Sunday, 14 December 2008

Festivals - I Love 'Em

Folk music festivals generally run from spring until autumn. Most take place over the weekends, and many are open-air; everyone gets very merry and stays up late. Each year, we Slaves look forward to playing at festivals. We take our hats off to the organisers, because there is always a fantastic amount of work to ensure all goes smoothly on the day. For the public there is loads to enjoy in terms of music, dance, shows, parades, stalls and so on, while a shiver of excitement is always experienced by organisers and performers alike, for of course the whole lot is in hoc to the British weather.

Those who go to festivals are a very mixed bunch, and some groups can be dead interesting if you are a people-watcher. Easy to spot are the weekend ‘hippies’, who don a few like er alternative clothes – often newly-acquired at the festival market – and, they believe, suitable characteristics on a Friday night. Nice office haircuts notwithstanding, they get into being chilled and toke a few ‘J’s’, swaying to the music and tenting it overnight (‘Toby, where’s the door in this thing?’), before reverting to Calvin Clones on Monday and scurrying back to the corporate cubicle.

Then again, it’s impossible to say what some festival-goers might do for a living that allows them to look so … well, mad. These are people you just couldn’t put in a suit and tie – or any other form of conventional clothing. It wouldn’t work, their overall appearance is too uncompromising. Characteristics include mental hair, piercings of every imaginable trailing-edge, bizarre body art, demented or menacing clothes, beards to the waist, and rolling crazed little pink eyes. Some perhaps are self-employed, others determinedly unemployed. Then, bingo – it becomes clear. They are, in fact, very senior software engineers, working for blue chip companies that waive every convention of appearance in return for employing their astonishing (though nerd-ish) skills. And good luck to them – enjoy!

Festival house PA (or ‘sound’) systems fall broadly into two groups, really good and truly awful; there isn’t much of a middle ground. Using a house ‘rig’ appeals to the Slaves; it's all set up for you, which is very grand. You don’t have to carry your own PA around, you just turn up, plug in to somebody else’s and off we go. The PA operator – or ‘sound man’ – does all the out-front and stage sound mixing, while you just play away to your heart’s content. On the other hand, you do have to put up with the engaging quirks of those in whom you put your trust, and musical reputation (if any).

One PA guy we encountered regarded the bands he ‘did’ as merely irritating encumbrances to his gloriously huge, powerful, expensive, sophisticated, complex and probably thrusting uh uh uh oh yes yes chimp chimp sound system. Perhaps he was right. Another strutted round dressed all in black, with a great macho set of huge keys clanking on his belt, as if he owned a medieval castle. Perhaps he did. One hopeless old tosser we met at an open-air gig had run the stage power feed through naughty bare wires, and when we lightly enquired as to safety, thought this would ‘probably be OK’. Right, oh look it’s coming on to rain …

Such rare tales aside, most festival PA guys are great. Unflappable, they take in their stride all manner of instruments acoustic and electric. They placidly cope with rapid change-overs of wildly varying ‘artistes’ - a bassoon, Mongolian nose-flute and Hawaiian guitar trio, followed by St Lundy’s Junior School steel band. Try to imagine that. Sound-men deal with drifting time-tables, precious performers, punters' dopey questions, and a vast multiplicity of equipment … so a big round of applause for the PA guys and many thanks for a great job - you know who you are!

Morris dancers of course form an integral part of many festivals. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they're part of our heritage. It’s just those ankle-bells chink-chink-chinking all the time, you can hear them tripping down the road from miles away. Perhaps it is meant to be a warning. That said, the more alternative sides are growing in number. At the Wimborne festival last year, a set of Turkish-looking gentlemen appeared dressed in fezzes and long striped robes, complete with (pretend) camel; they were good value and danced very spiritedly. Of course, they may have been taking the piss. Another group was bred from punks, who rather than skipping effeminately and tapping their staves, attacked one another with furious ferocity. It was absorbing though bewildering; we wondered which would sustain the most serious injury. But more power to your elbows lads, what’s left of them after the final dance; shout up yours in the face of tradition and let’s tear down those barriers!

Of course, food at festivals is usually disgusting and stratospherically overpriced, and the public health people would have a field day. You may choose, if you wish, to believe the vendors’ astonishing, fraudulent claims regarding nutrition and edibility. Alternatively bring your own grub. Enjoy a fine succulent picnic with cakes and everything, while loftily watching the less fortunate queuing for bloody scraps. This way, you will also have some money left to buy something that won't kill you.

The festival market stalls are much more interesting than the food side, and certainly less harmful. Many sell colourful and attractive clothes at good prices, as well as other nice fun stuff. Russian doll anyone? A hat made from a big leaf? Hand-made jewellery perhaps, some is really beautiful and you won’t see it much outside the festival community. There's always something to look at, haggle over and take home. If you’re after a good deal in the instrument line, the music shop stalls will sometimes negotiate quite generously if you can cough up on the spot.

So you’ve had a great day, a jolly and preferably alcoholic evening, but finally the venues are closing; you may have to tough it out back at the festival camp site. Festival camping facilities are often insanitary, with toilet and washing arrangements that wouldn’t disgrace a farmyard – indeed some sites seem to be positioned in farmyards. Do pack your own personal bog roll. In fact take a few spares; by the second day you should be selling them for £4.00 each.

Among the happy campers, there is always the over-excited nerd who wants to stay up half the night loudly ‘singing’ some dreadful earnest durge, while the sane are desperately trying to sleep. This is known as free expression, and such individuals must not be assaulted. Then there are the many pissed people who stumble over your guy ropes and fall on your tent during their nocturnal wanderings. Sorry mate, they mumble, which makes such clumsiness perfectly acceptable.

Of course, a nearby B & B is always an option, even if occupied by some hard-bitten landlady and her endless list of trivial or mad rules. At the B & B too, there will often be somewhere to park your car. This is much better than driving to the festival car park and arguing with some jobsworth attendant, who directs you into the far distance when there are spaces six feet away. Not driving to the festival – and more significantly, back again – also means you can guzzle booze furiously, which for many is a fundamental consideration.

With a rugged constitution and a bit of planning you can enjoy festivals to the absolute limit. You may go back to work in a semi-coma of fatigue (but where better to have a little rest?), your clothes will have to be incinerated, you may suffer partial memory loss, deafness, or internal ailments too appalling to detail, but miss the next extravaganza at your peril and always hope for sunshine!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Salman Rushdie's Diary

I'm writing this with a feeling of sadness.

Today I completed the lecture sessions for the first third of my MA. The semester (referred to at UCF as a block) has truly raced by. Our course group has proved cohesive and I consider myself very fortunate to have come across such a friendly, positive set of people.

My sadness is because this is the last week we will all be together. Next semester we begin to specialise and split up into different groups. While we will all still get together once a week for a general course meeting, to an extent I will lose contact with some of my new friends. But ever onwards ...

My tutors have shone. Although I haven't encountered problems with the course so far, I know that in the future if anything came up, I would be able to go to any of them. Difficulties would be nipped in the bud. That's a nice feeling.

I have learned so much in these three months. When I say learned, to be truthful I mean I have received so much information. Not all of it has gone in, but I have doggedly typed up my course notes so I'll be able to refer back to them in the future with some degree of understanding, rather than having to pore over my scribbly notebook.

The subjects have been fascinating. I have been made aware of exciting structures and disciplines, and while I could claim to have been a writer in its broadest sense before I joined the course, I feel so much more ... well, educated in the craft. Without such information you can only take this writing business so far, that's for sure. And there's still so much more to learn.

As part of the course I've been required to create this blog, and also a personal website .
Before I started the syllabus I had no idea how to do either of these things. Now, I am enjoying them.

In fact our course relies heavily on the e-world, and the core of our work is built around a site called The Learning Space, on which we post our assignments, receive updates and so on. Just recently I feel I've been permanently on it, because I've had to complete a hand-in of my submissions for this Block, together with course assessment forms.
The Learning Space - a site for sore eyes. Yet it's now in my DNA, and I log on to it as naturally as I used to fire up my PC at work. Funny how things change.

Of course, all this grafting has meant that currently my social life is in free-fall, and now reads like Salman Rushdie's diary:

'Monday: stayed in.' And so on.

However, we hope to improve on this situation over the next few days.

Finally, a reflection on being a mature student. Many of my colleagues are perhaps twenty-five years younger than I, but I haven't been made to feel ancient, or excluded. They sometimes talk about things I don't understand or have no knowledge of, but that's natural and OK. Then again, some are more around my age, or a bit older. But there truly has been an unselfconscious intermingling of the course group. Backgrounds and age mean nothing. I am richer for it. Sounds cheesy? Try it, it's brilliant.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Stick People

One of the real joys of living in Cornwall is the variety and individuality of the scenery. I get out once a week, usually on a Sunday or Monday, to tramp over the countryside and admire the wonderful surroundings. Be it coastline, moorland or the truly atmospheric Cornish antiquities, on goes my walking stuff.

I love my walking boots. A bit odd, you say, but you haven't tried them on. They're a good ten years old, and like butter. I've caked them with dubbin and I'm always amazed at the amount they can swallow up. In a sale a few years ago I bought a second pair, thinking that eventually the old faithfuls would drop to bits, but they are still very much a going concern.

I tend to wear army surplus stuff when walking. There are loads of pockets for all the necessaries, and this stuff is tough. Hacking through brambles on Predannack Down may not be your ideal cup of tea but it would be a jolly sight worse in Marks slacks, let me tell you.

My car is filled with essential equipment. A change of clothes in case it chucks it down.
A map is good, as well as food, a small pack, a camera and a book. The last doubles as my toolkit - if I break down, I can read it until the RAC arrives.

Walking isn't a solitary pursuit at all. You meet other, like-minded explorers and people are at pains to say hello and have a chat. Often they are middle-aged, but walking is great exercise and many of them are very fit. Some are knowledgeable about the locality, some have friendly dogs you can make a fuss of. Some know the direction of where you want to go, which is always helpful when the map's wrong (this happens quite a lot). The old campaigners are easy to identify because they have battered but suitable clothing and equipment.

But will someone please explain to me the current fad for walking with the aid of sticks.

We see this particularly among smartly-dressed walkers, couples with new cagouls in bright and (emetically) sometimes matching colours. In addition to their new boots and packs they carry telescopic, carbon-fibre walking sticks, sometimes just one, often two. To some, apparently, such equipment is now considered an indespensible aid to motion.

Why do the stick people have to push off (as it were) on every stride? They could just walk. The terrain is sometimes perfectly flat, and is never likely to reach the severity of the Matterhorn. It's hard to believe they would be unable to totter along without such support. Or is the object to go faster, in which case heaven help us.

No. What we're saying is, even in the simple world of walking about, the uncontrollable necessity has arisen - having been carefully nurtured - to accessorise. Megacorp is snaring even this uncomplicated activity in its loathsome grasp. What further ludicrous embellishments can we expect?

Message: don't be a victim, don't buy stupid sticks! They aren't cool, they do not help you walk, you have already learned how to do that some time ago.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Shouting Out from The Touchline

Tomorrow I'm going to watch a rugby match. The giants of Redruth are taking on the leviathans of Leeds, so at least they'll all be the same size. Just bigger than the people in the crowd. Rugby is a wonderful game - thirty men determined to win at all costs. Why not give them a ball each, you might ask, this would save them fighting over just the one. You obviously don't know very much about rugby!

I love it. My dad introduced my to the game, he supported Penzance so of course I had to choose a different side, and lucky old Redruth got my vote. At the time I wasn't quite sure where Redruth was (I was seven) but I followed them as best I could through the local paper. I can't remember the two sides ever meeting; Redruth were ineffably superior and played in a much higher league, as I recall.

Years passed, but I always kept an eye on Redruth, even when I lived far away from Cornwall. And now I'm back. The ground is as I remembered it (though smaller) and the same faces - or types of face - populate the crowd. Big men - and women - with veins and funny teeth, shouting instructions to the players, following every move, sometimes mildly at odds with the referee. Huge coats, woolly hats, water-proof leggings, big boots, to ward off cold and rain. Cups of soup, pasties, and thousands of empty plastic pint glasses crunching underfoot.

But who would want to stand
on a bank of mud in all weathers, urging mad, violent people to get hold of a bit of pumped-up plastic and run about with it? Well, I would. The thing is with rugby, not only is the game actually absorbing, graceful and satisfying, but going to a match is about more than just what happens on the pitch.

You can stand intermixed with supporters of the opposing team, and not get your head kicked off. Just a bit of friendly banter, and if your lot score, they will clap. Imagine that happening at a 'kiss-ball' match. Rugby supporters are well-behaved; they take a pride in their conduct, perhaps having in mind the contrapuntal antics of those who favour the other-shaped ball.

You can buy a nice hat with Redruth RFC embroidered on it. You can go in the club house and admire the trophies, caps, photos and other memorabilia of past glories. Fancy a sausage roll? They really are OK. You can have a beer before the game, or during it, or afterwards, or all three. It's not dear to get in and the atmosphere is terrific, with the crowd roaring and the Bassett monument lowering over Hellfire Corner.

I have even kicked a penalty there. Exploring the town one weekday, I fetched up at the club's main gate and as it was open I went in. I was walking round the empty ground enjoying happy memories when I found a ball under the stand. I took it onto the pitch, lined it up for a penalty kick and biff - between the posts it went! Sadly though, my achievement was witnessed only by an itinerant dog.

So off we'll go tomorrow, my and my mate Dennis. It's really great fun, particularly so as Redruth are having an exceptional run at the mo. So put your team jersey on, take some money for 'refreshments', and get there nice and early for a good view. You'll love it!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Tap Tap

My flat is cold and damp. Being a student, I am loath to heat it so I'm sat here wearing two coats, a big jumper, football socks (where on earth did they come from?) and a woolly hat. And other clothes, obviously. Why am I obliged to spend so much time in this inhospitable environment? Well, thriftiness plays a part. But how is it that I'm not thawing out at a rich person's house, or in a nice warm pub?

I am nailed to my keyboard. Naturally the MA is to blame.

I seem to take a long time to complete my course assignments. I pick them over before offering them up to my peers for review. I type and retype them. I also like to type my lecture notes out so that I can refer back to them and understand them. I like doing this blog - more keyboard. I'm currently sketching out my project for the summer - more keys again. I also like to visit other blogs. Tap tap.

I should be a natural touch-typist as a result of these labours. I am probably much faster than PC Plod writing up his report on the station typwritr (plink ..... plink......), you'd think with all this practice 500 wpm would be easily achievable. But no. Despite incessant repetition the skill eludes me.

Tomorrow I will once again feel the full force of more assignments, and the tap tap will continue. I've decided the MA should be awarded with a complementary RSA 1 in typing. Two new things to put on your CV for the price of one.

I will make enquiries.


At the moment my band is blessed with the services of Helen, a most accomplished fiddle player. But Helen's on her way, she has long had an ambition to sail round the world and she'll be making a start on her plans in the new year. We will be sorry to lose her, but we know she is doing the right thing. So we're faced with the task of replacing her.

This isn't going to be easy. Helen has a quality of playing that makes you, as a performer alongside her, feel comfortable no matter what the size of audience. This year we played Glastonbury and actually it was a piece of piss, due in no small amount to the strength of the fiddle. That and the fact that we're pretty well drilled, peddling our act once or twice a week, every week. Large or small stages, over the years Helen has strutted her stuff and the engine sat alongside her rarely misses a beat. We are close, and we rely on one another to come across well.

One thing's for sure, the incoming person will have to be a strong and confident character. Yes, of course they have to be able to play, but a large part of being in a small tight group of people is the ability to be a good fit, to get on with those around you. I'd trade that quality plus competence any day for a virtuoso tosser.
So step up Mr / Ms X fiddle.

We have a couple of candidates at the moment, and will be checking them out over the next couple of weeks. Exciting times. It should knock us nicely out of our comfort zone.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

What I Did On My Holiday

What a great weekend!

On Saturday morning, I sailed off with the band from Penzance to St Mary's aboard the mighty Scillonian III, then on to the outlying island of Tresco in the tiny ferry. The passage was fine and was spent grazing at the bar. This theme continued on arrival; we set up in the lounge of the New Inn ready for the evening gig.

9.00 pm, strike up ... 'We're The Sex Slaves from Hell, we go like this!' Avalanche of notes. At first the audience was restrained. This was partly because most of them had just eaten and didn't want to dance around until we were two-thirds through our set, and also many were ... well, knocking on a bit.

It was a rather recitely gig until some monied young women - Tara, Hermione, Penny - arrived and started to jump about on the dance floor. The jiggling of the nubiles was an irritating distraction but we stuck to the job. Then, two old-timers got up - and could they jive! This seemed to be the signal; young and young-at-heart flung themselves around for the last half hour, a neat ending to our gig. Encore complete, we hit the tab and finally retired around 2 am.

Sunday. After an extra hour's sleep caused by the clocks going back, and an extra hour's sleep caused by the tab, it was salmon for breakfast and then off for a nice healthy walk. The scenery is magnificent on Tresco, though some of the facilities are curiously manicured. Directional signs are simply everywhere, even though you are unlikely to find yourself lost on an island the size of a large roundabout. On the signs, distances are measured in minutes. We are told that from a certain point, the shop is 'three minutes', the heliport 'eleven minutes' and so-on. Since the signs don't indicate whether the time is supposed to be by foot, by cycle, or in Celeb Class aboard Concorde, they are of limited use.

The formal gardens wanted a tenner each to get in and we gave the entrance a cheery wave as we passed by. That's the other thing about Tresco. It's expensive, thereby protecting the affluent visitors from the proles.
The island also has a slight feel of what one imagines exists behind the gated retirement communities beloved by the most popular country in the world.

For all that, Tresco is stunningly beautiful, a trick it can pull off in most weathers, and I love it there. Sunday lunchtime's gig was also good, though by then I was beginning to feel a bit off-colour (a germ, not the previous night's efforts thank you), but I got through it like a good soldier.

Monday was going-home day, and it takes the best part of a day because of the ferry connections. But there is no rush to leave such a lovely place.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Once More, Once Less

Week 3 of my MA. Getting to know the ropes a bit more now. I've had a good look around the campus and located all essential services (well, nearly all), successfully attended another week of lectures and handed work in on time. This is annoyingly unlike my experience of industry, where you could hold a meeting either in order to delay anything you didn't like, or mask anything you hadn't done.

Today we saw the Bolster film we had made in Week 1, a truly heroic effort which we toyed with entering in the local film festival. It brought the week back to me, and I'm so glad I was a small part of it. Perhaps I will be able to purloin a copy - I hope so.

I'm having to make Herculean efforts with my work this week, as over the weekend I'm off to the Isles of Scilly with my band, the Sex Slaves from Hell. No work will be possible except reading. So all aboard the good ship Scillonian III
(whatever happened to I and II?) from Penzance for a three-hour sail. The Scillonian is flat-bottomed and draws about three inches, because the harbour at St Mary's - principal of the Isles of Scilly - is very shallow. Hence all but the calmest passages are guaranteed to induce vomit. I shall take Quells before I embark, but I won't tell anyone.

We have a couple of gigs lined up at the New Inn on the island of Tresco. You can't beat the location for beauty but the place is for the seriously well-heeled, so an opportunity to visit all expenses paid, and earn some money as well, isn't to be sniffed at. And the inn allows us a tab.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

A Big Lump

This is called catch-up.

For well over two weeks, I've wanted to keep an account of my new life. It's quite a change and involves a shift from senior management in industry (woo hoo) to the wonderful world of the post-graduate student. I love it. I have kept a record from day one of my chosen course, an MA in Professional Writing, which I'm taking in beautiful Cornwall. Jump, I said over the summer, eschew the feeble enticements of a regular, monster income, copper-bottomed pension
and all the trimmings. Pursue your dream of writing - you know you'll like it once you get started. Much to my surprise, I did jump. Christ, what have you done now?

Rather than reproducing every detail of the last two weeks I'll give you a summary. After that it's death by a thousand cuts: the laughter and tears of a mature student who should know better but thankfully, doesn't.

Week One: Monday 6 October - Friday 11 October

My first day at University College Falmouth. I met so many new faces: colleagues, tutors, the IT department, the admin team. I entered lecture rooms for the first time in twenty eight years. I investigated the campus and found several invaluable resources. I was given a student card that allows me to travel cheaply on buses, should I wish to.

I came to the Professional Writing MA with a background in industry, mostly defence with a bit of ship repair thrown in, working in commercial management: drafting and negotiating contracts and various legal agreements. It is a huge shift from that world to post-graduate student, and there was very little time to adjust. When I finished my job to return to education, my office shoes were ceremonially thrown in the nearby Penryn River. That was on Friday, here we are on Monday. Welcome to your new life.

As promised by the college in the welcome pack information, we hit the ground running in an intensive start to our course. To reassure us, we were told this pace would not be typical but that the first week's project (writing and filming a short er film interpreting the folk tale of Cornish giant Bolster) would require extraordinary effort. It would also be a handy getting-to-know-you exercise.

Great toil was indeed put in by all. Our group decided our version of Bolster would cast the giant as a successful but aging rock star with behavioural difficulties. If you know about Bolster, you can see the link.

At the day's end I left the campus with my head completely in a spin. I had enjoyed the time, but what I had done and who I'd done it with were a bit beyond me. Just like undergraduate days then. I hoped for future clarity and went for a few beers.

At work on the Bolster script all day. The activities were lively and warming. I very much enjoyed learning so much so soon from colleagues who have done this type of thing before. A couple are nearly thirty years younger than I.

Hearteningly, it emerged that it wasn't just me who had finished yesterday in a boggled state. Several admitted to having felt the same way.

Back home, I went through the course handbook and was a bit taken aback, not only by the amount of things we must do but by not knowing how to do them. I dare say all will be revealed.

Bolster rewrites and the final version of the script. Today we also met the professional actors who will star in our film.

Because there weren't enough actors to take all the parts, one of the students had to be pressed into service, and ... it was me! Oh thank you God for making me six foot two and so deemed suitable to play the part of a thick bouncer. My nicely-shaven head also helped, I felt. I was given one line.

During the afternoon, we were released from captivity to view the locations at which we will be filming. These included the Course Leader's house, which is a minor mansion. There's money in this writing game then. I was anxious to leave promptly today, as I have to sort out some of my costumes for tomorrow.

Members of the student team worked hard overnight on storyboarding. Our technical guru explained with humour how the camera, lights and sound equipment work - the plan was, we would operate this machinery ourselves. Today the location was Minor Mansion. Our actors arrived, costumes and props appeared, equipment was tentatively picked over. Off we go then.

Act 1 featured the bouncer, smartly turned out in black, with dark glasses and Mr Spock earpiece. He fluffed his line only once. During the other takes, his dialogue was executed with a wholly convincing inability to communicate. Fortunately the pro actors took over quickly and the bouncer was sadly soon a memory. Although I had no more jobs to do today I stuck around for a while watching the process: it was fascinating for I'd never previously been involved with this type of thing. Everyone seemed to remain cheerful despite the high level of activity and interaction.

When I got home I discovered I had left my half-eaten lunch 'on location'. I had planned to have the rest for my tea. Already I was suffering for my art.

More Bolster filming. I was given the role of sound person, responsible for recording the dialogue. This involved holding a microphone on a long boom for many hours, and listening out for unwanted background noise. It also provided an opportunity to watch colleagues as the acts were directed and rearranged. I was struck by several students' use of very precise and expressive language to convey what they wanted of the actors.

At the end of the working day we had a good-spirited wash-up, one of the most cheerful I've ever attended. Big thanks to our Project Leader Jane, she made it such fun all week. She was great at keeping the project going - more or less - smoothly for us, and providing guidance in altering it on the hoof whenever things got a bit sticky. She has probably done this sort of thing before.

Thank you to our actors too, who went along with it good-heartedly - I salute you!

I had a terrific time this week. I was involved with activities I'd never previously known anything about, and got a great deal of real pleasure out of it. I met some great people and looked forward to developing friendships as we go through.

Week Two: Monday 13 October - Friday 17 October

Arrgh. IT problems at home meant I was unable to print my very first piece of course work. It sat in the laptop somewhere, and on my gold external storage, but Word had somehow crashed. In the end I got a work-around by loading a copy of Open Office but it wasn't ideal. However, it did mean I could at least print, and avoid a rather undesirable start to the first lecture tomorrow, ie having nothing to take.

The afternoon was better though I misunderstood the time table and went into the campus when there was nothing on. So I went to the library (it's warmer than my rented flat) and looked at pictures of food.

In the evening I did some reading and tried to sort out in my mind the various course websites, information streams, blogs, sundry obligations and must-dos. Then I put all that aside and visited my friend Wayne the Brain (of whom more later).

An enjoyable very first lecture, followed by a reading and critiquing of our pieces written the previous week, which passed in a thoughtful way. It was our first taste of critiquing the work of our new colleagues, albeit oral rather than written (always my preference) but the comments were constructive and positive.

One colleague had done a beautiful, sensitive job on his assignment, and I was moved by his words. I felt he must have absolutely believed in what he had written, and it was a joy to listen to him read it to us - he very much reached me emotionally. Now listen, I'm a hard-faced businessman, I don't do that stuff. Oh, it seems I do.

Back home I unraveled the MS software and all is tickety-boo once again in the house of London.

First session with the Course Leader, or dominatrix. If I never remember anything else about today I will instantly recall we were told in no uncertain terms, Wikipedia is not to be used on the course for any purpose. Crack of sjambok against riding boot. Repeat after me. Fair enough.

We were given loads of mysterious e-tasks to carry out either now or in the future. I very much fear I will take the latter option - if it is an option. I feel rather bombarded at the mo with information, activities and discoveries yet to make. I look around me. How are my colleagues doing? Are they better than me? Do they look tired? Good, yes!

Interesting. In the afternoon we formed groups of four and again critiqued each other's work. My previous existence of drafting and redrafting business agreements and contracts over many years has made me quite sanguine about revealing my work to others, and changing it in line with their suggestions (if polite).

And change there was. My piece received a small number of ideas for amendment, one of which was particularly useful, and I happily took them up. Which simply proves ten eyes are better than two.

The evening's guest speaker was Phillip Marsden, the travel writer. He was friendly and down-to-earth; listening to him was an enjoyable experience. When the next speaker visits I may ask questions, but tonight my brain was numb with overload and my situation was made very much worse because I knew
that after the talk I had to go shopping at Asda.

And who did I meet when I got there? Phillip Marsden.

What should I read into this?

More IT problems, that time at the college end. Our course is heavily dependent on the IT element being rolled out efficiently and performing properly. At the moment it's a bit clunky, and the jury is decidedly out.

Home study today. In other words, assignments.

Oh - and some light reading. We are encouraged to read far beyond the course recommendations. This is good, for most of what I read in my (decreasing) spare time does not feature prominently on the course reading lists. I realise John Buchan is today considered rather dated by some, and that the world of sci-fi has been 'sexed-up' since The Midwich Cuckoos, so I had better spread my literary wings.

Life Class
sounds promising, though that isn't on the lists either. I wonder if it's illustrated?