Author Archives: thatconsultantbloke

About thatconsultantbloke

Based in North Wiltshire UK I try to have fun whilst making things happen. I spent almost 40 years climbing the corporate ladder before getting bored with being too far from the action. Now I use my experiences of that time, the good and the bad, to keep the bills paid and have fun helping clients turn strategy into positive results.

Software, its usage and abuse

I have been muttering here about rationalising my blogs. One of features of my last cutback was that I moved my websites into WordPress and merged them into my blogs, but in doing so I lost some of the freedom that I had before.

My myriad websites were all written by me using HTML using Notepad or a similar blank page and then uploading the raw code to the web where it would emerge as pretty pages. In theory using WordPress should be easier, but I find it restrictive and it often does not work in the way that it leads me to believe it should. Perhaps I just need to work with it more.

Forty years ago I was a COBOL programmer writing business software, mostly for financial systems, but rarely seeing the machines that my programmes would run on. Once I was happy with what I had coded on paper I would book time on a data input terminal and key in my code for someone to run for me at a convenient point after which I would, in all probability, get an error report that could be anything from one to far too many pages long. The latter was actually better because it usually meant a single cock-up, or syntax error as we preferred to say, that could be easily fixed.

Soon after I moved to work in Swindon I was presented with an IBM PC. Despite having tried to persuade my employers to buy around 20,000 of these things the year before I had not actually seen one myself at that point and had not worked with BASIC as a language, but the PC came with MS-DOS and MS-BASIC and so I read the books and got to work, knocking up a few simple programmes.

The power of the computer was amazing back then as it began to reach into mainstream business life. I can remember one of the junior managers that I worked with coming back from his weekly quality of service meeting having been savaged over the manually produced figures that he had to present. I wrote him a simple routine that allowed him to input his manually produced data and print it off on piano lined paper. He breezed through his weekly meetings thereafter; the hierarchy believed his numbers because they came off the computer system; they didn’t know how they had got in there – if they came out of the system then they must be true.

One of the arts of programming back in those days was economy. Memory was in short supply and I was used, in my COBOL days, of having about 1K of memory for my programme to run in. That last sentence will have taken more than 1K of memory here with all of the software overheads in the software and I have more memory in the ‘phone in my pocket than we had in our entire network back in my early days in the trade. Edith inch floppies, dustbin lid demountable discs (or disks) were our stock in trade.

By the time that Windows came along memory was less of an issue, but it was treated with distain by people like me. We held the snobbish view that it was in some way cheating, but the reality was that it encroached on our art and perhaps diminished our role as high priests. It was a little academic for me though because I had, but then, moved on from IT and was back in the world of the suits. I even had a one of those new fangled laptops and was getting too grips with Lotus 123.

If my simple input and print programme mentioned above had pulled the wool over eyes a spreadsheet was a huge step forward and you could get away with all sorts of nonsense with those; lies, damned lies and statistics had nothing on a spreadsheet. It was The Emperor’s New Clothes all over again for a time as pie charts and bar graphs bemused all and sundry.

The beauty of software though was that you could, if you specified and designed it right, was that you could produce your performance data as a by-product of doing the job; information for nothing in effect and I loved my suited time in those days as I had the benefit of having worked on both sides of the fence and could communicate exactly what I wanted to the IT mob. It was a golden time for me in my career.

It was going freelance as a business consultant that got me back into programming. When I first wanted a web site to help promote our Florida villa a colleague offered the services of his son who was trying to break into computing. I wrote him a spec for a four page web site and he came back with something that looked great. Until I loaded it onto the server. He had used a package, I think called Dreamweaver, and my hosting package only had room for the first page. Memory problems again and so I bought an HTML book and coded my own site, the raw HTML taking a fraction of the memory.

That was the way that I built all of my web sites thereafter until I decided to rationalise and that’s where w=this post started. Now I need to try and get to grips with WordPress and spend some time reviewing and testing what I have to make sure that I have not right and that everything works before I try and merge things so that I come down from five sites to three.

It will be an interesting, and no doubt, from time to time, frustrating journey, but I will give me something to do over the Winter and I will try and report on progress here as I make it. For now I apologise for any broken links; I am aware that the ones to Amazon are down because of things that they are doing.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Letters to the Editor – the class war

Dear Sir

The class war is really a middle class thing, hence the fact that we have an upper class, a lower class and a plethora of middle classes; upper, lower, not quite upper middle etc. However, that is to keep the pretentious people out of the peasantry where they do not want to be, nor do we peasants want them amongst us for that matter. The upper class certainly don’t want them, so for the middle class the class system is an essential.

It is in the lower orders that resentment flares up, mainly through the politics of envy these day and every day I see in the mire of social media evidence that my Leftie friends are winning this battle. Indeed almost every social media platform shows that the Left in this country has no class whatsoever.

Yours etc

Disgusted of Dorcan

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Man hit by train

It is just a thought, but I have read that headline many times and recently it was there again, this time the gist was that someone on the platform of my local station had been hit by said train. Continue reading

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Roman Swindon

The Roman legacy around this part of the world centres on the town of Cirencester on the crossroads of Ermine Street and the Fosse way. As far as Swindon is concerned there are probably not that many people who associate the road called Ermine Street that runs through the Stratton district of the town with the Romans, but its dead straight line ought to be a bit of a giveaway to anyone with a little knowledge.

These days Ermine Street is no longer the main road up to Ciren, it having been by-passed by a dual carriageway to the East of the town back in the 1970s, the A417/419, commonly called the latter. However that road is partially built over a large Roman settlement called Durocornovium that extended across from what is currently the Eastern edge of Swindon through to the village of Wanborough and straddled Ermine Street.

The industrial area of Swindon know as Dorcan is probably named as a corruption of its Roman forerunner. As the town expands Eastwards much more of the old Roman settlement will be built over for housing and it seems that there is little enthusiasm for celebrating its presence. The town’s council appears to almost wish it had never existed rather that try to add that heritage to the better know one as the home of the Great Western Railway.

It seems that the Saxons scavenged must of the stone from Durcornovium when they built their settlement on Swindon hill, where the Old Town is now and away from the flood plain where the Romans had built. It had been a significant industrial centre for the Romans with iron and pottery works amongst others, but all was abandoned when the Romans swanned off back South to warmer climes in the 5th century.

Swindon is far from the boring town that comedians like to take a swipe at. From where I sit now I can see the profile of a Bronze Age hill fort just outside the town and this is one of several such settlements nearby. The Ridgeway path, an ancient path often described as Britain’s oldest road, runs from the ancient stone circle at Avebury across to Ivinghoe in Buckinghamshire and passing just outside of the town. There is a lot of history in these parts and it is a shame that is largely ignored.

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An ego trip

Blogging is something of an ego trip; I get that and have no issue with it. Whilst I do try to keep my ego in check I know that it can run away with me given the slightest loss of control, but I also know that it is not possible to do the sorts of jobs that I have done without an element of ego being prevalent.

I know that, at times, I have been a pompous prat and that realisation is part of my control mechanism. I can recognise the symptoms and, for the last 33 years, have had a good woman at my side to make sure that I have seen the signs of going over the top. Like most things in life it is about balancing opposing forces.

Over the years since blogging became popular I have had more than a dozen blogs of the go. A few years back I cut all of that back, deleting three blogs and five websites including dropping all of the social media presence around them. It had all got out of hand and my lifestyle was changing as I ceased working overseas. Now the time has come for more rationalisation and I am looking at merging this blog with ThatConsultantBloke.com.

There will be consequences to doing that, not least in terms of audience, and there are various sundry issues like email accounts linked to the blogs (which are also websites in their own right). It may turn out to be impractical, but time marches on, I will be 70 in a few weeks and I need to try and declutter my life a little as other priorities become important. My last two business ventures are being closed down and I will trade on a personal basis when and where I choose to from now on.

This is not the last you will here from the bloke at the back, but my voice may come through a different URL soon, ego permitting. Thanks for stopping by, stay safe and maybe you’ll look in again.

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31 years

When I mentioned to a colleague that my 31st wedding anniversary was coming up I found that she too had been married for 31 years this year. “You get less for murder” she said.

But it is true, the Berkshire Belle and I have been married for 31 years this week, having lived in sin for a couple of years before that. It was a shotgun wedding; the children, four between us, insisted. And we are still here together despite many colleagues claiming that it would be a six week wonder (not only did we work together, I was her boss).

The Registry Office has since been demolished, although that was nothing to do with us and was presumably not an attempt to destroy the record of our union. Just in case though, here is a photo from the occasion. The Wonder of Wokingham looks pleased with her side of the bargain whilst I appear to be examining the small print before signing; well I was a member, by examination, of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply and thus had a professional duty to check any contract before appending my moniker.

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Retirement?

I don’t think so. If I can retain sufficient fitness and faculty to keep working I will. I have ceased most of my businesses now and am just carrying on with the one stream of work, albeit on a part-time basis. That is not to say that I would not take on another piece of work though, just that I am no longer available for things that take me away from home overnight.

Anyone following me closely will notice that some of my business web sites, blogs and social media pages have gone. We no longer have the Florida villa, I am in the process of winding up Gulfhaven Ltd, DriverJohn has ceased trading and is no longer cruising the car shows and antiques fairs.

Covid had played a part in this because so much of what I was doing involved travel and personal contact, but there is also an element of it all becoming too much like hard work. The sale of the American vacation home five months before Covid began to bubble in China looks like a piece of strategic genius, but the reality is much more mundane in that it had always been a money pit, but after 17 years we had tired of it and when Wells Fargo sold our mortgage on to another company it gave us the excuse to just move on.

Gulfhaven had always had UK based clients, but in recent years most of its work had come from overseas and had seen me working in Thailand, Eire, Columbia, Libya and twice in China. All good fun and I feel privileged to have done it, but that time away from home was not something that I enjoyed. Covid shut down business consultancy in the form that Gulfhaven did it anyway. The adult education work became a pain in the arse through bureaucracy and a trend towards people being happier to study via on-line resources took away attendees so that work died.

As DriverJohn I traded though Antiques Centres and on-line, but a lot of that business came through events and auctions all of which dried up during lockdown and the hiatus found me doing other things with my time. I found that I enjoyed that more and so the trading has ceased. I do miss it to some degree because it was primal stuff; I made money using my wits and personality (or didn’t), but overall I am happier without the hassle. TV shows like Bargain Hunt have spoiled the fun in any case, but I can’t say any more about that.

So thinks are slimming down and, at some point, I shall have to look at slimming down some more, but I am still open to something interesting and will still do odd bits and pieces to supplement the paid work that I am about to enter into my seventh year of. Tempus fugit, and although I don’t have too much left now I have no intention of retiring any time soon.

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Letters to the editor – driver shortages

Sir

Those or the Remainer persuasion are claiming that our departure from the EU has caused a shortage of lorry drivers, but they are missing a trick: They fail to note that it has also caused the pan-European shortage of drivers and the same problem in North America. Surely they need to aportion credit where credit is due?

Or is it that there is a shortage of truckers across the globe and our escape from the totalitarian regime has nothing to do with it?

I think that we should be told.

Yours etc

Disgusted of Dorcan

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Thinking Swindon

This time of year has a number of important dates for me, but one that I often overlook is that it was 37 years ago this month that I moved to Swindon. Since then I have lived at two addresses in the town and, for a year, one in Chiseldon so I have spent more than half my life in and around the town. I seem to have put down roots here, especially if I tell you that I have lived in this house for 32 years.

Swindon was part of my life for any years following my earliest memories. I was born about 25 miles away and, although we gradually moved further and further away, our crockery at home was always referred to as having be bought at Swindon market as were one or to other things around the home. In fact my mother still had some of that stuff when she died and it ended up in the recycling centre over at Cheney Manor.

As a family we moved East through Berkshire and Buckinghamshire to Surrey and then to Essex. I continued that migration through the latter county after I left home and on a rough reckoning had lived at 14 addresses by the time that I decided to take the advice, “Go West, young man”. But Swindon had crossed my path on various ways over the years.

In 1972 I got a job at Brown Brothers in one of their Essex locations at a time when the head office had just moved out of the Great Eastern Street site in London. The admin functions had all gone to Swindon and there was regular contact with people down here, (the central stores operation had moved to Wolverton, another railway town that was to become a big part of my working life a decade and a bit later).

Towards the end of the seventies the railway involved me briefly with the town. The first was when on a day out to the West the locomotive pulling our train failed and we were stuck at Swindon waiting for a replacement for long enough to mean that my day out was effectively wasted and I ended up going straight back to Essex after grabbing a bite to eat at my destination. The following year I was on my way back on the train from Bristol when we were stopped at a signal shortly after passing under the M4. As we waited I could see the new housing development of Toothill, little knowing that I would own one of those houses about 7 years hence.

So what bought me to Swindon? By 1984 I was living in North East Essex, but working in London. I had a three hour round trip commute and so was gone from home before the children were up and home after they went to bed. My marriage was dying as we became strangers and so I wanted a job nearer home and there was nothing much that I could find locally at that time, but the firm that I worked for were expanding their Swindon operation and so I threw my hat into the ring.

A job offer came through and so I moved down here, staying initially at the Swandown Guest House on Victoria Hill, but then moving in with a colleague until the sale of my old house and the purchase of the new one came through in about the November. We lived in Toothill and I had about a 30 minute ‘bus ride to work on the Outer Circle with an annual season ticket that cost me £99 (a weekly rail season ticket from home to work at my previous address had been £127).

It was to be the move that launched my career and gave me much more besides, but initially I felt that I had made a dreadful mistake. As is often the case in business the project that I was due to work on was running late and I had little to do. My first two or three weeks were a round of induction sessions and introductions to people in various departments that I would have to work with, most of whom were really too busy to spare me the time. They had their own language of acronyms and such that baffled me and the organisation’s IT department, the London end of which I had just moved out of, seemed to resent me as a deserter of the cause.

One of the only joys that I had was exploring the industrial heritage of the town after work and one one of those walks I happened to look up at the right moment to see Concorde heading out towards the Atlantic, hearing it seconds later. The evening Concorde became my talisman in those lonely days before the family moved down to join me.

Things got better though. We had a bigger house here and we settled in. The children made new friends and I got my first promotion which eased things financially for us. We exchanged our old banger for a relatively new second hand car and started to have a annual holiday. Life was not too bad; West Swindon was not a bad place to live with the Link Centre within walking distance, the big Carrefour supermarket (now ASDA) as almost our corner shop and plenty of ‘buses to get us into and out of what was then a decent town centre. Swindon was a good place to live in and you could often spend most of a Saturday in town.

As the town spread West and North the council seemed to lose the plot. The genius of the fifties and sixties in reinventing the town faded and somehow it all went wrong. It’s odd, because it is thriving town with plenty of employment and new opportunities coming in regularly, yet the town centre has been allowed to decline to a point where it is hard to see how we can ever get it back. Forward Swindon was a catastrophic failure and odd projects have been allowed to proceed with no apparent cohesive plan while the urban sprawl continues into what was, when I moved here, sacred green belt land.

I do appreciate an element of hypocrisy on my part; all three of my Swindon area homes have been built on what was, fifty or so years ago, open fields. It’s what happens and we have to accept it. The population has been allowed to grow out of control and people have a tendency to breed. All off these people want homes and there are not enough to go around so we either have to cull the population or build more houses; guess which one will happen. High-rise is acknowledged to be unpopular for all sorts of reasons and so more of the fields will have to go. At least here we are using a reasonable amount of brownfield space too, but the spacious developments like to one that I live in, built in the 1970s, are a thing of the past.

Times change and the world now is not the same as when I moved here. There is no sense of community, but, from my perspective, there hasn’t been one at any of the places I had lived at down here. We have lost the vibrancy of the town centre though. Out of town superstores, shopping centres and strip malls have taken care of that in the same way as they have in most American towns; why pay to park in town when you can park for free around the edges and the shops there are better?

I still live and work here though, and am happy enough to stay. Seventy is creeping closer and I have no idea how many more years I have on this planet, but I see little likelihood that I will move anywhere else now. The town has been good to me; my career exploded after I moved here, I met the love of my life with whom I have shared 32 happy years now and I am very grateful that things conspired to bring me here.

All in all Swindon is OK. You can get to other parts of the country easily from here, some of the most beautiful countryside is a few minutes drive away and the place keeps growing so there are opportunities for those who live here and for their children. Sure there are negatives, but there are more positives. Forward Swindon may be a thoroughly discredited phrase now, but maybe Go Swindon will do instead.

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Writer’s Block

I appreciate that this blog has been neglected for quite a while. It is not my only blog and they have all lacked content lately.

There was a time when my business travels left me with time to both think and write. Those days are gone, at least for now, and my daily commute is a ten minute drive so these is no scope for my scribbling. At home there are too many distractions.

I have had the block before, even in the days when I had a deadline for a monthly feature of around 1700 words. Somehow something would flow from brain to fingers to keyboard and on to the cloud for my editor to review, even if I did often have to stare at a blank screen for several daily sessions until the eleventh hour. This time, with only self-imposed deadlines, I have been pretty sterile for several weeks.

The problem is not a lack of ideas. I use the Notes app to capture random thoughts and also record audio clips where I can. There is a wealth of stuff to prompt me, but putting it into sentences and paragraphs that I am happy to publish is another question.

I will get past it. This is evidence that I have moved on enough to get something happening, so, as always, watch this space.

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