Rafferty the Cat – King of Greenwich

Rafferty spent a good few weeks in our flat, helping my sister to concentrate on her upcoming garden show.

The cat was polite and friendly, causing no real problems during his South East London holiday. Uneasy at first, Rafferty settled in well after a few days and would even welcome us at the door whenever we returned from work.

Ruby spends much more time at home than i do, and they became best buddies. She was very sad to see him go, but hopes we can have a cat of our own in the future. Although not allowed by our building’s freeholders, i don’t think anyone would even notice a small cat popping about on the first floor.

Rafferty

Rafferty-The-Cat

One problem with Rafferty is that my sister didn’t drop his scratching post around when she dropped him off. We had to buy several as well as re-training him with the new ones before he would consistently use them rather than clawing our carpet. Aside from that, and the odd toilet misdemeanor, he was a joy to have in the flat for a short while, and we hope sister will drop him off again in the future.

Rafferty clearly enjoyed his time in Greenwich, and when my sister turned up to take him back to Kingston Upon Thames, he fought hard to avoid capture. It took quite an effort from all three of us in order to finally drop him into his carry box. As he left, we could see him clawing at the door to escape.

Update for July 2015

It has been a hard-working few weeks since my last post. I have recently received an extension in my current contract role at Game Account Network, which keeps me occupied until November. A few things have happened recently, so this is more of a general update than anything specific.

20:20 at The Oval

Yesterday i took Ruby to her very first cricket match, in a 20-20 game between Surrey and Gloucestershire at the Oval. She enjoyed the evening, but is still completely lost when it comes to cricket. Tickets were £40 a go, but it was a one-off so probably worth it. We also had an excellent view from the Oval’s newest stand and were just behind the bowler’s arm.

Azhar Mahmood smashed a six off the last ball to win the game for Surrey, so it was a fairly good match to have picked. The best players on show would have to have been Jason Roy and Kumar Sangakkara.

20:20 Oval, Surrey V Gloucestershire

Ruby at the Oval

England V New Zealand at Lords

My friend from University, Mathew Butcher, was popping down at short notice as his team had got to Wembley. As such, we quickly made a good bank holiday weekend of it. I got a ticket for Lords for the Saturday and enjoyed seeing some of our new test players for the first time, such as Wood from Durham.

Mathew then arrived on the Sunday and we went off to see Macca at the O2, who is one of his favourite artists.

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Paul McCartney at the O2

Macca did a terrific set comprising of Beatles classics, Wings hits plus some of his own solo stuff going back several decades. I already new his latest album well, and of course all the Beatles stuff, though Matt was able to make sense of the remainders. The set was around 3 hours in total and worth every penny.

Macca on stage

Paul McCartney O2

Middlesbrough V Norwich Play-Off Final at Wembley Stadium

The finale to the weekend was the trip to Wembley, where i was sat amongst the Middlesbrough fans. Sadly for Matt, his team lost and they will remain in the Championship for at least another year.

Norwich played well on the day, and never really looked like losing. Their new manager seems to have worked some magic on the team, but they’ll still struggle in the Premiership next year without some serious investment.

Wembley looking glorious

Matt Butcher, nervous before kick-off

Dreaming of Redcar

Greenwich, London – Our home since 2012

Greenwich became our home more by luck than judgement. We had previously been renting in Bow for a year and were keen to become homeowners for the first time. At that time, the UK recession was in an appalling state and we didn’t have enough for a deposit in the open market. Shared Ownership helped us to get on the ladder and despite hearing some bad opinions, it has been our saviour.

Shared Ownership in Greenwich

When I first saw the properties available for Shared Ownership in Greenwich I thought the prices were crazy – not unrealistic for a popular part of London, just well outside our price range, or as I had imagined it.

We soon realised, however, that the monthly payments for a brand new two bedroom flat in Greenwich was actually slightly less than our renting costs for a one bedroom flat in Bow. Suddenly, it was not only possible, but also seemed ludicrous not to do so.

After finding the necessary deposit, the whole process took around 2 months to complete. We are forever indebted to the L&Q Housing Association for allowing us to get involved with this scheme, and without it we would probably still be renting in East London.

I had some great times house-sharing when i first moved to London around 10 years ago, but had eventually reached the point where it was just not fun anymore. Our time in Bow was particularly bad, even though by then we could afford to rent the whole flat. The location was awful and it forced us to make the move onto the housing ladder as a matter of urgency.

Having been in Greenwich now for three years we are looking to increase upon our current share of 25% of the property. At the time of setting that up, the economy was in a mess and we actually only just managed to get a mortgage for a quarter of the property, which was the smallest share possible.

Things are now a lot better, both for myself and also the economy as a whole, and so i am hoping that we will be able to increase our share up to 75% in the next 12 months or so. Ultimately, we want to buy the flat outright but that will take quite some time!

Life in Greenwich

Ever since moving in, we have always felt really at home. Weekends in are no-longer a disaster, whilst when in Bow they were painful times. We have also really made an effort to personalise our home, when before i never really bothered much with rented accommodation.

Greenwich Park

Greenwich Park is a great place for some quiet time, particularly during the week when there are fewer tourists buzzing about. We tend to sit up the back close to Blackheath, where it tends to be a little quieter still. First thing in the morning our flat is also a place to relax, with no cars or roads close by. Local residents in these new block of flats also tend to be pretty well behaved in the main, and i have rarely witnessed any anti-social behaviour.

The Yacht remains my favourite watering hole, although the Trafalgar Tavern is great on a sunny day, as is the traditional Cutty Sark pub. Those two are a little more expensive, and i love the friendly staff in the Yacht.

Further afield is The Union which stocks a great selection of local drinks from the Greenwich Meantime Brewery. We have eaten in most of these pubs but still tend to prefer the Vietnamese restaurant for eating out locally.vietnam-oriental-restaurant-greenwich.jpg

Tilda the Hedgehog arrives in Greenwich

Tilda the Hedgehog made a visit to our flat this weekend, as part of an entourage including two of Ruby’s friends from Glasgow. She turned out to be very light on her feet, and was very active when let out of her temporary home (a cardboard box).

There was a bit of a panic on at one point when she completely disappeared, and as an African Hedgehog, is was necessary to find her as soon as possible to make sure she didn’t get too cold. She was found in a small corner of the living room, looking for some random food to keep her going. Her owners tend to feed her on cat food and tinned sweetcorn.

They popped down from Scotland and were surprised by how warm the weather was – to be fair, it’s not normally this warm in May :-) They have invited us back up to Glasgow later in the year, which would be my first visit to that city, and something i’m very much looking forward to.

We had let the flat become pretty untidy recently and their visit also helped to force us to finally tidy it up, making it much more enjoyable now for at least a couple more weeks. I am still considering hiring a cleaner at some point, once the finances are looking a little healthier.

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Tilda the Hedgehog

Tilda the Hedgehog Sleeping

UK General Election 2015 Reflection

Friday lunchtime, post-election, and the results are pretty much all in. 3 leaders have gone already – Clegg, Miliband and Farage. Can’t say i was delighted with the result, was hoping to see Labour fare a little better. However, there were at least some positives.

To see Farage lose out, and for UKIP to get just one seat was a relief, my biggest fear was always a Tory-UKIP coalition which would have been seriously bad! It is unfortunate that the Conservatives earned a majority as there will be no-one to keep a check on them. I felt the Lib Dems did quite well in the last coalition to at least get some more liberal policies implemented.

The Liberal Democrats have been sinking without trace for a while, but i respect them for bringing in higher thresholds of income tax to help those on low wages. The Tories have now taken the policy for themselves and will continue to expand on it within this next parliament.

Clegg has pretty much been screwed ever since he upset every student in the country for not doing enough to prevent changes in tuition fees. The Liberal Democrats will take quite a lot of time to get over their recent problems, but a new leader would be a good starting point.

I understand the movement to the Tories for many floating voters to be for two reasons, firstly their promise of an EU Referendum, and secondly of their delivery over the economy of the last five years. Both are key issues to a lot of people, and are perhaps how the Conservative Party drew in votes from UKIP and the Labour Party.

The future for all parties opposing the Conservatives seems bleak, at least in the short term. Leaderless and down on public support, UKIP will struggle without Farage and Labour will take time to restore it’s status as a party that people can show faith in. Their next choice of leader is crucial to that although the direction of the economy under the new government will do most in influencing voter’s opinions of Labour against the Conservatives.

Balcony Garden Update April 2015

Having been over-optimistic about the arrival of sunny weather, i have had to put many succulents back into their indoors homes in preparation for this week’s colder weather. Maybe they will re-appear on the balcony later in the summer, but for now it is too risky to leave these sensitive souls outside.

Most of my cacti seem to be fine outside as long as it’s not winter, but succulents are very much more demanding, and i have lost many since starting up this small garden a few years ago. Be it too much water, not enough, too little light or perhaps the wrong drainage – anything slightly less than optimal leaves me with dead plants pretty quickly.

The best news so far has been my hostas, and am thinking of cramming a few more in the last remaining free spots on the balcony. Having said that, i am now on a crazy cost-saving routine at the moment, so even a tenner on some small plug plants is something that i’ll probably delay for the time being.

As i learn more about each of the different types of plants on my balcony i am getting better at putting each in the right spots. My ferns and hostas will sit lower now, whilst anything more exotic will get maximum exposure to the sun, or sit inside if it’s too cold or windy. Being set on the Thames, wind is certainly an issue for some of my more dainty plants, such as the young succulents which remain fragile.

I have had a Yucca Rostrata sat in the corner, furthest from the balcony door, and is has coped admirably with anything thrown at it over the past two years. There have been some serious wind and rain storms that have failed to upset this truly hardy plant and helpfully it’s tips are just below the top of the balcony cover.

Yucca Rostrata

The Yucca remains my most expensive purchase at around £80, with the new Draco coming second. That looks much happier now and sits across from the Yucca, with a little more protection, sat just behind the plant stand.

Draco

With the ferns and hostas sat on the lower levels of the stand, the rest of the rows are given to a few small vegetable pots (spring onions), different sizes succulents and also a Cycas Revoluta which remains slightly pale, but hopefully ok. My Aloe Veras are now back inside after starting to brown whilst outside – they came back with me from our Tenerife holiday.

Several of my Acers are now with leaves, whilst others continue to look a little moody in the corners of the balcony. I gave some of them to my mother, as well as some pine trees, and those all seem to appreciate Mum’s garden more than mine. She simply has more space, more sun and also more time and experience to look after them better.

My two Bamboo plants continue to also look a little sad, both pretty much leafless for the last few months. I am hoping that once i can move them to a brighter location they will be happier.

The north-facing nature of our balcony will always make it hard to keep all of my plants happy, but i am starting to get better at choosing ones that are more suitable.

Fruit Plants

You can see above how my new fruit plants have also burst into life. No actual fruit yet, but i will be patient! The main thing is to see that there is plenty of growth occurring on an almost daily basis, which promises much for the summer.

The fruit plants arrived straight off Ebay in suitable small plastic pots. I literally just slapped them straight out on the balcony and make sure that they have plenty of water. It was around mid-March that the cut-back branches suddenly started to show new shoots, and they’ve been very active ever since.

New grasses have been placed besides the bamboo plants as i try to create some sort of wall cover from prying neighbours. There are now several different reeds and grasses together in two large pots as i experiment with these hardy types of plant. The Thames route around our flat features similar choices so i thought they would be a good bet to thrive with the additional cover of my wall. Only time will tell, but the ones i planted last year have already doubled in height and just begun to spread out a little as their seeds blow around in the wind.

Grasses

Vietnam Oriental Restaurant, Greenwich, London

We’ve never actually eaten any Vietnamese food in this restaurant, in all the times we’ve visited. In fact, i’m not sure if i’ve even seen any such dishes on the menu – we go straight for the Chinese choices which dominate.

Vietnam Oriental Restaurant, Greenwich, London

This has become our favourite restaurant in Greenwich and is really the only Chinese restaurant in central Greenwich that we would consider going to. The others around here are generally aimed at students and offering large portions of budget food as a result.

A typical evening out for us in Greenwich would be a few pints in The Yacht before heading here if the finances are good enough at the time.

This restaurant is where we headed to celebrate initially putting down a mini-deposit on what was to later become our flat. It was about £250 and simply kept our names with the Housing Association as particularly interested in three separate flats in the same block. It allowed us to enter the process of getting a mortgage together, which we managed to complete a couple of months later.

We have also visited here to celebrate several other milestones, such as new contracts, birthdays and the like.

The food here has never disappointed, and we rarely now even bother going through the menu. We have our favourite dishes and tend to pick from those in our heads.

Favourite Chinese Dishes from this Restaurant

Ruby’s current favourite must be the spicy fish which comes served in a large pot full of chillies. I think it is a Szechuan recipe, but not absolutely sure. Personally, i tend to go for one of the delicious hotpots. The Eel one is best, but a little more expensive, whilst the seafood, beef and pork ones are also really tasty.

The fried rice here is great, never too greasy like many other places in the UK will serve. There is also an excellent array of Dim Sum, though we only tend to choose that when in for lunch.

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For those looking for the standard UK Chinese food experience, but with a little more quality than your average takeaway, then there are also plenty of Cantonese options on the menu too. Sweet ‘n’ Sour Pork, Aromatic Crispy Duck and all the other usual suspects are all there to keep you feeling comfortable when entering for the first time.

Alternative dishes for those looking for something different include the fried intestine and also Xinjang-style Lamb kebabs. Ruby loves this place because of the amount of mainland-Chinese dishes that are offered here, but there is something for everyone.

Obsession with iPad Games

Growing up in the 90s and 00s, my life was dominated by computer and video games like Championship Manager and Brian Lara’s Cricket. Many evenings and weekends were lost over the years to strategy and sport games. Sensible Soccer was also a favourite, but only in a social scenario, whilst the strategy games could dominate my entire life.

Sensible Soccer Commodore Amiga
Sensible Soccer

Championship Manager 99
Championship Manager 1999

Brian Lara's Cricket Playstation
Brian Lara’s Cricket

At University we would waste many a day playing full test matches in Brian Lara’s Cricket on the Playstation, whilst sending someone out for lecture duties (i.e. sign us all in and collect the notes).

It was then around my 30s that i started to miss new games, new consoles and all the hype around them. I didn’t really fancy playing games all night after working in IT during the day. I thought this would remain the case from their on, but then my iPad arrived and things have gone back to normal!

I was not convinced of the needs of tablet devices when they first arrived, but really appreciate their use now. I can connect to emails, news and sport scores without having to boot up a desktop computer. I can also play games that go beyond the limits of mobile phone technology and physical restrictions.

The tablet is also awesome for easily watching TV in another room, without having to port around any heavy items or be limited to what is on digital TV at that precise moment. With SkyGo and iPlayer apps, there is more TV available to choose from than i could possibly ever need.

It was the much-hyped Candy Crush that initially lured me in, before Clash of Clans led me to actually start paying money to speed up the game developments. I remain active in that plus Boom Beach, whilst Sim City BuildIt has helped me to continue on an old favourite that i used to play on the Commodore Amiga back in the day.

Candy Crush iPad
Candy Crush iPad

Boom Beach ipad
Boom Beach iPad

Clash of Clans iPad
Clash of Clans iPad

I am forever checking my tablet to see the latest progress of these games, to the point where i actually start to drive myself mad and cannot manage to hold my concentration long enough to watch a film from start to finish.

Several times recently i have contemplated getting a new console but have yet to do so. I have considered either a new PS4 or the latest XBox model. Alternatively an old Amiga or N64 could let me play some old retro games for a laugh instead, and are relatively easy to find on Ebay.

Commodore Amiga 500 Plus
Commodore Amiga 500 Plus

Contracting has given me more spare time than i had previously, but i still always feel that i should be using it constructively, so end up choosing not to invest in any new games machine. The iPad is taking up enough of my time, to be fair, and enables me to multitask because of it’s portability.

Hostas Resurrected in Balcony Garden

April has become a key time for my balcony, with plants coming back to life and sunshine starting to hit my garden directly for the first time of the year. My north-facing balcony struggles to encourage healthy growth and many of my plants must stay indoors until the weather looks promising enough to pop them outside.

The best surprise so far has been several hostas which have sprung into life, having appeared lost to the world ever since last summer. After a long holiday where they went un-watered, these limp beauties seemed done-in. I pulled away the dead leaves and kept watering the tiny roots over the winter, and suddenly we have some stunning hostas on the way again!

I am really pleased as i bought several different varieties last year and believed they would be ideally suited to my shady, north-facing spot. After this experience, i will do the same with some small ferns which are also struggling and see if they can return to life later in the year.

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Dracaena Draco Plant

Dracaena Draco – Dragon’s blood tree – is the latest addition to my ever-expanding plant collection. It is a plant that i have loved ever since we started visiting the Canary Islands. The photo below is a giant one found in Tenerife.

Dracaena Draco in Tenrife

The trees are very slow growing and also not entirely suited to the UK climate, so it took quite some time to get hold of one online. It is a good size, nearly a metre in total height, and i am hoping that in can cope with indoor conditions for 3/4’s of the year.

Since buying the plant, it has not looked too healthy. All low branches have browned before falling off. However, with the weather now reasonably warm i have been able to drop it outside and it’s looking much better. It seems to take a decent amount of water without too many problems and is providing cover for some of my other plants, with space on the balcony now being at a premium!

When indoors i was not able to really give it much water at all, because there was no tray to protect my carpet. That may in fact be the real reason as to why the plant is enjoying life a little more, as on the balcony the water can just drain away or be soaked up by surrounding plants.