed. The RSPCA were baffled. Approaching the lizard very carefully, they soon realised that it was, in fact, a dirty sock.

I cannot imagine how embarrassing it would be to be the person who made the phone call only to discover that they had called about a dirty sock. You can read the full report here. If you look at the photo, I don’t think it could have possibly looked like a lizard under the bed. How many red and white striped lizards have you seen in your life? And what is the likelihood that a lizard would survive in the milder climates in the UK.

This did remind me though of the type of embarrassment that we all must have endured on occasions when we are convinced we have lost something, only to find that it was in the first place that we looked. I regularly do this with my bank card. I turn the flat upside down because I have already looked in my handbag, my coat, my trouser pocket and every other logical place. Just when I am ready to call the bank to report it stolen, I look “one last time” in my coat and there it is in the pocket. It’s almost as if someone has placed it there while I was searching the flat madly because it definitely wasn’t there when I looked 20 minutes ago. Sure, this situation is embarrassing but not as embarrassing as calling a third party to remove dirty washing rather than a potentially dangerous reptile.

The second story I read this week was about a group of tourists who were rescued from a forest. Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? Where exactly were they? In the Amazon jungle? Some remote part of Africa? No, they were in a rhododendron forest in Killarney, Ireland. I’m not an expert on gardening and flowers but I don’t think that rhododendrons grow all that big. Apparently the group became disoriented and a helicopter and boat rescued them. I am glad that they weren’t somewhere more treacherous, like a butterfly house. You can read the story here, if you don’t believe me.

I guess this type of ridiculous news puts life into perspective. Reports always seem to be about bad things happening in the world. Wthout these amusing stories to lighten the load, would modern life seem too horrible to bear? Deep down I think that they strike a chord because we could imagine these things happening to us or, at least, someone that we know because we all know one person who would find themselves lost in a mass of rhododendrons.

 

One month to go…

2 Sep

It’s come around faster than I thought it would but it is now only one month until I run the Cardiff Half Marathon. I felt like I had to enter a competition in order to get seriously running again. Without a goal, I don’t feel motivated to do anything.

In 2012, I had just finished my accountancy qualification and I was relatively fit from playing hockey and some light running. So I decided to run a marathon. I did it. I was crawling at the end but I did it. Since then I have struggled to get into a regular running pattern. Back then I would go to a 2 hour hockey training session and then run a 10km after, so that my training plan was on schedule.

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Lot of people say that completing a marathon is the pinnacle of anyone’s sporting life. Perhaps since then I have not seen the point of training to that extent again. And if you don’t train to that extent, I would argue, then why bother at all?

Over the past few weeks I have begun to re-find my love of running. It’s not so much of a chore any more. It’s therapeutic in a sense. It gives me a chance to be outside and in nature. I can completely switch off and I find it a good chance to think about all sorts of things. Once you get into the routine of going running for 3 times a week, it soon becomes the norm, a bit like brushing your teeth twice a day.

A lot harder is the nutrition that goes along with training. It makes no difference what so ever if you run for an hour, if you then come home and decide to eat everything in the cupboard, which, I admit, I have done on more than one occasion. There is a fitness quote that says: You can’t out-train a bad diet. In terms of health and fitness, I don’t think that anything is truer.

I have noticed that I eat a lot better on the weekends when I am at home. Because I intentionally don’t buy chocolate, crisps etc, I am less likely to eat them. I have a “buffer”. If I think that I want to have chocolate, I have to walk to the shops. By the time it takes me to put on my shoes and get ready to go out, I have asked myself what the hell I am doing and I quickly decide not to go out and buy junk food. However, if I am at work, it is too easy to eat junk. There are vending machines conveniently dotted around the building. The moral of the story is that I shouldn’t go to work!

So, justfour weeks to go. Just two more long training runs and then I start to taper, which in layman’s terms means that I start to steadily decrease my running distances in order to allow my body to recover and relax before the big race day.

I have a time in mind that I would like to get but, unfortunately, it won’t be a personal best this time. Not unless I find divine Inspiration somewhere between the start and finish line.

 

 

Bratislava, Slovakia

13 Aug

After arriving safely in Vienna, Austria, I took the bus to Bratislava. The journey is only about an hour and I arrived at my final destination at around 8 in the evening. My hotel was a short walk from the bus station which I was happy about. I wasn’t happy 5 minutes later when the heavens opened and a huge storm hit. The rain was coming down sideways. I had to take cover under a tree until it eased off a bit.

The hotel was lovely and in a really quiet part of town. I was especially pleased to see that I had paid online a lot less (almost half price) of what I would have paid for the room if I had gone directly to the hotel. This isn’t always the case when you book through a third party but this time it worked in my favour.

On Saturday I went out early because I wanted to go on a Free Walking Tour. This one was a tour of the Old Town and the Castle. The tour was well-attended and the tour guide was a local. It was a very interesting and a good way to see the city for the first time.

I was surprised that there was no entrance fee to get into the castle. When I was in Prague I had to pay an entrance fee to get to the castle and when we were in Edinburgh it was about 25 pounds each for entrance to the castle and so we decided not to do it. I think that Bratislava might be missing a trick here.

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The view from the castle was impressive. It was possible to see not only the whole of the city but also neighbouring Hungary and Austria. This is a strange concept for someone who grew up on an island to get their head around. It was interesting to learn about the history of Slovakia and how it used to be a very important place during the time of Royal Hungary. It was the place where Kings and Queens received their coronations.

I was surprised to hear that nicest parts of the city were pulled down during the communist era as more importance was placed on the beauty of Prague, Czech Republic which was then unified with Slovakia. Bratislava was thought of as more of the industrial part of the country so some horrible buildings were erected and some beautiful ones destroyed.

I find it fascinating that countries that are so near to us were ruled by communism for so long and during our lifetime. I have never been able to get my head around why people subscribed to it as an ideology when it is so clear that not all people are the same. The guide explained that there are a lot of older people who say that life was better under communist rule. I can understand that going from full employment, not having to pay for health and education and not needing to save from retirement would have its plus sides. I can imagine how these people feel with no savings to fall back on and not being able to make a living after communism fell.

In the afternoon there was a Communism Tour which I was interested in going on but in the end I decided not to do it. I think 2.5 hours about communism would be a bit too much. Instead I went on another free tour which talked more about the history of the city, the politics and the future of the country. It was good to be able to learn something about a place that I had not been to before and knew so little about.

On the whole the city was really charming and beautiful so I can’t imagine how nice it used to be. By the afternoon the city was full with tourists and hen and stag dos, which is not so nice. Luckily, by then I had seen the city in its best light.

One of the best things about Slovakia has to be the food. I was recommended to try the traditional Slovak potato dumplings with sheep’s cheese. I was a bit sceptical and the dish didn’t look so appetising but it tasted really good. They also had a creamy garlic soup which comes in a hollowed out bread cob. You eat the soup and then you eat the bowl. This was also delicious and it saved on the washing up! Saving the planet: one garlic soup at a time!

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On Sunday it was time to pack up and make my way back to Vienna on the bus, after wandering around the city for one last time in the morning.

I had to wait until 4pm to get into the apartment that I had booked. I wandered around the city centre for a while but it wasn’t so comfortable with my backpack. There were so many tourists though. It was hard to look at anything without getting in the way of someone photo. I have plenty of time to explore so I wasn’t so bothered. I will go back when there are less people.

I made it to the apartment. It is quite a way from the centre but it is quiet but well connected to the centre. The apartment is a studio and has cooking and washing facilities so it means I can save a bit of money on food and eating.

Sunday was perhaps not the best day to arrive. Like Switzerland, there are no shops open in Austria on a Sunday. I was desparate to find some milk somewhere because I hadn’t had a brew in ages. I walked to a train station that is about 15 minutes away. I finally found the “supermarket”. It was a tiny little thing in the corner of the station and it was so busy that there was a guard at the entrance to the shop limiting the number of people who were in there at one time! I got my milk and got the hell out as soon as I could. It was like living in the Communist era again!

Back home and with my tea, I am gearing myself up for going back to school tomorrow. Wish me luck!

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Good news

24 Jul

To start the new week off I have some good news. I actually found out on Saturday after coming back from my trip with the Bernina Express but I didn’t have time to write about it. I passed my B2 German exam!

I am not sure that it was so much of a surprise because I had a good feeling about the exam on the day and I was well prepared for it. The surprise was that I had done less-than-expected in the writing part of the exam than I had hoped. I think that this could be partly due to the fact that I might have “over-practiced” this part and, as a result, I was probably too focused on trying to crowbar in specific grammatical phrases and structures, rather than focusing on the question that was asked. It is irrelevant though as I did comfortably pass that part any way and, as far as I know, no one is interested to find out the marks that you got in each of the four parts of the exam (reading, writing, listening and speaking).

Now the journey continues again. I will be carrying on with German lessons for the foreseeable future but only having one lesson per week instead of two. I think that I can save some money by focusing on areas that I am not too sure about in my own time and aspects, such as increasing vocabulary, I also have to do alone. Sure, a teacher can give me a list of words to learn but I have to learn and remember them myself. In this way, I will have some flexibility during the week to do other things as well as making improvement to my German skills when it suits me best.

I am aiming to speed up the learning process in a few different ways. I watched every single episode of a German comedy series in the run up to my exam, which I think helped me a great deal. The series was called Der Tatortreininger (basically, meaning The Crime Scene Cleaner). It follows the eventful working day of a man who is tasked with cleaning the blood and other bodily fluids from crime scenes one the police have made their investigations. It sounds gruesome but the actual series is more about the people that he meets during his working day and the people affected by the death at the crime scene. It is a comedy so it is very light-hearted and I really enjoyed watching it. I have found a list of other TV series that it is recommended for German learners to watch so I hope that a few of these are as entertaining as my first encounter with German TV.

I am going to try to increase my use of German throughout the day. I have already started to send some email in German, where possible and where I know that the receiver knows that I am trying my best to communicate and improve. There are also a few groups where you can meet with other people who are keen to improve their language skills. I will try to find one that fits in with my schedule and attend. I have also thought about the possibility of finding a penpal or someone that I can have a tandem exchange (where two people meet who have different mother tongues and they help each other learn together) either in person on via Skype. I have had some tandem partners in the past and they have been really beneficial.

In August, I will be going to Vienna in Austria for two weeks for an intensive German course. This is similar to the week that I spent in Munich in January but this time I am hoping that the course that I want to go on is available. I am looking forward to a “working” holiday and visiting Vienna, which I believe is a beautiful place, especially in the summer.

So onwards and upwards. It seems like learning a language is a never-ending struggle but I think I can see that the end is in sight…homework-1735644__340