The Author

This is page 9 of my diary archives. Other diary entries can be found here, Page 18, Page 17, Page 16, Page 15, Page 14, Page 13, Page 12, Page 11, Page 10, Page 8, Page 7, Page 6, Page 5, Page 4, Page 3, Page 2 and Page 1, (oldest entry).


Ploy will be back on 7th February, less than three weeks away now. I will probably have to travel to California to work with a customer next week so the time should go quickly. I can't say how much I have missed her, especially for the quiet confidence she brings.

It must be my age but I have far more doubts over running my own company this time than I did before and I need Ploy to temper them. Alone they can grow disproportionately, nag away at me and actually stop me doing work. I had a problem with one aspect of the design for my major customer. I had nearly given up, every day I just seemed to be hitting my head against a brick wall. I read all my technical books, looked on-line, but could find nothing to help me. I was really beginning to doubt whether I could really do this. Before this every problem I took on I managed to solve, I had never had anything like this.

And then one day I just tried something without rationale, just for the sake of it, and it all burst into life. To say a weight was lifted from from me was to put it mildly. Suddenly everything was possible again. It was a useful warning sign though, taking on too many custom designs which I had told myself I wouldn't do. Little tweaks, of course that is to be expected, but some of these changes are large, and some, clearly, are not very straightforward.

The BBC Research department, that I so wanted to join when I was young, (they told me they choose the people, I could not apply), used to take choice graduates straight from university, and I was told, having drained them dry, sent them out to pasture once they reached thirty. I am not sure how true that was but I certainly had a clear demonstration of my own shortcomings over the last few weeks. So maybe I can't do this in the way I used to before. I certainly have to be more careful accepting anything that is offered.

So aside from battling this problem the last few weeks have just been shovelling snow and working. I did take a couple of days last weekend to just relax and actually do some work on the house for the first time in months. Neither was planned, it just happened that way, but the break was very welcome. It gave me a chance to reflect on what we have done and I was glad to say the reflection had no doubts associated with it. The work has been much harder than I expected, there has been little time to plan, it has just been a case of fulfilling the orders. The money has been a little tight, I am certainly grateful for the overdraft, and I have just got hit for a extra tax payment for 2007; these things can easily upset any plans. I also have to fork out for the permanent residency application, another $1000 - obviously my 46% tax contribution was too miserly - but it does appear we have provisional acceptance, subject to police clearance and medicals, which is another worry off my mind.

So things are not so bad. By March we should have completed the two big orders and things might have settled more into a routine. We should have managed to put a little money in the bank by then as well. Maybe there has been less chance to enjoy my freedom than I expected, those spontaneous long weekends have definitely been absent, but then Ploy is not here anyway. By the time she returns maybe I will be more on top of things and able to spend more time with her, on the house repairs and finally putting that book together. But the important thing is that I have taken that step, no stupid meetings to endure, no stupid managers to have to explain things to, no frustrating company meetings where you powerlessly watch decisions being announced that can only have been picked randomly out of that suggestions box entitled, 'stupid things to do that are guaranteed to make things worse'.

And by March we should start to see the first signs of spring, the icicles seen from our dining room window should have gone. So there is something to plan and aim for. As long as I don't find another seemingly impossible problem to solve. I am too old for that now.


Soup Kitchen

Something needed to be done.

I have a sedentary life now, sitting behind a computer every day with my only exercise being a walk to the kitchen to get a coffee. In the evenings it seems almost inevitable that a bottle of wine is opened, and finished, especially now Ploy is not here. And if I have that obesity gene it didn't come from either of my parents although my maternal grandmother was a bit podgy.

But I saw an advert for a treadmill at Canadian Tire (why do the Americans insist on replacing the 'y' with an 'i': from Wikipedia, 'Tire is an older spelling than tyre, but both were used in the 15th and 16th centuries for a metal tire; tire became the settled spelling in the 17th century. In the UK, tyre was revived in the 19th century for pneumatic tyres, possibly because it was used in some patent documents, though many continued to use tire for the iron variety. The Times newspaper was still using tire as late as 1905.'). $400, ready to use from the box.

I know I will never join a gym and even if I did I would go for a week or two and then just pay that exorbitant monthly fee to occasionally sit in the sauna but do nothing else. I would actually make the effort to go swimming but I am too selfish. Either the pool is a free for all and you can't actually swim properly at all in which case I end up treading water by the side or it is 'adult lane swimming' where there is always the bulbous person you cannot get past or the show-off who insists of creating a small tsunami by trying to do butterfly, in which case I end up treading water by the side. And both the pool and gym mean dressing up against the cold to go outside, (although if I am out of wine that doesn't seem so much of an issue).

So I went and bought a treadmill, spent an hour assembling it, (I didn't buy the 'use straight from the box' one), and it now stands proudly in our empty, but finished, basement room. So anytime I want a break I can go and spend 20 minutes walking nowhere and watching the snow outside the window.

But I wasn't finished yet. I made myself a big pot of beef and vegetable soup which I can use for my dinners all this week, (I used the beef to make the stock for the soup so it seemed a waste to not actually pull the meat off the bone and put it in the soup). I am now the heaviest I have ever been, although I guess not really fat, but it would be nice to lose 10kg or so and I am not going to do it sitting on my butt. So a few minutes a day on the treadmill, no chocolate peanuts or shortbread biscuits for a while, no whole bottle of wine a night routine, a new healthy me.

Today is the second day of my new regime and so far I am keeping to my plan, even though when I weighed myself this morning I was still the same. It must be water retention.

In the light of Marcus' reticence to write about the tragedy continually unfolding in Gaza, I think this article from the Independent beautifully sums up my feelings about it.

'The gap between the might of Israel's F-16 bombers and Apache helicopters, and the Palestinians' catapulty thing is so ridiculous that to try and portray the situation as between two equal sides requires the imagination of a children's story writer. The reporter on News at Ten said the rockets "may be ineffective, but they ARE symbolic." So they might not have weapons but they have got symbolism, the canny brutes. It's no wonder the Israeli Air Force had to demolish a few housing estates, otherwise Hamas might have tried to mock Israel through a performance of expressive dance.'

It is extraordinary that looking behind any recent events of this type the names Bush and Blair continually seem to appear.

And this article by the always eloquent James Lawton also completely aligns with my views on the ridiculous honours system in the UK.

'When George Cohen was asked if he would be averse to accepting an MBE – the lowest rung of the honours system – 34 years after contributing to the supreme achievement of the national sport, the World Cup victory of 1966, he said, "No, not at all, thank you very much." He remained gracious enough when the Downing Street official said how difficult it had been to find him. Nobby Stiles had been good enough to pass on his phone number.'

And lastly, also from the Independent, some quotes from the great and good from 2008.

"He'll be up there with Churchill" – Devoted wife Cherie Blair gives her opinion about how history will judge her husband

"It's not based on any particular data point. We just wanted to choose a really large number" – A US Treasury Department spokeswoman explaining how they settled on $700bn for the first 'bailout' of the economy

Happy New Year everyone.

On Boxing day I went for a drive to the shore of lake Huron. My back was still hurting and I found it painful enough to not be able to concentrate on work. I got out and went for a walk at Goderich; the water by the shore had frozen over and the road along the shore was blocked by snow which meant few people were around, giving an eerie quality to it all. Everywhere was closed so after the walk I just drove home and then went for dinner at a restaurant in Waterloo which was a little disappointing. I shouldn't have been so lazy and should have cooked something myself.

On the Saturday I was feeling better and I did some work in the afternoon, breaking off early to watch an old Columbo movie and cook myself some liver and mashed potatoes, remembering to drink some orange juice so the iron can be absorbed by the body - an instructional legacy of my first wife. I went to bed at 7.30p.m. and slept right through the night. Today I have to get back into the work but I feel up for it now; the enforced break has probably done me some good.

The New Year is just around the corner and for us it is a make or break year; if SingMai is going well by the end of it I think we will be set fair, otherwise we may find ourselves up-ending sticks again. Ploy, judging by all the requests I am getting for documents and information, is kicking up a stir in Thailand. It looks like I will finally get my books and CDs shipped over here although I am dreading what the import duty might be.

Aside from our futures the New Year holds out the promise of a New America with the surprising election of Barack Obama. I wonder if we will see his aims slowly eroded as the industrial giants from oil and gas and banking make their influence told, or shall we really see a new start. As I read of all the deaths in the Gaza strip I do feel something needs to be done for the world's unrest seems to be growing. The economic problems are not going to help either as the fat and greedy become more desperate; they will be putting all the pressure they can on governments around the world to maintain their status quo. The economic crisis is an easy excuse for allowing the number of people in need or food hits the billion mark for the first time in history.

$14B was used to save one million jobs in the car industry for three months; how else could that money have been spent? Given that the managers of the car companies remain the same why is it going to change? Why are these companies, that have been failing for years, supported only by the US consumers who blindly believe in buying American, (and I see that here in Ontario too), given a bail out without even having any plans on how they are going to improve. How can those managers that have brought this situation about be allowed to remain in their posts to oversee the so-called improvements. If they couldn't see it before what blinding revelation has brought about this insight. Why does this all seem strangely familiar to me. Managers have become the cockroaches of the 21st century.

The New Year will also be faced without either Eartha Kitt, (who Orson Welles called 'they most exciting woman on earth'), or Woolworths, the shop-lifters store of choice. Actually Woolies is yet another example of inept management and the store, I believe, with its hundred year history, has a fond place in most British people's hearts. It was hit hard by the move from high street shopping to shopping malls and never really recovered; every year it seemed to rebrand itself and every year its sales slipped. So while the US gave money to prop up the car companies and trillions are used to keep the bank executives in the manner to which they have become accustomed, Woolies is allowed to die.

Can one man change all of this; unfortunately I doubt it. All that will be left in the future is the cockroaches.

It was that last shovel; I didn't need to do it, I had cleared all the paths and driveway but carelessly lifting the full shovel with it too far from my body I felt an immediate twinge in a back muscle. It was not too bad - perhaps legacy of all those recent trips to the chiropractor finally paid off - but it forced me indoors to a hot bath and a generous portion of some muscle relaxant cream I was lucky enough to have.

I forced myself outside, I needed some bread and some wine and then I could batten down the hatches for a couple of weeks. The snow had turned to a sleety rain and the sky was a Yorkshire moor wintry grey. Shoppers were everywhere and it was difficult to park at the supermarket. I bought some tangerines and some bread and blueberry pie and vanilla ice-cream. I stopped off at the wine store and bought a couple of bottles of a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc that I have taken a shine to, and then I drove home, pulled down the garage door, muttered at the offending mound of snow and went indoors and and collapsed on the sofa.

I put the food away and took out previously purchased turkey breast out of the freezer, deciding to have my Christmas dinner that night and to do nothing for the rest of day except let my back muscle relax. Cook from frozen it said so I put some butter and oil, salt and pepper and fresh sage leaves around it and put it in the oven. I watched TV but for the life of me I can't remember what I saw and at 4.p.m I started the mashed potatoes and steamed beans and peas. I even surprised myself with the meal - it has been so long since I had a turkey dinner - and cleared the plate, watched some more TV whilst finishing off the wine and went to bed at about 8p.m. It occurred to me whilst sitting at my lonely dining table that I was doing a passable impression of some Pinteresque character, I was only missing the threadbare cardigan and worn slippers, I have more than enough of the world weary cynicism.

I woke early on Christmas day, read my e-mails and spent the day slumming it. My back was still stiff and painful and by chance I happened upon a channel that was showing all the Star Trek movies back to back. I started with the Wrath of Khan, watched the Search for Spock during which I made myself a turkey sandwich, watched my favourite of the older movies when they have to recover two humpback whales from the 20th century, made myself a quick dinner of the remains of the turkey with salad and french fries, opened my second bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to the accompaniment of The Final Frontier and once that was finished went to bed at 7p.m. just as Kim Cattrall appears as the sexy Vulcan.

And so that was Christmas. Today I am trying to get back into work, my back is still sore but I can get around OK. I have a lot of work to do whilst everyone is on their Christmas break. Our first payment from our big US order is on its way and I have order with the promise of more to come from another US company so barring the twinge in my back I am feeling pretty good about life.

It has been a long time since I spent Christmas alone, I think it was probably eight or nine years ago before I met Ploy. As an only child I always used to enjoy time to myself but with Ploy that has changed. I used to go on long walks along the beach at Portsmouth, go for week long breaks by myself to Edinburgh to get lost in art galleries, or spend hours at a time reading in libraries.

Now Ploy and I spend almost no time apart. Ploy doesn't like turkey, doesn't like the radio which I have on all day listening to the XM radio classical channel, and is not a fan of Star Trek so if she had been here my Christmas would have been very different.

Different but better.

In twenty minutes I have to wake Ploy up and take her to Toronto airport.

Ploy has been worrying about our house in Thailand which for two years has been looked after by neighbours, but two years is a long time in such heat and humidity. All our furniture and belongings is still in the packing cases from when we shipped everything from Singapore. Ploy has been laid off temporarily and it is not likely she will have to work in the near future given the parlous state of the car part manufacturers so I suggested she return and sort everything out. And given my work load at the moment why not go immediately, after all I would only be feeling guilty working all over Christmas whilst feeling I should be taking Ploy out somewhere.

So we found some flights that were slightly affordable and booked them and she flies at 7.a.m this morning and doesn't return until 7th February, our first Christmas apart since we met and the longest we have been apart since we married.

I have only slept about two hours tonight which is par for the course at the moment. Worrying about all the work, worrying about what Ploy was worrying about and worrying about money. We have another order but the delivery is very tight and at the moment everything seems to be conspiring against us. Organising Ploy's trip was a distraction, the PCBs I ordered came in late and then there were problems with them which I still haven't fully fixed and yesterday there was a snow storm which looked like it was going to affect Ploy's flight but I think we should be OK and, certainly around here, the snow ploughs have been busy; part of the reason I haven't slept tonight. The money situation seems to be easing, once Ploy is on her flight I can relax a little and then I just have to find a way to get all this work done, and sleeping would certainly help.

I will certainly have to visit a customer in January for two or three weeks to validate some designs on-site so by the time I return it will be close to when Ploy returns and most of the work backlog should have been cleared. So it is all hands to the pumps from now until the end of January but maybe at that time we might be able to take a little breather.

We took a day off yesterday. I wasn't feeling that great anyway and, encouraged by Ploy, I decided that after all the trauma of the last three or four weeks and the seven day weeks, a day off was probably not such a bad thing.

So we went out for a nice leisurely lunch and then went to the movies to see The Day the Earth Stood Still. The original is in my top fifty movies of all time but reading some reviews of the film, none of which gave it more than 5/10 I didn't hope for too much. But the time passed quickly enough and things others found annoying and inaccurate didn't worry me so much; after all the story is about aliens so some suspension of belief is necessary I think. But I think 4/10 is about as much as I could give it. The whole theme of the alien warming to man's (sic) humanity is lost in this movie. Indeed I spent most of it wishing he would make a start on eradicating mankind with Will Smith's annoying kid. The whole warmth of the relationship between the alien, the single mother and the child as shown in the first movie, is here false as the close mother and son are replaced by a dysfunctional family. And the fact that the dead father was in the army is poignant in the first movie but here confusing - he didn't kill people apparently because he was one of those nice army people that built bridges and wells; that's all right then. I have seen much worse movies though and as it had Keanu Reeves in it, my expectations were not so high to begin with.

I am more into the work routine now as I start my third week of self employment. We have another order which just came out of the blue; a few e-mails and I had an order number being given to me over the phone by a well known US company. However Ploy has been laid off again with no date for a resumption which is a blow. Given the parlous state of the car industry we are thinking of starting her up with her own business. Initially we weren't going to do this until SingMai was more stable but as she doesn't have a job anyway and the start-up costs are low we thought we might as well give it a go.

Every day it seems I hear of the death of someone who I remember from TV or movies when I was young. Last week it was Oliver Postgate whose Ivor the Engine, with that soft Welsh narration, I remember to this day. And also Kathy Staff who as Nora Batty always gave me a smile, even if the program ran on far too long.

Ploy was told by a monk she would never be rich in Thailand and she should leave the country to achieve her dreams so it was always me that was pushing for us to return there and start a business. But we decided against it and chose to stay in Canada. And for anyone that is following the news it is certainly one good decision we have made.

My reasons for not moving there were largely to do withe infra-structure. Put something in the post and there is no guarantee it will get there, the Internet connection can be dodgy, where we live the water pressure drops to unusable in the morning and we have to fill water buckets to have a shower or flush the toilet and the electricity can cut out during even modest rainfall. You can't run a business like that. And now the airport is shut, apparently indefinitely; no exports, no imports, no travelling.

I had some sympathy with the PAD alliance. Regular readers of this blog may know I am no fan of democracy. OK, Obama did win but I have queasy feeling that Ms. Creationist Palin could easily be there in four years time. In Thailand the situation is worse with vote buying the norm and corruption rife. Something has to be done to educate the poor, thereby hopefully improving their chances of raising themselves above the poverty line, and also allowing them to make more informed decisions on the government. If I was starving and someone offered me money to vote for them the decision would be easy. PAD was to bring in a split government, with 70% to be non-elected business leaders and academics. This sounds like a move in the right direction to me, intellectuals who are above party politics should make a fairer and better informed government, better for everyone.

But unfortunately it is not so simple as that. In Thailand the King is the most important person and even modern progressive Thais swear allegiance to him - he is akin to a god; it is presumably the reason the police do not just clear the airports; the Queen has shown an implicit support for PAD by attending the funeral of one the PAD supporters killed in a bomb attack. The King is eighty years old and not in good health. His successor, should it be the prince, will not command the same respect, this could be the end of the monarchy. Thaksin, the previous prime minister, now a criminal on the run having been found guilty of corruption whilst in government, made it clear that he wanted to remove the influence of the monarchy. I think Thaksin saw Singapore as model for Thailand to follow and I think he had the nous to do it. He commanded the respect of the majority of the people, (through clever political strategies like the 30 baht health care scheme which was of huge benefit to the poor of Thailand), and if there was an election today he would win it hands down. The current government, elected as fairly as an election can be held in Thailand, was won by, what is effectively, his old party. The trouble was he was corrupt, but again, if you are poor and benefited personally from his actions, I think I would turn a blind eye to that.

It seems to me the PAD people seem to have missed a real opportunity here. The judiciary, the business leaders and the monarchy support the PAD. The majority of Thais support Thaksin and his proxy government but also are loyal to the King. It seems all PAD have to do is to get the votes of the majority of the Thai people. To do that why do not promise free education for all Thais until 16 years old, or maybe even 18. And they have to cut the deadwood out of the education system. Would not that be a platform for them to legitimately win an election. Should they go the route of the 70:30 split Thailand will ostrasised by the rest of 'free democratic' world; it happened during the year the army run the government after the recent coup. As it stands PAD seems to be a self centered, selfish, protect oneself and to hell with the others, attempt to maintain the monarchy's hold on the country after the death of the King, and a means to prevent Thaksin returning at any costs. But they do not seem to have any political platform beyond that.

The damage done by the actions of PAD are causing irrevocable harm to Thailand. It is not just the holiday makers, but people like me who were considering running a business there, however modest. What big company is going to risk setting up a factory in Thailand.

The airport is still shut today, the police don't seem to want to act given the implicit directive from the King, the army support the King and a threat of another coup is in the air. The new airport was one of Thaksin's projects. He felt Thailand should start to rival Singapore as a hub and like most things Thaksin did, it was a good business decision to the benefit of Thailand tempered by the rumours of the corruption that went on during its building, (including him personally benefiting of course), plus the quality of the construction itself and the questionable practices employed. It epitomises the Thaksin regime. But the alternative is no better where the selfish interests of PAD and their supporters could completely disenfranchise the poor of Thailand, and they are the majority of the people, (and also the farmers that create most of the wealth of Thailand).

If PAD win and manage to put in place a government will they take the opportunity they have to improve the lot of the poor of Thailand which would benefit all of Thailand. I doubt it. What they are offering is as far removed from my dream of a non-elected government of intellectuals, philosophers and scientists as Thaksin's government was. If PAD do win it is a throwback to Medieval days where the monarchy and not the government ruled the country. But after the death of the current King it will be the business leaders who are running the country and to them the poor are merely those that work eighteen hour days in their sweat shops. If PAD win there is a real threat of civil war in Thailand. If they lose we will see Thaksin back there in a blink of an eye.

Neither prospect is particularly appealing.

Growing Up

When I had my first company I was always being told that you have to grow or you stagnate and die. Ploy and I were talking about setting some targets for SingMai on Sunday and to make sure they include some personal targets like making sure we have a holiday or making sure we put aside money to have the kitchen finished, (no more DIY for me, now I am not salaried it is more important I spend my time working for SingMai than tiling a kitchen). We decided to set an arbitrary target, of selling a million dollars of stuff. It is not so unrealistic, in the third year of my first company we sold 330,000 pounds of stuff, which is about $650k and that was 22 years ago so today that is more than a million dollars. The trouble was I believed those idiots that told me we should keep growing. So we bought new premises, much larger than we needed and got fixed into a long term lease, we employed more people and it all started going wrong.

David Suzuki's talks about this on his website. Why does the global economy have to keep growing?

'....economists believe this behemoth can grow forever. Indeed, the measure of how well a government or corporation is doing is its record of economic growth. But our home – the biosphere, or zone of air, water, and land where all life exists – is finite and fixed. It can’t grow. And nothing within such a world can grow indefinitely. In focusing on constant growth, we fail to ask the important questions. What is an economy for? Am I happier with all this stuff? How much is enough?'

A lot of the problems we now face economically, probably most of them, have come through greed. Greed on behalf of the banks and institutions that lend money looking for a fast buck and greed on behalf of those who borrowed the money to pay for over-large houses that they could ill-afford to pay for. And what was it all for? If you have a million in the bank and you know next year you can also make a million then why do you have to make two million the next year. Isn't it better you do something with that money, buy a boat of course and make sure your family are well but then spend time (and money) putting something back. Take a month off and go and do some voluntary work or if you are lazy just write a check for $100k to your favourite charity.

'Driving much of this destructive activity is the economy itself. Years ago, during a heated debate about clear-cutting, a forest-company CEO yelled at me, “Listen, Suzuki: Are tree huggers like you willing to pay to protect those trees? Because if you’re not, they don’t have any value until someone cuts them down!” I was dumbstruck with the realization that in our economic system, he was correct.'

This continuous and unaccountable pursuit of profit does not make us happier. In fact it makes a lot of people distinctly unhappier. On a trivial level it is unbelievably frustrating to work for a large company, as I have done, that boast in the press about their multi-billion dollar profits, yet refuse to pay to have some old essential equipment serviced or insist on charging for the crap coffee machines. On a less trivial level this greed can bring about wholesale destruction of our planet's ecosystem.

Yes a million dollars will do fine and if we do ever get there, I promise we will give something back.





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