Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all that have read this blog this year.

Posts have been somewhat light of late as the demands of work and a new baby son take their toll on "writing for pleasure" time.

Today was no exception as after being at work this morning I was in my local supermarket as it closed for Christmas. There is always a seige mentality around Christmas which is really strange as many of the shops will be open in less than 36 hours on Boxing Day morning with the remainder open a day later.

Nonetheless there is at least one day that remains free from commercial activity and I guess that has to be welcome. That day is tomorrow- Christmas Day.

Merry Christmas everyone......

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Go back to your zombies and prepare for management

This year, with the retirement of a long established colleague I have taken on new responsibilities and I now have a team of people who I manage.

With this in mind, my boss thought I would benefit from attending a two day management of course. I've been on similar before but I suppose it can never hurt to have some new ideas and reminders of how to deal with certain situations.

The course was taken by a charming lady from Fulham. At the risk of offending many people, my office has a lot of people from Essex and a lot of people from south London (myself included). In short I don't often hear the English language spoken as well as it is spoken by some residents of Fulham. But I guess accents is a very risky topic, especially in Britain, so I shall move swiftly on !

The course was not rocket science. In fact it was not any sort of science but a mixture of common sense on how to deal with difficult people in difficult situations as well as various management and psychological theories on what motivates people and how to get the best out of them etc etc.

One session that caught my imagination was a crude classification of all people according to their energy or action and their attitude or enthusiasm.

Those with high action and a good attitude were obviously the best from a management perspective and were called "stars". The high action but negative attitude were "cynics" albeit quite productive ones. Those of positive attitude but little action were either "passengers" or "tourists" while the worst were those of little action and a bad attitude. The last group were termed "zombies" or "the undead".

This was supposed to be a serious management course but predictably this bit wasn't taken too seriously. We were divided up into teams to talk about how we would deal with the different employee types.

I was put in a group that was charged with thinking about "zombies". We found this quite difficult as apart from sacking them which would probably happen in more hard hearted organisations, one would have to analysise their entire personality and try and appeal to something that made them tick to achieve any progress.

We then had to present our thoughts. Our zombie group started.

"Now do any you manage people who might be zombies ?" asked the charming lady from Fulham. I must admit that my hand wavered but I thought "No the worst I have must have are tourists, positive but of little output" (I should also note that I do have star (s)".

A colleague from IT had no such qualms. Up went his hand. "I've probably got two" he said. His total team is eight strong so that makes a 25% strong zombie contingent !

The course went on over 2 days with role plays, discussions and coffee breaks.

At the end we were all wished well. I guess in at least one case this really did amount to "Go back to your zombies and prepare for management"

I will be giving my team a bit more thought next week !!!

Still slightly Hongkers

After a couple of days back from Hong Kong, my wife told me something that needed saying. I was getting (just a little) boring the way I began each sentence "In Hong Kong they......".

I credit myself with at least a few sensitivities and I know there are few things more tedious than someone who returns from holiday (or other trip) only to bore everyone to tears with details of a place that the other party has not been to. Some of course have a great curiosity about all places and want to go there themselves. However for the majority of people a few photos and and a handful of summarised highlights are probably all they want to hear about a trip particularly if they themselves have been stuck at home working hard.

It is sign of how commonplace long haul travel has become that few want to hear in great detail another account of travels to X, wherever X may be. Another response to too many travel tales is "place bingo" or "snap" where people seem to work through lists of places, the object apparently being to work out who has been to most.


So I did sympathise with my wife, when I realised that I was talking perhaps a little too much about my business trip to Hong Kong. She had been at home looking after our 5 month old son.

However, on my second trip to Hong Kong, I was struck more than ever what a little paradise it can be for a small minority of English people.

Put simply it is a modern metropolis built on a tropical island. In December in comparison to London its climate is mild and pleasant.

People seem to behave in Hong Kong. There is little sign of graffiti, of litter and of people wanting to interfere with you as you go about your own business. You can ride the metro (MTR) late and night and you are more likely to see a young family returning home than the drunken businessmen you see on the London tube at a similar hour.

The people of Hong Kong are, in the main, extremely friendly. English is almost universally understood to some extent. For a foreigner doing a middle ranking kind of job, life is very comfortable. Technology is generally state of art and most things cheaper than home. Hong Kong is a city where the pick up fee for a taxi is under £1. For those wanting to exit the metropolis, the green Victoria Peak or nearby islands on a short ferry ride are obvious options.

Best still, for visiting Brits they drive on the left and use exactly the same electrical plugs as we do back home !

In short Hong Kong is a city that seems to work with a warm climate (although I am assured this is too warm in summer) and friendly hard working people. It compares very favourably to winter London with its delays, struggles to work and general hassle if you stay out late.

Of course, I do realise it is possible to take the rose tinted spectacles off in Hong Kong and see a few realities. The climate is so favourable in December but in summer the tropical heat combining with epic levels of pollution from China's Pearl Delta industrial area make the air extremely unhealthly. I was told that people with children even move them out of the City in the summer.

The cheap prices are nice but this is largely achieved through an army of low paid workers from the Philippines. Many middle class Hong Kong chinese have Philipino domestic helpers often paid around £250 a month to live in and cook, clean and iron or baby sit. It is better work than that available in the Philippines but I cannot see that happening in London.

People are well behaved but democracy is at best fragile in Hong Kong. It is an experiment tolerated by the Chinese Government but is obviously subject to certain limits.

That said, most people seem genuinely happy in Hong Kong. They work hard but enjoy life.

Maybe for that, the absence of the Dimbleby's on Question Time is a price worth paying ?!

Many expats who go to Hong Kong really love it and some never return home. One expat I spoke to on my visit summed it up like this "I like London and will always go back there to see my family and friends. But I really like the buzz, the food and the climate in this place. I'm not ready to trade in Hongkers just yet".

I've been back in London reality a week now but I think a part of me is still slightly Hongkers.....

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Back from a rather English piece of China

Posts have been very light on here of late. This is at least in part due to the fact that I have been working in Hong Kong for a short while.

I want to write something on this shortly but for now here are a couple of mobile phone taken pictures that I hope say something about Hong Kong both at night and in the day time.

Hong Kong, despite being part of China albeit with "Special Administrative Region" status, still feels very homely to the English visitor.

I seem to have escaped the worst of any jet lag and in the wonder that is air travel I managed to sleep from above the Chinese-Mongolian border to just above Moscow on the way home.

Hope to be back with a longer post soon.



A fleet of Hong Kong's very economical red taxis approach the Wan Kwai Fong area in the evening.



View of "everyday" Hong Kong skycraper appartments in the "Mid Levels"

Monday, November 26, 2007

London November 2007

Various views of the City and Docklands taken from Greenwich Park on a cold but clear November Day.





Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembrance Sunday

Here is a reminder, in case one were needed, from youtube of the contemporary aspect to today's Remembrance Sunday. The photos are all of British Servicemen who have died in Afghanistan, although sadly this is not a complete list.

Greed is good ?

A random observation from shopping in our local Asda today:

1 bottle of 1.25 litre Coca Cola £1.10

2 bottles of 1.25 litre Coca Cola £1 (2 for £1 offer).

So it actually cheaper to buy 2 bottles than 1 bottle. If you only want one bottle you are financially better off if you take 2 through the till and throw the other away.

These prices seem a little strange to me. Is this what they mean by an "Asda price". They are still playing that annoying jingle all the time anyway.

"Get him!"- Training Tips for Rail Ticket Inspectors- What not to say !

I am coming to the depressing conclusion that rules (e.g. buying a ticket) on our railways are only for polite and non-threatening people.

The other morning I missed my usual direct train to London Cannon Street and needed to change trains at London Bridge.

London Bridge Station is never a very relaxing place and at 8 o' clock in the morning is bordering on madness with people running from Charing Cross bound trains to get on Cannon Street trains and people from Cannon Street trains running the other way. The management of London Bridge station sometime concluded that it was not possible to get these trains arriving on immediately opposite platforms, meaning everyone has to get up a crowded flight of stairs and then down an equally crowded flight of stairs to the waiting train two or three platforms away. Sometimes they like to keep people fit by advertising a train that has already left so that when you get down onto that platform you find no train and have to go to yet another platform- back up the same flight of stairs and back down a third. The effect can look like some strange version of musical chairs with large groups of commuters running up flights of stairs in formation.

Despite the fact that most South Eastern stations have ticket barriers meaning it is not possible to get onto the train unless you have a ticket (or jump the barrier), the other morning South Eastern ticket inspectors decided to introduce a random ticket inspection at the top of one of the previously mentioned flights of stairs.

If this wasn't awkward enough, they didn't stand logically at either side of the stairs but staggered at various points around the corridor that connects all the platforms. With at least half the passengers wearing Ipods or other headphones and everyone else in a hurry it wasn't clear that this was a ticket inspection point at all.

Most people were hurrying straight through. I myself had headphones (listening to the news as it happened) so carried on oblivious until I vaguely heard someone call "Get him". The next thing I knew was that a ticket inspector appeared beside me while all the other passengers carried on regardless.

I had my ticket so there was no issue but I was a little bemused why I was the only one stopped. I don't consider I look threatening and am wondering if that was the reason why I was singled out.

My brother tells me of a time he was on a South Eastern train when a three strong group of baseball cap wearing youths evaded the ticket collector by hiding in the train lavatory. The ticket collector knocked timidly only to conclude to other passengers "I think that one's a loosing battle."

The depressing moral of the story is you only need a ticket if the ticket collector isn't afraid of you.

As for my friends at London Bridge next time you want to check for tickets at some random spot at 8am:

1) Stand together at a clear point at which you expect all passengers to show their tickets and don't let anyone through.

2) While I understand that in the absence of appropriate equipment e.g. Tasers, it may not be desirable to press all passengers for a ticket, do not shout phrases such as "Get him" at law abiding non-threatening passengers. To do so is mildly offensive and likely to alienate normally allied passengers in the battle against the hooligan minority found on London trains !

Saturday, November 10, 2007

British Gas Homecare- "probably the worst service in the world"

It has been one week, 9 phonecalls, 5 emails and 1 formal letter of complaint and still British Gas have not been able to repair our boiler. This is despite the fact I have a "Homecare" policy with British Gas to cover all boiler and heating breakdowns.

This followed a surprisingly promising start with 2 engineers coming out on the day the boiler broke down. However they misdiagnosed the problem, ordered the wrong part and when the next engineer couldn't repair the problem with the incorrect part.

A new part, a fan, was ordered to be delivered the next day (Tuesday by now) from the British Gas Parts Distribution Centre in Leicester.

The next day came and no engineer appeared and no phone call was received. When I called to see what the problem was I was told the part had not been arrived.

However I was assured someone from the Parts Distribution Centre would call me soon. They never called me and despite a series of increasingly irrate calls to British Gas no part materialised.

I asked to speak to the mythical folk in Leicester myself but was told even the British Gas call centre didn't have their number. One call centre worker helpfully proclaimed "It's out of our hands". There didn't seem much that was in their hands !

The Parts Distribution Centre is outsourced. As it turns out, to a Swedish Company called Syncron .

I can only conclude Syncron are partly to blame here but British Gas must take responsibility for choosing this bunch of incompetents to manage the distribution of their parts.

On the Syncron website Jan Paulsson, Project leader at Volvo, another Syncron client, is quoted as saying "The result looks too good to be true."


There's one reason for that Mr. Paulsson, the results are too good to be true ! In fact after managing in our "low carbon house" without hot water for a week (unless its out of a kettle) I would think the results are pretty awful.

Still, we keep hammering away at British Gas and maybe the boiler will be repaired this coming week. For any potential British Gas Homecare customers who have stumbled across this "moan", my only advise would be think twice before you sign up to Homecare. The recovery of your boiler may depend on some not very competent Swedes based in Leicester !

Clear November Morning in London



The final stage of my daily commute from the South, crossing the river and arriving in the City- London Cannon Street Station.

Bank

video

Short clip showing the view from next to Bank Tube Station, outside the Royal Exchange and opposite the Bank of England while waiting there one October evening.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Guy Fawkes

It is over 400 years since Guy Fawkes was apprehended in his attempt to blow up parliament.

This criminal and his associates suffered torture that would make today's "extraordinary rendition" look like a picnic. Guy Fawkes himself jumped and broke his neck to avoid the official execution method of being hung, drawn and quartered.

Despite this slightly unsavoury origin every supermarket and cornershop is packed with fireworks for at least a month before November 5th to allow every one to celebrate Guy's demise. The run up to November 5th turns suburbia into a near Blitz re-enactment. Every scout group, schoool and even church need to hold their own "bonfire night" not to mention the local council. Bonfires are largely a thing of the past in London but fireworks exist in huge quantities.

Combined with official events, scores and scores of private houses choose to buy their own fireworks.

So tonight suburban London, on the weekend before November 5th, sounds like a war zone. Try keeping a 4 month baby asleep in that. Thanks a bunch, Guy Fawkes !

Living in a "low carbon" house

Our boiler failed yesterday morning. It's an old boiler and will probably need replacing soon.

We have British Gas cover and in this instance they were very good sending someone within an hour for an initial inspection in case there was any danger from gas or carbon monoxide.

Once given the all clear on that front another engineer visited in the afternoon. Not bad for a Saturday and much preferable to previous experiences of hunting for the small band of honest reliable boiler engineers on the open market.

Nonetheless the boiler in clinicial terms needs major surgery- a new gas valve to be precise. With a four month old baby we have been given "priority" but even that means Monday.

So with our "combination" boiler out of action we have missed a combination of hot water and heating. Fortunately it is a very mild November so far and a couple of electric heaters are more than adequate to keep young Luis warm. Kettles of hot water have been more than sufficient for general washing and I even attempted a completely cold shower this morning. I read somewhere that is supposed to be good for you. It certainly woke me up.

Overall my impression is that managing without hot water and central heating is not nearly as traumatic as some might imagine. In actual fact I find central heating a bit suffocating sometimes so it is refreshing to be able to decide which room to heat and which to leave cold.

I think I could live like this although I'm not sure about the rest of the Donatella household ! Anyway, without referring to the wider global warming debate, I think this could be viewed as a genuine way of saving energy. We've used viritually no gas all weekend and are still here and well ! With oil prices approaching $100 a barrel, maybe living without central heating will start to catch on ?! I suspect I am probably a minority voice here !

Dancing on the trains ?

A letter to the almost invariably low brow (but I read it !) Thelondonpaper caught my eye on Friday.

The writer proposed a solution to the curse on trains of people playing their Ipod too loud. The writer suggested fellow passengers should hold an impromptu dancing session to try and embarrass or shame the offender into turning the volume down.

It may not work in all cases and the option of asking for the volume to be turned down remains !However on the many cases where the train is too crowded to ask the owner of the blarring Ipod to do anything, and with passengers generally reluctant to request too much from each other, dancing to the music of a loud Ipod could work and bring unwanted attention to a selfish music listener.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rat Race ?

video

The "rat race" should probably renamed going on how long it takes to get out of London Bridge station these days. Here is an example of the queue just to get off the platform one morning this month.


Although, at least it seems very orderly. No one is in too much of a rush to make it to the office just yet !

Secrets and Lies

Post Secret is a very well known site that consists entirely of "secrets" mailed anonymously from all over the world although being US based has an inevitable US weighting.

The secrets range from the bizarre to the tragic, from the horrific to the trivial and come from all types of people in all types of situation.
It seems to be a form of 21st Century confessional at least as far as those sending in secrets generally seem to feel some sort of release from sharing their secret.

There is undoubtedly a voyeuristic element to reading other people's secrets but as they are from unknown people it seems relatively harmless. The appeal of the site comes from the sharing of secrets and realising that a secret is actually not so unique but often a similar issue to one shared by many others.

The above postcard struck my eye as one that summed up the general status of "celebrities" in these times. While many may shrug their shoulders and say "not me" to the idea of being much concerned with the lives and fates of hollywood stars or soap opera actors, I suspect when expanded to its widest definition to include sports stars, tv hosts and even politicians, many more of us are to some extent "guilty" of this secret. Celebrity in its widest definition seems more interesting and more exciting than some of those in our own families. The fact that the cult of celebrity is essentially one lie and this interest will never be reciprocated goes overlooked. This is sad as it is times of trouble that only relatives can and will help.

Thank you to the poster of this secret for reminding us of one of the big lies in everyday life- the lie that celebrities matter and count for anything much.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A miracle in the eye of the beholder

Magda is in charge of the café in the office where I work. The café serves a rather uninspiring collection of sandwiches, salads, crisps and soft drinks. This is not the fault of Magda but the outsourced catering company who employ Magda. Magda is always pressing for improvements. One "victory" was the introduction of jacket potatoes! Ludicrous fire regulations prevent even toast being made in our office but Magda somehow gets around the regulations and has a virtual black market in things like bacon and sausage around breakfast time. Magda knows what the customer wants even if her employers don't.

Despite being in the centre of London with sandwich shops and cafes all around, the office café is always packed at lunch. I think in no small part, the loyalty to the humble office café is due to the attitude of Magda to her customers.Magda greets each customer and gets to know everyone's name despite the relatively high turnover of people in the office. Magda has made herself everyone's favourite Auntie in the office. She shares in the delights of life like births, engagements and weddings. She is also a counsellor especially to the "girls" in the office who are periodically whisked into her office next to the café to discuss some crisis or other.

Magda is both sensitive and outgoing knowing which customer can take a joke and which customer just wants a quiet word.

For all her cheerfulness, Magda over 18 months of selling sandwiches to me has revealed a life story that on many levels seems tragic.

I don't know the full details but she shares fragments with me and others in quiet moments when the café is empty.

Magda was born in Poland but somehow came to England during the Cold War. She married quite a successful Englishman and they had one daughter. Magda lived the life of a comfortable London housewife and mother, taking her daughter to school and in addition to keeping house and home didn't need to work so spent time visiting art galleries and exhibitions with her circle of friends.Then her young daughter became sick. A form of leukaemia was diagnosed and British hospitals seemed unable to offer any real hope. There were options but they were in America . Magda and her husband made the difficult but inevitable decision to remortgage their house to pay for the travel and treatment in America . The treatment was received but ultimately failed. Magda's only child died the tragic death of the young.

Subsequently and in circumstances Magda has not revealed, her husband died. Magda was widowed and alone in London with a huge mortgage on her house. In circumstances that would have crushed many Magda got on with life although that simple line cannot do justice to all the trials and issues she must have faced.

Magda the kept lady of leisure, now widowed and childless had to work. She ended up working for the office café and is still paying off her mortgage.

Now in her late forties, Magda has a remarkable love of life and love of humanity in general. However her life cannot be easy. Her employers, the outsourced catering company are far from generous employers and at times such as the recent underground strikes, Magda was forced to get up at 4am to take an elaborate route of buses into work to be around to have the café ready for the start of the day. There was no taxi offered by her employer to beat the strike. As on other occasions Magda perseveres where others would give up.

Magda's finances seem precarious. She earns £8.50 an hour which does not go a long way in London especially when still paying off a big mortgage. Other than that she has to return to Poland periodically to visit her aging Mother.

Then recently an old stray cat entered Magda's garden in West London . The cat obviously had some instinct as I doubt it would have got such a generous welcome in many other gardens.
The flea bitten cat was cared for, fed and revived by Magda. Then it managed to loose and swallow a tooth resulting in vet bills of over £400, money Magda could ill afford in reality. Magda keeps a £500 emergency fund for trips to Poland if she needs to see her Mother. This was largely exhausted by the stray cat.

However while according to conventional wisdom Magda was financially unwise, Magda's life has taught her that the loss of wealth is far less painful than the loss of life so she saved the cat.

Despite, or perhaps because of, her experiences Magda is a strong Roman Catholic and her faith is the one thing that keeps her strong.

The Firm has recently introduced awards for exceptional service and despite working officially for another company, Magda was nominated and then given an award. In the context of a 200 partner firm where many partners often earn over £1 million a year the monthly award at £500 was not particularly significant. However to Magda, saviour of stray cats and friend to all while earning £8.50 an hour, the award was a major issue.Magda was delighted and declared loudly "It's a miracle". Her finances, for now at least, are liquid once more.

I was just struck by the positive outlook of one who has lost the two people closest to her in being able to declare a miracle over £500. Miracles are not much recognised these days but as Magda proves there are miracles each day and sometimes they do not seem significant to others. For a partner in the firm I work, £1 million may not even be a miracle. But in comparison to infinity a million pounds is also insignificant. Money like so many things, depends on the meaning we give it and the purpose we put it to. I think Magda will give her £500 more purpose than many others would. Miracles are in the eye of the beholder.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Facing the gun

My colleague, who I will call Brenda, is really the salt of the earth. A high flyer, no, but a sincere person, yes. She does not pretend to anyone she loves her job but she does like people and above all she cares for and loves her daughter.

Brenda rings her daughter each day around 4pm to check on her progress home from school. Her daughter is 13 and Brenda is finding need to raise her voice a bit more to get her home these days. She doesn't want her daughter hanging around in the local shopping centre or with "unsuitable" boys in general.

Last Friday Brenda's daughter wasn't at school. The teachers were having a training day and Brenda's daughter was at home. In actual fact Brenda had arranged for a friend to be around and keep an eye on the girl. Another friend's son was also around.

Then in the middle of the day, Brenda took a call and her voice was raised to an unprecendented level during my time in the office.

"I don't care. You get home immediately" she cried through gritted teeth down the phone. She had gone from mild mannered lady to a cauldron of anger and fear at the flick of a switch. It was Brenda's business but I was guessing her daughter was really getting hard work !

However, the real problem Brenda revealled later was her friend's son had had a gun put to his head while walking through the park with a friend. Two youths had demanded his mobile phone. He handed it over without a murmur. The other boy had no phone and was beaten in the face as "punishment".

The youths with the gun scarpered and a short while later the police arrived. Brenda's daughter had not been there but she came out to the park and was there when she called her mother. Hence the fear and anger combined.

Brenda does not live in the nicest bit of London but equally not the worst by a long way. The boy who had a gun put to his head was visiting from nearby Dartford in Kent.

Brenda was angry and upset that her beloved daughter was so close to such goings on. She could have all to easily been with the two boys when they were attacked.

This is the closest that the recent spate of gun crime has reached people I know so far. I generally assume that media coverage can overstate the risks. Yes there have been a few dreadful killings of young people but in a country of 60 million these things need to be kept in perspective. Yet I am starting to realise the killings are only the visible tip of a much larger iceberg of intimidation and fear in this country.

The received wisdom now is that one should never fight back in any robbery or mugging situation. My colleagues, grown men and Fathers, say they would never go out and confront a youth damaging a car or neighbour's fence. The stock response is either ignore it or call the police.

Likewise horrific stories sometimes emerge in the media of people being attacked on buses and trains while fellow passengers ignore the incident as they are too afraid to help.

I would see two types of situation in this area.

Firstly, where it is unjustifiably risky to fight back. In this category a gun against the head for a mobile phone is a straightforward calculation. While Britain has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the world and many guns are fakes, many others are not. The value of any phone does not justify risking getting shot. So anyone is right to hand over their phone in such a situation.

The second situation is where intervention or "fighting back" is a real option and I believe as a country the law abiding majority are getting too collectively cowardly for their own good.

If someone is punched and kicked by a lone thug on a crowded train then surely we need to learn as a society to club together and tackle the thug ? That is not exceptional bravery, it is a calculated risk in challenging aggression and doing what is right.

The risk is, if we move ever more to never challenging criminals that they will get ever more brazen and more of us will be victims.

Criminals are rarely good marksmen and rarely skilled fighters. Their sole competive advantage is a willingness to resort to intimidation and crude violence against the general population who are too fearful to engage them.

The law abiding majority need to raise their game, take self defence classes, martial arts classes and similar if need be. While we don't need to take silly risks we do need to sometime draw a line and learn to intelligently fight back.

Otherwise 13 year old boys getting guns put to their head in a park on a Friday afternoon may get a lot more common than it is now.

On another continent and a very different culture, over 100 volunteers were murdered in Pakistan this week, as they protected Benazir Bhutto from a predicted attack. By forming a human shield they prevented the suicide bombers getting close enough to kill Benazir Bhutto. She owes her life to hundreds and thousands who volunteered to protect her vehicle while having a pretty good idea of the risks. That sacrifice is awe inspiring and one that few of us in comfortable countries such as Britain can really imagine doing. However the principle of being prepared to stand up to violence and intimidation is ultimately the same.

Sometimes the price of challenging aggression can be high but the alternative of always protecting our own safety and lives will ironically end up in an existence that could not be seen as living at all. For two thirteen year olds to walk in the park should not be a dangerous thing to do but increasing numbers are finding that in a nation intimidated by a minority of unchallenged criminals many ordinary activities in ordinary places are getting very dangerous.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Pillars


I believe this photo is now over 12 years old but I still find it fascinating and genuinely awe-inspiring.

I found myself thinking of it today and was struggling with the scale of it all. I am no astomoner but I understand this is a star factory. It is called the Eagle Nebula, with its soaring star factories dubbed the Pillars of Creation. It is star birth in action, all captured in vivid color by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The scale of it is so difficult to comprehend but our Earth would not show up in any way if it was in the scale of this photograph.

While I am not suggesting we all sit around star gazing, the scale of creation in general can be useful in putting every day issues in perspective.

I recently had to deal with a rather peeved team member over some extra "compassionate leave" given to a colleague at the time a family member died. Peeved team member had lost his Father earlier this year and had been given a total of 7 days leave in addition to his normal 25 days holiday. However at the age of 48 he could not countenance that someone might get more compassionate leave than he did.

As diplomatically as I could I implied it was none of his business and it was a matter for HR, the powers that be in such matters. He grumbled that if the colleague was given more leave than him he would want some retrospective compassionate leave.

I tried to end the conversation having already taken half an hour on "the issue". I was frankly bemused that a man of 48 years old could be so petty, so jealous, so pathetic in his desire for "equality" in work. He has worked too long in the office, has lost his sense of perspective and although fundementally a nice man has become embittered in his pursuit of equal treatment when in reality there will never be equal or certainly not identical treatment of human situations that always vary and are never the same. If I hadn't been constrained by the need to act "professionally" and the sombre nature of circumstances behind compassionate leave I would have laughed at the very concept that he could get compassionate leave retrospectively.

I find the sense of entitlement and the concern over office life amazing in one who seems to have lived most of life's main experiences.

Perhaps I'll take a print of the pillars into work sometime. Maybe it could just bring home that our lives are but one tiny portion of all life that is spread over time and space. Against that the leave of a colleague might assume slightly less significance than it does at present !

In the meantime take a look at the Pillars of Creation....

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Time Curves on the Greenwich Meridian

I am coming to the conclusion that Fatherhood (of a young baby) does not always fit well with writing a blog- or for that matter any other regular activity !!


However I am still here and from time to time reading my favourite blogs written by others (I think they know who they are !).


For now, here is a photo from a very sunny October Sunday in Greenwich.

Virtually on the Greenwich Meridian they were shooting "The Duchess" starring Keira Knightley and due to be released in 2008. KK stars as Georgina Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, the scandalous 18th-century English aristocrat. These two 18th century ladies attracted some attention as they chatted on their mobiles !! Time seemed to have curved on the Meridian today.




Young Luis slept through it all. At 3 and a half months he is a veteran of on location film shoots. A fortnight ago he shook hands with Emma Thompson who was shooting on the South Bank of the Thames alongside Dustin Hoffman. They were starring in a romantic comedy, "Last Chance Harvey" also released next year. Emma Thompson called young Luis " a cutie".


Two conclusions:


i) contemporary London seems to be turning into a Hollywood film set.

ii) It's far easier to hobnob with actresses when you're three month's old and convincingly act as if you don't care either way :-)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Thursday night on a suburban London train

I haven't been out much recently- at least not in the evenings.


The preparation for and arrival of young Luis, has affected life like the proverbial earthquake affects the landscape.


Therefore when I attended the retirement party this week and travelled home from the City around 11pm, it was with fresh eyes that I witnessed the antics on suburban trains especially at the end of the week- Thursday certainly counting in this respect.


First of all the train was full and had a slightly fetid sticky atmosphere. The few remaining seats covered in discarded free newspapers, empty bottles or other wrappers looked espescially unappealling not least due to the burger munching, dozing or dribbling neighbours on offer. I therefore decided to stand.


Near me the effect of an evening out in London was taking affect on some of my fellow passengers. Several were sleeping, one snoring erratically but noisily. The mandatory i-pods were playing in the ears of others, just a little too loud.


One chap, little more than 20, was obviously feeling the results of drinking too many beers and was writhing uncomfortably on his seat. First he tried to lay his head back onto the head rest touched previously by a thousand heads in various conditions, then he turned to one side, then the other. Finally he twisted his body turned back on himself and lay his apparently throbbing forehead on the seat.

The train that started full gradually emptied.

The last character to make himself known was the booze fuelled Lothario (BFL). Pot-bellied, in his mid-forties with closely cropped hair to disguise his receding hair line he ambled out of his seat and stood near the opposite door where a young lady was standing grasping her outsized handbag. As the door closed at one station BFL play acted that the closing automatic door had almost hit his head. The young lady out of some misplaced feeling of politeness or maybe just nervousness laughed on queue. BFL then smile back although she realising the potential situation looked to the floor and pretended to be lost in the music from her i-pod. BFL was not particularly troublesome and appeared to know the limits of his attraction.

Nonetheless at his station he said to the young lady, "Thank you very much" (for what ?!), picked up left hand and planted a rather drunken kiss on it. He then sauntered off into the night while the young lady quickly pressed the door close button and returned to her i-pod.


At my station I was accompanied by some late workers but mainly late drinkers and realised what a difference a few hours and few drinks causes in suburban London commuters and their normally reserved behaviour.

Friday, September 28, 2007

28 years

I went to a retirement party last evening.

The man I am taking over from in my current job is retiring after 28 years with the Firm.

He has done many jobs in that time and got to know so many people as evidenced by the big turnout at his farewell party. Nonetheless at least according to superficial notions of success his 28 years could not be seen as a particular achievement. He remained one cog, albeit an important cog, in a much bigger machine.

I just had trouble comprehending the notion of working in the same place 28 years. The world has changed so much since 1979 and yet this man worked in the same place all that time.

My contemporaries just do not do that any more and moving jobs after a few years is the norm. I suppose staying in one place could be seen as loyal but generally few do not that now and people attach little value to staying put now.

It is just slightly scary to think you spend well over half your working life in one place and I suppose that is one of the reasons people move although in reality many of us end up doing similar things in different places and trying to fool ourselves that is "variety".

In this case a good man stayed the course for 28 years and has retired from the working lives of the people at our Firm. He will be missed. So far I am quite content in my job so maybe, just maybe I will still be there in 28 years myself although at this stage it seems unlikely.......

More mobile pictures

video


Mobiles really have come a long way. This short film is shot on my daily commute. The video quality (if not that of the actual shooting !) is amazing for a camera in a small phone.


Two points to look out for:

1) St. Paul's emerging majestically over the River Thames, after the train emerges from drab no man's land on the railway.

2) This is a packed commuter train and I was standing against the door due to lack of seats. Despite this the background is incredibly quiet with little noise apart from the arrival announcement. As all London commuters will know people generally are very quiet on trains in the mornings !

Thursday Night on the London Underground



A picture from my mobile phone- here the tube train has stopped at Moorgate.

Fonejacker

From the very funny series on Channel 4. Here the fonejacker poses as an old man convinced he is talking to a cinema automated booking line. The real life human is quite offended !

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I was going to say "No sub-prime opportunities for Londoners (yet)"

Before the flu caught me, I had wanted to write a short peace on the potential effects of sub-prime in the UK and how this might not all be bad.

Quite a lot seems to have happened in the last few days so I risk being a little behind the times but I think the argument is more valid than ever. Northern Rock plc, a former building society, has been forced to borrow from the Bank of England as a "lender of last resort". Its share price tumbled and scenes I have never witnessed in my lifetime occurred at normal High Street British bank branches as investors queued to recover their deposits. Internet banking added another dimension with bigger sums being withdrawn online.

In a sense this makes the troubles of the bank a self-fulfilling prophesy as such high levels of withdrawal (the BBC reported today that the total since the news broke was £2 billion) will only add to the pressures on the bank.However I do sympathise with those trying to make withdrawals.

Several rather snooty comments have been made about the panicked depositors showing a herd instinct but for those who have their life savings involved rather than a current account, it seems better to be safe than sorry. Too many times those in authority advise there is no risk only to be proved wrong at the expense of those who listened to them.

Such scenes stem from the credit crunch from America's sub-prime as borrowing gets more difficult. Northern Rock a relatively small Newcastle based bank has expanded aggressively by borrowing securitised credit to enable growth far bigger than would have been possible through the deposits at its 75 branches. This growth now appears to have been built on the shifting sands of sub-prime.

However a bank failure seems unlikely and as has happened in Germany and the US recently, a buy out by a bigger bank on knock-down terms seems likely in the next week or so.

What I originally wanted to say is that there may be a silver lining to this, even now.

London is a City where the average home costs £300,000 and nothing is to be had in any form below £100,000. In the UK as a whole the average home costs £200,000. Yet the average salary has not risen so dramatically – around £30, 000 per annum for the average London male worker and considerably lower for women and in the provinces. With these averages the lack of affordability in the housing market becomes apparent.

While stock markets move nervously down and then up, merchant bankers face trimmed bonuses (sob) and dark whispers of City job losses begin, there is no evidence that the effects of the American sub-prime crisis are yet having any effect on British (let alone London) house prices.

While some surveys refer to a slowing in the rate of increase, even this is not a consistent theme. Overall the direction of house prices remains clear- upwards.

I don't want this to turn into a synopsis of a rather tedious middle class dinner party conversation.

However while sub-prime is in the news I think it is worth noting the positive possibilities from this "crisis":

1)Housing might actually get more affordable for those without it at present. While those who own houses (me included) would want their own home to rise in value indefinitely, this is surely a bit short sighted in the long term. In the last decade British property prices have at least tripled and in London the rises have been even steeper. A progressively aging group of middle class property owners acquiring ever more wealth while the young and the less well paid struggle to find somewhere decent to live is not a recipe for stability. Anyone with children will surely want their own children to afford somewhere to live. If prices were to keep rising at their current rate by the time young Luis is in the market, he'll be looking for over £1million just for a small flat. This seems unsustainable and pricing whole swathes of the population out of home ownership. The sub-prime crisis, if exported here, might wipe a few smiles off some rather smug faces but could make property affordable to many more people.


2)Sub-prime losses will remind banks to lend responsibly.
3)Sub-prime losses are a reminder to borrowers not to borrow over their head.

In short sub-prime needn't be a catastrophe as long as it is managed to prevent wide scale loss of homes.

Sub-prime is more about the power of the market to match supply and demand. Prices are too high so demand will fall. Sub-prime is also a slap on the wrist to irresponsible lenders and those corporations who "dabble" hoping for some cheap finance.Sub-prime may bring pain but it also brings opportunity. This may be heresy for some but I hope a little rubs off over here……. (In light of Northern Rock this all seems a little more likely now…)

Flu's silver lining

First came a rather painful saw throat on Wednesday evening. Then on Thursday I headed to work as normal only to start sweating and then shivering alternatively in the afternoon. I picked up the ringing phone only to drop it on my desk. I was not feeling well !

Red-eyed and exhausted I stood on the train home due to the lack of seats and almost staggered through my front door.

Somewhere in London I had caught the flu. Flu is never nice but with a young baby presents an additional complication. The threat of infecting a baby is a real one so I was confined to a "sick" area by Mrs. Donatella.

As my luck would have it I had booked Friday as holiday anyway. To claim sick leave on a pre-booked holiday may look a bit dubious so I didn't bother.

However in my sick room with a small television and a rather shrivelled brain I discovered for the first time in many weeks or even months the diverting but rather shallow joys of television.

With a temperature a bit higher than it should be I first watched a programme about a 56 year old lady who was a school teacher and wanted to look 10 years younger. Through cosmetic surgery, dental implants and a fashion makeover I followed her before deciding that even if I was dying there have to be standards so I switched over before she had her hair done !

I made some headway on reading but then returned to television seeing Jonathon Ross for the first time since I became a Father ! Oh what a lot of free time I used to have ! Jonathon Ross sporting a new Charles I style beard was rather entertaining with guests including Trinny and Susannah, Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L Jackson.

Later I saw a rather smug self-satisfied middle class retired couple plan what French villa was best for them to retire too. They decided they had enough "in the budget" for a home in East Kent too and the presenter was delighted for them.

Last evening I stumbled accross a US series I had never seen or heard of before. It is called Heroes and is the tale of people who discover they have extraordinary powers apparently necessary for a mission to save the world or at least New York ! There was a catch up weekend on BBC so I saw at least 5 episodes back-to-back before falling asleep at 1.30 am. It was rather good or at least it seemed. However Mrs. Donatella seemed sceptical and explaining about men who could fly and a cheerleader who could walk through fire didn't sound very convincing ! Worse too was mentioning the Japanese office worker who could stop time !

Nonetheless, disbelieve suspended, it seemed well done and a bit of shallow escapism. Sadly I think I shall rarely know such escapism apart from at times of flu. I feel better now so I think a return to reality and away from the shallow make believe of reality TV is due. Here however is a brief taste of Heroes which I think is for me at least one silver lining from a long weekend of flu.......

Friday, September 14, 2007

How generous ! Brussels says we can weigh our tomatoes how we want !

This was a victory of sorts http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6988521.stm.

However the fact that we see this as a victory proves that maybe the EU does go too far in our lives.

As someone brought up, post metrification, I can quite happily think in both Metric and Imperial. However the issue here is one of being able to decide for yourself rather than having one system imposed.

Metric proponents point to the obvious simplicity of the system with everything divisible by 10. However other systems are quite manageable for all but the most mathematically limited and in fact much of the confusion comes from those unable to translate between Metric and Imperial.

The system of measuring time itself, arguably more important than that used for measuring milk and tomatoes, remains unchallenged in its completely non-metric form.

The measurement for leases, mortgages and contracts comes in a system of multiples of 60, 60, 24, 7, 12 and 365 but no Brussels bureaucrat seeks to challenge the Gregorian Calendar, in place since 1582. So how Brussels got so worked up over miles and pints in the first place is a mystery to me. However now it seems they see Britain as a lost cause in the metric world !

We still of course happily live with both Metric and Imperial. Just don't expect us to be grateful for this Brussels !

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What would John Craven make of it all ?

A contributor to an American blog I read, Allegiance and Duty Betrayed (http://allegianceanddutybetrayed.blogspot.com/) pointed out that the internet version of Newsround gives a characteristically simple version of 9/11.

Worse still the Beeb becomes a virtual mouthpiece of Al Quaeda when it attempts to answer the question "Why did they (Al Quaeda) do it?".

Here is the full answer aimed at British children:

"The way America has got involved in conflicts in regions like the Middle East has made some people very angry, including a group called al-Qaeda - who are widely thought to have been behind the attacks.
In the past, al-Qaeda leaders have declared a holy war - called a jihad - against the US. As part of this jihad, al-Qaeda members believe attacking US targets is something they should do.

When the attacks happened in 2001, there were a number of US troops in a country called Saudi Arabia, and the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, said he wanted them to leave. "

http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/newsid_1610000/newsid_1612600/1612653.stm

There we have it politics for children under 12 from the Beeb- all funded by the licence fee of course. What would John Craven have made of it all ?!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Life after birth: who needs freedom ?!

Many weeks have passed since I had the time or even inclination to write much here.The world of Mrs. Donatella and I is dominated by a little chap who weighs no more than about 12 pounds even at the ripe old age of 10 weeks.

Everything else from work, to sleep or dare I even suggest "leisure" has to be fitted around his requirements.If nothing else it makes me appreciate, in a totally sincere and non-cheesy way, what my parents did for me. Maybe that seems a bit late in the day but I think it is only possible from personal experience to realise all that parenthood means both in terms of joy and in terms of sacrifice.

I just exchanged notes with a friend I have known 10 years this September. Back in September 1997 we were both part of an "intake" for a major global accounting firm, albeit at a provincial office in Kent ! Since then we became very good friends and have observed the changes in our lives over just one decade. They seem to have been huge and of late they have accelerated.

Back in September 1997 before starting my new job, I decided I wanted to visit the US, having never been there before. For some obscure reason, known only to me then and not now, I chose to visit Texas and Arkansas. I wanted to see "authentic" America rather than the usual tourist destinations of Florida, New York and California. Back then, even as a relatively impoverished student working part time in a greengrocer, I had only myself to think about and had no real problem getting the ticket albeit with the new Firm's trainee salary on the horizon.

Other times I drove to friends around the country or even on my own- once to Switzerland once round the borders of all of France visiting most countries it bordered.I travelled with my friend to the US, Canada and even a hairy day trip into Mexico!

Later with work I visited many countries from humdrum industrial towns in eastern Europe to the screaming bustle of mega cities like Moscow and Sao Paulo to the soaring skyscrapers of Dubai and most recently Hong Kong.

Business trips aside, my life was not especially exciting or unusual but even the ability to mooch round a book shop or dive into the public library for an hour or two was a luxury I didn't realise I was taking for granted.

Now with young Luis in town not only is going to Texas not an option, but going to the centre of London with a pram and changing gear is an expedition not to be lightly undertaken! Horizons have shrunk and for now the old cliché about the world getting smaller has gone into reverse- it is getting bigger!

But as I tell my friend who is still relatively free, travel isn't everything. After all if you land in Boston, Rio, Madrid, Athens, Sydney, Shanghai or Jerusalem won't many of those photos, those hotel nights, those restaurant meals be so similar to thousands of others before and after your "experience" ? How authentic is the experience of the traveller anyway? In the age of mass tourism you are unlikely to see or do anything that hasn't already been done by someone else- not to mention written about and posted on a photo sharing website.

This may all sound a bit cynical but it makes me feel a little better as I contemplate top "destinations" in southern England !! Of course travel can be great fun and can broaden the mind or sometimes the person who returns from travel appears unchanged from the person who went on the journey. In my last job my manager had visited at least 4 continents with her job but still asked about Roman ruins while shown a Frankfurt WW2 bomb site. Sometimes travel does no good !

To look at this positively parenthood brings into the world someone totally unique who God willing will live many years beyond his parents and hopefully do some things better and differently from his parents.

Young Luis learnt to smile in the last week and against that I am happy to make do with a photo of what a Maldives sunset looks like.

Parenthood brings sacrifice and a loss of freedom that is at least physical. Travel becomes harder and probably less affordable too. But the freedom of the mind and spirit remains and we can still choose to travel there- although maybe not when someone is crying at 4 o'clock in the morning !

Yes it would be nice not to be woken in the small hours and I do miss the concept of "free" time and despite all the above, the ability to travel. That said, in a world of choices, the arrival of a little boy who at 10 weeks smiles and looks so curious when a plane flies overhead is a choice and a blessing that I would put above any destination I visited or activity I took part in before.

The unlikely ecologist


Is it just me or is Osama "loosing it" as he enters his 50s ? If it is possible for a terrorist leader who has caused the deaths of thousands to loose it ?


His latest video was more the rant of a semi-educated drunken bore with North London political leanings than an inspired speech to martyrdom by a global jihadist leader.


Not only was Noam Chomsky singled out for relative praise but the Bush administration's stance on Kyoto came under attack. He also attacked the influence of corporations and made a passing reference to the woes of subprime.


While I will not attempt to deal with the merits or otherwise of those issues, they seem like a rather banal summary of today's concerned liberal agenda. Books covering all these points could be found on offer at Foyles bookshop on the Charing Cross Road.


In his next video will he no longer be promoting the caliphate but sporting a "Make Poverty History" white wrist band ?!


While such platitudes undoubtedly contain elements of truth and having worked for two different corporations could probably concur on some of their defects, I find this new found liberal agenda from Osama a little insincere.


Surely mass-murder isn't normally something to boast about amongst Guardian readers ?! As for Kyoto, 9/11 was hardly an "eco-friendly" crime. Coming from the world's biggest oil producer with a fortune made in construction are further unlikely credentials from a wannabe green figure.


What these rather unlikely sentiments do signal is that Osama is and remains an astute judge of the media. He knows that a divided enemy is a weak enemy so he tries to play on known divisive issues. I think he is far more likely to die in a cave than win the Nobel Peace Prize but similar albeit less extreme journeys have been made. Who would have predicted Gerry Adams' journey 30 years ago?


Osama seems to be thinking of his own mortality and looking to his place in history. Like many people he is ultimately looking for some kind of settlement to his career. It is just a hunch but this latest statement seems a repositioning. It is more an outsider's critique of the West than a condemnation of infidels.


Maybe he recognises that he will not change the world and bizarrely is looking to align himself with moderate critics of the White House rather than to destroy the West. There was no explicit threat of terrorist attack this time.


A changed enemy is somehow more unnerving than a known enemy. The new Osama is as strange as his dyed (or false) beard !


While any reduction in threat is to be welcomed no one should forget what happened 6 years ago and that the despite ticking the boxes of some liberal agendas, Osama does indeed make a very unlikely ecologist as well as a rather insincere jihadist !





Osama and his new beard

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

September 11 revisited

It is coming up to the 6th anniversary of September 11th. Understandably things are a little edgy in some quarters.

A plot in Germany has been thwarted :

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6979295.stm

In London normally level headed bloggers report seeing war planes over the skies:

http://iaindale.blogspot.com/2007/09/may-be-nothing-but.html#links

I hope this anniversary passes like all others; with sombre remembrance but no other events.

There have been many films and documentaries on 9/11 but unusually for me I have largely been unable (or unwilling) to watch them. The conclusion to the story both completely known and painful so there seemed little point after the blanket news coverage.

Last week that changed a little. By chance I stumbled accross a repeat of the documentary containing the film by the Naudet brothers- two trainee firemen making a documentary about the New York Fire Brigade. Their first day was September 11th, 2001 and they both went to the towers.

As well as the horror, the one thing that came accross to me was the incredible escapes so many people had. Like a lift full of people whose lift suddenly opened and they walked to safety oblivious to what had happened and what was going to happen.

The clip link below is from the Naudet film and shows some incredible and disturbing scenes. There are amazing survivals though and the bravery of the firemen is humbling:

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=23DB_6ASkdE


The confusion and mysteries of 9/11 remain. One of those that gets a lot attention is the collapse of 7 WTC (the Salomans Building) later in the afternoon of September 11th. The BBC along with several news organisations reported this before it actually occurred. Some point to this as grounds for a conspiracy theory. I am not convinced but the confusion was undoubtedly enormous. One thing is certain- six years on the man who claimed responsibiltiy for this attack remains at large.

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=C7SwOT29gbc

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Yes we have no alcopops...

Shocking news from those charged with planning our office Christmas party (yes that is now being planned !).

At a manager's meeting this morning the secretary responsible for the planning told us about the venue. Overall it was a nice establishment in the City, quite close to the office.

"The only problem is that they don't do alcopops. We know that not everyone drinks wine or beer so we've got to work out what they will drink".

A less tolerant contributor said "I think the answer is lemonade or coke".

Since when did alcopops become a necessity ?

The authentic voice of 2007 London ?

Well so my colleague Barry, aged 46 thinks. Katie Nash was born in 1987, which makes me feel rather old.....

Luis "Junior" is doing well and maybe I will be back with something more thoughtful soon......

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A grey Thursday of Subprime



Subprime woes continue across the world and London is no exception. It's not a very cheerful time in the City.....

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Negotiating with Squirrels

I have been enjoying some reruns of "Saxondale" starring Steve Coogan (best known as Alan Partridge) as Tommy Saxondale an East Midlands former roadie now working as a pest controller in Stevenage. It isn't quite as side-splitting as Alan Partridge (that would be hard) but still has moments of real humour in a slightly more low key way. Sometimes the joke is on Tommy Saxondale while at other times the joke is on those who fail to understand him.

Here he is at an anger management class discussing the concept of negotiation. The class leader takes his squirrel analogy a little too seriously:

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=E11epT9z1Eg (the beeb has disabled embedding so you have to click on the link)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Blog Rating

My blog is apparently suitable for general audiences......

Mingle2


As seen on Iain Dale http://www.iaindale.blogspot.com/

Subprime reckoning

I am not a financier but I do work in the City and next door to Bloomberg in London.

A few weeks ago I had never heard of the "subprime" mortgage market. This, as far as I understand it, is low grade lending- to poor people i.e. people less likely to be able to pay back. Eventually a peak was reached, too many people had overstretched themselves and the US property market started to fall. Then last week a major US subprime lender got into trouble.

Now it seems to be spreading accross the pond. The European Central Bank today pumped £63 billion pounds into the lending market in a bid to make more money available to squeezed lenders.

The stock market has taken a battering as a result. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aaoIf.bbBn.8&refer=home

These are uncertain times in the financial world and the financial health of all of us depends, to some extent, on the outcome.

Look out for subprime ! It is a reminder that ultimately lending and property prices do have to bear some resemblence to the income of the people borrowing and living in the properties.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Please reboot the servers, a typhoon is coming

No sense of irony from our IT department. In exactly the same format as they announce virus threats, slow email and server downtown they inform us today that our Hong Kong office may be closed tomorrow- due to a typhoon. The "Why is it happening?" box normally reserved for a geeky IT explanation is particularly redundant in this case !



To all Partners and Staff

What is happening? Hong Kong has been issued with a Typhoon weather warning for tomorrow, Thursday 9th August 2007. This may result in closure of the Hong Kong office.

Why is it happening? We will update you as soon as we have any further information. In the meantime, please access http://www.hko.gov.hk/wxinfo/currwx/tc.htm for more detailed information.

If you have any queries about this please do not hesitate to contact your regional IT Helpdesk, the London IT Helpdesk on +44(0)207 *** **** or email 'Helpdesk'.

Kind regards ________________________________________________
Service Level Management Team

Monday, August 06, 2007

Life's a beach

Guess where has a wide empty sandy beach, warm(ish) water and an air temperature of 30 C (86 F) ?

The answer for this weekend at least was Kent and along the coast at Greatstone the beach did not need to be shared with too many people.

I guess that's what Mr. Gore and co would class as a "low carbon" holiday (while of course he remains free to travel the globe.)

Still Mr. Gore I can give you some comfort. With a new baby boy we are unlikely to be venturing too far too more so will be visiting the Kentish costa a bit more for a while.

I think it's nice to find out that you don't actually need to travel the world to have a nice time. You can call that "low carbon" or just common sense- less time travelling, more time on the beach.

Trust No One

A case of paranoia from the world of the office.

Barry my long established colleague has a position on the "Staff Social Committee" which aims to promote the interests of staff. Standard issues may involve variously:

- the state of the staff cafe- lack of choice and high prices
-the state of the staff restaurant- lack of choice and high prices
- the state of the toilets - "outdated" roller towels (a success of the committee was getting a cleaning register attached to the back of the toilet door to ensure cleaning can be monitored. Barry was not particularly welcome when he went to check in person that this innovation had been "rolled out" in the Ladies !)
- cycling facilities- where those who cycle to work can store their bikes.

On more adventurous days it may even delve into issues such as pensions, sabbatical opitions and beyond.

Barry's chief adversary, in his own mind at least, is our relatively new CEO.

Barry credits him with everything wrong in the Firm and for opposing everything good in the Firm.

Barry has long suspected a personal campaign by the CEO to eliminate him.

Today an electrician was fitting a new light.

Clive, our Finance Director, was passing through.

Barry exclaimed "Jason (the CEO) is getting new camera's to spy on us again".

Clive looked bemused.

I explained "Barry thinks his desk is bugged".

Clive rose to the occassion with "Oh yes, Jason has got pictures of all social committee members on the wall in his office".

Barry without missing a beat replied "Yes, he's trying to find a way of eliminating me".

Barry enjoys this work fantasy where he is the top of the CEO's agenda. Barry has done roughly the same job for over 20 years. This is somehow overlooked when he imagines his elimination by the dastardly Jason.

Barry enjoys the subject so much that it is easy to entertain him with ever more elaborate plots in the battle. Casting Jason as a global villain and Barry as James Bond is his favourite.

Recently Barry was speaking ill of Jason and I warned that Jason had bugs in place and would release a leaver emptying Barry's chair into a hidden shark tank below our office.

Barry then went off on a mental undersea adventure as he battled Jason for control of the world.

In the world of offices, sometimes it's a case of "whatever gets you through the day" !

As Barry would say "Trust no one".

Blackle

Allegedly low energy version of Google http://www.blackle.com/ so if you want to "save the planet" or save electricity may be worth a go......

Friday, July 27, 2007

Here comes the sun ?

Forecast for the rest of the summer, courtesy of the Met Office:
Issued 24 July 2007
Forecast for the remainder of Summer 2007
The forecast update below is based on latest indications for the remainder of summer (i.e. until the end of August).
Temperature
Near average temperatures are likely to continue for the rest of July. However, during August there are signs of a change of weather type, with an indication that most regions will experience some periods with above average temperatures.
Precipitation
Above-average rainfall is likely to continue in most regions for the rest of July and at first in August. For the remainder of August current indicators favour a trend to drier-than-normal conditions for most of the UK.

Could be an end to the rain and floods.....

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Gloucestershire Lesson


Tewkesbury, once surrounded by fields is a temporary island





It is raining in London tonight, as it has done on many nights since May.

Whichever way you cut the statistics this has been a wet summer, as in there has been above average rainfall. However London has not been dramatically wet in the way of Yorkshire and now Western England. Last Friday saw some localised flooding but nothing that hadn't cleared by the next day.

In contrast the flooding in Gloucestershire and some other western counties has been on almost biblical proportions http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/gloucestershire/6912271.stm. The town of Tewkesbury (pronounced Chooksbury by the real locals !) has been an island since Friday.

The County Town, Gloucester has been beseiged for days by the River Severn and even elegant Cheltenham has suffered water shortages as the supply becomes polluted and swamped by rain water. It is one of the great ironies that in this flood there has been such a great shortage of drinking water.

I should declare an interest in Gloucestershire. I lived for 3 years very near to Tewkesbury and for a further 5 years in the City of Gloucester itself. Many of my childhood memories are from that county. Although moving to Kent and subsequently London was seen as "progress" by my Father and subsequently me, I look back in fondness on this County and its people.

In many ways a county like Gloucestershire is far closer to the essence of England than modern London will ever be. I say that in a totally positive way. It is often the little things like the manners of other people that are noticeable. In Gloucestershire you would not be surprised to be let out at a junction by another motorist while in London you would worry about the motives of the rare "friendly motorist". The pace of life is slower but the quality of life (except in flood days) is arguably higher.

One school friend I remain in touch with is in the Gloucestershire police and is doubtless working hard today. He is married to a teacher and they have two children. Such a family in London would struggle to find somewhere to live that was affordable. While Gloucestershire is subject to rising property prices as elsewhere it is still possible for public servants to afford nice houses and send their children to schools where the education is good and generally free of violence.

In short, life can be good in Gloucestershire. That is not to say I am completely blinded by rose-tinted spectacles. The downside of such areas can sometimes be a paroachial attitude. Gloucester is not immune to the horrors that affect the rest of the world and towards the end of my days in Gloucester it came to light that the City had been home to a horrific married couple of serial killers, the Wests. Their grim record was one of the worst in England's history.

Despite such abberations Gloucestershire is generally a gentler, more polite place than London.

In Tewkesbury in the mid-80s we used to go shopping from our village. From what I remember the parking restrictions were few and those that did exist were enforced by reasonable wardens who were always willing to "give 5 minutes". Imagine trying that in London !

I don't think I could have realised how special the place was back then. Tewkesbury with its timbered buildings and ancient abbey, Gloucester where we lived next to the huge Cathedral. Suburban London is so functional and repetive in contrast to these towns of character and variety.

I am not going against London but I do remember all that life in an essentially a rural county had to offer. The frustrations were fewer and tended to consist of Combine Harvesters trundling down the roads. ! Farmers are important in Gloucestershire and they are some of those suffering most in these floods.

The Prime Minister visited Gloucester today and it made me smile to see how the local paper, the Gloucester Citizen, covered the story:

PRIME Minister Gordon Brown flew into Gloucester by helicopter today at 7.35am. Mr Brown flew over Tewkesbury and Gloucester before landing at the Waterwells police headquarters for a meeting with Chief Constable Tim Brain and other crisis team leaders. A total of 48,000 homes in Gloucester are without power after the Castlemeads power station was shut down. Postcodes affected include: GL1-7, 10, 17, 50, 51 and 52. More than 150,000 homes are without water but bowsers (mobile water tanks) are stationed throughout the county. People are advised to boil the bowser water before consumption. Cheltenham has an estimated 20 hours of water left. Residents are urged to use it sparingly and not panic as this will mean supplies will run out much more quickly. Meanwhile an urgent appeal has been launched for builders merchants to supply "dumpy bags" (large sandbags.) Any merchant who can help is asked to call 01452 753292 and ask for Nigel.

I'm sure the Evening Standard wouldn't be so unfazed enough to mention the Prime Minister and the phone number of a man collecting sandbags in the same article !

In terms of lessons on global warming, I remain sceptical. Up until now the run of dry summers when hose pipe bans came into force was blamed on global warming. Now floods are blamed on it too. In reality this has all happened before, famously in 1947 and before that.

This excellent article from the Times give a history of Britain's floods and remind us that Britain generally has been a wet country ! http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article2120684.ece

The one lesson I would take is that nature in all its forms is a huge and powerful force that can swamp us all. I remember 2 years ago when New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina. America haters from the North London liberals and others marvelled how the world's superpower could be reduced to such a state by a hurricane.

This piece from the Guardian was typical:


Blaming Bush:
LeaderSaturday September 3, 2005The Guardian
Hurricane Katrina has cruelly demonstrated the awesome power of nature and the havoc it can wreak on the proudest efforts of humankind. It has also exposed the United States government, and George Bush at the head of it, to charges of badly mishandling what looks like being one of the country's worst ever natural disasters. Unlike what happened after the September 11 terrorist attacks, partisan warfare has already broken out over the waterlogged catastrophe that is New Orleans and the battered coast of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. This is a crisis in full spate - as shown by shocking images of bodies floating in putrid water and desperate refugees scrabbling to catch supplies dropped by helicopter. America is the richest and most powerful country on earth. But its citizens, begging for food, water and help, are suffering agonies more familiar from Sudan and Niger. The worst of the third world has come to the Big Easy.



What the Guardian will be unlikely to point out is now huge swathes of England have been reduced to hunting for bottled water and coping without electricity in a similar way to the residents of New Orleans did 2 years ago. Back then George Bush was at fault but now it is the English weather. Helicopters buzz around the sky picking up who they can find. The general lack of looting may reflect well on the people of Gloucestershire and beyond but the state of Gloucestershire is remarkably similar to post-Katrina in its waterlogged landscape. Thankfully there was no ferocious wind and loss of life in all the recent floods has been amazingly light. However it is a reminder that all nations can be victims of nature and in this case no hurricane just simple rain.

A cottage in Gloucestershire pokes from beneath the floods



I am sorry to see Gloucester and beyond suffering so now. I only hope the floods end soon and I have no doubt that Gloucestershire will recover and continue to be great place to live full of a friendly and civilised people.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

My son

This is my son, born three weeks ago. As you can see he is doing well and maintaining a sceptical eye on events around him !

Good for him that his first month is such a cool July as last July was so hot which would all be a bit less comfortable when you're in your first month.......

Friday, July 20, 2007

Summer in the City

This was the scene at London Bridge station at lunchtime today. A year ago it was 36 C at this time- now we have monsoons. No flooding in our area but others have been less fortunate.....

I changed trains at London Bridge and was confronted with a near wall of water when I got off the train. In my haste to reach covered I slipped over on the platform which was very slippery. Received a cheerful "Are you alright mate ?" from a fellow passenger. Fortunately I was !




I'm no cameraman but note the water coming out of the drain on the platform in the second clip. It was very wet !

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Don't Snow for me Argentina....

Still on my 2 weeks' paternity leave here hence some spare time as there's only so much a Father can do for one baby when he has a good Mother and a hyper-active Mother-in-law staying too.

Saw this on my web travels:


Snow falls in Argentina
10 Jul 2007
Snow has fallen in the Argentinean capital for the first time in almost 90 years, reports the Associated Press on July 10th.The news provider states that Buenos Aires received a sustained snowfall for several hours yesterday after a mass of air from Antarctica reacted with a system of low pressure.This was the first major snowfall in the city since 1918 and prompted many local children to play outside and throw snowballs.According to a local meteorologist, such a phenomenon is extremely rare and is a once in a century event.


Maybe there is no need for Al Gore to turn all the lights off in his mansion just yet............ Oh actually he wasn't going to do that anyway- that just goes for the rest of us !

Monday, July 09, 2007

Boris the Best

Don't be fooled by his ruffled look- this is a serious politician !




Young Luis's arrival has put me a bit behind the times in terms of Political events.

However I wanted to return to a story from last week to register my support for Boris Johnson in his, as yet, unannounced campaign to be Mayor of London

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6269158.stm


I hope it is true.

Boris Johnson is a rarity in modern British Politics. He is charismatic, independent and original while being able and talented. He seems free of the shackles of Cameroonian correctness while being someone who I think all could respect as being genuine and sincere.

I hope Boris does run as for the first time in 8 years the Conservatives would have a serious candidate and a real challenger to Ken Livingstone for control over this great city.