21 June 2008

Last Friday of the Month (and last of other things too)

Yesterday: to the bandstand in Hyde Park for the last Friday race, with Tom: Ben and Hannah were caught in meetings. Not a bad run, all things (especially my lack of training) considered. 22:13, age graded 66.9% (but I was over 70 per cent not long ago!), 87th place and 9th V50 (though at least one V60 passed me and disappeared into the distance at about 1km). Then later to the Old Star to mark the departure from the firm of my most frequent, and most glamourous, running companion.

17 June 2008

May I?

(Tuesday 17 June) A Quorum Training day today: Introduction to Copyright, a nice easy course that I can deliver off the top of my head - not the greatest in-depth exposition, but spread over six hours it is superficial enough for me to breeze through it without thinking too much. The delegates usually seem happy (and today I ended up with all positives on the appraisal forms and "excellents" overall, though there were only two in the audience).
But getting there was another matter. The radio warned of problems with the trains at Didcot, and the train operator's text message alerts told me that just about everything "may be delayed or cancelled", which is about as much information as it now gives. (And what about this use of "may", when "might" is what is intended? Or are they just giving themselves permission?) Then another SMS told me that they were all OK, which was manifestly not the case when Hilary dropped me at the station. However, given three pieces of information saying what you don't want to hear and one telling you the opposite, which of us would not go with the minority view (especially if it were the most recent)?
Patient staff members were trying to convey useful advice to passengers, based on the scant information at their disposal. Tickets would be honoured on the Chiltern Line, they said, which helped a little, because when I approached a Pryors taxi to take me to Reading the driver told me that was closed too. I found one volunteer who also had to get to London that morning (most seemed to have decided to work from home) to spread out the taxi's carbon footprint and we headed for Haddenham and Thame Parkway (or is it the other way round?).
There was a delicioous irony about the worst train operator serving London commuters encouraging its customers to experience the best.

12 June 2008

Brussels in the rain

Out of my hotel shortly after five to walk to St Pancras in time to catch the 0600 Eurostar to Brussels. It was raining lightly in London and, it turned out, pretty similar in Brussels. At St Pancras, from where I used to commute every day between London and Bedford until 1990 but which is transformed now it is the London terminus for Eurostar, with raised platforms under the great roof, I bought coffee and pastries for breakfast only to be refused entry to the departure area by the while I still had the coffee. The staff were apologetic and spoke English with a delightful French accent, but I still had to pour half a capuccino down the nearest drain.
The trip to Brussels was impressive. We passed landmarks outside the station that filled me with nostalgia for the old commute, then we diverged from the line to Bedford and swung through the cement works with which this part of north London abounds. Then the train entered a tunnel, and when we emerged we were travelling at a speed I had never previously experienced in Britain.
There were green fields in the drizzle between the industrial estates of the outskirts of this part of London, then we reached Ebbsfleet (12 minutes out) where the train stopped to pick up passengers, but not to let any out. My reservation was for an aisle seat - I hoped that no-one would come to claim the window seat, and fortunately no-one did.
We passed under the A13, and then (presumably) under the Thames, as I never saw it. The train ran for a while alongside the M2, crossing the Medway at Rochester on a viaduct that runs alongside the road, giving that great view down the estuary then passing a rather desirable property on a large site, sandwiched between the motorway and the railway line.
27 minutes from St Pancras and we reached the complex that marks the entrance to the tunnel. At a motorway service place a little earlier, banners proclaimed the presence of high street retailers - HMV among them: who needs to peruse a record shop on the motorway? And, for that matter, what fun is to be had from buying music in a clinical modern atmosphere? Music belongs in a grungy shop filled with hidden and obscure delights: but perhaps the modern retail outlet is the right environment for soulless contemporary music ... which came first, the shops or the music?
Twenty minutes of darkness then out into what daylight there is on this most un-June like day: normally by this time I'd be on my bike cycling through Didcot, though not if the weather was like this.
Calais was visible in the distance, beyond the marshalling yards. We passed a compound containing several wrecked cars, lacking their roofs I noticed: were they taken apart by customs?
The north-west of France, though the landscape is similar, is utterly different from the crowded south-east of England. One might live here and commute a couple of days a week to London
The train was never going to get me to the start of the conference, unfortunately, but it did arrive bang on time in Brussels Midi. Unfortunately as well as raining in Brussels, the city was swarming with roving bands of red-clad trades unionists protesting about the cost of living with the aid of football rattles and firecrackers, which sounded alarmingly like gunshots. It was like being in the middle of a small and not very dangerous war. As I reached the head of the taxi queue, after some twenty minutes, reinforcements poured out of the station, and the taxi I eventually took had some trouble negotiating the syndicalists marching across the road wearing their red polythene capes.
I paid €10 for the ride (including a good tip) but, remembering as I alighted from the taxi that the building across the road was Brussels Central station, I took a train back in the evening - €1.50, and a greater sense of adventure. It doesn't take much to make me feel adventurous now. The departure board offered me a train to Louvain, a journey I made in late 1980 to an encounter that still makes the town's name resonate with me - but that was a long, long time ago.
Brussels Midi is in sharp contrast to the station at the other end of the Eurostar line: low ceilings, industrial construction methods, dingy lighting and a long queue for the security check. At least I had a bishop in the line ahead of me.
As for the conference, I should blog that elsewhere, if at all.

The Grand Vizier's Garden Party

The briefest of chats with RCV (who perhaps I should cast as the Grand Vizier for the purpose of making this choice of title work!), little more than exchanging greetings with VCR, longer chatting with Jon Fewster and with Ellen who, being a committee member, knows many people there. But Chris and Steve were there, with Alex too, and on an obvious high after their victory in the High Court before Peter Smith J. So I spent a long time talking to them, except that Chris was networking at a manic pace and kept disappearing: he had clients there, I learned, which may have explained how he was able to walk up to two people and take their bottle of champagne from them without physical violence.
Most of those present claimed a pressing appointment at nine o'clock which required their presence at home: in fact, they meant that they had to be in front of a devil's fishbowl at that time, for the final of The Apprentice, a show that I have happily avoided for several years now. I was the last one left, as far as I could tell, and I was deep in conversation with another Alex, this time from Vizards Tweedie, and one of their clients, and later Lin when he had seen off the last of his guests. He was, as always, a model of charm, and still wishes to talk to me despite my breaking off our talks at Christmas.
I had left my bag in the office, expecting to collect it mid-evening and head to the Holiday Inn in King's Cross Road for a good night's sleep before taking the next day's first Eurostar to Brussels, at 0600. After talking to Lin I made for Temple tube station, but found Steve and a very inebriated Chris outside a pub at the rear of the RCJ en route. So I rounded off the evening with a pint of bitter and a longer chat with Alex and with a financial advser friend of Chris, who must have been one of their guests, regaining the office at about 2315, and getting to bed for a fitful short night's sleep (anxious about failing to wake before 0500).

10 June 2008

Oceanside

As I cycled to the station, reflecting on the absurdity of cycling 4.76 miles each way, each day, at the age of 51, with a view mainly to saving money (though today the weather is glorious, and I can feel my legs becoming stronger with every rotation of the pedals), I realised more clearly than I have before that I am on a trip to see my friends. I have come to rely on friends like Nancy, Vanessa, Bruce and Andrew, and Shane when he was here, and Robert Venables too before he retired, for emotional support.
A difficult train journey today, which seems to be down to a track circuit failure in the Paddington area. Apart from jotting down my increasingly depressing thoughts, I listen first to a BBC podcast. which I don't really take in, then to the Four Last Songs, which I so often find I want to hear - another sign of incipient old age, no doubt. Then for a little light relief I turn to Robyn Hitchcock, which is a bit of a mistake:
Maybe I will find today/Maybe I will lose tomorrow ...
and then:
So you think you're in love/well you probably are/ but you've got to be straight about it ...
Worse still: anything by Robyn, even his most recent stuff, has the power to transport me immediately to the basement of the Hope and Anchor circa 1980, which I am obliged to admit was about the best time of my life.
Despite the unpromising start, I had a reasonable day at work - the knowledge that it won't be for much longer makes it much, much better. I do wish I could tell people that I will be leaving, though: and I also wish I had a job lined up to go to - though all being well that won't take long. The run from Paddington to the office was perfect, marred only slightly by inhaling a plane tree seed - at least, that's what I always blame when something like this happens - and choking until I could clear my throat. I crossed most of Hyde Park barefoot, running along the edge of the grass, but didn't feel any particular change in the way I was running. It was better than yesterday's run down the sand at Constitution Hill, which hadn't been turned or even disturbed by the horses for whose convenience it is really there so was rock hard and stoney to boot.
The run back in the evening was also pretty sensational, though I arrived seconds too late for the half-six train. Partly this was because of a long wait at Hyde Park Corner -I must write to Mayor Boris about the subway! - and partly because Joyce suddenly produced a stack of typing for me as I tried to leave. I must impress on her that I need my work by half-five, which could transform my life - and which will have to be the rule when I start a new job.
I realised that tomorrow is the legal charities garden party - I wonder whether RCV will be there (and I realise looking at this a week later, I wonder whether VCR will be there)? - and I have to stay in town anyway to catch the first Eurostar to Brussels at 0600. Ellen, who has acquired responsibility for getting the BDB contingent together for the garden party, is delighted to dispose of another ticket, which at this late stage does not bode well. Maybe Chris (and Steve) will be there. Maybe Lin will be there - last year I gatecrashed VT's private area to speak to him. To think that we were still in negotiations until the end of the year - and then to think how it all ended.

07 June 2008

Something about the Beatles

Interesting column in today's Financial Times by Mike Southon: Stackridge appearing not in the Life and Arts section, nor in the FT Magazine, a news story or even How To Spend It, but in the Money section which, being almost completely unfamiliar with the stuff, I rarely even look at. However, I don't quite get why he holds them out as examples of entrepreneurs - so I have sent him an email to enquire ...

06 June 2008

Arthur the Gardener

Who would have thought how much work there is in blogging? It can't be that there is an exceptional amount in my life about which to write, but today I have to admit has been a little out of the ordinary. It started in Manchester, where I had travelled by train the preceding evening, arriving at my hotel at about half-ten after an interesting walk through the city centre from Piccadilly station. Incurring the extortionate broadband charge (and giving up on the weak wifi signal, using the wired connection instead) I dealt with some clauses in an agreement for Sally and Alex the went to bed. I started the next day with one of those breakfasts that one can only ever have when staying in an hotel, then walked to the Lowry Hotel (to posh to put the lecturers up in) for the morning seminar I had to give, "Software Licensing in Depth".
It went better than I had feared it would, indeed a great deal better, although the technology let me down at first: my computer would not speak to the LCD projector (which initially had not even been provided), or the replacement projector, until an early-arriving delegate suggested swapping the cable ... then it was back to the station, train to London, arriving at the office after checking in to another hotel, and heading off to Arthur's book launch party with Gemma.
I had been careful when accepting the invitation for both of us, as assumptions would reasonably be made about a couple with the same surname, and took the trouble to give our names to the heavily-built man at the door who was the keeper of the list as Peter Groves and Gemma Groves. The invitation said 6.30 till late, and it was pretty late by the time I found my way back to my hotel. Gemma had left a little earlier, and much beer and wine had been consumed in the meantime, enough that I should the find myself talking about Stackridge to a stranger who had never heard of them before.

01 June 2008

Essential reading

Two very important pieces from yesterday's Guardian, prompted by the Glastonbury Festival: http://music.guardian.co.uk/festivals/glastonbury2008/story/0,,2283191,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=networkfront and http://music.guardian.co.uk/festivals/glastonbury2008/story/0,,2283192,00.html