Monday, April 28, 2008

What I've been up to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Has the world gone mad?

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In a quandary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Norwich & Norfolk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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