2014, a whole new year …

2014-1It is still early December as I start to write what may well be my last blog of 2013. I started the year by saying an aim was to get my blog off the ground; well at least I have achieved one thing that I set out to do.

Many things have happened this year; some good, some bad. Some that I will detail here and a number that I won’t. Has it been a good year? I’m not sure, perhaps not; certainly not the best, but also not the worst.

Morocco was a highlight. Three weeks driving through the mountains and deserts as well as the long and tiring journey there and back. There were many sights, sounds, smells and experiences which I will not forget from that trip, much of which I wrote about at the time. It also marked the completion of the third of my “overland” journeys that I had in my sights when I purchased my current Land Rover a couple of years back; Nordkapp, the Scottish Highlands & Islands and finally Morocco.

As always work has played a major part in my life. Probably too much as it has left its mark in a number of ways. The first half of the year, 10 to 12 hour days, six days a week, thankfully based in the office so there wasn’t the addition of travel, but even so…. The last six months have generally only been normal weeks but a lot of trips to the Middle East for projects there. In fact I am writing this very passage while sitting on a plane in Dubai heading for Qatar and then home. This year also saw Lauren pass her A Levels and head off to university. A very strange feeling leaving your only child at her new home while you drive away. I see her as much as possible and Skype when not in the same place. She seems to be getting on well, and is happy which, of course, is all I can hope for.

So as 2013 comes to a close what will the next 12 months have to throw at us?

It is of course impossible to know what lies in wait. There are many things which we cannot control or avoid and so simply have to make the most of. However, it is possible to plan; to list what you want to achieve and set out on a path which will, if all things are equal, ensure that you archive those goals ……..

Christmas is now behind me and so it is less than a week to the start of the New Year. 2014 is a year in which I intend to travel more. There is a possibility of a trip to Australia, which if it comes off will simply postpone one of the other destinations I have listed, but as it is completely out of my control I don’t intend including it in my plans. If it happens great, otherwise I will simply make the following destinations in stead:

Norway

I have been to Norway before but this time I have a different location in mind. I am hoping to see more of the country as my previous trip was all about the journey and the single destination. This time my plan is to get a ferry directly into Oslo, finding time to explore the city properly either on the way in or the way out, and then travel up the East coast. This will allow me to see the fjords and the mountains.

In addition to Oslo there are two particular sights I want to see, the Atlantic Road, which has been described as the best road trip in the world, as well as the Sognefjellet National Tourist Route which is the highest mountain pass in northern Europe.

The Alps

It looks like 2014 may be the year of mountains and high passes, although I am not yet sure which of the following options I will choose, I guess it will depend on the time available and the final route I map out, but here are a few which are included in a list of the 10 best drives in Europe:

Of course it is just possible that I will do all six!

Personal Challenges

It is my intention to set myself a few more walking challenges next year to help improve by general fitness and well-being. As you can see elsewhere in my blog, I did two 20+ mile walks in 2013, both along relatively flat waterways. Therefore my next locations may not be quite so far, but they will involve more slopes. Locations have yet to be chosen but living here in the Chilterns hills are not too difficult to find. I would also hope to include another sponsored event which will need to be both further and more physically demanding than the last if I am to better my previous amount raised.

With those thoughts and plans set out for all to read I hope this will give me the motivation to achieve them, only time will tell, but for now all that is left is to wish you a very Happy and Prosperous New Year.

2014-4

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Inspiration

I am not an artist or a musician. I don’t write stories or poems. I don’t understand the concept of “Inspiration”.

Well I didn’t.

When I read how a musician had come to think of the basis of a chart topping song I would struggle to understand the concept. “I was inspired by ……. ” they would say. “The idea came to me while …….”!

Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits was reported as saying he got the idea for “Money for nothing” while observing guys working in an electrical store watching MTV. He wrote down their comments and then created one of the worlds most successful songs.

My view has started to change recently, primarily due to writing this blog. Some of my entries seem to take weeks and are a struggle, even though I am keen to put forward my thoughts. Others just flow. An idea pops into my head and I am away. Yes it takes more time to fine tune the final version that I publish to the world, but the basic idea can be down on”paper” in a very short period.

I recently wrote an article about working abroad. The idea came to me while siting in a restaurant after a days work in Dubai. I then wrote, corrected and prepared it for publication while having a coffee in Costa. All in the space of an hour or so. No time at all.

I am currently sitting on a tube train heading into London for a meeting. The idea for “Inspiration” came to me last night and I am using the journey as an opportunity to get down my thoughts. Normally I would make some edits over the weekend and then publish once I have settled on a final version. While sitting here tapping away I have been looking up at the people around me, those getting on, and those getting off this train. A new idea is forming the title for which has already been noted down, possibly it will give me something to do on the journey home.

So now I think I am beginning to understand the concept. How it is a composer can be walking along a beech from which a great musical score emerges.

Someone once said that everybody has at least one novel in them. I have an ambition to write mine, but will this slowly emerging understanding of inspiration ultimately lead to that destination? Who knows? I guess only time will tell.

Well for now let’s “publish and be damned”….

Working abroad is always a pleasure?

I have worked for Causeway (@causewaytech www.causeway.com) now for the best part of 15 years predominantly in the UK. However, travel has always been part of the job even when I initially ran the support department and was therefore office bound. In fact my very first day involved picking up a car in Amersham before driving to a clients office in Cardiff where I was to meet one of our consultants for the first time. I seem to recall the meeting was in a pub at lunchtime.

As my job changed from support into more account management and then consultancy my travels increased. Scotland became my second home one summer when I was implementing our financial accounting software at a clients office in Perth. I found myself flying to Edinburgh on a Tuesday morning and back home on a Thursday evening. Sometimes extending my visit into four days and even five when the pressure was on to meet an important deadline.

It is however an unfortunate fact that you rarely get to see the places to which you travel. Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities, but during business trips you only get to see the empty streets and closed doors.

I have been to Dublin on a number of occasions, but have never been to Dublin! By this I mean that I have flown into Dublin airport, travelled to an office building in an anonymous business park and then at the end of the day reversed my steps to return home. I have never seen the city or the river which runs through it.

My first overseas trip never actually happened! I had spent some months undertaking a project accounting implementation for a client based in Belfast who built airport runways in the Caribbean. The project needed to be completed on site to ensure that everything was correct and then undertake end user training. I was to spend a week in St Lucia followed by another week in the British Virgin Islands. I had my tickets and was ready to go. Unfortunately the day before I was due to leave another, much bigger, client complained that they weren’t getting the attention they thought they deserved and so my trip to the sun was replaced by a trip to Manchester!

In the end it turned out that my Caribbean trip was not cancelled but simply postponed and the following year I found myself heading to the Bahamas for a weeks training instead. A highlight of the trip was a visit to the control tower at Nassau International Airport. The view was magnificent but it is safe to say we were all very glad when our flight home left the Caribbean airspace!

Any time travelling is improved no end by the people you are with. In Perth I was fortunate enough to sample some great restaurants with an associate consultant who was working with me. The Caribbean proved to be an enjoyable trip thanks to the directors and staff of that company who ensured that I was fully involved in their nights out and drinking sessions; although I was very much a light weight within a bunch of Irish guys who were living away from home.

2008 saw my first trip to the Middle East; Dubai to be specific. Unfortunately during that visit I was spoiled as I stayed at the five star Hilton Dubai Creek Hotel; look it up it is every bit as wonderful as it appears. There were a number of guys working away from home during that trip and so I was shown the famous and less well known sites of the city. It was a very interesting trip and one that I enjoyed very much. The accommodation for my next visit was not anywhere near as pleasant which tarnished by view somewhat and I was extremely pleased when that trip came to an end.

Although no overseas travel, 2010 saw one of my busiest periods when I was implementing projects in England, Scotland and Northern Island all at the same time. There were days that started and finished on a plane as it was constant travel between the countries.

There was a gap of a few years before we won another overseas project, this time in Abu Dhabi. This involved the implementation of project accounting for the contractor building the new Al Mafraq Hospital. As I was now the principle consultant for the accounting products I found myself on a plane heading to a part of the world I had never before been. Accommodation was a hotel just next to the Yaz Marina F1 Circuit in Abu Dhabi, very near Ferrari World and, it still seems odd to say, Ikea!

The quality of accommodation and facilities provided are incredibly important on overseas trips, particularly when they are extended over two or three weeks. On Yaz Island it was impossible to find fault. We stayed in the cheapest hotel; a Premier Inn in the UK, but oh so much better. The staff and service were as good as any I had encountered before, they couldn’t do enough to help. By our hotel were four or five others which meant that we had a good choice of restaurants  and bars providing lots of options regardless of the length of stay.

This year has seen me return to international travel, again in the Middle East. A design meeting in Bahrain; design, training and major data manipulation work in Qatar; design and implementation work based in our office in Dubai.

I have lost count of the number of trips but it must be close to one a month for the past six months or so. By the time this current trip comes to an end I would have spent 4 of the past 5 weeks overseas and by the time I break for the holiday it will be more than 5 of the last 6 weeks away from home. I enjoy the travelling but can truthfully say I am looking forward to putting my feet up in front of my log fire come Christmas.

Generally the travelling is not a problem but I have noticed in the past few days the time difference, Dubai is four hours ahead of the UK, is finally affecting me. That coupled with the very long hours I have been working, I find myself struggling during the middle of the day and then wide awake in the middle of the night!

Next year may see more trips to the Middle East when new projects are secured, plus a possible stint down under working on a highways project in Sydney. Only time will tell but I am looking forward to a few more stamps in my passport.

But for now I will close. It is 9.30pm here in Dubai as I sit outside the Business Central Towers in Media City finishing my Costa cappuccino enjoying the “fresh” air and the warm temperatures. Tomorrow is my last day here followed by a midnight start to my journey home.

Working abroad is always a pleasure!!??