Steer for the deep waters only

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

The only constant is change

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It’s been a while since I posted anything. For a while, that was because there was nothing happening in my life. I was looking for work, I was getting nowhere with that search, I didn’t have much in the way of money to get out into the world and generate new material.

Then we had the Jubilee weekend. Some friends of mine with a business selling secondhand model trains invited me to go to Railfest, at the National Railway Museum in York. The deal was that I should go to help on their stand, provide cover and an additional pair of eyes for security purposes; in return, I’d get in for nothing and they would sub me a bit towards travelling expenses. This was good.

Then I had a request from the Parish council to take pictures of the Jubilee Beacon that the village had organised on the same day. I hadn’t been that bothered about the Jubilee; I’m no staunch Royalist, but I’m not a great republican either; and a gig’s a gig. So I had to then organise to rush back from York and dash straight up to the beacon site, about a mile out of the village, in time for the lighting of the beacon at 10:15.

Railfest was interesting. It had been billed as the biggest railway event in years, and the National Railway Museum, who were hosting it, had organised themselves to deal with a massive influx of punters. But the weather – which had been appallingly bad, even for a British summer – seemed to have put people off, and the Jubilee celebrations themselves in London were turning out to be a bigger attraction than anyone had really anticipated. So it was that when I arrived in York on the Bank Holiday Monday, the numbers of punters on site were, let’s say,  modest.

There was more to come. Once on site, it soon became fairly clear that the number of attractions were minimal. Visitors were being asked to pay £15 to see engines that they could normally see inside the museum for nothing. True, they had been pulled outside and were sited a bit better than normal; and there were visiting engines (such as ‘Tornado’), modern traction and some engines in steam (such as ‘City of Truro’, reputedly the first engine to exceed 100 mph). The enthusiasts would almost certainly be happy with what was on show; but as for the man in the street, I’d be doubtful, especially if they had a family in tow and were looking at putting up something like £45 to get in.

Highlight for me was the Furness Railway No.20, a little 0-4-0 engine dating from the 1860s, visiting the museum with a period coach and two enginemen in period costume. The famous LNER A3 Pacific “Flying Scotsman” was also present; it had been brought from the East Lancashire Railway at Bury where it was undergoing even more remedial work to try to get it back into running order; its highly expensive overhaul having uncovered more problems than were expected, debate has raged over whether it is worth trying to keep a 90-year-old engine in tip-top main line running condition, or whether it ought to be honourably retired and put on permanent static display. Also, it is currently finished in wartime black livery, with a number different to its iconic 4472. It stood in a siding behind a barbed wire fence, all in all presenting a sorry spectacle of some degree of disgrace.

Railfest was running for all the Bank Holiday week, and the word I have had is that footfall picked up a bit in the days following the Jubilee weekend itself – but not that much. I rather get the feeling that somebody got their fingers burnt over this one.

I left early to get the train back home, and was faced with a number of options. I could have travelled back to Tamworth, where I’d parked the car, via Manchester – an out-of-the-way route, but one which would get me home, paradoxically, the quickest. But I would only have ten minutes’ changing time at Manchester; so when the Manchester train  arrived, I hopped on, only to find that there was a problem with the doors requiring fitters’ attention; and the downtime was eating into my changing time. So once we’d used up ten minutes, I hopped off again. My next option, some forty minutes later, was to travel via Doncaster and Derby – a more direct route, except that engineering works in Clay Cross tunnel meant that there was an additonal forty minutes’ travelling time to accommodate a diversion. The first leg of that journey, down the East Coast Main Line to Doncaster, went well, but according to my watch I should have missed my connection, despite supposedly having seven minutes to make it. Perhaps my watch was fast; I know that when we pulled into Doncaster, my connecting train was in the opposite platform and it was supposed to be pulling out right that minute. But it soon became clear that I was part of a general stampede for that train, and no-one was left standing on the platform. I found that the diversion, being along the fast and straight Erewash Valley line, was completed in less than the allotted time and I had a leisurely twenty minutes change at Derby. So I was able to call in at home and have a small amount of downtime before heading off to the Jubilee beacon.

Previous Jubilee Beacons – especially the 1977 Silver Jubilee – were lit when the preceding one in the chain was spotted. But that presumed that weather and visibility would be good; so this time round, nothing was left to chance and the lighting time was prearranged. The parish council did a good job of arranging things, with stewards, refreshments and good organisation, so that after the lighting of a large bonfire, the Jubilee beacon itself was lit at the appointed time by the village’s Carnival Queen and one of the senior members of the local farming community. Having the Carnival Queen light the fire was a little reminiscent of The Wicker Man, but I thought it best not to mention this…

I delivered the pictures to the Parish Clerk two days later, and she was delighted with them. It is intended that some of the pictures will be put up on the village website (, but this appears to only be updated roughly about every six months or so, so I’m not holding my breath for a flood of orders for reprints…

I had been going to do a blog post at that point, but then I had to get to grips with other priorities. I’m still working on my book, but other events kept intervening. For instance, I was now signing on as unemployed, and that requires a certain input of activity to demonstrate to the Department of Work and Pensions that I was serious about looking for work; so I had to put in for jobs as and when I saw ones I could apply for. That’s not so easy these days, despite the Internet having almost supplanted the local newspaper for this sort of thing. The trouble is that so many jobs are advertised online by agencies, and they are unbelievably coy about who their clients actually are. That makes finding out about the client and the job, so as to best tailor your pitch to the client, very difficult. Then there is the question of meeting the job spec criteria. So many jobs now are advertised as requiring very specific qualifications or experience, even for quite basic jobs,  and if you don’t have a 100% match it is very difficult to have any chance of even getting to interview. Just having roughly the right experience and an ability to learn on the job is no longer enough. So many job applications are handled by HR departments, and their staff have either a rigid view of weeding out the no-hopers from the interesting candidates, or don’t recognise the value of experience over paper qualifications,. or don’t have either the authority or the confidence to say “we need to see this guy – his experience makes up for not having the current qualifications”. Add to that the belief that people who are over-qualified for a job aren’t suitable for it. or just plain ageism, and you see the problems and frustrations this can generate. This last one in particular irritates me. The Government says that we are supposed to have to work until age 68 before drawing our pensions, yet at the same time they show no interest in enforcing the age discrimination laws so that older workers in their forties or fifties get a fair crack at the jobs that there are out there. As ever with Conservative Governments in the UK, they keep making pronouncements that are contradictory and make a nonsense of their policies; it was the same with Margaret Thatcher and wanting everyone to have multiple part-time jobs (“portfolio careers”) whilst also insisting that everyone ought to be buying their own homes (even in the days of easy loans, pitching up to apply for a mortgage with only a handful of part-time jobs to your name was a recipe for a career in comedy rather than home ownership) and at the same time looking after their elderly relatives instead of getting the state to do it for them. All these things fell apart when you stacked them up against each other; so it is with the current Government’s policies. But what is worse is that we are blessed with an arrogant wealthy elite in power who are comfortably insulated against the effects of their own policies, or from any knowledge of the real-world impact of those policies.

But I’ve sworn off politics, so I’ll move on.

Another thing that has kept me away from the blogface has been a few too many funerals. As a long-standing member of the Sutton Coldfield Model Makers’ Society. I consider that I have a certain responsibility to turn up on these sad occasions, to say goodbye to people I’ve known for twenty years and more, and to lend my singing voice to the ceremonies of their parting. Sutton Modellers have been going for 35 years or so, so it’s inevitable that we would reach a stage where outings to the crematorium would become a bit too regular for comfort; and in the past month, we’ve had three of them. I wrote about Jim Bell in an earlier blog post; but within a few days of Jim’s death, another member suffered a sudden and massive coronary and died. Finally, a third member’s liking for tobacco finally caught up with him, and so I had three days out for funerals.

At one of these dos, I commented to another member and friend that I’d been hoping that the next time I had the suit out, it’d be for a job interview. Eventually, that wish came true. Another friend put me into the frame for a software testing job, and after some discussion with the agency handling the exercise, I repolished and submitted my CV, and was pleased to be invited for interview. I was a bit concerned, because although I’d done 15 years software testing at Ofwat, I’d only really ever tested one application, although I’d tested it fifteen times! And it was an application based on a data collection regime that I’d helped develop way back in the mid-1990s, so my testing role was initially based on my familiarity with the subject matter. We had bolted on as many mainstream testing techniques and protocols as seemed sensible over the years, but I was nonetheless concerned that my experience was broad rather than deep, and not having tested a lot of third-party applications, I was worried that in an interview, my experience would betray the homegrown nature of our testing techniques, especially when stacked up against IT professionals.

The employer was interviewing for three posts and had a field of four candidates; so I was pleased to find that I passed the interview and was selected for the job! It’s an initial three-month contract with the Law Society, testing a range of software products that are shipped out to solicitors to help them run their businesses, so it has some similarities with the testing I did at Ofwat; and as another arm of the Law Society, the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority (SRA) has a role similar to that of Ofwat’s, I suspect that my wider experience of regulation held me in good stead.

This does mean that I shall have e to drop the photography for the online estate agent that I’ve been doing; that work was just beginning to ramp up, with four jobs during June (although the last one may not happen because the client is remaining resolutely out of touch when I’ve tried to phone to arrange a time for the shoot). Some of the visits have been rather nice, for example the former proprietor of a model railway company near Banbury who I visited, or the apartment in Derby that enabled me to get a couple of nice townscape shots in addition to the shoot itself. And I did one earlier this week in the wake of three terrific thunderstorms that made news headlines; I arrived at the venue to be told by the client that “if I’d been here half an hour earlier, I could have seen the golf ball-sized hailstones that had broken the conservatory roof”. Another one to chalk up to experience.

Derby Cathedral from North Street

So; a new chapter starts next Wednesday, when I go back into the rat race! I shall miss being able to allocate my time as I see fit, or being able to pop out in the daytime when I got a good lead on a nice photographic subject: but the money will come in very handy. And sadly, that’s really what it’s all about.


Written by robertday154

July 1, 2012 at 12:46 am

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