Not Enough Friends? Or Too Many Friends?

I started writing this back in summer, when I’d had a few too many roast dinners by myself and was also struggling to find someone to go on holiday with me.

Like the majority of my blog posts nowadays, by time I get around to publishing my thoughts, my thoughts have changed…or perhaps more realistically my reality has changed.

It isn’t so much that I don’t have enough friends, but that they are all dispersed around the world doing their own thing. Which is exactly what I have done by moving to London.

The dream is to travel back 10-12 years when there was a huge group of us going out every single weekend. That is what my heart wants – but I couldn’t go back to that lifestyle anyway. I have great friends, plenty, but they are scattered all over the place and through the nature of life – the lack of time to travel, mostly, I don’t get to see them often as my heart would desire.

So I do need some more friends in London.

I am working on this. My sister living in London has been absolutely invaluable – I would have been pretty lonely at times without her over the last 3 years.

I do have two tentative small groups of new friends. Believe it or not, people that I have met through writing the linguistic vomit of Roast Dinners In London.

This is kind of negating the need for my plan to use City Socializer to find some new friends – I do just about have enough people in my life now. Maybe I won’t have anyone for my short break plans next year, maybe I’ll have to go to weird random countries by myself again – maybe not.

I do also have to make further lifestyle changes away from going out drinking so often next year, and I do find it much easier to find people to go out for a drink with – than people to go for a walk or to a gallery with. Plus I do hermit myself a bit whilst on detox…I do want to use that time next year to upskill my JavaScript further.

Maybe I will find myself having to target making specific types of friends next year, but for now, I’m in a good place.

Of course, I’d love all my favourites to be close to hand but that isn’t reality – I’ve done the same and moved away to London – if Corbyn gets in then I’m fucking off to Spain. You what? Communists are in government in Spain? OK, I’m going to Albania then.

Yes, my new friends are actually mannequins.

One Night In Corfu, One Night In Corfu

I’ve always lumped Corfu in with the likes of Magaluf and Faliraki.

It is an island that I would likely never have visited were it not for the requirement to get the ferry to my end destination, Ksamil in Albania, from Corfu. Whilst I could have arrived early and gone straight to the ferry to go to Albania, I decided to be a bit more leisurely and have an evening in Corfu Town itself.

My Airbnb was top notch, in terms of affordability, location and charm. I could quite happily have stayed there longer, and even more important, it was just a few minutes walk to the nearest M&S. Who knew my employer had a store in Corfu? Apparently we have stores in Kuwait too.

One of my main desires for this holiday was to see the sea, so I headed straight for the nearest coastline – there wasn’t much in the way of bars but I found one just in time for sunset, and had a pretty crap beer – Mythos. Alas, my sunset photo seems to have disappeared from my phone memory – or maybe my memory has a hole instead. Another hole. Yet another hole.

After another crap beer – Mythos again, I assume, I took to Google to search for “craft beer”. I didn’t expect much, but I found a place called Firi Firi, nestled on the side of a stepped hill. They had a fair selection of interesting beers, IPAs, craft lagers – I cannot remember what I had, but it was a very tasty IPA. At pretty much London prices, but you get what you pay for.

Then after some deliberation I decided upon where to eat, a highly-recommended restaurant called Abakas Mezedopoleio. I fell in love with the charm of the Greek waitresses, the food, the wine and the stray cats – apparently they don’t go near people unless they trust them. I guess my lack of scruffy blonde hair helps.

Apart from the odd cat foot landing on my willy, they were rather charming. Though possibly only after one thing.

The food and wine – especially the wine, was top notch too. I think I over-ordered, it was a struggle to finish it all, and perhaps I could have had something more imaginative than pork skewers, but from memory it was either the waitress’ recommendation or someone else’s, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Somehow I was there 3 hours. Despite being by myself.

The next morning I didn’t have that much time, but enough for a wander and some brunch. I had a fairly early morning beer – super-tasty though rather expensive – apparently it won some competition for the best beer in the world. Who am I to disagree, it was good.

Enough time to have brunch too, a rather gorgeous Eggs Benedict at a modern European bistro, My Habit.

The ferry to Saranda (Albania) said last check-in was an hour before, so I headed to the port well in advance of that. And with no signs and limited staff, I sat around for 1.5 hours wondering why the hell I turn up so early to these kind of things. Until suddenly – ferry here, lets go.

Time for a beer, in the sun, wind in my hair, watching the sea go by. Bliss.

Ahhh bliss

Of course, my one night there doesn’t prove whether I was unfair to consider Corfu in the same bracket as Magaluf, but some quality craft beer, a gorgeous meal and views of a castle gave a much better impression.

Only downside was that the queue for security at the airport on the way home was an hour long – I am so thankful on my insistence on getting to these kind of things so early.

Otherwise, reasonably charmed.

Complaint – Hull Trains (2018)

Hell Trains

Dear Hell Trains

I had the misfortune of experiencing your air conditioning lottery with full force a few weeks back.

I was travelling from Hull to London on Sunday 1st July, circa 14:30. I arrived at Paragon Station to be informed that there was no air conditioning in coach C, and that there was nowhere else for me to sit either. You could say I was fuming. Literally. And I hate the word ‘literally’.

Originally I hoped to do some work on the train, although I know how patchy your wi-fi is (patchy being kind but this was the least of my worries). Instead I just had to sit there with sweat dribbling down me, desperately blowing regurgitated air into my face. I really was fuming.

Just before Doncaster, after an hour of being inside hell, the guard found me a seat in the next carriage. I quickly moved. Ahh air conditioning. Beautiful. I calmed down, though I was emotionally and mentally frazzled, and angry. Oh yeah I had had just purchased a new domain name in my anger, www.helltrains.co.uk

Alas, my new carriage’s air conditioning soon failed, and gradually it became hotter and hotter, stuffier and stuffier. I became angrier. It was a hellish experience.

By time we arrived in London, it was 31’C outside. Yet felt so much fresher than on either of the Hell Trains carriages that I had the misfortune to experience. My religious teacher once told me that I would go to hell for throwing a dice at her head. It seemed that she was right, after all. I estimate that it must have been 35’C on board. Maybe it was more but I don’t want to overestimate things.

Separately my mother travelled to London from Hull last week, and both times she received a shower from the air conditioning unit. This is quite outrageous. I have told her to complain to you separately, but I doubt that she will.

I am not going to use Hull Trains again, at least until you have new rolling stock. And I will eventually get round to starting my website www.helltrains.co.uk to display how bad the service has become.

Regards

James Winfield

******

6 weeks later…

******

Dear James, 

Thank you for your email. Please accept our apologies for the delayed reply due to a back-log we are currently experiencing.

We are very sorry to hear that you had such an unpleasant and uncomfortable journey with us, this is something we wish to avoid if at all possible. Our Fleet team are aware of the issues and are doing their best to keep a consistent temperature on our services. With the recent excessive temperatures, we have seen in the UK it has taken the Air Conditioning systems on our units beyond the parameters which they were designed to operate under.

We have a team of Riding Technicians, who are on our services whenever possible, ensuring that we offer the best possible travel experience to our customers, but the work they can undertake on a moving train is limited, and it is only overnight when we get full access to affect any repairs necessary. In order to gain access to the air con units on the train our train has to go into the depot, have the roof lifted off by crane and then the air con units removed and repaired, this process does require a full day and has to be booked into the depot in advance so we cannot always guarantee the problem can be fixed during service. Regrettably, this can take some time as we only have so many trains and have to work out carefully when they can be out of service in order to minimise disruption.

We understand everybody’s frustration with the heat. In regards to running services under these circumstances, there is currently no legal maximum temperature for workplaces, public areas, modes of transport etc. What the law does say is that businesses must control risks as far as is reasonably practicable. We have in place, many measures to proactively and reactively manage risks such as handing out bottled water and fans where possible. We absolutely believe conditions on our services are as safe as they can be which is helped by the continued support of our on-board staff. They have been doing their best to ensure that customers are having the most enjoyable journey possible by moving customers to seats in more comfortable coaches if requested and when available. If our staff are busy elsewhere on the train, customers are, of course, at liberty to move to other available seating should they wish to do so. We do listen, and appreciate all feedback as it helps us to continually inform and improve our services.

Finally, in line with our passenger charter we compensate customers if the train service is cancelled or delayed for over 30 minutes. Therefore, unfortunately on this occasion we cannot offer any compensation. We are very sorry if this is not the outcome you were hoping for.

On behalf of all at Hull Trains, I would like to thank you for your assistance and understanding in this case. I do hope that this has gone some way to explain the situation and can only apologise again and hope that you will continue to travel happily in the future with us.

Kind Regards,

Hull Trains Customer Services

******

Amused and possibly disturbed that Hull Trains only thought that the trains were “as safe as they can be” – they have twice caught fire in recent years. The service became so bad that most days more services were cancelled than actually ran for a while. It made the Metropolitan line look competent.

I have since taken down the Hell Trains website – too much work to make anything of it. Hull Trains are finally getting new trains at the end of this year, and there is another train company running there now…a handy 17:18 train too, with brand-new trains that have no working toilets.

Complaint – M&S Birthday Pie (2018)

I guess as part of the HR checks, M&S didn’t think to look through their customer complaints to see if potential employees had ever written to them.

Phew.

Here’s one that I can publish, now I’ve passed my probation. From 2018. Yeah I have a backlog of these things.

******

Dear M&S

A few weeks ago, I had a birthday. Actually, it was a few months ago, but hey, the point still stands. I’ve already lost track of what I was going to say.

Yeah I’m one of those complaint writers that always writes some long-winded nonsense that you really don’t want to read – all you want is “the pie was crap”. But you are not going to get that from me. Soz.

So it was my birthday. Once upon a time. It was a cold, miserable, dark January Monday. I was still in the beginning stretches of a 3 month detox, and even worse than that I had given up red meat too.

You may understand that I wanted to treat myself for my birthday, yet I couldn’t have any booze, I couldn’t have a steak – I couldn’t even have a bloody sausage roll. Or bacon sandwich.

I really wasn’t feeling my birthday so I tried to rescue it.

For breakfast, I had an avocado and halloumi muffin from LEON. It was quite nice – but it wasn’t an M&S sausage and bacon sandwich (I am a semi-regular for your hot breakfasts).

For lunch, I thought I’d treat myself to a donut from the new donut shop near work. Do you know how much they cost? £4. Seriously. £4 for a freaking donut.

I walked around trying to find a pie for dinner, but alas, there were no pie shops in the vicinity.

Then I had a moment of genius – M&S!

So after work, I went to your Moorgate store. I could only have the chicken pie due to my avoidance of red meat, and came across a real conundrum – the small pie was way too small for a manly man like myself, and the large pie was far too large for someone trying to lose weight.

What to do?

Well, it was my birthday so I bought the large pie.

Alas, it didn’t meet expectations. There was far too much pastry (shortcrust) and far too little filling. I was really quite surprised at the lack of filling – I’d expect that at Tesco (yeah, I know…if only I could afford not to). It tasted fine, especially with 5 litres of cement-like gravy on top.

But, yeah. I’ve come to the end of my pointless story and another 10 minutes of my life wasted along with a couple of minutes of your life wasted.

The pie was crap.

Soz.

I do still love you guys, and realised that the only reason I still live in the UK is M&S. Also, if you could make the Jazzie Eggs a permanent feature of your chocolate aisle that would be amazing – they were sublime.

Bye.

James

******

Good morning James,

I’m sorry to hear the chicken pie you bought recently wasn’t up to our usual standards.

Like yourself, my birthday is in January and I’m yet to have a birthday where the day isn’t cold and dark. It must have been tough doing your 3 month detox, there’s nothing better than a nice steak or even a sausage roll and you couldn’t have these on your birthday!

We put a lot of time and effort into making sure our products are perfect, so it’s disappointing to hear something has gone wrong. Although it makes us determined to make it right again.

I want to make sure we can get this passed onto the relevant departments so we are able to keep an eye on what’s happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again. So we can do this we will need the product code for the product and this can be found either on the left side of your receipt or underneath the barcode on the packaging.

Once we have this information we’re able to feed everything back to the right people and we will be happy to issue you with you refund in the form of a gift card.

Thanks for taking the time to contact us, James and I hope you have a nice day.
Kind regards
Retail Customer Services
Your M&S Customer Service

******

Jazzie Eggs didn’t even come back for Easter 2019.

Also – the M&S Gastropub chicken, bacon and leek pie is the bomb. Seriously amazing. I’m not just saying it because I work there.

Enough Is Enough! Or Was Enough…

I was starting to crack a little.

The last couple of months have seen multiple amounts of frustration and my anger levels rising – lets leave out the clusterfuck of Brexit for a moment (though worth mentioning), but things more directly in my control.

I moved banks. Supposed to be easy but I had so many issues once moved, from randomly cancelled direct debits, to much more limited information supplied by First Direct on their online banking, and then having 3 separate passwords for their system and not being able to remember which was which, hence getting locked out constantly as I tried and failed to remember them. Everything worked fine at Natwest. I regret moving – but I got my £100 switching fee.

Another issue was Three randomly cutting off my phone because the direct debit hadn’t been taken. Three blamed my bank – my bank blamed Three. I tried to use the online chat, but it was constantly too busy. No phone. Joy. After an hour of being pissed off, I just filled in the cancellation form.

Eventually I got through to the chat, and they restored my service – two months later they still haven’t taken any payment. Huh? But I was raging – and then a few weeks later had to deal with the fact that I’d cancelled my contract…oops.

Worst of all, I changed web hosting companies. My old host was giving slow server responses and there were some minor technical issues. So I looked for a new one – and was sold (mis-sold) a shared server solution for the same price I paid at my old host.

Migration was a nightmare – their technical people kept giving instructions as if I had done 1,000 migrations before, though eventually all was fine. I guess it took about 6-7 hours of work to do this. All so people could load my roast dinner reviews quicker.

But ever since then, there has been problem after problem – I’ve had to contact them 3 times just today to fix issues. I’ve spent hour, after hour with frustrating issues. Everything on my side is so slow – to the user website visitor it is normally much quicker, though even that is getting worse. That is, when my websites haven’t gone down.

And some of their technical staff are rude – not helped by me being rude to them, “hello my websites are all down AGAIN” – one even took them all down and told me that I needed to upgrade to a more expensive service. Outright blackmail. I was furious. When he said, “shall I put you through to the sales department”, I told him where to stick it and get my sites working again. Two minutes later they were back up. For a while.

Possibly the worst decision I have made all year – even worse than going to Croydon for a roast dinner. Which was a bad decision. I’m now looking for a new web host, yet I know it will probably be a nightmare to migrate away. Sigh. I have to do it but I really don’t want to.

Changing bank, changing web host and changing job. I did them all in a week – yet changing job was by far the easiest – that was easily the best decision I’ve made, and deserves a blog post on its own. It will get one very soon!

And then the Metropolitan line.

My frustrations with the Metropolitan line are well-known – most of the issues are due to signal failures, and the signals are starting to be replaced with a programme that will be finished (allegedly) by 2023.

At the beginning of September, they decided to launch new signalling between Finchley Road and Euston Square – just 4 stations – this is the first part of the Metropolitan line to have their signals converted – the first part was the Hammersmith & City line from Hammersmith…so this is the intersection at Baker Street and a couple of stations either side.

After several weekends during the summer of closing most of the line (I can barely remember a weekend without some part of it closed since June), they decided that it was fully tested and working.

Alas, they didn’t train the drivers how to use the new signalling.

So come Monday 2nd September, the Monday when people are going back to work after summer, they were running about 25% of trains – if that, whilst driver instructors had to accompany them through the new signals to train them. Why this couldn’t have been done on a weekend, is a mystery. Needless to say, commuting was a disaster – I’m lucky that I can go on the Piccadilly line towards my new job, which only takes 20 minutes longer…not the end of the world.

Though now, with the drivers trained, the trains keep failing through the signals as they sometimes cannot communicate with the new signals. Almost every day there is a loss of service during rush hour.

Yes. I rage – though I kept myself amused with all the other complaints from people using the Met line. One person has taken to replying with “cock” to most of the severe delay tweets. There is far worse.

I’ve even submitted a Freedom Of Information request to find out why this new signalling was launched…my hunch is that management get bonuses dependent on on-time delivery. Answer is due this week. There is absolutely no way that should have been launched.

I kept thinking to myself that all these things don’t really matter in the grand scheme, yet they were all getting to me too much – more than usual. I found myself becoming more curt – quite ranty and rude towards those fixing the problems (albeit fixing things that shouldn’t have broken). I wasn’t myself.

And then I was eating and drinking too much – I was tired. I was getting out of control.

It isn’t even as if I have to be at work by 9am. If I’m there at 9:30am that’s fine…I just have to work later. I don’t need to be places on time. It doesn’t really matter if nobody can read my roast dinner reviews for a few hours. BUT IT DOES. RAGE RAGE RAGE.

Why was I getting so annoyed about relatively minor shit? Especially when most of the life fundamentals are actually good or better for me?

I could feel all this 5-6 weeks ago, which is why I booked my holiday to Albania. A few days of sunshine, some beers and relaxing, listening to the waves lapping the shore was my solution. A place where maybe the bus turns up – maybe it doesn’t.

Cured

I’m now like, “yeah whatever, Met line”. Will I still be like that on Monday? Hmmm. Maybe I will be. I feel like my holiday might have cured me. For a while.

James Went To Budapest…Last Year

So this is the last of the blog posts that have been long-outstanding on my to-do list to write. Well, except for a review of 2018 and my goals for 2019…I think I might just skip them now!

Budapest had been on my radar for a little while, and it seemed that rarely a month went by without my Facebook feed having photographs from a friend or some random that I met once, visiting the capital of Hungary.

After enlisting two of my closest advisors, we set upon finding some gloriously cheap flights with Wizzair that weren’t really that cheap (if I recall correctly it was the first weekend of “no cabin bags without paying more”) and then a cheap apartment in Budapest itself.

Whilst the plane sufficed for our needs, the apartment was more than we expected. Right on the main “posh” road in Budapest, this was a grand old apartment with ceilings over twice my height. Who doesn’t love a high ceiling?

The parts of the city that we saw were mainly the nice touristy parts then the ‘dive bars’ (think Last Days of Shoreditch 10 years ago) – which were basically large run-down buildings converted into bars, or even not buildings at all, with various added quirky touches. Some of these were super-charming, though one in particular was a bit, erm, Magaluffy. Which was the one on a list of recommendations that we had. Hmmm.

The city was split into two by the Danube, and across the other side from where we were staying was much of the historical part – and some cracking views. Not to mention a funicular – and who doesn’t like a funicular? Interestingly you could queue up forever to go up the funicular, or just buy these queue-jump tickets from people in the queue for the same price. Which seemed dodgy, but was apparently fine.

Not a bad view up there either, huh?

Despite the cloudy skies, it was very pleasant up there – sitting and watching the world go by. Though full of tourists – and hell, nearly £3 a pint, if I remember correctly.

What wasn’t so pleasant, was the House Of Terror. This was a sobering and dark look at a section of Hungary’s history, from the Nazi era and through the communist era – it was quite scary that this really wasn’t that long ago, and what went on there. An experience worth going to, and a reminder of the evils of both fascism and communism.

At first I didn’t really take to Budapest – I was only really judging this on one night out, some cheap beers and a wrong culinary decision at a rather good Israeli restaurant. But I didn’t get the feel.

Once I’d had had a couple of days there (and many cheap beers), I was much more taken by the place – it does have an interesting and conflicted history, yet is still quite a poor place and a way from modernising in some respects. Though I do love a good old communist-era tower block. To look at.

The food was a particular delight – especially the Hungarian sausages. I think I had sausages every day…oh and the goulash that we had on the last night…soooooo good. I resisted the testicles that were on offer though.

I do remember being particularly amused by the fact that the ketchup in this rather upmarket place near the parliament came from Dorset.

Alas, it being nearly a year ago, I cannot remember enough to make a decent blog post out of it. I really enjoyed my visit to Budapest, and once I’d come to appreciate it, I really wish I had had more time than just a couple of days there. Would I go back? Perhaps for the sausages. But I’d definitely recommend it.

They also had an interesting collection of Russian dolls.

If only I had a girlfriend to bring a gift home for

Complaint: TFL

This is from last year, another one that has been hanging around my inbox:

Oh TFL

The imaginary ink has barely dried on the last complaint and now you have given me cause to write to you again.

You do waste enough of my time as it is, without then having to write to complain about your journey refund decision.

Last Wednesday I arrived at Harrow-On-The-Hill station around 8:15am. I got onto the waiting fast train. It hissed at me – like my imaginary girlfriend does when I use up too much of her imaginary ink. It hissed some more. Then the driver announced that the train was defective and we should all disembark.

I hissed at the train.

Cue a whole packed train full of people trying to get onto the next trains that arrived at Harrow-On-The-Hill.

The first two I couldn’t get on. The next one was a slow train to Aldgate, and I was advised that a fast train was just behind, so I waited for the fast train.

I got onto the fast train. It turned into a slow train. It didn’t go anywhere for a few minutes. And then was a slow slow train.

I arrived 30 minutes late to work. My colleagues hissed at me.

And now I am hissing at you. For I do not understand why on earth you are rejecting my service delay refund. I was delayed 30 minutes due to your defective train and subsequent overcrowding.

If you are not willing to refund this journey, please advise how I can escalate this matter.

Regards

James ‘The Snake’ Winfield

******

Dear Mr Winfield

Thanks for your feedback form about the Metropolitan line service performance on 24 January.

I’m extremely sorry to read about the service performance of the train which caused you to be late for work.

As a commuter myself, I can appreciate the frustration and inconvenience caused especially as you rely on the service to travel and punctuality is of essence.

We try our best to run all of our trains to schedule. However, on a network with services as frequent as ours even small delays can cause further disruption to customers down the line.

Having said this, your satisfaction is our utmost concern. Also we want our customers to have a good experience with their journeys on the Underground.

I’ll be happy to process your refund of £4.70 directly into your bank account. If you’re happy with this option, please respond to this email, and let us know a convenient time to call you. When we call you, we’ll ask you for your sort code and bank account number. Once we’ve processed the payment, your refund will take up to five working days to be added to your balance.

I can only apologise again for the inconvenience caused.

Thanks again for contacting us. If there is anything else we can help you with, please reply to this email. Alternatively, you can call us on 0343 222 1234 and we’ll be happy to help you.

Kind regards

James Went To Croatia – Last Year

All this extra time I have thanks to my new job and getting home at the more human hour of around 6pm (or so) has led me to think that maybe I should try to catch up with things on my to-do list.
Some things have been on there for nearly a year, such as writing a blog post about my holiday to Croatia last year.

I’m not sure that I would have been able to remember much in the way of details had I written the blog when I got back home, let alone nearly a year later.  It was one of those kind of trips – and as a stag do, very much a what goes on tour, stays on tour kind of thing.

Yeah, I went on a stag do.  I was pretty apprehensive before as stag groups of 30+ guys are not exactly my kind of thing, but I was expecting (correctly) everyone to be sound, and that as we were going to Dekmantel Selectors – a festival in the little resort of Tisno in Croatia, that we’d have a pretty cool larger audience too.
Believe it or not, in large groups of drunk people that I don’t really know, I can be a bit overwhelmed.  This was the case at times.  Whereas you might know me as someone who is quite large of life, quite vocal in conversation and often willing to cause some eye-bulging when in small groups…in large groups I often just let others take over and do the entertaining.  And boy, was the holiday entertaining.

The festival is held on the same site as many other small “boutique” festivals in Croatia, in what looks like an old communist Butlins, replete with faded mini-golf course and of course, chalets.  We were staying off-site, a short taxi journey away in the only place that would allow such a large stag group.  Basic, but good enough apartments.

Part of the reason that I am choosing to write the post is because I have spent some time recently listening to the DJ sets that have been posted on line (I recommend trying I-F, Raphaël Top-Secret and A Good Christian if you want to get a feel), and they have brought back such good feelings.  I don’t think everyone appreciated the music as much as I did – and I also struggled at times, I have memories of some particularly nasty EBM played at red-lining levels on the first night that just utterly frayed me mentally.

The festival site was split into different stages, with the main area next to the beach being the main attraction for me, playing mostly disco and 80’s, some house and then a wide range of other rhythmic music, be it samba, latin or well, anything else vaguely danceable.  This is where I most felt at home, at least once I settled into the festival.

Some other person’s video

Then there was a techno stage hidden away – but not normal techno, a mix of broken beats, offbeat techno and EBM – basically anything other than your straight-up, boring plodding 4/4 techno.  But styled as techno.  On the last night it held a closing party with…oooh…erm…was it Object?  Or Call Super?  Or both?  Or neither?  Yeah, it was a long time ago, but was probably the most interesting DJ set.
Also there was a little hideaway dancefloor up the hill, which wasn’t that interesting, then a little shack on stilts on the sea, which was open until around 4pm…I never made use of it.  Nor could I be bothered with the boat parties which were apparently lots of fun (they sold out within 10 minutes of tickets being released), or trips to the nearby open-air nightclub, Barbarellas…way too old…I need my sleep, or my attempted sleep anyway, at my age.

As a festival, it was a cool concept, mostly pulled off very well.

I didn’t see a lot of Croatia, but I did rather like the place.  The people were friendly – they seem to actively want tourists which is refreshing when compared to places like Ibiza that seem tired of us.  Taxi drivers were always willing to engage in conversation (though this meant the most sober had to sit in the front on the way back from the festival site…yikes).

On the last day, I had a few hours to spare between arriving at Split airport and getting the flight back, so had a little wander around Split old town and a few beers.  Alas, I couldn’t get a bus back to the airport as they were fully-booked so had to tap up the services of Uber and a bloody expensive trip to the airport, along with my driver’s Trump-ish thoughts on Asian people, and on his passion for Hajduk Split (football team) – I just nodded in agreement as that wasn’t a time to go all liberal.

I’m currently missing that festival site.  Dancing, or chilling to music that I wouldn’t normally encounter, on the edge of the bay, watching the sea and just enjoying the good vibes of the place.  Maybe I wouldn’t go back to that festival, but I’m definitely open to going to that site again, if I don’t totally retire from partying before the next opportunity.

James Went To Belgrade

Why did I decide to go to Belgrade? Because it was cheap.

Why was the flight so cheap? Because it was at 5:55am in the morning.

Who’s fucking idea was that? It wasn’t actually that bad though, just needed to set my alarm for 1:30am (thankfully I had a stonking hangover the day before so going to bed early was easy), get a taxi to Wembley Park station, then get the night tube to West Hampstead, then get the Thameslink train to Luton Airport parkway, then get the bus to Luton Airport. Simples.

Originally it was just me and my sister, but we’d added two friends to make it a foursome.

Yes the airport beer happened at 4am. Don’t tell me you’ve never drunk at 4am.

I’d heard about Belgrade, I had heard a rumour that it was a pretty cool place to visit, a good city for partying in – though that is less my priority nowadays. However I didn’t know much else about it – the old Yugoslavia certainly has a fair amount of history, but it isn’t as if the story of Belgrade is anywhere near well as known, as say, Paris.

We stayed in an apartment right next to Skadarlija, which is probably one of the most famous and beautiful parts of Belgrade – an old, cobbled street with lots of restaurants and bars…and boy it was noisy at night! The bedrooms were hot, the one air conditioning unit (by Tesla, of course), having little effect in the bedrooms. Opening the window meant a party. Closing the window meant being hot and sweaty. Even at 6am I could still hear a faint beat coming from somewhere…though not from the local street.

On the first day we settled into some drinks and watched some people in traditional Serbian costume do some dancing, which seemed to be being filmed for something. It was hot, humid hot, but the cheap beer was very welcome. Lunch followed – I chose something that was supposedly traditionally Serbian, and had food envy at one of my accomplice’s mixed grill. Yet mine was tasty and relatively low calorie. Shockingly I didn’t actually put weight on during the holiday.

In the evening we headed to the fort, which is where Belgrade’s two (polluted) rivers meet – the Sava and the Danube. The Sava actually looked dirtier than the Thames – it was refreshing how Serbia seemed to be taking no notice of the idea of recycling, with absolutely no sign of any environmental terrorists demanding your guilt for breathing.

The Sava was also where all the nightclubs and tourist-style nightlife was, on barges of various states of upkeep. I thought that I had photographed them but apparently not – anyway, we only went to one during our last afternoon as the old town had enough really cool bars to visit – places that were more us, rather than what I assumed was a Serbian version of Romford.

So the fort was cool with a great view over the other half of Belgrade from where we were staying – one assumes that it would have been an awesome sunset but, alas, too much cloud when we were there. Apparently there was a small zoo as part of it, and we wandered through some stray tanks and past a court area holding a hip-hop led basketball tournament.

Overnight we had the treat of a passing thunderstorm too, though given that we had all woken up between 1am and 3am, we were all in bed long before midnight, and long before the storm arrived.

On the Sunday, we were determined to do some culture. Well, I was anyway.

After eating breakfast at the charming, if boiling, Passengers Bar (they had top drawer craft beer there, which is always a win) I persuaded my accomplices to head to the Nikola Tesla museum (no, there are no cars there). We took a long walk as we hadn’t figured out the bus network – neither had Google Maps so don’t blame us. And there was no Uber. How did people order taxis before Uber?

Entrance to the museum was about £2 – it was not much more than an enlarged house, and we had the guided tour for an extra £1 or so. This consisted of a video and some electrical experiments, which was a little shocking. Plus we got to see Nikola Tesla’s urn of ashes.

It wasn’t exactly fascinating but we had ticked the culture box. I think the fact that toilet was translated into a Hull accent was more interesting:

We intended on going to the Museum of Yugoslav History, but after stopping for another excellent and cheap cocktail in a really damn cool bar, and reading that it was a 30 minute uphill walk we decided against it.

Instead we went to some nearby church thing so I could admire someone doing some hoovering.

Cue a walk back via a bar, when we realised that we were still 20 minutes away from our apartment and it was about to pour down.

Sexy

Just as we made it back to the street where our apartment was, the heavens opened and we enjoyed watching a truly torrential downpour turn the street into a river.

Give it to me, rainy

It looked like it was set in, and after valiant efforts of keeping the rain out, our hosts told us to go inside, where it wasn’t long before we were on the liquid cocaine.

Which I can confirm had no cocaine inside. And possibly no alcohol. Not that I know what cocaine would taste like in a drink, obviously.

The rest of the evening consisted of yet more excellent food – this time sampling the gorgeous Serbian burger (Belgrade is not exactly vegan friendly) in a rather excellent restaurant right on our tourist strip – said strip is the kind of place with pretty young ladies trying to tempt you in for dinner that one would normally avoid like the plague in most places, but everywhere we tried down here was spot on. Following that I think we had over-exerted ourselves with the liquid cocaine and the night drifted into a slightly drunken mess – the occasional downpours still occurring not persuading us to be any more adventurous.

For the last day, we decided to cross the river, on foot, to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art. Via breakfast. And cake/ice cream. Our original plan was to get the bus to Novi Sad, a town in the north of Serbia, but none of us were particularly keen on the 90 minute bus journey each way…and apparently trains in Serbia are a disaster…actually slower than buses.

The museum was surprisingly good. There was some art by vaguely recognisable names from my trip round Vienna last year – nobody too well known.

There was opportunity to help create art too, created by a performance artist who seemed to enjoy having pencils thrown at him – we just had the opportunity to throw pencils at the wall. I duly obliged.

Maybe I need to go on a diet?

Again, I thought I photographed more, but the only one I can find is this masterpiece:

Overall I was really quite enchanted by Belgrade.

More so than Bucharest and Budapest. Maybe not quite to the standard of Vienna.

I guess it reminded me of what Berlin would have been like just after the wall came down. A kind of raw spirit to the place, very much undiscovered by the tourist masses. Probably only Ibiza has more bars that are playing house music – that seemed quite omnipresent.

I’m not sure I would recommend visiting Belgrade in winter. There isn’t a huge amount of things to see and do – Belgrade is more about the feel of the place. It’s about enjoying yourself with very few tourists, even in the most touristy areas, drinking cheap beer, eating really good food, conversing with the locals and trying not to trip over the unfinished pavements.

It is a bit of a mess in places, there are unfinished buildings aplenty, abandoned roadworks from vague attempts to prettify the area in the Old Town, where we were based (“money washing” was how the roadworks was described to me by one local) – this is a city at the beginning of it’s modern journey.

Having spent 3 days there being thoroughly charmed by the ramshackle nature of the buildings, the delicious food, the random yet really cool bars and the seriously nice locals, I can say that Belgrade really is one of my favourite cities that I have visited. It is very “me”, it is the kind of place that I enjoy visiting.

And super cheap too, rarely did we pay more than £1.50 for a beer, maybe £3 for a cocktail – dinner for 4 would come to less than dinner for 1 in London. Plus if you can brave the 5:55am flight from Luton, flights are super-cheap too.

Where next?

Old Job Thoughts. New Job Thoughts.

I know that I occasionally moaned about Lovespace – normally when they were stopping me from doing what I wanted to do, ie coding, and sending me to go flyering – or asking me to go on the customer chat thing when I got home from work.

Despite minor annoyances, I actually really enjoyed working there. Never before have I had a job where I actually enjoyed being at work almost every day. My first proper developer role, I learnt so much there – going from complete imposter to someone very comfortable, yet still continually challenged.

It was quite sad leaving as there were some really decent people there – though I’m sure the same will be the case at M&S – most people are decent. I definitely had taken the place to heart a bit…I’m even a shareholder in the business, albeit a very small shareholder.

My last day was sweet. The WeWork office people bought me some Neck Oil, filled the biscuit tin with ginger crunch creams and tried to put some minimal techno on the sound system (though I think she got into trouble…oops). We went for pizza at lunchtime, and took full advantage of the free beers after work…I had quite the hangover the next day.

My boss had messaged me the day before asking, “are there any electronics you need?”, which was a subtle way of asking what should he get me for a leaving gift. I couldn’t really think of anything, and I have ended up with a Google Home Mini. Not something I’ve ever wanted, but I’ve now discovered the existence of smart light bulbs so I’m pretty excited now. No, I haven’t set it up yet, I’ve been trying to sort my life out and do lots of studying for my new job…but it will happen soon.

Lovespace was actually the perfect job for me as a junior. Lots of space at the beginning to grow into it, yet every time I mastered something there were new challenges. I mastered both jQuery and AngularJS whilst there, improved my CSS, and just generally learnt about how to be a professional software engineer. In an ideal world, I would have stayed there longer, but this was too good an opportunity to turn down.

M&S should be a fair step up in many ways – I’ve already had an e-mail advising that they have a learning plan for my first 16 weeks in the business. At Lovespace I mostly learnt on the job.

I’m a bit frustrated by having had this mild fever all week. I know that I need to upskill my JavaScript a bit for this job, and have been trying to do so – having 5 days off has been perfect to give me time to do so, but the mild fever has really put a dampener on my abilities. I’m concerned that I’m going to feel crap on Monday morning too.

Otherwise I’m not really that nervous about the role itself. I think M&S should be a really good company to work for, my new manager seems really sound – have been chatting to him a bit over LinkedIn, plus I’m a half-decent software engineer nowadays. I expect that it will be a little “rabbit in headlights” when I first try to get to grips with the code base and how things are structured, but I don’t expect to be “what the fuck” like when I first started at Lovespace…thankfully they gave me the time to grow into the role.

I am kind of expecting the Metropolitan line to throw me a signal failure on Monday morning though.

The only thing that I’m really concerned about is having to work in an office 5 days a week, at least at first, as my body and brain rather appreciated working from home 2 days a week – not having to get up at 630am every day and spend over an hour each way commuting. Physically, I’m expecting it to be fucking tough…working from home once/twice a week really saved my soul/body over the last year.

At least the weather is returning to normal summer…I fear little more than turning up on a first day in a new job, pouring with sweat. Normal temperatures, and no I won’t be using the Bakerloo line.

I’m also kind of hoping that smart/casual means that I can wear collar-free t-shirts. Maybe I might have to be a bit more careful with some of the more outlandish t-shirts I have – I have bought a few plain, ordinary t-shirts to be on the safe side. Oh, and a shirt for the first day, to be extra careful. I really hate shirts, so hopefully that shows my commitment to my new, exciting role.

I think I’m going to have a detox, or near-detox for the first month, and try my very hardest to stick to a healthy diet. My tiredness concerns wouldn’t be such were I not so out of shape, so it is my own fault.

Just need to get over this damn fever, have a roast dinner and I will be raring to go.

On your marks… (yeah I stole that pun).