Journal – July-September 2012

Following on from my post about meeting Jimmy Carr, here’s the rest of my journal from July, along with entries for August and September. There’s one post per month here, but there’s lots to mention in each case, including a little trip to Bristol to meet a software supplier (with a few photos of my hotel room), the excitement of the London Olympics & Paralympics, and the sad loss of a good friend. So I hope you enjoy looking through all of this as usual.

Saturday July 28, 2012

This was a busy week, as I went to the offices of one of my company’s software suppliers in Bristol to work with them for a few days, as they’re helping us to transfer projects into the system we’ve purchased from them. So I was mainly entering data, but also generally seeing how they’re getting on with the work they’re doing for us. And it went well. Everyone there was really nice, and I got a good amount of work done – not enough to finish it all, but a good three-quarters of it anyway, so it was well worth the trip.

I got the train there on Wednesday morning, getting into Bristol Temple Meads just before 9:00, where a guy called Dave met me and we walked up to their office. They’ve moved offices about 4 or 5 times over recent years, for one reason or another (e.g. being unable to reach agreements with landlords to stay for longer), and are now currently on the third floor of an office block that they share with other companies.

After saying hello to people there, I was logged in to their system – on a computer which had a trial version of the Supernova Magnifier software installed – and shown by a guy called Paul how to input the data I was there to do. It’s pretty easy too, it’s just that there’s a lot of it, and requires a few steps to enter each new item. But, as I say, I got most of it done.  On Friday, Paul also showed me how he’d been getting on with some of our other stuff, and it was looking very good.

To keep me going during the day I had water to drink, as they had 3 taps in the kitchen – hot and cold on the left and right, with the middle tap being for filtered drinking water. And for lunch each day I had a sandwich from Tesco, which was just down the road and easy enough to get to.

In the evenings, at about 5pm, Dave walked me back to the hotel, which isn’t far from their office. I stayed at the Mercure Holland Hotel & Spa, a 4-star hotel for which they were able to get me a discounted corporate rate for bed and breakfast. Checking in was easy enough, except for the fact that I didn’t know how to get the electricity on in my room at first – but the lady at reception let me know about the slot on the wall inside the door, which turns the electricity on when you put your keycard into it.

The room itself was very nice. It was a double room, so I had a nice big bed all to myself. There was also a desk, TV, hairdryer, kettle (with cups and tea supplies), iron and ironing board, trouser press, a safe for valuables, and a bathroom with toilet, sink, bath and shower. It was room 141 on the ground floor at the front of the hotel, so I didn’t have very far to get to find it, and I had a big, long window through which I could see the street outside. I put the air conditioning on to let a bit of air in too, as the weather’s been gorgeous but very warm over the last few days.

Dave had told me a good direction to go in to get food. So, after speaking to Mum on the phone and watching a bit of TV, I walked down towards the harbour area about 7pm each night to see what was about. It’s not very far from where I stayed with my best mate when we went to Bristol for his accounting course back in December 2008 (can’t believe it was that long ago!). On Wednesday night, I went to the Pitcher & Piano, where I found out they had a meal deal – selected meals and a drink for £6 (compared to normal meal prices of about £8-£9, before drinks are involved). So I had beef lasagne and a Coke, followed by a white chocolate cheesecake with honeycomb pieces on top. All of which was lovely and filled me up nicely. As did the beer battered fish and chips and Coke I had at a café called Mackenzies on Thursday night.

Back in the hotel room they also had a complimentary flapjack with the tea, and a couple of bottles of sparkling water, so they were nice too. There wasn’t much on TV in the evenings though, but they did have a channel on the TV for you to listen to your MP3 player through the TV, using a special jack that plugs into your headphone socket. So, thanks to a recommendation from a friend, and seeing all the good reviews online, I had downloaded Michael McIntyre’s autobiography Life & Laughing, and listened to that for an hour or two while lying in the comfortable bed. I’d heard a bit on the train on the way up as well. Michael does a great job of reading his book, and it’s really interesting to find about what life was like for him growing up, especially with difficulties such as his parents divorcing, and it’s also very funny in lots of places. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’ll try and finish it soon.

On Thursday and Friday morning, I had breakfast at about 7:30am in the hotel restaurant. It was a nice buffet affair, so there was plenty to choose from. On Thursday I had sausages, bacon, waffle, croissant, bread and jam, a small chocolate doughnut and a glass of orange juice, while on Friday I had sausages, bacon, waffle, hash browns, baked beans and a glass of apple juice. So that kept me going nicely! Then Dave met me at the hotel just after 8:30am on Thursday and Friday to walk with me to the office.

Lunch was a bit different yesterday though, as five of us, including Dave and Paul, went to a local pub for burger and chips and a couple of pints. Not only was it very tasty and filling, but they paid for mine too, which was very generous of them. They have different selections of ales in there each week apparently, so we had one called Smilers, which was really nice. And we had a good, fun chat between the five of us as well. I also met a few other people in the office too, incidentally, and they’re all a great, friendly bunch of people, so it was good to meet them all.

I got the train home at 4:44pm yesterday, on which I had to stand with a number of other people until we got to the next station, as being holiday season and rush hour it was packed. But then a few seats became free, so I was able to sit down until we got to Exeter St Davids. Then I had to change trains to get back home, but thankfully I got a seat on that one. And I got home at 7pm, which wasn’t bad.

After unpacking and having a lovely big chicken leg with bread and butter for tea, I sat down to watch the buildup to the Olympics opening ceremony, as did Mum. For the first time ever, live audio description was available for this, on BBC Radio 5’s new digital radio channel, 5 Live Olympics Extra, and also on the red button TV channel 301 (without pictures). So Mum had the description on the radio for the ceremony, and I watched it on the TV, sometimes having the description on via my hard drive player in the background to see what it was like.

And what a ceremony it was! Danny Boyle did an amazing job, as did the BBC with their contributions. People had been urged to ‘Save The Surprise’ when an audience watched a dress rehearsal earlier in the week, and they seem to have heeded that.

There’s far too much to mention here, but it was a great, fun celebration of Britain’s history and heritage, including Mr Bean performing Chariots Of Fire with the London Symphony Orchestra, James Bond (Daniel Craig) escorting the Queen from Buckingham Palace by helicopter and parachuting in to the stadium, a massive celebration of the NHS and Great Ormond Street Hospital, with lots of children and volunteers from hospitals across the country dancing and doing lots of great choreography, scenes of country life and industrialisation, celebrations of music, film and TV through the ages… the list goes on. So much was packed into it, and it worked extremely well.

Then there was the athletes parade of course, and with Great Britain having the honour of going last, they got a massive cheer when they entered. The flags of all nations were all gathered together on the big green hill in the centre of the stadium, and the Olympic flag was raised with a touch from Muhammad Ali, a world championship boxer who’s now suffering from Parkinson’s, and who thoroughly deserved to have a role.

But the biggest secret was who was going to light the Olympic cauldron. Speculation had been going around for ages as to which Olympian would get the honour. The flame was seen coming down the Thames in a speedboat driven by David Beckham, with a woman on the front holding the flame. As it arrived at the pier next to the stadium, Sir Steven Redgrave, 5 times Olympic gold medal winner, had his flame lit from the on the boat, then proceeded to jog up to and inside the stadium.

He then passed the flame to a young boy, one of a group of 7 young athletes who proceeded to do a lap of the stadium, passing the flame amongst themselves so they all had a go leading the group. Announcements made it apparent that each child had been nominated by one of our Olympic heroes from previous years. And the children ran up to the 7 Olympians who had nominated them (Redgrave being one). Those Olympians then gave the children a torch each, and each torch was lit this time, so there were now 7 torches ablaze, one held by each child. And the seven youngsters then started running towards the centre of the stadium. The purpose of this was to represent the ‘handing of the baton’ from older Olympians to the next generation, as the Olympics is designed to inspire our young people.

So then came the clever part, which the kids had been practicing over the past 9 days (as that’s only when they were told the truth as to their role), at all sorts of hours and in other locations to keep it secret. During the athletes parade, one person at the front of each country’s group held a big copper petal and, as they entered the centre of the stadium, the petal was connected to a stem in the centre, laid flat on the floor. So there were 204 petals in all, one for each nation taking part in the games, all arranged in a big circle in the centre. Their purpose then became clear as the nominated children ran in.

The 7 kids lit a petal each, with each petal then lighting the one next to it, and a chain reaction of flames started going round in a circle, spiralling inwards until all the petals were lit. Then the stems rose up off the floor, pivoting until every stem was vertical – which caused all the flaming petals to come together in a big cauldron shape, and then the flame really blazed. Petals for all nations had come together to light the big Olympic flame all at once, which was a wonderful moment. And of course there were plenty of fireworks at the end too, as Paul McCartney closed the show by getting everyone singing along to Hey Jude.

Reaction to the show has been very positive, so it’s safe to say it’s been a great success. One can only hope there’ll be a Blu-ray of it – they’d be crazy not to. There’s already a soundtrack album available on iTunes which I’ve downloaded.

And now the games themselves are underway. There had been some issues around security, with a company called G4S unable to supply all of the guards they’d been contracted to, forcing the government to use the military and police to fill the gap, even more than they had already put on for the Games. So security in general shouldn’t be compromised, as there’s a lot of it, with a real show of power out there. And now the Games have started, people aren’t going to focus on things like that so much anyway. Hopefully it’ll just be a good few weeks of sporting greatness.

We’ll certainly have plenty to watch and listen to, with up to 24 live streams available on the internet, and Radio 5 running 3 radio stations. Cycling is the focus of the opening day today, spurred on by Bradley Wiggins becoming the first British person ever to win the Tour De France just last week. Mark Cavendish is the cyclist being focused on today though, as he’s a good hope to win the road race. And there are loads of other things going on too. So it should be a really fun couple of weeks of sport. Come on Team GB, make your country proud!

Monday August 13, 2012

Well, what a month this has proven to be so far. Some good, some not so good.

First the very sad news – my friend PK passed away last night. It had been clear from our recent exchanges of texts and emails that this latest onset of cancer was a particularly bad spell (each time it came back, it was gradually worse), so it wasn’t a major shock, sadly. He fought it bravely and strongly and with determination, and his parents were rocks of support. But it beat him eventually. I got a message from his Dad to ring him, at which point I already knew what was coming, and did so this morning at work. It was only a short conversation to confirm it and for me to offer my condolences – it’s far too early to have any date for the funeral yet. It’s been a great shock to the friends I notified via email and on Facebook too.

On a happier note, Mum’s had her birthday recently, for which she got a top and a £20 cheque from my Nan, Aunt & Uncle. We’ve also been talking more about the move to London again, confirming the desire and need to move between the two of us. More people in work are now finding out as well, which is good. The reason is the training for the new system we’re installing – if I were to go on the training, and then leave shortly after, I would be saddled with a bill for a few thousand pounds, because part of the agreement if you get the training is that you’ll use it within the company and not go off elsewhere to use it. Which is fair enough. So I’m not doing the training for it – my section manager will show me what I need to know as necessary, but they’ll be training other people officially on it.

But, of course, the big story over the past couple of weeks has been the London 2012 Olympics. There had been complaints about the cost, concerns about transport, problems with getting security personnel, worries that people wouldn’t care about it… and all the concerns were blown completely out of the water. It was awesome. The opening ceremony was amazing to begin with, and set the tone for what followed. Team GB started off slow, with no real medals to speak off – but then the rush began. Far too much to mention, but starring names included Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, Tom Daley, and many more.

Our target was to come fourth, and beat our tally in Beijing (19 gold, 13 silver, 15 bronze = 47 total). We ended up third – just behind the US and China, but beating Russia, amazingly – with 29 gold, 17 silver, 19 bronze, making a total of 65 medals! It’s our biggest haul in the Games since the first time we hosted it in 1908 (we also hosted it after the war in 1948). Back in 1908 we got well over 100 medals, but then times were different, and over a third of the athletes were British. So, really, we’ve had our best performance ever this year!

Just watching it on the TV and online has been great, so I can only imagine that being there was really spectacular, as the crowds were amazing and so supportive. They filled the streets whenever cycling or running races took place there, and the 80,000 seat stadium was full for practically every session. TV coverage can only convey the noise, atmosphere and emotions to an extent, but it really felt special cheering our athletes on across all the 19 sports we got medals in. It’s been widely hailed as a success across the UK and the world, with a lot of sceptics having to eat humble pie. And the closing ceremony, while not as good as the opening, was just a big party – favourite bits for me included Queen, The Who, John Lennon & a children’s choir, Madness and Eric Idle, among others.

So things are a bit quiet again now the games are over. And the rain, which had held off nicely, came down today too. And, above all, I had the sad news about my friend this morning. So it’s brought us all down to earth with a bit of a bump! But there are lots of great memories there – of my friend as well as the Olympics. And the Paralympics are coming in a couple of weeks, so we’re actually not done yet! Tickets seem to be on the verge of selling out for many venues – a rarity for the Paralympics – and hopefully the athletes will be inspired by their able-bodied comrades. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens. And I’m sure I’ll hear about my friend’s funeral soon too. What a mixed month this is proving to be already!

Monday September 17, 2012

I got a lovely series of text message from my late friend’s mother today, thanking me for all the messages I’d sent over from his old mates that I’d been able to contact, and updating me on the details of the funeral. They went into the crematorium with The Rolling Stone’s Paint It Black, and out to the theme from The Great Escape, which he had recently learnt to play on the keyboard, so that apparently caused a few laughs and whistles to help lighten the mood! He was dressed in his Taekwondo uniform and his black belt, which was a nice touch, as he loved doing that regularly and was really good at it. They’re also keeping his guide dog, which is nice. And one of the last things he had said to his mother was to get me a birthday card, which is rather a moving thought that he still had me in mind. So it was lovely of her to take the time to send that update, and I’m very pleased to hear it all went well.

Other than that, there’s not much to report on the work and home front for the past month really. A few of my colleagues have done the first bit of training on our new software system, and my section manager’s loaded the virtual training machine they were using on to my PC and given me his training manual, so I’m going through it bit by bit, around the other work I’ve been doing.

I am also looking for properties in London on the internet now, and my Aunt has said I can ring and ask her to look at any places I find that I’m interested in. That way, she can give me an idea if it’s worth popping up there for a viewing or not. So things are now moving in that direction. I’ve also signed up for various places online about things going on in London, at specific attractions and in general – ultimately, there’s always something to do, which is the great thing about the city.

Certainly they’ve had a great summer in London. The Olympics were amazing, and the Paralympics was truly inspirational. We won 34 gold, 43 silver and 43 bronze, making a total of 120 medals, 18 more than in Beijing. People like David Weir, Ellie Simmonds, Sarah Storey, Jonnie Peacock, and even people like South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, have ensured that disability sport, and disabled people in general, are viewed very differently. At the start, people were naturally seeing people with disabilities – but, after the first two or three days, more and more were acknowledging that they were seeing elite athletes, who just happen to have disabilities on the side.

Channel 4 – inevitable adverts and chat aside – gave very good coverage of it, far more than had ever been done before, as they showed as much as they could all day. In the first week, some of the coverage jumped to More4, so the main channel could show things like Hollyoaks, Deal Or No Deal, etc. But in the second week, as they were aware of how popular the sports were, they moved everything to Channel 4, relegating their other shows to E4, More4, etc, so the Paralympics had prominence.

On Monday, the day after the closing ceremony of the Paralympics (both the opening and closing shows were great, just like for the Olympics), there was a Team GB victory parade in London. Not every single athlete could be there, but the vast majority were. They were on 21 floats, driven through the streets to Buckingham Palace, and the route had a million people crammed in to get a glimpse of them. It looked amazing on the TV. Access to the route was free, except for the Mall, which was reserved for the tens of thousands of volunteers, games-makers, etc that had given up so much of their time, for no money, to help the games be such a success. Without them, the games wouldn’t have gone as well as they had, for sure. They really represented us very well.

The parade finished with all the athletes gathered on stage outside Buckingham Palace, with music by the Pet Shop Boys, and speeches by people including David Cameron and Boris Johnson. The Mayor of London easily made the crowd laugh and applaud the most, his speech was brilliant – remarking, for instance, that the games had remarkably caused Tube passengers to break out into spontaneous conversation, and as well as inspiring a generation, the thrill of it all may have made people help to create a new one as well!

One athlete who couldn’t be there was Andy Murray, who won Olympic gold this year after his disappointing loss in the Wimbledon final, because he was playing in the US Open. No British tennis player had won a Grand Slam for 76 years – could he now do it after his Olympic win? Yes – yes he could! As if people weren’t happy enough, he actually won the final that night! It was a wonderful bookend to an amazing summer.

And let’s not forget that there had also been the Last Night Of The Proms on the same weekend as the Paralympics Closing Ceremony, so that was also a chance for people to really celebrate being British. In fact, as a nice touch, they brought a few medal winning Olympians & Paralympians on to the stage for Rule Britannia! It was a very nice gesture, and they got a big ovation.

But now things are back to normal. Children are back at school, the tourists have gone (apart from a few childless holidaymakers who are sensibly using the quieter, cheaper spell for their breaks), and things are just calming down again. But I think everyone is very relieved and very happy about the summer we’ve just had. The weather may not always have been perfect – though it wasn’t too bad either – but we had plenty to celebrate and be proud about!

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

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