Seven years in Birmingham

The view from my desk

It’s been seven years and a few weeks since I moved from Manchester to Birmingham. Why is this number significant? Because seven years is also the amount of time I spent in Manchester, from May 2003 to April 2010, and I want to now compare these two chapters in my life. As you get older time passes more quickly and so, needless to say, my seven years in Birmingham seem shorter than my seven years in Manchester, despite having achieved so much more in the same space of time.

I enjoyed my time in Manchester and I didn’t want to leave when I did. Circumstances at the time kind of forced my hand, however, having made a few poor choices during those years, both professionally and personally. I was out of work at the time of moving and living with a very good friend after I stopped being able to pay my mortgage. One day he turned to me and said that he was moving to Birmingham to work on a project. I was welcome to tag along if I wanted, but otherwise I’d have to sort myself out.

Nice-but-dull house in Sutton Coldfield

I wasn’t in much of a position to do anything but “tag along”, so, reluctantly, I did just that. I moved down to a shared house in Sutton Coldfield, and as nice as the house and the area was, it was very different to what I was used to; I went from city centre Manchester with all its life and convenience to a sleepy family-orientated suburb of a strange city which I did not know at all. I didn’t have my own transport and I felt very miserable and isolated from my friends and my life in Manchester.

Within three months of moving down I landed a job in the city centre. At the time this position felt like a huge step backward for me, and for the first nine months I saw it and treated it only as a stop-gap until something better came along, or a chance to move back to Manchester came my way. This negative attitude didn’t help me either perform particularly well at the job or start to build my new life in Birmingham; I convinced myself that it was all temporary and so I didn’t give it the care and attention that it deserved.

But then, in the spring of 2011, things started to change and get better for me. The company helped me deal with some issues and gave me more responsibility. I had also started to build a network through the company I worked for, both personal and professional, and I found it to be much warmer and more supportive than any previous network I had earlier in life. Manchester wasn’t unfriendly, but it was more ruthless, professionally and personally, and I never really flourished there in either regard. This time it felt different, and it was different.

Alpha Tower (my office is 2 floors down from the top)

It turned out that, in the end, this “stop-gap” of a job which I had so reluctantly taken after so reluctantly having moved, was the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m still working for that company, seven years later. I’m well-respected and I sit on its Board of Directors and I have roles in the parent company which bought it during 2016. None of this came overnight, certainly not, and nor should it have; it hasn’t come without lots of hard work and proving myself, but I’ve done it, and I’m happier than I have ever been before.

The company gave me structure, support, aspiration and challenge. I was lucky in that I was able to grow with the company. I was its 12th employee and now there are around 80 of us, and I think had I joined the company when it was 80-strong instead of 12 then I probably would have drowned.

But I didn’t drown. Instead, I grew, and I made a difference, both to the company and myself. Through this company I have met some of the most important people I have ever met or ever will meet in my life and the value of that is simple incalculable and not something I ever could have imagined I would be blessed with when I so reluctantly left my old life in Manchester behind.

View from apartment on New Street

In late 2011 I was able to move from Sutton Coldfield and into the city centre of Birmingham in a place of my own, back into a setting with which I was much more comfortable, and one which I at that point then fully embraced and appreciated, not only because Birmingham wasn’t strange to me any more by then, but also because I dearly missed city life whilst I was out in the suburbs and I wasn’t going to take it for granted any more. I was arguably a little spoilt in Manchester, in many respects, and didn’t realise or appreciate what I had.

Jewellery Quarter apartment building on Warstone Lane

In early 2014, after a couple of years of living on the convenient but noisy New Street, I then moved to the quieter and fashionable Jewellery Quarter area (ironically enough just down the road from the office I first worked in with my company) and I’ve been living here ever since. It’s a nice quiet area at night but still only a 15 minute walk to work and the city centre. It was a bit down-at-heal in 2010 when I worked here but has undergone significant gentrification in the years since. My plan is to spend another three years living in the same place before purchasing a suitable house somewhere, probably outside the city centre, but that will be on my terms and by then I will be ready for it! I know I can’t spend the rest of my life in the city centre.

One thing is for certain. I’ve spent longer in Birmingham now than I did in Manchester, but I have absolutely no intention of closing this chapter any time soon. I know and appreciate this city much better than I ever did Manchester. It and the people I have met here have given me the right opportunities and its helped me get me to where I want to be, with firm structure and plans for taking that even further.

It’s not just work, of course it’s not, and although work is responsible for facilitating many friendships I have made I’ve also built a life outside work. I’ve met new and amazing friends, with many of whom I celebrated my 40th birthday party in the Jewellery Quarter.

I’ve not mentioned any names in this post. It’s not that certain individuals aren’t important to me, they know all too well how important they are to me and they don’t need to be told, and so they don’t need to be named in public. Needless to say they have been instrumental in enriching my life over past the seven years, whether they act in personal, professional, or both those capacities.

I’ve also become physically fit, much fitter than I ever was during my 20s and 30s, something for which I failed to form the required habit for so long, something which I somewhat regret now (but not that much, I’m still enjoying it!). It’s not just about looking good, the fitness is a major contributing factor to my well-being, self-confidence and performance at work. I wish I had done it 20 years ago.

Even the country’s politics are going my way after being dominated the other way during my time in Manchester, what more could I ask for?!

Thank you for reading :)


Salford IT and AV installation job complete

Rack installed in the basement with 3x 24 port patch panels. It eventually contain a switch, router, server and amplifier for the garden speaker system.

I spent last weekend in Manchester finally completing the first phase of the IT and AV installation job in Salford that I have been working on on-and-off since February. The last time I was there was in June when the project was at second fix stage. Since then the builders have made great progress and the owner of the house has moved back in, requiring me to finish my work in order that he can start to buy toys to plug into the system.

All that remained was the installation of a few final CAT6 face plates that I couldn’t install before (chiefly because the walls on which they were to be installed didn’t yet exist back in June), the installation of the equipment rack in the plant room in the basement, and a complete test of all installed cables with a network cable test for the structured cabling and a multimeter for the home cinema cabling. Astonishingly, I’d made it to 35 years of age without buying a multimeter, which is something of an embarrassment for a geek, so presented with a genuine need for one I went out and bought one. A decent multimeter is only about ten quid. Regarding the structured cabling, out of 67 CAT6 cable runs, only three of them failed the initial test, which is a a good percentage for first test. They were quickly repaired and now all runs work perfectly.

These photos show the highlights of the work, since I’m obviously not going to post a picture of every single socket I installed. Apologies for the quality, they were taken with my iPhone (so, no flash) in artificial light during the evening.

Sockets in the "media room" behind where the home cinema equipment will be. The home cinema connections have their other ends at the appropriate places around the room. The hole in the plasterboard wasn't my fault and will be repaired by the builders!

The next stage is to consult on what my friend/client wants to buy to plug in to this impressive piece of infrastructure. Being a G.P., he doesn’t have much of a clue regarding electronics, hence asking for my help, but does know that he wants a pretty kick-arse system and so is willing to spend a bit on it. However, since his house is still essentially a building site, regardless of whether or not he’s living in it, I expect it’s going to be a fair few months before we get to go shopping.

It was an enjoyable weekend away from home back in Manchester. I’ve not been there since Manchester Pride and I used the opportunity to catch up with H and see Saw 3D, which I enjoyed but was a bit “more of the same”. I also don’t think it’ll be the last one, there’s still loose ends. Given my recent pattern of visits it’ll probably be another couple of months before I make it back.


Salford IT and AV installation job progress

I’ve been working on the next stage of the IT and AV installation job I’m doing at a friend’s house in Eccles this week. It’s second fix now which means the plastering, tiling and (most of) the painting and decorating has been done, so the job this week was to attach 69 CAT6 sockets to the CAT6 runs pulled through the house and solder all the home cinema faceplates on the speaker cables that we ran through the walls (all 10 of them). Fiddly jobs in places, but no major snags or hiccups, so far at least. When we come to test each and every cable will of course tell us whether we don’t just believe that we’ve done a good job!

All but two of the speaker cables terminate on this one plate, which all has to be soldered.

The next and final stage before equipment install (i.e. the final infrastructure installation stage will take place in a few weeks once the builders have finished the basement, where all the cables terminate and the equipment rack will be situated. Although I have all the bits we need to finish this I can’t do it because the basement to the house is not yet secure. Once the walls are finished and the external doors to the basement are fitted I can move the equipment in and finish it. Then it’ll be the big test.

There are also 12 runs of CAT6 that I’ve not yet been able to do anything with simply because the walls on which they will sit haven’t yet been built, so I’ve just run the cables to the ceiling or floor at the point at which they will eventually be and left sufficient length coiled up ready. Part of that was lifting up huge slabs of concrete out of the floor in the new kitchen which, with hindsight, would have been better done wearing a pair of gloves.

Once it’s all done my “client” can then think about home cinema and computer networking equipment. Right now he just wants to concentrate on getting the builders finished and out so that he can move back in again. I hope he doesn’t think that he “over-egged” the installation. Certainly, a 69 run CAT6 structured cabling system is definitely on the upper end of what you would normally put into a house, even of that size, and he may not even be able to buy a Dolby 9.1 home cinema system for a while. The point is that the infrastructure will make the house very future-proofed, which is what he wanted.


IT and AV installation job at Salford property

For the past week or so I’ve been working on an IT and AV installation job at a friend’s house in Salford. It’s a large Victorian house which he bought and is in the process of having it gutted and extended.

As part of this he wanted a fully integrated IT, telecoms, TV and and audio system installation, which he’s asked myself and Chris to do since we’ve some considerable experience with such things. He knows nothing about such things since he’s a GP, and so is trusting our judgement on what to install and buy. I hope he doesn’t regret doing so!

Phase 1 is first fix, so basically the hard work of pulling 80 runs of CAT6 and loudspeaker cable through the house (67 runs of CAT6 and 13 runs of speaker cable, including outdoor cables to the gardens). Once this is complete (on Thursday) we then have to wait for the builders to finish ready for second fix (where the cables are connected to sockets and patch panels). This forms Phase 2.

Phase 3 then becomes the really fun bit where we install all the specified equipment, including a computer network, a 9.1 speaker home cinema system, a distributed satellite TV system, a zoned audio system and other smaller features. After that comes the housewarming party where our friend gets to impress everyone with our work :)

It’s a manual job but it’s a fun job and it’s something I’ve done many times before so I don’t mind doing it. It’s not every day someone asks for a structured cabling system in their house, let alone on the scale of this one. Luckily, since it’s an old house, it has a cellar and lots of voids through which cables can be run. Ironically newer houses are harder to retrofit in this way unless it’s done at initial first fix because they simply don’t have such spaces, usually in the name of cost saving and profit maximisation on the part of the developers.

Here are a few geeky pictures of Phase 1. Apologies for the poor quality, they’re iPhone pictures. I’ll replace them with nicer ones if I remember to take any.

AV cables ready for home cinema installation

Many of the cables run through the cellar

The smallest bedroom is being set up as an office and so has trunking

Plant room in basement, where cables will terminate in a rack (image helpfully rotated by WordPress)


Brighton Pride

para.DSC01424I did end up going to Brighton Pride in the end. A couple of mates were going and asked me to come with them. I didn’t much fancy spending such a glorious day just pipping things off my everlasting todo list so I went. I got up at about 8.30am and got on the train to Woking where they picked me up in a BMW M3 at about 10.30am. We didn’t bother with the parade but we did see the floats coming in to the park at the end of it. I guess we must’ve spent about seven hours in the park before going back to the car to freshen up, change our clothes and then hit the bars.

My friends stayed in Brighton for the night whereas I took the last train back home from Brighton, which was absolutely rammed full, obviously because it was the last train out of Brighton on Pride day. I managed to get a seat but I changed at Haywards Heath onto a much less crowded train so it wouldn’t have mattered if I was rammed into a vestibule for that leg of the journey. Indeed, some people didn’t even have that privilege and were left standing on the platform. I would have thought that First Capital Connect would have laid on extra services on a day like that but hey, what do I know?

Survival of the (very long) day was made much easier with the presence of my patented Pride Survival Kit. This is small bag containing the following items:

  • Pair of jeans for the evening
  • Three spare tops
  • Spare pants and socks
  • Wet flannel in plastic bag
  • Dry flannel
  • Sun protection lotion
  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Poppers
  • Tissues
  • Condoms and lube
  • Ibuprofen
  • Antihistamines
  • Mepore in case of body piercing misbehaviour
  • Train timetable
  • Mineral water
  • Cereal bars
  • Smints
  • Sunglasses
  • Baseball cap

Absolutely everything that a gay boy could possibly need at Pride, whether he decides to stay out all night afterwards or go home with someone or not! Next one’s in Manchester, in four weeks I believe although Chris suspects that it’s in three weeks so we should definitely check that before too long.

I also got recognised by someone because of my tattoo. Chris posted a picture of it to BME (Body Modification E-Zine) and some bloke stopped me totally randomly in the field and said that he recognised my tattoo from a picture he’d seen on BME. Totally small world, and a totally random encounter. It blows my mind when things like that happen.


Benwythnos i mewn Caerdydd

cardiff-062007-1I spent the weekend just gone with my longstanding university friend Kathryn in Cardiff, which was absolutely excellent. I’ve not been to Cardiff properly for about ten years, since the night that Princess Diana died in fact, despite my frequent visits to Wales and indeed periods of actually living in Wales since.

We spent Friday night at Katy and Pam’s (Katy being another friend from university) playing ridiculous board games and drinking more wine than was strictly necessary. Saturday was then spent mooching around Cardiff including lunch in a delightful pasta place in one of the “arcades”. A nap in the early evening preceded a night out on the tiles in Charles Street, which is broadly equivalent to Manchester’s Canal Street. We danced the night away, mostly in Exit and Icon bars, before crashing out just before the sun came up.

cardiff-062007-2Sunday was spent catching up with more old university friends in the area and having lunch with Kathryn’s parents (which is always a jolly good nosh-up) before spending the afternoon in the Cardiff Bay area, which I’d not visited since I studied its formative stages during my A-Level geography course. We were treated to a VIP tour of the Welsh Assembly building, which is an amazing work of architecture; I’d not seen it before. All the wood used in the construction of the senate building is from British Columbia, which I found quite interesting since both Wales and British Columbia are places close to my heart and yet not obviously related.

I’ll be going back to Cardiff later in the summer for Kathryn’s 30th birthday party where I expect to see a great many old friends from my days in Aberystwyth, including Craig and Edward and their respective partners. I always feel comfortable and looked after in Wales. It’s like a comfort blanket. I really don’t know why I don’t go there more often; it’s been over four years since I’ve even been back to Aber. I definitely think that I have a dominant Welsh gene since I’m as Scottish as I am Welsh but I don’t feel any attachment to Scotland at all.

One day I’ll buy my old house on the seafront in Aberystwyth and use it as a bolt hole. I’ll go there and fall asleep to the sound of the sea and feel totally safe. I totally miss that and I never appreciated it as much as I should have when I lived there.

I have more photos from the weekend.


David Spedding

My affable and trusted friend David Spedding took his own life on September 23rd. I only found out at about 7.30pm yesterday evening after a mutual acquaintance, having agreed with various members of #aber that his recent absence from any of his usual online haunts what somewhat unusual, called his parents and was told the terrible and frankly shocking news. Citing “financial difficulties”, his father reported that he took an overdose of prescription drugs.

I simply cannot believe it.

David, known affectionately amongst his friends as “Parp”, made me laugh every single day, to the extent that I keep a soft cloth handy to wipe down the phone or the computer monitor after I’ve spluttered over it resulting from abrupt and violent laughter. David was a TV journalist, and commissioned me to arrange his work on a website, the future of which is currently uncertain.

By sheer luck the fact that we contacted his parents last night meant that we did not miss the funeral, which was today. Up until that point, no-one of his friends had been in touch, and his parents had no idea about how to go about contacting us. Had we left it another day, we would have missed it.

So after learning of this yesterday evening, I was up at 5.30am and I was down in Salisbury this morning, along with three further representatives from #aber plus a mutual friend. We chose not to attend the Wake, as the family don’t have the first clue as to who we were. Instead we chose to have a quiet lunch in a local pub, over which we shared memories, laughter and respect.

Amongst David’s many qualities was his finely tuned perception of people. He knew who were idiots, and he wasn’t afraid to tell them. He also knew who was genuine, and forged close friendships with them. He never suffered fools gladly, something for which he received a lot of grief, usually from, unsurprisingly, fools who considered themselves in a position to judge the integrity and honesty of another when they had no such qualities themselves.

I really hope you are in a happier place now David. I shall miss you terribly, things simply won’t be the same without you.

Rest peacefully.