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...