The Three Month Review

I’ve completed three months of service in my new job and, as is the process of my employer, I’ve recently had my three month review. How did it go? We’ll get to that later. Firstly, I’ll give a three month review of my employer. Finding a job you enjoy is tough work. I’ve been trying to get my foot in on the trains for several years, and there were a three or four unsuccessful interviews before I finally cracked it. I’ve struck lucky with this job – it is the best of the bunch that I’d applied for. I’m a relief ticket office clerk.

In short, this means I cover shifts across a stretch of line when the normal clerk is on holiday or sick. I like the variety. I like the early mornings too. Some days I’ll need to be out of the house by 5am. I’m not a fan of waking up that early. But once up, it’s nice to have the world to myself for a couple of hours.

I enjoy the face to face interaction with customers too. It’s a significant improvement on dealing with them at the end of a telephone, as was the case at my last employer. Of course, you get the occasional upset customer. But most are happy to have someone help them through the confusing minefield that is the rail ticketing system.

I like the pay too. It’s another significant improvement compared to my last employer. Well paid overtime combined with various allowances meant that I got paid more in ‘extras’ last month than I’d have previously been paid for an entire month’s worth of labour.And of course, I’ve joined the union. I’m probably a little bit to the right, politically speaking, of most of my comrades. But I do reap the reward in pay and terms that comes with working in a unionized industry. It’s only right that I contribute my dues.

My employer runs a tight ship. But they are realistic in their demands. There are no threats or scowls when an honest mistake is made. There’s recognition that we’re all human. Mistakes happen. Just don’t make the same mistake over and over and over again. That’s a fair request and one I can deliver. It’s a tightly run ship and my ship mates act as a team. Once more, an improvement over my last employer.

Then there are the travel perks. And they are truly bountiful. Not every clerk makes full use of them. I shall. It works like this. I get free travel on the network I am employed by. I also get free travel on another network that is also owned by my employer. I also get a coupon allowing 5 lots of free travel over a 48 hour period on a third network that is majority owned by my employer. The other networks? I have a card which entitles me to a 75% discount on all other rail travel. After a years service, I’ll also get discounted travel on Eurostar and around much of the EU. Best of all, whatever I get, Mrs P also gets, as my spouse. Although she is limited to leisure travel only.

We’ve already been to Edinburgh for a weekend away. I’d never been to Scotland before and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Edinburgh is a magnificent city. We’ll go back next summer. We shall take the Caledonian Sleeper up to Fort William via Glasgow and return via Edinburgh. In between time, we have trips to York, Axminster, Exter, Birmingham and Liverpool planned. I shall make the most of my travel perks.


I’m very happy with my new job, in case I’d left any room for doubt. The good news is that my review suggested that they are equally as happy to have me there. Sure, the overtime, extra cash and many places to see does mean I have less time to do some other things – such as blogging. Such is life, it’s a small sacrifice. If you’d like to see the full set of photos from Edinburgh then, as usual, just click here.

Viva Paris

Some people here in the UK don’t seem to get why Brits seem more sympathetic to Parisians than they do to Lebanese and Palestinians. Perhaps you’ve noticed this elsewhere in the West. I wouldn’t have thought that this phenomena wouldn’t be too hard to grasp, but it does seem to be beyond the intellect of a surprisingly large number of people. Hands up who has been to Paris? And to Beirut? The Gaza Strip? I think I see more hands for Paris.

Hands up who envisages London turning into the next Beirut? No one? How about a Paris style atrocity occurring in Covent Garden and Kensington? Sadly, there’s every chance it will happen.  We can relate to Paris. We know Paris. We live just a couple of hours by train from Paris. It’s not, fortunately, a normal feature of Paris life. It still has shock value. We worry about being the ‘next Paris’. Comprende? Failing that, why are you whining about Beirut and Palestine and not Honduras or Mexico?

I’m tired of people of all ideologies smugly claiming some sort of personal victory, valediction or bragging rights every time an atrocity is committed. You predicted this? Really?? Goddamn, just give me next weeks lottery numbers right now, pendejo. Right wingers gloat ‘I told you so’ in their misinformed, prejudiced rants about the dangers of multiculturalism. Yet supported, and still support, the actions that actually led us down this path.

The left wingers who defend Islam as a religion of peace are just as bad. There is no such thing as a religion of peace, Islamic, Christian or Buddhist. The first two in particular boast many scriptures urging violence. At the end of the day, the path of peace or violence is a personal choice for each follower.

Tragedy really does bring the worst out in the sickos of the world. Whether it’s Donald Trump and his fan club claiming that more guns are needed to solve the problem, or others who justify (or simply mitigate) the murders in Paris with the atrocities committed in the Middle East. It may be true that 9/11, 7/7 and 13/11 are everyday Gazan life. But this isn’t a competition. And then there are the conspiracy theorists. Who are perhaps the most deluded, poorly informed and ignorant members of our society. They wouldn’t know reality if it slapped them in the face.

I don’t know where we go from here, other than more of the same. But I have decided that an awful lot of people shouldn’t be allowed to have opinions if they can’t exercise some rational thought and responsibility. In the age of the internet, words have become more dangerous than sticks and stones. Viva Paris.


The Jacksons in Hyde Park

There aren’t many bands who can lose their front man and still go onto bigger and better things. As a general rule, once the main guy has departed, things go sharply downhill. Pink Floyd and Genesis spring to mind as the exceptions to the rule. Otherwise, bands just end up with the hangers on desperately hanging on. They turn into virtual tribute bands almost by default. Unless you’re talking about Boney M, in which case the tribute band contains (some of) the original band members whilst the ‘real’ band contains none of them. Odd. But I digress. I’m talking music today, so let’s get back on track.

Last Saturday, Mrs P and I went to Prom in the Park, a music festival of sorts put on by BBC Radio 2. This is not your tents, grunge and ganja in a field sort of festival. This is a festival for civilised people who prefer the scenery of Hyde Park and flushing toilets to the sea of mud and urine of a Somerset farm. We took our folding chairs and a posh picnic, freshly sliced and diced from the delicatessen of Whole Foods Market. We had a fine time.


We watched the Mavericks open the show. They only ever had the one hit, so they kindly played that and then buggered off. Oh, I’m being unfair. They played a couple more songs. Which were pleasant, but not really radio material. Then a lady came and blew her trumpet. Four guys then sang a collection of Frank Sinatra hits, and were pretty good too. Until they sang one of their own songs. After than a lady came and sang a bit of opera. What I really remember about her, is that her photo in the program suggested she had the figure of Kate Moss. On stage, she was more Nigella Lawson. After Christmas, rather than just before summer.

And finally at some time around 8pm, the main act took to the stage. The Jacksons. Now, I started this off by suggesting that most bands who lose their front man, the big cheese, the main man, well…they tend to lose their mojo. Has any band ever had a bigger lead singer than the Jacksons? I’ve given this some thought, and I’m going to state, with some confidence, that the answer to this question is ‘no’.


Let’s be honest, the combined talents of Jermaine, Marlon, Tito and Jackie are not going to cover up the fact that little Michael is missing. So where does that leave his siblings? They’re not what they used to be. But they are somehow more than a tribute band. I found it tough to define them.

A couple of days later, I had the answer. The 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain saw the biggest display of WWII planes since the end of the war. Spitfires, Hurricanes and Lancasters galore. It was a mighty sight, if you were lucky to be under the flight path. These planes might not have their original pilots, and they might well be on their last legs. But everyone still wants to see them. It’s the history and heritage that they stand for, and the story they tell.

I know. It’s a strange analogy. The Jacksons and old fighter planes. But hey, there is some sound logic behind this. After all, the band have already released two albums named after famous old British ships and motor bicycles*. Perhaps, if they are up to creating a new album, or have some old, as yet unrecorded material lying around, then just perhaps they might yet call it Spitfire.

*I am aware that Victory and Triumph were probably not named after famous old British ships and motor bicycles. But hey ho.

Viva Mexico Cabrones!

A very happy Mexican Independence Day to all my amigos and amigas. Is it really five years since the Bicentenario? My, how time flies. I wish I were there to celebrate, but alas it is not to be. Still, I send greetings from the UK, which was, of course, the first European country to recognise Mexican independence from the Spanish. Admittedly, this probably had more to do with us wanting to antagonise the Spanish that any anti-colonial sentiment, but ce la vie.

Going Underground

Adios Vulcan

In the 1950s, Britain decided they needed some shiny new planes to deliver the country’s nuclear bombs to carefully chosen locations east of Berlin. Britain was still a world  superpower of sorts. In the air, she was still the superpower. So in keeping wih that status, the decision was made to put in orders for three different aircraft. The Victor, the Valiant and the Vulcan. The V Force. At ridiculous expenses, hundreds of planes were built and put into the air just in time to coincide with the development of effective anti-aircraft missiles and the decision to house the nuclear deterrent inside submarines instead.

To understand why the decision was made at all, you’d do worse that watch the recent two part television series, Cold War Hot Jets – two hours of aviation history from a British perspective. One things that becomes quickly apparent – of the three types of bomber, there was one that represented the cutting edge of technology. It was the riskiest of the three projects. Ultimately, it was the most successful. Once anti-aircraft missiles had become an established and unmitigated threat, there was just one that was capable of switching from high altitude high speed flight, to speeding along just metres off of the ground, under the radar.

Luckily, it was also the most beautiful of the three planes. It was, of course, the Vulcan. If you’ve seen it in the flesh, you’ll never forget it. It’ll appear in silence. Then the noise from the four engines catches up. It won’t just deafen you. The ground will vibrate and numb your senses.Only the Concorde compares. Although Concorde had a slightly less deadly job to do. Not that a Vulcan was ever called upon to fulfil a nuclear raid. Indeed, for all the money spent on the V Force bombers, only one ever supplied an explosive delivery in anger.


Ironically, in 1981, the Argentines wanted to buy some Vulcans. The British government initially agreed to sell them a single bomber. A few months later, the Falkland Islands were invaded, and a Vulcan was duly sent to Argentina’s military forces. Albeit in a different manner to how they had originally planned to take delivery. One Vulcan and a fleet of refuelling aircraft flew from the UK to the Falklands, dropped some bombs on the runway and then returned home. It was the longest bombing raid in history until relatively recently, an there’s a documentary on YouTube that tells the story. Despite the successful sortie, the Vulcans were retired just a couple of years later.

There is just one Vulcan still flying these days, making appearances at airshows around the country. It is everyone’s favourite. Every year, there are fears that the Vulcan may not return next year. It is costly to keep airworthy, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep this 50 year old plane in the sky. But every year the money is found for another tour of air show duty. However, the end is now nigh, it seems. The owners have announced that this year is the final year of the Vulcan.

My home town of Bournemouth has one of the largest free air shows in Europe. I go every year. I pick my day carefully – which day does the Vulcan fly? I got a decent viewing point this year and snapped away with my camera at what was, possibly, the Vulcan’s final display over the golden sands of Bournemouth. Farewell old chap. We will miss you. Click here for the full photo set from last weekends show.


Our Father, Who Art In Infamy

In school playgrounds, boys will often debate on which boys fathers could whup other boys fathers. If I remember rightly, the most common case made was with an argument that ran something along the lines of ‘my dad could beat up your dad’. But little boys eventually progress into big boys, and the competition revolves around what car their fathers drive. Ironic, really, that the boys who bragged about the Ferrari or Porsche in the drive way at home, probably didn’t have such ‘big’ dads after all. If you follow. But the pattern is clear. Boys find inspiration in their fathers. Or a curse. The latter of which is the point today.

Firstly, let’s pay a flying visit to Sherborne Castle, in the heart of the Dorset countryside. The castle itself is a ruin, destroyed in the civil war. But even by the time of it’s demise it had been replaced by a grand stately home. Castles were costly enterprises to run, and not quite so comfortable as modern brick and mortar mansions. Although you’ll find many of them keep the word castle in the name. A castle has far more street cred.


The man who built the home at Sherborne did, from time to time, need a little something to boost to his credibility. His name, however, has survived the ravages of time and the weight of history. He gave us Brits not only his glorious Sherborne stately home, but also the potato and tobacco. He was, if you hadn’t already gathered, Sir Walter Raleigh. One time favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. The scourge of the Spanish armada, looting their ships for all the gold and silver he could lay his hands on. The reason that more than one Mexican used to refer to me as the pirate. And patron to the capital of North Carolina.

By all accounts, Raleigh loved Sherborne. He made every possible arrangement to ensure that it would remain as the family home for generations to come, starting with his son Walt, by placing it into a trust. He was a sensible chap, was Sir Walter. In those days, it wasn’t hard to fall foul of a new monarch and to lose the lot. And so it was to pass. Elizabeth died, and King James failed to take to Raleigh as his predecessor had done before him.

Unsurprisingly, Raleigh came to a bloody end with his neck at the wrong end of a swinging axe. His tobacco habit kept him company to the end, and the pipe he smoked on the scaffold is one of the exhibits in the house. Worse was to come however. Lawyers pored over the wording of the legal documents that formed the trust, protecting is from seizure. They found that a single, key, phrase had been omitted. And the house was seized. Walt Junior was turfed out on his ear. First born sons have always been regarded as a potential future threat by those who have wronged the father. It’s best to deal with the threat at the earliest convenient moment. For photos of Sherborne, click here.


I followed up our visit to Sherborne with an evening movie. About a young chap called Sebastian from Colombia. I suspect that no boy ever dared to suggest that their dad could beat up Sebastian’s dad. Well, you wouldn’t, would you? Young Seb’s daddy was, after all, Pablo Escobar. Life as the son of the world’s most famous narco-trafficker had its ups and downs. Mostly downs, while on the run. Millions of dollars packed in suitcases, but no way of getting to a shop to spend it.

The Sins Of My Father is a documentary film, with Sebastian as the focal point. He recounts life as a youngster, tells the inside story of his infamous pa and deals with the struggles that has ensued since Escobar was gunned down by the police. It’s a fascinating story told by a very credible and seemingly nice guy who builds up to a meeting between himself and the sons of men who were killed by his father. It’s one of the most interesting films I’ve watched in some time. It’s on Netflix too.

Two stories separated by nearly half a millenium, with a similar theme and equally sad endings for the children of the protagonists. Who’d have ever seen the link between Pablo Escobar and Sir Walter Raleigh? Although no one thinks about it, they’ve more in common than I’ve touched on today. Their hold on power, their political relationships, their trade of choice. One clearly caused more harm that the other. Tobacco, ultimately, has been a greater curse than heroin.

Explore the nightlife in Newcastle

Many poets have poetized the magic of the night. The revelry of nights in Newcastle have not been celebrated yet in poetry but have been given a high reputation. Newcastle was awarded the title of 2009 best UK party city for New Year’s Eve by the Times. This urban and vibrant vigorous city located on the north western bank of the River Tyne keeps on attracting more and more of those who wish to have an unforgettable night. I explored the nightlife of this wonderful city together with my cousins and some of their friends living in student accommodation Newcastle. Here is my report on the crazy nocturnal life in Newcastle.

  • The Bigg Market

This area has nothing to do with cultural time, chic and glamour. Here you will find cheap drinks, unashamed dancing, abandoned hilarity and people celebrating stag and hen parties. Despite the fact that there are more than two tens of pubs and bars, queues are rather common here. If your mission is not only drinking all night long, you may want to visit Italian or Indian restaurants.

  • The Diamond Strip

In case you are not fond of the above mentioned time-spending, the Diamond Strip will be the right area. Here you’ll meet for sure local celebrities and other VIPs. The Diamond Strip Florita’s, Madame Koo, Revolution, Bijoux, Perdu, Baby Lynch and Tup Tup Palace.

  • The Quayside

It is a historic part of Newcastle. Just picture the following scene, you sit at the table, sip a cocktail and feed your sight with stunning views of the river Tyne and bridges. The Gateshead Millennium Bridge is the most prominent of them. It rotates and has a shape of an eye which gives the impression of the eye opening. At nighttime the bridge is totally lit up. The Pitcher & Piano is the venue that is the nearest one to the river and allows you to witness such an awesome spectacle. Grey Street and Pilgrim Street will lead you to the Quayside. On your way you can pop in the bars to bars Al Vino, Bar Luga and the Lounge that will be definitely appreciated by cocktail lovers and enjoy one of the most beautiful streets.

  •  The Gate

This place owes its popularity to the proximity of indoor clubs and bars to each other. This complex has all required for a good fun under its roof, cinema, restaurants, bars, cafes and casino.  Tiger Tiger is one the largest venue and neighbors to other bars such as Sam Jack’s, Bar Bannatyne, the Keel Row, Beyond Bar & Grill and Players.

The nightlife of Newcastle does not yield an inch to daily activities.  It offers different bars for any taste and budget and amazing views.


A Dance For The Ages

I don’t dance. I can’t dance. I’m not really entirely sure that I understand dancing, by and large. Sure, Shakira can bust some moves, but I’m not sure that she’s really dancing. She’s teasing, the old flirt that she is. Besides, she’s not British, and that is an important point. I do know that we Brits can’t dance. There are many things we are good at, but dancing isn’t one of them. How can I really ram this point home? Well, allow me to introduce you to the world of Morris dancing.  Or Victorian Ball Room dancing. Two atrocious forms of human movement that hardy groups of people try very hard to keep going into the 21st century.

There are just some things that we should let go. These should have been abolished at the same time as death by hanging, blood letting by leeches, punitive castration and other forms of unnecessary and painful activity. And then there is this, the most modern example of Brits being unable to dance. Which makes me wonder if we abolished hanging and castration too soon. Perhaps blood letting could be brought back too? By axe, rather than leeches. Where’s James Holmes when you need him? Lastly, I produce as evidence to finish the debate off, Peter Crouch. The Colombians can do this. And we get Peter Crouch. Enough said. I rest my case.

So, in a nut shell, I don’t agree with dancing. In much the same way many other people don’t agree with President Obama, or Israeli settlements. I have no idea what it’s all about but I just don’t like it. But, as with every issue of global importance, there are occasional meetings of the mind. Seeing eye to eye. An understanding. With dance, I have found some common ground.

The Mexican Folklore Ballet. Or more properly know as the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico, de Amalia Hernandez. They have just performed a run of five days at the London Coliseum, which Mrs P and I were lucky enough to be able to go and see. It was their first trip to the UK for more than twenty years, although we have both seen the performance before, at their home in the Palacio de Belles Artes in Mexico City. It’s a story as much of a dance. The story of Mexico through the ages, from the Aztecs, through Revolutionaries and Conquistadors, all accompanied with a fabulous mariachi band.

And as far as dancing goes, this is much more Riverdance than Swan Lake. It’s a two hour riot of colour, cacophony of noise and whir of movement that seems to pass in half the time. You become quite involved in the epic telling of Mexico’s history, quite literally if you’re one of the lucky souls who gets a dance with one of the pretty ladies when they take their act to the theatre aisles.

Photography was forbidden in the theatre. Although towards the end, a fair few people starting getting a few shots for posterity with their phones. I joined in and have a set of fairly poor quality snaps on Flickr. Which you can see if you click here. But for a taste of this particularly exquisite flavour of Mexico, it would be best if I left you with something a little better. A promotional video.

This post was not sponsored by Fox News. Although, having included capital punishment, terrorism, torture, sexism, anti Obama rant and the middle east in a single post about dancing, I expect an interview soon. Crap, I forgot immigration….

Seek And Ye Shall Find

My first proper job was in the newspaper trade. Distribution, to be precise. I was thirteen years old and armed with a BMX bike, ready to drop the daily rag of choice through assorted letter boxes on my route. I was an excellent paperboy, even if I do say so myself. Some of my colleagues rode their bikes from door to door. Others walked. I did it differently to everyone else. My bike just held me up, so I ran. I had the longest route, but was always first back to the shop. I used to run everywhere, not just on my paper round. I ran to school, I ran round friends houses. I was a decent cross country runner. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I learned to walk until I was about 18 and a couple of years into a smoking habit. Fortunately, I have never had a problem with body odour. Just as well, as I spent most of my youth soaked in sweat.

I had a couple of other jobs before leaving school. I worked at a flashy restaurant on Saturday evenings called Natalia’s, taking customers coats and serving baskets of bread. I was, I admit, useless. I could never quite match the customer to their coats when they wanted to leave. I only just about managed the bread bit. It lasted just a few weeks. I also worked at a Wimpy, just a stones throw from Natalia’s. The pay was £1 per hour, terrible even back then. It could be argued that this is the only job I have ever been fired from. The owner didn’t speak perfect English, and appeared to misunderstand me when I called up one Saturday afternoon, before the start of my shift, to inform him I was not coming in again.

Sometime towards the end of the 80’s, now aged 16, I decided I’d had enough education thank you very much* and I entered the full time work place with WH Cullens, a posh convenience store. I spent a few years working at various branches around London. Northwood, Balham and Gloucester Road in South Kensington.  I spent the majority of my time with a manual pricing gun, re-ticketing the stock on a daily basis in a desperate attempt to keep up with inflation. I have fond memories of my time there. After Cullens, I embarked on the shortest job of my career to date at Mrs Ts Kosher Delicatessen. Four hours into my new role, I discovered that bacon and brie baguettes were taboo and that this place was not, therefore, for me.

Next stop, the Royal Mail. I landed myself a reasonably good job for someone who had not one qualification to put on anon existent resume. I was a postman, and I was very happy. Until my first shift started.  I imagined that if I’d been a good paperboy, I’d make a good postman. Alas, I was not only a few years into my smoking habit by now, but I’d also discovered alcohol. Late nights out boozing do not mix with 4.30 am starts. At all. I gave it a good go though. I’d diligently pop the envelopes for number one into the property marked number one. Then I did numbers three, five, seven etc. And then I’d be stood at the end of the road, with no more houses to visit, still with envelopes for numbers fifty-three, fifty-five and fifty-seven. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I got to the end of a street only to find it was the wrong street. And then there was the episode with the dead rat in my cycle basket.

It all came to a crunching end one day when, having exited a lock-in just an hour before my shift, I was simply unable to read the addresses on the envelopes as I was sorting them. I pretended I could read them and just popped them into slots at my sorting desk at random, hoping nobody would notice the state I was in. Having done that, it occurred to me that I now had to deliver this jumbled up bundle of mail. I accepted that being a postman was, at this stage in my life, not for me.

I slipped out the door when no one was looking, caught a bus home and went to bed. Never to darken the Royal Mail’s door again. Much to the relief of everyone on my round. I was an absurdly bad postman. I also found it a bit freaky to be delivering letters from one of my best school friends to his mum’s house. The letters originated from a prison on the Isle of Wight, where he was serving a life sentence for double murder.

Job number seven lasted longer than the kosher deli. Marginally. I had arrived in Dorset, and set about to find the first bit of work I could. Strawberry picking. I kept up a good pace, but it’s harder work than it looks. I earned almost enough to cover the bus fare. Almost. I didn’t go back for a second day. Instead, I found a temporary job in a shiny, newly built Sainsburys supermarket, filling shelves.


These days, I pay to go strawberry picking. It’s surprisingly expensive given that I’m doing the labour.

After which, I went to a local tea and coffee factory, packing tea bags into boxes and coffee into jars. Let me tell you how this works. It is one hell of a dusty environment, and it gets in every exposed orifice. Mostly you mouth and nose.  The only paper available to blow your nose on is the paper feeding into the machine to make teabags. The only place to dispose of retrieved bogeys is in the coffee jars. Ok, it’s not the only place, but it was the preferred dumping ground for a fair number of my minimal** wage colleagues. Something to think about when you next brew up….

That lasted three months. That’s all anybody lasted at that place. You go on a three month temp contract, at the end of which the company has to either employ you permanently or find a reason to let you go. I worked hard and was given a perm contract***, but then I foolishly asked for a day off to enrol on a part-time college course. They questioned my commitment and my time with them ended with the expiry of my temp contract. The decision was a mutual one.

I was back in work within days, at the local Texaco service station. The year was 1996. I remained employed with Texaco for just a couple of months short of ten years. There were two breaks. The first in 1999 for about a month, when I made an ill fated attempt to kick start a career with the Royal Air Force. It may have lasted less than a month, but I still like to include it on my CV. Just without mentioning the start and finish dates. Then in 2003 I took off to Mexico for several months, before returning for another year and a half. At the end of which I took off to Mexico. Again.

This, I guess, brings me up to date with this blog. Which recorded the six years I spent teaching English. I’d like to think I was an ok English teacher. A little lazy at times, I know. I winged it a bit in the early days. But I think most of my students saw a noticeable improvement in their language skills. I think****. Which is the point. I guess.

I departed Mexico and returned to the UK. Shall we include the three weeks I did at one of my old Texaco petrol stations upon landing back in Blighty? Might as well. It lasted longer than the kosher deli and strawberry picking put together. But it was just a stop gap, until I got a proper job. Which was as an inbound sales advisor at one of Bournemouth’s many home insurance firms. Where I’ve been for the last four years and a few months, although I got a role in Quality Assurance some time ago. Manning the phones is soul destroying stuff, it really is. What else can I say about my time here? Nothing, yet. I am still an employee, after all. It’s always bad form to bad mouth an employer who is still paying your wages.

But I never wanted to be in insurance. What do I want? I want a career that pays a salary that’s above the average UK salary. I want a career with decent travel benefits. I want a final salary pension. I want the opportunity to progress. Despite my haphazard and slightly delinquent start to working life, I generally work hard. And I’d like to think I’m smarter than the average Joe. Progression is important. I also want to wear a company uniform. It’s just easier, and I can claim tax back for cleaning it myself.

I’ve known for some time where I’ll get all of that. I’ve been trying to get myself in through the door, all to no avail. I’d hoped third time would be lucky when I went for an interview last September. It wasn’t, although I got to meet Steve Cotton on the trip up to London. Happily, fourth time was the lucky one for me. I have my job. I start in just over a week. I’d like to think it’s a job for life, but one should never count on such a thing these days. Where am I off to now? I have gotten myself a job on the trains. From paperboy through to train worker, via retailing, postman, oil company, education. Not, though, with London Underground, the recipients of my first three applications*****. But a proper train company. Which, as you should all know, is every British schoolboys dream.


On my way to the interview.

*In hindsight, probably not the best decision. But hey ho. ** These were the days before there was a minimum wage. And no, I didn’t blow on the tea paper. Nor dump in the coffee jars. *** Seriously, it was like I’d pulled a Golden Ticket from a Wonka chocolate bar. **** Do I still have any old students reading my blog? You can be the judge of my teaching skills… ***** I kept trying to jump on the ladder a few rungs higher up than perhaps I should have.

Photo Istanbul

In Islamic culture, it is common for a sultan to keep a number of wives tucked away in a harem. Well, they do say, when in Rome do as the Romans do. Istanbul, or rather Constantinople was once capital of the Roman Empire. Alas, my plans to become Sultan Gary I turned out to be bull, rather than Istanbul.

I have uploaded all of my photos to Flickr. You can see the first set by clicking here. And the set featuring me, Mrs P and friends by clicking here.


Missing in Istanbul

It was hard to put my finger on it. Initially, it was just a sense of absence. But I couldn’t quite work out what it was. As our holiday drew on, the sensation became more profound. I started looking around me to see if I couldn’t spot the problem. But how to see something that isn’t there? That’s a tough one. But it gnawed on me. An itch that wouldn’t go away. I kept pondering this mysterious shortcoming. Of course, I eventually, I found the answer to my question. There was something missing in Istanbul. And I wanted to know what it was. But first, let’s look at what wasn’t missing….

The Exotic


How can the meeting point between east and west be anything other than a blend of intoxicating culture, music, art, noise and food? Nothing is at it seems, and new tastes and experiences are around every corner. But most of all, nothing beats waking up to the call of prayer in Asia, and an hour later you are washed, dressed and a 20 minute boat ride from Europe. At no stage are you ever under the illusion that you are close to home.

Getting Around 

The Tunel Tram

The ferries are fantastic, with regular services whisking you to a selection of well placed ports for just a few pence. There’s also a decent bus services, again at just a few pence a trip. There’s a pretty expansive metro system too. How much? You guessed it. Just a few pence. Taxis are just for emergencies. They are not just a couple of pence. The unwary may find a short trip takes longer than expected and costs not just a couple of pounds. Get a plastic travel card which can be topped up. It makes life easy. And it’s safe to say Istanbul is not missing a good transport network.

Shop Till You Drop


You can’t have a big city without a big selection of shops to go spend your hard earned money. Istanbul doesn’t disappoint. There are plenty of bazaars, markets and corner shops aimed at the tourists. And there’s an even healthier selection of everyday shops to get essentials. I like walking around the everyday shops, wherever I am. Just to see what Jaffa Cakes are called in foreign lands. I didn’t buy any Jaffa Cakes though. Mrs P and I did come home with 1/2 a kilo of freshly groun Turkish coffee, a box of mixed Turkish Delight, a steel pepper grinder, assorted bags of pepper and spices and a bag full of fridge magnets.

Street Life


The streets of Istanbul bustle with life. What sort of life and what sort of activities depend on where you might be. In Taksim, the people are young and hip. On the European side, they are a bit wealthier. In our part of town, on the Asian side, they were friendly, down to earth people, working hard to make a living. By the river we found them playing dominos in street cafes. On every side they were friendly. Istanbul is, by any definition, a pretty safe city with a dozen vibes to choose from depending on your mood.

The Easy Life


Every big city needs it’s nearby happy place to escape to. Istanbul has a series of pleasant, green and hilly little islands, all within an hour by ferry of the city centre. The water is clear and refreshingly cool. Too refreshingly cool for my taste. I’m a Pacific Ocean kind of guy. I need warm water with waves to jump around in. But I liked our trip to the islands nonetheless. The bike ride to the church at the top of the mountain was nice. Coasting back to the town was nicer. The delicious ice cream was the nicest. But if the ferry ride isn’t for you, you can always jump on a bus to the Black Sea. We did that too. The water was still too refreshingly cool for me. But I dipped my toes, just to check another body of water off of my To Do list.

Islamic Art


Istanbul is an Islamic city. It’s not, however, the sort of city that throws gay people from towers, stones adulterous women for their indiscretions or decapitates infidels. If that has cleared anything up for you, you’ve been watching too much of the wrong sort of TV. Islam is not a religion of peace. No religion is. It does have a problem with extremists, as do all other religions. But in Istanbul, you’ll just get to enjoy the fruits of President Ataturk’s secularist policy that saw the country look forward toward the west, not backward to the south east of Arabia. The Blue Mosque is a sight to behold, as is the Hagia Sofia. I also really enjoyed the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, which boasted a treasure trove of literature, pots and pans, fabrics, and paintings from down the centuries.

World History


The Hagia Sofia is the epitome of the blend of east and west. Once a church, then a mosque and now a museum. But there are better places to learn Turkish history and their place in the world over the years. We went to both the Dolmabahce  and the Topkapi palaces, which were as magnificent in their splendour as many a western European palace. They both told the story of Turkey. From their role in the Roman Empire, which culminated in the Byzantine Empire. The Ottoman Empire through to the Republic. With plenty more told about the before and afters of all those eras.   I enjoyed seeing the 4.5 ton chandelier gifted to the Turks by Queen Victoria, hanging in pride of place in the grand hall at the Topkapi. And pleased by this too. Normally, you read about absent artefacts with a note that they can currently be seen in the British Museum in London. Needless to say though, I didn’t have to wait too long to find a sign saying just those words. We Brits are such a crafty bunch of collectors of world history. Or thieves. Depending upon your point of view. But anyway. Suffice it to say. Istanbul does not lack for a sense of history.

The Missing Piece Of The Jigsaw


So what was it that was gnawing at me? I’ll tell you. It’s the architecture. The palaces are grand. There are interesting buildings here and there. One of two areas have some nice stone structures and cobbled streets. There are the many mosques. There are also smatterings of wooden buildings with windows shutters that wouldn’t look out of place in the deep south or eastern parts of the United States. But truth be told, there was an awful lot of brutalist concrete and glass blocks and buildings that remind you of London in the 1950s and 1960s, as the country rebuilt in the bomb craters of World War 2. These were, for the large part , the dominant architectural style of the city. What was missing was a sense of grand, identifiably Turkish architecture with long avenues and boulevards of stylish mansions.

Lucha Libre in London

This is Year of Mexico here in the UK. To celebrate, there have been plenty of exhibitions and events organised. Most of which we’ve missed – they are largely London centric, and it’s a bit of an expensive trek to get up there every weekend. But we weren’t going to miss what we consider the big double header. First up, a Lucha Libre event at the Royal Albert Hall. In a couple of weeks, the Mexican Folklore Ballet company are putting in a performance.

The Royal Albert Hall is a somewhat posher venue that the Luchadores are used too. If they feared the atmosphere would also be somewhat politer than is normal, then they were in for a pleasant surprise. A packed hall featured plenty of Latinos and Latinos who provided the profanity. And a couple of Englishmen dressed as nuns provided the luchado baiting. Frankly, us Brits do comedy drag better than anyone. Finally there were some masked up Aussies behind us who provided enough politically incorrect wrestling suggestions to last a lifetime. In short, the atmosphere rocked.

Lucha Libre is great fun. It makes no pretence as to what it is. It’s theatre, comedy, light entertainment. With some gymnastics thrown in for good measure. Even those who think that it’s not going to be there cup of tea are usually pleasantly surprised. We had some pretty good seats, just four rows back. But it’s tough to photograph from a few rows back though. You can check out my efforts on Flickr though, just by clicking here

Europe’s Turkey

Let’s see if we can put this in a nutshell. In the late 90s, Greece, with a little help from their German friends, fudged their books to get the drachma operating within the rules and regulations of the ERM and threw their lot in to join the Euro. They continued fudging their books right up to a few years back. The Great Recession struck and someone asked for a little something from the reserves, only to be told…oops….ain’t none. A big stack of debts, yes. Cash reserves? Not so much. Not to worry. They kept on spending the welfare, dodging their taxes and dreaming the European dream.

And Greece and the EU fudged the books again, breaking all sorts of rules and regulations, splashing the cash to try and keep Greece’s head above water. Alas, the floatation aid stopped Greece from ever reaching dry land. And here we are today. The Greeks have debts they can never pay off. The Germans have credit notes they can’t forgive. Forgiveness is for wars. The truth is, the Greeks should never have been in the Eurozone. Trying to keep them in it was simply throwing good money after bad. It turned out that a half-baked single currency shared by a multitude of independent and competing economies wasn’t such a good idea. Who knew? I guess all the other countries who have ever tried to share a currency and seen it fail.

So here we are. Pick an option. It’s lose, lose all round. There can be no winners. The only question is, does Europe seek an idealogical solution based on faux European unity and give the Greek’s their financial haircut? Or do they seek a common sense solution and let Greece go? Time will tell. Either option is expensive. Either way, pro-Euro supporters like myself are watching, weeping, and losing faith. It’s become an uncontrollable monster. The Eurozone area needs to federalise. The European Union needs complete reform, or risk losing supporters like myself to the sceptic side.

Are there any possible winners at all? Well, possibly. If Greece becomes Europe’s turkey and is sent to the slaughter house, could Turkey become Europe’s next hot entry? Whether this would be a good thing for the Turks or a bad thing is debatable. But they have previously expressed a desire to join in the fun. The only thing stopping them? The Greeks, with their Cypriotic grudge*. Who might not be around to say ‘oxi’ for that much longer…


  • Of course, the Greek part of Cyprus will remain to be convinced…

I Heart Selfie

I remember the first time I saw one. If I remember rightly, I was unimpressed to say the least. He looked an idiot. An inconsiderate idiot at that. I rather hoped a police officer might stroll by and administer a sharp blow to the head with a truncheon. To knock some sense into him. I was jolly tempted to go smite him a blow myself. But I’m English. So I didn’t. I just muttered and grumbled for a little bit. Anyway.  Then I saw another one. And another. And another. And then whole flocks of them. The selfie stick was here. I swore I’d never stoop so low. I, god-dammit, am a real photographer. Sort of.

Then one day, I was attempting to take a photo of Mrs P and myself, arm outstretched as far as it would go. And I thought to myself….actually, a selfie stick would be quite handy right now. A few days later, I happened to be doing a bit of online shopping, and needed to spend just a little bit more for free shipping. And lo and behold, there it was. In a little advert in the corner of the page. A selfie stick. I succumbed to temptation. Perhaps I’m not a real photographer after all.

I love my selfie stick. But, there are a couple of buts. Firstly, my good buddy Mr Cook really needs to have a look at that front facing camera. The selfie camera. It needs to shoot photos of the same quality as the main camera. This is essential. I’ve heard rumours that they are working on this for the new iPhone 6s for September. Secondly, they need to make that lens good and wide. So that the selfie also contains a bit more of the background that the selfie shooter is trying to capture. Thirdly, they really need to enable 16:9 format shooting on the iPhone. Both front and back cameras. It’s complete madness that they don’t already. My iPhone screen is 16:9. My laptop monitor is too. And my television. Fill my screens with my photos Mr Cook! I don’t need the black bars at the edges.

What else can I say about the selfie stick? Other than, with a little sob….’why the heck didn’t I think of that?!’ I’d be rolling in filthy lucre right now, taking selfies from all four corners of the world. But I didn’t. It is just one of those ever so simple inventions, though, isn’t it? One that you really should have gotten into production years ago, in some far away Chinese factory, using children to insert the finicky bluetooth modules. Such is life. I missed out again. Or have I? Has anyone invented self adhesive mirrors to stick on the back of phones, or their cases? So you can use the main camera. Pause in blogging while I go have a look….damn. Yep, I’ve been beaten to the punch again.

Nevermind. Anyway, I really enjoy taking photos on my iPhone. In good light, the results are ok. Sure, they don’t match the image quality from my Fuji. But still, it does provide instant gratification. And it’s so easy to use and carry. Which brings me to my last point. I have a lusty new object for my camera desire to focus on. The DxO One. What a wondrous little beast it is.


This is a camera that appeals. It plugs straight into an iPhone to give you a decent camera with a very good 1″ Sony sensor. I could see me having a ton of fun with this. When and if I can afford it. It’s rumoured to retail at $600. Not cheap, at all. But price tags have never stopped me from engaging in a little bit of fantasy camera lust.


Istanbulian Observations

Rat Free Zone

Wherever you are, you are never more than a few metres from a rat. So the saying goes. It is not true in Istanbul. There are no rats. Probably. However, in Istanbul, you are never more than a couple of metres from a cat. In all likelihood, you are never more than a few metres from a dozen cats. With intact testicles. Egypt has locusts. Europe has immigrants. Turkey has cats. Everywhere has to have a plague of something.

Stick it to ’em

I expected to be hustled and bustled by shopkeepers and market stall holders selling their wares. It goes with the tourist territory. Spices, cheese, trinkets, rugs, prints and other assorted pieces of tat, thrust in your face, shoved under your nose or tucked under your arm. The vendors of Istanbul are not, as it turned out, so terribly pushy. Except for the selfie stick sellers. They are everywhere. If it isn’t a Japanese tourist blocking your view of a fine looking palace with his or her latest cell phone, extended four feet in the air on a stick, then it’s a selfie stick seller thrusting his wares in your face. There are more selfie stick sellers in Istanbul than there are cats.

The City That Never Sleeps

The call to prayer is an exotic, entrancing sound. It’s a constant reminder that you are far from home, in foreign lands. Except at 5am, when it’s blared through your window from a mosque across the street. At that time in the morning, the call to prayer can f**k right off. But this is assuming you’ve actually gotten back to sleep from the last disturbance. It was Ramadan, so a kindly local strolls the streets at 2 to 3am, banging a drum loudly. Non stop. To remind you to have something to eat before sunrise.

At the end of the month, he’ll go door to door collecting a fee for his services from grateful Muslim neighbours. And a punch on the nose from anyone of any other religious persuasion. Boy, he must get an adrenaline rush every time he knocks on a door. Still, if the call to prayer and drummer boy haven’t done your sleep in for the night, there’s always the incessant sound of cats mating and fighting. Sometimes doing both at the same time, I’m guessing. Then there’s the seagulls, squawking non stop. I did not know seagulls were at least partly nocturnal. There are more seagulls in Istanbul than selfie stick sellers. Three plagues? This is one unlucky city.

That Dizzy Feeling

Perhaps it’s the ferries that carry you across the river. Perhaps it the outward sloping balconies around tall towers that seem to want to send you slipping to your doom. Perhaps it’s staring upwards at the interiors of the enormous domes of mosques you’re visiting. Perhaps it is the strong Turkish coffee. Perhaps it is the climbing of a thousand steep hills that the city is built on. Perhaps it is a combination of all of them. But if you ever, even just for a moment, stand still in Istanbul, you’re never quite sure which way is up.

Don’t Lose Your Head

Turkey is an Islamic country. Which means, of course, that it contains a population made up entirely of terrorists. I have to say, having now been there, I can’t help but feel that terrorists have been given a bad name somewhat unfairly. They were ever so friendly, and much to my surprise not once did any one try to behead me with a rusty spoon. However, I was the victim of constant biological weapons attack, chiefly on the metro. Deodorant is clearly optional for men in Istanbul. An option which most seem to decline.


I’m still processing a humungus multitude of raw photos from my Fuji. My iPhone photography processing is much quicker. They auto upload to Flickr, and then I just select which ones to publish. My Istanbul by iPhone album was uploaded ages ago – click here to see it. Or have a look over a small selection of them that I have embedded below. And NO I did NOT buy a selfie stick. I already had one with me, bought in the UK.