On… getting fit again

So the other thing I’ve been doing recently is taking up exercise again.

I’ve not really been all that active over the years. Some mountain biking 10-15 years ago, a couple of attempts to get into using a gym, and that’s it. So with the office-work, relaxed lifestyle, beers and not hugely healthy diet, I started to put on a bit of weight, and now my belly has become a paunch.

A mate of mine – my best man Darren – started running a couple of years ago, and he had found that it had helped him to feel a lot better. So in March I started going to parkrun. Going from virtually no exercise to a 5km run may seem a bit of a leap, but I did always enjoy middle-long distance and cross-country as a teenager, and reckoned I could give it a go. So it was on a snowy Saturday morning that I went over to Coventry to give it a go. Due to the weather only about 100 people took part (usually it’s about 300), and I came somewhere in the 90s after walking about a third of the course. But I finished it, and in just under 34 minutes.

Since then I’ve done it most weekends. Twice my time has been worse than that first one, once when I got bad cramp about halfway round the Bushy Park course and another time when I turned up twenty minutes late and ran it anyway. The great thing about parkrun is that it is quite simple for a rank amateur. It’s free (many running races have fees), you get a time for each run – as long as you have registered and bring your barcode – and most events are big enough with a range of abilities that isn’t too intimidating.

Having picked up the bug, I am taking it a bit more seriously than before – I got a proper pair of running shoes and a watch for my birthday. Yesterday my time was 31:07, but that was on a bad hangover. The four runs before that were all personal bests for the course I was on, and I’ve got my record down to 28:31.

And this month I have (along with my wife) joined a gym. The new Leisure Centre in Rugby was opened at the end of August (although it’s not completely smoothly running if the queues are anything to go by), and we’ve decided to help each other to get more fit and lose weight.

On… changing jobs

Shortly after I got married, I also changed jobs. Just to make things more stressful.

Well, not quite. My actual job is the same as before, and it wasn’t my idea

What happened was that the company I’d been working for over the past 17 years (Steria, formerly Xansa, who I joined when they were called the FI Group) was asked to transfer all the people working for Barclaycard over to Barclays. Most of my colleagues had been TUPE’d over from Barclays ten years before, so for them it was going back. It’s not a culture shock for me, as I’ve been working at Barclaycard for over four years anyway, but it’s strange to have a new set of bosses.

I never had intended to work for one company for so long – I think of the 60 people who joined the Graduate scheme at FI when I did, only 1 still works for them now. All through the nineties I kept hearing that the ‘job for life’ was history, and I had always wanted to get varied experience anyway. But as FI/Xansa/Steria supply other companies, I did get to work at a few places and do different things. There was programming at first, then all kinds of data analysis for Y2K (a very real problem in big and old systems such as in the bank we were at), then application support with overnight on call, followed by doing specifications and design and more recently Business Analysis.

I am not really sad to leave Steria. It is not the company I joined in 1995 (name changes and mergers notwithstanding). It was largely a private company back then (although they floated 1996), and dominated by female management. This was pretty unusual for an IT company – and still is – but was a legacy of the origins of FI Group, being set up by Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley in the 60s primarily to allow women with dependants to get work in the nascent IT industry. They were doing homeworking before it was even a buzzword. It was also regarded as very employee friendly, listed as one of the top companies to work for and much of the shares were owned by workers.

Despite not being a ‘dotcom’ or really working in the web industry back then, they were hit by the 2001 tech bubble crashing. Over time the company has become more like its competitors, more male, more invested in offshoring, more interested in the bottom line. They were never great fans of unions (so I joined one), but towards the end seemed to be even less ready to co-operate

Barclays/Barclaycard of course have their issues in the recent past, with the ‘casino capitalism’ under Bob Diamond and others, LIBOR rate manipulation and mis-selling of PPI.

On… being married

Ok, so I’ve been through another slack period as a blogger. Something about living life rather than writing about it, or more likely too lazy to put a few words through a keyboard.

One of the more significant things I did over the past six months was to get married. We’d been planning it for a while, getting the money together to go out to New Orleans to do it as an elopement. We asked a friend each to come with us, and stayed in a really cool house off Esplanade for a week. Hen/Stag was a night out around Bourbon Street, which would be totally crazy at peak times but in late May was just busy.

The wedding itself was cool – nice and relaxed at the French Quarter Wedding Chapel. It was only when having lunch afterwards that we let people know what we’d done – sending pics out. Luckily my folks were pretty cool about it (I think they’d have loved to do something similar when they got married). The next day, a Saturday, saw me and my mate Darren go off to drink and watch two footie games – the Champions League final in an Irish bar, and then to watch New Orleans Jesters play a fourth tier match against Knoxville Force – while Jas and Sonya went shopping. How quickly we became a stereotype!

We did have a party a couple of months later for family and friends, so people did get to see Jas in her dress (and me in a suit). Our first dance was Jump Around by House of Pain and we ended up with Fairytale of New York.

Over three months on, it’s still a bit weird to be married. We’ve been together for about 12 years, and lived together for all of that apart from two year-long periods when we had to long-distance it. So it’s not like we don’t know each other. The weird thing is that it doesn’t feel that different to be married. Remembering to say ‘wife’ instead of ‘girlfriend’ is getting easier, though.

A million quid?

So the latest plans for pedestrianising the centre of Rugby are out – as reported by the Rugby Advertiser.

For a cost of £1million, we would get…

  • The bit of Church Street and North Street between Regent Street and Chestnut Field will become a bus & taxi only lane during the daytime
  • A slightly larger ‘civic space’ around the Clock Tower

And that’s it. The picture that has been released and shown in the Advertiser site only shows the change in a little part at the top, with the most prominent part being the already pedestrianised area to the south of the Clock Tower (shown empty but will presumably still be used for the Market).

It is not a pedestrianisation if buses and taxis still go along the road.

It is about 150 yards long, meaning the cost is over £6,500 per yard, which is more that the bypass cost even after the delays and overspend.

It will shift traffic into Park Road, Regent Place and Albert Street, and affect roads all around the town centre which are already congested at peak times.

It will make it harder to get to the car parking around the town.

There are ways that the town centre could be made more attractive, and to link the ‘Independent Quarter’ to the north of Church Street with the rest of the town centre for pedestrians. What about these?

  • Pedestrianise between Regent Street and Albert Street, creating a square in front of St. Andrews Church.
  • A proper set of bus stops or (radical!) a bus ‘station’ in the town would help.
  • Perhaps not easing through more out-of-town development with the Debenhams at Elliots Field which will suck custom away from the ‘Independent Quarter’ boutique-y shops

Saturday entertainment

Which is the most embarrassing celeb-heavy ‘game-show’ put on by the BBC on a Saturday night?

It’s a tough one. “That Puppet Game Show” is like the Muppets with all of the jokes and interesting characters removed (using extreme force) and replaced with the most pointless games imaginable – Punching out lights on a jumpsuit? Grabbing hot-dogs in musical order? Then there was the excruciating banter.

But “I Love My Country” is serious competition. A house band led by Jamelia, who are more painful than Glen Ponder and ‘Chalet’ ever were. Equally pointless games – Hangman with additional pork-pie-on-a-map, for criminy’s sake! And that wheel thing at the end. It’s enough to provoke treason if this is how you are supposed to ‘love’ your country.

I know that ITV have put out some absolute shockers (Red or Black being the most expensive waste of everyone’s time to date), and generally the trend nowadays is to make Saturday nights on TV so atrocious and so celeb-laden, but what are the people commissioning this dross thinking?

I can’t believe I’m actually reminiscing with fondness about Total Wipeout.

To those who may have noticed this post after a huge long gap, well, sorry, I’ve been a bit busy. Since I last posted I got married and changed employer while supervising the selection process for Labour’s Parliamentary candidate in Rugby for 2015, and also started getting a little more serious about my hobbies of running and gaming. Sorry to break my silence with a moan, but it’s the most annoying thing today – more than the breaking of two garden forks or the discovery of a leak from the bath overflow.

Seen leaving our local Tesco…

… A rather red-faced local politician who had been brought in to apply pressure on management not to discipline his nephew for theft. Said nephew had apparently assured his uncle that there was no case to answer, and on that basis the politician had started making a forthright defence… Until the inevitable playing of the CCTV footage showing the scallywag lifting edible goods from the shelves and into his gob.

Uncle ??? has not been seen in the branch since, apparently.

2013 local elections

Nationally, the big story was the surge in UKIP support. Of course, they gained about 140 councillors, while Labour gained 291 (undoing the losses from 2009). And I have seen claims – and no evidence to disprove them – that UKIP didn’t take any Labour seats. In the South Shields by-election, the ‘shock’ was UKIP coming second, but it was a distant second to the Labour victor.

The big losers were the Tories, who are either calmly putting it down to mid-term protest votes or panickedly urging the government to tack rightwards and bash Europe and immigrants. The Lib Dems had a bad time, but more so in the areas they don’t do that well in, and where UKIP were not so active. The Greens made gains around the country.

But as these are Shire county elections in the main (with a couple of Mayoral elections – two gains for Labour there), they are not necessarily going to reflect the national picture, so even trends compared to 2009 may be distorted compared to other local elections years. Still, putting the projected national vote share from the Beeb (Lab 29%, Con 25%, UKIP 23%, LDs 14%) into UNS seat predictors for a General Election gives Labour a slim majority – a feature of First Past the Post that will perhaps have Tories ruing their opposition to AV two years ago.

But, Rugby. Well, Warwickshire before that. The Tories lost control to a hung council, seeing seats in the north of the county fall. Labour gained 12 seats from the 2009 result to be not far behind, but far enough that it would be difficult to try and run the council in coalition. The Lib Dems lost a few to go down to 9 seats, and could hold the balance of power, but I hear that neither of the main parties wants to treat with them. The Greens gained two (one from the leader of the Tories up in Nuneaton, one from Labour in Leamington), and there were two new independents to add to the one already there.

UKIP didn’t put many candidates up, although they did get about 20% or so of the vote when they did – but that wasn’t enough to win a seat, just get some second places. I was surprised that they didn’t have candidates across all of the areas affected by HS2, given their stance on it and how they’d been claiming last week it would make a difference in Warwickshire. Are they not well organised around here, or perhaps better at vetting candidates than other UKIP branches?

The pattern seems to show that Nuneaton and North Warwickshire parliamentary seats are very likely to go back to Labour in 2015. Leamington & Warwick and Rugby seem a little more tenacious.

In Rugby, UKIP were somewhat of a factor, perhaps – and they may be wishing they had stood elsewhere or had more candidates. Labour gained three seats in the town, partly perhaps due to Tory defectors to UKIP, but also it has to be said due to a fairly consistent swing across the town of 9-10% from Tory to Labour. I would say that the main difference UKIP made was to increase the size of Labour majorities there.

I know Labour were hopeful of winning Admirals back, having lost it in 2009, but it is an area that has changed a lot since last being won by a Labour candidate – Cawston Grange having been developed greatly in that period). Had UKIP stood and got the 20-25% they did elsewhere, however, it could easily have been another Labour gain.

In places where Labour has in recent times been in third place – such as the two-seat divisions of Hillmorton & Eastlands and Caldecott, they are right in the mix. The Lib Dems comfortably won in Hillmorton & Eastlands, but one of the Labour candidates was third ahead of the Tories (and while the other Labour candidate was sixth, the combined Labour vote was higher than the Tory vote). Caldecott saw the Tories hold, but with a cut majority and with Labour and Lib Dem candidates so close they alternated places. Caldecott may be another seat where a UKIP candidacy might have had a major impact.

Outside the Town, the Tories saw their majorities hit, but even in Fosse where UKIP took a chunk these are pretty solid seats for blue. The exceptions, as for last year’s Borough elections, were ex-Tory Howard Roberts winning as an Independent in Dunchurch (causing some mean-spirited comments from some jilted Tories) and Labour taking a seat from the Tories in Bulkington – Dunchurch is in Rugby Borough but not the Parliamentary seat, Bulkington is in Nuneaton & Bedworth Borough but is in the Rugby Parliamentary seat.

In my own race, the by-election for Bilton in the Borough Council, I came third, behind a safely re-elected Tory and a strong showing from UKIP. I did manage to come above the strong local Lib Dem candidate Bill Lewis, which was my main aim. It would have been nice to come second and reduce the Tory majority, but it was not to be.

So what does it tell us? Well, if Labour are to retake the Rugby seat in the General Election, it seems there is more to do. However the swing was large (and larger than the national average), which is better than the 2011 and 2012 Borough elections. The Lib Dems appear to be spent as a force outside the Eastern corner and Overslade/Caldecott, and so their 2010 support appears to be moving away. The Greens and TUSC are still putting up candidates but at the end of the day not really making many inroads – Green share of the vote fell where they stood in Rugby (even if they are doing rather better in other parts of the County). So it seems that the problem of a ‘split left vote’ is less acute for Labour than before. The Tories have been until now successful at holding their vote, but this time did see it slip, especially when the ‘split right vote’ problem emerged in the form of UKIP.

If UKIP in and around Rugby start to build up to the level of activity they have in other areas, they could well be a major headache for the Tories – next year sees Borough elections for the least secure seats won in 2012 and the European elections. But it’s still very uncertain whether that would carry through to a General Election. For Labour, it does have to be about getting a good candidate (and there should be one in place soon) and trying to win on our own terms.

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