Self-Harm Awareness Day

There’s a mailing list I’m on that just got a message that started as follows:

Subject: March 1st – Self-Harm Awareness Day

Just curious…

a) How many of you knew it was self-harm awareness day on March 1st and

b) Are you doing anything to mark it?

It’s pretty bad that the first response I thought of was “Yeah, I’ll scratch that date into my arm to make sure I remember it.” Bad, but funny, in a sick and twisted way.

There’s a reason I’m a lurker.

A Postcard From Jimmy

The first postcard has arrived from Jimmy‘s world tour (right now he’s in Thailand).

Postcard front

On the front is a picture of some interestingly-shaped rocks which are apparently right outside the front door of the guesthouse where he’s staying.

He writes:

Hello everyone in Aber!

Fly to Samai in Thailand. Grab a taxi (boat or car) to Lamai beach. I’ll be in the guesthouse next to the rocks like genitalia – you can’t miss them. Bring sun cream!

Seriously, this place is amazing. Going to spend a month or so island hopping – might get used to the heat by then.

Hope everyone is well,


If you get internet access and read this, Jimmy: know that your postcard got here okay (and sooner than you estimated!) and that we’re all thinking of you. And if you send enough postcards, we’ll think about getting some kind of world map and sticking them to it with bits of wool and pins like something out of some crime thriller where the detectives are trying to track the villain’s movements around the globe.

Or like that scene in Heroes. That would have been shorter to type, wouldn’t it.

Best Bug Ever

On behalf of a client of a client of SmartData, I was responsible this weekend for moving a website over from one server to another. It’s a monolithic old custom-written content management system, in Perl, which over the last four or five years has been passed from developer to developer and has begun to look quite disgusting. Needless to say, we’ll be recommending refactoring.

But in the meantime, a server move was needed. No problem, I thought. Install Apache on the new server, CGI::Application, mod_include, mod_rewrite, MySQL, blah blah, all pretty standard. Copy the files over, copy the database over, hook it all up, and test it. And after a day or two of playing with it on the new server and with approval from our client, we move the DNS over to complete the operation.

Yesterday morning I get a phone call from somebody who manages the site.

Romanian Days Of The Week“All of the days of the week are in French!”

I suppose I ought to say something about this particular company. Like many companies in this part of the world, this company runs it’s website bilingually: that is, in English and Welsh. But for some reason, claimed our client’s client, their web site was now putting the days of the week in French instead of Welsh. The months of the year were still in Welsh, and the stuff that was supposed to be in English was still in English, but… well…

Further investigation showed that this report was mistaken. “I’m not sure it’s French, you know,” I replied, typically helpfully, “It’s Romanian.” I was pleased with myself right up until the point that I realised that this wasn’t actually helpful, about a second or two later.

It turns out that the site uses a Perl module called Date::Calc to display days of the week in an appropriate language, and I’d just used CPAN to do a quick-and-easy install of Date::Calc. But something was different about the old server’s copy of this module. It turns out that, not unsurprisingly, Date::Calc doesn’t naively support the Welsh language, but that some time many years ago an enterprising programmer, not wanting to go to all the effort of adding a new language to Date::Calc the proper way, simply patched the module, overwriting one of the languages already in it. He decided to replace a language that he didn’t think anybody would ever have reason to use on the server – Romanian.

The reason that the months were still in Welsh was because they used a far more standard method of translation. So I simply wrote a couple of regular expressions that changed the old, Date::Calc-translator code into a more common approach, and that fixed it. Somebody had even already defined me an array with the Welsh weekdays in (it looks like this change was planned at some point in this huge, horrible codebase, but never actually happened).

Not sure I’ll ever find out who was responsible for the atrocious bit of coding that caused this particular website to turn Romanian for a few hours, but if I do, I’ll be sure to tell them about this, the most amusing bug I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Aw Shit

I have a mountain of stuff to do in the next 52 hours, and my PC just kicked the bucket.

Valentine’s Day

None of the four of us (JTA, Ruth, Claire and I) had planned to make anything special out of Valentine’s Day, which is why I was quite surprised last night to come home from work and find The Cottage kitted out with candles as part of Ruth’s last-minute secret plan to cook a romantic meal for us all. Which was nice, if unexpected (although she’d apparently not planned it herself until earlier in the day, so I’ll let her off).

And so, a good evening of eating, drinking, and chatting was had by all, once JTA had gotten back from work (before then it was mostly a good evening of work – code for Ruth and I, dissertation for Claire), and the evening wore on nicely as Paul came (laden with beer and flowers) to join the party later on.

It occurred to me at the time that it’s now been six months (well, give or take a dozen days or so) since the four of us – the quad, or the Unholy Alliance, as our friends call us – got together in the romantic sense, and, with the exception of my end of year review, it’s been almost three months since I last said anything about it, so I suppose I ought to provide an update.

The four of us are all doing pretty well as a quad, still with plenty of momentum and excitement and without any major hiccups. Perhaps it’s just because my life is so hectic that I’m used to this kind of time management, but it’s my suspicion that I’ve found it the easiest of the four of us to adapt to thinking in not only an “involved in two couples” way rather than an “involved in one couple” way, but also in an “involved in a quad” way, where it’s even more important for the stability of the shape that we communicate how we’re feeling to the others around the square (or kite, or trapezium, or rectangle, or rhombus, or whatever shape we feel like we’re configured in at any given time).

There have, of course, been some challenges in having two girlfriends, each of which has two boyfriends, and I think I’ve down-played these challenges whenever I’ve talked about how things have been going. That’s not to say that they’re particularly troublesome – I’ve had far more complicated relationships than this (like, for example, most of them!) – but I guess I’ve always felt it’s a bit unfair for a guy with two hot-bi-babes on his arm to moan about relationship trouble.

Time management is the big one, obviously: I’ve heard of people with three (or more) long-term partners and I honestly haven’t a clue how they find the time for it. With work, hobbies, charity work, and valuable computer gaming time all vying for space in my already-crowded calendar, something had to give: and it was probably the computer games… =o( That’s not quite true, and it’s a vast oversimplification of the time management problem, but it is true that I seem to have far less free time than I did before (well, duh!) and I’ve had to learn to schedule time “for me” where previously it’d just come naturally. Google Calendar and it’s calendar-sharing and it’s SMS reminders have become my best friend.

Another early challenge came from insularity: the tendency for couples to become “coupley” and just do things together. It turns out that being in a quad makes it even more difficult to say “Hey, I’d quite like to go and spend some time with my other friends now, ok?” It’s taken a while, but we’ve pretty much got the hang of this, now, I think – although it can still be difficult for our friends to see the difference between us being insular and us (me in particular!) simply having very little free time in our lives. Hopefully we can still learn to get better at this.

We’ve all had to learn a lot of new skills in negotiation and communication to help us define our own rules for something that society in general isn’t too helpful about providing. An example that came up during discussion last night was about third-party secrets. When you’re in a couple and somebody tells you something, it’s usually pretty obvious whether or not you’re allowed to share it with your partner. And if it’s not, it’s easy to clarify: “Just between us, right?” And with our various backgrounds, I guess all four of us have learned to be pretty good at keeping secrets. But it can feel a little confusing when you talk to somebody about, for example, the person at the opposite corner of your quad. And what’s the etiquette for supporting those you love when your girlfriend has had an argument with your other girlfriend?

These are the kinds of things we’ve had to learn to solve, and I think we’re doing pretty damn well. We’ve had to learn to be more explicit about how we feel and what we want (“I’m feeling grumpy because I haven’t seen you in awhile – all the times I’ve been free you’ve been with $otherperson. Can we have this Saturday to ourselves?”), because that’s the best way to get what you want – to ask for what you’d like, not what you think you can get away with. We’ve had to learn about other people’s needs and about compromise – something that every relationship has, but that multiplies when you add extra people. We’ve had to learn how to talk frankly as we go through the motions of defining our own rules and our own etiquette – it’s obvious that when you go to the cinema with your lover you should be sitting next to them, but when you go with both your lovers and their other lover, who goes where?

Here in the UK, like most of the world, people are geared-up to understanding “couples” – from forms which have a spot for “partner’s name” (but… which one?) to party invitations that cover you and your sweetie (singular) only. It’s not our place to change those norms, and nor would we want to: we’re not some kind of crusaders for non-monogamous rights. We don’t want left-handed scissors made for us, and we’ve already got the right to vote (although, interestingly, not to all marry one another, not that I’d want to).

So yeah, what I planned to say was “our relationships – they’re all going really well,” and I ended up talking about some of the things that have made it challenging, instead. Ho hum. If I get the impression that people can cope with my smugness, I’ll write about what makes the whole thing great, next time, instead.

For now, though, I’d just like to share something quite profound that Claire said a while back. She said, “I expected polyamoury – for us – to be like a lending library, but it turns out it’s more like a book club.”

And on that note – have a happy Valentine’s Day (for yesterday) – however and with whoever you chose to spend it.

And The Rest Of Bulgaria

Oh yeah, suppose I ought to finish writing about Bulgaria now that we’ve been back a couple of days.

MORE SKIING: Aced The Wall in the end, and damn it’s a good run – long and fast and challenging, even when you think you know it. Coming back up on the chairlift I met a couple of Irish blokes (the Irish seemed to be the most-represented nationality on the ski slopes; not sure why), who – as the fog of the final day began to white-out the mountain top – pointed down at The Wall and said that you’d have to be a nutcase to go down it right now. So I pointed out that I’d just come off it, and was on my way back to it again.

SKIDOOS: Damn, these things are fun. Imagine a motorcycle but on skis, ripping along hard-packed ice in the middle of the night at 70km/h, guided only by a drunk Bulgarian. On or off road, Skidoos are brilliant. When the next ice age comes, I’m getting one to do my shopping in.

KARAOKE: On our final night, we went out and (alongside some Irish blokes we met) made complete idiots of ourselves at the local karaoke night.

I’ll upload pictures from the holiday at some point. For now, here’s a video of my dad singing Dancing Queen at the Karaoke night.

So yeah; Bulgaria was fun.

News From The Slopes

Fresh from the slopes, over GPRS (at charging rates starting at “two limbs”), comes this report from the Bulgarian Holiday Team (Claire and I, along with my dad and my sisters).

JOURNEY: Uneventful, but tedious – three and a bit hours on a plane followed by a five hour bus journey is pretty mind-numbing, although we did get a break at a Bulgarian McDonalds (complete with hilarious Cyrillic lettering on the sign – picture to follow [I don’t have enough arms and legs to pay to upload it]).

ACCOMODATION: Remarkably nice hotel: infinitely superior to our usual stay at Aviemore Youth Hostel for Cairngorm skiing, but with a predictably scary price tag to go with it.

FOOD: Every meal seems to contain egg and/or pork. Are these the national foodstuffs? Scrambled egg with bacon in is an obvious breakfast combination. Eggy bread laced with ham was less expected, and quite a suprise to bite into. Stuffed peppers very nice. Cured sausages not bad either.

SKIING: Generally good conditions – some partially broken runs (by Bulgarian standards – in Scotland we’d call them “perfectly usable”) this morning because the weather report predicted snow for two days so they haven’t turned on the snow-blowers, but no snow’s been forthcoming. Here in Pamporovo there’s a lot for beginners (one entirely green run is almost 4km long!) and some nice challenges for advanced skiers (I’m particularly enjoying some of the red and black runs on the West face of the mountain), but fewer options for intermediate-level skiers. Not as large a resort as Mt. Tremblant in Canada, where I was a few years ago, but still far more than Cairngorm or The Lecht offer us on our traditional trips to Scotland. Of particular note is The Wall, a black run that’s so-called because it’s quite steep. Here’s an example for those of you at home: stand up – pretend you’re on a ski slope that stretches down to your right and up to your left (so you’re “sideways” on it). Now stretch out your left arm to your side. If you were on The Wall, your hand would be touching snow. Well, a wall of ice, really. It’s a beast, and I love it.

ACCIDENTS: This is what you were really reading for, isn’t it – to find out who’s had a horrible accident so far. Well, here’s some of the best:

1. On my first attempt at The Wall, I took a turn a little sharply and flipped over. And began to slide. On my belly. Head first. Now I’ve been in this position before – it’s a natural state for a skier who’s just pushed themselves a little too far. So a started working on stopping myself all the ways I knew how, but after about 10 seconds of accelerating I came to the realisation that there was genuinely nothing I could do to stop this slide, and instead positioned myself in the best way possible to minimise the risk of damage. Eventually I ran onto the next ski run (still belly-sliding at about 40mph) and was able to regain my balance and right myself. No injuries except my pride and some friction burns, but this hundred-metre ride – well, FALL – is easily the most fun I’ve had here so far.

2. A few seconds later, I was hit by a runaway ski. My sister, Sarah, had a similar slip but had been able to keep her balance at the sacrifice of half her equipment, and had to sledge the remainder of The Wall on her other ski.

3. Claire panics when she sees a cliff some 10 feet away and swerves into a tree, with no serious injuries. Photos to follow. Everybody starts making jokes about Claire loving trees, which become even funnier when…

4. Owing to out-of-date maps and a bit of bad guesswork on my part, Claire found herself on a short run somewhat above her capabilities. And, realising that snowploughing wasn’t enough to bring her to a halt, sped up (because THAT’s a sensible alternative)… right into a tree. She caused herself a mild concussion (earning herself a day in bed) and a series of nasty-looking cuts and grazes across her neck.

BOOZE: It’s been hard to find drinking establishments that don’t charge excessive touristy rates, but now we’ve found a few I’ve been trying out the local beers. Zagorka is great, and Kamenitza is pretty good too. Vodka’s cheap, and a “small” vodka is 50ml (what we in the UK would call a “double”). It makes me wonder what a medium or even a large is – a quadruple or sextuple, presumably. It’s also hard to persuade bar staff to provide mixers – the pervading attitude seems to be that vodka should be drunk neat.

RINGOS: While Claire was bed-bound, the rest of us went ringo-ing. We’d done it before in Canada – sitting in a rubber ring and sliding down a ski slope – but it’s still good fun and a fabulous violation of health and safety law. By the end, my sisters and I were strapping our ringos together and spinning our way into the walls that marked the edge of the slope.

COMING SOON: Later this week – Skidoos? Snowboarding? Pub crawl around Pamporovo? As usual, you’ll read it here first (if I can be bothered).

In Bulgaria

Having a great time. Only seconds left on this internet cafe connection, though.

Off To Bulgaria

Back in Aber a week on Sunday.

Apologies to everybody/thing (including this blog) that I’ve neglected this last fortnight. Will catch up with my inbox and voicemail when I’m back in the UK.

Right, time to go offline before I get branded a terrorist for using a phone on a ‘plane or something.