Thursday, 4 July 2013

Youtube Killed the Video Star

I don't blog here any more. Let me get that out of the way from the start. Not that anyone who reads this will care, but just in case someone, somewhere, stumbles on this post. I write now here and here. I don't have any moral reasons why I don't use Blogger any more, I just find that Wordpress is a better blogging platform, and find that Tumblr is well suited to posts based around pictures.


Mez recently wrote about her favourite music videos, and I wanted to reciprocate. The only trouble was, such a post as this wasn't suited to either of those blogs, so it's getting written here instead.

I wrote in comments over on that post that, growing up, my family didn't have satellite TV so I didn't have access to MTV and VH1, and with them a lot of music videos. My taste in music was limited to what I was exposed to, and music videos were hard to come by.

That said, with access to the internet since my late teenage years I have tried to go back and find videos -- when it occurs to me -- for my favourite songs.

In no particular order:

It's an uncomfortable truth for a lot of people, but I always like Hole better than Nirvana. 

Hole were more than just Courtney Love. Eric Erlandson was (and, probably, still is) a brilliant song writer and this album also drew on the talents of people including Billy Corgan and Linda Perry. For some, this album wasn't as good as the raw grunge of Live Through This, but for me it was an album of its time: to make another album exactly the same would have sounded ridiculous. Celebrity Skin was a great song, with some typical Hole-lyrics ("Cinderella they aren't sluts like you") and harmonies from Melissa Auf der Maur. The video makes the song even better.   

The video brings together all the best parts of the song.

Celebrity Skin, Hole

I have issues with both Hole and Smashing Pumpkins these days, since the failed solo careers of Courtney Love and Billy Corgan encouraged them to restart their old bands, but leaving out some critical members. I was OK with the Smashing Pumpkins relaunch (mostly) while it involved Jimmy Chamberlain, since it was his powerhouse drumming that gave them such a distinctive sound.

Band politics aside, there are many great videos for the Pumpkins. Do you choose the videos where the talented Mr Corgan still has hair, or the later almost Addams Family stylings of the (pretty lousy) album "Adore"? The obvious choice is the middle ground. "Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness", as an album, was flawed for me -- it showed a lack of self awareness to make an overblown double album. But it still had some incredible songs on it: "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" being one of them. The video suits the song perfectly.

Bullet with Butterfly Wings, Smashing Pumpkins

Perhaps my all-time favourite band The Pixies are largely a mystery to me in terms of videos: a band that I have to go back into their catalogue to see what, if any videos, they made. 

The important thing with all my favourite bands is obviously the music first, and I tell people that The Pixies invented music (before them it was just tuning up). While that's not strictly true, they did more or less invent the alternative rock style we now take for granted with bands like Nirvana and Foo Fighters. It's well known that Nirvana's seminal "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was described by Dave Grohl at the time as a "Pixies rip off" and I've read amusing interviews with Grohl since were clueless journos ask him how he came up with Foo Fighters groundbreaking quiet-LOUD-quiet style, and he explains how the Pixies were doing it first in the '80s.

"Here Comes Your Man" might not have Frank Black's (or Black Francis) trademark screaming, but it is a classic song for them and one often mistakenly played on '90s radio stations (since it was released in the '80s). It also has a video fairly typical of the time: it's hard to tell now if it was meant to be a joke, because it's pretty bad. And that's what makes it good -- The Pixies were never about image for me. Or themselves, it seems.

Here Comes Your Man, Pixies

Yes, yes. Soundgarden. Chris Cornell is a rock god. Other than making misguided albums with Timbaland, he can do very little wrong. And even when he does, you just have to say the magic words "Temple of the Dog" and all is forgiven. 

Mez already featured Black Hole Sun on her blog, so I'm going with something different. Rusty Cage. Another fantastic song from the time period, and another awful video so typical of that period. So bad it's now good.

Rusty Cage, Soundgarden

Pearl Jam. Where would we be without the big PJ? Eddie Vedder is about as close as we come to a messiah. 

Pearl Jam also famously stopped making videos after "Jeremy" -- and that was a very long time ago. Many albums later, some good, some less good, but with some stand out songs, personal tragedies and amazing shows along the way, this video got made for "Do the Evolution". 

I don't know what the story with it is, whether Pearl Jam made it, whether it was independent and then officially accepted, or whether it remains unofficial. Either way, this song is a blazing powerhouse of a song and it is made all the better with such an emotional video.

Do The Evolution, Pearl Jam

A band you rarely hear mentioned alongside these greats is one from the city of Bradford in West Yorkshire. 

Terrorvision always had an uneasy relationship with success -- not that they didn't like it, but as they once put it, it would sort of come and go. Most albums would have a stand-out single and do quite well, but there was also usually several years between albums, and the momentum would fade. 

The band found fame with their song "Oblivion" featuring a distinctive, catchy doo-wap hook, but the album it came from was also responsible for some of their heaviest songs. By far one of their best -- and heaviest -- songs combines one of the best videos. 

Alice, What's the Matter is dark and almost surrealist, but compulsive viewing -- just like the song is compulsive listening.

Alice What's the Matter, Terrorvision

Keeping things surreal are Eels. From the album Electro shock Blues -- full of autobiographical songs about death and bereavement came "Last Stop This Town", it's beautiful and sad, and it sticks in your head. 

It is accompanied by a video featuring anthropomorphic genetically modified vegetables. It makes no sense, has nothing to do with the song, but it is doubtlessly brilliant.

Last Stop This Town, Eels

I love the White Stripes. Love them. I loved how every album was different to the last, without them having to do interviews everywhere saying "we're reinventing ourselves!!" -- mainly because they weren't reinventing anything. They were doing what they always did, which was be consistently surprising. I loved their raw, stripped down sound. I loved the weird dynamic between Jack and Meg. And most of all, I love the song Hotel Yorba. 

You might watch this video, and think "So what?" but it's good because it fits the song so well. It's not showy, it's just raw, and simple, and perfect.

Hotel Yorba, White Stripes

Our Lady Peace are criminally overlooked outside of the North American continent. I saw them play in London last year at the Canada Day celebrations, and then the next night in a very small venue. I sometimes try and request their songs on the radio, without success. I just don't understand they aren't better known here. But that's besides the point. 

"Superman's Dead" was the first song by the band that I heard, and remains one of my favourites. I think the video is typical of the time: it seems to have nothing to do with the song itself, but is interesting to watch. 

And as a fun fact, there's a slightly different version made for the USA: apparently the clown-type people were too scary, so that footage is removed. 

Another fun fact: I almost posted about the song "One Man Army" which I also like, and has another strange, unrelated video. The video is widely regarded by fans and the band themselves as one of the worst ever made. I decided instead to go with a "good" one.

Superman's Dead, Our Lady Peace

Radiohead are a surprise inclusion, because if I had to list my top 10 bands they probably wouldn't make the list. Like a lot of people, I stopped listening after "OK Computer" and while I'm told some of their more recent stuff has got a lot better, I haven't really come back to them. But this is both a fantastic song and a famous video. The video is a short film (by a filmmaker whose name I don't know, or remember) and the usual footage of band playing that you get in almost every video, ever. The short (silent) film is incredibly powerful, and I've seen fans having animated discussions on forums about what the man says at the end -- to the point where they were practically beseeching anyone who could read lips to reveal the secret. I wanted to shout at them and explain it's not real, it's just a story, there's no big secret that "explains" everything. And for the record, it's pretty easy to tell from the man's lips that all he says is "I'll you what's wrong, I'll tell you what's wrong". And I only just noticed today, the short film is filmed in London -- even though the motorcycle cop seems to be American, I recognise Liverpool Street station anywhere.

Just, Radiohead

Velvet Revolver were from that weird Noughties time of supergroups -- Chris Cornell was rocking out with Audioslave, and Scott Weiland had got together with the best musicians from Guns N' Roses to make Velvet Revolver. 

This was a particularly good move, as when they performed live Scott could join  them in covers of GNR songs and improve on the originals.

Slither was their first song, and set a very high bar -- one that, for me, they never quite reached again. What Scott Weiland is playing at now is the same old story, it seems, and it's a shame. But this song -- and the accompanying video, set in the catacombs of Paris -- is still brilliant.

Slither, Velvet Revolver

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Patron needed!

Image source:
Next year, the big adventure is Dog Sledding in the Arctic Circle -- courtesy of Across the Divide.

To self-fund the challenge will cost me £2,860, including the £500 deposit I have to pay on registering. All fundraising money raised between now and the trip would be donated 100% to Cancer Research.

Alternatively, I can choose to raise a minimum of £4,720 in sponsorship for Cancer Research and pay only the £500 deposit from my own money.

I only need £500 to sign up with this option, but that's money I don't have lying around, going spare. But I do have some ideas on what I can do about this.

What I need as "The Flat Footed Adventurer" is some kind of sponsorship, or support -- in other words, I need a patron. The idea is if this challenge and the resulting publicity is successful to turn "The Flat Footed Adventurer" into a Free Range Career.

But we need to focus on this challenge first, and my ideas need some explaining I have made a list of as far as I can tell everything I need to make this challenge happen, and it looks something like this:
  • Finance: This is most important, as I don't have £2860 -- corporate support towards this target will allow me to register and begin the charity fundraising.
  • Fitness: This will be a challenge in the true sense of the word, and will require me to be dedicated to getting into the best physical shape I can be -- and have ever been. To do this I will need expert training, guidance and support.
  • Publicity: I am a talented writer, and I want to document every step of the challenge, from signing up and raising money for Cancer Research, to the days spent sledding through the Norwegian wilderness. I will need help in getting my journals publicised -- and later, hopefully, published.
I have tried making contact with several large financial institutions. 8 out of 10 did not give me the time of day to even respond. One replied, curtly, that they do not support individuals. One replied and was both warm and helpful, sadly they could not help but they wished me luck. That was a bust.

The trouble is, I don't know who to contact. Surely, there are companies out there who could help and would want to help. When I hiked the Inca Trail in 2009, it was largely due to the help of transport giant First Group who were very generous in their sponsorship -- and they, in return, received a wealth of publicity, both in print and online. There is a tremendous opportunity for positive PR for any companies supporting me with this -- helped my own background in Public Relations. I am hoping this will help me to at least find people who might know people who can help.

Without the finance in place, I can't begin to find contacts for help with the other parts -- because the trip can't happen. I can get as fit as I like, learn to speak Norwegian and have a stunning network of people eager to help publicise my writing, but it's all for nothing if I can't even afford to go.

Cancer has directly affected my family. In 2008, my aunt Margie succumbed to the illness after a long battle -- she had loved to travel, and loved walking, and she was my inspiration for the trip to Machu Picchu. In 2010, my uncle John (my aunt's -- and my Dad's -- brother) was the victim of an aggressive brain cancer. The illness took him so quickly that there wasn't time to receive any nursing at home, but the family requested any donations to be made to Cancer Research UK. My uncle loved dogs, and this seems like a fitting way to remember both my aunt Margie and my uncle John, who were my Dad's two oldest siblings. I want to be able to raise awareness as well as money for Cancer Research. In the UK alone, someone is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes.

To summarise, what do I need from you? I need you to help spread the word. Please share this post with friends, with family, with followers. Please. Take 10 seconds just to think if you work for, or know, a company that would be able to help me achieve this challenge. But most of all, please help spread the word -- or if you have a spare few grand, and want the publicity, get in touch!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Flat Footed Adventurer

I started a new blog today.  Not to replace this one, but instead to combine all my travel writing &adventure writing in one place.  At the moment, it only has the Inca Trail in it, because that's the only non-tourist adventure I've had -- but over time, it will be fleshed out with more adventures.  I want it to not only document my journeys themselves, but also my journey from London based, working in office in marketing, to becoming a professional adventurer and writer.  I can dream, right?

Shamefully, I found on importing my Inca Trail blog that the posts were never completed.  There's three whole days missing -- including Machu Picchu.  What a lousy writer I am.  Confusingly, there's extracts from a paper journal I kept at the time -- but I don't know what paper journal I used, or where that is now, so I don't know if all the paper entries have been transcribed.  I'm going to have to work from memory, with factual prompts to remind me of what was when and photographs to finish the story of that adventure -- almost two years after it took place.

It's proving very difficult to find the money to even pay for the deposit for the next trip, and while I have some ideas, that's another story for another day.

Read: The Flat Footed Adventurer

Saturday, 30 April 2011

The next 30 days

I signed up for the 30 Day "Screw Work, Let's Play Challenge" last month -- run by John Williams and Selina Barker.  It started promptly at the beginning of April, when I was still in France, snowboarding and breaking bones.  I missed the first couple of days as a result, but I'd already committed myself upfront to my chellenge: I was going to write the first chapter of my zombie novel.

At first, I was just going to "write my novel", but from what I have learned in life is that you have to know what you want to achieve in order to be able to recognise if you have achieved it.  The "acceptance criteria", as we call this sort of thing in my line of work, was too vague -- either you wrote an entire novel, or you wrote some of the novel, but both could be taken to mean you had achieved what you meant to do.  Even if you hadn't.  Much better to specify "write one chapter". So I did.

I went to Wordpress, dusted off an old domain I had there, changed the template, and I set to work.

Exactly 30 days after the Challenge started, I "launched" my project.  I had successfully written the first chapter of my novel -- something I would not have managed to do without being committed to the challenge, and answerable to a community.  Every week we would say what we would do, and at the end of the week we would say if we had achieved it.  Without the community and the challenge, the chapter would have languished, unwritten.  Just like it has done for years.

Feedback so far has been slow.  I have posted every single page of the first chapter to the Wordpress blog, and anyone who has read any of it has complimented me on the tone, style and content, but I don't yet know anyone who has read it cover-to-cover or given me any constructive criticism.  I need some honest feedback, I need to know if someone reads it and thinks one scene or another is too similar to another zombie story, if the characters are hard to follow, if the setting is too ambiguous.

It's set in Atlantic City, because of the Bruce Springsteen song by the same name that says "everything dies, baby that's a fact, but maybe everything that dies someday comes back".  The only trouble setting it in AC is that I know nothing about the place, and despite reading factsheets and various tourist information, it's very difficult to find random bits of factual information to drop in.  My hope so far is that this won't matter too much.

So.  The challenge is over, I achieved what I said I would.  Now what?  The community gets shut down in a few days time, and people are promising each other they will stay in touch.  Do I now spend the next 30 days working on chapter 2, and trying to be answerable to someone?  Part of me is saying "Big deal, you wrote one chapter. In a month. So what?  People write entire stories in less time than that.  People are writing entire novels.  You're a hack, and you'll be lucky to write more than a couple of chapters before you get bored."

Even if I do write the whole novel, and let's say for argument's sake it will be 10 chapters long, at the current rate of progress that would take 10 months.  What then?  I have a "novel" I've written, that nobody will ever publish.  I get the satisfaction of writing, and of achieving what I want to, but will it ever break me out of my rusty cage?

I have also spoken here, once or twice or more, about the dog sledding adventure I intend to undertake.  I put it off last year as I wanted more time to raise the required sponsorship and get in shape for the trip.  I planned to sign up in March this year, but it wasn't until April that I realised there was a trip available.  I continue to put it off as I need £500 for a deposit before I can get started, and I just don't have that spare.

The 30 Day Challenge community have inadvertently started me thinking about this.  Maybe I am thinking about it all the wrong way.  Maybe I don't need to sign up for a designated charity fundraising trip -- maybe instead I select the option where I pay the full amount, and then instead I turn the whole thing into a challenge.  Not just the training, or the fundraising, or the trip itself -- but I seek out corporate sponsors, I seek out some kind of publishing deal for my journal of the adventure, I seek out personal training...  It might sound ridiculous, but I am inclined to believe this could be possible.  Not in 30 days of course, but I could start.

Did I say in my last entry I should be committed towards adventure more as a spectator than a participant?  Perhaps.  I was recently told by my therapist (who, for financial reasons, I now am going to stop seeing) that I had troubles "connecting", to people and perhaps to life, and it wa shis opinion that the attraction of adventure sports for me was, granted, partly the endorphins but also partly because it allowed me to feel "connected".

There is no grand conclusion here.  Maybe I will get chapter 2 written next month, maybe someone will give me a book deal out of nowhere for it.  Maybe I will commit myself to make the dog sled trip a bigger adventure.  Maybe I will stay sat on the couch, drinking beer, and watching my waistline expand.

Sunday, 3 April 2011


Note: This is not a picture of my own x-ray.
Yesterday, I returned from a week's snowboarding in the French Alps.  On one of the first days out, I fell and apparently cracked my collarbone -- although it was several days later before I got it checked out.  I seem to have a mental block when it comes to learning to ride properly, and I am now considering 'retiring' altogether.

I have always been clumsy and uncoordinated, and as much as we all like to describe ourselves as quick learners, I think I am probably more at the other end of the spectrum: a bit slow.  Perhaps it's just the wrong choice of sport, one day as I fell hard for about the 10th time, I considered that things like learning to surf or learning to rock climb don't hurt nearly as much.

On the other hand, it could be that my ambitions to be all-action Jay are just misplaced, that my interest in adventure sports should be limited to that of a spectator and I should just accept this.

The ten year retrospective

Yeesh. It's been way too long since I last updated -- I've had a couple of close-calls, sitting down, intending to write something, and then not quite managing to get started.  Would you believe that before my 30th birthday way back at the start of February I had every intention of writing a kind of retrospective of the last 10 years?  What happened to that, I don't know. 

I started to write this post a couple of weeks ago, but it didn't turn out the way I wanted it to.  Somehow, it all just seemed to be about work -- what meaningless career was taking up my time.  The real substance seemed to be missing.  What books did I read that year?  What authors did I read for the first time, what poetry did I rate highly?  What bands did I see that year, what albums did I buy, what artists did I listen to for the first time?  What friends did I make, what friends did I meet, what friends did I lose?  All of these things are what make our lives important -- and yet these details I can't remember.

In 2001, I turned 20 living in student dorms at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City USA.  

In the intervening years since then I have moved back in with my parents, moved to Leicester to train as a journalist, failed to become a journalist, and moved to London.  I've seen more bands than obviously I can remember, I have started writing and performing poetry again regularly for the first time in over a decade, I have travelled to far-flung places and raised money for charity trekking the Inca Trail.

I have started trying to work my out of my depression -- which was sort of the original point of this blog's latest incarnation, and I now firmly believe that when it comes to earning a living the only solution is going to be to forge a career for myself, that I will never be truly satisfied working for someone else.  It's a matter of trying to find out what that involves.

In 2011, I turned 30 living in London's Docklands with the girl.  I took the day off work and went to Greenwich, just to wander around.  Sometimes it feels like the last 10 years belong to someone else.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

For all my Aussie friends

For all my Aussie friends -- and to the girl especially, who is forsaking her great Southern land on a daily basis to live with me in gloomy old London town:

(this ad makes me laugh so much, it's so cheesy)

 Happy 'Straya Day!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Are we all narcissists now?

Friday night was a break from the usual fare in London for me. I was invited to a Philosophy meetup by a trusted colleague of mine.

The topic was on the role narcissism has in our lives today, looking in particular at how the modern sense of self is constructed in cyberspace and asking "are we all narcissists now"? Being completely self-absorbed, I was sure this topic was all about me.

I've seen some feedback since from people commenting there was too much psychological theory and wasn't enough philosophy, but I really enjoyed it. I will readily admit I didn't understand all of the psychoanalytic theory about childhood development, but was mainly interested in how narcissism relates to cyberspace.

After the talk, there was a Q&A which quite quickly turned into group discussion -- the discussion was meant to follow afterwards, but I think after a couple of glasses of wine some people couldn't help themselves.

What was interesting to me was that earlier that day I had interviewed for a new job in an online PR and social marketing role -- if only the interview had followed the talk, I could have had some interesting points to raise. In particular, what fascinated me on the night was how people of my parents' generation view the internet and social media.

Of course, there was the usual line "young people spend too much time in front of computers and don't get out enough", and some discussion sparked by a man who said his nieces post endless pictures of themselves on Facebook -- pictures in which they are rarely doing anything at all. Was this young people emulating celebrities who are constantly being "papped"? Was it just them copying their peers?

What made me think was the suggestion that Facebook "friends" are not an indication of real life friends, as one woman described it these people won't come round and make you a cup of tea if you have the flu. To be honest, I don't think anyone I know offline, with the exception of the girl -- would ever make me hot drinks or bring me soup if I was sick. Maybe if I had come out of hospital, or had a serious illness, but other than that I doubt anyone much would notice. However, I think that many people I know online if they knew I wasn't well would at least offer sympathy.

To suggest that online friendships are somehow inferior to people we know physically, in person, in real life, I think is a fallacy. The girl recently spent a week making a quilt for a fellow blogger's new baby. I have personally exchanged greeting cards with many bloggers and sent them postcards when I have been away, yet don't do the same for some real life friends. I think not having met someone doesn't make them in any way less of a friendship. Before the internet, I was nerdy enough to have penpals. Although I have long since lost touch with all of them, I still think at the time it was reasonable to call at least some of them friends.

I don't know the statistic for online friends and how many you can actually actively sustain. Granted, not everyone I know on Facebook I would call a friend -- but they all pass the "pub test": if they asked me, would I be willing to meet them in real life for a friendly drink. At least once. If the answer is no, they don't make the list. So there's an old boss of mine, who gave me work when I really needed it -- and probably still would now. There's guys I snowboarded with in France one year. There are people with whom my only connection is I have read their blog and they have possibly visited mine, out of politeness. But I still think every one of them counts as a real connection.

Blogging is essentially narcissistic. Even if you aren't a personal blogger, you are either presuming that anyone else would want to read what you write, or you are gazing into it -- like narcissus into a pond, perhaps.

I am no better than anyone else, and possibly slightly worse than most. I am incredibly self involved. I have been writing online since I was 18 -- that will be 12 years this summer. And even -- like with this blog -- I get almost no encouragement to keep writing, I still do it. I can't maintain a paper diary on a regular basis, but on the internet I pour my heart out for decades at a time.

Oddly, though, I have such terrible self image issues I can hardly bear to see myself -- literally, see pictures of myself. I almost never post pictures of myself here, not out of privacy concerns but because I hate the sight of myself. I will often "untag" pictures people post of me on Facebook, and some days I can hardly stand to see my own reflection -- which is worse than a photograph, since it looks at me with disgust or contempt.

Despite this, if I can't see myself I am incredibly vain. I text messages to the radio station while I am cooking -- just to have whatever fake name I use mentioned on air. They usually don't read the message out, but it's satisfaction enough to know if it amuses the DJ.

Maybe the internet is worse for giving people unrealistic expectations. It used to be, ordinary people would only ever be spotted in the street to be a model or maybe actor -- or very occasionally heard singing and given a record deal. Now you can get a book deal by Tweeting shit your Dad says (which usually amuses me), or a record deal based on songs recorded in your bedroom and posted on MySpace. You can get a book deal from your blog. So many people are chasing these dreams, and taking it personally when it doesn't happen to them.

Does cyberspace make us all narcissists? I don't think it does. I don't think "young people" who post pictures of themselves are doing it because they love themselves, and I don't necessarily think the more friends (or readers/followers) you have online necessarily equals a higher ego. Just more connections.

If anyone reads this -- I'd love to hear your thoughts, but to give you some idea on what, I guess some questions would be helpful:
1) Are "online" friends lesser than "real life" friends? Why, or why not?
2) Since you're on the internet, are you a narcissist?
3)Does cyberspace make us all narcissists?

Friday, 21 January 2011

Concerns on the implications of frozen pizza

The recent disappearance and sad demise of Joanna Yates has led me to ponder many things, not necessarily directly related to the case.

And speaking of cases, similar ponderings arose following the unusual death of the MI6 agent found dead in a holdall in his own flat.

In the days that followed the disappearance of Joanna Yates one piece of information seemed to be repeated with almost reverance in every report I came across: she had bought a Tesco Finest mozarella cheese, tomato and pesto pizza. Not she had bought a pizza, or a cheese and tomato pizza, but how specific the description always was. Even today in news reports there seems to be an odd focus on the pizza.

As a former (read: failed) journalist, I understand the need for details. I get how your editor wants to know every. single. last. fact. in. detail. I get how if your report of the baby choking death on a tree ornament on Christmas eve covers every detail other than the colour of the bauble, you will be expected to call the grieving parents to ask: was the ball red or green. I'm not sure I understand the need to constantly repeat this detail as if it was some vital piece of information.

But what bothers me now is when after the pub, I stop by Tesco on my way home and buy a pizza. I worry. What if something happens to me. What if I go missing. What if the one piece of information that is constantly repeated about me is that I bought a pepperoni pizza. Not a Tesco Finest pizza. Not a Pizza Express pizza, even though they were on half price, but instead he bought a basic pizza. And a bottle of beer. If I bought more than one bottle, would it be speculated I planned to share the bottles, or just that I had a drink problem? You can end up thinking too much about these things.

As for the "suitcase spy". Yes, he was found dead in a bag in his own flat with no evidence of foul play -- other than that he couldn't have locked himself in a bag. This is an outstanding angle. And there was always going to be salacious or malicious gossip about his sexual preference. But what bothered me was how bad the pictures were of him, in the early days of the investigation.

If you are going to die an unusual death, or go missing in a high profile case (no pun intended) make sure there aren't any embarassing or just plain bad photos of you that might be used in news reports. That photo of you with Y-fronts on your head and pencils up your nose might end up being the one used in all the newspapers. Take the time, get some professional modelling shots done -- just to be on the safe side.

And only buy takeaways that say positive things about you, rather than a 6 pack of special brew and a copy of Razzle.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

2010: a year in review

I just went back into my archives to see what I said last January about the year ahead.  Did I make resolutions, or just plans and aspirations?  Did I achieve anything I set out to?

I wanted 2010 to be a year of continued adventure, having trekked to Machu Picchu and visited Australia in 2009.  A much-anticipated trip to Barcelona was cancelled when an Icelandic volcano filled UK airspacewith ash clouds and made it a no-fly zone for several days.  When life gives you lemons, shut up and eat your damn lemons.  The girl and I were not prepared to just go to work when we had been looking forward to a holiday, so we bundled into my car and set off on an inpromptu road trip to the south coast of the UK and beyond.  We surfed in Devon, we visited friends and their children, we befriended dogs in a remote hotel in Dartmoor and had an adventure just the same.

We provisionally rescheduled our Barcelona trip for the Autumn -- but in the end cancelled it voluntarily in honour of an even bigger adventure because a friend and blogger was getting married in style at a swanky resort in Bali.   Never having been to Indonesia before, the girl and I emptied our savings accounts, pockets, wallets, and hearts and booked an adventure in Bali -- to follow a short break in Western Australia to visit family once again.

In between trips around the UK and trips to the other side of the world, the girl and I undertook our biggest adventure yet -- and moved into a flat in London's Docklands.  

We said we would do it in 2010, and I like to think that we made it look easy -- our first trip to look at flats, we found the one we wanted on the second viewing.  We just decided there and then it would be where we were going to live.  Several months on, we're still very happy with the place and haven't ever regretted that we didn't look around at more properties.

There were things I wanted to achieve in 2010, that I said weren't resolutions because it didn't matter about January 1st.  I wanted to learn to snowboard properly, rock climb without supervision, and get into shape.

So how did I fair?  I completed my rock climbing course...but didn't get around to taking a safety test.  I told myself it was because I didn't have anybody to climb with, and not living in London at the time I wasn't any use to anyone who wanted a climbing buddy.  It wasn't until I went climbing again with my work colleagues, found I was still good at it, still enjoyed it, and I was encouraged by the staff at the climbing centre to take my test so I could climb on my own.

I spent a week doing what I should have done months earlier -- practicing tieing knots, watching tutorial videos and generally preparing.  I took the test and failed.  There was a very crucial part I had forgotten, and having used a different sort of belay device the week before, failed to even spot what was missing.  I have realised since that I now need to take the course again before I am ready to take a test, but my plan is to recruit a colleague to join in with me so I have a ready-made climbing buddy.  It's January already, so I need to pull my finger out on this one or else I'll get left behind.  Again.

As for snowboarding properly...  Unlike many other years, I did go snowboarding.  In December.  I received an activity gift card as a Christmas present from work in 2009, and only in December did I get around to redeeming it against a snowboarding lesson.  Did I learn a whole lot?  Not really.  I could already carve up a storm on my heel-edge of the board, but I made some progress with the toe-edge, which is what has eluded me so far.  But I enjoyed it, and I improved, definitely, and will make a point to go again in the near future.  I think we can tick this one off, if only because I took a class and made some progress.

Did I get into a shape that isn't round?  Not even close.  If anything, I am probably more unfit than I was this time last year -- I failed to join a gym or take any kind of regular exercise.  There is a free gym to use in my apartment building, but it doesn't open early enough for me to go there before work in the mornings, and I've never had the motivation to go when I get home.  There's no excuse, I have easy-access to a swimming pool near my work and a fitness centre right next door -- I have just been lazy, and this Christmas has left me more out of shape than ever before.  Technically, my BMI still scores as healthy -- but I know this is only because it can't calculate what percentage of my weight is fat and not muscle.  I still fully intend to sign up for the Husky Dog Sledding charity expedition when dates are announced for 2012, which I am relying on giving me the motivation to get and stay fit -- but in the meantime, I just have to chalk this one up as a total fail for 2010, and start now to make sure 2011 doesn't go the same way.

On the other hand, in 2010 I did manage to get some surfing lessons in -- so that gives me a bonus point as I am now capable of jumping to my feet on a board.  More lessons will have to follow in 2011.

Goals for this year ahead then? Continue with snowboarding and surfing lessons.  Take rock climbing lessons again, with the aim of recruiting a climbing buddy and taking my safety test.  Following on from my guest post on Andy's blog, I also am committed to learning Spanish this year, and breaking out of my rusty cage to create a new career for myself...

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

All through the night, you could hear it in the fog

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All through the night, you could hear it in the fog.

Like the calls of great, strange whales -- deep and mournful -- the horns of the ships were each unique.  Some seemed like they were already aground, bellowing in anger, others much more distant -- sailing through the night to Spain, Scandinavia, and France and calling out to far away travellers.

How far away would a ship have to be before it could no longer be heard?  Do the ice crystals suspended in a fog help a sound travel better, or would it muffle the sound instead?

The cruise liners and the cross-channel ferries and the fishing boats continued their solitary journeys all night, periodically calling and warning with their fog horns.

Monday, 20 December 2010

"What will you do next year that you've been putting off for too long?"

Originally posted here, as part of the 20sb blog swap.

I didn't have to think too long about this -- even though as I rapidly approach 30, there's so many things I have been putting off for too long.  Putting off anything is probably putting it off too long! Among the many things are *Get into shape *Travel more *Get (or create) a job I enjoy rather than at best tolerate *Take part in a new fundraising adventure (like Peru '09).  

However, this isn't to be a list.  Me and lists haven't ever really been friends.  Instead I want to focus on just one thing that I have been putting off for longer than I'd care to admit.  I was inspired to think of it by this blog's charming host, Andy -- a Latin lady living life in France. What I will do next year that I have been putting off for too long is properly learn another language.  

Oh, sure. I learned French for several years at school, so I can walk into a hotel and say "I have a room reservation", I can ask what time the next train for Dieppe leaves.  I can order a meal, and I can make very limited conversation about my family.  But as soon as I am asked a question -- like is your reservation for a smoking or non-smoking room -- then being able to say "the cat is on the chair, the mouse is under the table, and the monkey is on the branch" is suddenly less helpful.  And despite all this talk of learning French, what I really want to learn is Spanish. I have been saying for years I will learn Spanish.  Most of the time it was "just because", because I like Spanish movies and the way the language sounds, or because I was going to Seville, or going to Peru, but like so many things (*ahem*, see above) it's never really happened.  Mainly due to laziness.  Before I went to Seville, I left it so late that the only language course I could get was some scratched CDs of Latin American -- so I was undoubtedly ordering tapas in Latin American Spanish with an Essex accent.  If I had kept going with the course, it would have come in very handy when I travelled to Peru a few years later. Peru was something that I had kept saying I was going to do, but I think people never really thought I would -- because I'm a dreamer and like to dream up big adventures but they don't materialise.  However, I was inspired by some mutual friends who did amazing things to raise money for charity and I went ahead and did it.  And like I say -- it was with very limited Spanish.  From my love of Spanish language films I could insult people in the various ways, and I could do the normal touristy things.  But it's not good enough for me now.    

This year we were meant to take a week's holiday in Barcelona, the girl and I, but unfortunately it got cancelled due to unforeseen volcano-related disruption.  I meant to learn Spanish before that holiday as well, and never did, and at the time I remember saying that at least this way I'd have time to really learn it for when we do go.  Any progress with that?  None so far.  2011 will change that.  I will be a man of my word, and a man of action.  Mostly because I am telling so many people -- and now a new internet audience -- about it that I will have no excuse not to.  One of my new colleagues at work is Spanish, as is one of my biggest clients, so there are very good reasons to do these things I promise. This time next year I will be saying more than just "Hablo un poco", "Dos cerveza, por favor", "Mi casa es su casa", "Si vende tormenta!"   or, my favourite, "No entiendo".  I don't want to just be functional, or conversational, and while I recognise that "fluent" is a big ask, if you aim for the moon and you miss, then at least you are among the stars.  

It's strange, in a way.  As time goes on I am discovering passions and interests that surprise me.  This isn't nearly as off-topic as it is going to seem.  

I mean, I have always liked words.  I loved being read to as a child, and from an early age I was making up stories.  When on a Monday morning we'd be asked to write about what we did at the weekend, if we did nothing interesting we could write about a game we played -- and I would from there write long, involved stories about the game I played with my Star Wars figures.  I read almost constantly, and while I regret now not being more diverse in my reading material, it's obvious that I have always been fascinated with reading and writing stories.  But what has only really begun to emerge out of that since my teens is a particular fascination with words themselves -- entirely apart from the stories they make up.  In more recent years, my fascination has extended to words in other languages -- their sounds are like poetry on their own, and books like 'Toujours Tingo' have opened my eyes to a galaxy of meanings and thoughts expressed through simple words. Had this interest been there from an earlier age, perhaps I would have taken language studies more seriously or given thought to things like becoming a translator.  

It's worth mentioning that other things that have bloomed in more recent years is an attraction to adventure sports (I was notoriously bad at sports when I was at school) and a reawakening of a childhood love of space.  But that's all beside the point.  

Returning one final time to the point, I have been putting off for far too long learning Spanish (and from there, the world! perhaps) but it's here in black-and-white. It's been put off for far too long, but next year I will learn Spanish.  

And hopefully also get into shape, sign up for another adventure, and all the rest.

20sb Blog Swap!

Today's post is guest written -- brought to you by the powers of the 20-something bloggers blog swap, in conjunction with Andy of And Then France Happened.  Don't forget to go say hi when you've enjoyed this post!
Action. What will you do next year that you've been putting off for too long?

Hi! This is Andy or Andrea (as you want) from And Then France Happened. I started this blog a few weeks ago, after moving my posts from one blog to another since 2008 (older posts are not in my blog). I come from a teeny tiny country in Central America (El Salvador), but then I moved to France to make my superior studies (I hate how that sounds, "superior", but that's how they call University in France). It's been a year and a half since I moved, and right now I'm at my aunt's, in Belgium, to spend Christmas vacations!

Without wanting to make a New Years' Resolution List, I know that I would love to change some things in my life. This year has been just great. I started a new chapter of my life, getting rid of former friends who I don't need anymore. I got new friends, a new apartment that I don't share with one of those unnecessary former friends, a new professional path, etc.

Changes are already announcing themselves: when January starts I will be in a whole new apartment, living with 3 other people. So, my first "resolution" would be to decorate my room. This is my 3rd apartment here in France, and yet I think that the only sign that I was living there was my mess. And the picture of my family hung over my desk. So I really need to feel like I am in "my" room in this new apartment.

I would also say that I probably need to take pictures more often. I have a GORGEOUS Canon 20D that I mostly use for taking pictures during parties. It's like I had a high-resolution compact digital camera. I know my pictures aren't that bad, but I also know practice makes the master. I'm not hoping to be a master of photography (because I only plan this to be a hobby), but at least take nice pictures I can afterwards print and frame proudly in my apartment's walls.

Languages are a weak point for me: I LOVE learning new languages and I feel that I have a little talent for it. I can fluently speak and write English and French, and Spanish is my mother language. But I would love to learn Italian and Portuguese. Many will say "what for?, learn Chinese or Japanese", but at the end of the day I'll learn them more for my pleasure than thinking of my CV. So this year, I'll take Italian learning more seriously.

I already lost my "chance" last year when I changed of professional path in my superior education. I can't make a "faux pas" anymore. I have to complete this academic year. I started with the right foot, but I feel I have also been slacking lately. I need to work work work. I need to discipline myself not to procrastinate. I need to learn how not to fall into temptation.

VoilĂ . Those are the points that I personally think I need to start doing, NOW. I know that if I start putting off some things, I will forget that I actually need to be doing them.

I hope you're all having great Holidays, I wish vacation will come shortly for those who are still working, I will say enjoy the snow if you have some outside (I do) and if not, enjoy the sun (if you have the luck), or in the worst of cases, enjoy the cold without snow (I don't know how you do it).

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Things fall into place

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Things today have felt a bit like they are falling into place.

I mentioned in a previous post about Marianne Cantwell's Escape Your Corporate Cage career course that I had enrolled on, after things failed to take off for me with the similar Screw Work, Let's Play programme.  This Tuesday will be the second teleclass of the program, and I have been working on my accompanying worksheets.

The first set had me start with imagining my dream life -- not so hard to do, it involved things like writing and living near the sea and working from home.  I came a little unstuck around having to come up with a kind of project the first week -- I just drew a blank.  Like with Screw Work, Let's Play and the book's "Play Wednesdays", it should be something that's fun to do and you enjoy and would ideally form a part of your ideal life.  It's pretty sad when you can't think of anything.

To try and make some progress, and because it comes highly recommended by Ms Cantwell and John Williams, I took the Wealth Dynamics test.  I voiced some reservations at first.  In some ways it isn't too dissimilar to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator -- that I took last year when I was out of work, and has no scientific validity its profiling.  While I wasn't assured of any kind of scientific validity to it, I was told that it would help with supporting me on the course if I did know what my WD profile is.

I wasn't exactly surprised when -- $100 later -- of the 8 personality profiles, I turned up the "creator".  I'd read that most people guess their profiles wrong before they take the test, but I would have been very surprised had mine turned up anything other than that.  Recently at work we were giving interviewees psychometric tests, to rate their scores in various aspects, such as creativity and organisation.  I scored off the chart for creativity.

Considering I score so highly for creativity, I was a little disheartened that my muse was absent when I wanted to think of something to do.  I could think of my plans and free range career options, just not some little thing I could do for a taste of it.

Fortunately, today that has all changed.  I have worked through my worksheets for week 2, and was required to outline 3 or 4 ideas for my free range career.  My ideas were as follows:

1. Writing childrens books, in particular books about a naughty zebra who won't do things like have a bath or get ready for bed.  Why a zebra?  I just like them, and while I like things like Bongos and Zedonks more, they are a little obscure for childrens books.

2. An adventure sport company that benefits local communities.  It's an idea I have written on here about before, and it's a fairly simple concept.

3. Feature writer.  Essentially, I write about what I am passionate about.  In this case, I plan to talk to passionate and inspiring people and write about them.
I was then required to eventually narrow down my ideas to just one I am going to pursue for now.  It was hard. It was extremely bloody hard.  I wasn't worried so much about choosing the wrong thing, but I didn't want to not pursue something I was excited about.  In the end, I have decided that my third option gives me all of the elements I want most for my free range lifestyle, and can work other parts into it.

Starting immediately I am going to make contact with people I want to interview for my features.  Since I promised this year I would contact Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage, they can be the start -- and my meeting now will be less "Can we have tea?" but more "I'd like to talk to you about your work".

I am excited and enthused to be starting on this -- the Zebra books can wait a little while.  I'm so excited I am ignoring that I have to go to work tomorrow, because this is really what my life is about...

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Long forgotten connection

Not so long ago, I got a "friend request" on Facebook from someone I didn't recognise.  I looked at the face, and I looked at the name, and I puzzled over it.  After a while and some digging through their profile, I finally worked it out -- this girl was my brother's ex-girlfriend.  From about 15 years ago.

I have no idea if my brother still has contact with this girl, but I expect he doesn't -- he isn't big into social networking, has limited contact with people from his past, and has long since moved away from our home town.

I found it more than a little creepy -- I mean, sure, we were quite close once.  When I was 15.  I think everyone drifted apart and found their own lives when my brother and this girl went to seperate universities, and I don't think it's unkind to say I've never really given her that much thought since.  What made it particularly weird for me was seeing that she had already added my parents as friends -- I wanted to tell her not to do that, to leave them in peace, they probably don't know that you aren't obligated to accept every request you receive.

Shunning her request, I thought no more of it.

Skip forward a few weeks or a month or however-long it was.  Another friend request turns up, from a girl named "Kate".  Following directly on from the weekend when I'd been talking to a friend and his fiance -- who is named Kate -- I accepted without thinking.  Then I noticed the little details -- about how our only mutual friends were my family, and I realised I'd accidentally accepted the long-forgotten sibling's ex.  Figuring it would be mean to delete her again, I moved her to Limited Profile so that she'd have restricted access to me and my life.

Seems that wasn't enough, since accepting her request was apparently like saying "please contact me further" and she sent me a long email.  Not much of it stands out, apart from the bit where she mentions having emailed my brother but not got a reply, and how she'd been looking at the photos of his boy.  I still find the whole thing more than a little bit weird.

I'm currently in a dilemma, despite all of the above.  I feel bad for not replying.  I know that I'm slightly offended when my emails go completely ignored, so part of me wants to send something -- however brief and short on details.  But the other part continues to insist that to reply will only encourage her -- and whether deliberate or not, my brother's tactic of not responding might be a better one.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

We're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine

During lunch recently, I was asked by a customer if my company was non-profit.  I had to stop myself from laughing when I told him "Not through choice".  What I dislike about working in sales is how I am encouraged to feel responsible for if the company is making money or not, like how when as a team we are told that sales needs to bring in about £100k before the end of the year if the company is going to avoid making a loss.  The direct implication being: work harder.  It's your fault if the company doesn't make a profit.

A few months back, when I went to the open mike poetry in Shoreditch park, I read a piece about "Gross Domestic Happiness", and the idea of it being a business model -- so, like the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, success was measured by happiness rather than by profit.  It was a very clumsy analogy, and not a very good poem either -- but I still entertain sometimes the idea of a company whose sole aim is to make people happy, the customers and the employees.

A colleague of mine recently left the sales team, and it was quite sad.  She wasn't happy working in sales, which was fair enough -- it's not for everyone, and probably not ultimately for me, either.  Her mistake, though, was to let on.  As soon as she mentioned that she needed a reference for some unpaid voluntary position she was applying for, things turned sour.  Suddenly she was having to have meetings and being told her performance wasn't up to scratch and that the company valued loyalty. In the end, she chose to quit shortly after a meeting where she was presented with evidence from google that had found her posting on an online message board about her plans for working abroad next year.  The whole thing didn't make anybody very happy.

I've been writing on and off about the proposed new opportunity for me in the company.  A chance to be creative and to get away from telemarketing.  I felt flattered that the boss would take into consideration what I was good at and what I would enjoy.  When interviewing new candidates for the sales team recently, we even made oblique references to it -- pay the company with loyalty and stick things through and they will pay you back.

Except this week I've learned that's not the case at all.  We had a team meeting yesterday to discuss our targets for next year and the changes that the hiring of new staff will bring, as well as the sales manager's impending maternity leave.  I was told that the new job we had been discussing for weeks or months is going to be put on hold for now.  It seems that all the talk before was really just talk.  The year ahead is going to be a complicated one, with roles in the team changing and our responsibilities increasing to take on more managerial and mentoring roles.  But still with the main focus on telemarketing.

Don't get me wrong, I shouldn't really complain.  The job has afforded me a lot of luxuries in recent months, and the next year will bring a small payrise, along with higher targets which bring with them higher earnint potential.  Just the same, when what I wanted was to be appreciated for what I am good at, it feels like a kick in the teeth.

After the class and program with Screw Work Let's Play didn't work out recently, I have jumped at the chance for something similar -- an intensive, 21 day program designed for creative people who are tired of jobs, offices and only living for the weekends.  Maybe that's all of us, but I don't want to spend another year just complaining about it -- I don't expect a miracle, but I am hoping to take away from it something to get me doing what I love, and getting paid for it.  Check it out yourself: Escape Your Corporate Cage.

I guess that's where we find me this week.  Let down, beaten up, overworked and disheartened, but perhaps in just the right place to start something to break me out of my rusty cage.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Pretty dumb

I don't know how long it has been like that, but I discovered yesterday I had accidentally changed the privacy settings on my blog to stop anyone being able to read without an invite.  Fixed now.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Stayin' out of circulation till the dogs get tired

Remember that phrase -- "stay out of circulation til the dogs get tired"? The theme to my travel writings, and probably what should really be the title of my blog. I've never known that it came from. Googling that exact phrase never brought back any results, now it only brings you to this blog -- and if anyone is already here, reading this, it's probably only by accident.

Tonight I had the gee-nee-us idea of googling the phrase without quote marks. It turns out that the line "is stayin' out of circulation till the dogs get tired" is from a Tom Waits song, "Gun Street Girl". I must have played the song about 5 times in a row since I discovered, it's amazing. I love it. I wish I could sing and play the guitar just so that I could play this song.

So that's it. Enough from me, more from Tom Waits whose voice sounds like a 40-a-day smoker who gave up the cancer sticks so he could spend more time gargling gravel.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Strike me

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In a weird sort of way, I kind of enjoy the Tube strikes in London.

I'm a big fan of changing my routine. Every day, I take the Docklands Light Railway to Bank underground station, and then change to the Northern Line. But every once in a while -- maybe once a week, sometimes not even that -- I will get off the DLR a stop earlier, and instead change trains to go in to Tower Gateway.

Tower Gateway DLR station is separate to Tower Hill Underground station, so there is a short walk involved in the interchange -- but what all this changing of trains business means is that every once in a while I get to walk past the Tower of London. It's humbling to look at this building that has stood for hundreds of years and seen prisoners, kings, queens, plotters, guards and tourists all walk over the same ground.

I read somewhere that only something like 10% of what we see each day is actually being physically "seen", the other 90% our brains just makes up from memory. When you visit somewhere new, there is almost a feeling of exhaustion -- as everything has to be seen afresh and processed.

A change to my journey's routine encourages me to notice and appreciate the things around me.

This morning, with various Tube services suspended and disrupted, I decided not to take a chance on being able to complete my journey in the normal way. Even if the required stations were open, there was a chance of being stuck on an over-crowded platform somewhere, unable to move among a mass of hot and bothered commuters.

Instead, I went overground to Shoreditch. I have nothing but affection for Shoreditch, and it is slightly better first thing in the morning than in the evenings. On a cold November morning, it was still waking up -- it felt like the streets were stretching themselves like a sleepy animal, and that at any moment a door would burst open and a band would stumble out from an all-night recording session, blinking in the light.

I took a turn down a street I'd never been down before, just because it was heading in the right direction and I'd seen other people going the same way. Before too long, I found a brightly painted wall with the word "Scary" and nothing more on it -- professionally, too, not in the style of a grafitti tag. This is something I'd never have found on any normal day.

I could go this way every day, if I was so inclined. But then it would become "normal", and I'd stop really seeing anything.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

The nights draw in

In the end, The Screw Work, Let's Play eSchool and/or Programme that I wrote about last time didn't happen for me. We could probably see that was how it would be at the end of the post -- I wasn't suitable for the eSchool, and couldn't afford the bigger Programme.

I can't deny I'm disappointed, but the guys involved were -- and are -- so incredibly nice and helpful. It wasn't their fault I don't have a clear enough idea of what I want to do to join in the SWLP eSchool, and I felt they were genuinely sorry they couldn't help to make the programme more attainable for me. I wonder if I'm even the target market -- perhaps it is aimed more at older, successful people who have had enough of the corporate life and want to be their own boss. Rather than myself, while not exactly counting as a "young person" any more, but far from successful in any of my chosen careers to date. And still searching.

Speaking of searching, my recent meeting with the boss was surprisingly productive, and I think I may have previously underestimated her. It's silly, because obviously she has been running and growing a business for the last however-many years, even if the company does sometimes seem to be balancing on a knife edge.

Completely aside from anything to do with the business itself, I get the impression that she has actually listened to my thoughts and feelings in previous meetings, as well as things I have said unofficially -- and combined this with her own perceptions of me, and my preferred methods of work. The outcome is that I appear to be offered a job that has been almost tailored to me -- sure, it's not my dream job, but nothing is going to be until I work out what that is. Just the same, if I have to stay in the company, then it's not a bad start to be in a job with more of a focus on social media, that takes me out of telemarketing, and gives me the time to be creative.

I was asked if it was a job I would apply for if I saw it advertised elsewhere. That's a difficult question, because I have seen recently quite how negative things can turn if an employer finds out you are looking elsewhere -- and the jobs I do apply for elsewhere never lead to anything. As I say, it's a start -- but it's getting to that start right now that seems a struggle, since first we have to recruit more members for the sales team, then have them all settled and trained and performing, before I can leave.

Outside of work and wondering what the hell I'm doing generally... there's not a whole heap to report. I've been meaning to get back into the rock climbing -- I even found out when the next course was starting, how much it was, and convinced a colleague to join in. Then plans collapsed when we ended up with more work and no chance to take part.

I remembered recently that I said before I turn 30 I would write letters to Alexei Sayle, Carol Ann Duffy, and Simon Armitage and ask them if I can have tea with them. Since the big 3-0 is rapdily approaching in the new year, there's no time to waste -- but the letters haven't yet been written. Or started.

The clock's went back to GMT in England this morning, so winter is on its way and the nights aren't so much drawing in, as they are drawn. It's that time of year where it gets dark, wet, and cold -- we should probably invest in one of those light boxes to keep the 'natural' light levels up.

Lots of people online are talking once more about NaNoWriMo -- I've never joined in before. And won't be this time, even though there's that rumoured zombie novel I'm never actually writing. I skipped last month's "Kid, I Wrote Back" open mike poetry -- partly due to only the day before returned from warmer climes, but partly because I'd felt the session we had in the park in the summer had gone horribly for me. That's no excuse, since I'd performed at an open mike since then in London at The Poetry Cafe, and been received warmly and appreciatively for my humour, talk of space and wonders of the solar system, as well as my actual poetry. Just the same, I have nothing written for the next session and no real ideas.

I keep thinking I want to write something about Jupiter's volcanic moon Io, because I think it's fascinating...but that's quite a big call for someone of very limited talent.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Left a good job in the city, working for the man every night and day

Something is wrong with me.
Every day, people go to work.
Plumbers, police officers, and postal workers.
Dustmen, doctors, and dot net developers.
Museum curators, masseurs, and Michael Jackson impersonators.

and me.

I feel sure that of all the people I see each day, everyone else is quietly going about their days, doing their jobs, and not thinking at least once a day " I need to get out of the place, but I have no idea what I could do any more".
What is wrong with me that I am not happy just having a job?  And not just any old job, but one that rewards me handsomely if I meet targets each month and each quarter. A job so simple that all I have to do is sell stuff, and if I want to earn more, I just have to work harder.

I should be thrilled that nobody's life hangs in the balance with what I do.  I should be grateful that I have a job almost guaranteed for as long as I can live up to my key performance indicators.  I should be kissing someone's feet in thanks for never having to worry about my safety beyond if the water in the cooler is looking a little green.

But we all know the drill by now: I'm not.

Thankfully, last week I read about the "Paid to Play eSchool", from John Williams and Marianne Cantwell, and it sounded like just what I needed.  I'm a reader and Twitter follower of both Williams and Cantwell (as regular readers will have noticed in recent posts), and was convinced from just reading about the eSchool that the cost would be a good investment for me.  It might not get me out of this job right now, but in time it would pay off when I was getting paid to do what I love.  I signed up, I was excited and I was nervous.

I wouldn't say I was now happy to go to work, but I could stand it better knowing that it could pay for something like this -- something that would help me work out how to use my talents and passions to make my way in the world, rather than just working for the man every night and day.

The trouble came a few days later, when I started to doubt my own suitability for the sessions. I read and re-read the synopsis, and started to wonder if it wasn't perhaps more pitched at people who knew what they wanted to do, but needed some help to do it, rather than fuck ups like me who are still kicking ideas about in their head like half-deflated footballs.  While I know that surely whatever I do must involve writing, I get a bit lost beyond that.  Sure, I could go in to the eSchool and say "I want to run an adventure sports company where the profits all go into helping the local communities where the activities are run".  But when I think about it, what about that would I actually enjoy?  What do I know about running any kind of a business, anyway, and is that the part I would actually enjoy -- or would it just be the adventure sports?  That's hardly a way forward.

I fired off an email, mentioning my thoughts and concerns -- and I hoped they'd say "Don't be silly!  That's normal -- everyone will be in the same boat as you!".  But instead, they agreed with me -- it wasn't right for me.  Now I feel like I can't even do this right.  I'm immensely grateful the organisers don't just take the money and run, they care about actually helping people (this is their own "paid to play" careers, I guess), and so it's important to get me in at the level that's appropriate.  Unfortunately, the appropriate level for me is going to be a lot more money than I have spare -- it's a work in progress, I'm waiting to hear back if there is anything I can do to make up the shortfall in cost between one programme and the other.

In the meantime, the boss has asked me for a meeting this week to discuss the job that we previously started talking about, and which I believe they moved the goalposts on and probably will do again.  What's supposed to get me out of sales and into social media and copywriting of email newsletters could just turn out to be a carrot on a stick, luring me ever forwards to keep me there.

I walk past people every day getting off the train and going to work on a building site neighbouring my flat, and I wonder if they ever think about their jobs -- or if they just get on with it, and accept it as normal.

Thursday, 14 October 2010


Image source:
Sometimes, I feel invisible.

I stand on the tube or the train, and I stand and stare into space, and I hang on to the overhead bar like a Rhesus monkey.  and I'm just like everybody else.

There's always people I notice.  They might be well-dressed, or just have such a presence and sense of personal style that they don't just stand out, they seem to be the only real person there.  I might pass them in the street or see them on the train and they are going about their own business, oblivious to most of the world around them, but they seem to exist more fully than other people.

I'm not alone in how I look or how I feel, and it is the very fact that I feel invisible that shows how unique and unremarkable I am -- I am the same in this feeling as almost everybody else I will meet.

How we dress communicates messages to the people around us.  It tells them how we feel, it tells them what we think of ourselves -- it can even tell people what we think of them, and of their opinions.  You can dress like a hipster or you can dress like a Goth.  You could be immensely well dressed and as confident as Gala Darling.  You could dress like Lady Gaga (if some of you guys are very confident), or you could leave the house dressed in a Star Trek uniform.  Most of us strive for some semblance of an individual style, without wanting to stand out too much and draw too much attention to ourselves. 

Most days I look at myself, and then I look at the people around me, and I wonder how anyone would ever notice or remember me.  It's probably exactly that sort of mindset that ensures that nobody does.

This goes much beyond how I look, It applies to my life.  I think about what I do -- not just work, but all of my interests -- and I think about who I am.  And I feel like an unnoticed face in a crowd, a name on a list that is quickly passed over.  A dust mite of history.

I know, essentially, we all are -- a pauper or a king, we are all part of the same compost heap. 

But I want to live the kind of life that is worth being remembered.  I want to be noticed.  Maybe if I start acting like the kind of person who would be, the rest would follow -- that's what contemporary psychologists and behavioural therapists tell us.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Warmer climes: part one

It's been a week since the girl an I returned from our jaunt round the Southern hemisphere -- in this case, a 2-week whirlwind trip of Western Australia and Bali.  I've been back a week and I haven't even started blogging about it until now, what kind of an animal does that?

My paper journal -- Stay Out of Circulation 'Til the Dogs Get Tired -- went woefully neglected, mostly because it wasn't really a journal kind of trip.  However, I did make some notes on my arrival in Australia, which will serve as a good intro to this post.  I'll write about Bali in a seperate entry, just to try and keep the visitor numbers above 1.
Monday 19, October

We arrived in Perth close to 1am.  Customs cleared, baggage reclaimed, we drive South.

Austrlian Highways don't seem to resemble the English idea of a motorway -- instead of there being six lanes of traffic, you just have one, long, straight road.  Driving at night, you stick to the middle to try and avoid any unwelcome surprises jumping into the road.  On either side of the road, dark trees and bush form a barrier before the black hills stretch to the starry night sky.

At one point, we stop to change drivers.  I kick my feet in the dust of the petrol station forecourt and am suddenly startled by the unexpected laughing of a bird.

By the time we reach Albany, dawn is breaking on Sunday and all around there are sounds of life.
 The first week of our holiday was spent in Albany, WA, visiting the girl's family.  We were blessed by unusually warm Spring weather, a kind of climate that suited me just fine -- and the residents of Albany all seemed happy with the result.

Albany is a city famous for its whales -- and specific times of year you can see either Humpback whales or Southern Right whales, and there are a number of tour companies running whale watching excursions.  Last year's visit fell right in the middle of the migrating periods of the two species -- one had left Albany's waters, and the other hadn't yet returned.  What this meant for me was there were no whales to be seen out there -- two trips on whale boats rewarded us with dolphins and seals, but not a whale.

I wondered if this visit would be the same.  I am pleased to report back that, instead, there were whales this time -- whales splashing in the water, just a short way off the beach, whales with calves, whales jumping out the water, whales splashing their tales.  Doing almost every damn thing except balancing beach balls on their noses, which everyone knows whales are supposed to do.

Overall, we didn't do a whole lot in Albany.  One day we drove out to the Stirling mountain ranges -- mainly so that the girl's Mum and Nanna could look at wild flowers, but I appreciated the opportunity to be out in the wilderness.  In an incredibly nerdy way, it made me a little bit exciting to be out in the mountains again, it reminded me of being in Peru last year.  Except this time, I wasn't nearly prepared for it -- while to make a round trip to the summit and back of several of the mountains we visited would only have taken about 4 hours or so, it needed to be planned for.  I had no water, no suitable clothing, and my trainers were falling apart on my feet.  Quite literally, I think you could see my sock through the gaping hole in one of them.  Just the same, I wandered up a mountain trail for almost an hour, before turning around and coming back.

Next time, I am determined I will go equipped -- with a day pack, my platypus water bottle, some real hiking trousers, and maybe a pair of boots.  About all I did have was a hat.

Other days we took walks along the boardwalk or the beach with the dog, or visited the forts and saw where the Anzac boats sailed from.

People in Australia -- mainly people outside of Albany -- have asked me since if, when we move to Australia, I could see myself living in Albany.  I don't know if they wonder what I think of it compared to London.  The truth is, the city of Albany has roughly the same population as the town I grew up in, out in Essex, where my parents still live.  The difference is Albany is spread of a much wider area, so there seems to be a lot more there.  Some people in Albany -- the girl's younger bro included -- have no intention of ever leaving, and particularly can't see why anyone would want to live overseas in somewhere like England.

One afternoon, the girl and I stood on the beach in the late afternoon sun.  It was about 4pm, so the kids were getting out of school and it was warm enough that many were coming down to the beach and to swim in the ocean.  As we stood there, the air was warm, kids were playing on the beach, and there was a whale to be seen only a little way off the coast, just splashing gently in the water...

When people ask me if I could live in Albany I tell them honestly that I could -- it was moments like that which made living in London seem much greyer.  But we could only live in Albany if there was anything to do.  If there was enough there that the girl and I could both find work, earn a decent wage, and be able to do other things we loved -- in that case, sure, it was a nice place.  It wasn't paradise, but where is?  It wasn't a bad place to be, if you still kept a healthy sense of adventure and love of travel.  But there are plenty of other nice places we can also be -- personally, when we are in Australia I have said I want to live in Fremantle, but it remains to be seen.