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Cinnamon patrol

Mr and Mrs Lili Wedding

 

It's okay...

She made it. No bags though.

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Our apartment

There's been some requests, okay one request, to see our apartment. So today when the sun came out (for the first time in a long time) I took some snaps. I'd also just cleaned up the evidence of my 2 weeks of baching (pizza boxes, empties and cigar butts all lovingly removed) so it was good timing.

(Try using the slideshow on the picasa album - you can see each photo as big as possible).

It's a nice apartment, the problem is the noise on Friday and Saturday nights. I'm adjusting to it by using the strongest air plugs I can find. I'm going to order some from the US that are even stronger. I'm also learning sign-language so I can communicate with Laura while I'm wearing them.

Speaking of Laura, I'm a bit worried as I can see Laura's flight has been delayed 1.5 hours (landing now) giving her just 50 minutes to change terminals at Heathrow and transfer to her flight for Dublin. I suppose it's possible just, but I think she might be put on a later flight :-(.

Update: still not landed... 45 minutes to connect... not enough I don't think.

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Global News Roundup

International
  • I couldn't help but notice a New Zealand Post parcel sitting in the mail area downstairs - a quick examination revealed the sender is from Greerton (Tauranga). So there may be a New Zealander in #33. I'm half tempted to drop a little note in the letter box introducing myself, but I think Laura would kill me.

  • I love this extract from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/28/AR2007062800002.html?hpid=moreheadlines relating details from Paris Hilton's interview with Larry King upon her release from the woman's jailhouse:
    Sometimes the pauses in interviews say more than the responses, and that was the case late in the hour when King asked Hilton -- who said she read the Bible every day while in the slammer -- to quote her favorite passage.

    Hilton said "hmmm" and then sank into what seemed a vast and vacant pause.


    Finally she averred, "I don't have a favorite."

National
  • Only in Dublin can you step out of the office and, in the middle of "summer", when faced with a very slight break in the constant drizzle, but still with grey skies, and wind, and cold, remark "Gee the weather out is good alright" without sarcasm.

  • I heard an amusing story on the radio a couple of days ago. It concerned a judge in Ireland who was up-in-arms over the maximum fine he could hand out to a man who was caught publically urinating in a "showman like fashion" - the fine was €2. He said it made a mockery of the law.

    I agree, especially given that an exercise in updating old law statutes was completed just a few months ago. Presumably someone took the trouble to "round-up" 2 shillings to €2, or something similar.

    However, it wasn't a complete waste of time because they did remove some outdated statutes, including: a prohibition on tiger fighting, a law preventing the adulteration of coffee with sheep dung and, close to my heart, a law preventing Jews from owning coats of arms. Strange but true.

Fashion
  • I had become dissatisfied with my tie knots. They were lank and they slipped down during the day. I looked unkempt.

    So I learnt how to tie a full Windsor knot (erroneously called a "double Windsor" - erroneously because the normal knot is actually a half-Windsor, so two times a half equals a whole, not a double.) Please see the picture below. This is at the end of the day. Look how perfect and triangular the knot is. A huge improvement. In my mind, I am the envy of my co-workers.


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Infrastructure

I've been without hot water since last Monday. I prepare myself for my shower with a fair amount of strategising, then a pep talk. Once in, I need to maximise usage of the one minute's worth of tepid water. Soap flies everywhere and then the cold water comes like a bite to the kidneys (actually, there's no need for the metaphor - it is a bite to the kidneys). And no water means no central heating. All in all it's a fairly miserable way to start the new day, and combined with fairly lackluster weather, it makes one reluctant to get out of bed. At least it would if it wasn't for the refrigerated trucks that park right outside the bedroom window to offload food and beer to the pubs and restaurants. Halcyon times.

So I called the property manager this morning for a tête-à-tête. We know each other well because we are united in a mission top open an NTL cabinet on the 3rd floor. It was good news on all fronts; the hot water crisis was, at that very instant, being attended to by a crack team of the city's finest plumbers, and in the best tradition of Irish pragmatism, he's decided to bash the door of the cabinet in - meaning we can finally get broadband and cable TV. The hot water problem had something to do with council work on the water pipes on our street. Something was chipped or broken. Thousands of liters of my shower water were pouring into a fissure.

I came home today and felt up the pipes - true to his word they were hot to the touch and just as well because its been a cold day and the apartment really benefited from a blast of heating. Man! it's nicer to turn the heating on rather than to wear a second pair of trousers.

Tonight I went to yoga. I go here. It's pretty good. It's small. There are no changing rooms and no incense. But it's nice. The teacher is nice. And a girl from accounts goes too. I need to recondition myself after my illness.

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New housing affordability study

I saw this article in the NZ Herald which references a new housing affordability study. The study covers NZ, Australia, Canada, Ireland, the UK and the US. It compares the median income with the median house price. Apparently a multiple of 3 (3 years median income = the median house price) is considered affordable.

Cities of interest, in order of least affordability, are:

#1 Orange County, California (multiple = 11.7)
#4 San Francisco, California (10.1)
#7 Sydney, Australia (8.5)
#9 London (GLA), UK (8.3)
#11 Perth, Australia (8.0)
#13 Vancouver, Canada (7.7)
#18 New York region (7.2)
#21= Auckland, New Zealand (6.9)
#21= London Exurbs (S & SE of England) (6.9)
#23= Melbourne, Australia (6.6)
#30 Brisbane, Australia (6.1)
#31= Christchurch, New Zealand (6.0)
#31= Belfast, Northern Ireland (6.0)
#37= Dublin, Ireland (5.7)
#47= Wellington, New Zealand (5.4)
#70 Chicago, Illinois (4.5)

 
 

Belfast

(the photos aren't great - sorry)
Today I took a trip to Belfast. It's two-and-a-bit hours on the train and I didn't feel like making conversation with the very nice elderly lady sitting across sitting across from me. I listened to Boards of Canada and The Roots and she read the Reader's Digest and napped. She had bought a packed lunch and a kind of orange juice drink that comes in a foil packet. I think she would have been a good talker.

After plenty of aimless wandering, including a futile search to find cheap sushi, I decided to hire an audio-visual device to assist me on a Titanic-related walking tour. (Quite inappropriately I have it in my head that my mother traveled to New Zealand on the Titanic. Clearly there are a number of things wrong with that; the most obvious being: that the two events (my mother traveling to New Zealand, and the Titanic's maiden voyage) were not at all contemporaneous and: that my mother, and all the occupants for all I know, completed their journey safely. An association must have been had made in my young mind...)

The walking tour device didn't work, so I had to queue up at the visitor's centre for a replacement. the replacement didn't work either, but of course I tried it before I left, and third time lucky. The device looked like a very very large and uncool mp3 player with the added bonus of large and knaff looking headphones and using it ensured that I felt just self-conscious enough to never relax and enjoy myself. Nevermind because as I started my tour, a large parade (part of Belfast's summer activities) also started, making it more or less impossible to hear much from the headphones. But I did learn a few things.

In a more successful excursion, I took a trip on the Belfast City Sightseeing bus. There's a way I like these sightseeing bus trips to go. What you need is quite a large, oldish, and good-humored man doing the narrating in away where he makes the jokes funny even though he's really sick of delivering them. And that's exactly what happened. We took in the city center, and went back out over River Lagan to repeat, more or less exactly, the aforementioned self-assisted Titanic walking tour. And then things got more interesting.

We drove back through the city center and looked at some of the ornate court buildings obscured by ugly walls, razor wire, and barricades. And we drove out to the "interface areas" of west Belfast. At that point I couldn't believe I was there. This was the Belfast of the news clips I watched from the safety of various Auckland couches. We were shown a pre-school building that was the scene of many gun fights; bullet holes clearly visible. In fact the whole street was just building after building of high fences and razor wire.

Then we were shown one of the peace lines. The peace line is a wall. The wall runs quite some distance; for miles. For most of its length it looks to be pretty much in people's back yards. It's tall; it towers over the houses. It runs through parks. On this particular peace line, our guide said there are 4 crossing points. Two are permanently closed on Friday evenings and don't open again until Monday morning. Please keep in mind we were about 10 minutes drive from the city centre. The city centre of high street shopping, Starbucks, parades, music festivals, and a cathedral quarter. I couldn't believe this wall existed, or that I was in Belfast looking at it. Of course the good news is all the positive progress, especially recently. But seeing the wall was something else. It's the closest I've been to a war ground; all kinds of atrocities were perpetrated here and many of them within my lifetime.

To balance that out, Belfast is in fact, a very compact and attractive city. It has plenty of good shopping, a cathedral quarter with some beautiful churches, and many impressive Victorian civic buildings. It is clean and the people are friendly. It has been judged the 2nd safest city (for tourists) in the world (after Tokyo). It felt safer than Dublin - I didn't see any scumbags (Dublin has scumbags). And the city is positively buzzing.

The train trip home was one of the best train trips I've had. It started to rain, sometimes quite hard. The view is mostly of country side; and it was green and lush and pastoral. The train makes a few stops (at Portadown, Nerry, Dundalk and Drogheda) and the towns are all pretty. They all have one or two old churches with tall steeples and usually a river. The red terraced houses are all neatly arranged. The train ran fast and smooth. It was wonderful.

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Dear Mr Lilienthal

Further to your recent declaration, I am directed by An Post to inform you that under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1926, no person may keep, have in their possession, install, maintain, work or use any wireless telegraphy apparatus (including a television set) without a current television license. The holder of such apparatus is obliged to take out a license and the fact that the apparatus may be out of order or not in use does not relieve him/her of the obligation.

Current legislation provides for a fine of €635 on conviction for a first offence and a fine of €1,270 for a second or subsequent offence. The Act also provides for the forfeiture of the apparatus.

A television license may be purchased by cash, cheque or laser card at any Post Office. Alternatively, payment may be made by phone using a laser of [sic] credit card at lo-call 1890 228528.

Direct Debit mandates for use with a credit card or bank accounts are also available on request from this office or may be downloaded at www.anpost.ie/retailservices/televisionlicences.
The current television licence free is €158.

Your sincerely
G Wall
Manager

 
 

Disparity in drinking abilities

I stayed a bit late at work because I was doing something fun and as I currently have an empty home there is no reason to rush.

I was invited for a "quiet" pint with one of my co-workers and his brother and I bravely accepted. Bravely because I have been battling some kind of lurgy that has involved antibiotics and anti-nausea medication. Anyhow I am 2.5 pints of Guinness and 1 (delicious!) fish kebab down and I can confirm that I'm none the worse. I choose Guinness because it is full of vitamins so it is like a medicine.

I say 2.5 pints because I turned down the other 1.5 on offer (yes I finished with a 1/2 pint girl's beer). I'm a fairly tall guy and I think I hold my drink well, but 2.5 pints on an empty stomach is enough for me. My co-worker, and his brother, easily knocked back four. Four would have put me well over the edge (as it is, I'm on the edge). And yet, I know a fairly scrawny New Zealander that could manage four pints no problem. And she's a girl!

Anyhow, Brandi has just had an undignified departure from Canada's Next Top Model season 1 and this is our #100 post.

Come home soon Laura!

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Strange moment of the moment

I ventured up to the lunch room at work yesterday to get a plate, and what should greet me on the TV, but the professional and uncompromising face of nurse manager Judy Brownlee from Shortland St.

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Dulbin chai review: Fallon & Byrne

After some fairly urgent shopping today (I fly out to Vancouver for 2 weeks early tomorrow AM, and none of my clothes fit*), David and I dropped in to Fallon & Byrne for a take-away chai.

Fallon & Byrne
The chai comes in 2 sizes if you stay in, or 3 if you get it to go; prices vary if you stay or go also. We both ordered the medium t/away, for $2.60 each, which are around the same size as a Starbucks tall.

The initial smell is a little tea-y, but you can also smell cinnamon. That's because they sprinkle cinnamon on top before they put the lid on. I love cinnamon, and love it on chai, so F&B get extra points for that.

The flavour is delicate and less robust and spicy than I'd prefer, but it is only marginally sweet, which is great. After all, it's chai, not sugar with some hot milk added.

That said, I'd really prefer more spiciness - about 5 or 6 times spicier maybe.

All in all? It's a good chai, very mild, but a better introduction to chai than any other I've reviewed so far. And there is cinnamon on top. I know I'll drink this again, because David loves shopping at F&B, and it's close. And the chai isn't half bad either.


* I know, I know, I haven't blogged about work - or about the work clothes thing - yet. I'm a bit tired from my first week, and with the trip, I've been too busy organising myself to really blog about much. I should be up for much more once I'm back from Vancouver. Really.

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Hot and summery weekend

Everyone always bitches about the weather in Dublin, and the general consensus is that it's cold, grey and rainy all the time. Now, it is cold, grey and rainy a lot of the time, but not always.

This weekend, it was warm and sunny. On both days I wore my Birkenstocks, and today I wore a singlet. (This is evidence that is was, in fact, genuinely warm, because I hate to be cold.)

On Saturday I joined a bunch of other Dublin-based knitters in St Stephen's Green to celebrate World Wide Knit in Public Day. As usual, I didn't accomplish much knitting-wise, but it was fun to meet up with everyone and see their projects. Thanks Lien for organising us all!

It was also a chance for me to show off a beautiful cardigan I knat back in NZ, but hadn't had the chance to wear. It's a simple pattern - the only hassle lay in threading hundreds of beads onto the yarn - but it looks very impressive when it's done. David and I haven't gotten around to doing a photoshoot, but when we do, I'll post a photo or two.

Today we just ran some errands - nothing very exciting, but it was nice to run them wearing about half the amount of clothes we usually do! My only concerns regarding the warmer weather are the warmth of our already-warm apartment; and the local tendency towards loud outdoor hijinks when it isn't freezing cold and/ or raining heavily - these may interfere with our sleep.

Of course, it will be gorgeous weather all the coming week, because I will be in an office, unable to enjoy it. I knew this would happen - it always does - but I guess it's a small price to pay for the happiness of so many Dubliners. Me, a martyr? Aw, shucks.

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Sun and Software

Today summer came to Dublin. I didn't use my jacket in either of my two walks to/from home. It was actually warm, legitimately warm. Almost hot. (I had to snigger yesterday when I read an article in the newspaper about students, who are all taking there exams at the moment, "sweltering" in 23 degree heat. 23 is warm. 33 is hot. 43 is sweltering!).

Also (warning, another work-related post!) I've had one of the most satisfying work weeks ever. The project I've been working on was going to be web-based, but based somewhat (a lot I think) on my direction, we've gone for a Windows-based smartclient. Being freed from the confines of a browser is liberating enough (yes there's AJAX, but one is still pissing in the wind), but we've taken it to a new level:

We're using Infragistics controls to add loveliness. They're worth it alone for the WinSchedule control which gives an Outlook-style calendar and a lot of precanned functionality. Using these controls we managed to get a very snazzy prototype up and running in no time.

More excitingly we're trailing a very mature framework that gives us ORM, caching and everything you need for an enterprise-grade disconnected client. Working with ORM is like having all your vegetarian) curries in one go. I can't imagine life without it, and I've really only been using it for a few days.

Added to this, I've somewhat accidentally stumbled across at least 2 excellent development patterns. The first was to use UserControls. This has allowed us each to work on different parts of the application, then to assemble them dynamically at run-time (or design-time). The second, is... well I think it is... the observer pattern in tandem with MVC. Everything is event based. There's a ConnectionStateChanged event, a SearchStarted event, a SearchCompleted event and so on. This, along with anonymous delegates, makes the code very easy and straight forward to write - and it is very loosely coupled. You have no idea how satisfying it is to fire and event from your data access layer and have stuff just happen: progress bars burst into life, search results display themselves, and so on.

The net effect is, that in 4 days, we have gone from a prototype with no data at all to an application which monitors its connection status, fetches data and caches it, satisfies queries from its cache, or goes to the data source if required, prunes its cache (to limit sensitive data) and then persists it to disk, and so on.

And the pièce de résistance was running this over a 3G connection on a laptop.
And it works!!! Dodgy 3G connection and all.

 
 

The Big News

Hey, people! I have news - in fact, it's The Big News we've previously alluded to!

(Note: capitalisation in the title and the text above was intentional. This is Big News, people!)

Drumroll please...

I have a job!

(Sounds of a crowd going wild.)

Actually, I've had the job for a wee while now - last Wednesday I got word that the company were preparing an offer for me - but I wanted to wait until it was a bit more official. Which it now is.

I'm the web marketing manager, but with responsibility for offline marketing and communications as well. My boss is in Dublin, but my colleagues are based elsewhere. I have a 40-minute bus commute (blech). As for the company? well, because I want to continue to blog, but I don't want to get dooced, I will only say that the company is North American, and has recently expanded into Europe. Oh, and that it isn't any of the usual suspects. If you want to know, you will just have to email me personally to find out (slack emailers, this is a hint - you know who you are!).

At any rate, it's great news. The mood chez nous has lightened considerably since I heard the news. All of a sudden, the do-nothing days seem too few and far between.

I start on Monday next week. On the following Sunday, I fly to Vancouver for a 2-week meet and greet/training session with my colleagues there. Hoo golly!

So I've been trying to relax and enjoy the down-time, but also to get ready for what will be a very busy first month at work.

One of the most challenging aspects of the preparation has been shopping for work clothes. I'm not sure what the dress code is, but I know I can't just wear jeans and sneakers - and most of my work clothes are now too big for me. So I spent yesterday afternoon, and all day today, shopping for a few items to tide me over until I figure out the dress code. I'm too tired to blog in any detail about the shopping situation here right now, but I will say that it is exhausting.

So... that's my news. It is such a relief to be employed again, even if I'm terrified at the prospect of the new role and all it entails (and the thought of the commute bores me to tears). Yay job!

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Ah, Paris

Initially I was mostly keen on Paris because David wanted to go so badly. But slowly my enthusiasm grew, and I now consider myself converted. Paris is fantastic!

Our arrival was somewhat drawn-out: the flight from Dublin was slightly shorter than the coach trip in from the airport (ah, Beauvais, you're not much of an airport, but you did the job), and about the same as the walk from the drop-off point to our hotel. Yes, we could've tried to use the metro or get a cab, but it was an ok area, and quite pleasant to sight-see at night.

Thanks to my cousin Bill, we had a Parisian contact in the form of Jonathan, his college room-mate, who now lives and works there. (Jonathan, the lucky sod, has an expat-style job: he works in English, but gets to practice his French in the rest of his life.) He took us to brunch on Saturday, and gave us a bunch of pointers, including directions to a really, really great creperie.

Other than seeing Jonathan and hearing about how wild Bill was at college, we didn't do a whole lot. We walked, we saw, we ate... Ok, and we shopped a little too. I managed to find the skincare range that I use (that is almost impossible to get in Dublin), get some t-shirts from Le Petit Bateau, and some yarn.

(Ok, the knitting-related stuff starts now. If you don't care, scroll on down.)

We managed to have a good look around the Parisian yarn stores. Perhaps a more thorough investigation that David would've liked, but oh well. At one point he asked me if this meant that I'd want to shop for or look at yarn everywhere we went... I decided not to laugh at him out loud, because it was clear that he'd only just come to the conclusion.

The stores I was most impressed by were La droguerie and the section in Le Bon Marche. Loads of choice, beautiful colours, and beautifully laid out. But I managed to restrain myself, as the photo demonstrates.

On the left is some jade bamboo, for a cabled shrug (my first pattern in French, should be... interesting) - it's a much brighter, more vibrant colour than in the photo. Next to it is more bamboo, for.... something. I got enough for a cardigan, and I do like cardigans, so I have a fairly good idea of what it will end up being.

The pale blue is some cotton I got, which I hope will match some variegated cotton I already have in my stash. The idea was to get enough to make something out of what I'd stashed already. The yellow is cotton I got so that I could make a cardigan out of Rowan 41. Except the book was sold out, so I have to buy the book in order to make the cardi. And the pale pink is a mohair/ silk mix, like Kid Silk Haze, but about half the price.

(End of knitting content, back to things you may be more interested in!)

Apart from the yarn, I really enjoyed just ambling along such a beautiful city, enjoying its architecture, eating its delicious food, and hanging out with David in the warmth and sunshine. It's been awhile since we've visited a non-English-speaking country where I had any grasp of the language, and it was nice to be able to try to speak French.

I say "try", because my last really solid period of French was in 1994 (I dabbled for the next 2 years, but was really more interested in German). Initially, I recalled all sorts of useless information, like how to buy a tartan skirt, but less of the important stuff like how to ask for directions, verb conjugations... As the minutes and hours ticked by, I remembered more, and we managed a number of transactions entirely in French, which was satisfying (and I'm sure, highly amusing for the people who dealt with us).

Our triumph had to be buying un tube for a poster we'd bought. It involved asking at around 6 different stores, plus the post office, before we were successful - and all this before even trying to send it! If it weren't for the love of Emma, I think we would've given up. My recommendation to you: when you're travelling, don't buy posters, unless they come pre-packaged in tubes.

What we didn't manage to do in Paris was visit any of the museums, or do lots of touristy things. We got up close to the Eiffel tower at night, but it was closed, and neither of us felt much like going up the next day anyway. We did climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, which was fun, and afforded us a spectacular view of the avenues. We eventually made it to the Tuileries. But the Louvre, or any of the other countless museums? Not quite. We saw a whole lot of museums on our honeymoon, and I think we need a break from them to be able to enjoy them again. But that's what the next trip is for, anyway...

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Great Cities of Europe: Un Tube

If Parisians are rude or cocky, I don't blame them. They think they have discovered the way to live well and, really, nothing I saw in Paris would lead me to believe they are wrong. The city is amazing and daunting in its gorgeousnesses: it is once thing to see a lovely building, another still to see a street of them, and yet another to see them in every direction, as far as the eye can see - all with their shutters and planters just so.

We flew out on a clear evening and had a good view of Dublin. Almost immediately we were over the Irish Sea, then 10 minutes later, over Wales. Although I didn't know what it was at the time, I could clearly make out the Bristol Channel, then the English Channel, then the looming mass of Europe. 75 minutes and we were in northern France. Not very far at all.


We did a lot in our three days (as aching limbs attest) but there is so much left. Like New York, there are lots of neighborhoods, each with its own feel. A favourite of ours was Le Marais, an area which escaped the haussmannisation of Paris and so was less boulevard and more alley. It's also the Jewish area and we enjoyed lunch at a Jewish deli (gefillte fish, latka, and onion bread).

Unlike our first day, when we walked everywhere (miles and miles and miles) we began to ride the metro like pros. And that's a lucky thing because on Monday we set out on a mission for un tube, that is a cardboard tube for the purposes of posting. No museum gift shop, stationers, or department store was immune from our attentions. In the end, a very kindly lady helped us find one in a large department store. She was the antithesis of the Parisian stereotype, kind, self-effacing and sweet. Expiring and perspiring, we made it back to our hotel with just enough time to repack our bags and head back to the metro for the bus to the airport.

(We flew Ryan Air, and they fly into a regional airport called Beauvais, about 90km north of Paris - and you need to catch a coach to the airport as there are no rail links. As airports go, it ranks at the highly crappy end of the scale, but I was much impressed with Ryan Air. Our flight was late leaving, but they did something nearly unheard of: they sped up and we landed on time! Apparently they are the most on-time airline in Europe).

Possibly my single favourite activity was the picnic we made, at the suggestion of Jonathan, a friend of Laura's cousin who we were very luck to meet for lunch on Saturday. At a very flash supermarket attached to the famous Le Bon Marche department store, we spent E50 on bread, cheese, champagne, pastries and fruit. Then, metro-enabled, we headed to the Jardin des Tuileries, a large and beautifully landscaped public space. In fact, we didn't go there at all. Due to a navigational error, we picnicked on some lawn sandwiched in between two roads. It was just lovely.

Listening to Linda Clark one day on National Radio, I heard an interview she had with some French author. She was a young lady and prolific in her output. She was an odd sort, and slept only a few hours each night. When asked about her favourite activity, she said the best thing in life is to drink champagne and walk through the streets of Paris. That is what inspired me yesterday afternoon, and that is what we did.

See my pick of the photos (on aesthetic grounds) by clicking the thumbnail above. The full collection is on Laura's flickr account. It's not the best camera work in the world. We were very preoccupied.

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SSIAs

Here in Ireland, an SSIA is a savings scheme that the government started to encourage people to... save, I guess. It was a long-term scheme, and it matures around now, so you hear a lot about SSIAs in banking and financial services ads (of which there are many).

But for me, an SSIA is a Sudden Shopping Incident or Accident. And I've had two recently.

I know, I know, it sounds bad. But bear in mind that until yesterday, I hadn't shopped for myself at all - apart from one shirt I had to buy for an interview.

So yesterday, in a state of post-haircut bliss, I bought a pair of shoes. I was looking for something different for our trip to Paris - but these kind of winked at me. A lot.

They're leather, with leather lining, a walkable heel height, and best of all, cheap: 28 euros. And since I don't have any black sandals here at all (and the one pair I have on the way are still in Auckland, and David hates them), I figured it was okay.

Then today, in a state of post-haircut depression (the day after the haircut is always a grim hair day: you can't replicate the great style that the hairdresser gave you, no matter how many notes you took or even if you bought the exact products they told you to), I popped out to send a parcel and see if I could find what I'd been looking for.

Which was a pair of flat, cute shoes, suitable for walking and sight-seeing, but a step up from my beloved, but very worn-looking white leather Converse all-stars.

I got lucky in Penney's, which is a little like Glassons, but with men's, children's, home, and beauty departments, and about ten times more variety, for about a quarter of the price. So, not really much of a comparison, but you get what I'm saying.

I wouldn't recommend Penney's to people who want clothes to last forever, or to people who hate shopping. The sheer volume means you have to spend a little time hunting, and what you get won't be a good investment piece - but by the time it's out of style it'll be falling apart anyway.

Anyway, I hit the jackpot with not one but TWO pairs of cute shoes. One to match a great copper-coloured top I have, and to wear out in the evening. And one pair so I don't always wear sneakers.

Conveniently, these shoes solve my what-to-bring-for-Paris problem. You know, the "what shoes will I bring that will be comfy but vaguely attractive, since I don't want chic Parisians to sneer at me any more than is strictly necessary, but I also want to keep the baggage to a minimum, since I intend to buy other things to use up our weight limit" feeling.

There's only one hitch. I don't remember a holiday with David when I haven't worn Birkenstocks or sneakers to sight-see. Will he start expecting me to look decent on holiday? Will he even recognise me after 3 months' solid sneaker-wearing?

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