Monday, 29 March 2010


Trying to catch this weekends Formula 1 race in Melbourne hasn’t been easy due to the time difference between the UK and Australia, and the fact that it was my wedding anniversary. Spending a romantic weekend in the Cotswold’s whilst avoiding hearing the result on the News was a massive challenge. Fortunately driving around the idyllic Midlands villages with the Radio off, and avoiding pubs with the TV on, meant that I missed the result before getting a chance to see it in all its antipodean glory.
Despite the race being full of incidents, excitement and intrigue I decided to write about my experience in some of the most beautiful villages in the UK if not the world, or at least they would be if it weren’t for a few minor details.

We stayed in the White Hart Royal in Moreton in Marsh, which earned its Royal title due to the once King Charles I sheltering in the inn following the battle of Marston Moor in July 1644, so you would imagine a building with such patronage and cultural importance would be a perfect setting to soak up the history and authenticity of the last 360 years, and you would be right and er wrong as well. Yes the hotel had meter thick walls made of the best Cotswold stone, ceilings so low that you need to kneel to change a light bulb and floors so uneven that the addition of alcohol wasn’t required for that ‘stop the boat rocking’ experience. However there was something wrong, something not quite right, it took me ages to put my finger on what made the whole place seem unauthentic, dull and dare I say it – lacking character. Like so many public buildings these days it had been attacked by the most destructive force know to man, something more threatening than global warming, Bin Lardin or Simon Cowell – the dreaded health and safety executive.

The once character filled, exposed beamed, leaded windowed, crooked walled, damp filled, wood rotted rooms, have now been filled with illuminated exit signs, smoke detectors, sprinkler devices, fire extinguishers, anti slip pads, dehumidifiers, smoke blankets, and warning signs sucking all sense of character out of every last priest hole. You can throw as many four-poster bed’s, coalscuttles, iron baths, muskets and coat of arms at a place, but a poorly placed health and safety poster will ruin it all. I recognize that Health and Safety is useful for those that struggle with the concept of self control, self preservation and don’t realize that hanging your head out of a moving train whilst it passes under a bridge or juggling chain saws – may not be a good idea, but do we really need to protect a building that has survived 3 century’s, a dozen kings and queens, every major modern invention, 2 world wars, and the black death, all without the need of a Health and Safety lecture, or a‘Mind Your Head’ sign?

Following a fantastic stay in Moreton, we decided to move to the village of Bourton on the Water, a place so cute, quaint and chocolate boxy that you could feel that you have stepped back into the land of Miss Marple, Wuthering Heights or Wind in the Willows. With its shallow stream dividing the villages yellow stoned buildings, which are peppered by craft shops, teahouses and ye, olde bars and inns. A victim of its own success and never quiet it’s a focal point for foreign and local visitors alike, parking is at a premium as is a seat in one of the dozens of cream tea emporiums. The people seated drinking pots of Earl Grey, Ceylon and English Breakfast, whilst eating fruit scones and Cucumber Sandwiches are the expected blue rinsed octogenarians and Bikers! Yes you did read correctly, Bikers, or Bikeys as their called in Australia. Hundreds of multi coloured leather condom wearing two wheeled demons.

I thought that those that wish to dress in skin tight leather, donned highly polished helmet’s and straddling throbbing twins or 4 pots at weekends, congregated at rufty tufty ‘mens’ pubs, seaside towns or local land marks. I hadn’t realised that they all met down the local cream tea parlour!

As we sat down to watch the world go by, the children played pooh sticks from the foot bridge, the Barbour clad men and women walked their springers, and the Japanese tourists capturing another gigabyte of photographs, any resemblance of silence was broken not by the tweet of the birds, but the roar of CBR’s, Moto Guzzi’s Kawasaki and Suzuki’s.

Dozen after Dozen of middle-aged men and women roared into the village, wearing their brightly coloured size 18 spandex, beer guts stretching the leather seams to a point of explosion, parking on any spare corner of footpath, before unveiling helmet hair from hell then settling down to a nice mug of Darjeeling and a slice of Victoria sponge.

It’s not quite the picture of rural England I had come to expect, and I don’t have a clue what the foreign visitors make of it all. I guess the money that they spend keeps these villages alive, however I do wonder how long it will be before the bikers drive out the rest of the visitors away or probably more likely those Health and Safety executives will deem that wearing tight fitting leathers and driving 2 wheeled engines after 2 slices of carrot cake far too dangerous and ban them, perhaps those in charge of the illuminated exit signs aren’t too bad the after all?

Saturday, 20 March 2010


When did it become necessary to find a job, or recruit by using an agency? I remember a time before Internet Job Sites, or recruitment agencies, a time when companies placed job vacancy notices on billboards outside the factory gates, adverts in newspapers, with careers teachers and even on school or university notice boards. People found employment this way, and businesses found employees, it seemed to work well, local people found local jobs with local companies. Word of mouth, friends of friends and family connections ensured a steady market for both talent and roles, of course this lead to some nepotism and ‘jobs for the boys’, but also ensured that when you hired someone, you at least knew their parents, brothers, sisters or friends and thus they were more likely to come recommended by people who you respected or trusted.

On the downside of course the ‘talent pool’ as its called in HR speak, became fairly shallow and people were squeezed into roles because of their DNA, Chromosomes or School Chums rather than their experience and abilities – still Britain built a Great Empire on this basis, conquering more than half of the known world, establishing democracy, a legal and schooling system emulated and copied by the whole world, all based on a buddy society.
Of course this process still remains strong within the civil service, financial and government sectors to name but a few. Whilst those of us not benefiting from the public schooling, correct blazer and tie wearing gold card membership into these professions, may feel an element of resentment towards those that do, I cant help feeling a sense of pride and security when I hear a ‘proper’ English accent on the TV exclaiming that the British Government will do everything in its power to blah blah.
As an aside I was once in the presence of some media types over dinner in Beijing, who were deriding the current British Ambassador to China, as a pompous, public schooled ponce and that what the foreign office needed was some real people, some earthly individuals who had grown up on the wrong side of the tracks, made their way the hard way and knew how real people felt. They suggested that I should seek a career in this direction, and that I knew more about the cultural differences, business restrictions and opportunities affecting British businesses in China than any double barrel named toff from Oxbridge would. Whilst I may have agreed with the later part of the comment, I exclaimed that I personally felt secure, and proud that the person in charge of representing my country had a plum the size of a grapefruit in his mouth, had endured (or enjoyed!) years of beasting from the older boys, and was slightly barmy. I couldn’t imagine anything worse that finding myself locked up in a foreign cell in some hellhole, only to be met by the local foreign office representative who greeted me with a broad regional accent!! These people and their ever so stiff upper lips, are as essential as the Queen, bad public transport and wet weather – without them England would be – well America!

Anyway back to the main topic – recruitment. I have had to endure years of interviewing both as interviewee and interviewer. I must have spent months asking tedious and crass questions, and listening to even more tedious and crass answers. All of this when lets face it if you haven’t made your mind up by simply reading someone’s name on the top of their CV, you certainly have after the first 15 seconds of actually meeting them. Rarely do you change your mind during the interview because of the response to a question or perspective on a an issue – yes I know that you will say that is ridiculous and I should be ashamed, but all I am pointing out is what everyone else does, and lets be honest what is natural. You knew who your friends would be before you found out that they had a fetish for naturism or a flatulence problem, and now that you do know; you still send them a birthday card. Of course I am generalising and there are those odd occasions where your preconceptions are challenged, which is why you go through the interviewing exercise rather than just reviewing peoples names.

The real point of this blog, was to ask the question “what purpose do recruitment agencies provide?” I have to admit to mildly despising them, if estate agents our the backside of the universe, then recruitment agents are the enema – there I have said it, got it off my chest and probably doomed myself to a torrent of abuse from angry of Basildon. However before I go on I have to admit that amidst a sea of inept sycophants, there are those who float to the top and actually listen to the client/job seeker and try to provide an understanding for both a clients and a candidates needs.(Lord Search & Select, Wetherby’s, and UK Sigma are 3 that spring to mind as being both professional and personal and would thoroughly recommend – and not just because they know where I live! ). The rest suck in poor, sometimes desperate job seekers by advertising jobs that don’t exist for clients they haven’t yet won, and then pitch candidates to companies who hadn’t realized they needed a new director of international and domestic battery charging, with a degree in modern art and twelve years experience of lollipop tasting.

Having been on both sides of the table, trying to find work and trying to find employees the service levels from agents is incredibly varied and unfortunately the bad ones have a detrimental affect on those who treat it like a profession rather than a telemarketing job. When I left college I worked for a Chartered Surveyors, which at the time was a pin stripe profession and I rubbed shoulders with people who had names like Charlie, Byron and Robert, then the estate agents took over and destroyed any professionalism and respect the industry had. Sadly I can see this happening to the recruitment profession, unless they can find a way of dissuading the cowboys from taking over. I realize that they are ‘only providing a service’, but please, please, please sort yourselves out and find a way of controlling those that wish to diminish and degrade an otherwise modern day essential part of business, oh and if you do get any good jobs please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Friday, 12 March 2010


I guess this isn’t a topic that most men freely talk about, we don’t have weight problems we have clothing shrinkage issues or at worse admittance to a bit of middle age spread. Normally the domain of all women’s magazines, journals and TV shows weight gain, loss, obesity, anorexia, bulimia, binging, compulsive eating and starvation along with diets ranging from Atkins, Cambridge, Cabbage Soup, Detox, fruit, meat, liquid, solid, air and of course the ‘dust’ diet are discussed as regularly as the changing size of Jordon’s breasts, “how to spice up your love life” and dealing with the menopause.

Men’s magazines (not the top shelf versions) on the other hand talk about the changing size of Jordon’s breasts, football, gadgets, the changing size of Jordon’s breasts, Formula 1, erectile problems (whatever they are), the changing size of Jordon’s breasts and new advancements in Breast enlargements.
Unless you buy a journal dedicated to looking like one of the cast from 300 or one intended for guidance on how to shave your chest and pluck your eyebrows in preparation for a drug induced evening of topless rave dancing - you’re not going to find much in the way of guidance on getting back into a merely obese status rather than a morbidly obese one.

I have to say that for the first 30 or so years of my life I couldn’t put weight on even if wanted to. A day started with a good old English, followed by a mid morning snack of two or three packets of crisps, your 5th cup of sweet tea, half a packet of chocolate digestives in time for fish, chips, curry sauce and half a loaf of buttered bread. This set you up for 10 pints (15 on a weekend) of Guinness, a pack or two of pork scratchings and a midnight visit to the local Indian or Chinese. I have memories of getting home after a night on the town, and demolishing 10 strawberry jam filled donuts before bed and the only weight Increase I would incur would be as the hair grew on my head.

It’s only been the last 3 to 5 years that the merest thought, sniff, or advert on the TV can cause the pounds to pile on. I can’t even drive past a MacDonald’s, KFC or Pizza hut without putting on enough weight to qualify for a support bra these days. Just writing about food has caused my chins to multiply and the desk chair beneath me to break under the strain – Christ knows what may happen if I actually ate some Junk food. It’s become so bad that I have had to categorise what I eat into two elements, food which is bad for me potentially cause\ing my spleen to explode, and...... air - I have even resorted to controlling my breathing, just in case someone identifies that air is worth 15 calories per litre.

I have tried everything to get the dial on the weighing scales to go backwards, well almost everything, well ok almost nothing. I simply can’t be doing with eating boiled cabbage water for breakfast, lunch and dinner; life is just too short to spend it worrying whether about the ‘Tran’s’ fat content of a cucumber slice or the carbohydrate levels in a Ryvita. Don’t get me wrong I have stopped drinking alcohol, eating chocolate, crisps and cookies during the week, now I just stock pile them and gorge myself at the weekend! Strangely my diet isn’t working!! I guess I have to accept that I need to throw away my favourite 10 year old jeans, give up dreams of wearing Lycra and resolve myself to baggy jumpers and elasticated waist trousers.

There are lots of theories as to why weight is gained as we grow older, complacency, gravity, and a slowing down of metabolism. However I put it down to eating too much, drinking too much and under taking all the exercise of a comatosed sloth. I get out of breath these days licking a stamp, or combing my hair. Please don’t get me wrong I have tried exercising I event went out and brought some trainers, got the white socks, and invested in some expensive high tech. exercise equipment, which now reside as useful clothes horses and apparatus for stubbing my toes on when going to bed. I want to get out there and train for a marathon, I used to row for a Dragon Boat team and going even further back swim at quite a high level, but now I consider changing gear a form of exercise (and I drive an automatic!).

Statistics tell us that more people are injured on exercise equipment or whilst jogging, swimming and cycling than watching the TV and eating a takeaway – so in the interest of preserving my health, that’s exactly how I am going to control my weight, stay safe and blame it all on the wife shrinking your clothes!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Getting Old

I guess this Blog was inspired by a colleague of mine who just ‘celebrated’ his 30th Birthday, the celebrated bit is in exclamation marks, as to him this seemed the end of the world, the end of his ‘youth’ with the next stop on the runaway train called life being incontinence pants, Zimmer frames and mumbling loudly about ‘the kids of today blah blah’.  As I approach what could be considered a major milestone in my life, his depression, dismay and disbelieve that life had anything to offer past the 20’s made me think about how I feel as I leave the 30’s.

Candidly I exclaimed that age was just a state of mind, and that I was comfortable with death.  I had achieved what I wanted, experienced enough for more than 2 lifetimes, and was content that my time on the planet hadn’t been wasted. My only regret if the grim reaper suddenly decided that my time was up, would be the fact that I never got the chance to see my daughter walk down the aisle, my son graduate with first class honours from Oxford (although that could take several reincarnations), the birth of a grandchild, the intense pride and emotion that can only be achieved by fatherly (or motherly I assume) at your children realising a dream, finding love, passing their driving test, getting the lead part in a play or winning at the chosen hobby/pastime/sport.  If my time was to come early I would feel robbed of these delights that no matter of personal achievement, excitement or gratification could replace.

This struck up two questions for me, firstly how can anyone be so depressed at just 30 years of age, and secondly did I really mean what I said? Have I really got to a point in my life that I only live my future through my children? Have I given up on myself? Am I so devoid of personal ambition? Have I lost all selfish wishes and desires?

To answer my first question, I have to think back to when I was 30, and how I felt.  But this didn’t work, I have been fortunate that my life has gone at a pace similar to that of a blue bottle fly, 1 second a human hour, 1 hour a human day, 1 day a human year, even at 30 I had achieved a lot of what I had wanted and more than I expected, of course my young arrogance and ambition desired more, and to have been struck down would have left me angry and feeling robbed, but depressed at 30 – never.
I always remember being told that at twenty I was arrogant, at 30 I was now considered confident, by doing nothing but age, I had developed from a young, pimple faced inexperienced child, into an ambitious, confident and respected future player – something I believe only age and perhaps experience could have given me. For me getting older allowed me to gain more respect, experience, and self confidence which in turn allowed for greater opportunities and the chance to experience even more, for me a self perpetuating cycle 

I think most people eventually see it as part of life and as you age you learn to accept it and seek out the benefits that come with getting older – and actually enjoy the process (OK just me again then?).  Then there are those who simply deny it, or worse believe they can prevent it.  

For me growing older is an adventure, just like visiting a new country, starting a new job?  It comes with some benefits, opportunities, and experiences.  Of course it also comes with its challenges and unanswered questions, like why do we suddenly grow hair in places that we have never needed to grow hair from before? Why does the affects of 10 pints of beer the night before take twice as long to recover from? Why does going to the toilet become a moments rest and relaxation, rather than just an almost unconscious activity of inconvenience? All part of the mystery of aging – but dare I say it is as interested as getting your first spot, that first time someone notices a hairy spider has crawled onto your top lip, or the moment of consciousness that girls and their bits make the world go round, and not fast cars, computer games, drinking until your sick and smoking behind the school bike sheds.

The second question I asked myself is intrinsically connected with the answer to the first , once you have realised that there is more to life than designer clothes, mock Tudor council flats and jewel encrusted nose rings, you concentrate on the real pleasures in life – your child’s first steps/smile/words, hearing a glowing report of your children’s school performance, receiving unconditional love from your children (even if they may be thinking it will get them a bar of chocolate or the rights to stay up 1 hour later!), going to places you had seen in movies and noting how small/dirty/disappointing it was in reality, comfy shoes, drinking with friends on an afternoon, sleep and quiet moments to name but a few. This doesn’t mean to say you haven’t give up on flying to the moon, swimming the Atlantic or bungee jumping into a bubbling volcano, it just means that when you compare the things that you have done, that you thought would make you happy. With those that you had no expectation of happiness the latter tend to result in a much deeper satisfaction.  Craving the latest phone, fast car, and white sand beach holiday can provide happiness, but not nearly as much as a warm house, nice meal and the love of a family after a long hard journey home.

Given all of that ask me the same question closer to my 40th!