Thursday, January 31, 2008

Same crap different day

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Why I disagee with equal opportunity forms

I've applied for a lot of jobs over the last few months and about the only thing that the application process has shared in common is that often the employer includes an 'equal opportunity' form with their application pack. I totally disagree with these forms and refuse to complete them. I do not feel that any of the information asked for or contained in such documents is of any relevance and I have a suspicion that they are often used for a company to ensure that they have the right 'quota' of different groups in the organisation. But why? An organisation doesn't have to employ a workforce that is extremely diverse. Surely, any offer of job to an individual should be based on their skills and whether they can actually do the job. It doesn't matter what colour their skin is, what their religious beliefs are or for that matter their sexual orientation. The latter I find the most offensive of questions asked on these forms. Why is it even relevant to a potential employer to know this information?

All these questions are ones which are personal to each individual and should have no bearing on the selection and interview process.

A good organisation will have a workforce that is made up of people that fit in with its cultures, values and can do the work for which they have been employed. It is irrelevant what disabilities they might have or what colour their skin is, if they can demonstrate the skills to get the job done.

I might well be being unduly cynical in all this but it is something that I feel strongly about. It seems to me that the questions on equal opportunity questionnaires are just another way of pre-judging people and being able to classify them into convenient boxes. Unfortunately as so often is the case, it is not possible to classify everyone into simple terms.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Recording the present

This photo was taken about this time last year near where I live in Milton Keynes. As you can see there was a slight covering of snow, although it melted quickly but it looked very pretty while it lasted. I do love the snow and it snowed again about two weeks later, a little bit more but still didn't last very long. It seems so many years now since I can remember having a decent snowfall, in fact I'd probably have to go back to the early to mid 80s when I was at middle school for the last time I can remember it snowing heavily.

I like taking pictures around where I live and I think its important to have a record of the changes that happen and even to record some of the mundane and ordinary stuff. It always surprises me how many people must do the same judging by the number of books there are on Milton Keynes filled with pictures from the development of the city. At the moment I am reading a fantastic book about the conception, design and building of Central Milton Keynes, which is packed with wonderful photos. It seems incongruous to think that where the shopping building stands now was a wheat field 30 years ago! But the fact that someone took pictures proves what it looked like before development came and it is amazing just how much MK has grown and changed over that time. Even in the seven years I have lived here, MK has changed greatly and continues to change. It is one of the things I like about living here; it is constantly evolving and growing, seemingly sometimes without end. I believe I am correct in saying that by 2030, Milton Keynes will be the twelfth biggest urban area in the UK with a population of 350,000 - much higher than originally envisaged.

I do worry that the developments now proposed will spoil the unique character of MK. There are proposals to do away with the grid road system, which is probably as synonymous with the city as the concrete cows, and there is little talk of new infrastructure, just houses and lots of them. There is even suggestions of infilling on some of the estates, packing more houses into the existing space. That would take away something that is very special about Milton Keynes - the sense of space and openness that there is.

It will be interesting to look back from the perspective of thirty years in the future and dig out the old photos of MK as now and see what the changes have meant and recall how life was. That is what is so important about taking photos of now.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I'll be glad to see the back of this week...

I heard on the radio this morning that this week is supposed to be the most depressing of the year which seems appropriate as it hasn't been a particularly good week for me. Not that anything bad or awful has happened. Its been one of those weeks where everything seems to have gone wrong, where the little problems have mounted up. Today I've gone back to my old ways, what I call the 'fat Mark' way of thinking, which is that if I am under stress or unhappy I'll find comfort in food, so yep, I've been grazing all day, eating all the wrong kind of things, not doing any exercise at all. Just sitting on my fat behind and feeling miserable about it. So, let's get it off my chest!

Monday - I hate Mondays! Even though I am not working at the moment, there is something about Monday mornings, which just isn't conducive to being happy. I was feeling rather unwell on Monday this week, getting disconcerting dizzy spells, which I realised later could have been something to do with forgetting to take my blood pressure tablets the day before. It sounds silly but it could have been the cause, although the long list of horrible side-effects on the medication does warn that one of the commonest ones is dizziness, vertigo and the like. Whatever, it made me feel unwell all day. I also had a call on Monday to advise that the engineer who was coming to fix my boiler on Tuesday was off sick so the job wouldn't be done. After much hassle and some 'phone calls later, the engineer is now coming next Tuesday...although I'll only believe it when he's actually here. In the meantime I don't have a reliable supply of hot water.

I can't remember what happened on Tuesday but something went wrong, I know. Maybe it was the lights blowing in the lounge...No, I know what it was, I'd spent a long time over the weekend and Monday and Tuesday working on redesign of a web site that I manage for one of the railway societies I belong too. Only thing is when I came to update it, everything got cocked up and I managed to delete a fairly important file by mistake. All got sorted in the end but that was stressful!

Wednesday was my sign-on day at the Job Centre, which always makes me feel down. I find it so demoralising and degrading, especially when most of the people there seem to be no-hopers or benefit cheats. The advisor I see there, nice guy but completely useless. I had a whinge about the fact that if I was a single mother I'd probably be better off and that I feel penalised under the benefits system because I am a single person with no dependents. How is anyone supposed to live on £60 per week? I was just sounding off.

Yesterday I had a job interview, which went okay apart from the fact that they kept me waiting for almost half-hour! Yes, thirty bloody minutes before anyone came to see me! I was annoyed about that but was even more annoyed that in the afternoon I had an appointment with an agency for temporary work, which proved to be a complete waste of time. Apparently because I possess neither a passport nor a full birth certificate (I do have a birth certificate but I am told it is not a full one) they were unable to register me. I am beginning to hold agencies with the same contempt as IFA's. Stupid rules! The interview in the morning on a positive note seemed to go well and I passed the first bit, which was a telephone test. I find out early next week if I got the job.

When I eventually got home I decided that I would sort out my Sky box so that I can record from Sky. Easy I thought. Oh dear, how misguided must I be? I nearly turned the flat upside down looking for the instruction manuals for my DVD player and the Sky box and could I find them? Well, of course not. Being a man my filing skills are not what they could be and I hoard so many different things, stuff inevitably gets shoved in folders and away in boxes or on bookcases where it has no right to belong. Anyway I found the necessary instructions today and made all the connections as per the diagrams but guess what...still can't work out how to record from Sky, so I've given up on that.

Today, I've just been in a bad mood. I had a bad dream last night, which I think freaked me out more than I thought because it was still lingering with me when I woke up. Its probably a result of all the fretting that I've been doing all week.

Tomorrow I am taking myself out for the day to see a bit of the countryside and get some fresh air. Hopefully things will go a bit smoother next week.

Blog updates and new web page

I've made a couple of small changes to this blog. You might notice that I've added a web counter on the right hand menu bar. It probably doesn't show many hits just at the moment but I am interested in how many people actually visit the blog. I am sure there are some that must drop by but don't leave a message to say hello or comment.

Also, I've updated my favourite web sites taking a couple out, which don't really sit on this blog and adding a link to my own personal web page, which I posted yesterday. It is very much a work in progress at the moment but hopefully it has something of interest. Will be looking to update this new web page about once a month.

Finally, I am also starting to put labels on each post from here on as it seems to make a good way of filtering posts on a particular topic. I noticed Derek uses lables on Gooseyworld and it seems to work well.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

No Diet Diet - End of Week 1

Well I've made it succesfully to the end of week 1 of the No Diet Diet and while I could probably have pushed myself a little harder, I think I've done well. I scored 22 on my tasks for the week and needed over 21 to successfuly complete the week, so I did okay. And surprisingly perhaps, I have lost weight. Not a lot granted but meeting my target nonetheless, so its a good start. I was due to start part 2 of the No Diet Diet but I couldn't find any of my books! Yesterday was not a good day but I've got myself a bit more organised today and I am ready to start week 2 tomorrow. Reports to follow on my progress.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Non Diet Diet Update

Sunday evening listening to Radio 2 with a glass of Magners at my side... Only thing missing is a beautiful view and someone to share it with. Ah well, there is some great music to listen too. Earlier I was listening to David Gray's Greatest Hits album, which I got for Christmas. There is not a track on here that I could fault, I love listening to them all and I think Gray himself is unforgivably underrated. He has a prodigious talent for not only writing but singing the most heart-felt and memorable songs, not least amongst my favourites are Shine, Alibi, Ain't No Love, Babylon, Birds without Wings, Disappearing World... I could go on. Although his later stuff is much more polished, I do like some of the earlier albums because they are raw and rough round the edges.

Derek 'phoned me yesterday to say that he had found the Hornby model railway set we had been discussing last weekend. I found this site, which brought back many happy memories especially when I found my first train set on there! I had many happy days as a child with my model train set and at one time there were two of them in our house as my Dad had a much larger layout, originally in our attic and later in the back bedroom. At some stage the two layouts became merged and the back bedroom became my bedroom and thus I had a model railway for company all the time. One day I would love to build my own layout from scratch. It was something that I did seriously consider a few years ago and I had bought a lot of track, buildings and rolling stock (mostly from eBay) but alas I had neither the time, money or patience to do anything useful with it. I sold my collection of rolling stock, which I regret, as I had quite a good collection. I kept all the track and a few other bits and pieces and now I am looking to add to it, with the hope one day of having that model railway layout I have always dreamed of.

I bought three books on Friday, not as extravagant as it sounds as it was buy one, get one free as they are recommendations from the Richard & Judy Book Club. I'll get round to reading them soon; currently I am reading Imperium by Robert Harris.

I've got a busy week ahead. The gas engineer is booked to come on Tuesday and finally (hopefully) make the repairs to my boiler. On Wednesday, I've got the joy of signing on again, Thursday I have an interview and Friday there is a job fair I am going too while on Saturday I am having a day out in London depending on the weather.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Day 2 & 3 of the No Diet Diet

Okay, Day 2 was relatively straightforward as it required writing something for 15 minutes. I should have pushed myself more on this I think. One of the suggestions it gave was starting to write your own life story. That would have been a challenge. Instead I did a review of a novel that I've recently read - Star Wars: Death Star - and continued working on my short story. Not really very demanding as writing about Star Wars is something I do all the time and enjoy. So maybe I'd give myself a 3 for effort on that (out of ten) and a comment like 'must try harder.' Still, I guess at least I did write something for fifteen minutes and it wasn't a blog entry!

What I also did on Day 2 was set up a spreadsheet to record my weight. When I came home from the Xmas break I weighed myself and got a bit of a shock. I know I'd over indulged over Christmas and I hadn't realised just how much. Once every week since I have been weighing myself and recording that. To give myself some incentive I've decided to plan my goal weight for the year based on losing a pound a week. Doesn't sound a lot but it certainly adds up over 12 months! It doesn't sound very challenging either so if I find it becomes too easy then I'll up the target or shorten the time in which I went to achieve my goal. I also created a graph from the spreadsheet, which plots my target weight against my actual weight. I am a little off target at the moment as I started the year badly so I've got a bit of catch-up to do. I am hoping that by recording my weight each week and comparing that against where I want to be, it will incentivize me and also give me some record of the progress that I am making. I did okay this week, as I have lost 1.5lbs. Just need to keep that sort of success going!

Yesterday, the task was to not have my favourite drink all day - tea. I am sorry to say that I failed in this at the first hurdle, as I had a cup of tea with my breakfast (like I always do) without even thinking about it. Once I realised my error not another drop of tea passed my lips all day. I didn't find it that difficult, which surprised me as I thought I would really struggle knowing how much I love a cup of tea. I guess what helped was that I kept myself busy yesterday and had lots of things to think about and do.

I tried the yoga DVD yesterday and I am feeling the after-effects today as my legs and arms really ache. I'll be honest when I watched it at first I thought it would be easy but actually trying some of the positions was very difficult and I couldn't do a lot of them. I felt disheartened at first although then I thought well it proves how much work I need to do to get myself fit and flexible enough to complete the whole section. I see it as a challenge to be able to do a little bit more each time.

Today's task is to take a 15-minute walk and to think about life and what I want from it. This is something I do often as I am prone to introspection and self-analysis so I am not sure that it will feel that different. I will update tomorrow on how today has gone. Tomorrow I have to get up an hour earlier than normal, which will be a struggle I am sure!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Day 1 of the No Diet Diet

Today has been tough. The first day of the No Diet Diet and already I feel like screaming or throwing something! Today the task is to forsake television for the whole day and I think because I am conscious of not watching TV today it has made it the one thing that I have really wanted to do. Its strange how if you consciously deny yourself something the more you crave it! Where's the logic in that!

However, it has been made worse by the fact that I have been up since 7am this morning, which is a lot earlier than I would normally be up because an engineer was supposed to be coming to fit some parts to my boiler. The boiler has been partly out of action (intermittently no hot water) since before Xmas and finally I was hoping the job would be done today. I was faithfully promised that the engineer would be here between 8am and 1pm but they didn't turn up so when I called back this afternoon, I was told he would be with me late afternoon. Still no sign of said engineer so I guess I am going to have to be back on the 'phone again tomorrow finding out what's going on.

With that and the fact that the weather has been so awful has meant that I have not been able to get out today, which I think would have eased some of my tensions about not being able to watch TV. Going out for a walk would have done wonders.

It hasn't all been bad though as I can see what a bad habit the TV has become for me. I often remark on how little TV I watch and mostly that is true. However, what I have become conscious of today is what a rigid timetable I live around the TV, planning meals for example around when something good is on and how I will often resort to spending half-hour or so here and there just flicking channels and wasting time.

What struck me today was how much time I had to myself from cutting out TV altogether. I listened to the radio for a bit this morning and I found that quite relaxing and enjoyable. Plus I did some reading, which I never seem to find time for during the day and I've also started writing a story that I long promised I would do. I had a good few hours this afternoon researching for that on the Internet. Plus I caught up with some e-mails and spent a few hours looking for jobs on-line this morning.

Although the sum total of what I have done today isn't very much, I feel like I have been in control of it and not dictated too by something I feel I 'must' watch on the TV. I guess it has been liberating in some ways and if I hadn't had to be in all day, it would have been an even more worthwhile day. Not sure that it has helped me loose any weight though!

Tomorrow, the task is to write something for 15 minutes. I will no doubt carry on with my story but I want to try writing something else and I am not including updating the blog in that. I am planning to go out for a walk tomorrow, so maybe I will write about that or something else. I am not sure yet.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The No Diet Diet starts tomorrow!

I am starting the No Diet Diet program tomorrow and the first task is to not watch television all day. Now, that is going to be hard because although I don't generally watch a lot of TV during the day, I do like to sit down and watch the news and have a few other progs that I normally watch. Getting out of the habit of automatically sitting down on the sofa and switching the TV on is going to be difficult but I guess that's the whole point. This program is all about breaking those bad habits and using the time more creatively and importantly in a more healthy and fulfilling way.

I've also decided on my two other tasks that I am going to do in my first week, in addition to the daily tasks specified. Firstly, I am going to spend one day sitting in a different chair or at the other end of the sofa. The idea of this again is to break the habit of always doing the same thing. I know, it sounds like it should be easy and relatively simple but I think I am going to find this a challenge as I am very much a creature of habit. The second thing I am going to do, which to be honest I feel rather apprehensive about, is yoga. Carla has kindly lent me a DVD which includes some yoga exercises on it, which I am going to have a go at and see if I can master. I am not sure what to expect and I feel apprehensive about trying it for the first time.

Progress and updates on how it is all going will appear over the coming week. I am also keeping track of my weight each week and I will let you know how I get on.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Progress Update

I mentioned in my last post a little about what I did in 2007 and my goals for the coming twelve months and I talked about The No Diet Diet. I was going to start today but as I am now going to do this with Carla, we are going to start at the same time and see how we get on, hopefully providing each other with moral support and encouragement along the way. I did though get the second part of the programme in The Independent today and it is again about breaking habits and moving out of the comfort zone. I feel a bit wary of some of it, for example there is one day where you have to try to do something completely spontaneous if you are someone who lives by a rigid plan to each day. I am not totally without spontaneity but I do like routine although I have to admit that has somewhat broken down since I lost my job. But I can see the point of breaking routines in a positive way. You get stuck in a rut doing the same thing day in day out and as this program seems to suggest, it is these mundane and seemingly innocuous routines and habits, that make people fat. It isn't so much over-eating that is the problem, it is the whole mind-set and way of approaching and dealing with life that needs to be tackled. I am hoping to gain something from following The No Diet Diet and I think that tackling some of my attitudes and bad habits will help. At the moment though I am polishing off the last of the chocolate I got for Xmas so maybe its just as well I haven't started yet...!

Job hunting proceeds at the same slow pace as last year. I've applied for six or seven jobs so far. When I say applied, mostly its been submitting CV's to recruitment agencies, filling in forms and other details on Company web sites and putting my name about.

I did finally get to find out today why I didn't get the job in Watford I applied for. I was going to let it drop but I thought to myself, no, I want to know why I didn't get. I am told that it was due to a restructuring that took place and as a result they filled the vacancy internally. Apparently the feedback from the interview was positive, which is good.

I'll keep plugging away but I am under no illusion, I need to get myself sorted with a job by the end of the month.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Looking back at 2007, what I am doing next

Last year I started a rather half-hearted attempt at reviewing the previous 12 months. I think I got as far as March before I got bored of that idea. So here, in one fairly pithy and hopefully brief post is what I liked most about 2007 and what I am looking forward to doing in 2008.

In January I saw the play Frost/Nixon - can it be almost a year ago? This was I think my only visit to the theatre in 07 and a well worthwhile and enjoyable evening it was. I remember walking back along Shaftesbury Avenue to the tube, my mind buzzing with moments from the play and the excellent performances of Frank Langella and Michael Sheen.

February saw me making my annual trip to the Brighton Modelworld, which normally falls a couple of weeks before my birthday at the end of the month. When I was a kid this used to be a special birthday treat as my dad would always take me (by bus of course!) to Brighton on the Sunday of the show and I would spend many happy hours visiting the various model railway layouts, a particular thrill being the 'live steam' layouts. The highlight though always was watching the model boat clubs who would have a large pool set up at one end of the hall to 'play' with their boats. This year they had a model Titanic and the obligatory iceberg.

I got Sky at the end of March after many months of debating whether the cost was worthwhile. Looking back I think it was but it has probably turned me into more of a couch potato than I have ever been!

The beginning of March saw the regular Groovy Gang trip to MK and this time I suggested a visit to Bletchley Park, which I think everyone enjoyed. I certainly did and shamefully I've not been back since although I don't live far away and have a free pass for entry until this March.

One of my regular days out saw me taking an impromptu trip to Liverpool on 24 March. It was all because I had mixed up the date of a meeting of a railway enthusiasts group I am involved with. The AGM is typically held in Crewe but I bought my rail tickets for the wrong weekend. So instead of spending two Saturdays in Crewe, I decided on the second occasion to make the short journey further on to Liverpool and enjoyed glorious sunshine as I looked around the cities two cathedrals.

In the middle of April I took a short break to Newcastle and the North-East. I'd long wanted to visit this part of England and in particular to indulge a railway interest of mine - to travel the Settle to Carlisle line. So on one of the days I took myself off for a round robin from Newcastle via Carlisle and Settle to Leeds thence via York back to Newcastle. It was a wonderful day, full of beautiful scenery not least the magnificent views from the Ribblehead Viaduct, a stop in picturesque Settle and an enjoyable late afternoon break in York. It has also whetted my appetite for doing the Settle to Carlisle again, this time the 'right way round' as it were and by steam train.

In May I had another holiday, this time with the Groovy Gang and despite the weather not always being that kind to us, that week spent on the Grand Union canal was one of the happiest moments of the year. There were a few minor disasters on the way, not least my terrible driving which saw us nearly ram other narrowboats a few times and ended with a particularly severe collission with the canal bank on our route back through Milton Keynes (I am sure Jamie will never let me forget the latter!). The memory that abides most from that week was of having fun, lots of it. Plus all those nice pubs we stopped in, the hearty meals, the quenching drinks and the irreplaceable company of my friends. It was a brilliant week and I so much hope that we do something like that again.

June saw me boarding 'The Golden Arrow' at London Victoria for a terrific day out, being hauled by steam almost all the way to Folkestone Harbour and back, stopping off in Canterbury for an afternoon break, before a spirited run round the Kent coast back to London. Although an expensive trip, if offered, I would do it again tomorrow. There is something unbeatably fun about being on a steam-hauled train, a magic that you just don't get from modern rail travel.

Staying on the theme of all things steam, it has been something that has dominated a lot of things I did last year. 2007 after all was the fortieth anniversary of the end of steam on what was the Southern Region of British Railways in 1967 and I made visits to the Bluebell, Mid-Hants and Severn Valley Railways (although that was GWR of course) during the year. Sadly I didn't get an opportunity to visit the Swanage Railway and missed their gala. However, it was an enjoyable and somewhat emotional weekend in July having been at the Mid-Hants 'End of Steam 40th Anniversary' gala on 8 July and then chasing three railtours over the Saturday evening and Sunday morning, also celebrating this important anniversary. One of the unforgettable moments was seeing 34067 Tangmere in full flight as she stormed through Fareham in the beautiful evening light on the Saturday.

Star Wars Celebration Europe in July was another highlight of 2007. This was 3-days of wall to wall Star Wars fun and excitement. I remember on the Friday evening going to Canary Wharf to see a concert of film music instead of staying to watch Star Wars. That was one of the best bits. But, much like the canal boat holiday in May, the abiding memory was not the event itself but the people, my friends. They made that weekend so special and enjoyable and fun and I wouldn't have wanted to have been there without them. Sunday night when it was all over and as we were drifting home felt like such a huge disappointment. I was feeling emotional on my way back on the DLR and I tried to keep in mind what a great weekend it had been, trying to dismiss the disappointment that it was all over. I still have my memories and no end of merchandise, photos and even DVD's of the event to remember that happy weekend.

I managed to cram a lot into August. Not only was it the annual Groovy Gang Park Meet at the beginning of August, as always held in perfect weather, but we visited the Star Wars Exhibition at County Hall in less generous weather a few weeks later. Plus I was handing in my notice at work and looking forward to starting a new job at the beginning of September, squeezed in a visit to my parents and trip to the New Forest to see Jamie & Theresa, not to mention having a couple of memorable nights out with work colleagues and attending the BBC Proms.

September onwards seemed to be quieter months for the most part. My new job in London started at the beginning of September although by the end of the month it was clear things were not going as well as they should. By November I was collecting my things and leaving.

I got in a couple more visits to preserved railways in September and October, attended a wedding at the beginning of October and saw some of the Groovy Gang a couple of times while I was still down in London.

November seems to have consisted mainly of crossings out on the calender. Just about everything I had planned and pencilled in got knocked off course by me losing my job on 9 November. I did make a trip to Sheffield the following day, although that wasn't my original intention. For a few days, it all felt like I was living on auto-pilot, going through the motions before I got a grip of myself and got a focus on where I was going from here.

The final month of 2007, was one of interviews and disappointments. I decided to catch up with a few people before Christmas. Over Christmas was a busy time with The War of the Worlds on the 22nd, meeting with Ram & Anne who had come over from the States on 27th and a trip to Basingstoke, long planned and postponed on 28th to see Paul.

So that was 2007 for me, in essence. And for 2008...

Well I have lots of aims for this year, not least to get back to work. My objective is to secure something by the end of January, whether it be permanent or temprorary. I am going to keep looking for jobs in London because I really did enjoy my time working there albeit briefly in 2007.

Also, 2008 is the year when I start taking charge of my life, finally losing weight and getting into a better and healthier way of seeing the world. I am starting the 'No Diet Diet' tomorrow, which is being serialised with The Independent. The first thing I have to do tomorrow is to give up the television for the day. That's going to be hard! But I am determined to make this work for me. I am going to change my habits and attitudes and I am going to be a better person because of it. That's simply my aim for this year.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Portsmouth Memories

I grew up in a very ordinary terraced house in the Stamshaw area of Portsmouth, a house that my parents have called home for thirty-five years and somewhere that for me still feels like home. Although I moved away almost seven years ago, Portsmouth exerts a strong pull on the heart-strings. For better or worse, it was the place which made me the man I am today. All of the most important and formative experiences of my life happened there and whatever else changes or shapes me in the years to come, it is the place where I will always call home. Its more than a physical place, it is a spiritual home I guess too. I don't mean in a religious sense of the word but as a place where the best and worst experiences of my life have mostly happened, where the dramas and tragedies of learning about life occurred and where I think I may once have lost my heart.

Going back to Portsmouth, as I did over Christmas, always brings with it a misty eyed nostalgia of the past, so let me take you on a journey around where I grew up and used to live and share some of my thoughts and feelings about what it has meant to me.

As I mentioned, I grew up in a very ordinary 3-bedroom terraced house built around 1900. Originally as I was the youngest I had the smallest bedroom although when my brother moved out in the early 90s, I got the second largest bedroom and this has become my own, even to this day still retaining some of the memories of a happy childhood and teenage years. I feel lucky living where we did as we were just a brief walk from Stamshaw Park, which it seems whatever time of the year was a place to play with friends. I remember in the summer my dad taking me and my brother there to play cricket, which was always great fun. The park itself is on land that was reclaimed when the M275 motorway was built in the early 1970s. Under the original proposals the new motorway would have cut through Stamshaw and perhaps my happy childhood there would never have happened. As it was, the motorway was put in further to the west. The park was opened in March 1979 so it has been there as long as I remember!

This was essentially my playground when I was a kid and it got better when they added a splash pool and 'Adventure Playground' in the 1980s, which I am pleased to note remains to this day although I don't remember it looking so dilapidated and assaulted by graffiti as it is now. One of the most popular features was a 'death slide,' surely not as dangerous as it sounds! My friends used to try and persuade me to go on that because everyone else did but I was always too scared to give it a try. I wish now that I had. I thought children were supposed to be fearless but looking back I think I had a lot of fear about many things and I am sure that must be responsible for the same anxieties I have carried into adulthood.

The other side of the park and the motorway is the foreshore, an admittedly poor excuse of a shingle beach with a walkway sat between that and the motorway embankment. Again, this was a favourite in the summer. Yep, we actually used to go swimming in these polluted waters! Goodness knows what else was swimming in there and thankfully neither I nor my brother seem to have suffered any long lasting ill effects. To the left on this picture is Whale Island - also known as HMS Excellent, part of HM Naval Base. Again during the summer months my dad used to take us there to see the 'gun runs.' My mum wouldn't come because she couldn't stand the loud bangs. The end of the show would see parachutists landing in the event arena, which was always quite exciting and on the other evenings they did this, we could happily watch them from our back garden.

To the rear of where I was standing when I took this picture is a small clump of houses, basically all that remains of Rudmore, which made way for the motorway. These houses have remained, despite being severed from the terraces that continue the other side of the motorway.

The foreshore was also a great place to see the ships using the Continental Ferry Port, a constant and ever changing scene of fascination for me. At one time I could name each and every one of the ships using the port and I would know the scheduled sailing times too! Not the most common pursuit for a young boy but it was either that or watching the trains! Sadly, more recent development, means that any good views of the commercial port are now almost obliterated.

This is the school I attended from 1984-1988. It is now the Junior School but when I was there it was Stamshaw Middle School. The First School, which I also attended, a similarly grand red brick building was across the road. This was demolished to make way for a Retirement Home, which I clearly remember being opened by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh because I was one of the school kids chosen to be there to greet the Prince. Not that I actually got to speak to him and about all else I remember was standing for what seemed like hours in the cold! When the First School was demolished we moved to a new site at Tipner. This was very much the cutting edge of school design, so much so that its strange appearance earned it the title 'Legoland.' It's still standing too, although much like my old Middle School much extended and modernised.

School was not the happiest time for me. I suffered the indignity of being bullied, something which I feel I have never really been able to get over. It wasn't serious after all, just a bit of name-calling but things like that stick with you. I was a good boy at school of course although once I remember ending up in detention for throwing stones. That was about the height of my rebellious streak. After all, by Secondary School I was elevated to the ranks of Prefects, a mixed blessing in many ways.

Sticking with my school days the Mountbatten Centre at Alexandra Park was where we had our annual Sports Days and also where we used to play badminton, a game which I very much enjoyed. It is no secret that I hated PE and almost every sport was a cruel torture for me as I lacked the natural athleticism or co-ordination to do well in any of them. Strange then that I found badminton such good fun. I don't actually remember much about our Sports Days here other than one year crying off from taking part for a reason that I don't remember. I seemed to be able to get out of a lot of things that I didn't want to do in those days.

As these photos show, growing up in Pompey it was always sunny... well when you look back it always seems like the weather was better, lol! I went through a decidedly strange phase as a teenager, seeming to want to bypass those years and go straight to 40! I wasn't at all rebellious and I indulged myself in interests that with hindsight seem to have been deliberately designed to alienate me from friends. By the time I went to college in 1992 I had got over that. I only went to college because I had no idea what sort of career I wanted. During my time at Secondary School we had to go on Work Experience for two weeks and we were given a choice of places to go. Most people went for things like solicitors, banks and insurance companies, perhaps thinking these were safe careers. I ended up spending my time working for a freight forwarding company at the Continental Ferry Port as my first choice of Brittany Ferries was not available. I did later work for a couple of summers on a casual basis at Brittany Ferries. I thought this might be something I would like to do, working for a ferry company but going to college gave me time to think and waste a few more years without having to go out and earn a living, being kept by mum and dad. Of all my years in Portsmouth, I think the two years I spent at college, were perhaps amongst the happiest and a time when I learnt a lot about who I was and took some knocks along the way as well. I wish I had made different choices now because it was one time in my life when I felt free of my inhibitions and whilst I never did anything particularly wild or dramatic, I could have chosen to have done things differently. I had some close friends at college although one in particular was someone who I should never have trusted. Mostly though it was time to adapt to being an adult without many of the onerous responsibilities or baggage of adulthood. I should have made more of it and taken the chances that were open to me. I often say that I never regret anything but part of me always has some regret about that time in my life, even though it was as I say a particularly happy one.