Monthly Archives: June 2007

Ah, poor Jonathan.

Picture a pub. The Half Moon, in fact, just down the road from Stocks, a frequently visited watering hole on account of its being both cheap and having a large non-smoking section.

We’d gone out to celebrate exam results in our own quiet way, by having dinner there with a bunch of friends. What’s that? How did I do? Quite satisfactorily, thanks. So there we were, sitting round a table, being all convivial, when the conversation turned to places of origin, and Jonathan mentioned that he was from Basle.

I admit that it was lifted from that day’s xkcd to a large extent, but it was modified enough to be original. I merely enquired if the trains in Basil run on Thyme.

The blank look on Jonathan’s face was priceless. Evidently he hasn’t spent enough time around me when I’ve been on form. Or perhaps this is evidence of the famous Swiss stoicism, where frivolous things like puns have no place.

U2, Tube style

Having finally got all those copies of my CV printed, I was on my way to the grad fair this afternoon, where I came upon some interesting and interested companies, some of which were positively perfect at first glance. This isn’t the point, however. The point is that I was coming up from the Northern Line at Bank, and I heard the faint strumming of a guitar at the top of the escalators. I knew it sounded familiar, and it was.

‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ has seldom sounded more poignant to me, even with the throbbing of the escalator and the hurrying feet of people in the background. He was lightly strumming and finger-picking his guitar, oblivious to the crowds streaming past him. I stopped to listen and drop a coin or three, because for some reason I was deeply moved there. Moments of calm in the midst of bustle are all the sweeter by comparison.

And thus endeth the great Ubuntu adventure

In short, it was a disaster. The Fiesty CD seemed to have a corrupt font file, making all text on the screen turn into squares, which is less than ideal to navigate through an OS install. The Dapper CD screwed up my partition table to the point where I had to reinstall Windows completely.

Say what you like about Windows (and I do, frequently) the fact remains that I’m tied to it because of needing VB for Merlin. I can’t do without it, so I just gave up in frustration and handed the whole disk over to Windows. A pity, because I really do like Ubuntu, and want to move over at some point. Just not yet, I guess. And no, I am not going to run VB in WINE on a 1G Celeron with a mere smattering of RAM. It’s just not conducive to mental stability and retainment of hair.

So here I am, copying 7000-odd songs and 9000-odd photographs back to this lovely new 60GB hard drive, so I will again have a proper backup and be able to breathe.

It’s usable now, if not exactly a flyer. Compiling even the most basic Java app takes several seconds, and for some reason no videos can be played – not even ones that played earlier. I suspect this is a driver issue, because I can’t imagine that decoding an AVI is beyond the capabilities of this processor, although I’m tempted to see if I can get a 1.4GHz replacement with a larger cache. I do crave performance, I do. But it’s going to have to wait. Ah, woe is me!

Now that’s the whole London experience!

Stamford Hill Railway Station, north London. An unprepossessing place, typical of the grimy, slightly run-down north London boroughs. It doesn’t look like much, and it isn’t, really. It would be just another nameplate on the railway line to Enfield Town, as far as I was concerned, if it wasn’t for the fact that it was there that I was, as the Metropolitan Police so charmingly put it, “a victim of an assault on 15th May at or around 17:00 hours”.

I was on my way to Ridge Avenue in Enfield to meet a new student at the public library there, and the easiest way seemed to be to take the train rather than a series of buses. I was about halfway through exams, and was therefore carting both books and laptop around in an effort to get some work done on the journey, which was about an hour. Bethnal Green station took some finding, being tucked away on a little side road behind a series of endless car workshops with what seemed like half of London’s population of black cabs parked on the pavement and under the railway arches. This was already a slightly seedy district, away from the light and shops of Cambridge Heath Road – not somewhere you’d want to be caught late at night, definitely. But then again, much of the East End is like that when you get away from the main roads, so I thought nothing of it.

I sauntered in, bought my ticket, and settled down to wait. The train was a few minutes late, and I got into a sparsely populated carriage about halfway down the platform. I had revision to do, and had my laptop open with past exam papers, to save paper and expense by printing them out. I wasn’t paying much attention to people coming and going – a few people got on, and I noticed them out of the corner of my eye, but they didn’t really make much impression. I do know that there was a group of boys that got on, and one of them crossed into the next carriage, while a friend stayed in this one, and they were signalling to each other through the closed door. I only noticed this because of the movement of his hands, or else I’d have no idea they were there beyond the vague impression of seeing someone standing there, to be forgotten in the next moment.

As the train drew into Stamford Hill, the one in the next carriage opened the connecting door and the two of them started walking past me, and then it all happened very fast. One of them grabbed the open laptop (ah, poor Shadowfax!) that was on the seat opposite me while I checked some papers, and as I reached out to stop him, in a half-second of sheer incomprehension, I got a punch in the side of the face. Then they were out of the open door and away up the platform. I still have no idea who did what, or even what they were wearing, or any idea of what they look like. It was far too quick for me to have more than a confused impression.

In the time it took me to gather my things and get after them (I left my jacket on the train, I later realised) they were almost at the stairs that lead to the street, and I didn’t have a hope of catching them. Not that this was the wisest thing to do at the best of times, but the adrenaline had taken over, and I was just giving in the to call of the case. I did slow down and check the stairwell carefully, but of course they’d gone out into the street and split up. No hope of catching them. A Jewish gentleman standing on the platform pointed out the direction they had taken, and I called the police. We cruised around for a while, but in the end they admitted it was pointless, and I took the train home. The injury turned out to be a mild black eye and a cut under my eye where the edge of my glasses had been driven into my cheek, but nothing serious. I had it looked at on the advice of the police, but the doctor peered at it for a moment and said it was nothing to worry about.

I’ve been over that moment several times since – for the official statement, which the police came home to take, later on, and then again when I was telling the story to people, and it’s still a confused impression without any clear images. I know they were young, and black, and wore black, but beyond that… nothing. Definitely no way I could identify them even if they were caught.

In a way, they’re more victims than I, although I’ve never been called a victim so many times in my life. The police were marvellous and efficient and polite, and took statements and photographs and sent letters, and I still cling to a faint hope that the CCTV evidence might show up something worth pursuing, but it doesn’t look likely. I’m not really worried about the laptop itself, although in the middle of exams was the worst possible time it could have happened. It would actually have been a lot worse if they’d taken my bag with all the lecture and revision notes, so that’s something to be thankful for. It could also have been a lot more violent – they were far more interested in getting away. I could have been knifed or worse, so I think I got off very lightly in the circumstances.

It was an interesting and rather sad sociological stereotype, though – young black inner city boys doing the deed, predominantly white police officers. Sad reflection on crime in inner-city England.

Anyhow – it happened, and what’s done can’t be undone. I have a guardian angel who’s given me her old laptop, which will do after a memory and hard drive upgrade, so I’ll survive until I can make my first million and get a better one. I’m not terribly upset or damaged, and if you’ll excuse me, I need to go have tea with Elizabeth to round off the London experience. Yes, that Elizabeth. The queen.