Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The assault on Christmas

I am wondering if the news can get any more dumbed-down than it is. The Six O'Clock News on BBC1 in particular appears to be turning into more of a magazine show rather than a serious news bulletin. Tonight's stories included that ridiculous decision by Radio 1 to censor the words to the Christmas song Fairytale of New York as 'sung ' by Kirsty MacColl and the Pogues as the word 'faggot' was deemed to be offensive. As this song has been wheeled out and played ad nauseam at successive Christmases for what seems like years, why should it suddenly cause offence in 2007? It seems to me that there must be a whole army of people out there just waiting to be 'offended' by one thing or another.

To me it also seems another assault on Christmas, which is attacked in almost every quarter. I really don't understand why these days more often than not I see 'Seasons Greetings' rather than Merry or Happy Christmas. Seasons greetings to me is a silly phrase with no meaning to it. Why can't we just say Happy Christmas?

Then it seems to me that any meaning to Christmas itself has long been eroded. I know, there is an argument as to whether the Christian meaning to Christmas is the right one and after all the day is a pagan festival originally, isn't it? Does it matter? Our society was at least founded on the Christian church and its traditions and festivities and if we are to disregard the story of Jesus then should we be celebrating Christmas at all?

I do wonder though how many people actually celebrate or enjoy Christmas. It seems that most people look at Christmas with such heavy expectations that they are always going to be disappointed. Furthermore we are attacked from all sides by reports about how much we're going to spend and thus be in debt next year, how unhealthy the traditional roast dinner is and if that isn't bad enough we are constantly reminded of how guilty we should feel because some people are going to be on their own this Christmas or not having such a jolly time. Yes, Christmas is a time of crisis and misery for some and I think that partly that is driven by the expectations that we all have of what it should be like.

As an adult one Christmas is pretty much like the last. I don't get excited or even particularly look forward to Christmas anymore and I find the post-festive period one of normally dark moods and regret. Not that I dislike Christmas, on the contrary, I always enjoy myself and yes I do over indulge but then it is only once a year. It is the relentlessness of it all that makes me feel unhappy post-Christmas. No sooner have we had the day itself, then it is over it seems according to everyone who scrambles out to the shops on Boxing Day. Then there is all the build up to New Year and of course we must all be excited and happy about this and going out and getting drunk.

I am not a misery or a scrooge, honestly I am not! I just want to do my own thing. I want to take the time between Christmas and New Year to reflect, to think about the year gone by and look ahead, make plans. I don't want to be hurried along in the post-festive consumer panic or feel that I must embroil myself in the falseness of New Year. I just want to do my own thing, be with my family, unwind, rest and frankly forget about the world out there. Is that so terrible? I really tire of the constant feeling that just because everyone else feels that life has to be lived at a brake-neck speed that I should be the same. Unlike many people, I will enjoy my Christmas because there will be no pressure of expectations and no rush to see it through.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Next year's studies

On Friday an unexpected parcel arrived, which contained my course book and materials for my Open University (OU) studies starting in February. I had completely forgotten about this was coming in light of my recent difficulties. One thing I will say about the OU, you certainly get a lot of material for each course! This one comprises two set books (I have the first) and about six audio/DVD presentations on disc plus the associated, course guide, study guide, calendar, newsletter etc., etc.

The course that I am studying next year is DU301 A world of whose making? which has the rather wordy subtitle: Politics, economics, technology and culture in international studies. Phew! The only part which I am not much looking forward to is economics and looking through the assignments for the course there is a fair amount of economic theory covered including drawing graphs and such like. There is also a question on the curious sounding 'game theory' and I was pleased to note that there is also a question on American imperialism post-9/11. That should be interesting to get into.

This course doesn't have an exam at the end of it. Instead there is an extended essay to be written, which is one of the reasons I chose to study this particular course. My last three courses have all had exams, which while I did well in, I absolutely hate taking. Not that I find writing essays a painless experience but I feel I am able to better express myself and of course have more time to develop and refine my arguments in that format.

The study programme looks demanding but I want to make a start on it now, so that I am already in advance of the February start date. It'll give me something else to do while continuing my look for work and provide something else to focus on rather than my current predicament.

All being well and assuming that I pass the course at the end of next year, I will gain my first Open University qualification - a Diploma in Politics & Government, which will no doubt look good on the CV. As for my degree, well that's going to take a few more years yet but I am going to get there. That's a promise I made to myself when I started and I have no intention of not fulfilling that.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Trying to keep positive

That is the message to myself is at the moment. It is very hard because there is so much that hasn't gone right of late and I do tend to worry too much anyway so that doesn't help. I am still waiting to hear about the two interviews I had last week. I feel that it is discourteous that neither of them have come back to me as yet especially as I was told that I would have replies to both by now. Despite e-mails and a 'phone call I seem unable to elicit a response. Generally, I feel very down about every interview/application I have made. I feel I am the one who is constantly having to chase, being fobbed off with one excuse after another and I don't understand why. If they're not going to give me the job, just say so! Sigh...

Anyways I said I was going to keep positive and I am trying. Next week I am going to go back round the agencies and get a job, any job. I really don't care any more. I am going crazy being at home all the time and I think if it continues much longer I am just going to crack.

I have planned to meet a few friends over the coming week and I am looking forward to that. It gets me away from home and hopefully from constantly thinking about the job situation for a few hours. Not that I am trying to bury my head in the sand; I need something else to take my mind off the anxiety it is causing me.

I am looking forward to Christmas, not that I can say I have found the enthusiasm to get particularly thrilled about it this year. More than anything I am looking forward to the few days away instead of staring at the same four walls day after day. I haven't decided how long I am going to spend at my parents. It will be dictated by whether I can sort myself out with a job next week.

Fingers crossed for better news soon.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


Some days I wonder if the whole world is against me. You know the kind of day I mean? When you wake up in the morning and everything goes wrong from the moment you make that decision to place one foot out of bed. I am having one of those days...

I had an interview on Monday in Watford. Didn't go particularly well to be honest and it didn't help right at the start when the person interviewing me advised what the salary was. Not anywhere near what I was expecting and for what the job entails and hours required, seems somewhat, dare I say, stingy. I was given the option of not going ahead with the interview but why couldn't they have discussed this with me over the 'phone beforehand rather than allowing me to waste my time and money getting there? Sigh... Anyway, I did go through the interview, which felt more like a 90 minute interrogation. I felt that at times my integrity was being questioned - 'is that what you genuinely believe?' YES! Otherwise I wouldn't have said it! I probably took it a little too personally but it seemed that the interviewer was trying to trick me or trip me up somewhere. I didn't feel great about it and I am not sure if, in the unlikely event they offer me the job, that I want to take it. Financially speaking, I could just about live on the salary they are offering but that's about it.

I had a letter from the OU today advising that my application for one of the jobs I'd applied for with them had been declined. Not even the courtesy of an explanation as to why. Similar response from an application I had with Coutts in Milton Keynes. Took them a long time to tell me that I hadn't been shortlisted for an interview and again no feedback as to why. It would be nice to know the reasons in both cases why I wasn't selected.

Today I also got a letter from the Job Centre confirming that they will pay me Jobseekers Allowance of £59 a week. What a joke! How is anyone supposed to live on that? I don't have an extravagant lifestyle but totalling up my bills and insurances, that isn't going to cover it let alone provide for food etc.

I feel at the moment like I am facing a bleak outlook. I've set myself a target of getting a job sorted by Christmas. If I don't then I am going to have to take whatever I can find in the New Year and I do mean anything. Being at home all the time is depressing me. I feel useless and like I am just wasting my life at the moment. I did take myself out yesterday and I felt a lot better for it, especially as I spent a lot of time walking and doing stuff that took my mind off the job situation. But that is only a temporary reprieve. I suppose most of all I feel a failure at the moment and ashamed that I am in this position.

I do have an interview tomorrow in London and I am keeping everything crossed that this will go well. I really could do with some good news at the moment.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Now there are three

I have started an additional two blogs, which are designed to complement this one, which will remain my main platform as it were. The two new blogs each deal with a particular passion - Delta Source is a Star Wars blog while Multiple Aspects, is dedicated to railways. You can find the links to my new blogs on the right.

Let me explain the reason for these new blogs. I had been thinking of doing a railway blog for sometime. There have been a number of railway themed posts on here and a few where I would have probably gone into more depth and detail than would be appropriate for a general audience. Railways are something that I am very passionate about so rather than turn-off those who are not interested by posting it here, all my railway posts will now appear on the Multiple Aspects blog. The Star Wars blog was suggested to me by Derek as something to take my mind off my current situation and also to develop something that I am equally passionate about. I thought this sounded like a really good idea and again rather than posting lots of Star Wars musings here which may not be appropriate to a general audience, they now have their own home in Delta Source.

With three blogs it inevitably means that updates may be more sporadic than they have been (is that really possible?!) and it may be that from time to time one blog will get updated more often than the other. What it will mean though is that this blog will return more to its original purpose, which is a place for me to have a rant and a rave about everything and anything but with my Star Wars and railways interests to one side. Of course you are all welcome to read and comment on any of my blogs and I welcome your input.

Monday, November 26, 2007

What I am listening to at the moment

It was just over two years ago that I bought my first MP3 player and I still have it and use it as well, although mainly these days for listening to the radio. My latest player is of course the ubiquitous Apple iPod, which seems to be everywhere you look. Why did I succumb to this badge of consumerism? Oh, I don't know, it just looked nice, is very small and holds loads of songs! There, I was sucked in by the advertising! The only disappointment is that it doesn't have a radio. Ideally what I wanted was a portable digital radio player with MP3 as well but my search for anything that amply fulfilled both categories was fruitless. So my trusty 2-year old and ridiculously bulky original MP3 fills in the radio role.

It might sound strange but I don't often use my iPod when I am 'out and about.' Mainly it is a portable player for when I am at home and want to just choose some music instantly to suit a particular mood rather than heading through my collection of CD's. I have to say the iPod proved its usefulness when I was working in London as an accompaniment on the train, although personally I do find the prolific use of iPods and MP3s in public rather rude! Not so much the considerate ones and I hope I am amongst them who listen to their music at a level that doesn't deafen everyone else in the carriage.What really irritates me though is when people will attempt to hold a conversation with you while shoved in one or both ears are their iPod headphones. It's as bad as someone chewing gum while they're talking.

Anyhows before I get started on another rant, these are twenty of my favourite tracks, which I am listening to at the moment on my iPod (in no particular order).

1/. Babylon - David Gray
2/. Both Sides Now - Joni Mitchell
3/. Crown Imperial - William Walton
4/. Adagio for Spartacus & Phrygia (from the ballet suite, Spartacus) - Aram Khachaturian
5/. Red Light Spells Danger - Billy Ocean
6/. The Ashokan Farewell - Jay Unger
7/. Elegy for Dunkirk (from the soundtrack to the film Atonement) - Dario Marianelli
8/. Benedictus (from The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace) - Karl Jenkins
9/. Live Like Horses (Live) - Elton John & Luciano Pavarotti
10/. Original Sin - Elton John
11/. Seize the Night - Meat Loaf
12/. Nella Fantasia - Il Divo
13/. Summon the Heroes - John Williams
14/. Happy Heart - Andy Williams
15/. Back for Good - Take That
16/. Sinnerman - Nina Simone
17/. First Essay for Orchestra - Samuel Barber
18/. Forever Young - Meat Loaf
19/. Anakin's Betrayal (from the soundtrack of the film Revenge of the Sith) - John Williams
20/. Suspicious Minds - Elvis Presley

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Back again!

Jamie does have a point when he asks why I haven't updated this blog in a long time especially when I now have so much time on my hands. Sadly the last part is true as I lost my job two weeks ago. Not one of the highlights of the year but perhaps like Steve McClaren today my disappointment was balanced with relief. It wasn't that unexpected either. I'd felt for some weeks that I had been working on borrowed time, so to speak. I could be very harsh on myself and the company I worked for and I could indulge/wallow in regrets but there is no point in any of that. I've done enough of that in my life. In simple terms I wasn't suited to the job and the job wasn't suited to me. With the capricious gift of hindsight I can clearly see what I knew all along, that this was a job that had no future for me.

I like to believe that I have a very strong intuition. I often know whether something is going to work out right or not. Trouble is, I am careless in my attention to these instincts and often ignore my gut feeling altogether. Sometimes it works out fine that way but all too often it doesn't. The same with the job in London. Looking back it is clear to me that I knew at the time that it wasn't right for me. I put on a brave face, pretended it was what I wanted and that it was the new challenge I had been looking for yet knowing all along that I had deep reservations. In my desperation to leave where I was and my stubborn refusal to look back and reconsider, I took the job and thought I was doing the right thing.

It was only a matter of weeks before I realised the error of my ways and it was clear to me that I just wasn't cut out for this new working environment. It didn't suit me at all. That is not a criticism of where I was working nor a character assassination of myself. I see it that we are all different. We have different ways of coping, temperament, attitudes and values and I found that all of mine were at odds with both the people and the company I was working with. It wasn't the kind of environment where I felt safe and settled. I probably worked harder in that job than I had done so for a long time and partly I felt rewarded by working in London and for a while that was enough to satisfy me. But I was only deluding myself really, putting a 'brave face' on when really the courageous thing to have done would have been to admit to myself that it wasn't right for me and I should have taken an active decision to look for something else. That I didn't do, so I faced the mild humiliation, as I see it, of being dismissed.

There we go, that's that. I can learn from this experience and move on or I can endlessly dwell and self-analyse what it all means. I've been tempted to do the latter and have consciously forced myself to stop when my thoughts start down that path. It will do no good to keep analysing what happened. I need now to keep focused on the days and weeks ahead and on the next job that comes and this time I really need to make sure it is right for me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The joys of commuting

I guess that for most people commuting to and from work, especially if they work in London, is the least enjoyable experience of their day. I am therefore probably in a minority when I say that I actually enjoy my daily journey to and from London, well most of the time. For me the journey provides a barrier between the working day and my personal time. So if I've had an awful day at work by the time I get home all the stress and anxiety has been chewed over and dealt with so I walk in my front door with a clear head and relaxed. In the mornings travelling to work feels like my time and I like to read on the train into London and I've got through some good books in the last couple of months.

Getting up early in the morning has never bothered me. I've always considered myself more of a morning person and I feel most alert and awake first thing in the morning. Now that the mornings are lighter (for a little while) getting out of bed is just that little bit easier. Although I do miss walking to the station while its still dark and seeing the sun rise, which on many mornings has been a beautiful sight. Plus, there's something I like about being out and about when most people are still in bed. The city has an altogether different rhythm to it at that time of the morning, that sort of netherworld between night and day, before the rush hour starts in earnest. Its peaceful too and most often the only noise apart from the occasional passing car is bird song and the distant rumble of trains hurtling back and forth through Bletchley.

I always walk to the station in the mornings unless the weather is particularly foul; only a couple of occasions so far when I've got the bus instead. I normally leave home with just enough time to get the train so I have to adopt a quick pace to get to the station on time and that wakes me up and allows time to think about the day ahead. I've never been one who understands why some people appear so loathsome of their own company. I enjoy being on my own and thinking things over. I like the time to reflect on things past and the day ahead and to just randomly muse on whatever pops into my head!

On the train into London, I like to read and I've got through about four books so far, which I would never have read if I'd been just reading at home in the evenings. Currently I am into Nimitz Class by Patrick Robinson, a rather trashy thriller but an easy read and despite its clunky dialogue and occasional silliness a believable and frightening story. This is definitely one for the boys though; I can't imagine many women getting excited about the tactics of modern submarine warfare or the details of US Carrier Battle Groups. You can tell its a 'man's' book by the inclusion its judicious inclusion of diagrams and maps.

At the end of my journey, its another fairly brisk walk to the office. One thing which often surprises me when I leave Euston station is just how noisy London is, especially in comparison to Milton Keynes. Not to mention that everyone seems to be in a perpetual hurry to be somewhere else.

The journey home starts either with a brisk walk back to Euston or if I am feeling lazy a short bus ride. The train get home is perfectly timed to get into Bletchley for just the right time to get a bus home, or sometimes I'll walk. The journey home is usually reading the free London papers, which are the only newspapers I read with any regularity. They're not particularly good but serve their purpose as an idle distraction and I've started having a go at the Su Doku puzzles most nights, which I find a great way to switch off from the day at the office.

Then it starts all again the following morning. My evenings maybe shorter than before but I value them that bit more and the travelling has its compensations. Commuting isn't all bad.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A day out on the Bluebell Railway

It is not often that I post pictures to my blog. However, I wanted to share these two photos which I took yesterday while visiting the Bluebell Railway in East Sussex. In all I took about 250 photos over the day!

As I have many times mentioned before I am something of a rail enthusiast and I prefer that term to 'trainspotter' which has all sorts of negative and derogatory meaning. A visit to a 'heritage' railway like the Bluebell is always a great day out and this weekend was their Giants of Steam celebration. What particularly drew my attention was the fact that the railway boasted no less than four Bullied Pacifics in service. This is the first time in more than forty years that four of these locos have been in steam together and perhaps the first time in preservation that three unrebuilt examples have steamed together. In this first photo are a pair of unrebuilt West Country Class Bullied Light Pacifics 34007 Wadebridge and 21C123 Blackmoor Vale, which was disguised on one side as O V S Bullied, designer of these beautiful and magnificent locos.

There were three near identical classes of loco designed by Bullied and built for the Southern Railway. The Merchant Navy class was the heaviest and largest of the three classes, the West Country and Battle of Britain classes were similar in design but less heavy, hence their designation as 'Light' Pacific. The term 'Pacific' refers to the wheel arrangement, which is expressed as 4-6-2; 4 leading wheels, 6 driving wheels and 2 trailing wheels. Oliver Bullied was the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Southern Railway and these three classes were designed to be the main express locomotives for the company.

Following nationalisation in 1948, British Railways absorbed the locomotives and rolling stock of the Southern Railway along with the LMS, LNER and GWR (collectively known as the 'Big Four'). During the 1950s it was decided to standardise locomotive design and BR introduced its own Standard Classes. The Bullied Pacifics were an unusual design and difficult to maintain due to their streamline casing. All the Merchant Navy and 60 of the West Country and Battle of Britain classes were rebuilt and without their streamlined casing much more closely resembled the BR Standard designs. They are still attractive locos but in my view they look best in their original 'as built' condition.

This second picture shows the two Bullied Pacifics awaiting departure from Kingscote as a Maunsell-designed 'U' class loco, 1638 arrives at the station. The site of these three powerful locos of the Southern Railway is quite a sight. Later in the day the 'U' was double-heading with a Bullied Pacific owing to the earlier failure of another Pacific, 92 Squadron.

The one thing these photos cannot convey entirely is the atmosphere of the moment. One of the great things about steam locomotives is that they are so noisy! Impressively so and dirty, smelly and in some strange way, seeming to breathe with life. I am of course far too young to remember steam in its heyday and it is only on occasions such as this on preserved lines that I can at least begin to imagine what it must have been like back in the 1950s when these engines ruled the rails of the south of England. Wouldn't it be wonderful if trains were still hauled by steam locos?

Okay, one final pic then. So this is what they look like when rebuilt. This photo shows 34028 Eddystone (which I have also seen in action on the Swanage and Mid-Hants Railways), looking glorious in the late afternoon sun as she prepares for departure from Sheffield Park...

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Its been a while since I've been here to update the blog. I could draw out a whole long list of reasons - excuses really - but that would be boring. The last few weeks seem to have flown past in something of a blur, the weeks blending into one long excess of work, work and more work or so it seems on occasion. The weekends, those pleasurable interludes, are just that, fleeting moments of rest and escape when I seem to struggle to find the energy to do anything much, let alone update this blog. So here I am, just before 10pm on a Sunday night, finally summoning some energy to prattle away for a few paragraphs and I am listening just at this moment to one of my favourite pieces of music from The Mission.

I first saw The Mission at school. I am not quite sure why we were watching it but it was part of our Religious Education lessons and all I clearly remember is being completely drawn in by the beautiful and wondrous music. Whenever I am feeling in need of a lift or some inspiration or just a quiet moment of reflection, I can think of nothing better than listening to this soundtrack. As film scores go, it has hardly been bettered in terms of evocative emotions and beauty.

I find often that music will catch me unawares. Like the other evening, I was flicking through channels on the TV and happened to come to a rest on Classic FM TV. The second track I saw was Elegy for Dunkirk from Atonement, which accompanies a breathtaking sweeping shot in the film of the British forces marooned on the beaches of Dunkirk. Again, simply beautiful and moving.

Ironically it is one of my great personal disappointments that although I can be moved to tears by music and find it emotionally exhilarating, I have absolutely no sense of rhythm or timing and can barely string a couple of words together from any song that I like let alone sing it. I wish I could express my love of music in some way more creative rather than passively listening.

I've bought quite a few CD's over the last few weeks, mainly classical and pieces by composers that I've heard over the summer particularly during the Proms. One of my delights was finding a CD of Aaron Copland's Symphony No.3, which I may have mentioned before. I heard this piece at the Proms and it has a rousing final movement, which incorporates Fanfare for the Common Man, an earlier work by Copland that is perhaps one of his most famous compositions. Another composer whose work I heard at the Proms is William Walton and I got a bargain 4-CD set of his work yesterday including some of my favourites - Crown Imperial, Belshazzar's Feast, Symphony No 1 and pieces that I had not heard before like the Cello Concerto and Hindemith Variations.

I started watching Heroes during the catch-up weekend on BBC 2 in September and although I think it is very good, I've found it difficult to keep up with. Mainly because I've been work late quite a few nights a week, I've often missed it or realised the next day that it was on the night before! I made a similar error watching The House of Cards, which was repeated last week on BBC 4. I don't remember watching this when it was first on, maybe I was too young to appreciate it then anyway, but what a great series. A deliciously good performance by Ian Richardson and one which I will always remember him for as the cold, scheming and power-hungry Francis Urquhart. I love the fact that the audience is drawn into his plots and end up rooting for him to succeed.

Anyhows, enough prattling on from me for now. Hopefully I can keep a better check on updating this blog going forward. Just need to be more organised...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Getting into a new routine

I am into the new routine of working in London now; this will be my third week. I am enjoying it mostly so far. The job isn't at all like what I expected and I've realised that it isn't what I want to do long term. I intend to stick it out for six months at least, as the pay is good and on the whole the people I am working with are fine to get along with. I have no regrets about leaving my last job and see this current one as an opportunity to move onto other things, as and when they come up. I certainly don't dread going to work anymore, something which had become the case in the last few months at Abbey.

The journey to and from work I actually quite enjoy. The walk to the station in the morning is normally at a brisk pace as I always manage to leave home slightly later than I intended. So far though I've managed to make it to the station in time to catch my train each morning, although I am lucky in that there are at least 3 trains I can catch to get me into London to be at work before 9, although the last is cutting it fine! For some I am sure perfectly sensible operational reason, my regular train, the 7.27, is now starting its journey from Coventry rather than Northampton, as it had done up until last week. From October, it reverts back to starting from Northampton but runs 2 minutes earlier - a compensation to cover the leaf-fall period. The change to running from Coventry has caused it to be late twice last week, although as there is another train I can catch, it hasn't been a problem. Fingers crossed, the train back from Euston every night has been on-time 100% although it is becoming something of a march to sprint for me to make it from the office in Tottenham Court Road to Euston to catch the train. Last week I ventured with catching variously the bus or tube, which I found stressful to the point that I will only use that as a last resort or if the weather is particularly bad.

Being in London is both a delight and in some ways a curse. I thought to myself I'd be really good on the diet front as where I work has no vending machines, so no naughty treats such as chocolate and crisps to be had. How wrong I am and how weak my will power! Tottenham Court Road offers a panoply of places to eat or buy sumptuous food. In the first week I got into some really bad habits, nipping across to Subway or Burger King or similar for lunch. Not good at all. So I am trying to get myself out of those habits and taking my lunch with me to work everyday. Trouble is someone is always bringing cakes, sweets or biscuits into the office and although I try, I really do (!) its hard to resist.

The nice thing about the location though is how close at hand some great shops are - Borders, Virgin Megastore, Forbidden Planet, to name but three of my favourites. The British Museum is literally around the corner and Leicester Square is within walking distance, while there is a cinema just across the road.

The last couple of weeks I've done stuff on a couple of nights during the week after work - meeting with a friend from Abbey, going to the cinema or just taking myself off down Oxford Street for a wander and down the South Bank to enjoy the pleasures of a warm evening.

I really do enjoy London as a place although not always its people, who seem for the most part to be in a dreadful hurry and with little concern for anyone else. I sometimes feel like I am a door or invisible, the way people push into or past me on the street. I guess that I am probably just as bad when I am marching towards Euston and the impending departure of my train home!

I've just started watching Heroes and I am hooked! BBC 2 did a catch up weekend and I've done about five episodes so far. What I like about Heroes is that it is fresh and has a clever concept of these relatively ordinary people, whose lives are changed as they discover they have latent special abilities. I like the way it is filmed, very stylish and builds tension beautifully. I have absolutely no idea how it will end and the mystery of Sylar is an intriguing one which I am desperate to find out more about.

Another thing that I am getting hooked on at the moment is Microsoft Train Simulator. I bought this a few weeks ago as one of those bargain releases of older computer games. Its fab and great fun to play. I've known about it for a long time but it was very expensive when it first came out plus now there are loads of add-ons that you can buy. I've got my eye on two - one which includes the Southern routes from London Victoria to Brighton and the West Coastway from Brighton to Portsmouth plus the Arun Valley line, all of which I am very familiar with or a new one which features the West Coast Main Line from Euston to Birmingham.

The original simulation/game or whatever you call it is limited so adding these add-on's will add a great deal in terms of variety of track and rolling stock. And it will be great to have a go at 'driving a train' over routes that I have used regularly!

Anyhows that's all from me for now.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Putting the past behind me

Friday was my last day at Abbey, the company I have worked for since I left college in 1994. It was one of the worst days of my life. I am finding it difficult to put into context or understand how I feel. The most pressing feeling is one of emptiness; of a wasted thirteen years. It all seems to have been for nothing and the final few hours felt so flat and unimportant. There was no real closure to it all, just a hurried and almost unnoticed departure and that's it. Over. Finished. Nothing to acknowledge or remember how much this part of my life has meant for me. Okay its only work, just a job etc. Yep, maybe that is all it has been. Nothing more important and perhaps the final realisation of that is what is so devastating. That I've invested nothing but feel that I've lost immensely.

Its a sad truth that I had no friends at work. Not what I would call friends, just colleagues and casual acquaintances. That I have to admit is as much my fault as anyone elses. I am not an easy person to get along with and I maintain a careful distance between myself and other people. I am never fully relaxed in the company of others. I always hold something back and I think I am not one of these people that can naturally slip into familiar conversations with people or that can form lasting relationships on any kind of intimate level. I am very much an island and most of the time that suits me just fine. Sometimes though it doesn't work. Every now and again I crave to break down those barriers and be open and just be with other people. To feel free, I guess.

My way of coping, if it is that at all, is to cut adrift the past. Put it away in a box and forget about it, as if it never happened. That is what I am doing now. I am gradually distancing myself from my last job, consigning those thirteen years to history and trying to forget about them. I have no intentions of keeping in touch with anyone because truth is, what is the point? We shared nothing in common but the fact that we worked together. There is no deeper connection that. To sustain any sort of contact would be pointless and I feel as I have often done before, that there is a time to move on. I never look back and I never wish to go back. What is done is done. The past I cannot change.

Nobody really wants to keep in touch with me anyway. People say things like 'you must keep in touch' as a glib, throw-away line. They say it without meaning anything. It is said with no real intention that we must keep in touch; it just seems a social courtesy like bidding someone hello or goodbye. Surely, if anyone was serious about keeping in touch they would not have let me leave without exchanging contact details and why after thirteen years, when I have kept in touch with nobody that I have worked with, would they suddenly want to start now?

I didn't have a leaving do, I couldn't face it. I couldn't confront the insincerity of it all, the ritual of doing something just because 'you have too' without it meaning anything. Maybe I take it all too seriously in that I need meaning in everything. That there has to be something deeper to it, rather than just a few drinks after work. I just can't stand superficiality.

No, I mustn't dwell on it. Time to move on. The past is done.

Maybe I can be different in my new job. Maybe I can build up some contacts and some meaningful relationships.

The past is behind me now. Whether I've learnt anything or not I don't know. I just hope I can have a better future.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A wonderful summer of music

Over the last month or so I've been regularly attending the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall and yet again what a wonderful season it has been so far. My first time at the Proms was last year. After many previous years of watching the Last Night on TV and latterly watching some of the other Proms, I decided I really ought to go. I love classical music and the Proms has deepened and broadened my appreciation of the different styles and composers. This year I've tried to deliberately choose concerts which contain pieces which are both familiar to me and others that are new.

Last night's Prom featured three works. It opened with a piece I had not heard before, Grieg's awesome Funeral March for Rikard Nordraak. Grieg wrote the piece as an immediate reaction to the death of his friend and contemporary Rikard Nordraak who died from consumption at the tragically young age of 24. Apparently Grieg arranged the piece in various forms for a military band and brass and percussion but last night was the full orchestral version.

The second work last night was Grieg's equally impressive Piano Concerto written when he was just 25. The piece was accredited with putting Norway on the musical map and was famously sent up by Eric Morecombe who played 'all the right notes but not necessarily in all the right order' in a Morecombe & Wise Christmas Show.

The second half of the concert was Walton's First Symphony. I am becoming a fan of Walton's music although he seems to be one of those composers who is often forgotten. Trying to find recordings of his work to buy seems to be about as impossible as finding that proverbial needle in a haystack. Walton, who died in 1983, I think was one of the finest British composers of the twentieth century and I particularly like his coronation anthem, Crown Imperial and the Spitfire Prelude & Fugue from The Battle of Britain. The First Symphony is an interesting piece, the programme notes describe it as being 'convulsed with emotion' and it was written during a turbulent time in Walton's love life. A passionate relationship with Baroness Imma Doernberg had come to an end influencing much of the first part of the work, whilst a new love affair gave Walton the inspiration to complete the final movement. The piece was rather grandly described by Sir Henry Wood, founder-conductor of the Proms as the 'world coming to an end, its dramatic power was superb...' Indeed it does sweep the listener along and I have never seen such furious and sustained playing of the timpani!

One of the things I love about the Proms, apart from hearing great music being performed by the world's finest orchestras and soloists, is the fact that it is a great leveller. Everyone comes to the Proms, young or old, rich or poor, from all walks of life and background. I am sure there are many there who are experiencing classical music live for the first time while others are passionate about their music and know the pieces intimately. But I love the fact that the Proms is for everyone, not just classical music aficionados. You don't have to understand the technical side of the music or really anything about the structure and form of music to enjoy it - I certainly don't! It's nothing more than a blissful couple of hours being entertained, taken on journey that is often in the experience of the Proms I've been too, emotionally intense both uplifting and sombre, moving and inspiring. Its wonderful and long may the Proms continue!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Disengage brain before reading or watching the 'news'

What has happened to the news? Its no longer about the important or serious events of the day but about the stupidity of the great unwashed and even when it borders into something approaching a serious news story it strays into mawkishness and hype. Take today for example. There was the tragic story of a man killed in Warrington at the weekend after confronting youths causing a disturbance outside his house. Instead of reporting the facts of the tragic incident, we are told in somber tones that the man - 'a father of three' - was trying to 'reclaim his street.' Is it necessary to have such obviously emotive language? What relevance or depth does it add to the story? None at all in my mind and it feeds into this worrying emotional incontinence that seems to have developed since the death of Princess Diana ten years ago.

Then, there was the story of a young man in his twenties 'tombstoning' off Durdle Door in Dorset - in other words throwing himself from the top of this rock into the sea. Any fool can see that is an incredibly stupid and dangerous thing to do although it seems that he was encouraged by his friends, so probably wasn't his fault then! Another example of gross stupidity and abdication of personal responsibility is a 'news' item on the BBC News site about a girl who overdosed on caffeine after drinking seven double espressos. Surely anyone of even moderate intelligence can work out that to consume that much coffee is not going to do you much good. And the silly girl's defence - she did not realise it was doubles! Ah well, that's alright then, so it wasn't her fault at all.

In the Daily Telegraph there was a story about how one in three office workers are suffering from 'e-mail stress,' apparently a deluge of e-mails. Have you noticed how everything these days has a label? Even perfectly normal everyday activities suddenly become known by these 'buzz-words' and there is a condition or affliction for every pressure in modern life. Another story in the same paper tells of another study which has found that attractive people have more chance of promotion at work than unattractive colleagues. Wow!

It worries me that our news is full of these inane stories whilst the important issues and the real matters of the day are buried, such as the pensions crisis or a sobering report on the poor care for those over 65 suffering mental health problems.

But nothing it seems is written about or presented in an objective and factual style. Our news has been reduced to the baseness of a coarse soap opera.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Learning who my friends are

Over the last few weeks I have become acutely aware of who my true friends are, the people that I can depend on, the ones that I can trust, those that respect me. There isn't many sadly. Mainly I've realised this through events at work where a number of people I used to work with have left me feeling very disappointed in them. Today was in many ways the icing on the cake.

One of my former colleagues and a good friend, Steve, left today. He's only been with the company for 3 years but we've worked together for most of that time. We sometimes had our disagreements and arguments but most of all I'll remember his good humour, timely advice and friendship over that time. Normally when someone leaves it is I think a courteous thing to have a collection and buy them a small gift and card. None of that happened and I was told quite curtly by one of my other colleagues when I asked, 'we don't do collections for people who are being made redundant.' True, Steve along with the rest of my former team have been made redundant but he had found a job with another company so was leaving for that reason. I thought that to not get him anything was mean so I bought a leaving gift and card and I was the only one who bothered. I think that's shameful, I really do. It annoys and angers me that people can be so selfish and uncaring. I know he wasn't always the easiest of people to work with but he had a big heart and as a person was someone that I always felt could be trusted and depended upon.

As it happens there is a lot of bitterness in my former team. A number of snide and unkind remarks have been made about me by several people I thought were good colleagues. Some of it has been said to me directly, which while I ignore at the time sticks with me. It hurts.

I am beginning to wonder now why I should waste my time with people like this. Its sad because until recently one of the main reasons I've stuck so long in my current job was because I thought I worked with good people, who I could trust and respect. I've realised perhaps belatedly that I have been deluding myself and that leaves me feeling disappointed and used.

I leave my current job in 3 weeks and will be starting a new career with a different company. I've decided because of all that has happened recently - all the ugliness and nastiness - that I am not going to have a leaving do. Why bother? True, there are some people that I will be sorry to say goodbye too but the realisation is that most of them are just people who if I didn't work with I probably wouldn't care to pass the time of day. The people that I will keep in contact with are those that have been more than people who have just made up the numbers.

The same is true of my wider circle of friends. There are frankly a lot of them who do just make up the numbers, who bring nothing to the party as it were. There seems to be a lot of these in my life and why am I wasting my time and energy on people like this?

I do feel uncertain about the future and my new job. I am not sure what it will be like and whether I will enjoy it. However, I see it as an opportunity of cutting loose the past, moving on and having the opportunity to start afresh building new working relationships and hopefully some enduring friendships.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A wonderful week

Good news came on Wednesday. I have been offered and accepted a new job working in London. I had my second interview on the Tuesday afternoon, which had more the format of an informal chat rather than a structured interview. I like the office where I will be working and the people there seem nice. It is a good location too, being in Tottenham Court Road so walking distance from the shops of Oxford Street and the delights of the West End. Its a walkable distance from Euston too, so won't have to fuss around with tubes or buses although no doubt there will be occasions when it will be necessary. I am just waiting at the moment for my formal offer of employment before I hand in my notice.

I feel many different things about changing jobs. Part of me is excited to have this new opportunity and from what I've learned from the two interviews, it could well be a spring-board to other things. The company I will be working for is a fast-growing and young firm and there seems to be many opportunities to develop and move on. This is vastly different from where I am now and I feel that until this job came along my career had stalled. Tempered with this looking forward to a new job is fear and anxiety. Until you work somewhere you have no real idea of what it will be like, how good or bad a company it really is or even what my new colleagues will be like. I intend to take it a step at a time. Find my feet and get settled before making any big decisions such as possibly moving closer to London. That's a long term aim, possibly moving to somewhere like Watford or the other side of London, say Reading or maybe even the Essex side. Certainly somewhere, which is a closer commutable distance than now. The travelling though doesn't bother me too much. I like travelling by train and I fully intend to use the opportunity to relax and not see it as an extended part of the working day.

I was in London again on Wednesday evening for the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a rather fraught trip due to the train being delayed and I only just made it before the concert started at 7pm. A wonderful evening of music though and a sort of unplanned treat for the good news I'd had earlier in the day. The first half of the concert was music by Beethoven - Overture 'Leonore' No 3 and Barber - Violin Concerto. The second half featured Copland's Symphony No 3. What was particularly enjoyable was the opportunity to see one of my favourite orchestras - the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and their conductor, the American-born Marin Alsop. I have Alsop's recordings with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra of the complete orchestral works of Samuel Barber.

Both Barber and Copland are American composers of the twentieth century who were responsible for defining the sound of American classical music. Barber is of course most famous for his Adagio for Strings although personally I am very much a fan of some of his choral music and First Essay for Orchestra. One of Copland's most famous and recognisable works, Fanfare for the Common Man, is incorporated into the Third Symphony. This was my first time hearing this piece and it is an exhilarating work with a wonderful final movement where the Fanfare for the Common Man dominates.

I was due to go to the Proms again on Friday night but being too tired and having to get up early for work yesterday thwarted that idea. However, I am going to the Proms a few more times over the summer, looking forward in particular to hearing three of Mahler's symphonies and Walton's First Symphony.

Yesterday I picked up my three newly framed Star Wars prints. I've hung two of them this morning and they look wonderful, I am very pleased. The third, a dramatic and brilliant print by Dave Dorman, will have to wait a few days as I need to get something sturdy to hang it with as it is a big piece and fairly heavy.

I finally bought The Making of Star Wars, a lavish large hardback book, which charts the making of A New Hope. I've flicked through Jamie's copy before and have been promising myself that I would buy it; just waiting for the price to come down a bit. Its certainly worth the money although like any book this size, its one that really needs to have a bit of time spent studying it and sitting down at a table to be able to read properly.

This coming week is probably going to be a little mundane in comparison to the one just gone although have our annual Park Meet with the Groovy Gang to look forward to this coming Saturday.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A busy week ahead

I am listening to Alan Titchmarsh on Radio 2 as I type this, a show that I've missed probably each of the last 5 weeks or thereabouts as I seem to have been away and doing stuff every weekend since the middle of June. I like listening to Alan Titchmarsh on a Sunday evening as it is a gentle and relaxed way to wind down at the end of the weekend and he normally plays a great selection of music, really just about anything.

This coming week is a big week for me. I had two interviews last week in London and I have a second interview for one of them on Tuesday; the other job I should find out about tomorrow. I have everything crossed that I get offered either or both jobs. I'll be devastated if I don't. Both offer a step up in my career, new and exciting opportunities and a chance to broaden my horizons and experience. I also heard back last week from a job that I'd applied for so long ago that I'd forgotten about it. That was working as Timing Assistant with Network Rail; unfortunately I can't make the interview date but I've asked if they can arrange it for Tuesday as I will be in London anyway for the other job. I don't hold out much hope though although it has long been a dream of mine to work for the railway... we'll see...

Apart from the job interview on Tuesday, I am going down to London on Wednesday and Friday evenings for the BBC Proms. The two Proms I am seeing this coming week I am particularly looking forward too. Wednesday night's concert features American music - Barber and Copland, while Friday's concert features Britten and Nielson, composers whose work I am getting to know and enjoying. I haven't actually seen or heard any of the Proms concerts yet this year as either I've been busy doing other stuff or forgetting when they're on.

Hopefully, next weekend I should be picking up my framed Star Wars prints that I bought at Celebration Europe. I am looking forward to getting them up on my wall!

I bought Kingdom of Heaven last week in the sale in HMV. I've been toying with buying the film for a long time and although it is directed by Ridley Scott what has put me off has been the thought of Orlando Bloom in the lead. Not exactly the most dynamic of actors and I have my doubts that he can carry a film. However Kingdom of Heaven was a bargain at £7 for the Collectors Edition and I'll give it a fair viewing.

An excellent film that I watched this weekend was The Sea Inside with a magnificent and powerful performance by Javier Bardem who not so much plays as is Ramon Sampedro, a quadriplegic who fights a near 30-year battle to end his life with dignity. It is clear where the director's sympathies lie on the euthanasia debate but this is a film that doesn't shy away from the complex issues nor the tragic and devastating effect that Sampedro's decision has on those around him. While not overly sentimental, this is a film that pricks the eyes with tears at every turn and there are moments when it becomes almost unbearably sad. Despite its dark and difficult subject matter, The Sea Inside is a story of hope and inspiration and as much about life as it is about death.

Channel 4 are currently showing a short-season of programmes to mark the fortieth anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Last night's A Very British Sex Scandal was a restrained but moving account of the trial of Lord Montague and his friend, Daily Mail reporter, Peter Wildblood for homosexual offences. This landmark 1950s case led to a change in public attitudes towards homosexuality and its eventual decriminalisation. Particularly poignant was hearing from gay men who lived through the witch-hunts of the 1950s. The programme underlines how some of our attitudes towards homosexuality have changed - after all we no longer see it as a disease or a moral malaise as it was characterised in the 1950s - but I do wonder how accepting as a society we are towards gay men. Indeed the programmes in this series on Channel 4 are mainly being shown very late at night, perhaps reflecting our uneasiness with homosexuality in the mainstream and homophobia it seems is on a sharp upward trend. Maybe it is not so much that our attitudes have changed, its that we feel it no longer acceptable to broadcast our ill-ease with homosexuality publicly?

Starting this Wednesday is Heroes, which I am going to miss as I'll be at the Proms so must remember to set the DVD to record this! I am much looking forward to watching the series all the way through having caught confusing bits and pieces of it while it was being shown on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Celebration Europe

Wow, what a weekend! Three days of wall to wall Star Wars! Could this have been the closest I've been to paradise?? Can you tell that I am just a little excited about Celebration Europe at the weekend? I loved it!!!

I was glad that I did all 3 days of the show as it was necessary to really enjoy the experience and savour the atmosphere. Plus it meant that I got to see most, albeit not all, of the many things I wanted to do. I came away with some very happy memories and sore feet! The best bits for me were undoubtedly being with the 'Groovy Gang' over the weekend, that wonderful posse of friends that make it all so worthwhile plus having my photo taken with Robert Watts, who worked as associate producer and latterly producer on all three original Star Wars films and finally, buying some lovely pieces of artwork. The latter are currently away, being framed and will be taking pride of place on the walls in my flat as a permanent reminder of an amazing weekend.

Yesterday, a colleague asked me why I like Star Wars so much. I find that such a difficult question to answer but then again what is there not to like about Star Wars? I think I summed it up by saying that Star Wars is like a modern myth, a fairytale for the current generation and as for why it got me hooked to start with, well simply because it is so unlike anything else before or since. Many have tried to copy or recapture the magic of Star Wars but no one has quite succeeded. Star Wars is unique in both its cultural appeal and the enormity of its influence across cultures, languages and ethnicities. Star Wars has something for everyone and I guess at its heart a universal story that we all understand of good conquering evil.
Star Wars also seems to bring out the best in people and unifies a diverse and disparate community of fans. We are all as one in our passion and admiration of the films and I am constantly surprised and impressed by how these films have inspired and encouraged people in their own creative endeavours. Star Wars very much seems to bring out the best of the talent whether it be making films, model-making, art or costuming.
Celebration Europe then was a celebration of all these things, of all the wonder, excitement, thrills and fun of Star Wars. I felt incredibly proud to be there, to be one of the many thousands of fans and sharing a wonderful and unmissable experience together. Fantastic!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Just a quickie

Here I am 10.30 on the Thursday night before a weekend at Celebration Europe and I feel no excitement or anticipation for what will be the biggest Star Wars event ever held in the UK. All I can summon is a mix of mild fear and apprehension. Not sure how good its going to be, although recent announcements of guests and events sound good and a little uncertain whether the event is going to be so mobbed with crowds that I will spend the whole day elbow to elbow with sweaty geeks... ah well, I am sure I'll be excited come the morning and moreover when I get off the DLR at Custom House...

Just about to put some new music on to my MP3 player for the weekend and an eclectic choice I have chosen: Andy Williams, Take That, Billy Ocean, Elgar and Khachaturian. Like them all; the first three being bargain CD's I've bought this week. I suppose its a guilty secret of mine that I've always liked Take That even though I would have denied it at the height of their popularity back in the mid-1990s. I think I am at an age now where I don't much care what people think of my choice of music or choice of anything else. I like what I like and I know what I like thanks very much!

The latter two CDs are of course classical and from the Elgar one I am going to take the Enigma Variations - a live recording with the LSO. The Khachaturian one is also the LSO and features one of my favourite pieces of classical music - Adagio of Spartacus & Phrygia from the ballet Spartacus. It's probably better known as the theme for the Onedin Line but this recording is a full version and it is wonderful, the music is really uplifting and exhilarating.

I heard back about the job that I applied for in Watford. As expected I didn't get the job although I did receive positive feedback and it seemed to come down to the fact that another person they interviewed had more relevant experience than I. Not too bothered as the travelling would have been hellish and very long days. Just got to focus my efforts on the two interviews I have next Wednesday. Fingers crossed for a positive outcome.

Updates on the weekend at Celebration Europe to follow as and when...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A bit like a rollercoaster

I've never been on a roller coaster and I have no desire to either but the last week or so probably feels much the same. It has been an up and down time with some bumpy bits although things are looking up again, which is good.

I had a second interview in Watford last Tuesday, which I think went well. I felt confident, comfortable and I think I came across as articulate and knowledgeable. However, I didn't feel so sure that it was the place I would want to work and the steer I had from the interviewer was that perhaps I should be looking for something better. Not that they were obviously trying to put me off but I got that vibe. Added to that there was a thunderstorm just as I left the office (perhaps an omen?) although I was saved from a thorough drenching by the timely arrival of the bus. At least I have some idea what the journey home would be like from Watford - two buses one either end and the train sandwiched between. If the connections work well, perhaps 1 1/2 hours tops, at worst about 2 hours. Too long a day really coupled with the fact that my working week would increase from 35 to 40 hours. If I lived a bit closer I think it would be reasonable but commuting from Milton Keynes (even if I had a car) would become a drag after a while.

I felt a little deflated afterwards but then thinking about it, the interview was good experience. Its the first I've had for a while and I felt comfortable and confident, which did surprise me as experience of previous interviews is that they are nerve shredding experiences. I still haven't heard the outcome although I 'know' that they will not be offering me the job.

Fortunately I have two other jobs on the go at the moment with another interview next Wednesday and one possibly this week or next. These two jobs are in London - the one next week is Tottenham Court Road, which is not far from where I was working in London last year. The salaries on offer are much better than what I am receiving now, which they need to be to compensate for the travelling expenses. They would be easier to get too than the Watford job - Milton Keynes to London is an okay commute. I am under no illusions that it would be longer days. That doesn't bother me too much if the pay is good and the job is rewarding and stimulating. Will see how they go.

Last Friday was a bad day, almost like Friday 13th had come a week earlier. The bad news was that the whole of the team that I used to work with up until last November are being made redundant. It came as a shock even though I knew that a review was on the cards. It is not nice to know that all my former colleagues are going, especially as they were the ones who I first worked with when I moved to Milton Keynes and made me feel so welcome and happy during those early months in my new job. I also feel some guilt for being the one who is not being made redundant. If I hadn't changed jobs last November, I would be amongst those going now.

I had the unenviable task on Friday afternoon of covering their 'phones as naturally they were all allowed to go home. Friday's are always busy because of course it is a popular day for mortgage completions and on top of all my upset at seeing my colleagues going I had some very difficult cases to look at and resolve quickly to ensure that customers could move home plus answer all the queries that couldn't be dealt with by anyone else. I felt absolutely shattered by the time I left the office on Friday, with a long train journey ahead of me on my way back to Pompey for the weekend. In some ways the journey was good because it gave me an opportunity to collect my thoughts, switch off from work and relax.

The weekend was fantastic although I won't go into huge detail here as it will turn off anyone who is not interested in railways and particularly steam engines. Briefly, yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the end of steam on what was then the BR Southern Region. To commemorate this historic event, various rail tours were run over the weekend along with galas at heritage railways. On Saturday I went to the Mid Hants Railway and had a wonderful day experiencing their gala, travelling behind as many steam locos as I could between Alton and Alresford. It was the closest I am ever likely to come to those poignant last days of steam in 1967. Later in the day I rushed back to Fareham to photograph 34067 Tangmere as she thundered through with the 'Southern Phoenix' rail tour en route back to London Waterloo. That was quite a breathtaking experience, I was grinning from ear to ear! On Sunday I headed out to Salisbury to see and photograph two more rail tours - this time 850 Lord Nelson, which was heading to Exeter and just a few minutes later 35028 Clan Line with 'The Waterloo Sunset' heading for Poole. It was a marvellous experience and exhilarating to see these powerful and magnificent locos, where they should be, out on the mainline.

I am looking forward to another fantastic weekend this coming Friday, Saturday and Sunday as it is Star Wars Celebration Europe in London. My ticket, after many weeks anxious waiting, has finally arrived and the programme for the weekend looks impressive. I am much looking forward to this.

Monday, July 02, 2007

It's been a busy week...

Last Thursday morning I had a job interview in Watford. Getting there was a bit of a pain and expensive because the interview was at 10am and thus peak fares apply on the train (no Railcard discount). Anyways, although it was a bit of a hassle now I know where the place is and a couple of alternative buses that will get me to and from there, it won't be so bad when I go back for my second interview tomorrow afternoon. I am pleased to have got called back for a second interview as it must mean that I said something half-intelligent at the last one and presumably ticked some right boxes on the form that the lady from HR was furiously filling in. The company looked as if it would be a nice place to work; the people I met were friendly, the offices were smart and clean and from reading the staff magazine it seems like a place where the staff are looked after and well treated.

The only negatives are that the job is in Watford and on an industrial estate, so nowhere exciting to go at lunch, the pay doesn't appear that great and travelling would be about 3 hours a day (door to door). The way I am looking at it at the moment is that this is good interview experience and if and it is probably a big if they make me an offer of the right salary package I will take the job and look to move a bit closer say in 6 months ,after I've settled in.

My current work is being a bit awkward about it all. I found out about my second interview last Friday and asked my manager if I could leave at 3pm tomorrow (interview is at 4.30pm) and make the two hours up tomorrow and Wednesday. Apparently what appears such a reasonable request is wholly unreasonable simply because I won't tell my manager why I need to leave early. Somehow I don't think telling her that I am going for an interview would have been a big vote winner, lol! So, I've had to take a half-day's leave, which is completely stupid as it means that I will now be out of the office for a whole afternoon instead of just a couple of hours, which I would have made up anyway. Arrghh!

I've had a lot of interest in my CV on Monster as well, which is pleasing. I 'phoned one agency back last Thursday and they are going to contact me when they get some vacancies around the salary I am currently on. They'll be jobs in or around Milton Keynes. I've had two further messages today from agencies, which I'll deal with tomorrow. In addition I also applied for another job where I currently work, although working in a different area and with someone who I've had lots of dealings with over the years and respect and like. If that comes through it would be nice and a bit of a bonus on the salary front as well.

I feel positive about things at the moment and know that I can get myself a new job and a new challenge, just choosing the right one will be the difficult part.

Last Wednesday was a retirement lunch for my former manager. I hadn't been invited, which I admit I wasn't pleased about although on reflection it seems that it was an oversight rather a deliberate decision not to invite me. As it happens I went anyway as no one else in my former team would go. The reasons why were petty and stupid and I thought a real slap in the face to the manager. After all none of them had the courtesy or the courage to say to her face the real reasons why they weren't coming and I thought it was a horrible and cruel gesture. Nevertheless, the lunch was nice and a 2-hour break away from the office!

The weekend I was in Feltham for my friend Tim's 30th birthday. The BBQ was somewhat ruined by the wet weather although it still went ahead and we all had a good time. The weather has ruined this evening as well as I was supposed to be watching the Twenty-Twenty cricket at Campbell Park but the match was abandoned due to the pitch presumably being unplayable.

This weekend I am heading off to Pompey to see my parents, so another weekend away, the third in a row, lol!

Fingers crossed for tomorrow at the moment...

Monday, June 25, 2007


That's my word to describe today. I don't know where it went wrong. Probably from the moment I opened my eyes and decided to drag myself out of bed and off to work. I was happy and relaxed after spending an enjoyable weekend at Derek & Carla's - congrats to Carla on obtaining her British citizenship :-)

So I get to work this morning and everything seems to go wrong. I should be used to all the stupid IT problems we have by now but for some reason every little annoyance got magnified in my mind and I was in a foul mood by lunchtime. Not helped by the fact that I was shunted off to another team today on what was my new team's official launch day.

I am so pissed off with work at moment. Its all crap. I nearly got up today and walked out of the office. I wasn't sure what I would do if I did or where I would go, only that I wouldn't ever come back. I have to take a step back and have a reality check whenever I feel like that. I simply couldn't afford to just walk out and part of me doesn't want to give 'them' the satisfaction of doing so.

The agency which has arranged an interview for me on Thursday keep messing me around. Firstly the interview was last Friday, then postponed to this Thursday afternoon and now in the morning. I wish they would make their freaking minds up!

And the same pattern at work. I don't know what I am doing from day to day, where I will be sitting or who I will be working with. All I know is that whatever it is it will be awful, either tediously boring (my new job) or all the crap that no one else will touch (like today). I just know I've got to get out and I've seen a few jobs on Monster.co.uk that look worth applying for. In fact I spend so much time on that site at the moment I think I should add it to my favourites!

Here's to a better today tomorrow...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Looking ahead

Just over a week ago I had an exam, which concluded the Open University politics course I was studying and I decided some time before, that I would have a break before returning to study. Not that I hadn't enjoyed the course because I had. It was more that as I have found with previous OU courses, trying to combine the studying with work and everything else becomes very difficult and I am not the most disciplined or self-motivated of people. I found parts of it a real struggle, not because it was intellectually above my level but because I needed to find the hook to get me started.

Anyhows, despite saying all that I've already signed myself up for a new course starting next February. At least it offers me something of a break and gives me time to sort out things with work etc. The course I am starting next year is called 'A world of whose making?' and combined with the course Governing Europe I did in 2005, it will complete a Diploma in Government & Politics. The reason I've chosen to combine these courses towards a diploma is because I think that setting myself a medium-term and realistic goal like this provides some impetus to do my best on the course next year and also means that I achieve a qualification before gaining my full degree. The good thing is that I can combine A world of whose making with my other courses taken towards my degree. It leaves my options open as to whether I go for an Open degree i.e. one not in a named subject or a degree in a named subject such as Politics or International Studies or perhaps a broader Social Science degree. It will though be another 3-4 years before I have the full degree although hopefully by the end of next year I will have my diploma.

Other goals I am setting myself are with my weight loss. I need to spend some time writing down what my short, medium and long term goals are and I need to plan in an exercise regime too. I do know the reasons why I want to loose weight and what weight I want to be but I feel unless I write these goals down, they will not seem real and will be easy to avoid. Like with my studies, I am going to set myself short-term goals as well as long-term ones. That way I can see achievements along the way, not just heading towards one ultimate destination, which I am realistic enough to know is going take some time to get too.

I've also set myself the goal of getting a new job before the end of the year. That seems quite a generous deadline but I am determined that I will achieve it before then, hopefully getting myself settled into a new job by early autumn. I did have an interview for tomorrow morning although that has had to be re-arranged due to the interviewer being on holiday although quite why this wasn't apparent when the interview was booked I don't know! I am keeping my options open and will go for any appropriate opportunities that arise.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Why don't I have a car?

People often ask me if I can drive and if I have car. When I explain that yes I can drive but don't have a car mostly they appear incredulous or pity me for having to get around by public transport. Some, I am sure secretly wonder if there is a life without a car. I've been accused of being defensive about these sort of questions and probably that is accurate. I do feel defensive and rightly or wrongly I often feel that people perceive me differently because I am not a member of the car driving majority. That I am somehow a 'poorer' person. It is probably me just being paranoid. To set the record straight these are the reasons (some well rehearsed) why I have never owned a car in my life and never intend to.

Like most things in adult life, my attitude towards owning a car were formed as a child. My parents never owned a car and it was a rare treat, normally once or twice a year when my Dad would hire a car for a few days or maybe a week during the summer. The freedom that it afforded, I must admit, was liberating. We could have days out all over, frequently going down to the New Forest or Eartham Woods (one of my favourite destinations) or just to the beach and for long drives. I thought it was a lot of fun and of course because it was a rare thing to have a car outside our house, it was a novelty too. I guess that I've always seen a car as a novelty, as something of a treat; a luxury rather than a necessity. The rest of the year, car-less we would make our way round by bus. Going on the train anywhere was even more a rarity than hiring a car! The train, my parents would frequently bemoan, was far too expensive. So, even a modest distance like going to Brighton for example, would involve a 3-hour bus ride there and back! Oh the joys of being bounced around on the top deck, spending most of the day getting to and coming back from our destination!

Here is perhaps the second point as to why I have never owned a car. Going on the bus was routine. It was the only way to get anywhere without walking. It was a pain at times, buses are sometimes late, don't turn up or don't take you exactly where you want to go. I've always been prepared to forgive all that though. I've accepted it I guess and despite the negativity that people often address towards buses, on the whole they're largely reliable, fairly inexpensive and convenient way to getting where you want. Not to mention you get a better view from the top deck!

Train trips as I mentioned were a novelty as a child but like most boys I had a fascination with the railways although I don't recall ever harbouring any real ambitions to be an engine driver. I was though a member of the Rail Riders club and as part of the club membership I got this giant wall chart, which stretched around two walls of my bedroom. The idea was to collect stickers for various destinations and tourist attractions on the chart. To enable budding Rail Riders like me to do this, as a member I got a book of vouchers saving between £1-£5 off the full priced rail fare. This was my incentive when pleading with my parents to take me somewhere on the train so that I could get a sticker too. My powers of persuasion were no better then they are now. There are only three distinct trips I remember making - one to Eastleigh, another to Winchester and the furthest was down to Poole! Plus a couple of times when my parents must have been feeling particularly adventurous we went to London.

I've always seen train trips in particular as something of an adventure. Now, as an adult and with a passion for railways to match that of me as a wide-eyed boy standing on the platform noting down numbers, I get a lot of interest and enjoyment from the railways. For me a journey on the train isn't just a means of getting from A to B. I feel that driving a car anywhere would be just that; a means to an end. After all what is so interesting about cars and roads and motorways? Not a lot in my view.

I passed my driving test about 10 years ago. I remember that the only reason I started learning to drive was because it was something that I felt I should do. There was perhaps some vague idea of getting a car when I passed but I wasn't serious about the idea. Driving lessons were akin to two hours of slow and terrifying torture. I am not a naturally confident person and behind the wheel any confidence I had was shot to pieces within a few minutes out on the road. I never felt entirely in control and I didn't enjoy any aspect of driving. In fact it is perhaps that I found the experience so traumatic and unpleasant that I've never wanted to drive since, despite passing my test first time. Even when I did pass, I made no real fuss about it. It was just a matter of fact thing. I'd done it, that was it. There was no feeling of elation or excitement, just a dull acceptance that I'd got through it.

Therefore with such a bad experience behind me why would I want a car and drive it every day?Especially when contrasted with such happy and contented memories of those rare trips out by train or the slightly less enjoyable but somehow fun expeditions on the bus? At least on the train or bus all the worry of how you're going to get from A to B is taken away. There is the opportunity to just sit back and relax.

I admit there are times when having a car would be so handy but the thing that dissuades me is the thought that it would be that would have to drive it!

So that in summary is why I don't have a car and never intend to have one. Questions, comments and criticisms welcome!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Still going forward but slowly

I weighed myself again this morning to see if I'd lost anything since last Monday. To my surprise I've lost 1/2lb, which I know is a minuscule amount really. But I've not been trying to loose weight and rather than beat myself up about it, I've taken it as a sign that I need to do better. I can make progress and I need to push myself hard this week to do so.

Last night I did my shopping on-line with Tesco (as I normally do) albeit this time I didn't just add things mindlessly to my virtual shopping trolley. I'd sat down beforehand, pulled the various low fat and healthy cookbooks off my bookshelf, where they've lain undisturbed for a good many months and selected a variety of meals that looked interesting and are fairly quick and easy. I have no skill when it comes to the kitchen so the more simple, the better. So my shopping list was geared around these recipes bulked out with vegetables and other fairly basic essentials like milk and bread. I feel quite pleased with myself as doing the shopping this way saved money and also I am looking forward to some of the fun sounding meals I am going to enjoy over the coming weeks.

Another thing that I've started doing recently is exercising more discipline when it comes to portion sizes and training myself to think that just because its there I don't have to eat it. I think that because as a child I was always told to eat up everything on my plate, it has become exaggerated as an adult and I have a tendency to eat too much.

Perhaps the most important change I've made is one in my attitude. I am trying very hard to not feel negative about food or beat myself up if and when I do over-indulge. I know that I will but I've got to get away from the negative feelings and build on positive thoughts. Instead of thinking that I can't have certain things, I need to think about all the foods that I can have. One thing which I have already given up is crisps. I've done so before but this time I am adamant that it will be a permanent change. Instead I have some nuts, which are both more nutritious and not covered in salt, although do have to watch the fat content! I think its these small and gradual changes, which are important. A lot of it is habit and I am trying to break the cycle of bad habits and create good ones.

Yep, its slow progress so far but this week I intend to push myself that bid harder and reap the benefits. Update to follow next Monday.