Time the great stealer

Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away. It can also pinch an hour from your life, if you’re not watching. I speak from personal experience.

In Spring every year, the clocks in the UK advance forward by one hour. The balance and equilibrium of the space-time continuum is maintained, however, by the altogether more pleasing effect of the clocks going back by one hour in Autumn. As indeed they will tonight. So far so good.

In March 2005, I lost an hour’s sleep, along with the rest of the UK, at the end of March. A week later I flew to the States for a couple of weeks. The first weekend after I arrived in the US, I discovered to my horror that their clocks went forward that weekend, i.e. two weeks after the UK. Accordingly I lost yet another hour’s sleep that weekend. Disaster. Back in the UK in the Autumn, I gained one of these hours back, but that still left me an hour down on where I should be. The USA, to my knowledge, turn their clocks back the same weekend as us, so a quick Autumnal flight there and back over a weekend won’t solve anything. It truly is distressing. I have lost an hour of my life and will probably never get it back. I am convinced this is why I seem to gain consciousness (cf waking up) an hour later than everyone else in the mornings… it’s a major discontinuity in my life, I’m out of sync, my life’s very fabric is stretched and distorted as a result.

But life goes on. Albeit an hour ahead of where it should be. Wiseman and I are developing our Brian Lara Cricket 2005 PS2 skills slowly but surely. The first Test between Bangladesh (me) and Australia (Wiseman) was all over within a day, but the Second Test lasted well into the third day (granted, we lost a day to rain), and the Third Test is now underway. It’s 2-0 to Bangladesh in the series, should you be interested. Ah, there’s nothing like the rhythms of Test cricket.

Only 25 days ‘til the Ashes…

Postcard from Frankfurt

Penning this on the flight back to Edinburgh from Frankfurt. This is my second trip to Germany – the first was earlier this year, to Berlin. This trip, while somewhat less spectacular, and bereft of Paul Friend’s ubiquitous sleeping carcass, has been good fun.

I like German style and design – I like the sharp black suits, the angular black-rimmed spectacles, the cars. I even like the fonts. I’ve long considered the spoken German language a bit ugly, if you can so describe an aural experience, it being less musical to the ear than its French and Italian counterparts. However, having now made two short trips here, I’m not so sure. Began to quite enjoy listening to it spoken. Not that I ever had a scooby what was being said, although I can pick out a few important words, like schokolade.

Approaching Frankfurt by air, we flew over a lot of forest – the Black Forest? If it was, I daresay it’s pretty black from the interior, but from above it’s unremittingly green, apart from little pockets of deciduous trees which are various shades of brown. I am a big fan of the effect autumn has on trees, and love driving through Perthshire at this time of year, with the browns, reds and golds so evident. However, when viewed from above and appearing in little areas surrounded by evergreens, it puts me in mind of slightly-out-of-date broccoli. Speaking of outdated food, I recently discovered some flour in my cupboard – with a best before date of December 1999. I think it may have been for making pancakes about 8 years ago.

When I arrive back in Edinburgh I’ll go back in to the office for the afternoon, being a dedicated, conscientious soul. Going away on work trips on my own tends to make me slightly nervous, as on my return my boss Stephen wants (understandably) to hear any news from the trips – vis à vis new products, industry gossip etc etc. This usually goes a bit like this:

SF: “So how was the trip Andy?”
AQ: “Uh, yeah, it was good, thanks”
SF: “How was the exhibition?”
AQ, brain temporarily freezing over: “Em, yeah, it was good – Unitron had an ice hockey shooting competition, Phonak had a golfing green with a giant screen full of people, who all stood up and cheered when you holed a putt”
SF: “Any new products/what’s happening in the industry…”
AQ: Uh, no, don’t think so, nothing much really.

Typically, two days later Stephen will mention that he’s had an email from one of our contemporaries down South, who was also at the conference, and has discovered from them that several products have been launched that will revolutionise the industry. Not to mention that several manufacturers have gone bust, Roman Abramovich has moved into hearing aids and is relocating to Scotland, and the government has abolished the NHS. That type of thing.

AQ: “Erm, yeah, I heard all that, but didn’t think it was of much interest.”

I don’t have much of a brain for business, or gossip for that matter. One is good, the other not so much. I might be rescued by that fact that Stephen’s wife Andrea has just given birth (on Tuesday) to their second child, Emily. So here’s hoping his mind’s on other things 🙂

Frankfurt, Day 2

Having flown to Frankfurt yesterday with Lufthansa, I was rather hoping that I would be able to update my blog from mid-air, since Lufthansa offer in-flight wireless broadband on some of their routes. Sadly, it appears that this is only available on their long-haul flights, and there are hints on their website that the service may be withdrawn in January 2007, so perhaps I will never get to experience the joys of playing stick cricket at 39000 feet. Why this should be any better than playing it at sea level will be a mystery to most of you, I’m sure, but rest assured there is a difference.

So here I am instead, in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel, Frankfurt, at an unearthly hour of the morning. I am here as a guest of Phonak UK, who are one of our main suppliers. Unfortunately they have booked me a room sans wireless internet, indeed sans internet at all, and so I have to resort to sitting in the lobby. This would not be my choice, since it’s full of people and pre-8am social interaction is a clear and present danger. Thankfully the UK delegation is relatively small at this conference, and one can rely on UK hearing aid dispensers at events like this to not surface too early in the morning, given their customary exploits in the bar the previous evening.

Prior to “retiring to the bar”, we had spent a rather surreal evening at a venue in Frankfurt. The main event was a product release by Phonak, held here in Frankfurt to coincide with the EUHA hearing aid congress which kicks off today. The launch started at 5pm, at which point I was just about to board a train from the airport. Arriving at the station, I emerged from the subway to find the Hotel Continental where I expected the Intercontinental to be. It looked a somewhat, um, seedier establishment than I would expect Phonak to make use of, and so, somewhat disconcerted, I reverted to the map in the train station. With a fair amount of relief, I soon discovered the Intercontinental nearby. On the way, I walked past the Hotel National (4 star), as well as the aforementioned Continental (3 star) and had time to muse on the apparent inverse relationship between hotel rating and its geographical claims. It didn’t bode well for the Intercontinental, but thankfully it has surpassed expectations in this regard. Apart from the lack of wireless internet in the rooms of course 😉

Having arrived at the hotel sometime after 5.30, I conceded that I wasn’t going to make the product launch, but happily I was able to find the venue in time for the evening meal, which was very acceptable. I found myself at a table opposite the head of Phonak UK, a Dane, which gave me a great opportunity to bring up Northern Ireland’s recent fighting draw in Copenhagen. Just as the meal was drawing to a close, we became aware of a low note sounding continuously from somewhere in the room. I thought perhaps Kenny D had somehow made the trip and was warming up his vocal chords before bursting into song, but it proved to be a number of saxophones, played by men dressed in long, hooped dresses, some of whom were wearing facemasks (as you might use for scuba diving/snorkelling), and all of whom had their heads covered with a veil of some description.

These made their way on to the stage, to be quickly joined by 2 equally-bizarrely dressed cellists, who mounted rotating plinths on the stage and proceeded to play their cellos while standing up, for the next 30-45 minutes or so. Subsequently saxophonists also popped up at both sides of the room, at the back, and in the gallery. There was about 15 of them all told. In addition, one end of the gallery (directly above the stage) was glass-fronted and contained three singers and a bass guitarist. All dressed in similarly weird costumes. The whole shebang was coordinated by some sort of conductor on the ground level who was communicating with them all via a headworn mic. The music was, um, interesting, if not unpleasant. But it was all very strange. And that was before the men in orange jumpsuits, with coloured plastic inflatable tubes strapped to them, appeared among the tables. They were playing bass saxophones, if that wasn’t already immediately obvious.

Jan (the Phonak UK MD) found it all as bizarre as the rest of us, which was comforting.

Today I am off, along with some other UK hearing aid dispensers, to the bar, no sorry, to hear about how the hearing aid market operates in Germany. I realise that’s a tantalising cliffhanger of a way to finish a blog entry, so I will try to fill you in on the exciting details as soon as possible this evening.

Blog characters

Every so often I find myself needing to refer to somebody – a friend, work colleague etc in these pages. The difficulty is I can’t just refer to them in passing, as that would assume prior knowledge of them by you, my loyal readers. And nobody likes reading things which are littered with in-jokes that they don’t get.

It occurs to me now that both of the readers of my blog actually know each other, so perhaps all of this is unnecessary, but I have to consider my roadmap towards world blogging domination and online superstardom. It is surely only a matter of time.

So, anyway, in order to avoid confusion from people who don’t know my friends well, I have to introduce said friends carefully to give a little context so that everyone gets the joke.

However, I have a cunning plan, which as well as addressing this thorny issue might also serve to make the blog slightly interesting as well. The idea is, I will create a page for each of the characters/reprobates that seem to keep cropping up in these pages, which will include a brief description of their character (defects) and a photo. Each time I refer to them you can click on their name to view their character page. You will also be able to access their pages from a list on the right hand side. I would like to say now that I can’t necessarily promise to provide a well-rounded description of their character, it being my own subjective assessment.

Will be happy to receive photographic contributions of these characters when they begin to appear, either from the characters themselves or others… also you are welcome to enhance my descriptions, although they won’t be editable, so you’ll have to send your thoughts to me…

Wiseman, being the most frequently name-checked person on this blog, is first up.. check him out!

Adventures in the mountains

The Trossachs were shrouded in thick black cloud and reeked of menace this morning as I headed up the M9. (Bear with me, I’m warming up for my Australian travel writing). Was on my way to see a customer who lives just outside Callander, in a truly remote location high up in the hills. Realistically, it’s not truly remote, as it is really only a few miles from Callander, but it feels genuinely remote. After leaving the A84, I drove for a couple of miles on single track roads/farm track, and through somebody else’s farmyard, before reaching his house. Halfway up I encountered a flock of sheep guarding the upper reaches, one of which remained quite stubbornly in the middle of the track. Things could’ve got tricky here, but I mentioned that I knew Doug Smith well, and was immediately accorded the VIP treatment. Doug is a friend of mine with well-established links among the sheep community. I’d better say no more.

I made better time on the road up to Callander than I’d expected, and was considering a visit to a local coffee shop. In fact I have to confess I not only considered it but attempted to act upon it (I can hear the tuts of disapproval from all you Standard Life employees with your strong work ethic) by making a sortie into Doune. Given Doune’s location and size and everything you would really expect it to have at least one legendary coffee shop, but alas the only thing I could find was a stand on the street advertising a deli (I mean, come on, a DELI in Doune?) which professed to sell tea and coffee. Unfortunately I couldn’t locate the actual deli, just the stand advertising its presence. So I beat a hasty retreat from Doune, shook the dust off my feet as I left, etc etc. A cup of tea to perk me up would’ve been just the ticket, as sleep has been a little elusive of late. Last night this could be put down to the fact that my neighbours in the flat above me appeared to be trying to drill through my ceiling. Disturbed by the racket, I wandered out of my bedroom into my hallway at some late hour of the night, half expecting to find said neighbours parachuting down through a gaping hole above. However, they never materialised, which is a mercy, as I was in no state to receive visitors, and I managed to crawl back into bed and get some sleep.

So, the timer on my desktop informs me that it’s just over 42 days until the Ashes. Gosh it’s exciting. I do hope you’ve been keeping up to date with all the hype. More here. The other timer on my desktop is counting down the days to my holiday…

Anyway, time to seek some more of that elusive sleep.

Alternative ending for those with a passing interest in cricket:

Michael Vaughan has been making noises in the press recently about perhaps being fit to play in the 4th and 5th Tests at Melbourne and Sydney. These are, as it happens, the ones I’m going to. While it would be great to see Vaughan back in action, I would wonder at the wisdom of reintroducing him to what will hopefully be a settled team at what may be a crucial juncture in the series. Unless Australia have won the first three Tests (or indeed, England have) then the series and the Ashes will still be up for grabs come Melbourne. In addition, Vaughan, prior to his injury, has been out of nick with the bat for quite some time. His principal contribution (and it was a weighty one) to the Ashes win last year was as captain, apart from one solitary century at Old Trafford (which was laced with a fair bit of good fortune). I can’t see them bringing him back as captain for the last two Tests, unless Freddie has made a right meal of it and lost the first three disastrously.

Of more significance, in my mind, would be the return to the team of Simon Jones. I watched some of the Ashes 2005 DVD the other day, and was reminded of just how often he chipped in with crucial wickets. I would dearly love to watch him steaming in at the MCG and SCG in a few months’ time, but sadly I think those matches will come too soon for his recovery from injury. Pity.

From the Aussie point of view, it will be interesting to see how Michael Hussey performs – he’s been getting rave reviews, but then so did Michael Clarke in his initial Tests before hitting something of a slump in form. Hussey, by all accounts, is the real deal, and sounds like he might cause England a few headaches this winter.

Anyway, time to seek some more of that elusive sleep.