Tuesday, September 30, 2008

That's all for now

I realised only yesterday, although why it didn't occur to me before I don't know, that I don't enjoy talking about myself. Well, that's not quite true, any of it... I have thought this before and whether I like talking about myself depends on the company I am in and whether I feel comfortable with those I am with. It all leads me on to the reason why I haven't updated this blog for a long time. I have nothing to say. Except that I do. Oh dear, this is getting nowhere! I have a lot to say but I don't want to talk about any of it. I am a private person and I don't want the world, especially one of strangers, to know my inner thoughts, feelings or much else. But a blog doesn't have to be that does it? Well what is it then?

So many times I have sat down to write a blog post and I've asked myself why? What am I saying and why am I saying it? Does there have to be a purpose? Does it matter if its complete nonsense or boring? Only to me it does matter. I feel that I am not completely at peace with myself so I can't say a lot of the stuff that I want and perhaps need to say. Instead I refer obliquely to things that are important or skirt round subjects I don't want to confront. It must be very unsatisfying for someone else to read all these vague references that I make.

To get to the point I see no reason for continuing with this blog. It doesn't serve any useful purpose, it has nothing interesting or new to say because I can't fulfill those requirements. Moreover I get no pleasure from writing this blog, not sure that I ever did and there doesn't seem much point continuing with something that is so lacking in purpose or enjoyment. So there it is, all I have to say for now.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


I recently finished reading Atonement by Ian McEwan. I made the unfortunate mistake of watching the film when I was about two thirds way through the book. I say unfortunate because the film wasn't quite as good as I remember when I saw it last year at the Tottenham Court Odeon. I don't think it was seeing it on the small screen that disappointed, rather it was the fact that the book is so rich and powerful and the film manages to convey little of the rawness and beauty of McEwans's prose. The trouble is I think the book is pretty much unfilmable as so much of it is about what is going on in the character's heads. The only section where the film really wins is in that extraordinary Steadicam shot panning around the beach at Dunkirk where the British Army is waiting to be rescued. It is a beautiful, awesome sequence, which reminded me very much of the Omaha Beach landings that opened Saving Private Ryan.

As for the novel, well it is very clever and I admit the film is equally good in revealing the final twist, although it does it rather differently. Essentially what McEwan's novel is about is the stories that we all tell, both about ourselves and to each other. It blurs the lines between fact and fiction to an extent that they become indistinguishable such that the story becomes more important than whether it is what really happens. We all like happy endings but Atonement doesn't have one so our author - the storyteller - creates one to satisfy that need to know that it all ends well. I also liked a theme that is consistent with the other McEwan books I've read about how the lives of the two main characters Robbie and Cecilia, are abruptly and cruelly shattered in a spontaneous moment. It is the utter randomness of fate that I find striking and appalling, that at any moment our lives can be sent on a disastrous course through no real fault of our own.

Finally, McEwan's prose I find delightful. It is evocative and although I'd seen the film before reading the book it wasn't so much images from the film that came flooding back but rather a much richer and expansive picture painted by McEwan's words.

Monday, August 04, 2008

All aboard?

It seems that every time I turn on my radio lately there is some discussion or other where car drivers are bemoaning either the rising cost of fuel, parking charges or speed cameras. Not being a car driver myself, I have little sympathy with most of these arguments as the callers they have on nearly always trot out the same tired old 'woe is me' arguments as if they are some poor hard done by souls.

From my point of view, having never owned a car (nor for that matter particularly wanting to - I have gone into my reasons before) I see those that do have one as being privileged. That perhaps isn't entirely fair because some people have to have a car for necessity and practical reasons but most people don't need a car. Yes, I am sure they would argue that it has many advantages and makes their lives easier for many reasons and some may even argue that it is cheaper than relying on public transport. These are all valid arguments and I wouldn't wish to suggest that everyone should give up their cars. The point I am making is that most people have a car because they want one not because they actually need one. That is an important difference I feel. Therefore, cars are not a right they are a choice. However, it seems when it comes to things like the rising cost of fuel, car drivers seem to feel it is their right to have cheaper fuel. They become very precious about their cars and the fact that they feel their freedoms are being infringed.

As a non-car owner I don't feel my freedom is inhibited not in a broad sense. In a very narrow sense it is because I can't simply go where I want when I want because I'll either have to walk, get a bus or catch a train but that has always been the case. I don't feel that I am missing out and I in some ways feel freer from not owning a car and being absent of its attendant responsibilities and costs.

What does particularly annoy me is when car drivers spout absolute nonsense about public transport and of course they are always right on this point! For example a few weeks ago when the price of fuel was going up virtually every day one chap, a car driver, was on the radio, saying it was impossible for him to do his commute from Milton Keynes to Aylesbury because it would either mean getting a train into London and back out again or an 90-minute bus trip, which wouldn't arrive into Aylesbury until well after 9am. The first part is true as currently there is no direct rail link to Aylesbury but that could be restored in the next 5-10 years. However, his comments about the bus service were completely inaccurate as there is a bus which gets to Aylesbury from MK before 9am and only takes an hour. Admittedly, not very competitive with the car, a journey which I would imagine takes half the time. My point here though is the blinkered view of public transport and the immediate feeling that it just isn't worth bothering with. Well, of course the inaccuracy was never corrected and so another nail in the coffin for public transport...

And this really annoys me. Yes, public transport is far from perfect but then how many car drivers can say that they have a perfect journey to or from work everyday and that they have never had an accident or a breakdown? Often listening to the travel reports on the radio, the problems are on the roads, the trains normally run on or about to time. But of course that doesn't fulfill the negative perception that we have of our public transport system.

The trouble is it only takes one particularly bad experience on a train or a bus to put people off using public transport altogether yet they will put up with day after day of sitting in traffic jams in their cars. These views are reinforced by the constantly inaccurate and biased views that I keep hearing that are never corrected and thus feed into this overall negativity towards public transport. Neither does it help when you have a government that says it is 'modally agnostic' and does not have a clear strategy for public transport.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Farewell to the 'C' class ships

Last weekend I had an enjoyable time in Pompey and the highlight for me was going down to Lymington and taking the car ferry across to Yarmouth (Isle of Wight) and return. This was the first time I've travelled on this, the shortest sea crossing, to the Isle of Wight and the reason for doing it now was to experience the faithful 'C' Class ships before they are withdrawn later this year.

The 'C' Class comprises a trio of sisters - Cenred, Cenwulf and Caedmon. They are now over thirty four years old and their replacement has been discussed for at least two decades! Finally, Wightlink, the ferry operator, has got new tonnage on the way in the form of the 'Wight' Class, which are being built in Croatia.
The 'C' Class were proceeded by a larger and less successful near-sister, the Cuthred, introduced in 1969. She was built for the Portsmouth - Fishbourne route but did not have a happy career due to being woefully underpowered and was subsequently withdrawn in 1986. The later sisters were introduced in the mid-70s and were a great advancement on the small and rather basic car ferries they replaced.

The Cenred and Cenwulf were introduced on the Lymington - Yarmouth route while Caedmon was pressed into action on Portsmouth - Fishbourne duties, switching to the Lymington route with her sisters following the introduction of the 'Saints' at Portsmouth. Since the mid-80s the three ships have spent most of their time on the Lymington - Yarmouth link with occasional visits to Portsmouth for overhauls and deputising for the 'Saints' when they've been out of service.

The 'Wight' Class ships which will replace Cenred, Cenwulf and Caedmon don't look terribly dissimilar and in terms of size are only slightly larger. The reason for this being the narrow navigable channel of the Lymington River and fears that anything larger would cause an unacceptable amount of wash, damaging the river bank environment. Environmental concerns is the main reason why the introduction of these new ships has been so protracted. Full details of the new Wight Sky, Wight Sun and Wight Light can be found on the Wightlink web site.

It will be sad to see the 'C' trio disappear as they are the last of what I would term 'traditional' ferries to serve the Isle of Wight. The former 'Castles' operated by Red Funnel were replaced by the modern-looking 'Raptor' Class ships some years ago and the Shearwater hydrofoils are now a distant memory as are the Southsea and Brading, the classic passenger ships that served the Portsmouth to Ryde route. Since 1986 this has been in the hands of high-speed catamarans and is also shortly to see investment in new ships, albeit catamarans again. Even the 'Saints' used on the Portsmouth - Fishbourne route are to see changes with two being 'jumboised' and one of the four original 'Saints' likely to be withdrawn altogether.

Finally the closest to a 'classic scene' on the Lymington to Yarmouth route in the 70s & early 80s as it is possible to get. Here is unit 1497 restored in a not entirely authentic BR livery of the 1970s at Lymington Pier awaiting departure with the branch service to Brockenhurst. In the distance is Caedmon, loading for her return crossing to Yarmouth. Now, if only she'd been repainted in BR Sealink colours this scene could easily have been mistaken for the late 70s!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Where I am at the moment

Well I had a rather nice surprise a little earlier when I collected my marked essay that I talked about in my last blog post. I scored 85%, which is far better than I thought I would do and my tutor thought I made an excellent and sustained argument. There were a few little points that I was picked up on, mainly stupid mistakes, which if I'd taken a little more time over the writing would have been sorted out before I submitted. Still, this is a good boost and it bumps up my average score for the course, which makes me happy :-)

I had another day at Bletchley Park (BP) on Saturday and I am enjoying my role there as a steward. In fact, I find it more satisfying than I do my day job. Although the days at BP are relatively long with few breaks I do get to meet and chat with some interesting people and I am learning new stuff all the time. The most common question I get asked is 'where are the toilets?' but I don't mind, I am enjoying myself and hopefully making a visitor's day there just that little more pleasant. I hope to find a free day one weekend to go there as a visitor and do some of the guided tours to learn more about the Park and its history as my knowledge at the moment is patchy at best. Everyone I've met so far has been nice and welcoming and I look forward to doing my next duty later this month.

Over the weekend I had an e-mail from a journalist who says he is writing a book about sub-cultures and would like to feature some 'trainspotters' for a piece he is writing. I do detest the term 'trainspotter' because it has such negative connotations and is so often used as a term of derision. I am always a little wary of these sort of requests as I wonder what the agenda is and I don't fancy putting myself forward for something that is going to be used to mock either me or what I do. Will see what happens...

I've started ploughing my way through watching all five seasons of Six Feet Under. I've seen them all before of course on TV but now I have all the seasons on DVD, I am re-watching it from start to finish, much the same as I did with The West Wing. Watching these early episodes of Six Feet Under I am struck by how great this show is and how inventive and fresh it remains. The acting is universally excellent particularly the main leads - Peter Krause, Frances Conroy and Michael C Hall. There is not a step wrong; the writing is superb, the production, design, just the whole feel and look of the show is dead on (excuse the pun!). Few programmes can make me laugh, cry and feel so despondent and happy in the same episode.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Thank goodness that's done!

I've had a bit of a stressful few days and evenings frantically trying to finish my latest OU course essay for the deadline this evening. The advantage of being able to submit online is that in theory as long as you get the thing in before midnight, you're okay! I always do this to myself though, leave the writing to the last minute and then find I really don't have enough time to do myself justice yet I seem to get motivated and work better when I am up against an immovable and fast approaching deadline. Anyhows it is done now, nothing more I can do about it. Just wait for the marked copy to come back and in the meantime start thinking about the next one...

Only two more essays to write and then an extended end of course essay and if, fingers crossed, I do reasonably well in these, I will have a Diploma in Politics and Government before the end of the year. That will make it all seem worthwhile.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Clash of Civilisations

It was as long ago as November 2006 that I purchased Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order (my blog entry of 5 November 2006 refers) and I've only just started reading it! As I mentioned then this was a book that was mentioned along with Francis Fukuyama's The End of History thesis in the OU course I did on the United States. Huntington and Fukuyama to a lesser extent are both referenced in my current course and I thought now was an opportune moment to get to grips with the former.

Okay, so I haven't read all of this as yet and my comments here are abridged and condensed and my interpretation, so don't take what I say as the gospel on Huntington! Essentially Huntington's argument is that with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Communism, the world moved into a multi-polar, multi-civilisational age. By multi-polar he means the end of the dichotomy of two superpowers vying for hegemony and thus the dispersal of power amongst many. However, it could be argued that the United States as the sole remaining superpower is pre-eminent and with its imperial ambitions, is without equal. The general point though is that US power, whether it be political, military or economic is in decline. The second point Huntington is making is that the post-Cold War world consists of broadly nine civilisations - Western, Latin American, African, Islamic, Sinic, Hindu, Orthodox, Buddhist and Japanese. Whereas during the Cold War nations were roughly polarised between East and West or non-aligned, with the fall of Communism, old identities and groupings are re-emerging.

So, he says that the major conflicts of the twenty-first century will be along the fault-lines between civilisations. This we have certainly seen with the Al-Qaeda attacks on the US on 11 September 2001 and also the break-up of Yugoslavia and the divisions there along largely cultural lines.

What Huntington is doing in this book is presenting a new paradigm - a framework or lens - through which the modern world and international relations can be understood. In doing so he is dismissing theories which were dominant throughout the Cold War such as realism and roundly dismisses Fukuyama's End of History thesis - what Fukuyama was advocating was that Western liberal democracy (and capitalism) had triumphed and would be the dominant political system. This, Huntington concludes, is false and he presents a view that the Western civilization is in decline, having reached its peak somewhere around the 1920s. The reasons for this are complex and also interesting. I don't think I can do full justice to Huntington's arguments but I will do my best to tackle them here.

Essentially, if I have understood Huntington correctly, what he is saying is that modernisation (which is a product of the West) in non-Western societies leads to 'de-westernisation' and the promotion of the indigenous culture. The reasons for this are variously:

1. Modernisation leads to dislocated and alienated peoples - traditional bonds and social relations are broken down. Thus the peoples turn principally to religion to fulfil the void. Religion is key to cultural identity

2. In addition modernisation tends to empower these societies - their populations become better educated, socially mobile and increasingly urbanised. In turn this leads to a greater pride and 'belief' in their culture, which is then reasserted

3. Rapid population growth is typical in non-Western societies with large populations of young people (15-24), who Huntington cites as the motors of political change. With an empowered society and an articulate population, it is only a matter of time before the civilisation comes to believe itself separate and distinct from others including Western civilisation

Thus there is then this challenge between this new civilisation and others because it has become culturally, economically and politically distinct, whilst absorbing into it the benefits and attributes of other cultures, particularly modernisation. So what Huntington is saying is that the world is becoming more 'modern' and less 'Western' hence his theory that the power of the West is in decline and that of other non-Western civilisations is on the rise.

I hope I've made a reasonable job of explaining Huntington's points so far. I won't go into his comments and analysis of the Islamic Resurgence because I am not sure that I fully understand it yet!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Good things and bad things

Just a random collection of good things and others that annoy...

People moaning about the weather - of course it has always been a national obsession to discuss the weather, it just isn't British to not be complaining about it either being too hot, too cold or too wet or sometimes a mix of all three in the same day! You can't really call yourself British, if you've never struck up a conversation with a complete stranger whilst waiting for a bus (or indeed engaging in any other everyday mundane activity) and discussed the weather. However, I have noticed more recently that this obsession has become, well...more obsessional, if that is possible. Everyone seems to have short memories and so think that every spell of 'unusual weather' is so unusual that they can't remember it being quite like it before. Even worse, the weather forecasts now are so dramatic that its almost a wonder that each one doesn't come with some fearful warning. Not to mention the fact that Global Warming has to be thrown into virtually every discussion that concerns the weather these days. What do we have? An ever more neurotic public who sense every change in the weather as if it is some calamitous foretelling of terrible disaster... Absolute rubbish, the weather is as it always has been in my memory, marvellously unpredictable. That's why we like talking about it so much.

'Gay Marriage' - this phrase really irritates me. Marriage for me is between a man and a woman, not between two people of the same sex. I have no problem with Civil Unions but these are not, in my view, a marriage. I think describing Civil Unions as such, devalues the meaning of marriage as something, which I still regard as being a special and important commitment between a man and a woman.

On the radio - there are three radio programmes, all BBC of course, that I try to listen too regularly. Firstly Newshour on the BBC World Service, which is an interesting and informative round-up of the days news. I like it because its not about sound-bites and it doesn't gloss over the issues like much TV news does. Another favourite news and current affairs programme is Broadcasting House on Sunday mornings on Radio 4. I suppose technically I am not a listener to this programme in the usual sense as I am a podcast subscriber but I very much enjoy listening to Paddy O'Connell and his guests each week. This is a surprisingly informative hour and often humorous too. Finally on my local station, BBC Three Counties Radio, there is a gem of a programme every Friday evening from 8-10pm, filled with terrific tunes from the 70s and 80s.

Being in a job - I realised this morning as I left home for work how lucky I am to be working. I know I've moaned about my current job from time to time but I count my blessings for being in work and for the sense of purpose and direction it gives. I am very thankful for being where I am now when I think back to how bad things were about six months ago.

Friends - where would any of us be without our friends? I read a telling quote on someones mug at work earlier - 'Life is nothing without friends.' How true and I feel very fortunate to have the friends that I do and for all the ups and downs there is from time to time, I am grateful to count each and every one of them a part of my life.

Doctor's receptionists - why are they all like little 'Hitler's'? Well all the ones I seem to have a dealing with are!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Idle curiosity at lunchtime, plus a few bits of shopping, took me into Boots and I wondered if it was still possible to buy camera 'film.' With all things being digital these days, I was surprised and delighted to discover the answer is yes. Not just plain colour film either but Black & White as well and even better, slide film, still seems to be produced. For a short period during the mid-1990s I experimented with taking slides, which was an experience that I enjoyed and I liked some of the results. I found my old slides during one of my sort outs over recent weeks and I always feel that they have a certain nostalgia and sense of reality that seems to be absent from film or digital prints. There is a lot of nostalgia mixed in as well, as it takes me back to my childhood, when on a wet weekend afternoon my Dad would sometimes treat us to a show of slides, both ones he took many years before, some from my Mum and lots of me and my brother when we were babies and young boys. They are wonderful and I used to love those afternoons sat in the dark, it was so much more fun than leafing through a photo album!

Unfortunately I think I've either lost or since disposed of my old 35mm portable film camera and I doubt that you can actually buy camera's which accept film these days. Its a pity as I feel I would like to do slides again and build up bit more of a collection and certainly more varied than the ones I took in the 90s. And slides are economical too as the cost of processing is included when you buy the film. I seem to remember that the box used to include a small envelope that you sent off your finished film in and then about a week or two later it would come back, with a neatly packaged box of slides. Wonderful!


I learnt not for the first time today that not all things that are cheap are necessarily that good. I need to get some new earphones for my iPod as the ones supplied are knackered. Well, it is only the left earpiece that is falling apart and while it is usable it isn't particularly comfortable. So, I thought I'd buy myself some new earphones and the cheapest I saw were £3.99 in Woolworths. They are dreadful, the sound sounds distorted and muffled and they are very uncomfortable as they are of an 'in-ear' design. Wish I'd saved myself the four quid and saved up for a decent pair. Thus, I will have to soldier on with the old earphones for now until I can afford to get some decent ones.


I noticed on Monday that Classic FM have started a CD-series called 'The Full Works' which is exclusively available at HMV. Seems to be a similar idea to Naxos - top quality recordings of classical music on a budget label. Sounds a bit of a contradiction I know but from what I can make out the Classic FM CD's feature quite old or previously released recordings, so that is presumably how they can package them cheaply but I thought they are a great way to explore new works my familiar composers or to even try something new, after all £6 is reasonable for a CD these days.

There was a rather good documentary on BBC 4 the Friday before last about Ralph Vaughan Williams, who died 50 years ago this year. Arguably one of the finest British composers, maybe some would say even better than Elgar, this interesting documentary concentrated on the women in his life, that so inspired his work. It revealed a lot about the man and his passions and it was refreshing to hear that this was a composer whose life wasn't marked so much by tragedy and sadness as by joy and passion to his last days.
A piece of music that I have 'discovered' recently and particularly like, even though it is perhaps one of the saddest and depressing works I've heard, is Henryck Gorecki's Third Symphony, subtitled 'The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.' I know very little about it other than I understand it was written to express the pain and suffering of the Polish nation during World War II and the most popular recording features the soprano Dawn Upshaw. It is a three-movement work for orchestra and soprano and each movement is blindingly beautiful and tragic. It is three laments or songs, each sung in Polish and heart-wrenching nonetheless. I wish there was an English translation with the CD. I recognised the Second Movement, as part of this was used in Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution.
On a happier note, I am also exploring works by Rachmaninov, who wrote some wonderful and romantic pieces for piano and also the Danish-composer Carl Nielson, whose Fourth Symphony I particularly like.

Monday, May 26, 2008


It seems so unfair that even long weekends, like this one has been, seem to go by so much quicker than the working week. Still, I've had a good weekend and made the most of the nice weather, which lasted albeit just for Saturday. At the moment it is pouring with rain outside and it was raining earlier when I went out and the sky seems to have adopted and refused to let go of a shapeless overcast grey.

I had a day off work on Friday and had a new cooker delivered in the morning. The old one, which had been here even before I moved in was really at the end of its usefulness. Indeed, it rather spectacularly although not too seriously, caught fire just over a week ago. After that I refused to use it at all, which meant that last week was interesting in trying to get by with just the microwave for heating food. Lots of salads instead...lol! Anyways, the new cooker is nice, has a separate grill, which the other one didn't and I am sure that will be useful. It looks nicer too, silver instead of white, which I found impossible to keep clean. I had a few jobs to do in the afternoon and a trip down to Bletchley, which is never the nicest of places to go, especially not on a warm, grey afternoon!

Saturday was the only day when the sun has shone all weekend and despite that there was still quite a stiff breeze, which took the edge of the temperature somewhat. Nevertheless it was pleasantly warm, especially in a sheltered spot. I took myself off to the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway (GWR), which runs for about 10 miles between Cheltenham Racecourse and Toddington. Getting there was an expedition in itself as due to weekend engineering works, it was on the bus to Oxford and then trains from there to Didcot Parkway and on to Cheltenham Spa.

This was the first time that I'd been to the GWR and as heritage railways go, I wasn't that impressed. However, it was their 'Cotswold Festival of Steam' and thus lots of engines in steam - a roster of eight steam locomotives for the day, which is quite impressive. I won't go into all the details as I doubt anyone reading this is a steam buff but needless to say, I had a really good, if long day out.

Also arrived on Friday was a DVD that I ordered from Amazon about a week ago - volume 7 of the wonderful British Transport Films (BTF) collection currently being released by the BFI. These are excellent two-disc sets collecting together some of the best of the BTF output with a mixture of documentaries, information films, publicity and safety films. They're nicely packaged with an accompanying booklet which gives a background and context to the individual films. As an historical record they're interesting and particularly from a railway enthusiasts point of view they bring vividly to life a railway that has long since disappeared in the name of progress.

Today has been a fairly quiet day, catching up on some reading and coursework and listening to the new Indiana Jones soundtrack - seeing the film this weekend.

Just a short week back at work as I am off to York on Friday to the National Railway Museum to the 1968 and all that event. Looking forward to this very much as the last big scale event I went too at the NRM was Railfest in 2004 and this promises to be every bit as enjoyable. Just hope the weather is a little better by then, even if it is just that its stopped raining!

Monday, May 19, 2008


At the beginning of this year I set myself eight specific goals that I wanted to achieve by the end of 2008. I didn't mention them on here nor will I go into them into that much detail now as I feel they are personal to me and I don't want to discuss them openly. Looking at these eight goals now I feel disappointed at what little progress I have made. The fact that I have made some progress I should be pleased about.

One of my personal objectives was to become less inhibited by that little voice that always holds me back from doing things and stops me from being as open as I feel I should be. Recently I've been thinking more about this and it struck me today that one thing I need to change is my willingness to cave in to other people's demands and wants. I am not strong mentally it seems and I find it hard to say no to things that I don't want to do or don't agree with. I rarely, if ever, argue with anyone because I am a defeatist when it comes to arguments, convinced that I will lose before I even start and moreover I'd do anything for the quiet and easy life. There have been occasions, mainly through work, where I have been pushed into a corner over something and then all my frustration and anger comes out but it is futile really becasue it isn't constructive and certainly doesn't deliver any benefits to me.

All to often I feel pressurised into doing things that I really don't want to do or go along with what other people want because I feel that it will please them to do so. I don't often push for what I want. I've been thinking today that I have this idea that I must justify myself and must be accountable for the decisions I make. Well, certainly that is true for some things but amongst friends, do I really need to be able to justify myself? If I don't want to do something can't I just say so?

I am not going to mention specific examples of what I mean because that isn't fair and it isn't anyone elses fault but my own. I need to say what I feel and what I want and not just assume that going along with what someone else wants is always the best action.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Okay, I haven't posted on here for a while and I guess its time I did some sort of update! Had an enjoyable day at Collectormania just over a week ago and saw Iron Man at the flicks in the afternoon with Derek and Carla. I am not sure what I made of Iron Man to be honest. I thought it was okay and fun for the most part, certainly not one of those movies that you need to think too hard about. I liked Robert Downey Jr although I did struggle to warm to his character. Before the film was a trailer for Indiana Jones and much like Iron Man, it didn't really blow me away, although I got hooked by the music! I love John Williams' Raiders March - he does marches so well! I am looking forward to seeing the film in Brum at the end of the month. It should be a fun weekend as on the Friday I am going to the National Railway Museum at York. Although I managed to get a bargain set of fares on the train, the cost of staying over in Brum is expensive. Still, its not often that I go away so why not make the most of it?

I've also seen the trailer for Star Wars: Clone Wars, which also left me feeling completely underwhelmed. Oh dear... There is no question of not seeing it, I just won't go in with any high expectations. It looked to me to be rather light on plot and character development and heavy on visual effects and big battle sequences. Nothing wrong with that I guess but it does get tedious in my view if that is all the film is going to be.

I am still waiting to hear if/when I start my permanent job. I say if, although I don't know why there should be any doubt about it. I think I am nervous because of my bad experiences last year and have this fear that they're going to tell me that they've made a mistake and sorry the job isn't mine. I wrote before on here about how I felt dissatisfied with what I was doing. I've sort of got over that phase by focusing on things that I am doing out of work and trying to make the most of my time in the office and getting to know the people I am working with better. I find it hard to get to know new people - I am not a great conversationalist and I don't much enjoy small talk.

Out of work I am fearing that I have begun to take on too many commitments. Already I run a web site for one of the railway clubs that I belong too and recently joined the committee of another. Now, I've volunteered myself to run another web site, although I took it on the strict understanding that the input from me would be limited. Then, there is my OU studies, which I should really devote more time too and the possibility of studying for a Diploma in Insurance through my new job. Not to mention my volunteering at Bletchley Park, which I still hope to start soon... When am I going to fit all this in?

One thing which I really need to work on is my time management and being more disciplined in getting things done. I sort of had the right idea last Monday - the Bank Holiday - deliberately getting up the same time as I would going to work and using the extra hours to get to grips with my OU coursework. After that, it all went downhill and so the plans for doing some housework and those other boring tasks, slipped back a day. I find that I let hours drift by, not through doing nothing but by diverting myself into doing things which don't really deserve a priority like a sudden decision to have a declutter and move a pile of magazines and stuff from one place to another! I start things and never finish them because I either lose interest part way through or find something else that I perceive as more interesting to get done. I really need to learn to focus on one thing at a time and see it through. I do spend far too much time surfing the net and before I know it, there is another couple of hours gone. Then I am too tired/bored/disinterested to be doing the jobs which I should have got done.

Exercise is a case in point. I made a promise to myself that when I got home from work I would do ten minutes a day on the exercise bike. Its not much but I rationalised that ten minutes would be nothing, it would be done and out of the way and by getting into the habit I would gradually want to do more. I've failed to achieve even this simple objective nearly everyday because I dread doing it all day, although really it is hardly a chore, so that by the time I get home, I find other things to distract me - a sudden job that must be done. So instead I put off doing any exercise and then by the time I realise that I haven't done it, like now, its too late and time for bed! And thus the self-defeating circle continues. Does any of this make sense? If I know what the problem is and understand that I am doing, why can't I simply overcome it?

Monday, April 28, 2008

What I've been up to

Thank goodness I deleted what I was going to say, it was sooooo boring, not that I guarantee that this will be any better, lol! Been a busy few weeks and it was nice to have the weekend just gone to myself at home. I didn't do much, a few little jobs here and there and mostly relaxing and making the most of the time to myself. The previous weekend I had been to the Wirral with Derek and Carla - Derek has done a good review on his blog - to see our friend Mandy and also visit Spaceport. This weekend is Collectormania in Milton Keynes, which I am planning to attend on Saturday; I might take a sneak preview on Friday when the show opens as its not too far from work. I had put my name forward to crew this event after doing the Coventry and Manchester shows but alas I was not chosen. Still don't know why but I am not too bothered, at least it gives me a free weekend and time to enjoy the show.

I am hoping to be starting as a volunteer at Bletchley Park during May. I completed all the formalities a couple of weeks ago, just waiting for my pass and confirmation of when I can get started. I am really looking forward to this. It will be a challenge to learn about the work that went on at the Park, so that at least I come across as 'informed' when speaking to visitors and I am looking forward to being involved in something that I consider to be worthwhile and of importance. I think it is shameful that the Trust which runs the Park receives no government funding, not even a hand-out from the lottery and even more surprising that the site is not dedicated as a heritage site or something similar. After all the work that went on there during World War II was vitally important to the Allied victory and for that it deserves greater recognition and support.

I finished reading Rough Music by Patrick Gale last weekend. The interminably long journey home by train from Birmingham last weekend, gave ample opportunity to sprint through the last third or so of the book. This wasn't a happy read and a rather miserable ending too. I really must choose more positive reading material, lol! I am getting into Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson at the moment, having read the first book in the Mars trilogy about six months ago. I like Robinson's writing, which I find evocative of Arthur C Clarke, particularly in the attention to detail and the realisation of science fantasy as science fact. Everything seems believable and real and I can quite envisage human colonies becoming established on Mars in the way Robinson describes, in the middle of the next century. The detail is such that I am often left wondering if Robinson hasn't secretly been to Mars already!

One of the treasures that I discovered on the radio a few months ago is Broadcasting House on Radio 4. I don't ever listen to it live - 9am on a Sunday morning even for me is not an hour that I know too well! But I enjoy listening to the podcast, which I have found makes an ideal accompaniment on the walk home from work one evening a week. BH as it is known by its loyal listeners is a current affairs magazine albeit with a somewhat sideways look at the news, hosted by Paddy O'Connell, who I enjoyed watching on Working Lunch. He is an amusing and amiable presenter and I like the informal style of the programme which doesn't get in the way of making some serious and probing points.

Another treasure from the radio, albeit forty plus years ago now, is Round the Horne. I treated myself to a compilation CD of some of the best episodes on Friday and I am enjoying that very much. It doesn't matter how often I listen to these shows or how familiar I am with the gags, I still find it one of the funniest things I've heard. It was ground-breaking for its time and even now, is still surprisingly close to the mark and very, very funny.

Talking of funny things, I am delighted to have found the special edition PG Tips with the Monkey DVD and tea towel, yay! I love all things Monkey! I will have to look at the web site as I understand that there is other Monkey merchandise that can be purchased.

Right, time to put the DVD on and make myself a nice cuppa!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Has the world gone mad?

I found this disturbing article on the BBC News web site about photographers being stopped by police and other officials in the course of taking photos in public places. I am a keen, although not very good photographer, and I enjoy taking pictures of all sorts of things: interesting buildings, places, particularly attractive scenes, exhibitions, conventions, displays, public events etc. One of my main hobbies is railways and I take a lot of photos of railway subjects - trains, stations and all sorts of other paraphernalia associated with the railways. Some might think that strange but is no more disruptive or sinister than me standing outside a cathedral taking pictures of its fine architecture.

There have been many stories I have read in the railway mags and have heard from other friends about photographers on railway stations being stopped from taking photos or asked to leave altogether. Now this silly and officious behaviour appears to be extending to almost any public place where people are taking photos because of a seemingly hysterical view that photographers must somehow be up to something sinister or wrong.

In the case of railway photography, there are very clear guidelines published by Network Rail and British Transport Police, which basically are a common-sense set of rules. Essentially, as long as you do not interfere with the normal and safe operation of the railway or make a nuisance of yourself, you are welcome to take photos. Still it seems that some railway staff are not aware of these guidelines although more often than not it is overly officious security guards that seem to be the main problem. There is only one occasion I can recall when I felt uncomfortable taking pictures on the railway and that was at Kings Cross due to the large number of police that were there, presumably for some event or supporters returning from or going to a football match. I felt that if I did start taking pictures, my motives would be questioned or I might be asked to leave.

In other public places I have never felt intimidated or prevented from taking photographs although sometimes it seems that someone with a camera attracts curious looks from the public. I experienced this most recently whilst taking pictures of The Forum in Norwich. But I love taking photos of the ordinary and the mundane because that is exactly what makes such an interesting photo so often in my view. In particular I like to take photos locally around Milton Keynes because so much development is taking place here I find it interesting to have a record of the changes.

It saddens me to think that as a society we are beginning to treat everyone who is doing something that we do not consider to be 'normal' as somehow a sinister threat. Even the innocent act of taking photos of the everyday can apparently now be conceived as an act of a terrorist. It really is crazy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In a quandary

I am not sure what to do about my job. I know I spent the best part of the end of last year and the beginning of this bleating about being unemployed and so now that I am working, I may seem incredibly ungrateful to be moaning about it. Not that I have a problem with work just that I wished it was more interesting and more challenging. I find the days drag by and I am getting bored because what I am doing is not using my brain at all and I don't feel stretched. On the plus side, there is absolutely no stress, little responsibility and I have good hours. The people I work with are okay but the office is completely without any dynamic. In some ways that is nice. I have worked in highly-politicised office environments before and so to find one that isn't like that is refreshing. However, it seems to be absent of any interaction at all and although I do try to involve myself, the fact that I am sitting at the end of a row of desks, with my back to the colleagues I am working with, is not conducive to feeling part of a team. I do feel sometimes like the outsider, particularly when I hear references to 'the temp or temps.'

Moreover, I guess the deeper feeling is one of failure. Here I am, thirty-two years old, doing data input all day. Its the sort of a job a school leaver would be doing. I am not earning much but that doesn't bother me as much as my loss of pride I guess in what I am doing. I don't feel great about going to work; I feel I should be making more of my life, that it should have more importance than it does at the moment.

I raised the subject of my current assignment with the agency because a). I have no idea how long it is for, and b). to see if there was another opportunity available that would use my skills and experience more effectively and challenge me more than what I am doing now. I got a polite rebuff on both points. Apparently 'I was told' that this assignment would be long term, which is not my recollection and could lead to a permanent post. I can't see myself doing data input for the rest of my career! The agency suggested that I contact them today to discuss further, which I did but it seems that they're 'too busy' to talk to me about any of this and that really pisses me off. I find it downright rude and discourteous for someone to ask you to call them and to then not call you back when they have promised to do so. I am not likely to push the issue any further but I am not happy about it.

So where do I go from here? Do I just sit tight and plod along, looking for other opportunities that come my way? Or do I bite the bullet and insist on something else?

I have been looking at other jobs. One I've applied for and am waiting to hear back from. Another agency contacted me about a job in MK but as with most vacancies I have heard about through agencies that has come to nought. There is another job that I am considering applying for at the moment.

Sigh. Is it so hard to find that 'right' job?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Norwich & Norfolk

I had a wonderful weekend at the end of March staying in Norwich and exploring some parts of Norfolk that I have never been too before. The Friday travelling there was not pleasent at all, it was raining virtually the whole way and it didn't help that it was also windy. Nevertheless the journey there, via London, was relatively painless.

When I arrived at Norwich, I thought that I would walk to the Travelodge where I was staying, confident that according to my map it wasn't far too walk. In truth it was probably only about a 15 minute walk but I made into a half-hour hike through the pouring rain and lashing winds because as always my overconfidence in my sense of direction saw me walking completely the wrong way and making a very circuitous detour to the hotel. I was surprised to find that it had been almost five years since I had last been to Norwich and my knowledge of the city had certainly become rusty over that time!

Friday afternoon once I'd arrived and dried off was spent exploring Norwich, which is a great city with lots to do and I am reminded is one of the top shopping destinations in the UK. It has some fine buildings including the castle, cathedral and the relatively new Forum. I visited the cathedral on Friday, which I hadn't actually intended to do, it was a case that I was in that area and I like looking around these magnificent buildings. After that, it was a leisurely walk back through the city, stopping off for something to eat and then back to the Travelodge for a much needed good night's sleep.

Saturday I went to the North Norfolk Railway (NNR) at Sheringham. It is a preserved railway, running for about 6 miles through some lovely countryside to Holt. It’s the first time I’ve visited the line and it has a wonderful atmosphere and was surprisingly quiet. The line aims to recreate its heyday during the 1950s and was once part of the much larger Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway which was disparagingly called the ‘Muddle and Go Nowhere.’ Unfortunately this particular line, which was part of the route from Melton Constable to Cromer Beach, was closed in 1964 as part of the Beeching Cuts. There are plans to restore the link across the road at Sheringham to the Network Rail station and to run trains through to Cromer once again and more ambitiously to link up with another preserved line, the Mid-Norfolk Railway at Fakenham, although that is at least a decade away.

Sheringham itself is a lovely little town on the North Norfolk coast and not far from Cromer. It has all the typical delights of a seaside town and was surprisingly busy, considering the time of the year. I had a walk along the prom and visited the Lifeboat Station, which is well worth taking a look around. I also found a rather delightful shop that seemed to sell just about everything from tourist themed gifts to toys and models.

After another ride on the NNR, I spent the rest of the afternoon in Cromer, which is just a short hop by train away. This is somewhere that I have long wanted to go, although I am not sure why! I was a little disappointed; I thought that Sheringham was nicer but at least Cromer has a Pier, which I think is an essential ingredient for a great seaside town. On the seafront is the Hotel de Paris, where Stephen Fry once worked as a waiter, although I imagine a good many years ago. Cromer also has a Lifeboat Station, which I visited and learnt about one of the ‘bravest men ever to have lived’, Henry Bloggs, a coxswain of the Cromer lifeboat who gave 53 years service to the RNLI, saving 873 lives during that impressive career. He was decorated many times for conspicuous gallantry and was also awarded the British Empire Medal and the George Cross. I was quite moved by his story and the bravery of the crew who man the lifeboats all around the UK.

After an interesting and enjoyable afternoon in Cromer it was back on the train to Norwich as the sun was setting, retracing the route back across some lovely countryside.

Sunday was a more ambitious day and another early start. I got the X1 coach to Lowestoft, which is about an hour and a half from Norwich. I thought Lowestoft was a miserable place to be honest. Even one of the locals who I got chatting too said that there wasn’t anything to see in Lowestoft. It has a laughable excuse of a pier – actually it is part of the breakwater for the harbour and I couldn’t help feeling that it was a tired looking town, the gloss has definitely faded.

As I am sure everyone is aware Lowestoft is the most easterly town in Britain and thus has the most easterly railway station and of course I couldn't resist a visit. Lowestoft is also the birthplace of perhaps the greatest British composer of the twentieth century, Benjamin Britten. Sadly he suffers the indignity of having a rather tatty shopping centre bearing his name as the only notable reference I could find to his Lowestoft connections. Britten spent most of his life living at Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast with his partner, the tenor Peter Pears. Britten sadly died in 1976, three years after under-going open heart surgery from which he never fully recovered.

After the disappointments of Lowestoft and a sausage sandwich for breakfast, it was back on the coach for the sprint cross-country to Kings Lynn, back in North Norfolk. When I arrived in Kings Lynn the contrast with Lowestoft could not have been much greater. This was a lively place, the sun was out and it was a glorious and warm afternoon. Kings Lynn has lots of historic buildings and a fine position on the River Great Ouse. A ferry boat links Kings Lynn with West Lynn six days a week and I was interested to read that it would take an Act of Parliament to suspend the operation of the service even though it is now largely redundant since improved roads in the area have made access across the river much easier. Kings Lynn was also the birthplace of George Vancouver, who gave his name to Vancouver Island and the city of Vancouver.

Monday was also a cheerful morning and I spent my last few hours in Norwich having a last look around the city and getting some bits and pieces to bring back. If ever in Norwich, the Colmans Mustard Shop is a worthwhile visit. Also I found a very good toy and model shop in the same arcade, where I could have spent many hours and lots of pennies, lol!

Then it was back to London and onwards to Milton Keynes. I did a lot in a few days and there were still a lot of things that I didn’t do or would like to go back and visit again. Next time I'd probably want to visit the other preserved railways in Norfolk and see more of the countryside but there will I am sure be further opportunities to do all that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A bit of this, some of that and quite a lot of the other

Over the weekend I dipped into the Classic FM Hall of Fame 2008 Countdown. Its been a long while since I have listened to Classic FM. I went off it a bit to be honest but listening again I noted that its changed a little, got some new presenters (mainly as a result of its sister station TheJazz going under) and a new sound, which I am not sure I entirely like. The Hall of Fame is a countdown of the supposedly 300 most popular pieces of classical music, which the station does every Easter weekend. I've voted for pieces the last few years and I try to be quite careful and thoughtful with my choices. Although I did enjoy a lot of the music I heard I do have some reservations about the Hall of Fame idea. Part of me thinks its just not right to do a 'Top 40' style chart of classical music; it just doesn't seem to fit comfortably. My bigger concern though is that are these choices really the nation's favourite pieces of classical music? I ask because all too often it is the same movement or excerpt that is played from a work, year in, year out. Therefore, do people who vote actually like the work or just the piece that is played every year in the Hall of Fame? To give a couple of examples - the opera Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten is always represented by one of the four Sea Interludes and Elgar's Enigma Variations is always Nimrod. These pieces in themselves are wonderful and Nimrod is absolutely exquisite but they are just part of larger works both of which I like in their entirety, not just for the selected highlights played in the Hall of Fame.

Also some of the selections seem unfair. For example, while Spitfire Prelude and Fugue from First of the Few is worthy of inclusion on its own, Star Wars presumably encompasses all six movies and Lord of the Rings similarly all three movies. Again who knows, because it is the same piece played each year, giving no clue as to whether this represents a single film or the whole saga in these cases. Which brings me to my final point, say for example that I voted for The Emperor's Death from Return of the Jedi, does this count as a vote for a) Star Wars, b) Return of the Jedi or c) for the track The Emperor's Death? Methinks that the voting is not particularly transparent and is unfairly weighted towards certain pieces or works.

Having said all that I was pleased to see that Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending remains at Number One. Whatever such an accolade might mean, it is still one of the most beautiful and exquisitely English pieces of music I have heard,

Along the way I was inspired by a couple of pieces I heard by living composers and have been prompted to buy CD's to try their work. I will let you know what I make of it when the CDs have arrived and I have had a chance to listen to them.

An article on the BBC News web site about London's bendy buses caught my eye. These buses are loathed apparently and two of the candidates for London Mayor have said that they would withdraw them. I used the bendy buses on route 73 frequently when I was working in London last year and I don't understand what all the fuss is about. I think the bendy bus is a great idea especially in congested urban areas - they are quick, easy to get on and off and I thought quite fun to ride on. Only very rarely did I have to stand and often it wasn't for long. There seems to be a lot of misty eyed nostalgia for the Routemaster, which to an extent I share. They were after all the only bus to be purpose built for London and they fulfilled their role admirably over many decades but lets be honest they are hardly the most user friendly bus in the modern age, especially for people with disabilities. It seems that Boris Johnson wants to bring back some version of the Routemaster although I don't really see the need and why replace something like the bendy bus that seems to work so well?

I had a bit of a sort out over the Easter weekend. Well, I say that but truth be told it was really more a paper shuffling exercise because I am so loathed to ditch anything. I am amazed at just how much paper I collect - newspaper cuttings, magazine articles, brochures, leaflets, timetables, pamphlets, correspondence, bills, junk mail, things that really should have been responded to weeks ago and just miscellaneous other stuff. I keep newspaper cuttings and magazine articles that catch my eye and file them according to whether its something to do with Milton Keynes or anything else. I am a terrible hoarder of magazines, whether it be film or railway mags and I was flicking through a couple of the latter from the 1990s and was surprised at how little has changed. The railways were going through the same convulsions of self-doubt and public criticism then as they are now! Timetables I keep because they are useful (whilst they are still current) and still interesting even when they are not. Okay, I might be alone on that one, lol! Seriously though, some good money can be made from old timetables and some are more collectible than others. I do tend to pick up a leaflet or pamphlet from everywhere I go. I gather them as eagerly as I do fridge magnets, bookmarks and pens!

Correspondence there is not so much of these days. I think its a shame that generally people seem to have lost the art of letter writing. E-mails just aren't the same. I've had a wonderfully catty and gossipy e-mail from someone who I used to work with but can't help feeling it would mean more and read better if it was good old pen on paper, lol. Bills I seem to gather with alarming ease and although they're all paid (I ensure that everything goes out on Direct Debit) it still worries me when I find the gas or telephone bill or some other such request for money from some months back.

I feel better for having sorted through it all or rather, moving it all from one pile into new neat collections in various folders, to be put away.

I sometimes wonder what someone would make of the things that I have collected if they came and had a rifle through my bookcases and folders. What would they think it said about me? A lot of it I keep private not because it is not things that I wouldn't share with anyone else, just that I don't think it would be that interesting.

One of the things I suppose I am doing as I am sorting through all this is censoring myself, deciding what can be left on display and what has to be discreetly packaged away, kept for my eyes only. I am the same when writing e-mails. I might have said this before but I will often write and rewrite parts of an e-mail until I get it 'just right.' I always worry that I might be too indiscreet or come across as being pompous, stupid, boring or lecturing. There are probably as many e-mails that I don't send as those that I do because I think they'll be boring or sound stupid or come across as me trying to drum into my friends that they should be interested in all the things that I am interested in.

Work is going okay at the moment although I have realised that every office that I have worked in, including the current one, are clones of each other. They are inhabited by the same basic collection of personalities, have the same politics and dynamics and are very much indistinguishable from each other when you get down to it. Not to say that is necessarily a bad thing, just that I find it amusing to realise that all these people that I am working with now I've worked with before, although they looked different and had different names!

Not sure what I will do long term and I don't have a clear idea how long this temp position will last. However, I am still looking at other jobs and keeping alert to what opportunities there are. I will need to find myself something permanent by the summer I should think.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Catch up

It's been a while since I've posted here and I have been neglecting my other blogs as well. I've had a lot to say, just not sure that it would be particularly interesting. I am never quite sure whether I can write what the hell I like on here and not care whether it interests anyone else or not or whether I should tailor my posts to saying something remotely thoughtful and intelligent. I suppose this is my space and my blog, so I can say what I like, as long as I don't offend anyone, which I would never be minded to do (at least not intentionally).

The last few weeks seem to have gone very quickly and no doubt that is in part due to the fact that I've had lots to do. I had a pleasant few days in Portsmouth with my parents at the end of February. I always go back to see them for my birthday, there doesn't seem much point being here on my own. Although to be honest as I get older birthday's seem to mean less and less and gradually become less significant. I suppose I will feel different when I reach 40 or some other notable milestone.

After a quick break in Portsmouth I was in Coventry at the beginning of March, volunteering at Collectormania Midlands. The set-up on the Friday was a real killer - I don't think I've ever ached so much in my life! Heaving tables and chairs around all day certainly took it out of me but it was fun and great to see the transformation from a barren exhibition hall into something that looked like a convention. I stayed over in Nuneaton with Derek & Carla and they looked after me well, as always and introduced me to Flight of the Concordes, which was very funny and ever so strange but something I'd like to see more of. Unfortunately by Friday evening I was very tired, so probably wasn't the best of company.

Saturday I was working at the convention again in the afternoon. This was my first taste of doing a show in five years - the last one was Collectormania 3 in Milton Keynes. A lot has changed in that time. More bureaucracy, more rules and so many names to remember!

This weekend just gone I was helping at Collectormania Manchester, so another few days away from MK. This time I didn't get involved with the set-up and as it happened had a free afternoon to explore Manchester. I helped at the show on both Saturday and Sunday, doing all sorts, from taking tickets as people came in to handing out flyers for the show in the city centre. That was not fun! Still, I did enjoy myself overall and for the first time in a long while I felt like I was doing something useful and productive.

Earlier on I decided to reorganise my bookshelves as I was getting annoyed with the fact that I had novels in different places and some mixed with reference books. I am terribly fastidious about having books arranged in a certain way, fiction organised alphabetically and any non-fiction organised into categories or subjects. Perhaps I have a secret wish to be a librarian, I don't know but I even find myself in the library or a bookshop sometimes rearranging books that are out of place! How sad is that, lol!

I finished reading a rather good book at the end of last week - Random Acts of Heroic Love by Danny Scheinmann. I was encouraged to buy this after the book was reviewed and chosen as one of the Richard & Judy book club selections. It is a rather good story, perhaps not the sort of book that I would have chosen myself had I not seen it on the TV. The novel is about two men from very different times - Leo Deakin and Moritz Daniecki - both of whom are embarking on epic personal journeys in which they are sustained by the memory of love. For Deakin, it is a journey through the terrible grief and guilt that threatens to destroy him following the death of his girlfriend in a tragic accident in South America, whilst for Daniecki, he is taking an epic journey from a PoW camp in Siberia to Europe to be reunited with his sweetheart, who he has not seen since the outbreak of war. What impresses is the way Scheinmann has drawn his characters, such that they are easy to relate too and like and while I have no experience of love in the way that both Deakin and Danieki have, I found it very powerful and moving. The ending is superb and quite unexpected, a really great read.

Now, I am reading If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor. I am sure I will have mentioned this in my blog before, because this is one of my favourite books and is so familiar now that it feels like an old friend. What draws me back, is the discovery of something new each time I read it. Points of the narrative or characters come to the fore more than they did before or I pick up on things that I've not considered or missed previously. It is a wonderful novel, beautiful and melancholy, always building towards a tragic and moving ending.

Almost all the characters in McGregor's novel are anonymous although this does not stop me from warming to two in particular - the old couple that live upstairs at number twenty. Their story is achingly sad and so beautifully told. The old man is keeping a terrible secret from his wife and it is part of what is at the heart of this novel, that everything important between them is unstated and unsayable. The ordinary things, which in McGregor's hands takes on the sense of being remarkable, that the characters cannot articulate.

McGregor, who is the same age as me, writes with a mature voice and experience of the world that surely must be far beyond his years. His style is very unusual, reading more like poetry than straight prose and completely absent of dialogue in the conventional sense. He seems in love with the anonymous city and the characters in this novel and that is what draws me in. It is a strange, melancholic experience.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Finding the right words

Exasperation would perhaps best describe my state of mind at the moment but really that is not the right word. It isn't enough to say what I feel. I can't be bothered to think of anything better or more eloquent to put in its place though.

The end of last week was a particularly bad time, not for any specific reason, I just felt shit every day. Not physically; emotionally and mentally drained, unwilling and distant. I am not even sure that I was here at the end of last week. Of course, physically I was here but otherwise it felt like I was living on auto-pilot. What prompted this sense of crisis is many things. Mostly that little voice in my head that keeps on and on about how things will never get any better. Everyone says that I should stay positive and that is sound advice. I try; it is becoming harder and harder though. I find disappointment everywhere, I look for positive signs and find them wanting. I also feel a lot of anger at the injustice of where I am. The trouble is I have no direction to vent my anger. I have no one to blame, no one who is culpable, only myself. So I end up dwelling on it, over and over again until it comes to a point when I just shut myself off and drift through the days like I did at the end of last week.

I can't explain what an immense mental effort it was to go my first Open University tutorial last Saturday. It sounds ridiculous and probably is as I only had to walk into Bletchley and it was only for a couple of hours. The night before and on the Saturday morning I kept going through whether I would go or not, running all the possibilities of why I should or shouldn't. More than that, I was running through all my insecurities, all my feelings of doubt and loathing, making it all seem like a Herculean effort rather than the simple task of turning up for a few hours and getting something valuable in terms of learning. On reflection, I wonder why I do it to myself. Why do I put so many of these ridiculous barriers in my way and then view them as being completely insurmountable, when in actual fact there is nothing to fear in the first place?

I am keenly aware of when I am doing this and I know it makes no sense. I am alert to the signs of when I am not coping and I suppose I should stop myself and do something about it. Like the mantra of 'staying positive' the words come easily, doing the same comes much less so.

Where am I now? Well, I feel better than I did. I go through these phases from time to time, there is nothing new in it. This was just a particularly bad experience.

I am immensely frustrated and disappointed that I am still unemployed. Every deadline that I have set myself for getting a job has come and gone. I have only had one interview this year! Is it any wonder that I feel so pissed off? I wish I could say that I am 'keeping positive' but you already know from the above that is a lie. Not that I am completely negative; I have moments, maybe days when I feel that things are finally coming together. Then that feeling passes and I am back to where I am now, wondering if things will ever change. I keep thinking to myself, this wasn't how it was supposed to be. Not that I ever had any grand plan for life although it certainly didn't involve being 32 and unemployed with nothing important achieved.

I keep looking for work although more often than not it feels like I am just going through the motions. All the agencies I have registered with seem unfeasibly positive at first and all have great jobs that will suit me just fine and then the reality strikes and they fail to deliver anything at all. Or they seem incapable of understanding my skills and experience and matching me to jobs that would suit my background, instead offering jobs in sales, which I have no experience of and is always required for these type of roles. I trawl the Internet job sites and the local papers, occassionally a job will appeal that matches my skills and experience but then it is either a case of the salary is too low or it is in some far distant place that would be difficult, if not impossible to get too.

Stay positive? Yeah, right. I've been out of work now for three months and I've had four interviews (and two of those were with the same company)! I can't help thinking that I will never find work. I don't know where I am going from here.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Getting it together

Phew! What a busy week. After feeling really fed up and ready to give up at the end of last week, things have picked up considerably. I still don't have a firm offer of a job in my hands but I feel like I am moving forward rather than standing still and that it is now only a matter of time before I am back in to work.

I have an interview next week for a call centre job. Its not great pay and it involves working shifts, which I am not too keen on either. But its a job. I am hoping the interview goes well and that I get the job. If I don't, well there are other things on the go and besides this would only be a stop-gap to something better, not a permanent career move.

I saw two agencies this week and spoken to a couple of others. All seem quite enthusiastic and keen to get me into a position as soon as possible. I feel encouraged by that and confident that things are beginning to turn around.

As well as looking for paid employment, I've also been considering doing some voluntary work until I get myself into something more permanent. I've volunteered for a couple of things, which I am just waiting to hear back on. According to the Job Centre I am okay doing this as long as its no more than ten hours per week and I keep actively looking for work, which I fully intend to do. Also, I've signed up to work a couple of conventions at the beginning of March. I'd been thinking about doing this for a long while, having done a couple of cons here in Milton Keynes about 5 years ago. Then there is my OU course, which I've just started. The calendar is beginning to look quite full for the next couple of months!

So I feel a lot more positive than a week ago and a lot more in control. Despite not having any money, I feel happy. I feel contented with my lot at the moment and happy and glad for the things I do have.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Dumbing down the BBC

The hallmark of the BBC was its news coverage.The world's largest news-gathering organisation with a staggering array of journalists (over 2,000 worldwide) and facilities (41 foreign news bureaux) available at its disposal, I always took BBC News to be a trusted, impartial and articulate voice in the world of news. Sadly, the high regard which I always held for the BBC and its news coverage has taken a precipitous decline over recent years. I think BBC News has dumbed down to such an extent that it is about on a par with The Daily Mail, or in other words prone to hysteria, unbalanced and illiterate reporting. The BBC used to be distinctive and better for it, now it seems to be clamouring for the same base level as its main competitors.

The decline in BBC News seems to be no more apparent than on TV and there are further changes afoot this year, which I am sure will damage its TV coverage further. Basically, the BBC has to save money and News is no exception. It is cutting its staff by around 350, while another 500 or so will be lost in the BBC Nations & Regions, which produce the regional news (for England) and national news output for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. How can the BBC hope to maintain the current quality let alone aim for higher standards, if it is losing so many staff? Furthermore, I read that the BBC has axed plans for 4 new BBC Local Radio stations. Presumably included in this is the new station that was designated for Milton Keynes and I doubt now that we will get the new BBC Centre in MK that was promised or the regional television service for Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. Instead, we will have to endure the current BBC provision of radio from Luton, which is heavily Bedfordshire-biased and regional news from Cambridge, which is biased to that region. Indeed, the local BBC radio station has recently cut back on its broadcasts for Milton Keynes and I wonder how long it will be before a seperate opt-out service will be abandoned altogether.

But returning to the TV news and this is currently undergoing another reshuffle. Essentially, in an effort to save money, I understand the current BBC World studio and facilities is to be moth-balled.To enable this, BBC News 24 and the BBC's One & Ten o'Clock News are all moving to share the same studio facilities. Currently, BBC News 24 already simulcasts (shares) the main news output from BBC 1 - so much for it being an independent rolling news service. However, at the moment News 24 does continue its own coverage during a major or breaking story and doesn't take the BBC 1 output, how this will be possible with the changes proposed is not clear. At the same time there are suggestions that BBC News including the English regions will all be rebranded, a quite extraordinary waste of money, which could surely be invested in improving the current news provision. Then in 2012, all of BBC News will move from Television Centre to the new Broadcasting House complex, which will be the largest live broadcast centre in the world. No doubt to pay for such investment, more jobs will have to be lost and the news dumbed down further, to ensure that there is a large enough audience to justify this wasteful expense.

Perhaps the most insidious development in news over recent years is so called 'citizen journalism' where viewers are asked to send in their reaction to events or pictures. Nearly every news programme now and the BBC News web site, invites people to share their comments and often what is said is not put into context and thus we have a deluge of ill-informed or crack-pot opinions priveliged to the same status as the actual 'news' itself. Local radio excels in giving people a voice and allowing everyone an opinion on the issues of the day and this where it should remain. I believe the job of news, whether it is on television or radio, is to report the facts. News should tell the viewer or listener what is happening in an intelligent, informative and literate style without editorialising or dramatising. I don't want other people's opinions about the news; I want considered and informed analysis.

It seems to me that good news reporting and in particular BBC News is in terminal decline. It still amazes me how with all the resources it has, the BBC can produce such squalid and atrocious news coverage. About the only bastion of decent news coverage I've been able to find is the BBC World Service, which does what BBC TV News used to be about, report the facts; tell the audience the news. It does so in an intelligent and sober manner. The BBC can and should do better, much better.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Feeling better today

I spent a good couple of hours this morning ringing around all the agencies that I've had contact with and sending four of them my CV again. I've been particular in making lists of the people I've spoken to and their contact details so that I can pester them continuously! It seems that registering through agencies web sites is akin to launching yourself into a black hole. But I've made progress I feel. I've got an action plan in place for next week with a list of follow-ups, tasks and things to do for each day. It might sound a bit silly although I feel much more in control. I have objectives, lists of things to do and tasks to complete. I might not actually have got anywhere nearer getting a job but I am feeling in control of the situation rather than it controlling me, which is what I felt yesterday.

Also, I went through my financial budget and have started the process of pruning out expenditure I don't need and getting things a lot leaner on that side. Its hard but again I am making progress. There are a lot of things I still need to do and I now know what needs to be done and when. I am not letting it all run away from me and I feel much happier about that.

I went out for a walk a little earlier and that helped. I've been feeling so trapped, which probably sounds ridiculous because what's stopping me stepping out the front door for half hour? I don't always find it that straightforward and to quote an old saying sometimes it is difficult to see the wood for the trees. Everything was crowding in on top of me and all I was doing was focusing on my anxiety, disappointment and frustration instead of seeing a way out. I am sure I'll have other days where I will feel like that again although I hope by setting out an action plan for myself I can avoid that sort of crisis affecting me too much.

Okay, my situation is still far from wonderful or even near what I want it to be. I am making steps though. I am moving on and although it might be tough I know I am getting there.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Same crap different day

I've just about had enough today. I feel so many different things at the moment I am not sure how to focus my feelings. Everyday just lately has felt like one slap in the face after another. I believe I must be some sort of idiot or have a sign hung around my neck saying 'hey, come and walk all over me, I don't mind.'


I had set myself a deadline of finding a new job by the end of this month. I have been out of work now for about 3 months and I feel absolutely gutted that here I am still not working and with no propsect of securing a decent job in the forseeable future. Where did it all go wrong? What is wrong with me?

Part of me, the really negative side, feels like I've been a complete and utter failure. Its like I've finally been found out. That I am thoroughly crap and useless and I've only just realised it. If I wasn't surely I'd have a job by now?

I got turned down for the job that I'd applied for where I used to work. I had the test and interview last Thursday - where they kept me waiting for half-hour - and only got the feedback today that I didn't 'meet the required competencies' for the role! What the f**k does that mean?! I thought it had gone well and the fact that I can't even secure myself a crappy job answering the 'phones really does my head in. Am I so utterly unemployable that I can't even do a school leaver's job? And they've messed me around so much. I had to 'phone five - yes FIVE - times to get that piece of feedback. Well, thanks so much for wasting my time!

About five minutes after I had that call I had a call from a friend who I used to work with. He suggested e-mailing my CV across to his Manager and was as surprised as I was that I'd been turned down for a job where we both used to work. That at least made me feel a little bit better. But the best he could offer was a role paying £15K a year in Coventry - that's half what I was earning a few months ago! And no matter how much I move the figures around it would be financially unviable with the travelling costs.

I feel so utterly shit at the moment. I don't know whether to be angry or just sit in the corner and cry. It's probably just as well that I live on my own because I really want to hit someone at the moment. Aaaaarrrrgh!

I decided that just sitting here beating myself up about it all isn't going to get me anywhere. So, I've taken a deep breath, looked at my budget for each month and what I have coming in and I am going to have to make some drastic changes. I need to prioritise what is critical and what is not. I also made a list of agencies to call in the morning and I've set myself the lowest hourly rate I can possibly live on and I am just going to keep going until someone gives me a job. I am not going to put up with this crap any longer. I can't. I think I am slowly going mad or at least that is what it feels like. I am not going to let this defeat me, am not going to give in.

Please bear with me, I hope to resume normal service soon...