Expect the Unexpected

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I thought I had a telephone interview today at 08:30 – turns out it was a real live one. That’s what I get for taking calls whilst I am driving and then not opening my emails I managed, whilst still talking to the agent, to get into some interview-suitable clothing and get myself out of the door, past the time-eating hazardous swamp that is getting onto the A3 at that time of the morning and up to the Research Park. Fortunately it wasn’t bad past the hospital (for once). I got there with five minutes to spare – perfect. Nothing desperately technical with this one, general and basic C# stuff with what I assume is one of the senior devs and her minion, the only other C# head in the building. Then a few logic puzzles, a heavily influenced by the C++programmer nature of the tech crew pair doing the asking. I don’t crack one pure logic one (apparently only one person ever has). Got about 80% of the way there, not bothered about that. These things happen, they usually want to see how you attack it. I ‘hacked’ 2 practical solutions that were out of the problem box – may count for or against, depending on what they value. We’ll have to see.

Sent my brain back in time to my university days to bolt something together on the linked-list type ones (not a thing we tend to dig under the hood of these days much in my end of my line of work). Mostly successful. Got brain fatigue in the followup to one of them – think I was trying too hard for efficiency, but manage something or other that’ll probably work. The guys are the mostly serious type. The work will be pretty challenging, but gaining WPF (which’d be cool) and probably get lumbered with the whole TFS/Team Build and test automation (er, partly good… but probably quite a royal pain as TFS always is).

Got all the way through to talking to the HR lady, and I got the impression that I only skipped meeting the CEO because he was in London for a meeting. Decent pay, good location, great holidays (25 days plus ability to buy 5 more + Bank Hols). Low staff turnover. They write stuff to support financial broking providers, particularly Forex. Think it rests on a) who else turns up this week b) If they feel that my stay and not get itchy feet and jump ship after 6 months (filthy contractor scum that I have been).

I wasn’t feeling the greatest or most together in general, haven’t been for a few days. Can’t face selling off my spare gear, but I need to get it out of the way. Feeling oppressed by my possessions (again). Maybe I should do a car boot… but doubt people will buy a generator or snorkelling gear at one of those! You never know. I can’t face loading it all up again and bringing it back when it doesn’t sell, and can’t really let it go for a pittance. Guess I have to do the biggies (Laney amp/cab, gennie, preamp and compressor, Self steering) on eBay. Gouging scheming ratbastards that they are.

Got shocked by my electricity bill (ka-boom!). I thought people were just doing their usual whinging but a 33% increase is a bit of a nasty one. Not sure what to do about that, as apart from my bath-loving ways, I am not profligate with power, got (almost) all low power lights and do all the heavy stuff (bar cooking) on the overnight cheap(er) rate. Apparently UK companies rely too much on gas for power generation. Bloody scientifically ignorant population and politicians, robbed us of the sensible nuclear option. And, I guess, lowered demand for weapons grade fuel. Oh well. Maybe I’ll go back to my off-grid plans someday.

Took it really easy [again] for the rest of the day, blog writeups, bit of guitar messing, attention deficit and nostalgic DVD-watching proving that you can improvise in a blues scale in G over the Blake’s Seven theme tune. Ate not that well – too many carbs, no veg. Wine gums. Not my ideal scenario.

Went to bed early, and slept late. Sleep seems the best place to be right now.

Same old shit, different day, gotta get up, gotta get up

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I woke with the cat-alarm. The older, chubbier, female one making use of the litter tray and creating what her owner calls ‘Biohazard’. Substantive and of extreme olfactory offense. I chucked the tray and the cat out, opened the window, and breathed through my mouth until I fell back asleep. I don’t think Cat Lady is my fate, despite being a single woman of a certain age. I’ve avoided any need to clear up any shit of any sort in my life so far, and I think that I can happily continue in that vein for the rest of my days. Oops nope, I lie. Birdshit from boats. Done a lot of that. Still, I don’t fancy dealing with a cat or dog. For that reason and for the possible furniture-destruction / wire-chewing. And I have a LOT of wires/cables about the place.

Missions for the day were to wreak further destruction on my friend’s fence panels in order to stuff them in the car and get them down the dump. We gleefully set to, and managed to get the lot in the back of the little red Vauxhall (nicknamed Geode). The fence had been a victim of the storms and falling trees. The precariously sagging garage wall was not, as I thought, also storm damage, but disabled-neighbour-car-mishap damage. Some unfortunately disastrous combination of the mods to the car, him slipping off the brake and a last minute panic wheel wrench by his daughter had launched him from his driveway into the side of my pal’s garage. She is still waiting for the insurance people to give the go-ahead for it to be sorted. Meanwhile, it gets worse, a prop that she put in shortly after the accident being pretty much the only thing holding it up.

The dump surprises me. My local one is a proper dump, a set of pits that you drop things into – these days neatly divided into various recycling categories. You drive up to almost the edge of the appropriate one and chuck your stuff in. This one has the containers just parked on a flat area with ramps – and it’s arranged badly, so that access by car to the containers is limited. Despite this, the town is very high up the scale for % of rubbish recycled, so everyone is clearly keen to their bit despite the obstacles. We made a sport of it, seeing how fast we could unload it all and perfecting exactly the right throw to avoid getting nails/splinters, joking that we could probably be in the national team and wondering which other countries would give us a good fight. We decided that the Germans are quite DIY/recycling keen and always up for sporting matches, or maybe some Scandinavian nation. I decided I needed to start doing some aerobic exercise – I get a little as incidental to other activities, but not really enough.

After lunch and helping to assemble the TV unit / re-connecting all the AV gear (I managed to add the VHS into the mix, which was much appreciated), I took my leave, and headed off on the highway. Not a bad journey, music all the way this time, until the M25, which was hideous all the way. Dinner was a bag of Cadbury’s eclairs. I guess it’s some kind of substitute tooth-grinding – certainly exercise for the jaw. Not at all good for me, my food choices have got a bit erratic lately. Not being too good at looking after myself.

Quick bath, quick practice and it’s off to Make Music, down the Kings Head, where I enjoyed the music, the chat, the pet pictures, Dan’s 3rd hand Big Balls (excessive confectionery gifts showered upon his mother by her Egyptian boyfriend, passed, untouched, via his non-chocolate-eating wife, and spurned by Dan himself as dangerous to the physique), the penis broken in the cause of entertainment (in reality, a pick, not a prick, gone floppy and useless through sheer abuse) and of course everybody’s songs. “I don’t want your ass disease” (in French), “Tuesday”, several others of which I sadly have forgotten the titles, and my turn to subvert the jam into grunge territory – “IBS”. It had started as a bit of a “Black Sabbath” rip off, but took on its own life… stumbling off in an Alice In Chains/Nirvana-esque direction (without ever doing anything as competent as actually getting there). I love that aspect of creating songs – you often never know where they are going to end up when you start them. I hear it’s the same for fiction writing… I had a minor tech hitch with the Pod [must have been nervous] hit Bank 31 not Bank 1 and couldn’t find my carefully crafted setting, just went with straight Brit OD, which worked fine. So now the concept is proven, I can stop inflicting my dreadful acoustic playing on them and inflict my noisy distorted-powerchord-based rock instead 🙂

I know, it’s only rock and roll – but I like it.

Go West (Midlands)

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Odd little set of highlights in what I randomly took as pictures. This little lot plus a lovely one of my friend’s cat. But I shall start my tale at the beginning – or at least on Friday afternoon when I set off. M25 was being horrible (such is life) so it took me an hour until I got onto the M40 – pretty okay from there. Had a couple of calls en route about job interviews [permanent, local(ish). So it seems to be going. Oh well, we’ll see what the fates bring]. Also had DW Radio’s German course on all the way – at least til I hit my destination town. Then it was a quick blast of rock before parking up and getting on with Friday night.

Frankie and Benny’s – think I am more of a regular there for eating out than anywhere at home. Always seem to get the same (pretty, friendly) waitress too. My pal is the chatty sort, really likes people, takes a proper interest. It shows, everyone in every shop engages her in amiable conversation. I get to be the Scottish person so I too am allowed to talk to strangers (whee hee! rebel, rebel). We encourage each other into large, meat-based meals, and a dessert that, in any sensible universe, there would not be room for – in my case a kind of sorbet/sundae cross.  Dropped into the giant Tesco on the way home to pick up breakfast. Strangely I was rather restrained in that. Advantage of shopping on a full stomach. Picked up a cheap DVD to watch to – Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters. It made good background noise, and one of the monsters was visually impressive – based on a weedy sea dragon, I think, but substantially scaled up. They have breeding programme for these at Weymouth, really lovely creatures. So were the starry smooth hounds (a type of small shark) that they also had there. That was a rare few hours of daytime rec on my sailing course… can’t believe that was all 10 years ago. That I finished it, got the qualifications, worked as a skipper, changed boat, changed ‘first mate’, eventually sailed away … and came back. Seems unreal, but I am not sure which part, That I achieved a long held dream – or that I couldn’t stay in it…

I am a pretty early riser. She is not, so I used my spare time the next morning making better acquaintance with her new (rescue) cat, a handsome and friendly chap called Marcus. The centre called him ‘Marquis’ but this was changed, to avoid everyone adding ‘de Sade’. You do have to think when naming your ‘children’. After that I practiced my song for Sunday, having virtuously got the chord sequence finalised, the words finished and done a couple of runthroughs before I left. Massively productive and proactive for me. Seems I am not leaving my homework to the last minute. Must be sick. Then a bit of German using my phone app.

Day was spent in the charity shops of 2 Midlands Metropoli, searching for TV stand/table/thing to put all the TV stuff on. As a fortunate side mission, and due to my companion’s excellent bargaining skills, we scored 3kg of rump steak, all cut up, for £20. MEAT!! And hot, fresh doughnuts (big mistake, at least for me. Digestive system Does. Not. Like.) Steak turned out to be bloody excellent too – tasty and tender and did I mention HUGE!! Very happy girls indeed. I have Meat Envy of the hoard she now has stacked in the freezer.

My evening gets off to a slow start, but about half nine I get on my way over to Quarry Bonk (as it is locally known) to meet up with an acquaintance for a pub band gig. I managed to get a bit lost in Merry Hill – for some reason I didn’t expect Industrial Estate / Shopping Megaplex / Diabolic Road System From Hell. Like Spaghetti Junction bred with a retail park and had siamese triplets. But it does not defeat my native guide (thank you speakerphone option). Band were okay, good enough for the clientele, ropy enough for us fellow amateur rockers to mildly amuse ourselves with the odd bit of wry critique. Singer/Guitarist dug out a 12 string/6 string twin neck for “Wanted Dead or Alive”. Top marks for effort, at least :-). I downed many Soda and Limes, having prepped my companions with the shocking news that I did not drink. They very kindly made up for it by drinking their fair share. Good show there lads and lass. Good show.

One of the pictures above tells only half the story – and not the best half, so in the interests of public amusement, here is revealed the whole one.

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I may coin a new phrase – “As much use as a novelty condom”. Safe Hands, though – didn’t notice a rubber glove dispenser… do you put one on each finger? But they are only novelty, so not safe… Oh well, better than Brighton, where the loos were covered in posters about various new and exciting STDs and where to go if your girlfriend is beating you up. I also wonder what the police do with the drinks they confiscate – save them for later? Apparently, I come across as very possibly being on drugs.

Anyway, I hang around a little bit after the band finishes. 2 of the party are heading for pizza, the other is at the happy-but-a-tiny-bit-stumbly drunk stage, but only lives across the road, so I figure he can make his own way, and I’ll head off. (he was textually apologetic later, but it was fine, long hard weeks and weekend relaxation catch up with you). So, I get myself back to the Cat Cave, via an entertaining M6 diversion and the resultant covert piss stop in a factory carpark. In some respects, my favourite tipple has exactly the same issues as beer. I manage no noise, but apparently putting the light on did momentarily confuse my hostess into thinking it was light and time to feed the cats. I did debate, but couldn’t risk stepping in a litter tray…

It could be me?

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I continued my financial rearrangement notions on Wednesday – as you can see I have a foolproof strategy 🙂 But seriously, I decided to cash in my ISA, and, after various technical hitches, and me lecturing the IT guy on security risks (their whole process gives me the shudders – SO open to employee abuse, should they hire a wrong ‘un) I got a very pleasant surprise in terms of how it had prospered. The only thing I will say is that if I have had a notion to cash out of tracking the FTSE, prepare for a market crash. My entry and exit timings on this particular branch of investment have been pretty much impeccable over the past 20 years and it’s what saved me (mostly) from my rather late entry into property ownership. In the past, it’s been judgement, at least of the “I have my magic numbers” sort. If it hits a certain minimum figure, I buy, if it hits a certain max, I sell. This time, I haven’t really been looking, except to note that it seemed utterly unreflective of the real financial situation on the ground in the UK. So maybe that disparity between actual recession with unemployment, people struggling with debt and rising costs and the FTSE 100 Index figure is signal enough.

You’ll perhaps note that I have no guilt over my good financial situation, despite a pretty well-formed social conscience. I think I have played the game well, played it fair, used my own brain and efforts to get myself a good deal. I’ve made sure I never profited by divorce or other relationships – money is a game, people are not. I started out with no advantages, no investment education, no contacts, no network. My family gave me a distaste for debt, and the blessing of a good example in terms of earning, saving – all the good little worker training. Others have different backgrounds, different contacts, they become entrepreneurs, captains of industry (do we still have them?), finance, whatever. I grew up in a council house in a New Town in Scotland. Utterly ordinary. I don’t recall that we knew anyone who even ran their own small business, not even man and van or a shop. Or anyone of any managerial grade. That matters in shaping your mind, your opportunities, what you know, what you can do…

I selected my degree (fees paid back then) and my occupation based upon its earning potential/interest joint score. I ended up working contract IT for investment banks in London in the real boom times. That was about as much as you could get paid for a purely technical, totally on-merit role anywhere in the world. I learned a little about investment. I played it mostly safe. I did fairly well – and would have done better if I’d not spent money on boats (but they were the once-and-forever escape solution). Or if I’d been a money-grubbing bitch. I’d have done better if I had trusted my ongoing earnings potential, or in anyway suspected that the property price ‘bubble’ was never going to be allowed to crash in the way it clearly *should*. My 70s upbringing saw me poised, cash-heavy for a 70s style high-interest-rate recession – I’m retro through and through, not just my musical taste. This time it served me a little ill. Never mind, I really can’t complain, not on a personal level. On a wider social rich-poor ever-expanding increasingly-unbridgable-gap level?? Oh my gods yes – but that’s another story… and against which even all my assets, were I to devote them to some sort of cause, would be less than a very small drop in a very large ocean. The problem with Big Society is that society is too big. Yet another story…

I’ve been a minion, still trying to buy myself free. They made the Haitians buy themselves back, that’s why the country is so damned poor – I always thought that was ludicrous, that the Haitians should have told them to f*ck off. Maybe I am no better…

I’ll meet you at the station

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Awake far too early. Reacted by anaesthetising myself with porridge and relaxing my stressed out muscles with a bath (in the dark) and going back to bed. Had nightmares of crashing the car by falling asleep at the wheel. I have made too many calendar fuckups lately, am being impulsive, failing to structure my time. On my own in the day, can’t get on any productive track. I hate that I have been so damaged by “the system” (school then Uni, then jobs all my life, doing what someone else wants all day every day) that I can’t be self-motivating. More coffee. Guitar. German. Job hunt. Exercise. Hope that my brain and the universe are in some kind of collusion and it’s all being taken care of in the background, that some emergent epiphenonemon of the system will appear to rescue me.

Later, I managed some guitar. Did a bit of work on the music for my assigned song. Did a wee bit of German (Babbel course – below my level, but I intend to blast through it all as a recap), had the Berlin rock radio on all day and also listened to the DW Langsam Nachrichten Podcast (news spoken slowly!). Went into town. Spoke to bank and it was way better than I expected! Top marks to Virgin Money excellent service, can’t think of better. Had my weekly allowance of treat – lemon pie and excellent coffee. (Really I should set myself the mission of saying all that in German). Sorted boat insurance. Chatted to Skye. Paid water bill. Jobserved.

Later, I headed up to the jam night a the Old Ford – back out near the rehearsal studios. It’s a pub that’s right on North Camp station, used to be a real biker hangout, they had their clubhouse at the back. That seems to have gone by the by over the last year, along with such excitements as standup fights between them and gypsies in the carpark. Not a fight I’d like to bet on, but you’d certainly get your value for money in entertainment. Pub has changed hands since then but life still goes on. I’ve played there with an old band a good few times (still recalled, as I found out later, by at least one old boy), and it was on the way back from there in 2011 that I had a girl pull out on me leading to possibly the world’s slowest speed bike crash and me dropping the bike on my right hand and breaking it.

The rock and roll roundup on all this is convolutedly fascinating. I was there that night as a followup for an audition for a band, the bassist being one Brian. After staying up all night in the hospital, they failed to do anything but stick it in a temporary cast. That night I filled in on vocals for the first time for the band of a guitarist called Ryan (he having auditioned me about 6 months previously for a band that didn’t end up forming), hand in cast and all. The vid for Minions No More’s ‘Lazy’ was shot that week with me as a silhouette – but if you look closely you can see the cast. A few weeks later they operated, it was going to be plated, but it was too crushed. They stuck some wires in and hoped. That night I went to see Whitesnake at Hammersmith (one of the good gigs). Later, Ryan and I did start a band – which got mutated into From Sabbath To Hell (now defunct). Now I am in a band called Blackspires with Brian, from the band I was seeing at The Old Ford the night I broke my hand…

The hand, by the way, is pretty much OK now. I didn’t do any sailing that year – had been racing and had just got the boat in shape to launch. Another life, another time. All gone now.

But back to the jam. I ended up talking to Peter, there with his drummer son Andrew, who I know from the Guildford Weds jam, and just enjoying the music. A 3 piece of young blokes turn up, great retro 60s/70s stuff, musically fantastic, they were making a go at singing, but broadcasted their need for a singer. If I was half the age I am… as it is, I had to admit that my vocal coach powers are still in embryo – but the one lad, as I told him, does pretty well when he really means it. I think the song was about wanting to get laid – a topic a young man can always manage with conviction. 😉

It all went on quite late, and I hadn’t had a turn up singing. It got really beyond when I wanted to leave – had a busy day planned – so I did. I just hope it didn’t look too diva-esque…

Not much of a day

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Today was not the legendary hive of activity that I intended – but I got the shopping done and cooked stuff for the whole week. Kept it really cheap – I spent most of the day being down about lack of job prospects/ready money. I kept trying to wind up to playing guitar or doing some weights, but failed.

I did, however, book my next trip to Berlin. Staying in a hostel in Fredrichshain this time, but in a room with its own bathroom. Cheaper than the last place. We’ll see. Change of scene. I have definitely got some sort of calendar malfunction, either with Google or with my brain, because I forgot totally I had got tickets to the Takedown day festival in Southampton and now I can’t go. I hope someone turns up who can use the tickets. I also got a message about 7 from the boys in one of my bands to ask if I was stuck in traffic. I had thought “Do I have rehearsal?”, I had checked my calendar and nope. So I scurried off after hastily packing my gear. We were more than a little rough, but I don’t think we have gone backwards.

That was about it. Onto tomorrow and (hopefully) better things.

Missions

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I had a major fry up craving, so I started the day over at the local cafe. Megabreakfast with added black pudding. I read a couple of the small short books by Readux Press, both about Berlin. Was amused to see that even back in 1929 gay clubbing was considered more civilised by the straight participant. Even better, as I started my 2nd cup of coffee (one of the few places I take it millky – they do it SO well) in walked Steve, one of the Jammers. We had a good catchup natter before he headed off down to Portsmouth.

I didn’t do a whole lot all day that I recall, but I messed about with a little ditty by one of of the great traditional English folk voices, a certain Mr John Osborne, and his mate Terry Butler… I had plans to play it at the Make Music gathering in the Kings Head later on. I took my own electroacoustic this time, it’s alien enough territory without using other people’s guitars.

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The usual crew were there, Jon, Sam, Jimmy Cashback and Dr Blood (Master of Puppets). The latter was fizzing on legal drugs – too much coffee and his wife’s friend’s cake. That wasn’t icing sugar, we joked. I enjoyed everyone’s turn, especially Dan’s mad mad stuff, managed my (horrible) stint, banging through Paranoid, Word Up and Sweet Child O Mine, badly arranged for (sort of) acoustic. I am going to make the footswitch for the damned Pod and take the bloody Strat, I think. Or even take the green overdrive pedal. They do have electric stuff sometimes. Especially since I have (one week late) got involved in the “Songwriting Roulette”.

People were showing off their songs that they’d got assigned last week – A fab instrumental on keyboard called “Pigs In Space”, odes to dead giraffes, Ikea to the tune of American Pie – with *awesome* guitar solo [pure jangly open string noise!], the unforgettable uke masterpiece “Broccoli” and the unmentionable “Chicken” from Lol. Then the guys did a few other songs together, I got assigned my homework for the next 3 weeks and I trooped off home, pondering how the hell to write “Irritable Bowel Syndrome”…