Sunday, 23 May 2004

Well, it's been a few days since I wrote anything, so here I am raring to go.

In truth, nothing much has happened but life is very pleasant at the moment. Summer is very much on its way, and this part of the world is really coming into its own. There's an explosion of a million different greens, wherever you look. And of course everything is growing so fast at the moment - we're mowing the lawn every week and last week John, who helps us with the garden once or twice a year, paid a visit. Currently, then, the driveway is filled with three great piles of tidied-up foliage. Still, very enjoyable even though I only really get time at weekends. Barbeques each Saturday and Sunday, soon I'll look like a burger. The hanging baskets, herbs and strawberries bought recently are all doing well, and we remain impressed by this new mower (which I think I mentioned previously). Next tasks will be to rake the lawn and to dig some fertiliser into the borders.

Alice is very happy currently, she spends a lot of time in the garden playing with the kids next door. They're very excited currently because they're off on a family holiday to Hong Kong next week, I think. For both of the kids its their first time flying.

Work is going quite well. Despite the comments of a few weeks ago, I think there is a definite pick up in the market, so although we had a setback it's really only a matter of time. It's just a shame that there's no scope to do anything much with the current clients, since they are quite nice, but what I'm doing just doesn't turn me on and doesn't pay well. Still, I've recently revamped the cv so I'll keep pushing for a change.

Off out in a minute to get some garden furniture, just some cheap plastic stuff (we don't take sufficient care of things to get anything more up-market). Plus the weekly shop - could it be another barbie tonight? We'll see.

Must just mention the bike. Been getting out on it a bit and its great. The changes I made to the gears and the chainset have been really good, despite the sense of foreboding I felt at the time. But then I'm always the same with DIY stuff. I always start things hesitantly because I think of how wrong I could do things, but they generally turn out well in the end.

Tuesday, 11 May 2004

Strange Email...

Got an email overnight from a recruitment consultant who opened by saying "Have you ever considered working in New Zealand?"

Well, I suppose that's one way to strike up a conversation. We'll have to see if anything comes of it.

Monday, 10 May 2004

Sunny Times

Beautiful day in London today.

Lunch was spent with a sandwich in St James's Square. This was the place were Yvonne Fletcher was shot - 20 years ago this year (I remember seeing the news bulletins at the time) - and one of the buildings was also home to Eisenhower as he planned for D-Day. I think Nancy Astor also lived on the square.

So anyway, a nice lunch amidst a little greenery. Shame about the noise of the traffic on all sides, but then I can't complain coming back home to rural Wiltshire each day.

Then for the journey from the client's office to Waterloo, I decided for once to walk. I used to walk this journey a lot but haven't done so for a while. Very pleasant walking along The Mall, through Trafalgar Square and Charing Cross, then across the Hungerford Bridge. Depending on which of the bridges you choose, the Hungerford offers excellent views either eastwards toward the City, or westwards towarde the Eye and Westminster. Lovely

By the time I got home it was thundering.

Sunday, 9 May 2004

A True Gentleman

I sent Tony Benn an email to say how much I enjoyed his visit to Swindon. For the record, this was his response:

Dear Peter
Many thanks for your e-mail and diary for Swindon.
I am a Labour man because you cannot make much progress alone and there is a difference of analysis between the parties even if policies converge under New Labour.
But it was nice to get a message from a customer and I will pass it on to my Marketing manager --- who is
Tony Benn

This response is, of course, reproduced here with his permission. He send a hilarious response when I asked his permission:

My management consultant has asked my spin doctor whether he thinks my image would be helped by using my reply on your website and the Focus Group who have studied the poll results have said it is OK so go ahead 

This part is reproduced without his permission, but I'm sure he won't mind. I'm really glad I made contact him, he's very approachable and again this isn't something one particularly associates with politicians these days.

Business Matters

Well, now it's time for a minor rant. I do try to keep business matters away from this site, if for no other reason than it could potentially be embarrasing (or worse) if a client were to visit this site and find any criticism here.

Events of last week really take the biscuit, however, and I really must say something. I will keep it to a minimum, however, at the risk of droning on and on.

A fairly lucrative contract fell through - it would have been worth at least 75k. Why? Because the agency involved in setting the contract up faffed about for so long getting all the arrangements sorted, that by the time they finally got their act together there was no way I'd be able to commence work in the timeframe that the clients wanted.

In my business, it's all about getting a foot in the door with clients, and provided the quality is there, there is often follow-up business to be had. A couple of years ago I secured business with a major bank, where the initial contract was worth about 60k. In the end, with follow-on work, the value of the relationship was something like 250k.

I won't say any more, but I am absolutely bloody seething about this.

Saturday, 8 May 2004

Lazy Bones

No entries for over a month! Oh dear, that's hardly dedicated blogging! I'm beginning to wonder whether it was worth developing the blog engine at all..

Still, now that I'm here I might as well say something.

Actually, for all I haven't left any entries, life has been quite busy - some good things, some not-so-good.
The growing season is definitely here, and the last few weekends have been spent, in between rainstorms, out in the garden. I bought an excellent new lawnmower, petrol for the first time, albeit to replace an awful (ly expensive!) Qualcast electric mower which went kaput at less than a year old. The new mower was twice the price of the old one, but 10 times the quality. Given that I'm writing now on Saturday morning, I suspect some weeding may be on the agenda today and tomorrow, again weather permitting (not looking particularly good just yet).

Another activity that has taken up time has been fixing the new bike up. As bought, the bike had 18 gears and I wanted to up this to 27. Also, it was a time trial bike so had the aerodynamic bars at the front, to which the gears were attached. Unfortunately I couldn't get used to this - it felt very wobbly when I tried - so I got rid of the bar and moved the gears back onto the handlebars. Now, they are integrated into the brake housings, which I'm told is state of the art, the kit the professionals use. Whether this will make me ride better I very much doubt, but at least I should be able to change gear more easily.

Last Thursday I got to meet one of my favourite politicians, Tony Benn. (Would he describe himself as a politician or an ex-politician, I wonder - he's pushing 80!) He does these nights where he gives something of a spiel for half an hour or so, and then opens the session into questions and answers. The spiel part was a little predictable - they recorded one of these evenings, it's available on CD and I've listened to it, plus I've read his diaries so am familiar with many of his anecdotes - and so were many of the questions. Iraq of course took centre stage, then he was asked about things like the monarchy, ID cards, Europe, Zimbabwe. To all of which, his answers were well thought out. Even though the questions may perhaps have been fresher, I can't really complain since (a) I didn't put my hand up myself to ask an "interesting" question, and (b) he's the kind of person who is so interesting, and has such a wealth of experience, that you feel you could listen to for hours on end. So when you hear him answer peoples' questions for just an hour, you're bound to feel like there's more to be said. But then, he is almost 80 so one really should cut him some slack!!

I did get to say Hello to him once it was all over, and I certainly enjoyed the experience - I've been wanting to get to one of these events for a couple of years now so it was great that it finally happened and I will remember it for years to come.

Interesting also to note that the night was a sell-out. I think the theatre held 600, and it sounds like tickets were snapped up very quickly indeed. This is consistent with other experiences - I tried to get tickets previously for an event at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, only to find that tickets had long since been sold out. That just goes to show the popularity of the chap - I struggle to think of another polititician who could have this effect. William Hague? Er, no thanks. Plus, the audience was looked as though it was spread right across the spectrum of age and gender. He fielded questions from a guy who looked like he was still at school (Should the voting age be lowered to 16?) and from a woman who appeared to be older than Tony Benn was (I think that was the Europe question). Incidentally, I'd never heard Benn's opinion on the voting question, but he was spot on with his answer. In my opinion, anyone who's considered old enough to either kill or be killed in the name of their country, or to pay taxes to their country, earns the right to vote. And that was pretty much what Benn said (albeit a little more eloquently than I can!).

As an aside, the "interesting" questions I'd have asked would probably have focussed in on the fact that he's an independent voice in what has (appears to have?) become a very ordered party political system. For example, does he think it really matters who wins the next election (i.e. are there any fundamental differences any more between the Tory and Labour parties?), or to ask directly what he thinks of party politics, i.e. toeing the party line. It does seem these days that the "party", and MPs in particular, are very much sheep to be led by the shepherd. And I don't just mean Blair here - this was after all Thatcher's strategy for for many years, and it worked well for her. People will abide by these things if it means gaining or holding on to power, I guess. But since nobody could ever have accused Tony Benn of being a sheep, it would be good to get his opinion on (a) whether he thinks it's a fair comment, and (b) how you go about changing things, in the days of "approved candidate" lists.

One final thing he did say which I'll need to think about - the way he dislikes many services (his examples were health and the trains) refer to "customers" rather than "patients" or "passengers". It's interesting because whilst I agree with much of what Tony Benn says, my gut feel on this one is the exact opposite. I think referring to people as "customers" does introduce this kind of implied relationship between someone who pays for a service and someone who gets paid for performing a service, and I don't think that this is necessarily a bad thing. Certainly I've dealt on a couple of occasions with people in hospitals and doctors' surgeries - admittedly they tend to be admin people rather than doctors or nurses - who act as though they're almost doing you a favour by helping you, and that you're getting a free service in any case. I do think these individals could do with a kick up the backside to remind them that the Health service should see its users, not necessarily its employees, as the top priority. And as for "free" - when I look at my tax return each year I beg to differ. Also, my doctor is a great chap, and I certainly don't mean anything against him personally, but it would be nice if I could make an appointment to see him at my convenience rather than at his convenience. I'm sure I notice this more acutely that most people, given that I'm effectively self employed, but it would be great to get an appointment at 8pm (when I'm generally just getting home from work). OK, that's a simplistic argument. Certainly if I were a doctor I wouldn't fancy having to see people at 7am or 8pm, or on the weekend, but there's got to be a better way. I need to think some more on this one.

I have more to say, but the house has now well-and-truly woken up. More later.