Thursday, 29 July 2010

Back home

We got back from the short holiday in Jersey today... to this wonderful cake that our daughter had baked for us.

Here is a shot of St Aubin harbour - I took three shots my son then "stitched" them together in PhotoShop... clever isn't it?

Saturday, 24 July 2010

25 years!!!

Yes murderers get far less I know... but Mrs F and I have been married for 25 years. Unbelievable but true - well as long as we get to Tuesday :-)

To mark this amazing feat we are off on a holiday sans kids. Yes totally kid free - apart from the odd weekend and we haven't had one of those for years we've never had a holiday like this. 6 years back we went to Dublin for a couple of days for Mrs F's 40th - however that was the last dark days of drinking and one brilliant fun day was ruined by me being an arse on the subsequent day - getting my sulking drinking head on. Anyway in the past that now.

So we are off to Jersey for the best part of the week - why Jersey? Because that is where we had our honeymoon - see romance isn't totally removed from my arsenal yet :-)

The kids? Well now there is the worrying bit - they are being left to their own devices! Nan has offered Sunday lunch and a dinner in the week, one day they are off to Bluewater to see a film etc. and there is plenty of stuff in the freezer... given our son is a capable "living away from home" student I'm sure they will be fine and not starve... however what the house will look like when we return is anyones guess!

Friday, 23 July 2010

Gordon Giltrap gig review

Gordon Giltrap Chatham Brook Theatre - Thurs 22nd July 2010

I went to see the absolutely excellent Gordon Giltrap play at the Brook Theatre in Chatham. The Brook is actually the old Town Hall - long since no longer a civic building since first Chatham merged with Rochester and then it all merged with Gillingham to become the Medway unitary authority some years back. Anyway the building which is an old Victorian building of some stature is still in use as a Theatre. It is a great little venue. I met up with Dave an old work colleague - now enjoying his retirement and my son came along as well. Mrs F was first of all going to come along but the Year 6 leavers disco straight after a day trip to the beach made her pass.

Anyway - what of Gordon. Well this is the third time at least I've seen him at the Brook and I've seen him before including a great gig and workshop I took part in at Margate some years back when Kent Council used to organise the Kent Guitar Festival. As ever his playing is simply stunning. Mesmarising even at times not just for the technical ability he puts in put often you find yourself totally drifting off enveloped within the tune. Gordon fills in between the numbers with some wisecracks about his time in the business but also talking about the inspiration behind the pieces - like a new blues number of his new Shining Morn CD "Five Dollar Guitar" that was inspired when watching Eric Clapton talking about and playing some Robert Johnson. Gordon played a few new numbers off the new CD and the usual raft of favourites - Dublin Day, On Camber Sands, Lucifer's Cage, Heartsong etc. His amazing looping song Dodo's Dream got a suitable brilliant outing as ever - how one man can do that on stage is beyond me - I know the looper idea is simple but he layers so much on that he risks one minor mistake to ruin the whole piece. Brilliant and brave!

As we left my son described the evening as "totally inspiring" - he has had his acoustic out playing with echo effects a la Gordon but he also said the discussion of inspiration had made him want to get out and take some pictures etc. You can't probably get a better recommendation than that can you?

For the equipment junkies out there - he mostly used his trusty Rob Armstrong figure of 8 guitar the one the new Vintage sig model is based on. He played one of the prototypes of that for one number as well - impressive sound! The Armstrong baby guitar came out for things like Lords Seat and Here Comes the Sun. A ceder top Fylde was used with partial capo on a couple of newer songs. His amazing fan fretted 12 string was used on two songs - that is an amazing guitar - the sound is just breath taking. For Dodos Dream the Variax was gone and a Vintage semi-acoustic with three P90s used - I think it must have had a piezo pickup on it for the acoustic sounds - I believe I read somewhere he was having one fitted to it. Effectswise mostly it was a Boss ME50 I think.

Overall brilliant and given the tickets were a tenner I can't believe more people didn't turn up. Go over to his website and check out the guitars and his gig list - if you can go and see him - trust me it is a throughly brilliant evening out.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

UK/USA relations

My last rant today... apologies but this stuff needed to come out.

The release of Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was probably a mistake - that mistake being that his release was based on the expectation that the poor man had only 3 months to live. He has survived now nearly a year more. Had he died in a week of release then I doubt we'd even remember the event. Was it a mistake to release him on compassionate grounds - I feel not. I always feel it is important that society rises above the retaliation "eye for an eye" kind of retribution those directly affected by something like this understandably feel. As a whole society should to my mind always be above the acts of those that they then show compassion to. This is why I can never agree with a death penalty for anything. Hold people in prison for their entire life if necessary but never sink to the depravity we supposedly are punishing them for in the first place. In this case though I personally think he should have died in gaol given the severity of his crimes.

However whatever the rights or wrongs on his release I really do object to some US senators demanding they hold an investigation this. Hang on this is a UK - well specifically a Scottish issue. How would the USA feel if we started debating that the Chilcott inquiry have its scope increased to determine what weapons were used in the battle of Fallujah? It's the tone I object to as though we are subservient to the USA senate - er sorry no we are a separate sovereign state - I'm happy for a legitimate complaint/issue to be raised with us and we'll decide what needs or doesn't need to be done but the tone to demand investigations is just wrong. Also I don't see our new government politely pointing out that we hear the concerns but that we should deal with it internally thank you.

This isn't helped by our new PM saying we are the "junior partner" to the USA - including according to him in 1940 when "we were fighting the Nazis". Erm - slight historical note here, we were at war with Germany from early September 1939 when we objected to the invasion of Poland. The USA did not join the war until after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour which if my history is correct wasn't until December 1941 and the USA only came into the war in Europe then since Germany declared war on them in support of Japan following the USA declaration of war with them.

So how were we the junior partner when the USA weren't even in the war? Great. To quote a line I always remember from the musical Time from the hologram narrator character Akash that Sir Laurence Olivier played... "they don't inspire confidence do they?"... indeed not at the moment

Graduate tax/tuition fees

Could this be the thing that breaks the Lib Dem/Tory partnership?

So Vince Cable (Business Secretary) recommends a graduate tax - the Tories instantly distance themselves from it - to them no doubt it's subtitled "Loss of middle class vote". Two things about this... firstly it shows the holes in the coalition along with Nick Clegg's mistakes when standing in at PM question time this week (Word of advice Nick - you cannot give a "personal opinion" when standing in for the PM - you have to stick rigidly to the "party line" else we all get confused and think that you don't actually agree with the policy that you are supposedly implementing - a quick learning curve here for what it means to be in the government not on the opposition benches I feel). If Vince is the Business Secretary he shouldn't be making public statements about potential policy for it to be debated openly. This is ok if we are in a public consultation but surely the government should debate things in government not through the media? New politics or just confusion... you decide :-) Oh my God - this is always getting to a Simon Cowell like programme - "The Politics Factor" Dear God!

Ok to the point that graduates should pay more back because they get their degrees... er don't they already do that? Isn't the figure something like you are likely to earn I think at least a quarter of a million more over your career with a degree rather than without one? If so the government takes at least 20% of that - more likely more like 40% - 50% anyway. Also what about the earnings and inward investment that a highly qualified workforce brings to the country. I'd like to see something review how much inward investment degree educated people bring into this country and hence the growth of the economy and hence income into the government. I really really think we are on a precipice here and we either make a decision that our future is as a highly skilled science and knowledge based economy or not... but what is the not? If you look like making it hugely expensive for graduates to work in this country why wouldn't they leave? So stay in UK with high tax levels and/or large student debt to pay off or go to the USA for example or more easily into the Eu where we all have the right to go live and work without any need for a visa or anything like that and they can leave that all the debt/tax behind. Once those decisions become prevalent in our post graduate workforce then companies looking for a highly skilled workforce as an attractive investment potential may go... build in the UK, with issues of currency being outside the Euro a dwindling graduate population or invest in USA (ideal if USA company) or in the Euro zone or India or China? Hmm.... What would you do if you were the CEO of a global company thinking about where to base new R&D or product design/development facilities in the future?

Time for some rants... NHS reforms

Okay I've been holding off on some of this stuff but there is a load going on in the world that I just need to let off my steam about. So a bunch of posts to follow...

NHS reforms

So hang on - the government have hardly warmed up their newly acquire leather seats and are no doubt still cleaning out the 4000 paper clips at the back of the drawer left by the last encombant and they come up with this load of nonsense! Firstly - where the hell was this in the manifesto? Really bugs me we elect people on a set of "promises" and then they either don't do that or come up with some totally new. If this was in the plan why wasn't it debated in the election campaign? If they've only dreamt it up since being in power that is even more worrying - you can't take something like the NHS and dream up a reform of this magnitude over night.

My issues with it? In principle the putting the money closer to the patient sounds sensible but... how will you make big funding decisions about where in an area you will have centers of excellence - whether the MRI scanner is a better investment than some other bunch of equipment. The government tell us GPs will be making these decisions - sorry? I thought we wanted them face to face with patients - I'm sure that is what most of them think their job is not endless budget planning meetings and co-ordination across practices and hospitals. I just see the risk of this as reduced investment in the latest technology, confusion, dilution and duplication of services in local areas, reduction of some lesser used services and an explosion in third party management companies coming in to "take the management burden" away from the GPs. Great for some companies but I really feel that not managing the money / investment at a regional level is a potential recipe for disaster.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Book Review - The Chosen One by Sam Bourne

I've so far liked all Sam Bourne's books. His first was "Righteous Men" which was excellent. This is his fourth effort. He has had some recurring characters in some of his novels since then and this one features a character from The Last Testament his second novel.

The plot of this one is more typical thriller than his previous books which I thought did stand out a little in the crowd - I'm sorry this one doesn't. Central premise is that the returning character (Maggie Costello) is an advisor to a brand new USA president who has just won a surprise landslide victory. Maggie has worked with him in his campaign team and then on the White House staff. However soon after he comes to office he is attacked by a series of revelations about his past to oust him from office. These come from one man who then dies in an apparent suicide before the final killer revelation. Maggie goes investigator to track down what is happening.

So it is okay a fast paced typical thriller but I was a little disappointed since as I say Sam's books in the past have had more of a atypical twist or plot line and the twist in this one is so telegraphed that surely no one can have figured what is coming in the big reveal way before it happens. But if you like thrillers a la Dan Brown etc. it's a reasonable effort - above half marks anyway

One last thing Same Bourne is a pseudonym of Jonathan Freeland who is a journalist working for the Guardian and The Jewish Times - no problem with that I suppose but the fact that it is a pseudonym is plaster all over the jacket and the bio of the author on every copy of every book of his, so I wonder why bother? Odd.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Back from Wales... and painting

We popped to Wales to collect the key for Son-of-Futheron's new flat. He has come up trumps. It was only marginally more a month than his old place but much much cleaner and nicer. It is smaller too only 2 sharing rather than 6 which in the old place meant the kitchen was something of a bottleneck. Anyway he was really chuffed with it and hopefully he'll be there at least two years - that is the plan anyway with any luck maybe a third. The lad he is sharing with this coming year will be in his third and final year but has talked about staying on for a masters which if that happens will be easy then for the two of them to stay on in the flat for 2011 - 2012. The next year will be his final year on his masters and he'll need to find a new roommate potentially but hopefully that'll not be an issue.

So back home and back to the routine... only I don't really have a routine at the moment what with being unemployed. So mid morning I thought - I could paint the back of the house. One of those "jobs on the list" I had drawn up as impending redundancy loomed. It's the only bit of the exterior we need to paint the windows, doors, gutters etc. all being plastic but the soffits and fascias on the extension and the door and window at the back of the garage are still good old painted wood. So I found a tin of paint - gave up trying to open it after about five mins and went off to B&Q to buy some new! Only took me a couple of hours and all done. Must repaint the shed and the kids old playhouse, which was a guinea pig house for a while and now just a store things in place, we have a family gathering soon for our 25th anniversary and hopefully with good weather our great nephew will put it to good use on that day at least.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Too busy to be unemployed

So where does the time go? I'm trying my best to be a good "house husband" for the moment. For many years I've been up, scoffed my breakfast and left the house before 7am, done the work thing and then arrived home at about 6pm to a meal waiting on the table. Oh yes the house is clean, the washing has been done, the washing up dried and put away and the ironing done so when I open the wardrobe there was always a selection of shirts etc. So I appreciate that my wife has done all that whilst still working herself. So I'm doing the washing up in the mornings, helping with the washing (provided useful written instructions on the intricacies of washing machine programmes have been left for me) and have been cooking in the evenings.

So I have this list of stuff I was/am going to do whilst not working... looks to be a "slow burner" activity frankly. Still I am having the time to go swimming regularly - I've moved pools since the one I was using was more convenient for going on to work in the mornings, and also I have a membership to this other one courtesy of my daughters swimming team - so it's a lot cheaper and a bit nearer. The lanes are bigger there as well so the overtaking isn't so much of a pain. My son has been coming along as he considers he has been taking the lazy student attitude too far and needs to get some exercise in. I also took him off to Rochester to do some photography - he is making "planets" - you take a load of photos from a stationary point in a circle. You then use a program to stitch them together and then it looks like a little planet. Best you go to his site where you can see them better than I can explain them. Anyway his Rochester one is excellent. We went in a little cafe called "The Deaf Cat" - I should have asked why? - and they sell art on the walls and they had some of these by a photographer mostly of bridges in London and they wanted £85 for them. I think we should go back and get some more - we couldn't do one in the castle gardens as they are setting up for a Status Quo gig there tonight. I'm biased but his are very good, esp as he uses the free software and has to do a lot of the manipulation manually - plus they'd be local to Rochester.

Soon off to Wales to sort out my sons new flat as well... oh yes and I've a gig playing in a band lined up for next weekend at a private party... it's all happening you know. How did I find time to work before?

Monday, 12 July 2010

New Gordon Giltrap signature guitar

Gordon Giltrap has had a few signature guitars in the past - I played one of the Flyde ones of his some years back at a guitar show and that was a stunning instrument but with a hefty hand made price tag to match. How however he has teamed up with Vintage who are imported via JHS to this country and have been getting a good reputation since Trevor Wilkinson began working as designer/consultant to them. The list of endorsees makes them appear to be punching well above their weight in the sub £1000 bracket.

Well into the acoustic arena they now have a Gordon Giltrap model - the VE2000GG. Based on a model that Rob Armstrong made for Gordon some years back, Rob has been involved in the development of this production verion. There is a 12 string version available as well as the 6 string. It has Fishman electrics fitted - namely a Sonicore pickup and a Presys Blend preamp. So any good? Well good enough for Gordon who in this YouTube video is playing it at a recent JHS event.

Thought you might be interested now... best bit. Under £500 including a case! I don't think these will stay in shops for long frankly.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Stag weekend

We have returned from the stag weekend! Well let's be fair it was hardly the most raucous affair in the world :-) My son and I accompanied by brother and his younger son on a weekend in Hastings. We played "adventure golf" - I lost and my son scored a completely improbable hole-in-1! We went up the refurbished East Hill Cliff Railway, had a great curry and found a great live band Loose Moose in a pub in the town center - away from the night clubs.

Whilst the boys were away... the girls went on the Hen Do - which was my sister, my nephews finance, Mrs F and Daughter-of-Furtheron together with the bride to be, her daughter and her sister-in-law and her daughter. They went to London and caused chaos in their cowgirl hats on the London Eye and at Planet Hollywood.

Great time had by all. Almost can't wait for the wedding now - which is in August :-)

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Over and out

So that is that. I spent today deleting everything off my laptop, handing back my blackberry, credit cards etc. and shaking a good number of people's hands as I finally left the company.

Very odd feeling. I'm happy to go as I've not been satisfied in work for a while but suddenly something that has been such a huge part of my life for so long won't be there any more. That is really really odd. It'll take some time for me to stop thinking things like "I must mention to ...", "I wonder if so and so did..." etc.

I was again very touched by some of the parting comments from people. I often struggle with self image, see I see myself as this person who just pretty much bumbles through life hoping to not do too much damage and maybe help out somewhere along the line. To have people compliment me is frankly a bit painful - I cringe inside thinking but this could be better, or if only you knew how I felt about that inside etc.

I had a coffee with the boss on my site of our department - he used to be my direct boss and a friend over some years. He has been dealing with the local stuff around my departure since I reported directly into a boss in the USA. Anyway he talked about another guy who left a while back and I really related to what that person had said to him that he felt for a long time he was simply drawing a salary not earning it. I completely understood what he meant and how it had left him very unsatisfied. You can be paid very well and be doing a job that has few new challenges but it does leave you feeling a fraud - even if you are very busy.

However onwards and upwards (or sideways and down in my self view of my life :-)) and I know it is overdue for me to move on to something else. I'm very lucky that I'm in the position to actually take a break for a while and be able to look at some options for the next step - or leap in career. So for a while some time with the family before anything new.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Counting the hours....

So on Friday my colleagues treated me to a terrific "official" send off. I think I got off lightly in many ways given all the dirt they could have dug up on me :-) However many of the people there were still at school - actually some of them may not have started school when I joined the company in 1991 so a lot of the jokes that were about the dim and distant past probably made little sense to them. Some of my old cronies also came along, friends who've left in the last couple of years, that was very touching that they wanted to come back and wish me well.

I was very touched by the polite speech given by one of my old bosses and someone who has been quite a friend over the years I've been here and then a somewhat irreverent one by one of the comics of the department, however I was flattered the last time he did one of those it was our old big boss who'd gone on to be a VP I think or something stratospheric anyhow. He was there as one of the cronies and that was lovely as he was the man who was prepared to stand by me in the very dark days when I had to take myself off to rehab.

So although I've had the send off and the card but I'm actually still at work until Wednesday this week. I've little to do - some final question answering for the people taking over from me, a fair few handshakes and then giving back all the bits and bobs you collect... Amex card (shame that would have come in handy for the holiday :-))... etc.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Real Tears

One of my Father's Day gifts was Marillion Out of Season - three DVD pack of all three nights they played at the 2009 convention in Holland. This is one of many many highlights. Nearly 6 hours worth and I was still left thinking... but Beautiful wasn't on the set list or Man of a Thousand Faces... etc.

Anyway as a taster here is 8 mins worth of the great Real Tears For Sale.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Surprise party

Last night we had a surprise party for my sister and brother-in-law to celebrate their 30th anniversary. My niece had done all the arranging. They had been invited to a meal with some friends ostensibly to celebrate at a small dinner just the four of them. However there was a large chunk of the family (sadly my brother couldn't make it through work commitments) and lots of their friends. Some of those I knew from old but haven't spoken to for years so that was an interesting catch up as well.

Anyway we were all in the garden and told to be quiet as they were spotted walking up the road. They were then lead through and us all cheered. They were completely bowled over. Also we'd dug out loads of old photos etc. and my nieces partner had made up a movie with them all which was terrific fun... even the photo of me with long hair at their wedding :-)

Fantastic night - all enjoyed it.