Steer for the deep waters only

Robert Day's thoughts on his photography, his writing and his business

Dreaming, interrupted

with 2 comments

Things never quite work out as you expect.

Since my last post, I have had something of a setback. The freight audit job i was in didn’t work out. I had some difficulties with the boss’ business style and some ways of working (I found it particularly difficult when a conference call with visuals between the office and clients in Singapore was taking place across my desk); I was suffering from being sat directly underneath an air conditioner that was always being adjusted to be hotter or colder, with the result that I had a succession of sore throats, dry eyes and a minor chest infection; and to cap it all, the major client whose work we were trying to get kept encountering delays at their end in completing the contract. All the pilot study work was completed before Easter, and I was effectively laid off pending further progress. But at the same time, the client was opening new negotiations over their Far East work, and I suspect that another pilot study may well have been started up whilst the European work I was specialising in was put on hold – especially as there was also some friction between the German head office and the Austrian factories that were the subject of much of the European work. Too many people labour under the misapprehension that because Austrians and Germans speak the same language, they are essentially the same sort of people. That is completely false; the relationship between Austria and Germany (and sometimes between Austrians and Germans) is a bit like that between the UK and the USA, and the worst possible insult you can give to most Austrians is to call them Germans.

So it was back to the job application websites. So far, I’ve had one application out of the five to seven per day I submit pass the first sift of candidates. Part of the problem is that I’ve been too much of a generalist – nearly every job nowadays calls for some sort of specialist knowledge or qualification, and unless you can tick every box on an application, you are likely to be overtaken by someone else who can. But I have so many strings to my bow that it’s difficult to know which area to concentrate on enhancing with additional training – software testing, proof-reading, editing, industrial relations or general admin? Or perhaps, even, photography…

Of course, my other great disadvantage is my age. Age discrimination is, of course, illegal nowadays. But I suspect most employers don’t realise that. And you do get wary of adverts talking about “our dynamic, funky, fast-moving workforce”, which I suspect means “disgustingly young”. Being an old fart does make you unpopular with some younger managers, simply because you are so often right and can be seen as a threat to the younger high-flyer because you know more than they do.

The trouble is that we are all supposed now to work well into our 60s or even 70s; but how are we to do this if prospective employers won’t look at anyone over 45? And how are we to exploit our vast experience when HR teams either don’t have the knowledge or the confidence to pass a candidate through a paper sift on the strength of their experience rather than their paper qualifications?

I’ve tried looking at freelance work, but the trouble there is that there are so many people trying to do the same thing; and the glory that is the Internet means that we are all now competing globally. One site in particular is very good (if that’s the right term) at offering what are essentially Third World pay rates for complex creative jobs; one such was asking for a 50,000-word book to be written in ten days for something like $350. That’s neither economic nor fair, especially as the concept of “copyright” seems to completely pass these clients by. Another site offers you the opportunity to write articles for clients using your knowledge and experience – except most of these clients appear to be rich kids trying to get someone else to write their school, college or university course work for them. And then, of course, they get their qualifications and come onto the job market and take the jobs away from people who may have written the assignments for them in the first place…

We did get to go to the annual Easter science fiction convention, held this year in a huge hotel just by Heathrow airport. A friend of mine was launching (as it were) an anthology of short stories he’d edited on the theme of ‘scientifically plausible near-future spaceflight’, called, not suprrisingly, “Rocket Science“, so we wanted to see that; but mainly, the convention was full – literally – of people who’d come to see the Guest of Honour, George R.R. Martin, who is enjoying some notoriety these days because of his novel A Game of Thrones, which has been dramatised for Sky TV.

Ian Sales, ‘launching’ Rocket Science


George R.R. Martin

The main circulating area at the Easter SF convention

But I’ve had some light relief recently. I took myself to mid-Wales to see a steam gala at Llangollen. The last such gala was held there some three years ago, and it was so good I was determined to go back the next time they held one. It lasted a full ten days, but my sister was up from Cornwall to visit over the first weekend; then I had some other freelance photographic work which occupied me at the beginning of the week; and then the weather turned seriously bad. Eventually, a window of opportunity opened on the next to last day, so I made my way up the A5 to Llangollen.

My prediction of a window in the weather was accurate; it stayed dry throughout the day, and in fact the sun even shone for a while! I saw and photographed every engine they had to offer except for their resident Black Five, which I missed seeing the last time I went in 2009 (though I may well have a picture of it in Carnforth or on the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway in its past).

Not all steam is on rails…

‘Tornado’ and ‘Britannia’ both looked well, and the LNWR Coal Tank and Super D were star performers, as was the Caledonian 0-6-0. The main problem (apart from the crowds) was operations, They were running double-headers and quite long trains, and this was pushing the capacity of some of the passing loops somewhat. The last train I travelled on actually had to set back to allow another train into the station, and even when it pulled forward as far as possible after the other train had come in, one coach was still fouling a level crossing… And there were some instances where trains sat waiting for platforms to clear for some considerable time; I possibly spent fifteen to twenty minutes in all sitting on trains held at signals through the day. If that was a normal passenger service on the “big railway”, I’d complain about that, and indeed the thought that I’d paid £25 for the privilege of sitting on a stationary train did cross my mind from time to time.

‘Tornado’ attracts attention from the faithful

On the plus side, they were running auto-train services down their new extension towards Corwen – about a mile.

LNWR ‘Coal Tank’ and Super D at Carrog

The organisers seemed to think that the weather hadn’t put too many people off, though apparently the Wednesday was bad and the car parking fields were pretty well churned up – but they were being managed intelligently and I had no problems.

Auto-train enters Carrog

I wish I could have afforded to do more than one day so as to maximise photographic opportunities, though I certainly did well with the weather.

The steaming engine

Caledonian Railway No.828 at Carrog

At least the camera manufacturers are doing well in the recession…

Written by robertday154

May 2, 2012 at 11:50 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Your pictures are so amazing it’s a shame you are not being made rich from them! But people say this to me all the time, they don’t understand the competition, or how you have to “know someone,” or you can’t handle the marketing aspect, or a hundred other reasons why creative people are often left in the dust.

    We tend to think hard times are only where we live, but look how the whole world is affected. It’s scary. And yes—the age thing—like not being required to write down your birthday matters one bit. All they have to do is look at your experience. I don’t ever expect to have a real job again, just freelancing and odd jobs and scrapping out a living. The political scene here is frightening and as they party and lie they are destroying lives.

    It’s impossible to know the exact words to submit on an application. They may require specialists but so many of us, with our years of experience, have worn many hats. And if not, we sure can learn. The person sitting at the desk in front you who is likely 20 or 30 years younger does not see this. And in all the jobs I do now to survive, I am asked to work for pennies—and if I don’t take the job, someone else will. Oy.

    Find an Outlet

    May 3, 2012 at 4:27 am

    • Thanks for your kind thoughts.

      My problem is that I’m trying to make money in a market that hardly exists, because so much of the specialist railway press works through people submitting pictures only for the exposure. The experts do say that if you want to make money out of photography these days, you must exploit any niche you’ve got access to. Over there, of course, you’ve got a specialist organisation devoted to my sort of photography (see previous post). We have nothing of the sort in the UK, which is a major surprise. I currently can barely sell my railway pictures to hang on the wall for £25; in the US or Germany, they’d sell at $200 a time upwards.


      May 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm

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