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 :)


Not dropped off the face of the earth

Apologies for not blogging so much recently, I’ve got a lot on my plate with work and home life at the moment. The Margobarge is off the road because she failed the MOT and needs work to correct it (specifically, the LCD dashboard display needs to be replaced so I can read the mileage, I need the mileage to get an MOT certificate, and I need the MOT certificate to tax it and get it back on the road). So I’m walking and training it to work at the moment and for a couple of month which has doubled my commuting time but since i’m going to be walking 4km each day it’s not going to do me any harm. Would have been better if it was still summer though, obviously!

Ignore this is you are not a train geek: I’m back on the Class 323s which I was on when I was living in Manchester and worked in Cheadle Hulme, They’re packed every morning and the uphosterly’s a horrible green. The Class 323 is the one with the really whiny gearbox. In this area they’re run by London Midland.

I did make it to Manchester Pride 2010 but only for a couple of days, it’s kind of hard to make a whole weekend of it when you don’t live 300 yards down the road from it any more, but for the time I was there I did enjoy myself. I especially enjoyed the debut Cubstars perfomance, which stars (amongst others) my friend Brian.

I will get photos onto this site once I’ve fixed the plugin that sucks them up from Facebook but which has stopped working properly since the WordPress 3.0 rollout. If you’re friends with me on Facebook you’ll be able to see them in my photo albums.

It wasn’t the best of Prides I’ve ever had but I did make the best of it. I’m a bit skint and stressed at the moment and I’m chalking it up to my head not being in the right space for it. Perhaps next year when I can save up for it and do it properly, who knows. I shall be trying Birmingham Pride for the first time first, next summer.

It was a little strange being back in Manchester for the first time in a number of months. I still do miss the place, and I think one day I would like to move back. But I’ve got a lot of hard work to do and shit to sort out before I can even consider it. We’ll see. Manchester has been such a big part of my life and had I been given the choice I would not have left. My current surroundings are by no means unpleasant but they are, basically, alien to me given my limited knowledge of the area, although in fairness that knowledge is improving every day.

I’ve got a lot of hard work to do between now and the end of the and I’ve no choice but to grit my teeth and bear it. I’m still looking for a few side consultancy projects that I can do in my spare time, so if you think you can take advantage of my skillset please get in touch.


University application news

Following on from my news on Facebook and Twitter recently that I had not been accepted onto the MSc course I recently applied for I have subsequently received better news. As you know, in November I wrote about applying to do an MSc at the University of Manchester after attending a postgraduate open day. I completed this application and submitted it at the end of January once I had secured the various academic and professional references I required. It was all submitted online and I received a receipt for it and it gave me a link and a login to a website through which I could check the progress of my application.

However, they didn’t indicate how long I should expect to wait for news on my application, whether that news was good or bad. After a couple of weeks I called the postgraduate admissions department and asked them when I should expect a reply either way and they told me to just keep checking the website, any developments, progress or requests for further information would be posted there.

And so I did, for a further four weeks. All the while during this time it was of course impossible to make any long term plans beyond September and I was turning down a number of work opportunities because they would have interfered with the university course was I to be accepted on it. So after six weeks I’d decided that I’d had enough of this and sent the postgraduate admissions department an e-mail asking why it was taking so long for them to reply to my application and explained why this delay was causing me problems.

They wrote back the next day informing me that I had not been successful in my application because the course entry requirements require a 2(i) bachelors  degree and I only have a 2(ii). I was of course fully aware of this requirement before I applied, but you may remember from my previous post on the subject that I was advised by a member of the computer science department’s staff that my industrial experience would be taken into account to compensate for my 2(ii) degree award. Had I not been told this I wouldn’t have bothered applying in the first place.

Naturally, I wasn’t particularly happy about this, and so once I’d calmed down and finished ranting about it on Facebook I composed this balanced and wholly reasonable e-mail back to them:

Many thanks for your prompt reply.

While I expect have no choice but to accept the decision of the admissions department, I would like to draw your attention to a couple of issues and would invite your comments and advice on them.

Firstly, I was of course fully aware of the published entry requirements for the MSc in Advanced Computer Science and IT Management before I submitted my application. The reason why I proceeded with my application was because I attended the Postgraduate Open Day in November, when I had the opportunity of speaking with a member of staff from the Department of Computer Science. She advised that although I only had a 2(ii) bachelors degree my considerable industry experience gained since graduating in 1999 would also be taken into account.

Are you able to confirm whether or not this was taken into account, as advised, or was the decision purely made based on my BSc award? Had I know that what the lady I spoke to said was not true, or had I been told outright that my application would not be considered with a 2(ii) bachelors degree, I would not have submitted an application in the first place and used my time and effort considering other options. In this regard I consider that you have wasted my time and given me false hope.

Furthermore, if it was a simple case of refusing my application based on this one factor, it would have been very useful if you could have informed me of this decision earlier, rather than six weeks after my application was submitted and only after I pressed the issue with you. With respect, it is unreasonable to expect people to wait ad-infinitum for a decision as it is difficult to plan based on unknown factors.

I look forward to hearing from you with any comments you may have on this matter.

It took a couple of days for them to reply, but the reply came and informed me that industrial experience is only taken into account if you want to apply to do the MSc on a part-time basis rather than a full-time basis over just one year and that this should have been made clear to me at the open day (it wasn’t). They then offered to convert my application to a part-time application, to which I agreed.

The good news is that a few days later I was offered a place on part-time course and today the formal offer letter arrived. It’s the same course with the same content, but taught over a period of up to four years rather than just one, so it depends on what sort of time commitment you can make around your other commitments. The more time you can commit the less time it will take to complete the course, so it’s ideal for people like me who work for themselves rather than having a full time job.

When I was initially not accepted onto the full-time version of the course I did look for “plan B” study options at other institutions around the country. Unfortunately it seems that nowhere else in the country does a masters course with management elements such as the MSc from Manchester, so it’s either that course or a straight computer science course elsewhere. In all respects the Manchester course is ideal, so I am very glad to have received this news and very much look forward to starting in September.


Manchester receives huge snow dump

55009196Manchester (and the rest of the north of England) received a record breaking snow dump last night, the likes of which I’ve never seen in Manchester and not seen since my childhood. It started around 11.00pm last night and by 1.00am when I went to bed about an inch had fell, which is extraordinary enough for the city centre, but when I woke up this morning it had apparently been snowing all night and there was around 7-8 inches on the ground.

I went into town to go to the post office and the bank and it was a like a ghost town, hardly anybody had bothered to come in to work. There was hardly any traffic and hardly anyone walking around. Snow was piled up on the pavements, it was like Whistler (ski resort). I walked past Albert Square where the council were dismantling the town hall’s Christmas installations, and they had taken the large Santa model down from the building and placed him on the ground, where he looked a bit crestfallen all covered in snow, as if to say “well it’s a bit late now!”.

55020347The midlands and the south are going to to be hit later today and overnight. There’s no more snow forecast for the north west for the time being, but of course it’ll freeze overnight and it’s going to remain cold so the already fallen snow isn’t going to go anywhere in a hurry. Truly extraordinary. Global warming? What global warming. We’re having cold winters and persistently shit summers. Show me the global warming!

I’m just glad that I don’t have to travel anywhere this week!


Going back to school

m2010-pg-prospectusOn Wednesday of this week I attended a postgraduate open day at the University of Manchester. The world-renowned department of computer science at this institution runs a one year postgraduate MSc course in Advanced Computer Science and I.T. Management, designed for students with existing degrees in computer science. Parts of the course are taught by the Manchester Business School, well known for its MBA programme.

Why am I doing this, 11 years after graduating? There are several reasons:

  1. The industry I work in and the technology and knowledge that drives it changes rapidly and all the time. I can at this point only imagine how much the content of the average computer science course has changed in the ten years since I graduated. I expect to have my existing skills refreshed and to learn new skills and methodologies.
  2. My managerial skills aren’t particularly strong, which is why the I.T. management parts of the course taught by the Manchester Business School particularly interest me. From what I have researched, the course contains the parts of the MBA that are geared towards I.T. At some point in the future I might consider doing a full MBA, but in the meantime this will serve as an important and appropriate stepping stone.
  3. Returning to university after spending over a decade working will be a completely different experience from my first tenure. With such experience I shall be returning to study with “eyes wide open”. Many of my peers have said that they wish they could re-do their university courses armed with their years of subsequent industry experience.
  4. Teaching and study methods have completely transformed since I graduated and it will be very interesting to see what difference they will make to my learning abilities.

The entry requirements state that a first or an upper second class degree is required. I only have a 2:2 from Aberystwyth University in Computer Science, however, I do also have eleven years of industry experience and during the open day I discussed this with a member of the department’s admissions staff and she said to my delight that this experience would compensate suitably in my application. I also need to provide academic and professional references to support my application, along with “transcripts” from Aberystwyth University, which I believe are basically individual module results.

I intend to get my application finished and submitted before Christmas. It being a postgraduate course I don’t have to use UCAS; the application is direct. I’ll keep you posted, wish me luck!

Update 12/03/2010: I didn’t make the grade, unfortunately, my bachelors degree award was not high enough for their entry requirements, despite my industry experience, which by all accounts has not been taken into account. I’ve asked them for an explanation of why I was told it would be when it hasn’t been, but to all intents and purposes I’ve had my time wasted and been given false hope over this. Still, you live and learn, as always. I’m currently considering other options as to what I’m going to do, both academic and otherwise.


Manchester Pride 2009

mcr-pride-09Another year, another Pride. Four days of hard work, hard play and general excess have once again come to an end. It wasn’t the best Prides I’ve had but all things considered I wasn’t disappointed with it. A combination of recession and bad weather meant that it was never going to be the best Pride ever, but despite that, everyone made the best of it and there was a great turnout and a fantastic atmosphere all throughout the festival. I’ve little to complain about, all told.

I spent Friday night in the Village and saw the opening events on the main stage before spending a couple of hours flyering for Manfest, an event that took place on Sunday run by a friend. I didn’t stay out late on Friday because I needed to be up on time on Saturday to prepare for the parade, with the Manfest float. The weather just about held off for the parade, which is good because the parade is hard work enough without having to deal with rain at the same time.

6413_147355157577_532867577_3514943_2081892_nThe parade is a wonderful event. It brings thousands of people from all around in to Manchester to line the streets. It truly is the highlight of the Manchester calendar, nothing else comes close to it. Manchester Pride as a whole is the single most important annual event for Manchester, since it’s not just about promoting and supporting the LGBT community but also Manchester as a whole, which is why it’s so heavily supported by the city council and the Greater Manchester Police.

On Saturday evening I took a break from the festivities and met an old friend from university in Spinningfields for a drink before succumbing to the exhaustion of the day, meaning that I didn’t get to do Federation‘s University Challenge this year.

I didn’t do much on Sunday save for a mooch about the Village marketplace and lifestyle exhibition. I bought another leather cuff from Rebel Dogg who have a stall at Pride every year. Their products are beautiful and almost collector’s items; I intend to buy one every year from now on.

IMG_6200On Sunday evening I helped set up Manfest but I was unable to attend the event itself, unfortunately, because I was knackered again, but I understand that it went off very well. It was held at Satan’s Hollow next door to Cruz 101, which is normally a straight rock club and it’s a fabulous venue. The dark and spooky theming inside is outstanding, I’ve only seen better in Disneyland. A lot of money and creativity has clearly been put into it.

I got up at a decent hour on Monday and see some of the fantastic live acts on the main stage. The sun came out and it was actually quite warm for a while before the clouds came back. On Monday evening I attended the Candlelit Vigil in Sackville Park, which I like to do every year because it’s a very touching event and I love the feeling of togetherness that it creates.

I had some nosh and a few drinks in the Village after the vigil and then went over to AXM for Sugarpops (a cabaret show) before turning in at about 3.00am. Walking back home through the village was quite surreal, everything was being packed up, with various lorries and machines scurrying everywhere, yet still there were people out on the streets drinking and enjoying themselves despite the rain.

By Tuesday morning when I went back in to the Village on the way to somewhere, everything was back to normal and it was as if it had never happened. Back to reality for another year. Almost overnight it has become autumn and the world feels like a completely different place. Nevertheless, it’ll all happen all over again next year :)


Manchester Pride 2008

The long awaited and long time coming event of the year that is Manchester Pride kicks off tomorrow evening. I’m off work from this evening and for ten days until Monday 1st September, so Pride and the week that follows it represents a very welcome break for both myself and H, as we’re both absolutely knackered after the events and work of the past three months. That said, we’re both working over the Pride “big weekend“; H is DJing on Friday night, Sunday afternoon and Sunday night, while I am doing a shift at a health club that’s run by one of our friends on Friday night (because he’s short staffed) and then helping to run a club night on Sunday night, run by some other of our friends. It’s for these reasons why we’ve taken some time off afterwards because we’re unlikely to get the rest that we need during the weekend itself!

We will be enjoying ourselves too though, of course. The village is closed at about 6.00pm on Friday (cordoned off), at which point only Big Weekend ticketholders are allowed in, heralding the start of the weekend. The Friday evening in the village always has a good atmosphere so we’ll go and join in with that and have a few drinks before we go to our respective jobs. Then on Saturday afternoon is the main parade through the city, which we’re both taking part in, after which we’ll go home and get some sleep before the really massive Pride club party on Saturday evening, Uni Challenge, which is this giant event held at the students’ union complex, incorporating five different nightclubs (including Federation and Trade) and a funfair all in one place. Various afterparties will no doubt follow that, either public or private.

On Monday afternoon, after some more sleep, Heather Small is headlining on the main stage in the car park and then in the evening it’s the annual HIV Candlelit Vigil, which is always a touching and emotional affair and a nice way to finish off the Big Weekend, that is, before the closing party at Essential, which we may or may not go to because, despite promises of a refit, Essential is a fucking awful, awful venue and the whole community is very, very tired of it. Really the sensible thing to do would have been to refit it in time for Pride, not afterwards, but hey, what do I know?

Next week we plan to take it easy. There is a chance that H may have to go in to work on the Friday and possibly the Thursday too, however. This is because he started at new job at the soon to be opened Crowne Plaza hotel this week, and he’s supposed to be a member of a team of three, and the other two team members never showed up for their first day and still haven’t shown up, so it’s up to H to do most of the required maintenance in the 220 room hotel before they open on 1st September. Although this’ll certainly make him the golden boy amongst the hotel’s management it does rather have the potential to throw a spanner in the works with regards to our week “off”. Never mind, needs must.


Public to decide Manchester C-charge future

BBC NEWS | England | Manchester | Public to decide C-charge future – I received the public consultation documents regarding this a couple of weeks ago and, rather than dismiss them out of hand, I actually sat down and carefully read through them with an open mind, suspecting that one day I might be asked to vote on the issue. The pack had a comments form, which invited residents to anonymously submit their opinions on the proposals.

The proposals themselves are actually very reasonable. The planned improvements in public transport are widespread and comprehensive and I can see that they would be very effective. In an ideal world it would be difficult to argue against raising the money to pay for them from a congestion charge, especially since the proposed congestion charges are extremely reasonable, both in their cost and their application, when compared to the ludicrous and punitive charges levied against those who dare to have business in the centre of London on a weekday. It is, however, not an ideal world.

Unfortunately for the proponents of the proposed charging scheme and those who have planned how to spend its potential financial yield, we live in a country whose government has deliberately and consistently raped and pillaged both the car driving and public transport using public for over eleven years now. Every year the cost of both forms of transport has increased well beyond the rate of inflation and service and performance in both regards has consistently and dramatically decreased. The traveling public is constantly promised improvements in return for price increases and such improvements are rarely, if ever, delivered.

It is regretful, therefore, that no matter how good the proposals for improving public transport in Manchester are, I simply cannot advocate or support the introduction of a congestion charge to pay for them. I need to see the rewards for this scheme first, because too many times I feel I have been stiffed by being made to pay for promised improvements up front and then being let down. I’m quite willing to pay for improvements to public transport, but this time I need to see the goods before I’m going to get my wallet out. I insist on paying in arrears, this time, not in advance, because whenever I pay in advance the government just takes my money and runs, shouting vague promises and throwing hastily written IOUs over its shoulder as it trousers my cash. Enough is enough.

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