27 December, 2014

The optimism of the young and the cynicism of the middle-aged

When I was out and about the other day I overheard two young shop assistants discussing their futures. They were talking about the degrees that they were currently studying for and how much they were looking forward to joining the world of work. One of them was hoping to enter the publishing industry, working with art books (her degree was in history of art, I think). “I just love the look and feel of those books,” she said. She sounded so excited, so enthusiastic, so full of energy.

I wonder what happens to us in middle age? Of course, some people still love their jobs, but many (at least those who I know) do not. Work is a means to earning money, to maintaining a certain standard of living, but the day-to-day grind is, well...a grind. I spent many years working in the publishing industry (and still freelance in the field). The work is fine, but certainly not glamorous. The reality is all about the bottom line, rather than the books, trying to get as much done with as little resource as possible. It’s much the same in most industries today, I think.

I look at the up-and-coming generation with awe. My oldest daughter is a case in point. She already, at the age of twelve, knows what she wants to do career-wise. And she is enthusiastic, articulate, confident, as are all her friends. I just don’t remember my own generation possessing such maturity and poise at such a young age. As middle-aged parents we need to be careful not to dampen our children’s spirits, not to tarnish their optimism with our cynicism.

22 December, 2014

My novel FREE on Amazon, 26--30 December

"Travels on a Greyhound Bus" will be free on Amazon from 26 until 30 December inclusive.

This is a lively, fun novel with a serious point -- how romantic relationships change over time and how people react when those relationships come under pressure. It has good independent reviews and 4.6 stars on Amazon.

You can download "Travels on a Greyhound Bus" at Amazon UK and Amazon.com.

The blurb follows below:

People change. Relationships evolve. But sometimes by too much...

Hip students Araminta Stewart and Giles Richmond meet entirely by chance when travelling around the USA by Greyhound Bus. They hit it off. Some twenty years later, they are married with three children and have reached a crisis point in their relationship.

Araminta thought she knew what she wanted all those years ago. But now she’s got it, is she really happy? Or could there be more to life than this?
Told from Araminta’s point of view, "Travels on a Greyhound Bus" follows the couple as they navigate these two very different periods in their lives. While their early relationship flourishes, their later relationship appears to be disintegrating.

Faced with disappointment, frustration and the biggest challenge to their marriage yet, the question is: will Araminta and Giles’ relationship survive the journey of a lifetime?

13 December, 2014

Christmas postage bankruptcy

There has been quite a bit in the news recently about Royal Mail and Amazon. Specifically, the complaint that by setting up its own parcel delivery service and so removing (some) of its custom from Royal Mail, Amazon is cherry picking the lucrative part of Royal Mail’s service, leaving Royal Mail with the much-less-lucrative rural delivery market.

I have been wrapping and sending off Christmas gifts and cards over the past few days. Last week, I took two parcels (one national and one international) and one card (international) to the Post Office. The total price for sending these three items was in excess of £40! I was astonished—the cost of delivery was almost more than the cost of the gifts themselves. My 2kg parcel to Southern Ireland cost over £26 (via so-called globaleconomy!!); my (almost) 3kg parcel to Scotland cost over £12; and my letter-sized card to Italy cost 90 pence. And the lady behind the counter assured me that this was via the cheapest services available. She was right—I checked online when I got home.

I am sure that Royal Mail would provide me with many reasons for the enormous cost of delivering my items. But the bottom line is that it is just too expensive for the consumer. I won’t be using Royal Mail to send my Christmas gifts next year because I can’t afford it! I will have to explore alternative options. And, yes, this may well include getting my gifts sent direct to my family by Amazon using, I assume, Amazon’s own parcel delivery service.

I don’t know anything about the ins and outs of parcel delivery and the associated cost to the delivery company. However, based on my personal experience, I can understand why Amazon has chosen to set up its own company rather than using Royal Mail. In the end, if there’s a much cheaper and equally reliable alternative, any sane person would take the cheaper option. And as for competition and cherry picking parts of the market...well, that’s how capitalism works. If someone can provide an equivalent service cheaper, then they are likely to gain custom. Similarly, if you are a privatised company, you can’t just expect to rely on people’s goodwill if you don’t provide them with value for money.

I wonder how Royal Mail survived prior to the advent and growth of Amazon? Not easily, if my memory serves me correctly, which, I suppose, is the problem.

06 December, 2014


We went to see the Paddington film last weekend. I really wanted to go as I remember very fondly watching Paddington on TV after school back in the 1970s. I also love the dry, oh-so-British understated humour that Paddington delivers. And it is all just so improbable, a bear from darkest Peru who is quintessentially English. I love it.

The film was certainly good, but not much like the old TV series. For a start, the film fell into the adventure genre. It didn't just bumble gently along, rather it was full-throttle action for much of the ninety minutes. But maybe that’s how it has to be in order to hold the audience's attention for that length of time. And it was perfect, of course, all computer graphics and no flaws. I rather missed the cardboard sets and pencil drawings of old, but I don’t suppose that would impress an audience nowadays. It really is just my nostalgia kicking into play. There was quite a bit of humour in the film, but it didn't take the form of Paddington being ironic (he was actually quite naive), rather it was largely situational, with a number of amusing references to other blockbuster films, presumably to keep the adult viewers on board.

It sounds like I'm being negative about Paddington, but I'm not. I really enjoyed the film; it was very nicely done—but it just wasn't quite how I had expected it might be. My kids really enjoyed it too, so I’d definitely recommend Paddington as a good, fun family outing. But when you get home, fire up your computer and watch a couple of the old TV episodes on YouTube. You may just find yourself addicted.