Chapter 16: Christmas 2001.

We just went to see the much-hyped Harry Potter film.  Since finishing reading Lord of the Rings, I have been reading these books to Natasha, we are just starting book 3 of 4.  This film is of book 1, the film of book 2 is now under construction.
Count on them not to miss the opportunity.
Apparently they are in a hurry to get it done before Harry's voice breaks

Apparently its 'World Premiere' is on Friday, but all the cinemas here have been showing an unpublicised 2-day 'preview' this weekend.  Quite a good trick, the cinema was full, showing it on about half the screens, but not packed out or overbooked and no queueing.  I guess people only knew it was on if they checked their cinema schedules regularly.
Excellent film, very immersing, special effects almost seamless, I especially liked the cloak of invisibility - established technology well used.  Pretty much lives up to the hype.
Oh, good.  I was hoping that no one would be disappointed.
Plenty of potential English Tourist Board promotional material, and the casting was spot-on.  Richard Griffiths with added fat.  Robby Coltrane bearded and built up to giant proportions seemed really in his element.  Zoe Wannamaker lovely as a witch teaching broomstick classes.  John Cleese as a ghost who pulls his own head off. Yuck.  The young girl who plays Hermione was terrrific, they should have renamed it Hermione Granger and the Philosopher's Stone, she has probably a bigger part than Harry Potter.
I see the US version has been renamed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, reputedly because Americans don't know what a philosopher is, or at least they have forgotten Alchemy 101.  I suppose America is too young to remember Alchemy!

Yup, that's it.  The U.S. book was also renamed thus.

I'll be in Austin, Texas all this week, giving moral support to my sister.  (She's got her oral
dissertation defense for her doctorate degree.)  I'll talk at ya when I get back.

Thanks for the postcard.  Pierced navel indeed!  Congrats to Dr Sister.

A large parcel just arrived with your name on it.  I haven't opened it yet, it just came while I was online.  It looks impressive.  Thank you!
Great!  It has "Eloise" and "Where's Wallace?" for Natasha and a couple of small things for you.  They are wrapped and tree-ready, so you can hide them or not as is your wont.  And when I say small things for you, I mean very small.  You don't have to worry about reciprocating, if you get antsy about such things.
Ok, we opened the outer wrapper.  The gift-wrapping is lovely, and I gave  strict orders that nothing was to be opened further until the 25th.  That's fine.  The gift-wrapping is lovely because I used to wrap gifts for a living, when I was in college.  I use a lot of double-stick tape, as I was taught.  My packages are quite difficult to open up, and I apologize for that.  But they ship very well. Natasha compromised by opening one of the packs of book labels.  Oh, that's fine.  They weren't wrapped; I just threw them in, because I thought she might find them handy.  I forgot all about them and forgot to list them on the Customs Declaration.  Horrors!
The parcels will look good under the tree, when I get one, which I aim to do this week. 
Xmas TreeI hope you're not doing that just because I sent presents.  What a hassle.
Oh no, we always do.
Here is a picture of our Christmas tree with presents.  Yours are in there somewhere.

If I got it any earlier there would be needles everywhere, because we always get a cut fir tree about 2.5m high in our upstairs living room, and it makes a terrific mess getting it downstairs after Xmas. (Even though I wrap it in a sheet.)
It is no fun.  In Hawaii, all of the real Christmas trees come on a Matson container ship that gets into Honolulu the day after Thanksgiving.  (The last Friday in November.) It's a tradition.  That's the only shipment we get, so as a result, they are generally brown and shedding by Christmas.  When I was little we had a live Norfolk Island Pine in a pot, and I like them the best.  They're not prickly and they have LOTS of room between the branches to hang huge child-made ornaments.
Now that I'm a grown-up, I don't have a tree anymore.  I half-heartedly decorate the mantel piece, and the presents go on the bricks in front of the fireplace.  It looks nice and is easy to clean up.
I am a little embarrassed to get all this, but not so much to worry about. I don't really believe in reciprocating, rather in giving suitable gifts if and when they come to hand.  We'll see what happens.  Mostly I find Christmas a pain in the butt, trying to find the time to buy cards and presents, and worrying about the cash flow. 
Yes.  Please understand, I did not send you that stuff to create any sense of obligation.  Really!  I wanted Natasha to have those books, and I felt so bad for you opening up this package with brightly wrapped stuff in it NOT for you that I sent you a couple of little things.  You do NOT need to send me anything.  I have so much stuff it bothers me, and certainly don't need any more.
Don't worry I would not send you any junk, only if I saw something small that I thought you would like and you would not see otherwise.
Good.  I don't send presents with the expectation of reciprocation.  Few people understand that, and I'm glad you do.
I hate deadlines, and of course it is one of the busiest times of year for business.  Some years I have pretty much given Christmas a miss.  Anyway I have agreed Natasha and I will go to my parents over Christmas, and I will bring the turkey. 
That's nice.  Your parents will be happy, I'm sure.  Does an English turkey dinner include stuffing for the turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, haricot bean casserole, cranberry sauce, etc., or do you do it in lemon butter or something?
Well yes, the former, but hold the bean casserole and add roast potatoes and brussels sprouts.
Artyom is now working in a bar (did I mention that?), and he will be working Christmas Eve, so he will stay here.  I hope he doesn't wreck the place partying.
No.  How too, too perfect.  I hope it doesn't lead him into temptation.  Is he a bartender or an ice fetcher and table cleaner?
They don't do much ice (only in G&Ts and the like) and they don't serve at tables in English pubs.  He is a bartender mostly and occasionally a glass collector.  He has work in, I think, three pubs at the moment, adding up to about 15-20 hours a week.  They are small pubs with only two or three staff at any one time.  The biggest of them plans to employ 8 on the festive evenings.  Sometimes he is working on his own on quiet evenings.

Here's a picture of Natasha posing in her new party dress. 
She looks utterly fabulous (I am sure the knee socks were not part of the final ensemble.)
No, there were some strappy gold-trimmed shoes.  We were just fooling around with the camera. We ended up playing camera-tag, the idea being that the one who is 'on' has to get a photo of the other, who tries to hide or run away. The shutter delay, auto-power-off and flash recharge time make it interesting.
Yes, but it sounds like fun.
She's so tall!  When she opens the books, if she thinks they are too young for her, please reassure her that I think she is very grown-up, but even I love those books and I thought she would enjoy them EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE VERY SIMPLE.  She can give them to her children.
We went to a birthday party of an old friend, in both senses.  I didn't like to ask if it was her 70th, but I think she is 69 this year.  The average age was over 70, and the youngest apart from Natasha was about 45.  Nonetheless she had a good time.  Our hostess was a cat lover, so they hit it off straight away, and Natasha became the centre of attention when everyone realised that here was an expert on this "Harry Potter" phenomenon they had been hearing about. Well, please tell Natasha that Jack the Grey Cat says "hello," and raised his tail to her.

I am currently vetting a series of children's books for my niece and nephews.  They are designed for nine years and up, but I think I will have to give them to them early.  They are called "An Unfortunate Series Of Events," and they are written by someone whose nom de plume is Lemony Snicket.  They are very funny, and I love them.
I am impatiently waiting for "The Lord of the Rings" to open.  I was obsessed by those books when I was around ten, and, of course, cast my own movie.  I want to see how this version compares to mine.  It looks perfectly beautiful.
Re:  movies.  I saw "Little Voice" the other night and could not tell what kind of accent everyone was speaking in, especially Brenda Blethyn.  Are you by any chance familiar with that movie, and do you know where it was supposed to be happening?
Wasn't that the one with Jane Horrocks ('Bubble' from AbFab)?  I never did see it.  Horrocks can do an impressive range of accents.  She is actually from Rossendale, just a few miles from here.
Yes.  I'm very fond of her.  I think she's just as cute as can be.
As you can see from the photo, I gave in to temptation when the latest generation of sub-£100 megapixel cameras appeared on the market.  It has about the performance of a 110-size fixed-focus compact camera, but with all the convenience of digital. 
Yes, and I have an inexpensive Epson color printer (a 777i) that, when loaded with glossy photo stock, produces beautiful prints.  The pixels are not at all visible, and the prints look even better than they did on the screen.  Ain't technology grand?
Yes, we do quite a lot of that.
It needed a few changes to get it right, fitting a 64Mb memory card, grafting on a larger rechargeable battery pack (as standard it used up 3 AAA alkaline batteries in about ten shots, rechargeables did four - just too expensive!), and dismantling a pair of Lyudmila's old reading glasses to make close-up lenses for macro work and cartoons.  Then I wrote a C++ program to make a thru-the-lens viewfinder using the PC, for macro, because the camera is too cheap to have an LCD screen. 
The thing that annoys me about the digital cameras is their speed, or lack thereof.  I press the button and sometime in the next century the flash goes off and the picture is taken.  Frequently the picture that appears is not the picture I thought I was taking.  Very bad when taking pictures of animals, as I am prone to doing.  Maybe I should switch to pictures of rocks.
That can be a problem, although I seem to learn to anticipate.   I can't take decent pictures of the cat because whenever she sees me trying she comes and rubs against the camera or my legs, so I have to walk backwards while waiting for the shutter.
My cat is about as active as your average roast potato, but he will often be in an exceptionally adorable position and the click of the button makes him move.
The only annoying thing is, as far as I can see, you can't trigger still photos from the PC, you can only get a 320x240 pixel streaming webcam image, so for macros I have to line up the shot on the PC screen, then unplug the USB cable and press the shutter release, plug it back in and upload the picture.  Also you can't override the auto exposure and white balance in any mode.
Ah, yes, a pain.  About the only thing that I like about them, other than the convenience of not having to scan photos into the computer, is the large viewfinder window.  When taking pictures of still things, it's great for assessing what the image will actually be.
Not having that feature is what makes this camera so cheap.  That's why I had to make a viewfinder window on the PC.
Ah, I gotcha.  Surely that limits you, then, to shots that are near the PC?
Only for close-ups.  It has an optical viewinder like a cheap film camera, but that doesn't work if you get close.  It also has a cute reverse viewinder, a convex mirror on the front, so you can see roughly what you are taking when doing self-portraits.  When taking 'ordinary' stills or movies in daylight at 2m-infinity, or stills by flash at about 2m, it is fine hand held.  Of course I am always pushing the envelope, so I have a 500W floodlight (a cheap outdoor 'security lamp') which helps with indoor movies, Wow!  Fancy! and a selection of closeup lenses that I can blu-tak to the front for macro, made from old spectacles and binoculars, and a strap-on rechargeable battery pack, without which it would be completely uneconomic to use.  For macro work it is not usually to inconvenient to move the object to the computer. The only bits missing are that my laptop is too old to have USB, so I can't upload to that, and the offline movies are in Quicktime format, which I can't convert, edit or compress.
Can't help with the Quicktime problem, but there are relatively inexpensive USB converters available.  I have one on my laptop and another (another kind) on the iMac, as it didn't have enough USB ports for what I wanted to do.  They are about US$35.
Hmm, so far I haven't seen PCMCIA to USB converters here.  I don't know why not, it would seem a logical thing for older laptops that don't have USB built in.  Maybe I should look on the net.  I see ones the other way around, that connect a laptop to a USB port on a desktop for networking, but they are passive, not powered, so won't work a camera or other USB peripheral. It's not a great hardship though, there aren't many times when I would use it.
When attached to the computer, its only advantage over the webcam is that it can take high-res stills, and then only by unplugging the computer.  The webcam does better movies.  Natasha has been doing some more stop-motion
animation with that, she has written an eight-scene plot based on a pantomime; made two sets, scripted, filmed and voiced one and a half scenes (OK, I filmed the half-scene myself to try out an idea), using her toy dogs as characters. 
Wow again.  How creative. I have improved the stage so we now have a 2' wide space with five 20W lights and a DC power supply to prevent the lights flickering out of sync with the camera.  I put a preamplifier on my sound card so that we get decent quality sound from a microphone.  I always had the problem that microphone input always sounded awful, across several sound cards and microphones.  It seems that sound cards aren't sensitive enough, so you only get a full electrical level if the average microphone is acoustically overloaded.  I also rigged up a gantry so we can fly things.
Not to sound too elemental, but did you try putting a "sock" over the mic?  I have noticed that a lot of folks with sound problems on their computers could improve them with a little cap of foam.
My dad is a primo sound guy.  Would you like me to hook you up with him as a long-distance consultant?  He loves doing stuff like that, and will bore you for hours with instructions if you let him.
Thanks but it is a solved problem.  There was just a creditbility gap between the microphone manufacturers and sound card manufacturers.  You could only get full volume in the PC if you got real close to the microphone, or shouted.  When you did that the microphone distorted the sound because it mechanically overloaded.  I figured this out years ago and bought a cheap pre-amp, but it had the wrong connectors.  So I bought the connectors but stuffed the whole lot in a drawer and forgot about it because I always found a work-around, like recording voice over the phone.  So when this need arose I soldered the connectors on to bits of cable, found an extra mains outlet to plug the pre-amp into, and it all worked.  Because YOU ARE A STONE GENIUS. Then I decided to put my FM radio tuner card through it too, because that was not loud enough either.  I had to make up an attenuator to get the radio and the microphone to the same level.   Super, it all worked.  Because of the way various pieces of software work, like the tuner control, I have to keep the master volume in the software audio mixer set high and adjust the indvidual channel levels for comfort.
That was sweet except for a few odd bits of software (games, telephone answering and so on) that break the rules and fudge the settings to their own defaults whenever they start.  That was until I got a Christmas card from C on ASCB .  That is one crazy woman. Whenever I read her posts/mails I think of a bag lady shouting at passing cars.) 
I kind of think so, too.  That S person is craaaaaazy.  I have to bite my tongue every time I read her posts and remind myself to be as kind as possible.  Crazy people get sick and scared, too.  What is it about WebTV that attracts so many weird people?
 This had a sound clip with a javascript which jammed the synth volume to maximum before it started.  When I opened it, around midnight, I feared the noise was going to wake Natasha!  She (C) did sort-of apologise for that.
The advantages for me are a) low running costs, once I'd fixed the battery problem, and b) not having to wait for films to be processed.  I am a lot more prone to experiment if I can get the results right away rather than having to wait for results the next day.  I used to process my own films, but that was still expensive and very time consuming. I still have the equipment in the cellar.
You could probably sell it on eBay if you are so inclined.  When we were clearing out my grandfather's darkroom, we made a pleasant boodle on what I thought was out-of-date processing equipment.
The enlarger is a rather heavy-duty one, which I would hate to part with, I'm sure it must be useful for something, although I admit I can't think what.  Mmmm.  Doorstop?   More to the point I never feel just that short of cash, either there is enough, or else I am so short that it would be a drop in the ocean. Overdrafts come in quanta of thousands in my mind.  The rest of the lab gear is not worth much, most of the setup cost was in fitting sinks, plumbing, benches etc.  The copying stand already got recycled as our animation stage.
Do you have any laboratory glass?  Flasks, beakers, etc.?  Thanks to an article in a home decorating magazine here, people are buying them like crazy to use as vases.
Nah, they get broken.  Most of what is left is plastic.
Ah, too bad.
Thank you very much for the gifts.
Again, you're welcome.
Happy Christmas.
I loved the picture of the Christmas tree.  Thanks.

Sigh.  I'm working with my siblings right now to figure out what to do with our crazy mother.  What fun.

God, who wants Christmas? Not I, said the little red hen.  I loathe it.  I worked for too long in retail.

What I really hate is having to learn to shop again, I haven't done it for years.  I spent most of a day looking around the shops in Manchester city centre and came home with absolutely nothing.  My, how dreary.  And how exceptionally awful when it is very close to the day. I used to shop there regularly twenty years ago, but now I don't know where anything is anymore. The next day I bought what I wanted in Blackburn, which is fraction of the size.  We, the family, got a £25 gift voucher from my uncle, to spend in Marks and Spencer's (I'm sure you know that is a big clothes-food-housewares chain store particularly famous for having a near monopoly on underwear). Marks & Sparks?  Of course.   Well they have a new giant store in Manchester, built on the site conveniently cleared by the IRA a few years ago. 
How kind of them.  Do you suppose some of them own stock in companies that could benefit from a little judicious TNT?
At the time I fgured it was probably financed by a glass company.  They certainly got lots of business out of it.  One of my customers makes the crates they pack the glass in.
I thought to go in there and look for something to spend it on.  I went in by the entrance from the adjoining shopping mall and found bras as far as the eye could see.  I realised I was going to have to spend some time exploring across four or five floors to even find where the departments were.  I couldn't see stairs or escalators, only a queue for a lift (people standing in line for an elevator, to you).  I turned and left.
I don't blame you.  Here, department stores follow a predictable pattern, so you know that as you walk in from the parking lot, you walk into men's clothing; if you walk in from the mall entrance, you walk into cosmetics, etc.  I'm guessing there WAS no elevator if people were waiting for an elevator.  There are times when I cannot use the escalator here (when my right leg won't move quickly) and I never see anyone else using the elevator here.
We just got back from four days at my parents.  Natasha enjoyed herself opening dozens of presents, including your books.  She was asking me to do "Where's Wallace" with her again as we got home!  Definitely a hit that one.
Yay!  I have always adored the pictures in that.  Hilary Knight is one of my favorite illustrators.  My favorite panorama is the circus.
When I was little, of course, the only museum I had ever been to was the Bishop Museum, in Honolulu.  It has a full-sized model of a blue whale, with a blue whale skeleton inside, hanging from the ceiling in the great hall.  Of course, knowing that, and seeing the museum panorama in "WW?" at least three times a week, I was just horrified when we went to a museum in San Francisco and there was no whale in it.  Little did I know that very few museums actually had whales in them.
"Eloise" was perhaps more amusement to the adults, although N was certainly interested. 
If she stays interested, there is also Eloise in Paris (very funny, with lots of cool images of '50s Left Bank culture and couture houses), Eloise in Moscow (also very funny, with a spy who follows them around), and Eloise at Christmastime (more color, and lots of fun rhymes.)
I remember my grandmother having a whalebone corset and morning ritual like the one the English Nanny has.
In my house you had to have your rice every day or you would plug up.  I understood about the Irish oatmeal.
We had a good time there, despite my earlier negative emotions.Oh, good. Parents were in good health (all things considered) and spiritsHow pleasant, and how remarkable, for Christmas! Weather was fairly mild considering much of the rest of the country had snow. 
All same here.  Not a cloud in the sky, brilliantly sunny, and 11.11? C outside.  I had all the windows open and wowed the neighbors with the smell of dinner.  We had ham, and I now have a terrifically meaty hambone that I can't BEAR to throw away, and not a clue as to what to do with it.  The only thing I can think of is split pea soup, and no one here likes it.  If you have any brilliant ideas, please feel free to share them.
I love pea and ham soup, but I can't sell that to Natasha so don't do it very often these days.  Lyudmila would have made ham stock from it and frozen it for use in future stews or soups.  I used to freeze stock in ice cube trays so I could access it in controlled doses.
I do the same thing, and disdain instant broth, which my husband loves.  He always wants to know, though, why my gravy, soup, etc. tastes so much better.
I admit to using instant broth quite heavily and an aid to modern cuts of meat that do not produce enough gravy on their own.  The problem is they always contain too much salt, so it is a matter of how much I can add before the salt taste takes over.
You can get commercial demi-glace or gravy bases (as they're called here) and they are basically extremely concentrated stock.  They're quite good and add a nice round flavor to sauces without salt, but they're very expensive.  I make some occasionally.  I start with about two gallons of beef stock and wind up boiling it down to about a quarter-cup of base.  It's syrupy and sets up into gelatin almost immediately.
If all else fails with the ham bone, there is always the cat.  I am sure he would be interested.
We ended up making some red beans and rice.  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't as glorious as pea soup can be.
I was even introduced properly to an attractive but not-very-interesting young-ish Russian widow (with 12yr-old son) in the neighbourhood.  I had met her briefly once while Lyudmila was ill and looking for a 'successor' to approve.  Humph.
The 'objet trouvé' was a nice thought.  It will make an interesting paperweight or whatever, conversation piece.  I think I have seen similar things sold in trendy gift shops, but it is so much better to have one with real provenance.
Oh, yes.  The ones that are smooth and perfect, in bright colors, are fakes. It goes along with a chunk of cast iron from a bridge spectacularly demolished in a road accident (not by me, just near my then residence) and a clay copy of a sheep's skull made by the elder of my artistic sisters in her student years. Certainly a lot easier to place than the modern art calender my brother-in-law ( her husband and a professional modern-artist) sent.  I don't use calenders, so I have to either bin it or
frame the pictures, then find somewhere in a Victorian house to put modern art.  Maybe the workshop, or the cellar....
Bin it.  I don't believe in clutter. The CD etc. I haven't yet had time to study due to 24/7 demands for attention to child. There's not much to study.  I think there's only one song on the CD. No computer games, no videos so bored and looking for constant entertainment. 
Oh GOD where is the duct tape when you need it.
 I gave her the Harry Potter computer game for Xmas, as soon as we got back she expected support in installing and playing it.
But of course.  Why else do you exist?  We went to see Harry Potter the other night and I was impressed.  It was very well done.  Now, if we could only get tickets to The Lord of the Rings...
It opened here on the penultimate day of term, because some schools close a day earlier than ours.  We went after school on the next day, after school closed.  Kids enjoyed it, it was good, but somewhat in the shadow of Potter. Despite good reviews we had no problem getting seats, the cinema was practically empty, maybe 10-20% occupied, as opposed to the unadvertised showing of Potter which was 90% full.
Here it's exactly the opposite: as soon as LOTR opened, Harry Potter dropped down to sixth place.
I meant as opposed to the unadvertised first showing of Potter.  I daresay the attendance has dropped off now.
There was a docmentary about JK Rowling on the BBC yesterday, which we happenend to see while I was doing my ironing.  She is really quite yummy.
Yes.  I'm so proud of her and happy for her.  She got all this success and while she is young and yummy enough to wear fabulous clothes well.  What more can one ask?
She must have taken a bit of persuading to do it, as she is obviously rather shy of publicity.  I could never quite reconcile the media image of a housewife who accidentally found fame through writing, with the writing style which shows meticulous attention to detail and coherence, ferocious intelligence and classics education.  The documentary shows a personality much more in keeping with what one would expect.  Public school and university education, and pretty much dedicated to writing all her life. Definitely a character, not part of the scenery.
Yes.  I always thought of her as a struggling writer, so I never had an awkward image to reconcile.
All the same it was a good show and quite enjoyable.  I think it was a harder challenge than its competitor because the audience has more firmly established mental images already, but I think by and large it lived up to expectations.  Expect a boost in tourism to New Zealand (where it was filmed, very spectacularly) too. 
Yes.  New Zealand has such a fairy tale look.  Did you see "Babe"?
Hmm, yes a while ago. I don't remember much apart from the haunting strains of Saint Seans.
Many of the sets were impressive.  I can't wait to see it, as much of what I have seen matches impressively with my own imagined images. We had discussed beforehand how they would represent the Balrog, because it is so ill-defined in the book.  Their image fitted pretty well with the one in my mind.  I found the hobbits perhaps a bit  too human-looking. There were some notable omissoins from the original story to get it down to the toilet-threatening three hour length, but at least that meant the cinema cut the adverts and trailers to a minimum.
We finally saw The Lord Of The Rings the other day, and I really liked it.  I must see it again, as I was seated in the far right hand seat in the front row, and couldn't see much.  But it *sounded* right. 
There are so many movies out right now that I want to see, and picking among them is so frustrating.  Thank heavens for pay-per-view on TV.
David says I sat pitch upright in bed last night around 2:00 a.m. and screamed the house down.  By the time he got me awake, I didn't know what was going on.  I don't remember the entire episode today.  I wonder what on earth I was dreaming?  God only knows what the neighbors thought.
I had a dream I was playing FreeCell the other night.  I think I must have done too much of it.
I miss FreeCell.  That's the only thing that I don't like about my Mac.  I have a set of Solitaire games that features something that is LIKE FreeCell, but it isn't the same.
Of course only my PC has the guts to run it properly, so I can't even do my email while she plays.  Maybe I'll put the comms stuff on her machine and the games on mine, it might work out easier, but it means some reorganisation of physical equipment and cabling, and might spark off sibling jealousy.
Could you do it without telling him?  Is he that oblivious?
Uh-uh.  Whenever he can he plays on her computer because his died last year, first the PSU then the motherboard.  When he was working full time he decided to upgrade it and went and bought a motherboard (having been talked out of taking on £3000 hire purchase on his dream machine).  Then he got sacked and couldn't afford a processor or case to go with it.  So he scrounged some old bits off me and his mates so it could run, but it is now very slow, being made of cast-offs.  So they fight over hers because it is faster.
Well, you can tell him from me that I think it's fairly heinous that he, practically a grown man, will fight with a little girl.
That is like telling a drug addict that it is naughty to break into pharmacies.  I have a password on my machine because he wouldn't obey commands to leave it alone when I was out, and he crashed it several times by filling up the hard disk with games or internet porn images.  I got fed up with having to recover my operating system before I could do any work.
What is it about today's youth?  They seem to think that masturbation is something that they can talk about, or at least not do in a furtive way.  At that age I would have DIED if someone thought I was looking at porn.  Of course, I was, but I never would have admitted it.
And at that age there were not really any video tapes.  It was still all magazines and 8mm films.  The actors were not as fabulous looking, either.  Ahh, good times, good times.
He didn't know about the cache then, so he probably did die when he found I could backtrack all the images he had surfed.  This was under Windows 95A and it had a bug in the cache that it only confined it to a %age of disk size.  So if you had a big disk it just grew and grew, which was not a space problem but it meant tens of thousands of tiny files in one directory, and it overflowed a directory buffer somewhere and crashed Windows Explorer every time it went past it.  So I had to clean out the cache file by file, I had to do that, too, with my old computer.  Such a drag! using the loadable part of its directory, which meant I noticed all these jpgs I didn't recognise with rather fruity names.  I only kept the best ones. ;-)
Speaking of sibling, he didn't come with us on the pretext of having well paid bar work over Christmas.  In the event he did one shift, on Christmas eve, and spent the rest of the time in bed.  The washing up I had left was still there, with additions.  He said he had intended to do it before I got back, but had overslept!  That is, he got up just in time to eat the evening meal I was preparing.  Such are boys.
Yes, yes.  Remember, he's probably the one who will be picking out your nursing home when you are elderly, so be nice to him.
Bring on euthenasia!  It'll be a long time before he can afford to pick anything but his nose.
tee hee hee
Hope you and yours have also survived without too much damage. Thank you again for the presents.
You're entirely welcome.  The stuff that I got for my stepdaughter was a big success.  That which I purchased for my husband, not so much.  I'll live.  Now that Christmas Eve (day of cooking five kinds of cookie-type-things, breakfast casserole for Christmas Day, tarte tatin for Christmas dinner dessert) and the day itself are over, I'm much happier.

You may or may not be relieved to know that my very very sore ankle, which I was secretly afraid was a metastasis (even though I KNOW that bone mets don't end up that far down) turned out to be a stress fracture.  Yay hurrah and all that.I'nt it great when we can say Hurray its only a broken bone!
Do you have any plans for New Year's Eve, or will you be waving sparklers in the front yard with N.?
Not especially yet.  Something will probably turn up, we usually go to some friend or other and watch other people getting drunk.  Of course we have to think about driving home.  What a wuss. Yeah. Boo.
Fireworks at New Year aren't a big thing here, it never used to be a tradition, but people are starting to do it, and the supermarket does have them on sale, for the first time at this time of year as far as I can remember.  Fireworks used to be strictly restricted to Guy Fawkes night.  I think there was even a law about it once.
I think there should be.  Stop me if I've complained about this before, but in Hawaii, as everyone is Asian, everyone goes crazy for New Year's Eve (and then again in February, for Lunar New Year.)  You know those strings of firecrackers that you may see being set off in front of Chinese restaurants?  Those typically have 25-50 firecrackers on them, and take about 30 seconds to set off.  People in Hawaii compete to see who can set off the biggest strings.  Our next door neighbor
always rented a forklift and suspended a roll of one million firecrackers from it, in the middle of the street.  It took half an hour to go off.  The smoke is so thick that, all over the state, emergency rooms fill up with asthmatics and other breathing-impaired people going into crisis.  It's awful.
You can go up on the Nuuanu Pali (a cliff that overlooks the whole windward side of Oahu) and it looks as if the island is enveloped in very thick fog.  You can't even see lights through the smoke.
Jeez.  Most of the ER cases on Guy Fawkes night are burns from fooling around.  In my youth I fooled around with the best of them, but somehow got away with it.  I hand-launched small rockets until one blew up on launch. It stung and made the skin of my hand all gritty, but that was all.  I was at a canal-bank bonfire and we came under fire from kids throwing bangers from a road bridge, I made a mortar by putting bangers in a steel conduit tube and fired back. 
I took the fuses out of bangers and devised electrical detonators.  Then we buried a string of them in the park hooked up with bell wire and set them off with a car battery when someone walked past.  We got some stage flash powder somewhere and used the detonators on that too.  That technology came in useful when we were students and the drain in our house got bunged up.  We poked wires and rods down but couldn't shift it.  I went and found a couple of my left-over electric bangers, rammed them down as far as they would go and detonated them.  There was a dull thud, a few smokey
bubbles and nothing happened.  Then I got a piece of hose and hooked it up to one exhaust of a twin cylinder motorbike and shoved the end of that down. A few good blasts on the throttle and suddenly all the water ran away.
The best explosion was a pedal-bin liner filled with oxygen and acetylene from our welding set. 
God, that sounds dangerous. We did that one Guy Fawkes night and no-one noticed the extra-big bang.  I detonated it by throwing a lighted match at it, so I could only get away as far as I could throw the match while it flared.  It wasn't really far enough and I was temporarily deafened for about ten minutes.  The experts I learnt the trick from (garage mechanics) used a twisted piece of masking tape as a fuse, but they did it indoors with sandwich bags, and that broke windows.  Someday I'll do a really big one.
Some accidents are less obvious.  I once let off a regular air-bomb banger at a family bonfire, not fooling around or anything, but I didn't realise I was standing under a tree.  It went up, hit a branch, came down and detonated at about 2' altitude, close to the crowd.  A real daisy cutter, and everyone noticed that.  Fortunately it was about 10' from the nearest
How embarrassing.
The only firecracker that I like is a sparkler, which is a long, thin, metallic kind of rod.  It's coated with some explosive stuff.  You light it and it shoots streams of cool (in temperature) sparks.  I think they're beautiful (and no one ever lost an eye or finger to them).
Yeah, we get those too.  The burning point gets quite hot, and the steel wire can burn fingers for quite a while after the fire has gone out, but yes, they are about as safe as you can get.
And beautiful, too.  It was quiet as the tomb here last night, perhaps because it was raining buckets.
Well it's still cold and bright.  There was major firework activity a mile away up the valley, and they rang the church bells next door.  Natasha and I just stayed in quietly, had our own little celebration and watched the scenes on TV.  Artyom was serving beer in the pub until 4am or so, and somehow managed an encounter with lager, vodka and tequila which left him rather fragile today.
I hope you sadistically clashed pot lids together and sang heartily.  Throw in an extra verse and a "Whoops!  Sorry for dropping the large frying pan on the stone floor!" for me. 
I did that once. Cast iron breaks.  Now I have cork tiles on the floor so things bounce quietly.
Cork?  Don't they soak up water and stains?
OK, I mean varnished cork tiles.  They are painted with a clear polyurethane sealant.  It is a pretty common utility floor covering here, there are always big stacks of them in the DIY stores.  And as far as I am concerned it is the only practical long-wearing kitchen floor covering.  When I moved in there were cheap PVC tiles that peeled and cracked.  When we were broke, my parents bought us some cheap carpet tiles which stained and curled horribly.  I finally got it together to do it how I wanted, and then we had the fire and I had to do it again.  Those old scorched tiles did NOT want to come off, the adhesive was undamaged, maybe even hardened by the heat. Anyway, house fires don't burn floors much, most of the damage came from fallen burning debris.
Yes, there's a very posh house in the magazine section of the Sunday paper today that features cork tiling. 
Hey, can we pretend to be posh then?  Natasha wants to be posh, she decided if she has to chose between posh and cool she'd rather chose posh.  So she was studying Eloise to try to pick up tips on how to be posh.  Her conclusion was that Eloise wasn't posh, just rich. 
Heavens, what's the difference?  I think she's right, though.  Eloise would have grown up to be a member of the Jet Set, who are tacky and rich. 
Posh and rich or posh and cool?
Posh is as posh does.  Rich has money.  Lots of difference.  Of course it is hard to be posh if you don't have the cash to carry it off, but its more a matter of attitude.  I know because it's in my family, my mother's father's father owned a factory and was quite wealthy.  However they lost all their wealth through investments in Germany at the time of the Great War, and my grandfather discovered he was going to have to work for a living.  So while they were only averagely well-off, - he became a senior manager - they had the attitude of wealth.
I once got into a conversation with someone about U-usage - the mannerisms that were supposed to detect the difference between the truly aristocratic (U, for upper class) and the pretentious or nouveau-riche (non-U) - which
was popular back in the 50's, in my childhood.  Things like choice of words (eg writing paper rather than notepaper) and table manners.  We started checking each other out, and found I had a surprisingly high incidence of U mannerisms.  These I guess get passed on a long time after the money has gone, and none of our family was ever pretentious, most of the others were just plain poor.
I think the same is true with my family.  I also score fairly highly in U mannerisms,  both the American and English varieties.   Someone is "rich" or someone is "wealthy"; welcome to my "home" or welcome to my "house", etc.  I also say vase rather than vahzz,
Those look the same to me, would that be vayse?
and eyether and neyether rather than eether and neether.  I keep my elbows off the table,
I never quite mastered that one, although I was told often enough.  ;-) 
Your mother must never have leaned across the table and stuck a fork in the offending joint. 
I don't shovel my food in my mouth, and I sit up straight.  Oddly, I say ahnt rather than ant for "aunt"; that is a very low-class rural black thing to say.
You mean long 'a' as in "At  harf parst nine I'm going up the parth to have a barth." as pronounced by a southern Englishman?  I think all English use that for aunt.
Yes.  Isn't it funny that we, enamored of British accents, should not use that one sound?
A nice saying from our Russian friends, "I can't afford to buy cheap stuff" also sums it up.  Posh-but-poor buys good quality and expects it to last, so spends less in the long term than just-plain-poor who frequents the discounters.
Yes.  That is the primary difference between David and me.  Poor guy.  He bitches at me when I spend $40 on eight pairs of underwear, and yet he buys eight pairs of underwear for $20 four times a year, because they wear out so fast. 
On the other hand, I am a nut about my pillow.  It must smell absolutely fresh and new, and it cannot have been washed, because that makes it lumpy.  So I go to Kmart and get the cheapest $3.95 pillows I can find four times a year.  I could buy one down pillow for that amount, but it would make me sneeze and think it smelled bad after a few months.
Posh also values education, which might have saved Eloise from becoming completely tacky, and is one of the things that make our neighbours think we are posh, although they probably earn more (on double incomes, working
shifts) than we do.
I guess if we could drag our thousand tons of 137 year-old stone to the USA it might be popular, but then if we could just drag it south of Watford Gap it would triple its value anyway.  I can help thinking I would feel a bit like the crew of the Tiger tank at the end of 'Kelly's Heroes' - "You want our tank?  It is a pig, the fuel system leaks! ... "  I do love it but... .
What an unfortunate combination.  Doesn't he know you should stick to the poison you started with?
He couldn't resist when people wanted to buy him drinks.  He can resist very easily when he has to pay.
What a noble character.

David has figured out how to make a popular quasi-Chinese appetizer called Crab Rangoon at home.  You basically take a won ton wrapper, put a dab of cream cheese and a couple of bits of surimi (fake crab) in it, fold it over, and deep-fry it.  He had tried it last week very successfully.  Sadly, I made a fuss over it at the time, and he treated me to about a dozen of them this afternoon.  Argh.  I'm still feeling full and sick.  I should have impressed on him how good ONE was.

He has finally come to the conclusion that he just doesn't like my waffles.  They are too light and crispy for him, poor thing.  He has been grousing about that, and I truly have been trying to make them heavier and softer, but I just can't do it.  Isn't it just a matter of getting the temperature wrong?  Jeez Louise, any OTHER man in the world would LOVE my waffles.  Oh, well.  His sister, Wanda, told me that their mother was a truly terrible cook, and David just impressed, like a duckling, on her food.  Fortunately Wanda broke free of that and tells me that there is nothing wrong with my cooking.  It's good she did that because I was developing a complex.
So I depressed him with fluffy, crispy waffles this morning, and he depressed me with lots of fried cheese things this afternoon.  Tomorrow  I'm eating nothing but apples and water.
Well, the next couple of weeks will be full of medical tests, so I'll know how well I'm doing top to toenail in a couple of weeks.  I can hardly wait.
Well I do hope the results are good and that the recent treatment has set back the big enemy.