Electoral Blues

http://www.bobdylan.com/#/songs/political-world

So, Brown’s resigned his Labour Leader post; rumours abound about a Con-Lib deal and a PM has formally resigned; tempers are flared; fuses are short; everyone in the country (it seems) is blaming anyone they can; and I’m a good number of days late in writing anything about a British Election that – frankly – bored me silly until the closing weeks, but now has me pretty intrigued. All at the time of writing, of course.

I may as well be honest and state from the outset that party and statewide politics bore and irritate me. It’s not something I support and in my own little idealist way can’t until the time comes that we can cast off those shackles towards real freedom. But, whatever protestations I may have, it’s the system I find myself under, and as such find I need to be realistic about it. Which probably explains my interest.

Anyway, another thing I should get out of the way is which way I voted which, in honesty, is that I voted for this. A hung parliament. And, much to my own surprise, one that would result in a Con-Lib coalition. Why? Because I honestly believe that of all the myriad (ok, four) possibilities being mooted about the place, that is the only combination that could actually introduce any real (and in my view, necessary) changes to the country that most people I think would agree needs to happen, current economic climate or no.
On the topic of Manifestos, I can admit that the only one I read in full was the Liberal Democrat one, and I spent some time scanning the Tory manifesto for points I agreed / disagreed with, and similarly scanned the key Labour points (as I saw them).
So, whether its agreed with or not, I feel I’ve done my bit to make the decision I wanted to make, and made it based on choosing the party I disagreed with least at a Manifesto and personality level. And so its made. So it remains to be seen what the parties finally decide.

A bunch of things throughout the campaign, and after have annoyed me from all sides, so I thought I’d choose a few as I remember them:

ConLib / LabLib / Rainbow Squabblings

The whole episode of the last few days seems to have been dominated by the extremes on both sides (and may yet still be decided from them). Hardline Liberal Democrats appalled to be dealing with the Conservatives, and clinging desperately to their failed notion that New Labour are really as “Lefty” a party as they like to think they are; Tories disgusted to be seen to be “lowering” themselves to dealing with 3rd place when “they got more votes anyway” (irony, anybody?); and Labour supporters uncertain over what they want more – to see Gordon Brown away from the leadership or to keep themselves in power. All of which, frankly, are ridiculous and missing the point completely.
Lab-Lib would have been a mistake, whichever way you cut it. At a time when there’s a genuine opportunity for change, having two parties align that have ‘historic’ ties amongst back-benchers and party members would have inevitably been frail and wouldn’t have lasted (by my reckoning) more than 2 years. Similarly with a “Rainbow” coalition, although my money’s on that having lasted even less time. As it is, I’d be fairly confident that a ConLib agreement could be mutually beneficial, and potentially provide the right checks and balances between two quite different parties and policies. I jsut hope the Lib Dems can approve the deal by more than 75% to allow Clegg to pursue it, then let everyone see what the details are and what we think can happen. As many seats as they do have, I don’t think the Tories can last if they’re made to go it alone.

Clegg’s Pimping Himself Out and LibDems Not Doing as Well as People Thought

Two myths, right there, if you ask me. Firstly, to the actual election results, which near enough tied in with my expectations (alright, I didn’t expect the LibDems to actually lose seats, but I didn’t expect them to gain any). yet there was such a public sense of defeatism from those people who foolishly thought their LibDem votes were going to result in a landslide. It was never going to happen. And the reason it would never happen is for exactly the reasons the party had espoused beforehand – electoral reform. So why be surprised?
And secondly, the recent frustrated notion that Clegg has been pimping himself out to any party in an eager attempt to get power. Two issues with this: 1) What’s the problem? He’s a politician. He can’t, really, ever achieve anything noteworthy if he stays in opposition (which, realisitically, is what the LibDems risk facing if they don’t take the opportunity now while it presents itself) and (2) Why is it “pimping yourself out” to go and hear both possible deals that are on the table, and making your decision accordingly. I’ve said it already earlier today, but I’d be many times more disappointed in anyone who clung desperately to the first offer they received rather than taking their time and weighing up the choices. I even heard one person on the radio today saying they were disgusted with Clegg and that they only voted LibDem to get Labour out… well… that comes at a risk doesn’t it? And that risk is that you’ll,  most likely, get Tory, in some incarnation. Deal with it. And stop being silly.

Unlock Democracy and Proportional Representation

A massive sticking pointing for the LibDems (and it remains to be seen if it will get passed them, and in what form), but the news all week has been obsessed with this question of PR, and what it means. Unlock Democracy, as much as I can applaud them for the speed with which  they put together their protests. And, I agree, First Past the Post is a ridiculous system and one that does need to be changed. However, as with so many protesters, I can’t agree that their expected timescale is correct, let alone feasible. Expecting a referendum, and for that to then be enacted within a year – in a coalition government (a coalition, incidentally, that whichever way it was formed, would have resulted in disagreements in exactly how far to go with PR) – is optimistic, to say the least. Push for it once the coalition’s in place. And support the coalition with the most contrasting views – its the better way to ultimately get the more dramatic changes you want.
I remain quietly optimistic that PR will happen, but it won’t happen if we don’t have  strong coalition government. I never thought I’d say it, but I think Con-Lib is the strongest coalition we can get at this time, and also the one most susceptible to enacting change.

Clegg’s “Two Horse Race” Moment…

… surprised me. Whilst I’m all in favour of being optimistic, this moment struck me as a public show of unmerited over-confidence that, frankly, wasn’t needed. I’m not saying I think they would have done better had he not come out and said this, but I’m sure it didn’t help sway those who were on the edge of deciding which way to go.

LibDem’s “Losing”

A big deal seemed to be made of the LibDems losing seats, both on the public’s part, and their own. I still can’t help feeling this is misplaced. They gained votes. They gained quite a few votes. Yet they lost seats. Is that not, in essence, what PR aims to resolve? If anything it adds fuel to the fire that electoral reform is needed and confirms one of their strongest policies and arguments right the way through.

Tories “Winning”

Not a right lot to say on this except it goes back to arguments about first past the post. This was sadly inevitable, so deal with it. In honesty, I expected them to win outright by a very slim margin, which would have been a much worse situation than we now find ourselves in. Equally, even with the Coalition, its no surprise that Cameron took the PM spot (seems justified). Until late last night I remained optimistic that balance could be restored and Osborne would be replaced as Chancellor by Cable, but it seems that hasn’t happened, and won’t happen this time round. Those were really the only two posts that interests me significantly at this time. Clegg as Deputy could be interesting, guess we’ll see what happens.

Brown as “Unelected PM” Possibility

This kept coming up again and again, especially when the LibDems first said they were going back to talk to Labour. Unfounded fear-mongering at its best. We don’t elect Prime Ministers. Parties elect their leaders, and we elect Parties. Parties decide policies (naturally, a strong party leader can influence those policies). It really is that simple. Stop whining.

So there’s a few, I’m sure there are more, and I’ll probably add them later. But for now, I’m going to go back to waiting to see what the final results are, and what the LibDems side on.

EDIT 1: So, Cameron’s Prime Minister. And the LibDems – to my surprise – have accepted the terms offered in a Coalition. It will be interesting to see what the terms are. Can’t say I’m overwhelmingly pleased with Osborne as Chancellor, but I guess it was to be expected.

Old, but Good

I’ve just been reminded of this after a long time.

Remarkably true, and an answer if ever there was one as to why I enjoy EvE so much above other games I’ve played. Long may it remain so. 😉

Learning Curve of Various MMORPGs
Learning Curve of Various MMORPGs

Illumina 2008

Well, I’m on the train. Leaving Bristol and heading home after what can only be described as a purely epic couple of days, constructed in pure win and bonded together with spontaneity.

Quite how I ended up in Bristol during a trip to Oxford still slightly baffles me, but hopefully the following will make it all a bit clearer, to me as much as to you. We’ll see.

Anyway, Oxford. Indeed. Why was I there? Well, I was there to attend the Trinity Ball ‘Illumina’ (http://www.thetrinityball.com/), a rather heroic event that John was able to source us tickets for and that gave us a good excuse to dress up in White Tie and generally get messy.

It was to be an all night event, starting at around 19:00 on the Friday night and concluding at 05:00 Saturday morning. Food and drink was included all night, along with a range of entertainment.
I had been excited about it for a long time. Anticipation, as well as expectations, was high and I felt confident it wouldn’t disappoint. It didn’t.
Our band of merry men for this evening, whilst a little down on original numbers through different commitments consisted of myself, John, John’s brother Phil, and friends of John, some of whom I’d met before, some I hadn’t. Atmosphere was jolly.

Anyway, back to the beginning.
Given that the nature of the weekend was always going to be big, it had been decided that we should start it on a large as well, meaning I was going to travel down Thursday evening, and Phil was going to head across during the afternoon, and we were all going to have a mighty fine steak and potato dinner, accompanied by red wine, later on Thursday evening. Given that I was due to arrive at 10, that would have been easily achievable and at the same time would have provided an adequate warm-up for the big event the next day.
However, the plan backfired, dramatically, when my first train leaving Lancaster was half an hour late, meaning I was going to miss my connection in Stafford, meaning that my new (and improved?) route took me into Birmingham New Street, at which point I had to walk to Moor Street, get another train to Leamington Spa, change in Leamington Spa, and finally get into Oxford at the ripe old time of 00:20. Needless to say, I wasn’t too amused with that plan. But, it worked, and it got me there. These things happen.
Phil and John meanwhile, rightly decided to crack on with their steaks at a same time, leaving mine for the following day, and then came down to see me at the station as I arrived, and gave me moral support as I bought my first Doner Kebab whilst sober in a long, long time. Not _quite_ the start to the weekend that I had in mind, but you crack on regardless, don’t you?
The kebab was actually fairly good – not as crispy as the usual late night versions, and piled high with cheese and salad. The packaging left much to be desired, and soon disintegrated under the weight of grease, and the fork snapped at the lightest feeling of resistance from the meat, but it worked. It also got washed down fairly well by the red wine. Win born out of moderate fail. Good start.
The evening continued, banter was had, and people started to sleep. for John and I though, the night was young, and we decided to max it up by popping the GOD Channel on the old telebox and laughing / cringing / mocking the highly ‘informative’ Creationism program that happened to be on. Perfect 3am television.
John soon went to sleep as well, so I defaulted to trusty Dave and watched through a bit of Have I Got News For You – never fails to keep me amused. I fell asleep at some point after that and woke up, slightly dazed, but feeling good, around 10ish. The concept of steak for breakfast was still heavy on my mind. And it didn’t disappoint. I believe John sourced the steaks from the local covered market – hearty recommendation.

The daytime passed at a surprising rate. We headed into town to allow Phil and John to get a haircut, and I took the advantage of free time to go visit The Bear – quite possibly my favourite drinking spot in Oxford. We all met up there and had a pleasant couple of pints, then went back down past John’s to play a bit of football, which I am embarassed to admit I have not really done in a long time. It was a hell of a lot of fun, and very sweat provoking – what better way to prepare for a 10 hour drinking session..?!

Back at base gave us a relatively rushed hour or so to get showered and dressed, with John providing much needed advice as I found myself slightly out of my depth in such formal attire. We found one unfortunate error, which was the absence of a waistcoat for Phil, but carried on regardless and put on a good show all around. We finally left a little bit later than had originally been planned, but the queue moved quickly and before long we found ourselves in the rather plush surroundings of Trinity College. It happens everywhere you look in Oxford, but it really did reinforce why I love visiting the place – so much history and absolutely brilliant buildings.
Everyone seemed cheery as the crowds poured in. Champagne met you on arrival, along with finger snacks. Somewhat predictably, both myself and John opted for the bread stick half wrapped in meat, although John proceeded to throw his at the floor when he got through the meat-covered bit (* note: When I say ‘throw his at the floor’, what I actually mean is he dropped it, accidentally, and it landed on a stranger’s foot. But I prefer the first option as a story-telling tool).
Shortly after that it was decided we would hunt for the Sushi bar we were delighted to discover in the programme. Alas, it wasn’t open yet, so we indulged rather heavily in the Loch Fyne Oysters. Bloody delicious. I hadn’t eaten oysters in a long time, so it was pretty fulfilling to get back into the swing of that. Absolute result.
It should be mentioned that in the square where this was happening was also the location of the fountain. Naturally, we tried to get some photos, some of which worked, some didn’t. ‘Twas all good though.
From here, we meandered on and through towards the real heart and soul of the evening – the Champagne Bar and, in turn, the gateway to the real festivities – food tents, multiple bars, laser quest, dodgems, the music tent, and the hot air balloon. In the immortal words of Team America: Fuck Yeah.
After getting through more Champagne than was probably either polite or sensible, a wave of relief came over me as we discovered that the security-esque people up in the high windows, talking on their radios and with somewhat suspicious, potentially rifle-like implmements at the ready, were not in fact snipers, but were at the ready to blow blue and gold tape out over the pit of eager, hungry, thirsty individuals, and the gates were opened.
Being gentlemen, we decided to not charge through with the crowds, but took the opportunity to return and scoff more oysters and take some more finger food. Solid choices.

It didn’t take us long though and we were in there battling like Champions at the main tents. The array and quality really was quite staggering. Steak sandwiches, Fajitas, Doughnuts, Chocolate Fountains, Wine Bars, Spirit Bars, General Purpose Bars, Cabaret Tent, Main Band Tent, Lounge Tent, all combined to make it a truly smooth event.
Going into excessive detail of every single step over the next few hours would probably be excessive (and difficult), so I won’t bother, all I’ll do is select a few key moments during the night:

– Reaching personal milestones (from a survival stand point). This was a pretty useful way to pace myself throughout the evening although it came with its own flaw – I conned myself into believing I was doing much too well by around the 2 o’clock mark and so got a little bit silly. I paid dearly for this mistake later on.
– Waking up strangers. Pretty much as it says on the tin. We saw a few people trying to catch a sly sleep in the hall where tea, coffee, and chocolates abounded. Needless to say we felt that they were only fooling themselves, so we rapped on the table to wake them. Most of them took it in good spirits, the odd few looked like they wanted to kill us. Slowly. Whilst causing maximum discomfort. Hilarious.
– Sugarbabes. I still can’t work out why, but I waited, and sweated, a good long while to see them come on stage (late). After the first couple of songs I realized I really wasn’t all that bothered about it, so I left to find John and Sushi. Full marks go to Phil and Mike for staying the distance in there. It was warm. Still, interesting headliner, and it seemed a lot of people enjoyed it. The OU Big Band was worth seeking out though.
– Sushi.
– Casino. And more specifically coming away heroically after throwing it all down on Lucky 35. Considering no real money was involved, it was uber exciting.
– Talking / Being Spoken to by Strangers. Brilliant. Simply brilliant. I just wish I wasn’t quite so socially inept so that I could do what they did. Because it was fantastic. And friendly, and highly humourous. And, in many ways, made the night what it was – pure atmosphere.
– Spilling wine all over the table and proceeding to ensure everyone that I could actually ‘hoover’ it all up without it spilling. Not my proudest moment. John did the right thing by mopping it up for me when I went for a quick break.
– Sushi. And the girl from Preston who was covering the stand when we got there. Good, solid bit of banter. Also, full marks to the girl who seemed angry at many things, but still having a good time. Strong conversation.
– Dreaming up weird and wonderful plans to escape in the hot air balloon. Lesson learned: research is required.
– Missing out on the Survivor’s Photo because we were getting more wine. In many ways this was a failure, but at the same time has its own merits.
– Missing out on the Bacon Sandwiches because there was a queue. Absolute fail, and probably harmed me in the long run.
– {This list will get extended, almost certainly}

And that sums up the rest of the evening until leaving time, more or less. At this point my memory draws an absolute blank. I know we left, and I know we got back to John’s house, but the bit in the middle (probably around half an hour to an hour) is an absolute blank. Others seem to have a similar opinion. Which is worrying.

Once we got back to John’s, I really wasn’t feeling all that great, but knew that I had to keep going. Phil suggested (somewhat valiantly) that we head into town to get a McFlurry to settle our / my stomach. I agreed, and McFlurry became my new goal. I also decided to leave my shoes and socks at John’s. Not my proudest moment, but off we went.
The journey back into town was painful, but full of banter. We got some fun pictures of Phil with strangers, and generally had some fun discussions. Disaster was just around the corner though.
As we arrived at McDonalds we were informed McFlurry’s weren’t available at 6.30 in the morning – I know, shocking.
It sounds incredibly pathetic, but that one act of denial seemed to hit me particularly bad, and I went downhill at an astounding rate. Phil tried to get me to eat a McDonalds bagel and sup a coffee, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I was dejected, lost, and without shoes. I also whole-heartedly believe the McFlurry could have saved me, as the one we got at 11.30 picked me up no end. We certainly got milage out of our hired gear as well.
But, with Bagel and coffee in hand, we returned to John’s and I spiralled into slumber whilst Phil kept himself fired up by hammering away at Pro Evo, largely because I’d robbed his sleeping spot.
However, a couple of hours sleep and I felt refreshed, and this time it was McFlurry time.
back into the white tie attire we got, and out we went. McFlurry first, then beer. Because it was the only thing that made sense at the time.

The first beer in the King’s Arms was incredibly painful and took a while to go down but it got there, and with it came flooding back feelings of drunkeness. Not quite the pickup I was looking for when I suggested a pint, but it did seem to work. From there we trekked across to the White Horse, talking to a few more strangers on the way, before proceeding to the Bear and meeting up with John, and then wasting a long, long time deciding where we wanted to go to get some real food. By the time we decided the pub had stopped serving and Pizza Hut weren’t doing a buffet, so we headed for the safety of the covered market and went for that oh-so-healthy, King of Hangover-Cures – the Full English. Plenty of banter was to be had with the owner of the place (A Portugese fellow we lovingly referred to as Big Phil, for some reason) and shared idle gossip with another couple of near-survivors and an elderly lady who was sat on the next table.
Then back to John’s.
And this is where, dear reader, our story takes a dramatic twist.
I had already missed my return train from Oxford – that option had gone out of the window whilst the beer flowed – but Phil was toying with returning to Bristol for his friend’s 21st Birthday.
I’d never been to Bristol, but I quite fancied seeing what it was like. Pressure was applied when Phil asked me to decide, basically inferring that if I was up for it, he’d go then and we’d have a Bristol night out or, if not, he’d stay and leave on Sunday. Decisions were made, bags were packed and, still in white tie, we headed for the train station and were on our way to Bristol.
I still don’t _really_ know why, although I do know that I was feeling the proverbial burn as we sat on the train. The eyes drooped, the mouth got drier and I was firmly on the edge of that little town called Hangover.
By 20.30 though, we were in Bristol. If anybody’s not been before, it’s actually quite a nice looking place – much nicer than I was expecting it to be in fact.
We did the wise thing, and took a taxi from the station to Phil’s house, and had a whirlwind introduction to some of his mates. Emergency orange juice was sourced, and a warm can of Strongbow was packed for the journey and we set off out towards the Bristol night life, still dressed in tails, albeit both of us were not bothering with the full effort of tie and waistcoat. A few bars were taken in, cocktails were drunk and, following us witnessing Russia’s shock victory over the Dutch, 3 shots of vodka were consumed. I’m pretty sure I made no sense, and had a generally subdued expression throughout the night, so full marks to Phil’s friends for putting up with me and making me feel welcome – I genuinely wasn’t being rude, nor having a bad time, I was just massively fatigued!
Phil played the game well back in Bristol and fared much better than I, lasting longer and drinking harder. It really did deserve a medal.
Once back at Phil’s I believe I fell asleep in the armchair, after a little more Vodka, and woke up and shifted myself to a bed around 05:00. I slept solidly but the time seemed to pass slowly. It definitely rejuvenated me enough though, making it at least manageable to get down to the station and arrange for a ticket back to Lancaster.
Whilst awaiting the train, I must admit the shakes returned with a vengeance, and the Cheese and Onion Pasty I acquired to help smooth me out didn’t quite have its desired effect. Still, it gave me the time to start writing this.

As for reflections on the event? I think it’s all pretty much been said, or hopefully been clear.
It’s been a great weekend – purely epic. It’s been overkill on the drink front, and has probably taken years off my life expectancy, but I’d do it again in an instant.
I can’t thank John and Phil enough, and their friends I was lucky enough to meet in both places for their hospitality and banter they all provided. It really was a classic event.
For anyone else who has the opportunity to get tickets to such an event in the future, I would heartily recommend you do it at all costs. You get way more than what you pay for in terms of surface value, and you get so much more from the atmosphere and jovial nature of the event and the people.

When I decided I was going to write something about the weekend, I also decided I needed a healthy quote to get across the meaning of what went on. Phil provided it perfectly as we were headed to the train station in Bristol today, so here it is:

There’s only so many things you can do in white tie. I think we’ve done most of them.” – Mr P Walmsley, 22nd June 2008

Thanks again to everyone I met, disturbed, frustrated, embarrassed, and laughed with. I’ll try and add pictures to this at some point, and will probably steal in a couple of other sly edits / typo-fixes as I find them.

New Job

Well, turns out I got a new job offer. Which surprised the hell out of me.

It’s for Lancaster University Network Services, and I really am bloody amazed I got offered it. But, somehow it happened. Happy days.

It’s a shame this appears to be the positive karma off-setting negative stuff that makes my head hurt. Would be much more fun if it was all positives!

Anyway, I’m pretty excited about it, and still in a state of shock. No defined start date, and not as much written here as I thought I would write but… whoop. It’s done.

Feeling a bit… bleh

Just a snippet really. I’m at work, and for some reason feel a little bit ill, a little bit giddy.

And something struck me. I don’t often find myself wishing I could repeat certain experiences in order to do something differently – preferring to pen stuff down to experience, be all optimistic and grin and bear it – but over the last few weeks I’ve found myself doing it more and more over certain things.

Yet I know I can’t.

Sorry, I just wasted seconds of your life if you read this. Welcome to the Blogosphere.

Songs that make me go ‘Oooh’

That’s right, another list 🙂

Basically an ongoing collection of individual songs that, for whatever reason, give me a weird tingly feeling whenever I hear them. The sort of song that makes me, quite literally, want to stop in my tracks and just appreciate it.
I’m sure some of them will drop from the list in time, and others will arrive to replace them, but I figured I’d share, even if it’s only me who gets such a feeling from them. I won’t try to explain even what it is about them that I like, as I really don’t know, but there’s obviously something.

  • Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah [last.fm]
  • Johnny Cash – Hurt [last.fm]
  • Fairouz – Ya Tayr [last.fm]
  • Eric Clapton – Tears in Heaven (MTV Unplugged) [last.fm]
  • Zwan – Love to Love [last.fm]
  • The Smashing Pumpkins – Landslide [last.fm]
  • Sinead O’Connor – All Apologies [last.fm]
  • Bob Dylan – Love Sick [last.fm]
  • (hed) Planet Earth – The Meadow [last.fm]

This Month…

… I have mostly been listening to a few albums that I’ve recently found I really quite like. Some I expected to and our fairly new acquisitions, some are ones I’ve had lying around for a good while but never really listened to.

Top of that list is an album I really should have listened to earlier, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips. I seem to remember there being a lot of noise about this when it first came out, but I never really gave it much time of day / heard much of it. Having listened to it more recently, it’s easy to say the Do You Realize?? has fast become a firm ‘favourite of the minute’ track, and in general I find the whole album just quite pleasant to listen to and somehow seems a little bit different and quirky. If you haven’t listened to it before, give it a whirl. I think you may be impressed.

Another album that’s a bit more recent but features some sheer legends has also made it onto my ‘Must Buy’ list of the minute – Raising Sand by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. It’s a great collection of songs from varying sources done really, really well. I don’t think I’m alone in saying both Plant and Krauss have voices capable of capturing the listener, and the two gel perfectly together. As with The Flaming Lips, it’s not massively upbeat and chirpy, but it’s addictive. Fortune Teller and Please Read the Letter are the tracks I’ve found myself pulling back to time and again, but I really can’t fault the rest of it either. Go have a look-see. 😉

One more that’s not quite old news, buthardly cutting edge either is an album that, to be fair, completely surprised me as it was a whole lot better than I expected it to be, and that’s Made of Bricks by Kate Nash.
I bought it solely on the strength of the first single, Foundations which, against all my usual judgement, was a song I just plain enjoyed. There’s something oddly refreshing about her vocals, perhaps in a slightly ‘earthy’ way. A bit like the same reason I enjoyed the Sandi Thom album, it’s just got something about it that (probably) is ‘genetic’, ‘popular’ and ‘all over the place’ at the minute, but then I don’t really follow the charts, and it sounds fun to me. That, and there are some really, really stunning tracks on there. In my humble opinion… 😉 Check out Nicest Thing if you haven’t heard it recently.

And finally, because otherwise this could drag on all night, an album that I’ve had for years and was one of the first albums I bought by this artist – Bob Dylan‘s Blood on the Tracks. I can’t help it, I fookin’ love it. And it’s one of these albums that I go through phases of. I can listen to it on repeat for a good long time and not get old of it, then suddenly I’ll go weeks without listening to it – not through choice, just that it doesn’t jump out at me for a little while. Then I’m right back into it. It’d be too hard to single a track out as a favourite, and too easy to go ahead and list the entire track listing, so here’s a current (as of today) feeling about a top 3 tracks from the album: You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, Tangled Up in Blue, and Idiot Wind.
Simply sublime.

So there it is, a bit of what I’ve been listening to recently, album-wise. And before any ‘connected folks’ point it out, I know this doesn’t fully reflect my current last.fm User Profile. That’s because I’ve been mostly sticking these on my CD player in the car going to and from work. So much so in fact that I haven’t been able to listen to the latest edition of LUGRadio yet!

In other news, I’m still reading Dune by Frank Herbert. I really should have finished it by now but haven’t been concentrating on it. Now that I’m not on Eve Online in my free time, I should hopefully get that polished off in the next few days. Not sure what I’m going to be reading next, mind. I still owe a promise that I’d try to read some Harry Potter books, as much as the thought bothers me, although I doubt I’ll be doing that quite yet. Procrastination’s bad though kids, mkay?

Mid-Life Crisis @ 22…?

… not really. But I have come to a few ground-shattering (for me, anyway) revelations / conclusions over the last couple of days, some of which have been reflected upon for a good while, others that are more recent, all of which I have only myself to blame for.

Last night I took the (to me) shocking step of suspending my Eve Online subscription. Those of you who know me will know that’s a pretty drastic measure, but was something I needed to do and force myself to take a break from it. It’s a great game, and one I enjoy a lot, but I have just found myself being less and less interested in it over the past few weeks, not to mention other general realizations that I really need to fucking refocus on real life a bit more outside of work.
All I’ve been doing recently is getting home, eating, and filling the rest of the time with sitting staring at the Eve screen all day through lack of forcing myself to think up other things. It also made me really lose focus on a lot of things whilst kidding myself I wasn’t. Fucking amateur. Simply put, I finally realized that, right now, it just isn’t what I want to be doing but, rather than keep it active like I’ve done over other spells where I’ve been away but I figured this time it just wasn’t going to work. I need to completely shut off from it.

Other than that, my general revelations / reflections have been a shitload more personal and cover stuff that I really ought not to write down here, save causing upset / discomfort to those it involves. Needless to say my reflections of negativity are not on them as such, but rather my interractions with them and the various ways I’ve managed to fuck things up through a combination of my own pride, stubborness, selfishness, and a variety of other screwed up character-traits I like to think I don’t really possess but clearly seem to exhibit.

And I’m going to pack that in there as this seems to be turning dangerously emo, when in reality it should serve as an apology, albeit without directly naming those I’m apologizing to – I’m pretty sure that, if they even read this (unlikely) they’ll know it’s them I’m referring to.

Let’s just say I know I’ve fucked up, and the realization that it’s too late is like a good, solid kick to the ghoolies, in which scenario I’m basically at the still-wobbly knees / wincing stage.

Joy. x

3 Years in Egypt (3 Months On)

Note: I’ve been trying to write this for a good while now, so most of what you read was written just before I left, with the last bits added more recently. Guess I’m just lazy. Anyway, enough of that bollocks. Here it is.

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Well, I was toying with not starting this until I was actually back in the UK, but seeing as I have some free time I figured I’d try and jot down a few things now and see where it gets to.

Basically, tomorrow night I will be getting on a plane in Cairo and flying back to Manchester, on a one-way ticket, effectively bringing to an end my working in Egypt for the past 3 years.
It’s a little bit weird. But at the same time I’m looking forward to being back.

Anyway, the next stretch of text doesn’t really have a structure as of yet, but I’ve got a feeling it could be fairly long-winded, so I’ll try to break it up as best I can.

Arrival

I first arrived in Egypt in the late hours of 4th November 2004 completely and utterly confused.
I was being met by someone I’d never met before, jumping on a bus with him, and taking another 12 hour journey to Marsa Alam before I could consider ‘settling in’.
The night I arrived in Cairo coincided with a popular local football match that had just finished, leaving huge traffic jams, excessive car horn blaring, and people running around all excited with victory. I was just confused.
After finally getting to the bus station and getting sat on a crowded bus, we set off and I tried (ineffectively) to get some sleep.
6 hours later we got to Hurghada, spent an hour driving around in a taxi trying to find a hotel where we could get a few hours of sleep before meeting guests that were arriving that night… all in the first day.

Another interesting fact that came up here was that when I arrived in Egypt, unbeknown to me, the month of Ramadan was already under way. Not speaking any Arabic, and not knowing the place, and being with Yasser who was fasting, effectively left me without food until sunset. That’s not a complaint by the way, it just added to the overall surreal atmosphere of the first few hours in the country, away from everything I knew and understood. It was all outweighed by the fact that once the sun did go down, we had some cracking local grub just around the corner from the hotel. Lots of foul, falafels and all that good stuff. Yasser was good company and did his utmost to make sure I was alright.

The next phase was out of his control though – going to the airport to collect a group of Polish guests who were heading down to the Marsa Alam camp with us. We went to the airport after eating, then proceeded to wait for roughly 6 hours as their flight was delayed. Champion.

So, by the time they arrived and we were finally able to set off to the Deep South Diving Center and Camp where I was to be learning the local dive sites for the next few weeks, I passed out in the back of the taxi and woke up when we arrived at the camp around sunrise, at 0600, my internal body clock completely out of sync with having had little sleep, and the only sleep achieved being during daylight hours. However, we quickly got stuff sorted, met Karim and the staff there, unpacked my dive gear, and a couple of hours later I was in the water checking my weights and seeing the local dive sites. The tiredness and confusion soon passed.

The Deep South Experience

The location and layout of the camp at Marsa Um Tundoba is great. With a hilltop open-fronted chillout spot (now decorated as a bar) able to look over the sea and sunrise to the east and towards the hills, mountains and sunset in the west, it provides pretty dramatic landscapes at any time of the day.
Powered by generators running for a few hours each day, with a small number of two person huts, with shared bathrooms and one large restaurant area with floor seating and having similar views to the bar area at the top of the hill, the whole camp was completely different to anything I could have pictured or imagined, but in a good way.
In all honesty, settling in took longer than I thought it would, most probably due to it being so dramatically different. The people were cool, the place was cool, the diving was… cool, and the mosquitoes feasted on my skin every night – they loved it, but it took me a while to manage any real sleep. Having never really encountered mosquitoes before (that I could remember anyway) they took some getting used to, and I spent the first few weeks covered in little red blotches. No amount of repellent seemed to work and in the end it seemed to come down to just working out the most efficient way of sleeping, being covered up, but not cooking yourself in the process. In my own humble way, I like to think I did friggin’ excellently conjuring up that solution. Kinda.

To be honest, there’s really not that much more I can add on the Deep South experience for those first 6 weeks without going into even more mundane detail than is necessary. After about two weeks there I had a 2 day spell of shitting brown water during which I was unable to do very much except feel sorry for myself but – touch wood – that was the only time during my entire time here that I ever got sick, which I think is par for the course. Your body takes a battering adjusting at first, and then just deals with it.

As already mentioned, my initial spell at Deep South was for just 6 weeks, after which I came back to the UK for Christmas and New Year. The original plan at that point was to come back to a basically-ready MV Tala, although in the end that wasn’t quite what happened.

The ‘Gap’

Even when I was first leaving from Cairo, it was obvious the boat wasn’t going to be ready until I got back, and reasonably it was expected it would be a couple of months late. In the meantime I’d be back in Deep South continuing to learn the sites and generally get some diving in. Which is nice.

AG came down in January giving me a chance to video and listen in on Tech 1 classes – all good stuff – and myself and Faisal started doing some dives and managing to keep pushing myself bit by bit. There was a lot of good stuff to learn.
Various things continued to hold the boat up, and in turn my time at Deep South extended right until the end of May, when I came back for a little while before heading back out to join a finally finished Tala to have her first trips in late summer.

It’s fair to at least claim that this time was ‘wasted’ in terms of what I could have been earning. Whilst I probably earned more than most of the guys in the camp overall, it was still considerably less than I could have earned if I’d have stayed in the UK, even with the extra expenses involved with that.
And I don’t regret sticking it out at the camp at all, and would rather argue that the time really wasn’t wasted, if only from the standpoint of slowly getting used to the differences between being in Egypt and being in the UK (“Egyptian Time” is only a small part of this). Besides which, staying out allowed me to do plenty of diving, and get to know Karim and Faisal better, all of which have helped make the rest of my time out here much easier, and develop good friendships, as well as the other people I met through them.
No, I definitely wouldn’t take the different route if I had chance to choose again.

Other than that, there’s not much more to add to that intervening period. I was, of course, disappointed that the boat stuff hadn’t gone through as planned, but then I could hardly blame anyone for that, these things just happen, and it’s not as if I was the only person it not being ready would affect!

M/V Tala – The Early Phases

So, finally, towards the end of summer 2005, we started the first few trips with the newly finished boat, mainly with Russian guests.

At this point, it’s probably fair to say that our (Faisal’s and mine) collective liveaboard experiences didn’t really amount to much, my only previous trip being cut short by having to evacuate a guest to the chamber, and Faisal also being new to the game. We had on board an Egyptian guide who Faisal had had recommended and who seemed to talk the talk. In all honesty, he just failed to walk the walk. To me, in a purely personal opinion, I could never adapt to the guy. He seemed up himself, over-confident and nearly always wrong. He was difficult to get on with on a number of levels, although it’s probably fair to say that at least one of those levels I can take some of the blame for, in that I simply didn’t understand him as a person. He was nice enough, but it all seemed superficial. But I’m probably being harsh.

Anyway, we plodded on, spending most of the first year doing things my body really didn’t appreciate: diving our asses off, partying like crazy, sleeping minimally, and occasionally drinking excessively.

It was a lot of fun, but by the time it came for a rest, I think I actually heard my inner self subtly scream “Thank fuck for that!”. It was after that first season that I pretty much realized things needed to sharpen up in terms of doing things ‘properly’, as otherwise I simply wouldn’t be able to keep up with such a cycle – it makes it very easy to see how folk suffer burnout in that sort of environment.

The Latter Part

The remaining time there went remarkably quick, all things considered, and included some superb mini-projects and individual dives, and generally a lot of laughs. With the Egyptian guide gone from the boat, it was down to Faisal and I to run everything, pretty much off the top of our heads and, whilst it may not be too modest, I thing we finally did a pretty good job. We had difficulties, but managed to get round them (more credit to Faisal than me on that though), and plodded on through the season, still with a lot of merriment, but a little bit more toned down (overall) than the year before. Well, kinda…

Ironically, I also had during this time a couple of pissed off moments, as the blog will no doubt attest to but, looking back, I think they were more an example of me getting pissed off with myself than with whatever I’d choose to blame. Whatever the reason, it soon passed.

The season went well, and culminated in a fun week that was not only full of some great diving with a small, well qualified group, but also resulted in a small magazine article with my own text – that was quite cool to get.

Start of the next season had Mo come join us to work on the boat, meaning Faisal could take a bit more time off you, you know, be a boss. 🙂 Mo was a friend of Faisal’s from Beirut, and I think it’s fair to say the pair of us got on well right from the off, even if the first week was full of various problems. Having worked in diving in quite a few other places including Cypress and Beirut, Mo had plenty of experience and useful tips and was a lot of fun to have around. We also had a few great parties, and he did his best to educate me in some of the rules of The Game although, to be fair, I was shit.

That season passed, and Mo headed back to Lebanon for a while, putting myself and Faisal back on for the next season. In addition to that, we got a lot of help from Stijn, a Belgian dive guide who’d run the Belgian trips from Blue Paradise that we’d had on for a few weeks each season since the year before. Like with Mo, I found Stijn easy to get on with, and with a shed-load of experience running Belgian liveaboard trips in the Red Sea – whilst we didn’t always get the chance to party quite as hard with the Belgians as we did the Russians, we still got some insanely fun dives, usually making full use of the scooters and chasing sharks.

With that season ended, and my final one about to begin, Mo was back around for another fairly intensive season. In terms of things coming together and being more organized, I think it was clear by this season that it had been getting better all the time. The workload was heavy but we all seemed to gel properly and get things done. Nothing’s perfect, but as a comparison to where we had been and what we’d come to, I think it’s fair to say we’d done good.

Done and Dusted

And that was that. A quick(ish) run-down of my spending three years in Egypt. Although I finished this a lot later than when I originally started it, I’ve tried to skip through later things to keep from repeating myself – needless to say I could have gone on much longer with various little stories and anecdotes which, whilst they were funny to me, would probably not do much for any folks reading it.

I had a blast during my time there, and met some great people I’ll no doubt keep in touch with for a long time but, I guess, at the end of the day, three years was enough for me right now.

Do I have any regrets about doing it? None at all.

Did I give it up because I got bored of it? Not really. I’m still eager to dive and teach and enjoyed the work to the full while I was doing it.

Would I do it all again, given the chance? Damn right I would – I think I got plenty done in that time and got a lot out of it personally, not limited to life experience. I think the only difference if I was to do it again would be that I’d have to go ‘all out’ and actually live there, as opposed to the ‘Suitcase Living’ that I was doing recently.
Don’t misunderstand though, that was fun, but by the end of three years of doing it, it got tiresome. And I just don’t think I’m quite prepared to fully move away from the UK yet. Maybe I never will. We’ll see.

Hmmm….

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6954728.stm

I’m probably a heartless bastard but I read the first paragraph and couldn’t help tittering a little.