What was I doing again?

Mutterings from the desk of...

Contemplating the last few months

I have just experienced a surprising three month (approx.) period of unemployment. Surprising because having worked steadily through the IT world for almost 20 years in full time employment I thought I would be a catch for another company and would get a job sometime in January. I actually finished with my previous employer on the 9th January but I spent December sitting around on “gardening leave” so I am going to include that as part of my unemployment. I suppose I should have been doing all sorts of things around the house during this time and I did start with good intentions in December to the extent that we now have a fully floored loft (It’s only been waiting for me to finish that for 12 or so years), I also started painting inside of the bathroom door from a dull mushroom beige to a brilliant white (three coats and still it does not perfectly cover the mushroom colour) and I dismantled the locks on the bathroom door and kitchen door, ostensibly to clean off the accumulated years of paint and restore to shining brass (in the case of the bathroom) and burnished metal. This not surprisingly has turned out to be a much more difficult task that first envisioned and as well as not being finished to date has annoyed my wife as she would like handles on the doors of both the rooms she uses everyday.

I think that I have tailed off doing things around the house as I have got more nervous about not having a job and moving steadily towards my fiftieth birthday. I think that I see this upcoming birthday as a barrier beyond which I am unlikely to work again if I have not got a job when I reach it. This may be stupid but it still preys on your nerves over time. The good news at the end of this is that I have a job with a software house in the of position of Software Developer just round the corner from where I started my last 20 year period of employment and in a similar role which is not much different from where I started out all those years ago. However, it is much better paid and should prove to be interesting work.

I have to say that there have been a few poor decisions over the last few months, first one was being miffed at having my job eliminated in my previous company. They did try and find me a new position as my line manager had said that he wanted to keep my skill sets within the company (thus inflating my ego and giving me a false idea of how the market may treat me) and I was offered a position of, yes you’ve guessed it Software Developer in another team within that company. So filled with my own ego and being disappointed with having a job which I enjoyed (I should mention at this point that I was a Project Manager running a team split between Glasgow and Mumbai) taken away from me that in a fit of pique I choose to leave the company and get another job elsewhere. So brimming with confidence I set out to look for a new job. I had two interviews in December and early January which also boosted my confidence, but both of these were with the Clydesdale Bank who are now looking decidedly shaky due to the banks owners, National Australia Group re-evaluating their position in Europe and strangely enough both positions were either “outsourced” or “given to an internal candidate”. I had one more interview in January to work as a Software Developer with another bank in a team whose leader was less experienced than me and possibly younger. That had a rejection which sounded a bit peculiar to say the least and I have my suspicions as to what actually was the rationale behind that. After that… nothing. I was surprised and disappointed. Who would turn down my fabulous experience in several different industries, my long experience as a developer, architect, analyst and manager in IT! It turns out almost everyone and that has been a salutary lesson to me. I will not in the future be trying to make decisions based on my own hyper-inflated ego but will look at the cold hard aspects of the market and its demands. I have taken a drop in salary to get this new job and I think that part of the reason I have it is because I had a loose association with the company some eight years ago (when it was a start-up, spin-off company from Glasgow university) and that two of the members of the interview panel knew people that I had worked with or knew as friends. It is as they say “not entirely what you know, but much more who you know” and I was told in December, which I have to say I dismissed somewhat, that I was much more likely to get a new job from my own personal contacts and networking within those contacts than just applying for the most suitable jobs out there. Well, I hope that is a lesson learned and I leave this entry as a reminder to myself not to be so stupid in the future.

Coventry Redemption convention - Part 1
So, we have gone down to Coventry to take part in the Redemption Multimedia conference. Wendy and I were up north in Fraserburgh for the first part of the week and drove down on Wednesday back to Glasgow and then flew down to Birmingham on the Thursday. So a busy week so far. We were gouged by wonderful FlyBe because we hadn't checked in our luggage online and it cost us £30 for 1 bag!

We wanted to get the bus to Coventry and were directed to stance K. This showed the 900 bus to Coventry arriving in 4 minutes. Great we thought, and waited. I suddenly noticed that the next stance (J) also had the bus number 900. Hmmmm, I thought. Why is there two stances which have the 900 bus. At that moment the 900 arrived at the next stance. So I went and asked if it went to Coventry.
"Naww, Stuuunce K, mate, Stance K" he said and he pointed to the stance next door as if I was an idiot who didn't speak English (like him). 

We waited, and waited, watching three or four 900 buses all going to Birmingham stopping at stance J while the electronic display at our stance clicked down twice to 900's going to Coventry which didn't turn yup.

Finally, the 900 bus to Coventry arrived and we boarded. It was a standard bus with hardly any space for luggage, and as it was the one bus going through the airport to Coventry this now made perfect sense.


We got to the bus station in Coventry 39 minutes later (which was marked on all the timetables and maps at the airport as Pool Meadow Bus Station, so tough if you didn't know that this was Coventry Bus station. It must be such fun for people who haven't done much research and expect to find sensible bus numbers and electronic timetable displays which are accurate, and maps which actually supply reasonable information, like me for instance) and the hotel 4 minutes later.

More Holidays stories
When we had paid and left the Osteopath, I had not many US dollars left so I went to the ATM to get more. Weirdly Lebanon uses both US dollars and Lebanese pounds. I asked for $200 (well, we are on holiday) and got two notes. Bugger! So we went to the fancy hotel across the road for some coffee and cake for Wendy so that she could recover from treatment and I paid using a $100 bill.

Great lots of change in the local currency, I thought. I calculated that this would work out like something just over 100,000 Lebanese pounds (Crazy, crazy money in the Lebanon). So he gave me a single Cent Mille Livere note with some loose change. Bugger, again!

Holiday stories
We are on holiday in Beirut and Wendy has been having some problems with a cramped muscle in her shoulder. So we got an appointment with an Osteopath today and went along. I had a conversation with the osteopath treating Wendy while she was resting under the heating blanket. He was talking about the American University in Beirut, normally called AUB or even just Aub, were he works as a sports injuries specialist. He was saying, when I commented on the number of cats we had seen in the grounds of the university, that they have a welfare committee, with an annual budget, specifically for taking care of cats in the university! Absolutely brilliant. He also said that any student who is involved with injuring one of the cats will have a demerit put on their university record and if one of the cats is killed, the student, or students responsible will be expelled. My kind of university!

Spring has sprung
One of the most wonderful things about having a garden is the wildlife that it attracts. Also, due to the fact that I am so very lazy, the amount of wildlife which seems to over-winter in our garden is something special. This has been a beautiful morning (some of it spent down at the shops) and while passing back through the garden I was struck by the number of Bumblebees’ that appear to have just woken up and are looking for places to nest. I have counted 6 or so around our garden, trying to take into account that some will be flying off and coming back to the garden, but most I can differentiate by the different colours that they have. I spotted a lapidarius (a Red tailed bumblebee), and a pascuorum, which seems to the most common up here in Scotland. It quite makes me want to get some bumblebee boxes. Which I might do after I get round to putting up the small bird nesting box I have still in it's box in the utility room.

Some Disenchanted Evening Concert

People might be interested in this. I know that it's very short notice (sorry about that) but it didn't occur to me to try and use the power of the Internet for good instead of evil.

Please click on the picture above for details of venue, cost, etc.

Glasgow Streets
West Nile Street, looking north from St Vincent Street.

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Writer's Block: Multilingual
How many languages do you speak?
One... and not very well.

A Day in the Desert - Part 1

Today we went off on the Desert Safari that we had booked on Thursday. We were told that this was going to be a visit into the desert to a Bedouin village with some fun and games first with high powered motor vehicles in the desert. Sounded good to me!

We went down to the shop which had sold us the excursion and were picked up by a long wheelbase Land Rover Discovery which was driven by a small guy with a burnoose and traditional Arab headgear driving who didn’t speak much English. This turned out to be our tour driver for the day.

We first drove down the coast on the nice new, sand covered motorway past the Airport to a fenced area which had a large arched gateway with “Safari Land” emblazoned across it. This worried me a bit, because it looked pretty controlled and in a word, tame. We drove up to this building which looked like a Spanish fort from Mexico (I think it had originally been a themed restaurant) got out the Land Rover and noticed a group of about 20 quad bike riders going round in a circle, all with crash helmets and gloves, being trained in the use of the quad bikes . Again my heart sank, as I had done something similar to this in Perthshire at the end of 2006 and although it was good fun then, without the tress and forest tracks I had been on in Perthshire I thought it would too controlled to get any fun in the fairly flat, featureless desert. However, our group of four were lead over to Spider buggies and asked if we wanted to try these first. So, me and Wendy in one K and dalg in another and away we went. We drove around following a guy on a Quad bike for 45 minutes and I absolutely loved it. It drove like a normal car but the gears were really loose, much like an old Ford Transit van gearbox (showing my age there). I kept trying to put it into 5th gear, which didn't exist and ended up in third. This caused the engine to roar and the buggy to take off like a bat out of hell. It was great. We were both well strapped in so no problems with us bouncing over the terrain. As we were behind dalg and K and the quad bike guide I also dropped back a couple of times so I could gun the engine and try and get some air between the buggies wheels and the ground. We didn't really manage to make it as I couldn’t get up enough speed for the low hummocks of the dunes to properly bump us up into the air and Wendy didn’t really like me trying it that much.  I lost my cap about 30 minutes in, which blew off back onto the radiator behind and above us. So, I thought “No problem, I’ll just get it later”. Then about 35 minutes in, the damn engine just conked out on us; way, way out into the desert, it just lost power and we came to a stop. I suspect that it overheated due to my cap obscuring part of the radiator. I could not get it restarted and we had to sit and wait for five minutes or so until the guide on the quad bike noticed that we had stopped and came back to help us. He, of course, managed to start the buggy first time! Here are a couple of pictures of us at the start of the run.

Once we had returned to the building (Which was currently being used for a quad bike garage) we then got on a set of the Quad bikes and drove around for another 45 minutes. Although Wendy did not come with us as she does not have a driving licence and was a bit worried about what could possibly happen. I think that the Spider Buggies have the edge on the Quad bikes for sheer excitement and sensation of danger. Could not really get the Quad bikes up to any speed due to the roughness of the ground, there was a real danger of being catapulted off the bike which was not there with the spider buggies. With being strapped in, you really felt like part of the machine with them.

Dive, dive, dive.

dalg and I went off on a diving trip in the Red Sea today. It was an 8:30 pickup at the Happy Diving Center (this is how they spelt it) which we got to at 8:10. The dive instructor (Khaled) and his entire family arrived at 8:20. He appeared to be much impressed at how early we were. We had gone along to the diving centre the evening before and selected what equipment we were to use on the dive. I had a “shorty” wetsuit, A BCD (Buoyancy Control Device, which is similar to an inflatable jacket), fins, mask and a diving regulator Octopus. All of this was packed into something like a milk crate and it was your responsibility to make sure it all went out and came back together. We then all jumped into a small minivan and drove off to the dock where we would be going out to the dive boat.

We got into a rigid-hulled inflatable boat, sometimes called generically a Zodiac or a RIB just at the end of a pier in shallow half meter deep water. We had to transfer all the crates over into the zodiac as well. This was my first time in one of these boats and it was difficult to keep your balance. Eventually we had about eight to ten people on the boat balanced on both sides, with me holding on to the rope on top of the inflatable bit for dear life. We had a real Sea Arab (and I mean that in the nicest way) piloting the Zodiac and he also helped with kitting out, preparation of the food, making sure the anchors were secure and once or twice piloting the dive boat. He was crew, but appeared to be first mate. He was swarthy with a fine black beard and a perpetual, disapproving expression, maybe even a slight sneer for the paying customers. He never wore shoes and just had a tennis shirt and trousers which stopped half way between knee and ankle. He could have walked into a casting room and got the job as Sinbad in any movie without even opening his mouth.  

Off we went out to main diving boat which was a big cabin cruiser about 60 to 70 feet long. Sinbad, when navigating from the dock and getting to the dive boat demonstrated his complete professionalism in handling a full zodiac without even splashing us once. There was then a 45 intermission while the boat moved to the dive area. This was called “Marsa Abu Gallawa” and was a coral reef with a small lagoon where I was to get re-certified for my Open Water Diver (OWD) qualification. dalg kindly agreed to join me in this even though he had a Dive Master certification although he had last dived 6 years ago. 

We checked out all of our equipment and connected up the diving regulator to the tanks and the BCD, put on our wetsuits, got on the weights, tanks and mask, got down to the back of the boat and put on our fins. I was just about knackered by this time. My fins were the kind where you put you feet into the fin like a slipper, dalg had boots which then slotted into the fins and strapped round the back of the heel. I stood on the edge of the boat with about a four or five foot drop in front of me and thought “I haven’t dived since 1997 and I have NEVER stepped off of a boat at sea”. So I took the “big step” out and promptly left one of my fins on the deck. I hit the water like a ton of bricks and lost my regulator out my mouth, basically a complete fuck-up on entry. Here is a good image of someone doing it right from the back of a boat (bottom of the page). 

I was bobbing up and down choking (and without enough air in my BCD to stay afloat) and trying to get a bead on the instructor who was grinning suspiciously (fortunately it turned out later that he grinned like this all the time). He handed me a grab line hanging off the end of the boat, pumped up my BCD while I looked up into dalg surprised and amused face on the boat. Naturally he stepped in without problems while someone handed down my missing fin and I put it on.

We sank down to about 2.5 meters and moved off towards the lagoon. I was not looking forward to this bit as I remember the mask tests from Lanzarote which I hated. We had dropped to about 3 meters when we started the tests. The first one was to let a little water into your mask and then clear it by blowing out the mask through your nose. I did not like this as I appear to be a nose breather rather than a mouth breather so I had a tendency when my mask was partially filled to suck in water through my nose. As you can imaging coughing three meters underwater with a plastic brace in your mouth supplying the only air your gonna get is not a nice feeling. I flaked out at the second test which was to half fill you mask and clear it. So the instructor when through the same process with dalg (perfect, of course) and then moved on to the more complex tests, which comprised taking off your weight belt and then putting it back on (more difficult than it sounds as this is the main thing keeping you underwater). Then taking off your tanks and BCD (trying not to rip the breathing regulator from your mouth) and putting them back on. No problems for me with this. Then we went back a step and the instructor wanted me to take my mask off and put it back on and clear it. Now, strangely this was not a problem for me as I have some kind of hindbrain thing where my nose would just seal off when I took off my mask underwater. So I did that and was left with dalg and the instructor staring at me in puzzlement. Then we went off past the boat, round the reef and out into the Red Sea to see what we could see. The reef was a four to five meter wall to our left (on the way out) and was alive. We saw tiny, white moray eels, endless small fish and a number of parrot fish of different colours. We swam out into deeper water down to a depth of 11 meters and saw a number of garden eels that formed a well defined field where they looked like question marks dotted across the sand. It was quite amazing. 

We returned back along the reef with it now on our right and watched the amazing wildlife on the reef wall. We also saw some spiny fish in small caves towards the bottom of the reef. We came back to the boat and did the compulsory 3 meter, 5 minute stop (not really a stop you just swim around at that depth) and then climbed back onto the boat. This was actually pretty difficult. I handed up my fins and assumed that the climb up the ladder would be OK. Instead you are trying to drag all your weights, a wet wetsuit (obviously) and your BCD and tank up a vertical, slightly swaying ladder. Fortunately, one of the helpers (I think maybe Sinbad) took off my tank and dragged that onto the boat which made it much easier to climb. 

Once we had been debriefed by Khaled (still expressing surprise at my poor performance at the simple tests and no problem with the more complex ones) we then had a complete laze about boat for a couple of hours. The crew also prepared lunch, which was mostly Egyptian style food (lentils, aubergine, small kofta sausages, chicken and rice). dalg had to finish my plateful as I was still nervous about the second dive and then... second dive which was a lot more accomplished from my point of view and just amazing viewing along the reef. We saw Trumpet fish, yet more spiny fish as well. I noticed at one point when we were at the reef wall with Khaled pointing out interesting things how much the dive actually felt like one of these wildlife programs on diving in the Red Sea, except much, much noisier. You are  breathing from your tank and normally the breath goes out through the regulator. This is pretty noisy in itself but I was being a bit casual and letting the air bubble around my mouthpiece and also through my nose (which had the handy effect of keeping my mask clear. The bubble noise in my case was pretty loud, and as I was sucking in air like there was no tomorrow, I was blowing out much of the time.

There was also the high pitched wine of other dive boats and smaller fishing boats passing overhead. If fact during the second dive it was like Piccadilly Circus in the rush hour. 

One the second dive we also saw a white sea snake on the bottom beside the reef with black stripes which we could not immediately identify. We also saw what we think was a couple of Octopus entangled together, what they were up to I can't imagine. I began to get into the zone on the return from the far side of the reef and felt a lot calmer and relaxed. However, once aboard the dive boat I had the embarrassment of finding out that Khaled still had 140 bar in his tank and dalg  had 100 and I had less than 50. I was, unfortunately, the weak man of the team, a theme which was to persist throughout the diving on this holiday. 

I was really tired when we got back and went for dinner, although dalg seemed OK. After dinner the four of us lazed about the bar and then dalg and I walked down to dive centre to book for Monday. I’m a glutton for punishment.


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