Monday, 27 February 2012

Did you go to the Oscars?

Or the Brits?  Or the Grammys?   (Isn't Grammys spelt incorrectly?  It isn't an apostrophe meaning a belonging to Grammy and if it is a plural of Grammy then surely it should be Grammies?  - just thinking...)

No?  Well neither did I.   It made me think, does every industry have these big award things?  Well for IT in the UK we have the annual BCS awards - no I didn't get an invite to them either.  However that looked quite a glitzy affair from the photos.   However there wasn't much coverage on the 10 o'clock news about those awards or the Cost Sector Catering Awards 2011.  I was pondering the fact that the industries that probably least require any more publicity since they are all about publicity in general (film, music, tv etc.) are the only ones that get mass media coverage but I'm sure the winners of the Social Care category in the Cost Sector Catering Awards are as deserving of recognition (if not more so probably as by definition they don't have endless budgets to produce their entries.  But that is the way of the world the fluff and glitz of show business gets more attention as ever than the real heroes in the world helping others everyday to live a little bit better life.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Heartsong

My version of Gordon Giltrap's Heartsong. Some editing and the fingerpicked section is based on some of Gordon's shapes with a fair about of adlibing - not a slavish copy! :-)  Enjoy!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

To boldly go...

Or to go boldly if you aren't into splitting your infinitives.

I blogged on this a while back that there are actually fewer humans and it has been longer since we went to the bottom of the deepest ocean on earth than man going to the moon!   Here is a great summary by the BBC on the current challengers in the race to the bottom of the ocean.  Doesn't that sound like a Jules Verne type novel/film with Victorian adventurers and lots of steam pipes hissing and scary previously unseen monsters of the deep attacking you...   oh only me then

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Book Reviews - Ghost Rider by Neil Peart and Anything You Want by Derek Sivers

Anything You Want by Derek Sivers.

I can't remember who recommended this one.  Anyway if you want a great insight in how to start a business from nothing with the only attitude of helping out a few mates and grow it into a business with 85 employees, international recognition and then can sell it for £22million then this is the book for you.  Derek has a very different approach to business, no doubt since he'd been a professional musician and songwriter most of his working life, trained and the Berkley School of Music (just being there is a definition of a hugely talented musician) and therefore had no idea about the "right" way to set up and run a business.  He didn't bother with things like privacy statements and T&Cs for example... my legal advisors will be shaking in their boots at this point!  He describes his method of hiring people as "ridiculous" - i.e. he asked current employees if they had any friends who might be able to do the job and were they cool and could they start tomorrow!  However his company won awards in "best place to work" reviews.   CDBaby was an amazing model in that it bucked the trend of the music industry when set up and frankly probably still is today.  Today even I could get my music onto iTunes and have anyone in the world buy it from there.  That is radical compared with 10/15 years ago and CDBaby was a catalyst in that change. 

For me I've considered many times - "What business could I do?".  Problem I have like no doubt virtually everyone else who things about it are manyfold.  How do I pay the bills whilst setting it up?  Do it in spare time... right I spend 13 hours a day going to and from work and working so not impossible but you know...  Then what can you do?  CDBaby was an idea that no-one else had and that was why it grew so incredibly well.  An original idea - now that is a real stretch isn't it.  Derek argues - go for small and what makes you happy.  For me - I'd love to be a professional singer/songwriter - but sales of music are contracting in double digit percentages as free downloads are the way to go now etc.  And I'm not original...   Ok guitar teacher or guitar tech - I'd love that everyday just about music.   But... limit income you can't grow and really luxury market - when the going gets tough (as it is now and for the foreseeable future) paying for the kids lessons and paying somebody to set your guitar up is hardly going to be high on a list of priorities...   All this really goes to show is my instantly pessimistic nature and my ability to negatively project any future scenario.

Great book - made me laugh in many places, good lessons if you are an entrepreneur in the making.  A definite double thumbs up... really have to get the "Thumbometer scale" paper published ....

Ghost Rider - Tales from the Healing Road by Neil Peart.

Ok - Neil Peart is a genius and I am a huge fan of his.  He is one of a few musicians who don't play the guitar who I'd say have genuinely influenced me musically - Jaco Pastorius, Stephen Grapelli,Chick Corea being other notables.  He also writes fantastic lyrics and clearly is a master of prose.  I've been a fan of Rush since the 70s and continue to love their music to this day.

I found this book a hard read - in the space of less than a year in 1997/98 he suffered the double tragedy of his teenage daughter's death in a car crash and his partner of over 20 years dying of cancer - although he maintains it was of a "broken heart".  I defy anyone to read the first chapter of this book covering those events and not be moved by it to feel the immense grief the man suffered.  The rest of the book covers his recovery over the next couple of years or so.  Already he had been a keen motorcyclist often riding on his bike with his friend Brutus between shows on Rush tours.  He set out on a series of long adventures through Canada, USA, Mexico and Belize.  He covered 55,000 miles in total.  The book is his reflections through that time as he tries to come to terms with his grief, rebuild his "baby soul", as he calls it, and determine a way forward.   For a long time he turned his back totally on music not even able to face playing the drums, he told the other members of Rush to "consider me retired".  They had the grace and patience to wait for him to recover.  He refers to his old life as "that other guy" as he felt such a dramatic change in him as a person.  He had intended for much of the trip to be taken with his friend Brutus but he unfortunately was unavailable due to a bit of a brush with the law!  Much of the book is actually copies of letter from Neil to Brutus and others as he makes his journey.

I recommend this book with a reservation that whilst the final ending is a good place where Neil gets back to drumming, writing lyrics and working with the band again with a new love in his life and at peace it is at time deep, dark and melancholy.  It does make me grateful though that I haven't suffered these tragedies though.  So a single thumbs up and a slight warning to consider if you want to look under that particular hood of emotions.

Is he talking about me?

Funny some weeks back I posted on here that I was sort of moving more towards SoundCloud as the window on the web to my musical endeavours.  However almost no sooner had I said that than I had a new host of people who've become fans at my Reverbnation site.  How the wheel of fate churns... so I've decided to have a SoundCloud and Reverbnation widgit on here now.

Also I've found some stunningly good music via this as well.  If you want free music to listen to you can do a lot worse than heading over there and plugging into some of the artists.  Clearly play my stuff first then look at the artists I recommend and just look about.  I've found really good metal artists, great folk singer songwriters and others.

Finally one such discovery on there led to one guy (Markke) putting this comment about my material on my site.
 
From the rhythmic catchiness of "All At Once", to the gentle acoustic sensitivity of "Partial", to the haunting contemplativeness of "Round & Round" & "The Man Inside", intertwined with the playfulness of "Within" & "Waterfall", Graham Hunt plumbs the depths of his soul with his memorable melodies, sincere simplicity & revealing introspections. His music is steeped deeply from the rich folk traditions of England & Scotland, & his guitar work is highly skilled, intricate & delicate

One word... Humbled!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Panorama programme on "Britain's Hidden Alcoholics"

Panorama last night on the BBC had a very interesting programme about Britain's Hidden Alcoholics.  It was presented by Alistair Campbell (I can't say one of my favourite people, he embodies the unelected "spin doctors" that often seem to be more influential in policy setting than the politicians we actually elect these days).  Anyway that is irrelevant to the programme's topic which I thought he presented excellently.

He speaks from personal experience when dealing with problem drinking and alcoholism.  He rightly states that the focus of media attention seems to be on the very public binge drinking culture prevalent in the younger generation in Britain today.   Those endless newsreels of the falling down drunks littering the streets of many inner cities and towns across Britain every weekend. However he believes there is actually a bigger problem with hidden middle, professional class drinking.  Given I was not too dissimilar to Mr Campbell in that I was a functioning drunk for years with a good job that I outwardly was doing well in, two cars on the drive of a nice suburban semi-detached house, two kids, long term marriage etc.  Your typical alcoholic.  No?  Well yes actually, whilst there is no sweeping generalisation of an typical alcoholic a lot of people I know who are now in recovery fitted closer to the stereotype I've just described when drinking than the unwashed, homeless, park bench occupying drunk many have as a mental caricature of an alcoholic.

It was this group of people that the programme focused on.  Those that "have a couple of large glasses of wine to unwind in the evening".  Even that level is beyond what is considered safe by the medical experts, especially if consumed every day.  A consultant from Southampton also pointed out with 24 hour licensing and the overall reduction on alcohol costs when compared to per capita incomes of the last couple of decades we have adopted a European culture of wine with meals both at home and when out but also continue to have our "let's get wasted at the weekend" British culture as well.  He described it as "the worst of both worlds".

As interviewees related their stories I just sat and nodded as I would if hearing a "drunkalog" at an AA meeting.  In part almost everyone who talked on the programme told a part of my story too.  Another (if ever needed) affirmation that I am an alcoholic.

Some stats given in the programme...

  • 41% of professional men drink more than the recommended daily limits
  • All major causes of death in the UK are in decline (this includes heart disease and cancer etc.) by rates of between 20% and 60% except liver disease which is rising at a rate of 100%.  
  • Liver disease now claims 100 lives a week in the UK
  • 9,000 people die a year from alcohol related illnesses

Just pause and relate last one to something you can think of.. That is considerably more than the average attendance at a Gillingham FC home game.  It is approx 17 times the entire population of my daughters school.

One very eminent medical type described it as a "crises", an "epidemic".

Now as you'd expect I have a particular view on my alcoholism.  I tried desperately, and with complete failure, to regulate my drinking for a long time, the last year of my drinking was a constant battle to "drink like a normal person".  For whatever reason I cannot do that.  All that was happening in that last year was I was moving from a daily drinker who "topped up" to an irregular "binge drinker", where the quantity consumed and effects it may have were getting less and less predictable.

In the end finding a solution (the AA programme) which was total abstinence has been for me a practical workable solution.  In the Panorama programme others at a  rehab, no doubt not dissimilar to the one I went to, were now also convinced total abstinence was the best option for them.  Mr Campbell had been "dry" (sic) for 13 years but had started to "have the occasional drink" now and then.  He said he liked the control of saying "no" but admitted openly that it was a struggle to refuse that next drink.  He also said his psychiatrist that has treated his depression thought his return to even some drinking was "a bad idea".  Finally he says that during the making of the documentary he had "stopped again". 

I can't speak for Mr Campbell obviously but my thought on his return to "normal drinking" was - "Why would you take the risk?"  For me I never had a normal, good or balanced relationship with alcohol, I was never really ever a social, normal drinker - on certain days in certain situations yes I put on the front but behind that there was a craving and a yearning I had to feed at some point later... or before.  Getting 5 or 6 pints in before the works social do was common for me so I could appear "normal".  I consider me taking a drink again like playing a game of Russian Roulette - maybe the chamber will be empty; the drink will do nothing I'll walk away and order a cup of tea the next day - however what if the chamber isn't empty and it sparks of that craving for me to ignore all sense and start allowing drinking to dictate my ever waking (and sleeping no doubt) moment.  Planing when to drink, hiding that, not being where I ought to be, letting people down, lying, risking my life and others through reckless acts such as drink driving... etc. etc.

A very thought provoking programme which was closer to home for me than many in more ways than one... one of the interviews was filmed on a bench in a square no more than a long cricket ball throw from my current work office!

If you have found this post because you believe you have a problem with alcohol I urge you to get help.  AA in the UK has a 24 hour help line manned by volunteers who are recovering alcoholics call 0845 769 7555.  You can look at the AA website information for newcomers.   Alternatively talk to your GP or look for Alcohol Services provided by the NHS in your area.

Also at the top of the blog there is a link to a page about My Drinking Story which if you are interested in how I got here might provide a little enlightenment.

Finally all comments are approved by me before appearing on this site publicly.  If you wish to say something to me anonymously and not wish it publicly please do so - just indicate that you want me to delete the comment.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Muppet Movie!

Yes we went to see the Muppet movie :-) 

Now for me the Muppets were an integral part of my adolescence - the shows they used to have on the TV were just great entertainment, Fozzy with his awful gags, the hecklers, the chickens, Gonzo and his mad stunts, the Swedish Chef and of course, Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, the resident band - who were a great influence!  What a great name as well!

Ok so the movie is centred on a great muppet fan who finally gets to go to LA and go on the Muppet Studio tour.  However this blurs truth as the show was originally recorded in Hertfordshire England!  When he gets there it is a ramshackle place virtually forgotten and about to be pulled down.  He sets out to find the Muppets and put on a new show to save it.

The Muppets never age and the gags are there in spades for the adults.  My daughter said I wasn't to laugh out loud!  But she was laughing all the way through!

Two brilliant bits that show this shows timeless qualities.  Kermit and Miss Piggy have broken up their relationship but are forced together due to the show to save the studios.  There is the poignant moment when Kermit is apologizing... a young girl behind me in the cinema was leaning forward in her seat saying "Tell her... Tell her... Tell her you love her"... brilliant!   And Walter the fan has a piece in the show which when he finishes leads to a standing ovation - the little girl next to us sat on her Mum's lap by now, it is long for under 5s, burst into the applause as well.  Beaming smiles and all.  That is why the Muppets should never die!

A picture of Jim Henson with Kermit is on the wall of the old celebrities on the wall in Kermit's old office at one point - a lovely touch by the makers.  

So recommended by me - might be best if you at least have an under 10 we did stand out a bit with our average age of 37! (Just a good job my daughter was with us!)  Still my son took his girlfriend to see it as their Valentine's night out!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The New Troubadours

A while back I reflected either on a post here or on someone elses blog about the demise of the Troubadour, in the last few years we've seen Davy Graham, John Martyn and Bert Jansch pass away taking with them a legacy of the solo guitarist forged in the folk clubs of the 50s and 60s.  Davy Graham is a case in point - rarely ever quoted in "the most influential guitarist ever" polls but really he should be, he was a real trail blazer with creating a steel string instrumental fingerpicked style that continues to this day.  Yes Bert Jansch and John Renbourn continued and expanded on it but esp Anji by Davy was a pivotal piece in establishing that genre of playing.

Anyway recently I realised I should reconsider my position on this statement - i.e. there are plenty of excellent troubadours out there performing and recording and it is a very healthy scene.  Let me tell you about some I've been listening too over the last year or so.

Jon Gomm - WOW - that was the three letters Stephen Fry Tweeted with the link to the youtube video of Jon playing Passionflower.  You can't really give a better review than that!  That clip has now had over a million hits.  Jon is not only a stunningly inventive solo guitar player but a great lyricist and singer too.  I urge you to spend a few minutes listening to him at least.




Next up Andy McKee.  Andy is someone I keep coming back to listen to.  Such musicianship, dynamics and soul in his playing.  He is again a hugely inventive player - he sometimes uses Harp guitars. Much forgotten about in recent years these guitars are sort of normal guitars but with additional strings that you don't finger at all on a fretboard but use purely open as drone notes.  I met Stephen Sedgewick a couple of years ago at a guitar show at Olympia - he lives near me and makes these incredible instruments.

Again here is Andy playing a harp guitar to stunning effect. To date over 8 million people have watched this!





Gareth Pearson is a relatively new find of mine - encouraged by Tommy Emanuel (another great player btw) Gareth is a great solo instrumentalist.  He often like Jon and Andy above takes known popular songs and rearranges them for solo guitar and some them are just brilliant.  Here he is playing the old Micheal Jackson hit Billie Jean...




Finally some other worthy mentions...

David Mead - fantastic player, very gentle almost completely classical style pieces but mostly on steel string. he uses alternate tunings and partial capos to great effect.

Richard Durrant - incredibly inventive classical guitarist but he does very special stuff...  He has a DVD called the Guitar Whisperer - worth seeing just to see his one man rendition of Tublar Bells, ok there are some taped backing stuff helping but it is still just amazing.

Finally couldn't not mention Gordon Giltrap - my old influence.  Mrs F bought me another of his music books for Christmas and I'm close to a passable but ham fisted attempt at Heartsong now which I've always wanted to have a crack at.

Morning has broken...

Go on hands up - who has got an image and an audio loop of Cat Stevens playing in their head right now?

Anyway - I opened the front door this morning and was greeted by... blue sky.  Whilst to the west there were threatening rain heavy lead grey clouds to the east it was a pale blue sky with golden pink on the horizon and on a few lighter whiter clouds in that direction.  Birds were chirping away on in the case of the ring collared Doves coo coo ing at each other.  The last little piles of snow are still in some of the local gardens from the piles we had about 10 days back but this was the first day since Autumn I remember leaving my house for the walk to the station in daylight.  Spring will soon be here it seems and the cycle of life in a year rejuvenated again.  If the doom mongers and catastrophe predictors are right we'll never see the like again as the long predicted end of the world will hit us.  You know I can't help feeling that they are wrong, as ever...

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Our house...

... in the middle of our street!  Well actually we're not we're near the end going down the slope towards the shops.  Anyway enough of this Madness... (get it!)

It was 20 years ago today Mrs F, myself and a wee 18 month old toddler that is somehow now the lanky bearded thing that is Son-of-Furtheron moved into the house we now live in... *fanfare in background*

I feel in love with our house the moment we walked into it - it ticked the boxes in terms of location, size, style etc.  Only problem...  Well there were a lot actually, someone had put some awful slatted wood up the side of the staircase, the wiring was a deathtrap (despite the previous owner claiming the multitude of additional sockets was a selling point), the back of the garage - well wasn't it was some old dividing internal doors someone had put there when they were no longer needed between the dining room and the lounge, the bathroom was awful - a deep blue suite, yes remember the 70s?   Etc. etc.  widows needed replacing etc.  However there was just something that felt right about it.  I'm glad I stuck with that gut feeling bought it and over the years did all that we needed to - by now actually there is little of the original house remaining other than the walls!  New windows, front door, front garage door, new wall and door to rear of garage, new roof on the extension, new stair-rail, new heating and hot water system, new bathroom suite and retitled bathroom, all internal doors replaced, new kitchen installed, all electrics replaced... 

However the one thing it has always been for me is home.  That is disticntly different from "a house we currently live in".  The kids have grown up in there, one has even now semi flown the coup to university and it'll not be long before he's fully gone, my daughter came home a little bundle in a blanket to that house, we've had kids parties, 21st parties, our 25th wedding anniversary, I had my final breakdown with the booze in the bedroom that my daughter now occupies and sobbed my heart out before going off to rehab etc. it has all those memories and more.

"Home is where the heart is and where the heart is there is home"

Monday, 13 February 2012

Those who are left behind

The five regrets post that I put up came about as I was thinking about something ...  I don't know why but a melancholy moment the other day led me to wonder about that people in my life who are no longer in my life.

The greatest tribute to someone is that they are remembered with fondness and regret that they are still not about by those that knew them when they were.

Clearly on my list are members of my family, both my parents, my lovely old Aunt who was a woman who never spoke ill of anyone and would give you her last penny - she nearly did frankly, when she died and I had to tie up her estate it was so little I didn't need to go to probate in the courts and still she'd bought my son (who was only about 4 then) the huge Lego Pirate Ship he'd wanted for Christmas even though I'd told her to get him a smaller one as I knew it was expensive.  My Nan and my Grandma - although I can't deny a tough relationship with my Grandma, she was a demanding woman and quiet cantankerous but my brother had a very serious illness when I was very very small and frankly should have died, she had been a "fever nurse" between the wars and moved in and nursed him 24 hours a day and he made a full recovery - remarkable.

Then there are others - those snatched away too early.  My brother-in-law who died very suddenly aged 21 and ripped the heart out of a family.  My wife still struggles with missing him as you'd imagine a younger sister to do so.  I miss him too and wonder what life would be like if he'd been around now. 

Two others stand out.  Adam was an old colleague, drinking buddy and pal nearly 30 years ago.  We were both in our early 20s, me just married, him with a lovely girlfriend and we used to go out all together in London where we all worked.  I left the company we both worked but we regularly met up for drinks etc.  He then went off to Australia and we lost touch.  I decided to make an effort to track him down about a year back and found another mutual old friend on a networking site - he lived in the USA where I believed Adam also did.  I got in touch, the other friend is great living the Californian dream with a wife and four kids now.  Sadly though he told me Adam had had a heart defect unknown to anyone and had passed away a few years ago in his early 40s.  I always remember his chuckle and his smile.  I really regret losing touch and also I owed him an apology for something (an amends in AA programme speak) and I never got the chance to shake his hand earnestly and honestly say I was sorry for my behaviour in the past and hopefully see that smile and hear that chuckle again.

Guy was a friend and colleague at another place of employment.  He was more ambitious than I and moved on quickly.  Over the next few years we kept in reasonable contact even to the point that when my daughter was a toddler we spent a weekend with him in the lovely village he lived in at that time in Dorset.  However he broke up with his wife, moved on and we lost touch.   He paid me the greatest compliment I have every been paid once when he said that he was a better person through simply having known me.  I remember being so humbled by that statement when he said it.  He died suddenly and tragically in a car crash some 10 years or so ago now.

They are all gone but those that are left behind hold the memories and the influence of them in their hearts.

The top five things people regret when they are dying.

The top five things people regret when they are dying.

Sorry for a bit of a bleak post - I quickly copied this from somewhere and have lost the link annoyingly.  But the list still stands

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.


PS - I found the link - it was an article in The Guardian

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Gig Review - Snow Patrol The O2 11-Feb-2012

So gig reviews are a bit thin on the ground on the blog these days - since I don't have as much "disposable income" as I used to and also frankly less bands on tour I'd like to see.  Anyway this was this years first gig for the family Furtheron.  Daughter-of-Furtheron, Mrs F and I went off to The O2 last night to see Snow Patrol.

Venue - The O2 is good for us since it is a simple schlep up the A2 into the car park - I've heard people moan about the cost of the car park but if we were going to say Hammersmith it'd cost us a lot more with train fares and that is even now with me on a season ticket and able to get the other two discounts. We arrived early enough to get a meal in and join the queue to get in just before the doors opened.  We didn't have the greatest seats due to us booking a bit late but we were up in the Gods but on the front row - so no one in front and almost in line with the stage so look down and along.  Venue was warmer than I'd half expected give the freezing temperature and the fact that frankly the dome is simply a big marquee as D-o-F pointed out.

Support was from Plastic Rose, a young Irish band who were pretty good but let down with equipment issues and clearly just bowled over to be playing a venue like the O2 - their last gig in London had been to 15 people!  Everything Everything up next, now good sound, great vocals at times but poor at others, great musicianship but ... I don't get them at all.  It all seems to need something else for me but D-o-F liked them.

Snow Patrol were imperious.  From the moment they took to the stage, sound was excellent (esp given where we were sat), playing brilliant, they had the crowd on their side from the word go and delivered an excellent one hour forty-five minute set.  They now have a catalogue that enables them to pull hit after hit out and from Final Straw to Fallen Empires they aired pretty much what you'd expect but they did it really, really well.  A band that understands dynamics (I could learn from these myself on that one) many songs deliberately build into storming climaxes but also they know when to take the instrumentation down, engage the audience or just relax in a quieter phrase or two.

I was mightily impressed I have to say - it has to have been into one of the top 10 gigs I've ever been to easily.   Having seen this lot master the anthemic ballad tunefest I wonder how Coldplay will compare when we see them at Arsenal later this year - frankly this lot were a might tough act for anyone to beat in this genre on last nights performance.

For guitar nuts - all bass was the Rickenbacker 4001, most of Gary's work was on his trusty Fender Tele Deluxe, with one acoustic and one on a Grestch I couldn't name and Nathan used a couple of Les Paul Customs (black one and a tobacco sunburst), I think three different Telecaster Customs and a Gretsch duo-jet (I think, Gretsch is not my strongest brand guys!) oh and a Jaguar for the single before last.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Book Review - Raven Eye by Giles Kristian

Anyone who is a regular reader of this here blog will know that "historic fiction" is pretty much an ever present on my reading list.  My favourites include Bernard Cornwell, Simon Scarrow, Conn Igulden etc. So not surprisingly given my purchase history this novel has been "suggested" to me more than once by the robots that scour my previous purchases at the most well known of on-line bookstores.  I read a quick synopsis and downloaded it.

So this is set in deepest darkest Wessex in the Dark Ages - the bit from when the Romans tired after 400 years of building roads and palaces etc. in England and withdrew back to a crumbling Rome and before the dashing French Normans arrived to instill civility once again on the heathen pagan Celts of England.  However it wasn't really like that was it?  I've always been fascinated by that period of our history largely since so little is known as there wasn't much written down but you look at finds like The Sutton Hoo ship burial and the recently unearthed Shropshire hoard and you realise that this was a culture with stunning craftsmanship and global international trade.  You can't have that if it was just a violent, chaotic and anarchic place.  Oh and anyway the Normans weren't dashing Frenchmen, they were rampaging, colonising Vikings who had only conquered the French lands they invaded us from a 100 or so years before 1066.

Back to the book in question.  Our hero is a young lad who has a blood clot in his eye which makes people fear him - we know little of his background since he himself does not having a memory only back a couple of years when he was taken in by a carpenter in a village on the southern coast of Wessex.  He is the carpenters help but his life is shattered when Norsemen arrive in longships ostensibly to trade with his fellow villagers.  He discovers to his amazement that he can understand their language.   There is treachery and he ends up with the band of Vikings leaving behind the village. 

So good set up... not a bad book but I found it a bit slow to get going and then when I thought I'd grasped what the true real mystery plot would be which seemed to be about half way in that wasn't it either.  There is treachery at every turn - literally to the point you just are waiting for the next double cross to happen on the next page almost.  Lots of blood and gore etc. but I was frankly a bit disappointed, by the end the lad has grown quickly into a feared warrior but you still know nothing of his past, nor does he, there wasn't some all encompassing plot line - well there is but it is a bit pointless really and the level of treachery and barbarism just doesn't ring for me - I know it was a violent time but honestly if the dealings between the kingdoms and within them were dealt with as this book portrays England would never have had the Anglo-Saxon treasures we've seen, there had to be a level of stability and trust not portrayed in here for craftsman and trade to exist.

So we end this book with a second part beckoning - I think up to part 3 has been published.  Will I read the others?  Have to say I'm not dashing out and lining them up... shame I thought I'd really like this but it just wasn't multi-dimensional enough for me.  

At best a one thumbs up - more like two thumbs just beneath the horizontal I think.  Aren't you loving the Furtheron thumbs up book quality indexation system?  I've submitted an outline to the International Standards Organisation in the hope I can make this the universally adopted standard for half-arsed non-literary non-qualified book reviews.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Quantitative Easing - I just don't get it...

Do you understand Quantitative Easing?  I don't.  It is printing money in all but name and I look at it as a measure already discredited.  We have have in the UK the lowest ever bank base rate (0.5%) set by the Bank of England's committee for almost 3 years now.  Also in 2009 the bank first used Quantitative Easing in the UK economy pushing first £75bl into the economy and by the end of that year the total as £200bl.   Today as I say near 3 years later the bank is pushing in another £50bl.   How's it do this?  It buys up things like bonds that banks have - so the banks have lent money to someone and have a bond that they'll get it back at some point.  That is an asset for the bank but they can't do anything with it.  Someone comes in and says "Can I borrow a bunch of money?" and the bank looks under the table into a drawer full of bonds (i.e. IOUs) but no cash and says "Sorry can't help right now".   So the central bank buys the bond from the bank and fills the drawer back up with cash which they can then lend to the guy (or the next one in the door) we just mentioned.  In theory this then stimulates the economy back into growth.  In theory as we've been doing this since March 2009.

Right then with this new £50bl we've injected £325bl into the British economy in the last 3 years.  Fantastic we can all feel the effects of that can't we?  Well generally no - if the £275bl to date has done pretty much nothing I'm not convinced that this will do much and also - the country doesn't have that money to just give out.  This is just another step towards Britain looking like Greece - btw we owe as a nation, per head of population, far far more than the Greeks you know - the only difference is that somebody (the ratings agencies) believe we will pay it back!  However we are told we need growth... from where... oh yes Quantitative Easing.

Now Britain has an ageing population - that is why we're all hot under the collar about pensions and all that at the moment, now the pensions crisis has nothing to do with all this economic nonsense currently, we had it before that and it would have been a painful realisation sooner or later... well later as we'd been putting off fixing that one for too long the government du jour is just using the economic crisis as a good excuse to push through painful reforms that had to come anyway.  But get this... if you are not on a final salary scheme (like most in non public pension schemes) the Quantitative Easing will hit the value of your pension.   Because as you buy up these bonds that reduces their value in the market - the central bank is there wanting to buy them and people clamour to sell them in "reverse auctions" i.e. the bank buys at the cheapest price.  Hence all bond values fall and bonds form a lot of pension fund assets and so if you retire this year your pension will be less than before this announcement.   But we need growth from people with money to spend... people like retired people ... oh ...

See now I'm not an economist but... can we stop looking for growth, stop pumping money we don't have into an economy that isn't going to grow as inflation has been for some time 400% the average rise in salaries and pension values are shrinking due to the governments policy to bring growth back to the economy.  Everybody is hunkered down not looking to spend money as it is precious right now, what I do have in the bank I may need next year as who knows if they will have a job come this time next year? The govt doesn't want/need you to do this as it wants ... growth...   You know there is a point where I just don't get it anymore...

Just one other observation - the guy from RBS was upset the public was on his case about his bonus - then admitted that the £45bl we, the tax payers, gave his company to bail itself out for a self inflicted hole has pretty much all gone!   WHAT?! and the guy thinks he deserves a bonus?!!   I think if I'd "lost" £45bl I'd not be suggesting to my boss I was due a bonus!  When he has paid back the £45bl maybe then we ought to think about a bonus.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Procrastinator's Digest - Book Review

I bought this if you'll remember after posting about my at times crippling procrastination.

I finally read it - quite quickly as it isn't a big tome.  I liked the style, each chapter is the same, there is a "mantra" to remember (I think it better to take these and develop your own but that is me), an example from the author's experience in research then some explanation and a smattering of cartoons to make the point memorably through gags.  There are some exercises for you to do to get you in the right zone to get over your procrastination in your particular situation.

So what have I learnt.  Actually that far more people are procrastinators than I thought, also that some of the thoughts I have that lead to procrastination are also common.  Really?!  Honestly I didn't think "normal" people would procrastinate over doing something due to a fear of failure... trust me I did think I was unique on that one... this is just my alcoholic self obsession showing through here!

Has it helped?  Well yes and no.  That is probably unfair - the point is (and it is stated in the book) you can't fix ingrained behaviour like this overnight.  I have got better, esp on things I want to do - I've done a bunch of stuff recently in some areas and it is simply as "I get started".  For example one of my bad rationalisations for procrastinating is "Oh I haven't time to do all that now.  I'll wait until I can finish it".  But I don't actually know how long it will take 'cos I've not done it!!!  So the other day for example I decided to start something and just leave it for another day if I didn't get it done by the time I needed to leave to go somewhere else... guess what?  I finished it all in loads of time!

I'm still struggling with some procrastination - at work mostly but I think that is a real fear around my insecurity in the new job I'm in - the department is still going through a change process and there is a lot of unrest in the place etc.  I'm frightened of upsetting the apple cart.   A dumb irrational fear and I need to work more on.

So as it says in Chapter 5 of Alcoholics Anonymous (the big book) "progress not perfection" :-)  We continue :-)


Monday, 6 February 2012

Search Engine Optimisation and Accessibility

SEO - if you've had any involvement with websites this will be old hat to you, this is all about trying to ensure your website is as high up the search engine list of hits as possible.

Some years back I helped put together a website for the local AA intergroup area.  Last year it went a bit stagnant as I was too busy at some points, the software I originally had used had a licence that expired and it wouldn't install on Windows 7.  We had someone who had been elected to lead on this and whilst I was willing to be the webmaster I was looking to them to lead the development etc.  Anyway that person has other commitments and left after some cajolling I'm now officially the person with responsibility.

I went to a regional workshop a couple of weeks back and returned with a couple of concrete actions - Accessibility; as a result of the disability access legislation. You can be prosecuted if your website is not accessible.  Did you know that?  So I looked up some of the stuff on that and have done as much as I think I can.  The other action was SEO.  I've been putting in links and a site map (fixes a point on the access thing as well) and meta tags etc.  I've managed to get the site to first, second of third in the most obvious searches on the three biggest used engines.   We're battling with sponsored links from other agencies which we'll never compete with and often the top hit is the main UK AA website so that is good either way.

However this has me thinking now - how would someone out there search for AA in my local area on the web?  I'll continue to come up with new searches and see if I can respond to them.  My latest issue is one area has a specific name but isn't the town name etc.  I'm fiddling with meta tags and addresses to get it in there but at the moment that is the one that doesn't get a good hit on our site.

I'm not very good with newcomers, my perception anyway, even when I drank myself I wasn't comfortable around drunks and I'm still not.  I'm also not the most succinct of communicators (you read this blog you must know this!) and that is often what they need not some waffle that I'll give them.  However through the website I've found a way that I'm truly supporting the primary purpose of any AA group "to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety".

Friday, 3 February 2012

Addicts brains are wired up differently

A recent study has shown that "Brains may be wired for addiction".  This study has shown that siblings have similar abnormalities (compared to the general population) in brain structure but one has become an addict whilst the other hasn't.  The abnormalities are in the areas of self-control and emotional response it is believed.

My first thought on hearing this was "no shit Sherlock" - anyone who has been around addiction and in particular 12-step recovery groups will normally find an overwhelming belief within the majority addicts that they were "wired up differently" and with retrospective hind-sight consider themselves to have been "an addict waiting to happen" long before they discovered their drug of choice.  As I say this isn't everybody's  view but a prevalent one.  I know little of the addiction issues in previous generations in my family - largely as many were dead long before I was either alive or able to ask them.  However one other close relative of mine is in recovery now in their 20s and in a smallish family you have to say there is there anecdotal evidence that it is an inherited trait right there.  Funny that the scientists are catching up with a view held by AA for approaching 80years or so now.

The bit I found most interesting was a comment from one of the authors on the BBC report that said "...offer the possibility of new ways of treating high-risk individuals to develop better 'self control'" ... Really?  The simple fact is that in over 7 years of recovery now I've not found a single alcoholic that can develop better self-control - we normally have spent several years in that battle, I had.  There was no control possible I had to stop - but then the difficulty with the stopping was huge as alcohol ruled my life by then.  Also all those I've met have reached some point of "rock bottom" - that doesn't have to be homeless, on the street, daily drinking but some form of emotional, spiritual, emotional or health rock bottom that has made them just give up the fight.  All forms of rationalisation should, you would have thought, brought them to the understanding that they couldn't and shouldn't drink like they did a long time before that point.

The idea of a "magic pill" to make addicts stop craving and feel better is a notion all in the throws of addiction and recovery have desired either desperately or as merely as a laughable thought.  However replacing one substance that is altering how your mind functions with another one may only create legions of "addiction drug therapy" users.  And one thing with an addict if they find something that makes them feel better trust me they will abuse it - that is what is in their nature or by then nurture maybe.  There are times we all need to take things for headaches, depression, etc. but I for one am always highly critical and vigilant about how much I'm taking and why I'm taking it needing to question my motives all the time I know more than one alcoholic who had a slip that started with a quick gulp of cough syrup to ease that tickly cough.

I applaud the work and it is good it has received a lot of publicity with the article getting published.  It won't of course stop those that always say that drunks should just stop drinking and see it as a moral issue rather than a disease but hopefully this will have just nudged some of the doubters to more open views on addiction and those that suffer in it's grip.  If just one person hearing that today decided to get help for their own problem then that is an even greater benefit.

I am not a robot

Now I know from personal experience the problem of comment spam on blogs - that is why I have comment approval switched on ... and in case the nut case who thinks I should kill myself since I'm a self confessed alcoholic wasting the public's money  (he/she had clearly not really grasped where I was in my addiction) ever comes back... same comment 10 times one day - whoever they were they had a major problem, I hope they are better now not just trying to harass someone more vulnerable. However...

Lot's of blogs I comment no now pop up one of those phrases to type in, at least with blogger I can read the things - one site recently after 6 refreshes I gave up as unless I developed some 6th sense I was never going to discern the characters obscured by various arty monochrome hashing and swirls.  These pop up with the witty little tagline "Just to prove you are not a robot"... I know I'm not a robot but ironically this is a robot asking me to prove to it that I am not a robot...   Hmm are we actually one step away from the nightmare scenario played out in books like I Robot etc?   I have tried typing - "you prove you are not a robot first and I'll play ball"  this is rejected... by the robot... as it is insistent I play the game to its rules to prove I'm not a robot.

In the words of Little Britain.. "Computer says No!"

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Sanctus - Simon Toyne - Book Review

Sanctus is Simon Toyne's first novel.  I popped over to his website and he has a not unfamiliar lifestory.  He originally wanted to be an actor but found out that wasn't really his first love but ended up in film making expecting Hollywood to beckon at some point... it never did but he has had a successful career but then... the midlife crisis!  He  wanted to make his own blockbusters but never likely to get the backing so decided to write novels.  He took a year out, packed his family off to France (now one thing this tells you - he has a loving family!) and wrote.  Sanctus is the result.

The underlying premise of Sanctus is enticing - an ancient citadel in Turkish city that is possibly one of the old permanently and consistently inhabited places on earth.  The citadel is home to a very reclusive order of monks who are rarely if ever seen out of the place.  Rumours abound that they hold a very very dark secret inside the mountain that they have built on.  One day a monk is seen standing on the very top of the mountain and suddenly he plunges to his death.

The story then involves a journalist from America, a very old man from Brazil and his family in Turkey who know much more about the monks than anybody outside the citadel, a policeman who tries to investigate the death and the monks themselves.

For anyone who likes modern day thrillers with a mystical, historical flavour then this is a good read.  The plot is fast paced and the use of small punchy chapters rattles you through with quick speed being very episodic between the various characters and interweaving plot lines.  A bit Dan Brown in style.  And will you find out what "The Sacrament" is, the secret the monks so carefully protect from the outside world - and why do they keep it so secret?  One thing I did find - the beginning of the book felt like there had been slightly more time spent on the descriptions of places, events, feelings etc. and this died of as the plot pace increased - a shame I thought it one of the highlights at the start and did set it apart from the likes of Dan Brown and others who are a bit bereft in that department at times.

Don't proceed further if you don't want a couple of potential little spoilers for you...

Actually the exposure of this bit was for me stretching of incredulity just a little too far when initially revealed but then I quickly did see the point of it.  Also the book doesn't successfully end - this is because it is part one in a trilogy but I still feel there could have been a better wrap up of some of the hanging threads but then I suppose there'd be less incentive to buy the next volume.

Overall a nearly double thumbs up in the Furtheron scale of books - a good one thumbs up and the other more up and than down...   I really need to rethink the thumbs up scale here - or at least provide a glossary of possible Thumbs Up settings...