Monday, July 30, 2007

Our first days in Stockholm

We have been in Stockholm for three days now, so time to write something about our stay here while waiting for Fred to come back to the hotel, after a day out, whilst I have spent the day in our office just outside the centre. Not much to write about the day in the office save to say that I did not get one straight answer to any question the whole day, which was a bit frustrating. Oh well, I have another two days to get the information which I came here to find out.

The other two days were a lot better, getting to know the city of Stockholm, walking around our area Soderholm at the south of the city and up to the old city of Gamla Stam, just over the railway bridge. We have been very lucky in that the Tall Ships Race came to Stockholm this weekend and the quays were packed with colourful Tall Ships with their flags flying. Yesterday, there was a very colourful procession through town of all the crew members, mainly young people in uniform and also volunteers who all dressed up for the occasion. The crews were mostly very young, very handsome in their uniforms, the biggest crews coming from Russia, Poland, Malaysia and Mexico. Great photo opportunities!

Other than that we have been the typical middle aged European gay couple on a city break, armed with our gay maps to Stockholm, drinking our coffee in a gay café on the main square and eating two delicious meals in a gay run restaurant and even venturing on Saturday evening to a gay/mixed disco called Connection. So, very stereotyped as we stood on street corners looking at our maps, trying to find the way!

One thing which surprised us about Stockholm were the hills, as we had expected the country to be flat and forested. Well, maybe there are no mountains, but there are some steep climbs up from the water, notably just above our hotel – a boat quayed on the water, with tiny cabins making do as budget accommodation at over 100 euro a night. It wasn’t too bad, only we did not have any hot water and the fact there was almost zero atmosphere in the place – so much for the fun rating of 7.5…

From the tops of the climbs there are some beautiful views across the city, the islands surrounded by clear blue or sheet grey water, depending on whether or not the sun is shining. There is a vast array or architectural styles in Stockholm, hard to describe, but there are elements of Venice, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Berlin here, but also some local styles, neo-Gothic and so on. The streets tend to be wide, outside of the Gamla Stam area and there are lots of parks, many crammed full with sculptures and the odd fountain. Altogether it is a nice place to walk around, always some thing new to see and have a look at. Lots of information signs for Fred to read, detailing the history associated with a particular building or sculpture or whatever.

Fred is back now, so I will give him some attention, poor chap has been out enjoying himself all day…

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Summer holiday

Meram Express, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Today we are going off on our summer holiday, on what is known as Black Saturday, the busiest day of teh year at teh Dutch airports and on the French motorways.

A year ago on this day, we woke up on the train from Istanbul to Konya, pulling into Konya and spending the day there. Lovely clear blue skies, hot, exotic.

Today we are flying away from more rain here in Amsterdam and heading north... to Stockholm...

I have to go there for work and we are making a nine day holiday of it. We'll see... apparently the weather should be better later in the week!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Fiona's birthday

Mum, Fiona, Diana, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Well, Richard did not turn up but I did manage to give Fiona a big surprise by turning up on the doorstep just as she was bringing Mum and Thomas and Oona, the dog back from the shop! She really wasn’t expecting it and Mum had not let on. So, I have made a clean sweep of 40th birthdays in the family and Mum reminded me that we had both surprised Diana by turning up on her 40th birthday. So now all the children are in their forties… hmmm…

Diana, James and Harry turned up with the dogs not long after and Harry immediately asked where Freddie was, while James stayed a while guarding the car from traffic wardens whilst reading the new Harry Potter book. He and his friend have a competition to see who will finish it the first.

As usual things were all quite disorganized in Fiona’s basement flat while we waited for the women to beautify themselves, so we boys sat around scoffing crisps and helping ourselves to the prosecco which I had managed to ‘score’ at the local offie, at least I did. I was lucky with the weather as it did not rain the time I was there, but it felt very wet outside and was quite cool so a good thing we did nit have the party in the garden.

Instead we had it at a Thai restaurant somewhere far beyond Fiona’s shop, not exactly sure which district it was in… and there were already a number of Fiona’s friends sitting there (we were late, of course!). There was a table laid for twenty which we soon filled and had to extend as various other friends turned up in the course of the evening. A bit annoying for all the other people in the restaurant who may have wanted a quiet evening out, although if they had, they would probably have gone to a different place, this restaurant being cheap and cheerful and run by a Thai family, no attempt made to make it look Thai by having gilt work or carved wooden elephants or Thai silk furnishings.

So it was all quite noisy, with champagne corks popping (we were allowed to bring our own alcohol with no corkage charge) and poppers being let off every now and then. Thomas brought in a massive cake with 21 candles on it at the end of the meal as we all sang Happy Birthday (to you) to Fiona. Altogether a nice fun evening and good to see some of Fiona’s old friends as well as some new ones… only Harry was not so happy as he does not like spicey food, proclaiming this to be the worst meal he has ever tasted. Oh well, it had been a long day for him and he was tired.

I was asked to drive Fiona’s car home, as she said she was too drunk to do it and I felt surprisingly fit and managed the drive back without too many problems before flopping onto one of the settees in the living room to grab some sleep before an early start today. The batteries of the BlackBerry are flat and although I have managed to connect to numerous unsecured broadband networks, I have not managed to connect to the internet today, which is a bit of a pity as I was hoping to keep up with work e-mails during this trip, in a moving virtual office.

To travel now, I have to think about having charged up batteries and/or cables for my laptop, my (private) mobile phone, my BlackBerry and my camera. Last night the batteries of the BlackBerry and camera both failed me and all I had was the cable to this laptop, which are soon to run out as well, with no opportunity in this train, at least, to recharge. Oh well.

By the time I get to the office it will have taken three hours from when I arrived in Brussels, which is a long time compared to the two hours twenty minutes it took to get from London to Brussels, a journey which will be reduced to two hours from 14th November when the rains start arriving at St Pancras instead of Waterloo. The bigger problem is the impossibly slow trains from Brussels to Amsterdam, as we stop at three Brussels stations and three Antwerp stations, amongst others. The Hooge Snelheids Trein, for which we have been waiting twenty years should finally start service at the end of the year and should reduce the traveling time from Amsterdam to London to four hours.

By traveling by train instead of flying, from our office near Rotterdam, I am taking about one hour extra, although incurring about the same cost. The convenience of traveling by train has been a little bit damaged by all the passport and security checks which one has going in and out of the UK (there is a half hour from, before check-in requirement for example as well as queues, admittedly shorter and quicker queues than one is used to at airports. Still, rail travel from Amsterdam to London is definitely the way forward as long as they do not price train travel out of normal people’s reach.

Very nice though to have gone over to England to see Fiona and leave the minimal amount of carbon footprint possible in the time available. Lovely to see Fiona and the rest of the family too.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Happy Birthday Fiona

Happy Birthday Fiona, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

It is Fiona’s birthday today and it was 40 years ago when she was born at St Mary’s nursing home in Beaconsfield, in the mid-afternoon. She was the first and last sibling to be born in England, Diana and myself having been born in Hargeisa in Somaliland and Richard having been born in Beirut in Lebanon. We had spent a year or so living in Bangkok after Beirut before the family arrived in England. We lived in a rented hosue in Merrow, near Guildford in Surrey for a few months while my parents looked for a house to buy, somewhere convenient for my Dad’s work at the Anti-Locust Research Centre in a street just off High Street Kensington. They chose, very wisely it turned out to buy a detached house in an estate which was being built in Beaconsfield, at the edge of the town next to some extensive beech woods and fields. The station was about a 12-15 minute walk and the train came into London at Marylebone, from where a couple of tubes, the Bakerloo Line to Edgware Road and the Circle Line from there to High Street Kensington. The journey would have taken probably a little over an hour, much like the commute I have nowadays, although I save time on the walk to the station by riding my bike.

The house was really a very lovely house, with dark wooden floors, wooden cladding on colourful bricks, big windows, a quarter acre south facing garden, with a hawthorn hedge, with mountain ash and an oak tree at the back. The kitchen was too small to have a table in, but there was a nice sized dining room next door with a glass door out to the paved stone patio, which then led to the lounge, across the width of the house. Further there was a large entrance hall with a lovely staircase and a study room at the front. Upstairs, four bedrooms and two bathrooms. The neighbours were almost all similar middle class families with children around our age. A great place to grow up in many ways. A pity that Beaconsfield did not have many good schools beyond the Beaconsfield High School for Girls.

But back to Fiona….. It was a nice day ion the summer holidays, and for some reason we were treated to a visit to Beconskot, the model village with an extensive train system. It is Beaconsfield’s biggest attraction (apart from the pubs in the old town) and we just happened to go there on the day on which Fiona was born. I can’t exactly remember of Mum came with us or not, but it was soon after we got back that she went to the nursing home. Again, I do not know who was looking after us while Mum was giving birth, and presumably, Dad was at the home, (I think it might have been Granny Mac) but I do know that we were allowed to go to the nursing home and look through the window and see Mum and our new baby sister! When I close my eyes, this is the image I have, but I am not exactly sure if that was how it was.

And here she is 40 years on, with a lovely son of her own, living in London and running a shop, celebrating her birthday just 25 miles away from where she was born! The plan is to go together to a Thai Restaurant near her home with some of her friends. Mum is coming down as are Diana and the boys and I am going to make a surprise appearance, as I did not tell her I was coming having only arranged a reasonably priced train journey to London from Rotterdam, changing at Brussels (back in Belgium again!). Just a pity Richard is not going to be there… unless he is going to surprise us all…

Happy 40th Birthday, Fiona

Pure joy, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Water mis-management

, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Wednesday morning. A bright sunny morning, although like on Monday, it is not long until the clouds have come over, as the train sprints south towards Rotterdam, through the fields of the green heart of Holland. Hope fully, the day will not end as miserably as Monday, when it felt cold as the rain poured and poured out of the sky.

I was going to work at home today as there is hardly anyone in the office on a Wednesday. Many women work part-time and choose to take Wednesday off, as their children have the afternoons off during term times. If I am going to spend the day on the computer and with the telephone, I might as well do that at home. However, Fred is back, fresh from his week in eastern Germany, Czech Republic and, for a few kilometers, Poland. He said he rather fancied having the house to himself rather than having me as a distraction. Fair enough. It is nice to have the house to yourself every now and then, so here I am on the train, having just arrived in Gouda (again).

We have avoided the terrible floods they have had in England and have not really had the terrible downpours that they have had there, thank goodness, but if there is one thing that the Dutchies do very well, it is water management. One cannot help but think that the English could have done better to manage their water better, improving drainage, building water defences, using flood plains for their original purpose and so on. I remember Mrs Thatcher privatizing the water companies saying that they would bring so much investment in Britain’s ageing water management infrastructure. Twenty years later, the water companies have all been bought up by the French, they charge ever increasing amounts for the water, while there seem to be more and more restrictions on the use of water and the shareholders have made massive profits and reaped high dividends. But where was the investment? The investment which was so needed twenty years ago and which Thatcher said could be provided by the new private companies? That money has been paid out to fat cat directors and shareholders whilst far too little has been done to modernize and improve the water systems. A scandal, and now many are suffering. Why does the government not use its powers just to tell these companies to get on with their task of improving the infrastructure and to hell with the dividends and fat cat bonuses?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Seeing Marc again in Belgium

Last night I was lucky enough to ee Marc perform at the Flemish Radio 2 open air concert in Blankenberge on the Belgian coast.
Marc was introduced as an international star (starring alongside some of Flanders' most popular pop singers) and was given a great reception by 8,000 osr so people who filled the square. Again, as with Lokeren, people of all ages were there to see him.
He was backed by a 25 piece orchestra and performed:
Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart
I Close My Eyes (and count to ten)
and the northern soul (with HORNS) version of Tainted Love!

Thank you, Marc.

The day on the Belgian coast

King Beach, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I will write something here tomorrow, suffcie to say I had a lovely day with Gien going down to the Belgian coast on a bright sunny summer's day.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Hogeweg - our house, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Home alone, Fred in Germany, now climbing a mountain in Czech Republic and mant friends and neighbours away. Even the cleaning lady did not come. There was 40 euros on the dresser which she had not picked up and I thought, I could do with that, so have been cleaning the house this morning. Not ironed all the shirts, so maybe I can help myself to just 20 euros.

However, I have solved the mystery of the bits of white fluff on the carpet in the hall. They have been appearing for a few months now, annoying bits of white fluff on the red carpet and we had no idea where it was coming from. We thought that maybe a mouse was eating the newspapers we keep in a pile ready for taking to the paper recycling unit, but there were no traces of mice or their nibblings.

It was not unbtil I decided to make the bed this morning (a rare thing, I am ashamed to admit) that I realised that the fluff was coming from the towel-like sheet we put over the mattress. What had happened was that Fred had taken to changing the sheets and so on (usually my work) and, for some reason, he was not putting a cotton sheet over the towelling sheet and all the fluff from the towel was creeping out of the bed, onto the wooden floor and out into the hall.

The only mystery left to be solved now is to know what is causing the nasty smell emanating from the drawers next to my side of the bed. It has been there for years, so it cannot be a dead, decaying mouse but I have never found out what it actually is.

No time to find out now, as I am about to cycle over to G's house and drive her to Blankenberge on the Belgian coast to see the fabulous Marc Almond appear with a 24 piece orchestra as part of a Belgian Radio 2 music event. We were in Lokeren altogether about eight years ago where he likewise gave a free open air concert in a Belgian town. It was wonderful then and I hoipe he'll be just as wonderful today.

Friday, July 20, 2007

CHARLES, by Mark (2000)

CHARLES, by Mark (2000), originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

It is funny how the past can come back and surprise you. I found this photoshop creation amongst some photos on a CD from 2000 at the very start of my internet experience, when to take a photo with a webcam was the height of technological advancement!
This creation was made by a chap with whom I had chatted on the internet who was from South Africa. He was a very strange chap, a bit of an artist and he made this for me out of some webcam pics and a scanned photograph, the end result being a lot more impressive than the sum of its parts.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Two years on...

Aspects of Syria, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

A week on from Fred’s school party, it is Thursday evening again, only this week it is hot and sunny and it has been the first day in a while when it has not rained at all. Perfect for an evening in town having a beer or two with friends. Not a late evening though, as it’s a ‘school day’ tomorrow…

Two years ago today, we were waking up early to be picked up by Henk and Martin who would bring us to Eindhoven airport for the first leg of our six month trip to Middle East and Africa. It was one of those lovely sunny mornings you get in the summer, when the sun is already strong as it throws its light down the street, lighting up the grapevine and flowers we have at the front of the house.

By early afternoon, we were already out on the streets of Istanbul in that lovely little quarter of Sultanahmet, between the Blue Mosque and the Sea of Marmara, all wooden houses, many beautifully restored and quite a few turned into reasonably priced boutique hotels. Our place, the Naz Wooden House was very charming but had impossibly small bedrooms, in which we were very lucky to be able to fit in our rucksacks.

We spent the rest of the day trying to arrange a train ticket for Aleppo in Syria, which at this stage of our journey sounded incredibly exotic and, being in Syria (axis of evil and so on), slightly dangerous. As it turned out, Aleppo would prove to be far more exotic than it was dangerous and was a perfect introduction to the Arab world where we would be spending our next few weeks. Our day in Istanbul took us across the Bosphorus in one of the big ferries, over to Hyderpasa station on the Asian side, where we very quickly, without any waiting or fuss, managed to buy our tickets for the sleeper train to Aleppo.

The evening was spent, much like this evening will be spent, enjoying a couple of glasses of Efes beer outside in the pleasant evening air.
A selection of the best photos from the trip can be found by clicking here

Aspects of Ethiopia

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tales from the train

The streets of Enniscorthy, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Another train ride home, a chance to have a little sleep as the train sprints from one station to the other. Time to look out of the window at the green countryside and then to turn one’s eye to one’s fellow passengers. The man with the panama hat and black ribbon sitting opposite me, reading Dagblad De Pers, the lady at to my left with her henna-coloured hair and matching leather bag with black leather jacket, black skirt and black shoes. She is having a nap as well. Opposite her is a black chap doing the crossword or the day’s soduku. The man behind reads his Bradt Travel Guide to Kenya. We are in Gouda now, where we lose a number of the people who had got on in Rotterdam, but collect others on their way to Amsterdam. It seems to be a dormitory town. Maybe tomorrow I will get out here and walk around the town. I have never done any more than stop here on the train and maybe somewhere there is an historical centre.

It is generally quite quiet, but an enthusiastic (loud) young student is chatting to her friends on her mobile behind me. Thankfully, no loud cd players with tinny music coming out of the ear phones.

I had a bit of stress in the train this morning when it turned out that my ticket had not been stamped by the machine. I knew I had put it in to be stamped, but obviously did not check that worked, so I had an empty ticket to show the conductress. She was ready to give me a fine, but accepted my story after I nshowed her all the other tickets which I HAD stamped.

All in all, it is much nicer to be commuting by train than by car. It is shorter, one can relax, one can type blogs and one doesn’t have to fill the tank with petrol or look for a parking place when one gets home. I have asked the company to give me money instead of a car, to which my position entitled me and they were happy to oblige, saving themselves the cost of the petrol they would have had to pay for any petrol I would use.

It is a curious thing that in Holland, company car drivers do not normally pay a single cent for any extra kilometer they drive. They pay an annual amount based on the value of the car, as it was when new and that’s it. Companies will pay for the lease, the road tax, petrol, service, tyres and so on. A company car driver has every incentive to drive as much as they can in order to get maximum use out of the fixed sum they pay a year (albeit within reason). It is no wonder then that there are so many cars on the roads in the morning. In fact, traffic jams are about the only disincentive for these people to drive. Yet every cabinet seems to spend an awful lot of time talking about how to reduce the number of traffic jams, to no effect as they have got steadily worse in every one of the twenty years I have been living here. And in all the discussions, I have never heard a politician talking seriously about the way company cars are taxed.

On the other hand, I have heard the new minister of Transport talking about how to improve the whole experience of using public transport, in terms of things like providing the public with better information about possible delays, training staff to have a more helpful disposition, improving the quality and the environment of the stations as well as putting on more trains and improving connections. The things I would like the most at the moment are bigger windows to let in more air (it is hot outside and inside the carriage) and a free wi-fi connection so I can type this straight into flickr/blog instead of copying and pasting etc when I get back home.

Here we are in Breukelen, just above Utrecht. Another 20 minutes to go before Amstel, time for a short snooze….

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Dark clouds, silver linings

Frankendael benches, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We were treated to another thunder and lightning show yesterday evening, after we had eaten our very tasty dinner on the balcony. It was great watching the sky getting darker and darker as one layer of cloud moved across, each layer getting lower until, inevitably, the clouds broke and it started pouring down. Buckets and buckets. We even have a bucket to collect the water as the gutter on the roof overflows very easily. It needs fixing, so does the roof. Unfortunately, the service charges which we have been paying over the years have not been enough to build much of a reserve, which means that we are going to have to come up with some cash to re-inforce the now-drooping and, frankly, dangerous balconies as well as to repair the roof. Not that it makes much difference to us, except cash flow-wise but there have been people living in the two flats above our house who have come and gone without paying their fare share of the wear and tear on the house. Another good reason for me to be back at work and earning money again.

I have been a contractor during my first month, but the company was being ripped off by the recruitment agency, so as of Thursday I will become an employee of the company, which means being enrolled in the pension plan, the company social club (they had a weekend in Maastricht in June) and probably being expected to bring apple pie or cakes to share with my colleagues! At least the company knows officially that I have Fred as my partner (for the pension arrangement), although nothing has been said (yet)!

Almost home now and it was warm and sunny. I now have a working blackberry which I have used on this train journey to write an e-mail, write a comment under (this) photo on flickr and have been phoned by my boss. A very versatile little gadget is this blackberry! But now I am writing on my laptop. Much easier, if quite a bit heavier!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Light Shift

We are being treated to a sound and lights show here in Rotterdam. The sky is dark, the lightning flashes and the thunder cracks and crashes and booms and rolls. It is hot and humid and wet.
It was like this yesterday morning in Amsterdam as well. A strange summer we are having.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tour de France en Londres

Last weekend.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Old hulk, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Great news! Two young blackbirds have fled the nest on the balcony and one of them has come back to the garden for some food.

It is grey and windy outside and not exactly hot, although today was going to be the day that the sun was supposed to shine, so I thought I would put up a photo of a very sunny day from a few years ago, back with that boat, Point Reyes, in Inverness.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday the Thirteenth

What are you looking at? - two
It is now Friday the Thirteenth… and just one of those days because I had to spend the whole day in the office without my computer as it broke down on the way to Fred’s school yesterday evening and took one of the IT guys at work the whole day to fix. Thanks, guys for fixing it and for saving my documents, including the text I wrote in the train yesterday evening. I also laid my hands on my new BlackBerry, which is not black and can only be used as a mobile phone as yet. This little machine promises to greatly add to the general level of stress in performing my job, as it purrs and vibrates every time a new e-mail arrives addressed to me at the company’s servers in the UK. Switching it off will help and I intend to be quite strict about that.

It was a good opportunity to talk to a few people in the office and read through the major part of the company’s accounting manual. Better to do it now, in my first month, than at any other time, when I can also ask quite naïve questions about what they actually mean, without sounding stupid.

I’d had time yesterday to receive an e-mail from my UK counterpart who passed ona tip for today, namely Dandy Man in the July Cup at Newmarket this afternoon. An Irish horse who had done all his running over five furlongs the past couple of years, he was due to run against the very best over six furlongs. This is the reason why he was available at 12-1. It is not often that I get a tip, so I thought I would pile on what I have left in my Betfred account (the remnants of my winnings on Serbia in the Eurovision Song Contest, having lost some money yesterday on my favourite Ivy Creek, for whom the ground had all of a sudden dried up far too quickly). With no computer, I had to phone Mum up to find out the result and, sure enough, the race was won by the favourite Sakhee’s Secret. Oh well. Another One Bites The Dust. At least I am earning proper money now.

It stayed dry today and has been getting steadily hotter and more humid as the day goes on. It is going to be a sultry weekend, and a weekend in which I hope to be able to relax after all the hectic times of the last couple of weeks.

The party last night in Oegstgeest was not really the best end of year school party I have been to, and I was just in time to get some food as supplies were depleting rapidly by the time I arrived at 7.30 pm. The food was OK, but people were sitting at tables, the music could barely be heard and there was no real entertainment. Still, nice to see many of the same faces from previous years and a few new, and very young looking ones as well. I could not stop myself form making a remark about performance related pay for teachers to Fred’s ex-boss, to which she replied that it depends how you measure whether or not a teacher is good or not. Well, since they are constantly measuring how good the pupils are, through exams, tests, homework and so on, I would have thought it’d be quite easy for them to review a teacher’s performance.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

End of term

Fred on P-Town beach, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

It is Thursday 12th July, the date of Fred’s end of year party at school. Like last year, I am traveling there by train, looking out across a grey and wet landscape, altogether depressing for this time of year. The difference with last year is that we had already had had some great summer weather and were going to get more, whereas it is already five weeks since those summer days down in Cornwall. The other difference being that they have decided to have the party inside, rather than have an outdoor barbecue in the school’s garden. Finally, I now have a job and am running late, so I am hoping that Fred will save me some food, as we know what some teachers are like when there is free food on offer!

Fred has had to work right up to the line this year as the Ministry of Education has decided that Dutch children are not getting enough teaching hours and have recruited a number of busybodies to check up on this. A better way of spending their money than actually paying good, hard-working teachers like Fred a decent salary.

Salaries are big news in The Netherlands at the moment, especially today after it was reported that the company chairman of Nutrico is going to receive 87 million euros bonus as a result of selling the company on to the French concern Danone. The man had done great work in turning Nutrico around but many feel that he could have arranged for the bonus to be paid on the takeover to be spread around more people in the company. This is a one-off and whereas people can see that in many ways he deserves to do well, what really annoys people are the large golden handshake payments made to people who are asked to leave the company after doing a bad job.

They have also seen that there are a number of civil servants and people working for semi-government organizations who earn more than the Prime Minister. This is thought to be a bad idea, so they have decided that in future such people should not be offered more than the PM’s salary. Realising that reducing salaries is too difficult, they have recently decided to increase substantially the PM’s own salary and so bring the upper boundary a few pegs higher! What a great idea.

I have a better one in that both Prime Ministers and teachers should receive any performance related pay. A good teacher like Fred who is very conscientious, hard working and well respected gets paid no more than certain colleagues of his who are lazy and not respected. What this would mean for JP ‘Harry Potter’ Balk-ellende, I would not know, dare to say that he commands very little respect from me.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Wednesday in Madrid

After Thursday in Rotterdam, Friday in Birmingham, Monday in Paris and Tuesday in London, it was time, of course to go to Madrid on Wednesday! I was picked up from my hotel at 4 am by a taxi driver from Afghanistan who took half an hour to drive from The City to Heathrow. He told me about what a mess his country was in and how corrupt it was, saying that such corruption had come into the country from Pakistan and that at least the Taleban had tried to do something about.

Terminal Two at Heathrow is an insult to humanity, with an entrance hall/check-in area with a very low ceiling which was already crowded at 4.30, queues of people waiting to check-in. Upstairs the security people decided to start as they obviously meant to carry on by waiting until 5, by which time a massive and rapidly lengthening queue had built, to open up and start checking one’s bags, belts and shoes. Time for a coffee and a chocolate croissant as I had been warned that Iberia do not serve food on their flights, before getting onto the full flight for another two hours of sleep before landing in the bright sunshine of Madrid.

Terminal Four at Berajas Airport in Madrid, what a wonder! A beautful new building, full of light with high, flowing ceilings, decked with wood and lights in the style of large semiconductor discs, the struts painted in varying colours to mark the various areas of the airport. Lovely polished marble floors, easy to read signs and conveyor belts which worked. How much has been paid for my EU money, I do not know, but it looks to be money well spent!

A Spanish taxi driver took us to the office where we spent the day going over the issue for which we had come, there being time enough for a nice lunch from 2.30 to 4 pm (how Spanish) before having our closing meeting with the country manager who gave us a lift back to the airport.

I was lucky enough to be booked on business class on the Iberia flight back to Amsterdam and was greeted at the check-in counter by someone who reminded me very much of the travel agent in Little Britain, who types every question into her computer before replying that ‘computer says no’, having the same hairstyle and the same level (lack) of energy…. And, sure enough, the computer said no, and no again before she walked off with my ticket, coming back eventually to tell me that I had been booked on a flight for 11th July NEXT YEAR! Fortunately, there was plenty of room and, with a delay, I had time to sit in the business lounge with my colleague and have a couple of beers before going to catch the flight back. Again, one should never turn down the opportunity to try the various wines and champagnes on offer in business class before nodding off yet again prior to landing in Amsterdam.

A Pakistani taxi driver took me home and made the same point about Afghanis and the Afghan taxi driver was making about Pakistanis earlier in the day. Fred was still up and there was time enough to play a few Marc Almond songs before going to bed for a much needed and very welcome sleep in my own bed.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ruby Red - Marc Almond

Here are some of the songs which Marc sang last night:

Stardom Road
I Have Lived
These My Dreams Are Yours
Tears Run Rings
Brilliant Creatures
Your Aura
Mr Sad
The Idol
Dream Lover
Child Star
What Makes A Man A Man?
Caroline Says
2 Russian songs
Redeem Me
The Boy Who Came Back
Ruby Red
My Hand Over My Heart
The Days Of Pearly Spencer
Somethings Gotten Hold Of My Heart
Backstage (I'm Lonely)
I Close My Eyes (and count to ten...)
Tainted Love
Say Hallo Wave Goodbye
The Final Curtain

It was his 50th birthday and he chose to spend it with his (adoring) fans at the Shepherds Bush Empire, performing a wide selection of songs with his 'band', guitarist Neal X and pianist Martin Watkins, plus a drummer and a bass player. Adding the strings were Annie Stephenson and Gini Ball who have been with him since the Marc and the Mamba days of 1982/3.

I made it off the train from Paris to Shepherds Bush in less than half an hour with the underground, in good time to get into the concert hall and find my friends Ange and Steve and Dino and Paul, before Marc got going with the low key Stardom Road. I had been wanting an up-tempo concert and that is what Marc gave us... immmediately launching into These My Dreams Are Yours and Tears Run Rings from the Stars We Are album of 1988.

He looked great, all dressed in black, the problem being we were standing a bit towards the back, with all the tall people in the concert hall standing in fornt of us. I knew I wanted to make it to the front, it was just a question of how and when... better to leave it a while when others start tiring and sure enough.... I waited until the slow bit in the middle was over with before I made my move, pretending to look for someone in the crowd and then finding a place in fornt of a very big man who did not mind me too much standing in front of him. And there I was.... right near the front, standing behind three rows of swaying lesbians... while Marc sang away.... no alternative but to sort of swing along with them... until we got to bounce. I always like bouncing at concerts.

Well... on and on he went, giving us the fabulous ' The Boy Who Came Back' from the ' Vermine in Ermin' album, one of our favourites amongst others, eventually two extended encores, during which he broke down with emotion when we all sang Happy Birthday to him. A very touching moment.

After the concert ended, we all waited around the stage door, meeting other Marc fans from concerts of old... Julia and the Brighton gang, Paul from North London, Adrian from Birmingham and Densie and Tracey from Liverpool, no Dave, though... and also finally meeting Yvonne from near Aberdeen with whom I have been chatting on the internet the last few months. All very sociable and it was very late when Marc finally came out, giving me a handshake and Dino a kiss. What a nice man, that Marc Almond.

We ended up having a late beer and an even later sandwich with Dino, Paul and Yvonne before winding up the evening and embarking on a long journey back to my hotel near Tower Bridge, which, with two night buses and a taxi took me over an hour and a half! Having woken up early to go to Paris earlier in the day, it had been a very long day and I was shattterd.

Tomorrow... Madrid!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Happy 50th Birthday, Marc!

Happy 50th Birthday, Marc!, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Marc Almond, born in Southport, Lancashire on 9th July 1957, celebrated his 50th birthday with a fabulous concert at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London. Here he is at Summer Rites 1999 with sexy Latin Dancers.

Greetings from Paris

A Friday in Paris - red, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

After all the fun and games of the weekend, an early start on Eurostar for a fleeting visit to the Paris office. Not seen a lot apart from the taxi rank at Gare Du Nord, some depressing suburbs to the north of Paris and an odd looking, half empty office filled with IKEA furniture. Oh well.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

An afternoon at Wimbledon 2007

I had never been to Wimbledon before, but today was as good a day as any to make my first visit. Men's final day with Roger Federer trying to equal Bjorn Borg's record of five consecutive wins, against the young whipper snapper Rafa Nadal... and what a final it was. A superb five setter, with Roger Federer staring deeat in the face as he was 15-40 down in the final set to give Nadal a chance to go 3-1, with a break. Well, Federer came back and won that game and evrey other game of the match, each one more easily than the last to take his fifth champioship, with a wonderful rally to finish off this epic.

A good thing that the match lasted so long as it was after 5 that we were allowed in, for the princely sum of three pounds, having waited an hour or so in the queue listening to the third and fourth sets, before watching the last set on Henman Hill with thousands of others. Still an amazing atmosphere for a big screen. There was a chance ot get into Centre Court afterwards with many poeple leaving after the Men's Final but I was too afraid to ask anyone for their tickets and no-one seemed to be offerimng them either. There was a possibility to buy resale tiockets but in typical English fashion, there was a massive queue in front of one window to buy such tickets for five pounds. A good investment for anyone quick enough and well enough dressed as a Brit actually won! Jamie Murray won the MIxed Doubles with Elena Jankovic, the first Brit to win a Wimbledon title in 20 years!

As it happened, I reckoned that the queue was so slow that the match would be finished before getting one's hands on a ticket so decided to watch the end of the Boys Doubles final between Daniel Lopez and Mateo Trevisan of Italy against Roman Jebavy and Martin Klizan each of one part of former Czechoslovakia. Again, a thrilling match, with the Italians winning the match tie-break, after having had a match point against them. It was on one of the smaller outer courts and so it was possible ot get very close to the players and even hear them cursing!

A great day and a great induction to the phenomenon which are The Championships at Wimbledon.

Friday, July 06, 2007

P-Town sunset

P-Town sunset, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Another one from the USA collection, this time the sun setting over a lagoon behind one of the beaches of P-Town, Cape Cod.

Flickr might be getting ever more popular but interest in the blog has dropped off dramatically this nweek, exactly three monthsarfter we had the big surge. No idea why.


Hull, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This is one of my favourite photos of my favourite boat - the Point Reyes, which can be founded stranded on the beach just outside Inverness in Tamales Bay in West Marin County of Northern California. I love faded and flakey paintwork like this. I spiced the colours up a bit with the help of picasa.

I am on my way to Birmingham with those very same people who left US stranded at Birmingham airport on our way to Ireland three weeks ago. I hope I do not see any of the same staff we had then. This is a business trip to meet my boss and some members of the accounting team over there. I left the house without having written down the address of the office, so needed to come onto internet to find it, which I have.

Tomorrow is going to be the second anniversary of my time on flickr, last week, having been the second anniversary of starting this blog (I had not realised before).

Anyway,. the flickr site has had a good year in terms of the number of visits. I think the first year had 56,000 photostream visits, of which 12,000 were in the first six months and 44,000 in the second six months. This last year, we have had 410,000 visits, the clock being up to 466,000 and on its way to the half million. Thanks to everyone for visiting... much appreciated, the visits and the comments.

Gotta go, my 15 minutes is running out...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Mister Fred in P-Town!

Mister Fred in P-Town!, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

And here is Fred.... it is his blog too.

Just one more week fo school to go before he can go and enjoy his summer holidays. Five years ago we were going to go to Oirland on holiday and, at the last minute, we booked a cheap flight to Boston and spent two very enjoyable weeks in New England.

Here is is sitting out on the verandah of a friend's house in P-Town, or Provincetown on Cape Cod. We stayed there for three days or so during peak season, found a bed and breakfast to stay and enjoyed the most perfect weather.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day

Point Reyes, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Continuing the American theme on 4th July, their Independence Day, here is a photo from 7th July 2002, of a lake behind Lamintour Beach in West Marin, just above San Francisco. This was a favourite haunt of mine when I had a spare weekend during a work-related visit to the office in Silicon Valley.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

My daily commute

Amsterdam Amstel, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Two months to the day after coming to the office for my first interview on 3rd May, which was a lovely warm summer’s day, I have just spent my third day in the office and am now in the train on the way home. It is cool and grey outside and it has been raining on and off throughout the day. I do not have a coat and am hoping it stays dry for the next half hour at least until I get home.

The train journey lasts 52 minutes from Capelle Schollevaar to Amsterdam Amstel, from where it is a 5 minute cycle ride back home, making the whole trip just a bit over the hour. The train goes through the Green Heart of Holland, stopping at Gouda (from the cheese fame), Woerden (where Fred had his first job as a teacher in 1991), Breukelen, Abcoude and into Amsterdam. We pass field after field, of grasses, orchards, farms, dykes, bridges, cows, horses and sheep… and, of course, windmills! In the ditches one sees families of swans with their cygnets, sometimes a flock of rooks, the odd heron waiting patiently and plenty of ducks and geese. Just here in Breukelen where we have stopped we can see the motorway, chock-a-block full of slow moving cars and lorries. Better to take the train. I can even have a snooze, as I did yesterday afternoon and for the first part of this journey, whilst this morning I finally got round to writing a long e-mail to my brother Richard.

At the office end, there is a four minute walk to the office, where I follow a footpath through the trees and every day I see a little wren and a blackbird. Meanwhile, at home, I can report that the eggs have hatched and we have a small family of noisy and hungry blackbirds living on the balcony. Not seen too much magpie activity recently, although I was surprised to see that a young crow had been raised at the back, as we do not have so many crows. For some reason, I like crows, much more than their cousins, the magpies and the jays (despite their wonderful plumage).

The photo here is of a couple of people spotted at the Amstel Station, where my daily train commute begins and ends, taken about a year ago.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The stuff of nightmares

Here is a photo from when it was still summer, namely Derby Day. A mixed day of rain, sun and showers today for a day in the office.
I was looking forward to watching Bollywood, the tip from my cousin, running in the 6.30 at Goodwood today and I had had a near maximum bet on him each way at 10-1. However, I noticed that his stable companion Mythical Charm had been backed from 14-1 to 10-1 and decided to have a saver bet on him. I did this just before running to the betting shop to see Bollywood fade in the straight to finish 5th or 6th after looking promising in 3rd.
I had no idea who the winner was but it turned out to be Mythical Charm.. great I thought... a good move to have that saver bet..... until I started running back home, when all of a sudden I started wondering whether or not I had hit the 'confirm' button. Of course, I had not thought about this while I was running TO the betting shop, when I could have done something about it... only on the way BACK when I could NOT do anything about it. Sure enough... the confirm button had not been pressed, I had not won my saver bet and I becqame very LOUD and upset, so annoyed with myself fro doing this AGAIN (it is not the first time, as my Mum reminded me). As I said before, it is so difficult to find a winner and then to find one and then not go through with the bet because of a tachnicality is very annoying.

It gives me the same emotion as during one of my recurring nightmares, where I am at Moor Park Station, near my school, from where I would take the train back to Amersham on the way home. There are lots of platforms there and trains are coming and going from each platform and one is always on the wrong one when your train comes in and you run over to catch that train only to find it has just left... and then the same happens again and again and one never catches any train.

And on the subject of recurring nightmares, I was talking to a friend yesterday who shared another of my recurring nightmares.... namely that one has a maths exam the next day and one has not studied or revised for it... not for years...and one is bound to fail in a very spectacular way. (We are both good at maths). Someone who was listening to the conversation said it has to do with being afraid of failure. Failure to know how to put a bet on the internet properly.

Tattersalls Derby Sale record

Tattersalls Derby Sale 2007
Latest News: 28.06.2007

Another Derby Sale, another record price: Gerry Griffin's winning bid €305,000 for lot 280 - an outstanding son of King's Theatre set the record as the most paid for a store gelding. The 4yo gelding from Jim Mernagh's Coolamurry Stud pipped the previous record held by a Supreme Leader gelding at the 2004 Derby Sale by €5,000. This is the second year in a row that a new record price has been set.

I mentioned on the note to this photo on flickr that he should get a good price, this horse.... well it tyrns out that he is a record beater - the most expensive store gelding ever sold at auction in Ireland. I feel very proud!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The first of July

Smokey cafe - two, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Yes, the day the smoking ban hits England, after its introduction in Ireland, Italy, Wales and Scottieland. Here in Holland the bar owners want to wait until 2012, whilst the government wants to hurry them up and introduce the ban next year. Bad news for the dope industry then.

It was a lovely day today, a very welcome break from the cloud and rain,so was good to get out, after a late start and enjoy the sunshine. It was only coming home on the bike that I realised that there were many musical and dance events around town celebrating the end of slavery. Many beautiful African women in tradition dress. Alas, I did not have my camera and it was getting late anyway.

So, we spent the evening watching the Princess Diana concert from the new Wembley Stadium. Some good acts, like P. Diddy singing Missing You (to the tune of The Police's 'Every Breat You Take') and Take That, with their brilliant 'Patience'. The end was a bit weird, a stupid comedian making really bad jokes plus Elton John rounding off with two songs of his which had never been hits and, presumably are only known to his fans. Then this was followed by a home cinema presentation of Diana as a young girl. Very nice but a little odd.

Strangely enough, I had just mentioned my cousin James' name to Fred, when a couple fo minutes later I happened to look at my mobile and there was an sms from him with a horse racing tip for tomorrow... which I will not pass on here.

Good to report that my tip from yesterday, Kock De Vesvre, DID win at 5-1. Unfortunately, I left the house before having put money on him, thought about turning back but decided not to, and, sure enough, he won. The fact that his trainer was not too confident was, in my eyes, a trick to put people off betting on him so the owners could get a better price for their bets!

Further, I had mentioned a company in which I had shares on here in early March, calld OVTI. I said they were $ 13 a share then but should see $ 18 before the year was up, and sure enough, I had a look last Friday and they had just breeched the $ 18 mark... so a nice 40% return. Watch this space... but tomorrow... it is Monday and back to the office...

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