Author Archive

on Gulfhaven

For those who do not know Gulfhaven is the limited company that the Hastings Hottie and I set up back in 2002 when we both thought that we might be made redundant and wanted a basis for going freelance. More on that below, because the important thing here is that this is one of several notices to inform those who may have an interest that Gulfhaven Ltd will cease trading at close of business today, 20th March 2023.

Covid has not been a factor in the decision, it’s just that all good things come to an end and we do not need a limited company anymore, nor any of the things that one has to do to keep HMRC and Companies House content.

Age is the thing that has brought the decision on. I am 70 and the HH is, well that’s her business, but she has not been active in the business for some years and I don’t need it. This is the end of an interesting road, but I will be glad to have put it behind us.

If you ever used us, many thanks.

on vanishing pleasures

In a recent life log post I mentioned reading and music as two pleasures, but it got me thinking about many of the pleasures that have gone. Quite a few relate to sport.

Change is constant and there is nothing that we can do about it. The generation gap is, in itself, a crucial driver of change as each generation seeks to distance itself from their parents. Technology brings opportunities that we seize on to make our lives easier, better or whatever and so we move one.

Mother Nature also makes her presence felt. Things grow, things die, storms blow and quakes rattle. We grow old and die, assuming that we survive into old age, fr there are a lot of things out there that can kill you along the way.

I have been very lucky in my seventy years so far. Whilst I have experienced some dark times they help to highlight the good times and make me appreciate them more. I have seen and done a lot, possibly far more than my fair share of experiences and have a lot of memories of good times and bad.

There are a lot of things that I used to enjoy, but no longer do. Sports is one area that used to give me a lot of pleasure. I played cricket and football at a local, amateur, level, albeit I was not that good at either, and enjoyed watching both at a professional level. I am too old to play now and would not pay to watch either at the highest levels anymore: The modern games have left me behind.

Motor sport has gone the same way. Whilst I never competed, I did officiate and spectate a lot. I’ve watched here and in the US at the highest levels and enjoyed it, but globally motor sport leaves me cold now. Every year it moves further and further away from my area of interest. The same applies to historic racing. Nostalgia ain’t what hit sued to be as some wag put it and historic motor sport might use the cars from eras that I enjoyed, but in the modern context there is no pleasure for me. I’ve tried it and found it sadly lacking.

Golf I enjoyed laying (OK, there were moments), but I never could understand the attraction of it as a spectator sport and, as with so many other sports, spectator behaviour has become appalling. Sadly I lost a few years of golfing due to back and neck issues and, by the time that they had cleared up, life had moved on along with most of my golfing cronies. I would have been happy to have played on my own, but that is something that most courses frown on and being paired with people that I did not know, nor in most cases would have wanted to know, put me off.

I mentioned ‘pubs in a recent post, and will not go into all that again, but simply record that going to a ‘pub is no longer a pleasure. The same applies to going to the pictures. I used to really enjoy going to see a film at the cinema, but haven’t been to one in more that 30 years. In fact the Berkshire Belle and I have never been to the pictures together. W’ve been to rock concerts and the theatre together, but even those seem to have lost their appeal.

Another set of vanishing pleasures are people. There are a number of people who have given me a great deal of pleasure in knowing them and enjoying their company. Along the way we have lost touch for a variety of reasons and I hope that their lives have been as they would have wanted them. Friends can mean a lot in one’s life.

A bit of a miserable catalogue so far, but I still have the Hastings Hottie, my cats, books and music. I enjoy making noises on my collection of guitars and ukuleles, my gardening and am rediscovering model making. I may not always be happy, but I am content.

Vanishing pleasures are just a part of life and I have no regrets about losing them. They gave me experiences and memories and are part of who I am. I have moved one way and they have gone another. That’s life, and I have no regrets.

On grains of truth

Once upon a time I was stood in front of one of my teachers having explained myself for some indiscretion. Considering my defence for a moment she opined that there may have been a grain of truth in my excuses, but punished me anyway. Some years later as a suited and booted manager, far further up the ladder than perhaps my teacher had expected, that expression of a grain of truth came up twice in quick succession.

Both were in a marketing context, the first time when we were putting together some promotional material and all of our efforts had failed to impress the marketing director. We needed a hook he told us, something that those reading it could latch onto. It needs that grain of truth that the customer can identify with and see an answer to a problem that they need solving. We got there in the end; we must have because that brochure generated a decent return in new business.

The other time was when I was running a professional event and we had hired a comedian to do the after dinner slot. Chatting about what we did he asked questions to give him, as he put it, a few nuggets, grains of truth that the audience would instantly identify with. Things that he could weave stories around and get a laugh from. Irt was an intriguing insight into how a funny person plied their craft and, despite him having had no real knowledge of what we did before the event, he delivered a blistering 45 minutes that made him seem one of us. Those grains of truth brought it all into our perspective.

This all came back to me recently when I was video chatting with an American contact. In the course of discussing the current political situation there told me that he understands the conspiracy theorists even if he does not agree with them. There will be an event, a fact that cannot be denied, at the centre, but the how, why and aftermath are open to interpretation and speculation. With the echo chambers that exist on social media people who want to believe in a particular slant on that initial grain of truth will come to an unshakeable belief in that story.

There is a lot of fake news out there, even amongst the genuine media outlets where their bias, either political or to make a good story, rarely offers the full truth, but there is a grain of truth here and there just to hang the overall tale on. If only critical thinking was more prevalent it wouldn’t matter, but too many people take anything at face value, especially if it suits the echo chamber that they like to live in.

I mentioned jokes above and any good joke has that grain of truth, the element of reality that people can relate to at its heart. The same applies to a good cartoon. You have to be able to recognise the characters or the situation in order to see the funny side.

Over my years in a suit there were countless occasions when I presented a report, or proposal, that was slanted in the way that I, or my boss, wanted. There was always a backbone of truth even if we left out aspects that may have detracted from our aims. As I worked my way up the greasy pole of corporate management my own experiences of presenting these sort of things stood me in good stead when challenging those who were presenting to me.

Always be prepared to challenge what you are being told. Form your own opinions based, not on what you are told, but what you can find out, and never be afraid about changing your mind later if you find out something new that changes things. There is no shame in learning.

on social media

I have given up completely on Twitter. Nothing to do with the new owner, more because it seemed to have become a cesspit of abuse, and it was also getting flooded with things that it seemed to think that I would like. I must, at some point, remove the Twitter element on this page, but do not seem to be able to find time at present. Maybe it’s a job that I can fit in on holiday later in the year.

I do have a couple of Instagram accounts linked to aspects of my life, but don’t use either of them now and I really ought to get rid of both. TikTok I have n to tried and see no reason to bother with and whilst I still look in on LinkedIn and have been accepting requests to join my network, I don’t bother to look much at what is going on. I really only keep it so that I can nose around and see what people I know are up to.

Facebook, which at one time I derided, I do look in on daily, but I really ought to get rid of some of my Pages there as I just don’t use them that often. Once again, they were set up for use in a business sense, to establish a social media presence, but that need is now past. Just as I cleaned up other aspects of my web profile, there is more to do. One of the problems is that the platforms often make it hard to shut things down. I get to the stage where I can’t be bothered.

On Facebook there are a number of groups that I follow where things that interest me are shown, but even there there can be some nasty stuff published.there are times when I think that anti-social media is a better description. I don’t care if people abuse me on any of my posts. They are entitled to their opinions, and if they think that I am wrong they can say so. If they do so in an abusive manner then that is their problem and it shows them up for what they are. I am not shrinking violet and have been called all sorts of things to my face – I was a soccer referee at one time. But, on the whole, I prefer to keep such unpleasantry out of my life and so tend to leave groups where that sort of behaviour is unmoderated.

One of the other things that I do not like is the level of plagiarism. The same photo, often with the same text will get re-posted in other groups and, when challenged, will get the response “Well, I thought people here would like it”. Maybe, but it would have been nice to have asked first. There is also the promulgation of wrong information, not necessarily through malice, but ignorance.

Social media may be a benefit to some. It certainly is a profitable business, but it is something that I have moved away from and that is why you’ll find I am not out there as much as I once was.

on parents

“I didn’t ask to be born!”. The perennial cry echoed across the supermarket car park as yet another child suffered some form of anguish. Of course they didn’t. Like all of us their arrival was the result of two other people’s actions and may, or may not, have been planned.

It was an issue that didn’t really occur to me until I was into old age. I suppose that, whilst I didd have my moments of angst along the way, the reason for my existence has been of no concern. I am, therefore I am, I have a life and I will do my best to live it. A simplistic philosophy perhaps, but it works for me.

I did not get to know my parents. I knew something of them, but discovered after they had gone that there was a lot more that I would have liked to have talked to them about once I had got to an age where I could have done so without embarrassment. Sadly my father was dead before I really got that far and my mother was so wrapped up in a tissue of lies and guilt that I didn’t really catch on to what her real story might have been.

I now have some facts about what happened, but nothing about why. I doesn’t matter that much because it is all history. Some of it shaped me into the man that I became, but I was living my life my way and that was more important to me. The future trumped the past.

I became a parent myself, but without any thought as to the responsibilities that the role of father demanded. There are three children than I am legally regarded as the father of, plus another three that I could be the father of. The last two children were the product of my first marriage and only the first of that pair was planned. The lady’s biological clock was ticking and she was, at that time, talking about us having three or four. The first pregnancy was not enjoyed and whilst their was a certain magic about becoming a proper dad I can’t say that I ever had any strong feelings.

I was 25 at that time. Yes I had entered into marriage on the understanding that we would try to have a family, but I do not think now that I had any idea as to what that meant. My relationships with my own mother and father were a model that I did not want to adopt with my own children, but I had no real concept of how to go about being a parent. All that you have to go on is instinct and experience. Back then there were not the number of books, and the internet was a twinkle in the eye.

In any case parenting is a concept that I think has much to blame for the state of society now. I loathe the word and all that it stands for. If people just tied to be good mums and dads things would be a lot better. How I did is for others to judge. My daughter, having fallen amongst benefit scroungers and become one herself has studied, qualified and now holds a position within the NHS doing something around pathology. She has two children herself and is married to a man that I cannot abide. We haven’t spoken in more than 20 years. My son has been in a relationship for a similar period and is in business with his step-son (who is around hisown age). I haven’t seen him for about three years now. They are both happy In their lives and relationships and I could not ask for more.

As I grew up through my teens I instinctively knew that I had to fly the family nest and make one of my own as soon as I could. It was nothing personal, just what I had to do, to stand on my own two feet. After a couple of false starts I made it, but it was one of those rare occasions that I took my father’s advice and I realised that I had married the wrong woman as a result. I tried to make it work, and the responsibility of two children weighed heavily, but in the end I had to go. The right woman came along and we are together still. We have no children jointly for I had been disconnected for abuse of privilege many years ago, but it is ironic that her daughter, who regards me as her real dad, is so like me in many ways that she could easily be the fruit of my loins.

I tried to give the children from my first marriage the independence that I had craved and, to some degree, had been denied. They have gone on to make their own lives and I am proud of them for that. That I don’t approve of some of their life choices is irrelevant; their lives are theirs to live, not mine. I have been happy to advise when they have asked, but I will not interfere. I love them, but will not smother them.

My assortment of children did not ask to be born any more than I did. Mine are here because I had sex with their mothers. It is as simple as that. We were all created by the same process. We did not ask to be here, but here we are. We have life, and what we do with it is our business. Make your choices and get on with it.

wondering if the kite got breakfast

Stopping off at the supermarket this morning, I got to see one of those little vignettes that make being alive special. It also was another proof in my theory that looking up often pays off in terms of what you can see.

Today it was the sight of a red kite circling low over the car park. I often see them when out driving, but there there is the priority of looking where I am going rather than bird spotting, and so it was a joy to watch this kite as it moved across to the industrial sites across the road.

It flew a few lazy figure of eight patterns and then, gaining some height, peeled off into an almost vertical dive. I assumed that, perhaps, it had spotted a rat or some sort of similar morsel, but, just before it disappeared behind the building, it aborted its dive and began to flap vigorously upwards.

The reason for this change of plan became apparent when two other avian shapes flew up after it. As the trio came back towards me the other pair were a gull, of some variety, and a crow. This pair pursued the kite away, the crow giving up after a couple of hundred metres, but the gull not only maintained the chase, but carried out a series of attacks. The kite always twisted away from these thrusts and, in the end, the gull came back.

I’m not sure what the kite had spotted, but it was going to have to ,look elsewhere for breakfast. Such is life in the urban jungle.

on pubs

The decline of the public house has been dramatic over the last thirty years or so, but reflects a similarly dramatic change in the way that we live our lives.

Growing up, mainly in the country, we were often nowhere near a ‘pub but, on the odd occasion that we were, they had a strong influence as part of a community. They had a presence, even for someone like me who was too young to cross the threshold.

I was still under age when I first went into one. With two classmates from school we walked into a village ‘pub one lunchtime to try our luck. It was an alien environment despite all three of us having watched Coronation Street for years, where the Rover’s Return had been part of our living rooms for years. As we approached the bar a familiar voice came from behind us; “Allow me boys, as long as you’re buying.” It was one of our Maths teachers. He suggested talk-pints of Double Diamond for us while he had another pint of his usual, “I think one last pint and I’ll have forgotten today by the time we meet again on Monday.” A good man Mr Dodson.

After I had left school I worked in two ‘pubs as a barman. I learned a lot about people, life and myself over around four or five years in those Upminster and Romford establishments. I also drank in many, many more ‘pubs. Every day of the week I would be in one either working or drinking. Naturally, I had favourites, and the ones where I was known and welcome were a haven. There were ones where I could get a drink and be quiet with my thoughts and others where I would be drawn into games of darts or cribbage, or just into conversation.

Then there were to ‘pubs where I could take a lady, and, at that stage of my life, for reasons I need not dwell on here, they were place where we could be discrete. Public Houses abounded back then and most would make you welcome, but not all. There were always the ones where conversation would stop as you walked in and others where there was naked hostility towards a stranger. No matter, for there would be another one along the road.

Once I was married my ‘pub visits declined sharply. There were other priorities and, once our daughter arrived, far less disposable income. A ‘pub visit through most of the Eighties and Nineties was usually work related rather than purely social, but there came a time when I began to think of a day when I could take my son down to the ‘pub for a couple of pints. For all sorts of reasons that has not happened.

Both of my local ‘pubs have closed and it is about eight years since I last set foot in one, other than a gastropub. I don’t feel safe for one thing, and it is unlikely that I am going to be anywhere near one on foot: When I am driving these days I avoid alcohol completely, I won’t even take a sip of the Berkshire Belle’s wine when we go for a meal.

These days there is a range of booze available at supermarkets that, in some cases, are open around the clock. Whilst my alcohol consumption is very small these days, I am quite happy to have a small stock of locally brewed beer, a large stock of wine and a variety of spirits all to hand to enjoy in the comfort of my own home. For me. like so many others, the ‘pub has lost its attraction.

If society was like it was back in the Seventies I would be more than happy to adopt a local boozer (I use that term with affection, not in a derogatory sense), but the world we live in now has changed , for me, not for the better. The ‘pub, like to many things that were part of the fabric of the world that I grew up in, has gone. It makes me sad, but that’s life.

on decision making

to make a decision you need choices and information and therein lies a problem. We have available to us a vast resource of information that, for the majority, you only need to pull a slim device from your pocket and prod your finger at a few times to access. When I was young our family had an old Webster’s dictionary and a second hand atlas to refer to, but now you can find almost anything out in a matter of seconds.

Of course there is a lot out there that just isn’t true, but what is worse is that so often people just head for these dreadful echo chambers full of people who think the same way. What happened to critical thinking? This slavish belief in things that people have heard and refuse to submit to any sort of challenge or test is going to lead us as a society into all sorts of problems. Forget global warming, society is likely to collapse well before we all start to fry.

In recent years I have watched corporate decision making become dominated by the computer. Data can be modelled and the decision making process has moved more and more towards doing what the machine tells you to do. I have been a big fan of having the computer fed by doing the work rather than data being input manually and I have designed or coded a lot of such programmes. I have reaped their benefits too as an operator.

However, to just slavishly accept what the machine tells you to do puts decision making in jeopardy if you don’t understand where the data that it is using is coming from and what the parameters the algorythms that the computer programme uses to manipulate that data are. A recent example was in fully automating vehicle scheduling where the computer was sending vehicles out anything up to three hours late because of allowing for driver’s statutory rest periods.

Once the problem had been spotted it was relatively easy to reset some of the parameters the programme was using to make it do what was required, but an experienced human would have made different decisions and the problem would not have arisen.

Some systems are genuinely sophisticated. Take the software that controls a modern military aircraft. These are inherently unstable and cannot be flown in a conventional way, but the commuter systems take control inputs from the pilot and make the ‘plane fly accordingly. I am a lot happier with a conventional stick and rudder with some nice cables making things do what I ask, but then the sort of things that I flare not fast jets.

But back in the world of commercial decision making, or even personal decisions, we first need information and then need to know how to interpret it. We need to understand the consequences of our actions. All too often I see younger managers having an idea and going for it with no real critical thinking about whether or not it will work. There seems to be a culture of “I’m going to do this and it will work”.

I’m all for confidence, it’s a fundamental element of leadership, but blind confidence is dangerous. Yes, time for deliberation may not be plentiful, or even available, but a least have a process for decision making mapped out to that you can make the best decision in the time that you have. The more that you apply a decision making process you will, allied with the experience you have gained, get better and better at doing it.

It is also worth having a post mortem, not for apportioning blame, but to understand how closely the outcome matched your expectations. If you were lacking certain information then see what you can do to have it more readily available. If there were resource issues then try to find a way of getting faster access.

I once was asked how I was getting on a few days into a new job and relied that I couldn’t get my head out of the trench for long enough to work out which way the bullets were coming from. I was just fire fighting all day every day, but after a couple of weeks I was beginning to make progress. By improving information flow we started to get away from decision making being purely reactive and began to control our destiny.

Decision making needs to remain a human intervention. Even in a military aircraft the pilot is still making decisions: The software translates those decisions into action. It is a skill that we need to preserve, to take information, examine it critically and act on the choices that we make with a good understanding of what the consequences will be.

on management speak

A bit of an old topic here, but it has raised its ugly head with me lately and has sparked this post. As I have said here before I have a deep loathing of its use and if I ever slip into it, it will be simply in the form of parody or sarcasm.

In recent years my working life has kept me away from the sort of circles where management speak is usually found. I work in a niche world where we have our own patois made up of company, and industry sector, jargon, and I’m OK with that. But today, outside of work, I overheard someone talking about handling the first tranche of work with the second tranche due next month. What they meant was that they had the first job in hand and the next lot would be along in a few weeks, so why not say that?

Tranche is French for slice, or portion. It seemed to slip into business life, as an expression, in the Eighties as a general term when it had been in use for a hundred years or so in the financial sector regarding the issuing of bonds. It began to creep into the IT world around the time that I was leaving that discipline, but having slipped over into the world of logistics myself, there it was again.

There seems to be a need for people to try and make themselves sound clever by using alternative terms, and it also has the benefit of clouding understanding of what your are saying so that blame is harder to pin down when things don’t work out.

I have known some expert protagonists whose contributions to meetings have been stunning examples of talking for ten, twenty, thirty minutes or more and saying absolutely nothing of any substance, yet have been lauded as gurus. It is all akin the the Emperor’s New Clothes, in that people see what they want to see.

At one time, it started as a joke for a Christmas team meeting, I used the facility on PowerPoint to put a scrolling text across a slide. I would be stood there pontificating in full corporate lingo when, behind my back, a message would roll over the screen. I might be talking about a new contract and how we had worked hard to win it when my audience would see something like “This fell into his lap when the previous contractor pulled out” and then, over the next slide where I would be using all of the buzz phrases about how we were going to have a superb relationship with the new client, my listeners would see “They’re crap. They don’t pay and are complete bastards to work with which is why the other contractor legged it”

From this I put together a spoof presentation. Using every bit of management speak that I could think of; low hanging fruit, upper quartile, bucketise, get down into the weeds, circle the wagons, high level learnings, think outside the box, tick all the boxes, get on trend and many more. I worked these into something between Gilbert and Sullivan and Flanders and Swann, albeit speaking it rather than singing. Behind me, over a series of corporate information style slides, the banner would be either translating into plain English or saying things like “WTF is that supposed to mean?”. Sadly I can’t find a copy of it now, but I don’t get the opportunities to use it these days.

Taking the piss out of that way of talking was, to use another piece of management speak (MS), career inhibiting at times, but whilst I might have done better, I didn’t do too badly. At least I did what I did on my own terms and could look myself in the mirror.

Is management speak so bad? I love language and, whilst that is why I don’t like MS, could it just be a form of corporate patois that should be left alone? Perhaps it is, but, in my experience, it is too often used to plaster over incompetence. Even in its most benign usage it can render the truth opaque or even invisible. When someone presents to me using MS I don’t think that they are bright or clever, I think “What a plonker”. I think the same about anyone who is impressed by MS.

For a large chunk of my working life I have been, of necessity, a communicator. It has been fundamental to achieving my objectives to be clear about things and leave no room for ambiguity. Along the way one of the things that influenced the way that I speak was when I was working through simultaneous translation. It makes life easier for the translator and audience if what you say is stripped back ti the bare essentials.

Today we seem to have a need to enhance what we say. On a recent discussion about some work for a potential client I said, quite genuinely, that I was excited by the prospect of tackling that project. “But not super excited?” came the disappointed response. The realisation that I had probably blown my chance was balanced by the thought that I would not have to work for someone who talked in cliches, and their next few sentences confirmed that I should walk away. I did.

We have a beautiful language, and there is no need to mangle it.

on cars

Listening to colleagues, younger people, but aren’t they all these days, talking about their ideal car, should they have the cash, reminded me of one of the ways that I used to try to get myself off to sleep: I’ve won the lottery, so what cars will I buy.

I use the past tense because I don’t do it anymore. As much as I still love cars, there is not a new one on the market that I would really want to own. As a child I could tell the difference between any of the badge engineered offerings from Rootes or BMC, a Consul from a Zephyr or a Zodiac and all at a hundred yards or more. I truly lusted after cars and that passion stayed with me for a long time. Until fairly recently really, but now I survey the offerings around any car park and there is nothing that fires my juices.

Part of the problem is that there is so little difference between marques: The days when each make had its own house style are largely over. Aerodynamics or NCAP see to be blamed more that anything else, but I can rarely pick one make from another at just a glance, and there is just nothing there to excite me.

The other problem is in all all the electronic aids that come with a car now, and that have, for me and many others of my generation, taken the pleasure from driving. I do. to enjoy having a vehicle that wants to out think me.

There was a time when my Walter Mitty moment of unlimited funds would start with the purchase of an Aston Martin DB6. I thought those better looking that the DB5, and so that would always be top of my list. Than perhaps a Bentley. I preferred those to a Royce, a coupe rather than a saloon, but with a bit more luggage space for continental touring (the Berkshire Belle does not travel light). Then there would need to be something practical, especially for the Winter, so an all wheel drive of some sort, but not a Range Rover for pretty much the same reasons as avoiding a Royce. Finally an everyday car, and most nights, if I had not gone to sleep by this point, I would settle on a repmobile, with all available extras of course.

My prejudice is showing a little here, and I freely admit to some inverted snobbery. Whilst I don’t, generally, care what others think of me the are some cars that I know full well will pigeon hole you in most folk’s minds and therefore influence how they treat you on the road. My default driving philosophy is that every other driver is trying to kill me, so there is no need to further invite trouble.

And that brings another factor into choice of car: Modern driving is rarely a pleasure. Too many vehicles for too little tarmac, and most cars operated by people who are not real drivers. Just as there are many people who can get a tune out of a musical instrument, but far fewer genuine musicians, there are lots of people who can operate the controls of a car, but very few who can actually drive the thing. Modern driving aids don’t help as I mentioned above, but there are things about modern cars that I would not want to give up on.

The cars of my youth were often draughty and heating systems were hit and miss. Car radios were also very basic and overall reliability was an issue. Assuming I had unlimited funds, perhaps my ideal would be to take a modern car platform and clothe it in an approximation of a modern body. To some degree one of the favourite cars that I have owned in the last twenty years was just that. My S type Jaguar was a contempory American Lincoln chassis with a body that owed a lot to the MkII Jaguars of the 1950s/1960s.

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, and maybe I need to accept that my glory days of driving are over. At least I got to drive some good stuff of less crowded roads with rare speed checks. I’ve driven over 1,000,000 miles over two continents and nine countries in a variety of cars, vans and trucks. I’ve had my fun, so I’ll settle for riding around in our Japanese mid-sized SUV. If I want a bit of fun then I’ll do another track day like the one I did a couple of years ago when I took out three of my teenage dream cars on a closed circuit.