Month: May 2008

The rain in Spain: apparently somebody didn’t get the memo

It’s raining in the mountains of Spain and we’re listening to the Suga Babes covering the Arctic Monkeys, which is wrong, as the phrase goes, on so many levels.

Also wrong is watching Eurovision on Spanish television, which was our entertainment last night. You really do realise how shit Eurovision is when you don’t have Wogan dryly commentating on proceedings and getting increasingly pissed as the night goes on.

Fortunately we filled in for him, getting absolutely twatted on white sherry, my bad Spanish pronunthiation having inadvertently secured us a bottle of fino blanco de la casa as opposed to vino blanco de la casa. On that front, the devil really is in the detail.

Still, well done Russia, eh?

And, as if things weren’t bad enough, after the sherry we moved on to some strange blue concoction in one of those pour-straight-into-your-mouthy bottle things , bought for us by an old local man. What’s the worst that can happen?

Answer: we had a lock-in until 5am and agreed to go parasailing next week. From the top of the mountain.

God help us and the goats that we land on.

Weekend housekeeping: your technical questions answered

It’s the weekend – a holiday weekend in the UK, no less – so the proper daily posting schedule on the new blog won’t start until Monday, after I’ve finished testing, making sure nothing looks too shit in Internet Explorer (are we still doing that?) and all that jazz.

But, between the time I rolled in to bed at a little after 6am this morning and staggered out into the Spanish sunshine again at a little after 1pm, lots of people have been kind enough to email and DM with feedback, suggestions and questions.

I’m going to wait a bit longer before I start going through the feedback properly – not least because it’s been entirely, 100% positive so far – mainly from friends – so that kind of skews things. It’s all very much appreciated, though – thank you.

I figured, though, that answers to a few of the initial questions might prove useful sooner rather than later – so here goes. A mini-FAQ-in-progress if you will…

1) Comments: the fact that they’ve been coming in by email and Twitter rather than using the comments form was my first clue. A couple of people have asked why the need to pre-register for comments, and then still be pre-moderated. I know it’s a pain in the arse, but in short, I can only pre-moderate if people pre-register and only by pre-moderating can I block anonymous cowards. The Sam Seabourne rule. On the old Blogspot blog I had to use an elaborate combination of email rules and automatic scripts to automatically delete anonymous comments without having to even read them – but that also meant that legitimate comments got binned without me having any idea until I got an email asking why I hadn’t approved them. This new system avoids any of that hassle. As before, if you use a real name (or a name you regularly use elsewhere online) then your comment will be approved. You can say what you like, but have the balls to say it in your own name, yeah? The good news is that it’s only your first comment that gets moderated – future comments will go up straight away. Now – go register.

2) Feeds – anyone subscribing to the old Blogspot feed will find the links auto-redirecting to Feedburner. I decided to switch to Feedburner because I had absolutely no idea how many people read the blog by RSS. Now, after just a few hours, I have a rough idea of RSS traffic, even if the subscriber numbers are still not accurate – and… well… holy shit. If you haven’t already, you should go grab the feed.

3) Dull tech stuff – “who built it?”. I did. Sort of. More accurately, I hacked to death the code and graphics of Design Disease’s Dilectio WordPress Theme using design elements from the book cover, which was beautifully designed by the design director at Orion, plus some original graphics that pushed my Photoshop and CSS skills to their limits (which is not far at all). Then it was just a question of building and hacking in various other elements – a modified Flickr widget, my Twitter feed,’s RSS feed etc. I also chucked together a custom PHP script that, coupled with some Javascript on the Blogspot template side, redirects visitors to pages on the old blog to the same page on the new one. If you care, the Javascript takes the old URL and chucks it to the PHP script on the new site, which turns it into a MySql query. If there’s a post title match on the new site, it redirects; if not, it goes to the homepage. It’s not totally slick – but I’m far from l33t at these things.

4) Remi Nicole. Yes, I’m aware that the feed makes it look like I’ve been listening to her non-stop for nearly 24 hours. I have. When I work on something that hurts my brain, I tend to pick a song I’m addicted to and listen to it on ‘repeat one’. It helps me concentrate while blocking out everything else. Unfortunately, while the old Last Flash widget hid repeat tracks, the RSS version lays that particular dirty secret bare. Don’t judge, yeah?

Ok, that’s it for now – forgive the slightly dull post but, yunno, people did ask. And anyway it’s the weekend, you should be in the pub.

Not me, though – Rob and I are off down the mountain to Malaga to pick up Scott. If I go quiet for a few days, send help. The roads are hellish. It could be like the end of the Italian Job.

We built this city on… eww… wait… tell me that’s not… oh Jesus Christ…

Now officially the most expensive city in the world, according to the current issue of Newsweek, and with an old Etonian as its new mayor, London is certainly having something of a crisis of cool. And by crisis, I mean absolute and total hemorrhaging.

Streets awash in politically bankrupt free-sheets that prove the maxim, “you can’t put a price on total shit”, Johnny Vegas sexually assaulting girls at the Bloomsbury and – fuck – when the So Solid crew starts recruiting shotgun-toting Barristers, surely it’s time to get the hell out of Dodge. Although not via Terminal Five, obviously.

I’ve spent a bit of a manic few days hopping all over the city, catching up with a whole bunch of people I haven’t seen in a while – pedalling a boat on the Serpantine with Rob and Richard, lunching in Farringdon with Angus, networking on the Southbank with Mike Butcher and the great and the good of and finally last night partying in Soho with Zoe, Maggie, Anna, Michael, Tom, Scott, two Alexes and a whole bunch of others. And while the people were as cool as ever was, there was something – a definite something – missing.

Take Soho – I swear drinking around there on a Friday night used to feel vibrant and fun. Rammed, sure. Overpriced, f’real. But fun; and with the sense that adventure – a new bar, a bizarre conversation, a brilliant joke, a girl with an infectious laugh – could lurk around any corner. But last night – standing outside Cafe Boheme, surrounded by boozed-up runners and shaggy-haired APs who, at the first sign of sun, had crowded on the streets to smash glasses and shout ‘oy oy’ at their mates – I could easily have been standing in a G2 article about provincial binge drinking. This wasn’t my beautiful Soho.

As Alex and Zoe – both recently back from the US – observed; no one in London seems to give a shit any more about barging past you or invading your personal space. Even on St Patrick’s day in Dallas, in a bar packed with paralytic college children, there was more basic courtesy. And not least the courtesy not to charge you the equivalent of $100 for lunch and $40 for a bottle of house white.

If two-and-a-bit months in the US taught me anything, it’s that Samuel Johnson was wrong. Being tired of London does not necessarily mean one is tired of life. Au contraire; being in San Francisco, for example, showed me just how un-tired it’s possible to be with life when eating a gigantic cheesecake on a sunny roof terrace, while San Diego revealed the perfect pleasure of lying on a sun lounger between conference sessions with good friends, catching up on business reading. The perfect business / pleasure Venn diagram.

Call me a hypocrite (you won’t be alone) but being back in London I miss being around people who aren’t cynical about everything because it’s cool to be too cool for cool school. I miss getting a ton of work done but still feeling relaxed and healthy. And I miss having lunch and getting change from fifty quid.

So, for all these reasons, I was really pleased yesterday to get the booking confirmation for the first stop on stage two of my travels. An ‘office’ in the mountains of Valle de Abdalajís, replete with high-speed Internet, but also hills for parascending. Six weeks (to begin with) in an amazing place that once again costs far less than even a modest flat here – with plenty of work space and time and with the benefits of healthy mountain air and the possibility of some actual exercise.

Adam Kay suggested the perfect phrase the other day, to describe what I’m aiming for: being a ‘technomad.’ The world as the ultimate open plan office, paid in Sterling and using geographic arbitrage to maximise real earnings in Euro, Dollars or whatever feels most appropriate.

But it’s not all work, work, work and so I’m equally delighted that, like last time, plenty of London will be coming along too, at different stages. It’s like packing up all the adventures, jokes, bizarre conversations – and, who knows?, girls with infectious laughs – of London in a maroon suitcase on wheels and taking them with me, away from the madness.

Of course, I’ll come back to London – lots. I’m still in love with it, more than anywhere else, and always will be. But for now, my heart needs to grow fonder. And we all know how that works, right?

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