A little birthday fuss

For my grandfather's 89th birthday today, I gave him an ang pow (red packet with a gift of money inside) and taught him how to answer and disconnect calls on his cell phone. Although I tried to simplify things by saying "press green to answer and red to hang up the phone", I realised that part of the difficulty was that the buttons on his phone are way too small for the coloured symbols to be easily identified by someone of his age --- which makes me think that cell phone makers better start thinking about geriatric-friendly versions soon (bigger buttons and screens, with fonts, symbols and buttons that are easy to read), or at least continue to produce chunkier versions of their top-of-the-line models. My eyesight may fade when I get older (actually, it's already fading now) but I'm still gonna want my many-megapixel camera and internet capabilities, dammit.

While we didn't have a birthday cake, my grandfather had a celebratory ice kachang and the aunts (his daughters) tried to sneak the little cookies that came with our coffees onto his plate --- perhaps reckoning that with his hale and hearty constitution at the age of 89, he might enjoy the extra sweet treats more.

Now some of us grandkids are thinking we ought to throw Gong a big bash for his 90th next year. Any suggestions on what makes a great nonagenenarian birthday party?


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On completing a government survey

Cross-posted to Metroblogging Singapore.

We got a letter from the Ministry of Manpower last week, informing us that our household had been shortlisted to participate in their annual labour force survey. I actually have a penchant for doing surveys (filling out forms is fun!) and government surveys get my full attention because I don't think I'm a very "typical" Singaporean, so I like to think that my survey tells the government a little something they didn't expect.

Of course, there's also the possibility that my survey results merely generate such pronounced statistical outliers than my perspective is effectively rendered moot. But anyways.

The first thing that stumped me about this survey was having to indicate the Head of Household. The survey defines the Head as "normally the eldest member, the main income-earner or the person who manages the affairs of the household."

To wit, my "household" situation:
  • My household consists of exactly two people: my husband and myself.
  • Between the two of us, my husband wins, hands-down, the prize for being the "eldest member" of the household.
  • But the question of who is the "main" income-earner isn't as straightforward as that. He used to make more than me, then he switched careers and I made more than him, but this year I switched careers too, so the jury's still out on who's going to emerge as the "main" moneymaker.
  • As for managing the affairs of the household, what does that mean anyway? Is it the person in whose name the utilities are registered (me) and paid for (shared)? Is it the person who pays for our home mortgage (shared)? Is it the person who bought the last household appliance (a rice cooker, me)? Is it the person who answers the door (usually the cat)?
  • Finally, why can't a couple be jointly Head of their Household? Why must there be only one Head?
(Of course, if you believe the Internal Inland Revenue Authority, the Head/"main" income-earner must be my husband because every year they give him a Personal Identification Number (PIN) that enables him to file our online income tax returns returns jointly --- whereas the PIN I get is for I, me and myself.)

Anyway, I decided that in the interests of skewing the Labour Force Survey results, I would put myself down as the Head of Household. After all, I was the one logging in to fill out the survey, right?

Then we got to that little category that is so fanatically important in Singapore officialdom: race. My identity card identifies me with an Indian sub-category that I've always felt isn't entirely accurate in terms of my ethnically mixed ancestry. I tried to get it changed once, but was firmly told by a government official that the category I wanted (Ceylonese-Chinese) didn't exist in their system and so I would have to pick one and couldn't elide the two. Rather than contend with the impossible impenetrability that is a government bureaucracy, I decided then to leave my identity card information as status quo.

This survey provided even more limited options: Chinese, Malay, Indian or Others. The survey's definitions of race state that the Chinese/Malay/Indian categories are for people of Chinese/Malay/Indian descent respectively, and "Others" is for everyone else. It doesn't tell you what to do if you're of both Chinese and Indian descent, so I decided to go with "Others".

Now that those two pesky questions were out of the way, the rest of the survey was actually a breeze. You can see the survey questions for yourself.

Our only other somewhat atypical response was for "employment status", where we both clock in as what the survey terms an "Own Account Worker": "a person who operates his own business without employing any paid workers in the conduct of his business or trade." I'm glad to give the numbers for this category a boost because I think there are more of us solo/independent operators around than people realise, and that has all sorts of implications on a country's economic and social systems.

So now I've done my citizenly duty for the year. Can't wait till the next form comes along.


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POH liao

Scribbles & scrawls

Work is still goodbusy, but I nevertheless had time for the first meeting of the Ah POHs club on Monday. What's a POH, you ask? Why a Photographer's Other Half, of course --- girls who wouldn't know each other if their other halves weren't part of the same band of photographer-brothers.

It being lunchtime on a Monday, not all eligible POHs were in attendance. But there was melliepellie, who had arranged the lunch ostensibly to pick up her custom-made earrings from Abigael. There was me because I like having lunch in the city. We had Hock Lam beef noodles, then the first order of business was to decide what to call ourselves.

The options we eliminated through sheer, er, whim and fancy:
  • PWC
  • WOP
You figure out what they stand for.

I'm not sure what'll be on the agenda the next time, but I don't think we can go wrong with a yummy two-hour lunch.

Taken by Abigael


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All growed up

You know you're really an adult when you go out with your father and:
  • You remind him to "watch out" just before you cross the road together.
  • You take care of his parking fines because you feel like you're old enough that you ought to, even though the parking tickets weren't really your fault in the first place.
  • You get to put lunch with him on the company expense account.
In other news, the encounter with "uncle" went well. I avoided the entire "uncle" conundrum by simply breezing past it with a cheery, "Hi, thank you for meeting us!" Then we had a good interview and sat there chatting for much longer than I expected.

Then, we got to the part of the conversation where it's a bit of personal chitchat and he asks how I'm doing. And because he's the kind of guy he is, he asks why I don't have kids. Then he tells me that if I'm not going to have kids, I shouldn't have gotten married seven years ago. "If you're not going to have kids, no need to get married lah! Stay single! Enjoy your independence!" Then he tells me why I should have kids before I get much older.

I bit my tongue.

Apparently, he doesn't say such things to his son, Corporate Overlord. Perhaps because Corporate Overlord isn't married and is, after all, a son and not a daughter.

Anyway, the boss mocked me for being so deferential about it. I said, hey, I know when to pick my battles.

In yet other news, my father today began a sentence with, "So are you and Terz planning to ... " and I swear to God I thought he was going to finish it with, "have children" --- but he was just asking if we had started applying to emigrate to Canada yet.



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The best thing I've read today about Pluto not being a planet anymore

quirkybird's "An Ode to Pluto, Upon Its Demotion From Planethood".

This'll become just another way of dating people. "Oh yeah, they used to teach us in school that there were nine planets in the solar system, you know --- they didn't know any better about Pluto back then ... "


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The uncertainties of saying "uncle"

For work today, I'm interviewing Corporate Overlord's dad. We all used to live in the same housing estate, so I would have seen him around the neighbourhood when I was growing up and he would have been one of the many "uncles" that I said hi to.

On the other hand, I haven't seen him in almost twenty years (really, I have no clear recollection of what he looks like) and when I arranged the appointment with him over the phone earlier this week, he referred to himself by his first name.

So the question is: what do I call him when I see him later?
  • The handy, friendly, all-purpose "uncle", since it was through his son that I got in touch with him?
  • By his first name since he thusly identified himself when he called me?
  • As "Mr _____", using his last name? But then even the "Mr" gets dicey since he, like everyone in that neighbourhood back then (more about that in a subsequent post), was a military officer.
My boss is going to be at the interview too, so I suppose I could address him by whatever he introduces himself to the boss as. And I am meeting him in a professional capacity ---

--- Although it's a personal favour that got us the meeting in the first place. Above all, would it be weird to not call him "uncle"?



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I, me & myself

Alright, I take back what I said about goodbusy.

This afternoon, I decided I needed a time-out, so I took the night off, even though I'll pay for it this weekend. Didn't feel up to socialising either, so while Terz is making his weekly Wala Wala/UnXpected pilgrimage, at home there's just me, the cat, a couple of bottles of Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit and several chick flicks.

Contrived as it is, the ending of Notting Hill gets me every time, you know?


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The sporadic Ink report

This blog has been accused of not having enough pictures lately. That means it's time for a little gratuitous cat cuteness.

Studying is HARD

Ink says: "Studying is HARD!!"

Actually, more like Ink was nuzzling the edge of the books and papers because he likes the feel of it against his cheeks, I think, then he decided to flop over and pose when I pulled out the camera. I have a camwhore cat. Heaven help us all.

Recent Ink shenanigans:
  • Scavenging inside the wastepaper basket in the living room, because he thinks used tissues (snot and all) are fun to chase around the room.
  • Stalking cockroaches (or at least, defending the kitchen against them) at the drainage trap.
  • Chewing on the end of the cable for the cell phone charger.
  • Kidnapping his favourite black ballpoint pen and batting it around under our bed (maybe he likes alliteration too).
  • Absconding with my keys.

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My humble neologism

When I hailed kk online today, she asked me how I was, as usual. My typed response was, inadvertently, "Goodbusy."

Come to think of it, it's a good word, innit?



Thank goodness for nice people

Like the folks at the Ya Kun Kaya Toast outlet at Raffles Hospital, who rescued my cell phone for safekeeping after I'd stupidly left it on the table after finishing my teh, and who were therefore able to return it to my grateful and contrite self when I came hurrying back about five minutes later.

I was convinced it'd be gone, really, given Terz's recent blink-and-it's-gone experience. Even as my friend and I speedwalked back to the cafe (and she beat me by half a mile, even though it was my phone that'd been left behind), I was thinking about all the information I had on the phone and whether it was backed up elsewhere. And kicking myself because just yesterday, after beeker suck(er)ed me into installing Agile Messenger on my cell phone, I'd been keying in my IM usernames and passwords, and thinking about whether I needed to be worrying about security issues.

The answer to that last question, of course, is yes --- yes, I do. But the broader lesson from today's near calamity is to not be such a careless spaz and to pay attention to my stuff even when I'm out having a good time with friends.


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The book meme made me do it

I know I said I wasn't going to buy more books, but then a work meeting brought me into the vicinity of Borders today. I picked out three of the four books on my shopping list, then realised that with the volume I was buying, I would be better off taking a short walk to Kinokuniya instead, where I get a 10% discount.

The final haul:
  • The long-awaited Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie
  • The Nasty Bits, by Anthony Bourdain
  • A Cook's Tour, by Anthony Bourdain --- because I've read Kitchen Confidential and this is the only one of his food-related books left.
  • New Hart's Rules, by R.M. Ritter--- for work, obviously.
I was tempted to get Neil Humphreys' Final Notes from a Great Island, but decided that I'm not exactly in the mood for a "funny" book about Singapore just now.

First up on the reading list: The Nasty Bits, because I'm more in that sort of mood.


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It's official

Unless you are Al Gore or Howard Dean, no other politician can speak about "the latest" popular internet sites without sounding like he's totally out of touch.

Just listen to our Prime Minister's fine example, during the "digital age" segment of his National Day rally tonight. Talking Cock? MySpace? "Narrowcasting"? Microsoft blogs? So last quarter, if not last year or more.

He did, however, mention some handy advice:
First of all, be sceptical. Don't believe everything you see. Not everything which is published is true. Know what is right or wrong.
Indeed, and it's equally applicable to the mainstream media (local and foreign), government press releases and anything else that tries to pass itself off as an authoritative source.

Like, oh, the National Day Rally, for example.


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I need a WorkSpace

Will someone please hurry up and develop one of these for Singapore already, please? Tankyu.


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Because I love books

Obviously, nobody had to tag me for this meme.

Taken off Capitalism Bad, Tree Pretty and two peas, no pod.

1. One book you have read more than once

Bill Bryson's Down Under, which I read every year when I want a break from reading new books, because it reminds me that good writing doesn't need to be florid, overwrought, "literary" or about "important" or "lofty" issues. Pair this with the Australian tourism advertisment featuring Delia Goodrem's "I Can Sing A Rainbow", and I'm sold on the place.

2. One book you would want on a desert island

The Riverside Shakespeare, because then there'd be lots to read --- tragedy, comedy, and all the mishmash between for every mood --- not to mention helpful notes for the really obscure bits. Also enough variety between poetry and drama, and plenty of fodder for (pseudo-)literary analysis scrawled on coconut leaves if I got really bored.

3. One book that made you laugh

Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding. Just about anything by Bill Bryson. And any of the Blandings stuff by P.G. Wodehouse --- that's when I first realised as a child that writing could be funny and well-written (okay, the word I'm reaching for is "witty", but I was reverting to a child's vocabulary there).

4. One book that made you cry

The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen (whose name I always spell with an unnecessary 't' on the first try). The family he describes --- so dysfunctional, yet so real, so depressing. I couldn't get through the book the first time, made it through the second time and then needed a big hug from Terz. I'm not sure I'll ever read it all the way through again.

Honourable mention: A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin, because a character died when I totally didn't expect him to die, which left me not only genuinely aghast and torn up, but also in awe at Martin, because what the hell kind of writer dares to kill off the kind of character that you don't expect to die --- which then made me nervous about reading the subsequent books in the series, which explains why I haven't.

5. One book you wish you had written

The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje (whose name I can spell impeccably), because it was lyrical yet real, out of this world yet very much of it. Now that's one book I need to buy for keeps.

6. One book you wish had never been written

All the Chicken Soup books, because they elevate rose-tinted optimism to an unworthy art form. Life is hard. In fact, life is frequently shit. Get over it already.

7. One book you are currently reading

Ironically, I am not reading anything right now. I was going to reread Pride and Prejudice because Cristy mentioned it on her book meme blog post, but I think we loaned it to someone. Consider this an official APB: Who has my Pride and Prejudice???

Meanwhile, I need to meet wahj to borrow some books off him. I could go buy some new books, but I really shouldn't (except for the aforementioned Ondaatje). They're all over the floor as it is.

8. One book you have been meaning to read

Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie. I attempted it as a teenager, which was a foolish, foolish mistake because I was too young and silly. It's only in the last few years that I've truly appreciated Rushdie's writing. Maybe I should allow myself to buy this one, in addition to the Ondaatje ...

9. One book that changed your life

A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster --- though mainly, I suspect, because it was Mr K who taught it to us.

10. Now tag five people:

Why tag five people when you can tag ten? Also because I like doling out blog homework to former students:

1. yuhui
2. ampulets
3. wahj
4. cour marly
5. sarah
6. leah
7. dio
8. strangemessages
9. Daryl
10. ballsy


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I had nasi lemak for lunch and now I have a small fish bone, courtesy of extra-crispy ikan kuning, trapped between two teeth on my lower right jaw. It's not painful, but it's very irritating because I know it's there. No amount of tongue-flicking or teeth-brushing has been able to dislodge it.

Guess I'm having lots of sticky rice at dinner.





Even though I'm a freelancer, the decent thing to do if you're going to call me after dinnertime, particularly when it's hardly an emergency, is to apologize for interrupting my evening before you barrel on with your request. Thankyouverymuch.



The Monday morning magic formula

I am having a banana walnut muffin from Cedele and a coffee from Delicatessen. Perfect!

Okay, so it added up to about four times than what a more "local" breakfast would cost --- but getting Monday morning off to the right start is well worth it.



What time is it?

Cross-posted to Metroblogging Singapore.

In the course of surfing the web today, I came across this website chronicling the timezones that Singapore has followed over the years: Why is Singapore in the "Wrong" Time Zone? That wasn't the question that I was searching for the answer to (I was just trying to confirm that Singapore currently runs on GMT+8 ) but the website title was intriguing enough that I clicked on the link ---

--- And it neatly reminded me that yes, I wasn't hallucinating a memory. When I was a child, Singapore did concertedly move its clocks forward. On December 31, 1981, at 4 pm GMT, Singapore flicked all its clocks and watches half an hour ahead,and leapt ahead to (4pm + 8 hours) = midnight on January 1, 1982.

Another way of looking at it is that Singapore rang in New Year's Day a half hour before it had in the preceding year.

A third way of looking at it is that Singaporeans lost half an hour of their lives, because the duration between 11:30 pm and midnight never "happened", so to speak. So if one were thereafter interrogated by the police, who wanted to know what he or she was doing between the hours of 11:30 pm and midnight, well the right and honest answer would be, "I don't know." Or perhaps, if one dares, "I wasn't there, sir. Really!"

Also: no babies could have been born in Singapore between 11:30 and 11:59 pm on December 31, 1981. So if anyone ever tells you that's exactly when they were born, you know they're lying to you.

Most importantly, this means that all of us born in Singapore before 1982 can relish the fact that we are in fact half an hour younger than we thought we were. Hurrah!

At any rate, the reason all this time-switching took place, according the to website linked above, was that Malaysia decided that it would advance clocks on the peninsula to match East Malaysia's time (GMT+8). If Singapore had remained at GMT+7:30, everyone would have to fiddle with their watches and/or live with the confusion of not being certain what time it was whenever they crossed the Causeway. So Singapore made the leap too --- which just means we fiddle with our watches whenever we pop over to Indonesia instead.


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Little accents

At the supermarket today, they had brilliant, shiny lemons. So I bought two and now have lemon slices to put in my cold water. Hurrah!




Nope, didn't do any work

This afternoon, we popped by the foyer of the Drama Centre at the new National Library to have a looksee at Ming's Merlion pictures, exhibited in conjunction with the Singapore Theatre Festival.

Standing tall

Because nothing says National Day like toasting a tourist icon with a little teh tarik (tea with condensed milk), then driving all over town to round up friends for a chilli crab dinner.

And ain't nothing like a heart meal of chilli crab to put full-grown adults to sleep an hour after dinner. Not that we actually fell asleep, but we came darned close to it. To prop our eyelids open, we turned to the strange yet compelling antics of Wayne's World. Halfway through the movie, I badly wanted a glass of water but the fullness of my stomach wouldn't permit me to get up from the couch to get it.


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Now what?

It's National Day today and I sorta wish I was at the National Stadium for the annual parade extravaganza because it's the grand old lady's swan song. But I didn't realise it was going to be the stadium's last hurrah until well after it was too late to obtain any tickets (and I'm not inclined to pay online scalpers for one), so while the massive show rages on, I will probably be sitting at home watching DVDs or something.

(There's not much point in watching the televised parade because it's the stadium I want to see, not the vomit-inducing, mind-numbing, soul-killing pabulum that passes for patriotic fervour in this funny little country I live in.)

To quote one of the more resonant lines from Alfian Sa'at's play Homesick from last week, "How can we build a national identity if we keep tearing down everything with the word 'national' in it?"

Time was when National Day meant gathering with friends at ampulets' parents' home to hijack their well-accoutred den (big-screen projection TV and all) to watch anime VCDs, play a little mahjong and then switch over to the parade in the evening for some lively mockery and nit-picking. Shooting fish in a barrel, yes, I know, but then there was the year when the fleur de lis or some other fancypants gun salute went wrong (or so said all the National Service-trained men in the room) and no one really knew what to say.

Last National Day, we were in Bali celebrating my best friend's wedding. Although I haven't left the country this year, I feel about as cut off from ongoing National Day festivities. I didn't hear my first National Day song till I passed the blind busker on the underpass outside Orchard MRT station yesterday (it was the insidious, "This is home, Shirley surely", which will now linger unbidden in my head till it's displaced by Xmas tunes). No one harrassed us to fly the flag either, unless you count all the government banners that have inundated every residential district, exhorting "Join the Celebrations, Fly Our Flag!" (as though the former isn't possible without the latter).

Maybe I should just be a good Singaporean and do some work.


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A different kind of vegging out

It's been a mostly working weekend after all, so I haven't had any exciting meals. But earlier this week, there was Annalakshmi at its new Amoy Street location --- yes, relocated from its decades-old space at Excelsior Hotel, but retaining the same "pay as much as you feel is appropriate" philosophy.

The thing about me and Indian food is that most of the time, I don't know what any of the dishes are called and may not even be entirely sure of what I'm eating, particularly when it comes to vegetarian dishes. Yes, yes, you could say shame on me and my one-quarter Indian heritage. But as a child, the Indian restaurant we ate most frequently at was the original Komala Vilas along Serangoon Road, where for a flat price, they would heap rice and all sorts of anonymous vegetarian dishes on a banana leaf.

Keyword: anonymous.

I soon learned what I liked, but I didn't know what anything was called, except, ironically, the things I didn't really care for: rasam, the soup-like concoction that my father would especially ask for at Komala Vilas, and dhal, which my mom would make at home too.

So a buffet, which is the staple at Annalakshmi, is really the best set-up for me. Mr Sanguine has a nice picture of the spread (he happened to be there too that day), and they also have a nice marsala tea to round off the meal.

The new restaurant isn't as ornately decorated as the old Excelsior place, but it's very cheery.


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Spotted in a crowd

The thing about running into former students at Wine Bar is that, first of all, they bellowed my name loud enough that I immediately turned and fled the scene. (That is, not my name per se, but what they used to call me in school, Ms _____, hence also immediately distinguishing me as a teacher. Very cool --- not.)

When the dust had settled and we had all caught up, there were the exclamations of how cool it was that I was still clubbing. Despite my age, I guess? Thanks, guys.

And then it turned out that one of these young punks had a Master's degree. Damn, I need to get me one of those.

Finally, we did a little math and realised that they're now the age I was when I taught them many moons ago. I'm not sure how I feel about that.


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Who knew cats had it in them

The nice thing about watching a play on opening night is that it cuts down on the extraneous hype, expectations and stereotypes that typically mushroom in the wake of its debut. So before tonight's play, I knew Ovidia Yu was a decent playwright (by reputation only, because I hadn't seen or read anything by her before) and I knew The Silence of the Kittens was about cats, a subject that's been close to my heart even before Ink. And that was about it.

The Silence of the Kittens fell into what I mentally, and uneducatedly, classify as That Singapore Play: the literal resides side-by-side with the symbolic onstage, actors take on multiple roles which overlap and enrich each other (or sometimes don't) --- a consciously theatrical approach to real life, one might say. It's not a bad thing, it's just a way of telling a story.

And with an approach like this, to describe The Silence of the Kittens as "the play about cats", as I said two paragraphs ago or told the box office person when I collected my tickets, is about as accurate as saying that King Lear is about an old man or Buffy is about vampires. That is to say, in five words or less, that's what it's about --- but it's so, so much more.

But it's not my place to give away the laundry list of layers and symbolism in this play. Suffice to say I'd never considered that cats could mean so much or say so much about this strange little society we live in. And that I honestly didn't pay deserved attention to the Sars-hysteria-induced cat-culling of 2003 because, well, it's not an excuse but I was working my butt off at the time --- but now I wish I'd seen more then.

Because Ovidia Yu is right. It's not just about terrorising some poor defenceless animal. It's about the problems with this place that no one seems to sit up and notice, least of all when the general elections swing around and it really, really matters. You don't even have to like cats to get this play. You just have to be a person with a sense of human decency.

So go see the play. The Silence of the Kittens plays until Sunday (6 August). Then go home and hug your cat --- whatever "cat" means to you.


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The funny thing about being a freelance writer is that I work industriously through several consecutive weeks and weekends, then in the middle of the afternoon today, I look down at my to-do list and suddenly I've got nothing to do. Not that I'm out of work --- just that I've done whatever can be done as of today and everything else has to wait till after all the meetings that are lined up the rest of the week, before I know what to do next.

And it's a funny thing to be at a loose end in the middle of a weekday workday, when everyone else is in the middle of their nine-to-five routine, but I don't even have new email to read.

So I watched some Buffy. And balanced my chequebook and bank accounts. And backed up my data on my brand-new hard drive, which necessitated some External Hard Drives for Dummies-style consultation with the brother.

The next few days and the weekend probably won't be so much like this. Which is why today is nice.

In dreamland


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