Busy floor.

It’s fair to say I work in one of the most densely populated areas of office space in the world.

My company is rejigging the seating, so while the workmen redo the second floor, half the displaced colleagues have come and joined us on the lower ground floor.

Quiet time on the lower ground floor.

It’s more crowded and hotter than a Mumbai sweatshop. Probably. It’s only for a few weeks and it’s difficult to conceive an alternative plan. So for now I just have to breathe in and wedge myself into my desk every time my colleagues want to squeeze past my chair, nudging it just enough to be annoying but not quite enough to justify an endless stream of expletive-laden vitriol in their face (which is conveniently close at hand).

There’s only so much HR will let me get away with. And I do push it sometimes.

Sunrise on the 8.07

Apparently I missed a corker of a sunset last night – and I hate that. Nothing like a good sunset to fill you with a sense of childlike wonder and briefly pose questions about ‘the meaning of it all’. And they’re free too.

Anyway, seems I’m not the only one oblivious to all things celestial. Everyone was buried too deep in their crossword/iPod/Blackberry to notice when I took this pic this morning on the train.

Even Stevenage looks good at this time in the morning.

It looks like we’re commuting to our mineral mines on Mars. But we weren’t really.

Ubiquitous jacket.

On-trend for Winter 09-10.

This is a Technical Windcheater jacket by SuperDry. It looks very smart. Nice cut. Fitted. Warm. And worn by approximately 4% of the UK male population. Which means I see one everywhere I go. The tell-tale red logo on the rear of the shoulder. The tangle of zips down the front.

On the platform at Stevenage. On the tube. And even at work. It follows me everywhere.

I wouldn’t mind so much but it’s the one I happen to be sporting right now…

The only comfort is they all look as gorgeous and on-trend as me. None of them look ‘special’. We’re all expressing our individuality by wearing exactly the same jacket.

What’s the social norm for greeting someone wearing exactly the same thing as you? High fives all round? Not likely. Skulk behind as many people as you can so they don’t see you, that my policy.

Panto time.

I went to the Panto the other day (Oh yes I did!).

It was my wife’s idea to go – and what a good idea it was. We kept it secret from the kids until we were actually in the theatre foyer. You should have seen their faces (they were happy).

I walk past Stevenage’s Gordon Craig Theatre twice every day (not out of habit, out of necessity). They’ve got a whacking great banner and a window display advertising this year’s panto, Aladdin, starring me old mate John Altman (nasty Nick in EastEnders) – see My Celebrity Whirl Panto Edition for the backstory.

Paul Laidlaw: writer, director, Twanky.

After seeing it advertised for so many weeks, I was intrigued to see the show – and the inside of the Gordon Craig theatre itself. I wasn’t disappointed.

I have it on good authority that Widow Twanky (or the guy that plays him) writes and directs the show. Well that’s not a secret, but the word is as soon as he’s finished this year’s run, he’s straight on the next one. This is a man who spends his entire working life in Pantoland – like that bloke who used to celebrate Christmas every day until he ran out of money.

He must spend the year sourcing giant golden lamps, auditioning dwarves and collecting all the cracker jokes he can find.

To be fair, it was very entertaining. Wishy Washy stood out for me – a real tour de force, as those West End reviewers might say.

To top it off, my wife and I even caught the marshmallows they threw into the audience – and we were in Row L!

The view from Row L.

Their run comes to an end on January 24 – that’s nearly 2 months – with matinees too. That’s a lot of “he’s-behind-you”s. Add in rehearsals and the cast and crew have spent a quarter of the year in Panto.

They must have difficulty adjusting to society afterwards; constantly wary of custard pies or saying “Hello boys and girls” every time they walk into a room.

Can’t wait for next year’s extravaganza. Good show chaps, I’ll be back next year.

How to make it snow inside your car.

Come the winter months, my reasonable-in-every-way Ford Focus reveals itself to be more damp (damper?) than the average vehicle.

When it’s parked under cover, it’s not a problem, but when I come back to Swingate in the evening, the frost has not only covered my windscreen on the outside, there’s a thin coating of ice covering the inside too. This is hard to shift.

A reconstruction.

I gave it a go with a redundant credit card combined with the blowers on full. You should try it – it makes your car’s interior very Christmassy. As the scraped ice flakes fall from the windscreen, the fans catch them and blow them gaily hither and thither. They then drift gently down and melt all over my dashboard, probably dripping somewhere mechanically unhealthy.

Plan B anyone?

The heaters don’t really get going until I’ve driven for a bit. Catch 22: can’t go anywhere with the windscreen iced up – it might not be suicide but it’s not a clever idea is it.

I’m leaning towards getting a big bag of silica gel (tarted up with packaging for marketing purposes, of course) to leave in the car and soak up the excess moisture. I”ve found motoring solutions in the past. I can do it again. I shall report back soon.

Shopping trolley news from our Nice desk.

My shopping trolley posts of last year proved so popular, I’ve brought them back – and this time with a chic, international flavour.

Low season in Nice. Very low.

I was lucky enough to spend Christmas in France. We treated ourselves to a mini-break in Nice for 2 nights in that calendrial* hinterland between Christmas and New Year – you know, that time when you literally have to scan the Radio Times to discover what day of the week it is.

Nice is great. Amazing for shopping. Even better for people watching. This is clearly a favourite pastime with everyone here as people don’t sit opposite each other outside cafes, they all face out as though spectators for the continuous catwalk of humanity passing before them.

Anyway, a disappointingly overcast walk along the famous promenade turned up not one, but two shopping trolleys on the beach.

They. Get. Everywhere.

Is it enough to suggest twinning Stevenage with Nice? Nice should be so lucky…

* totally made that word up, John.

Stevenage. By Royal Appointment.

Just read a bit in the news about Her Majesty the Queen taking the train up to Sandringham for her Christmas break. I suppose it’s part keeping it real for the subjects and part saving money.

Stevenage awaits Her Royal Highness.

She would have travelled from King’s Cross as far as King’s Lynn (and kings and no queens, eh Liz?) and gone by road from there. Can you see where I’m headed (and indeed our glorious monarch) with this ? Through Stevenage. Unless they spend millions so the Queen doesn’t have to go though SG1, she does actually pass by Stevenage – probably at around 100mph, but even at that speed you can still make out the Gordon Craig Theatre, the bright lights of Lytton Way and the massive B&Q.

You must stop by and explore your nation’s first New Town, Ma’am. Be lovely to see you.

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