Archive for August, 2010

My accumulated management wisdom


My management philosophy has three elements.  Time management, quality management and ethics.  The first came from JTO who met someone who had been running a time management course.  She asked what the secret was and he said that if he told her she wasn’t to tell people as he would lose his lucrative living running three or four day courses on the subject but that time management could be boiled down to three words, “Do it now.”  The second came from a senior officer at Reading Borough Council, we were joking about how at the time quality management was all the rage and she said that quality was get it right first time.  Finally, the last element also comes via JTO from Bob Dylan who sang in ‘You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go’ off ‘Blood on the Tracks’;

I’ve been shooting in the dark too long

When something not right it’s wrong.”

So, my accumulated management wisdom is:

  • Do it now,
  • Get it right first time,
  • When something’s not right it’s wrong.

And you get that for free and without having to attend a residential course to learn it.

Crowds throng to shopping centre – sorry we’re closed


Yesterday, with JTO, I went to the local multiscreen and saw SALT.  A colleague of hers had said it was enjoyable tosh.  I think it was an over-exaggeration, it was tosh.  Walking to and from the cinema I was reminded that I had not seen the Summer display in the basin that was less than well reviewed by An Englishman in Strasbourg and would be getting its final display that night.

The picture above shows some of the facilities used in the 20 minute light show.  JTO had seen the show a few weeks before and had enjoyed it.  Then as now the nearby shopping centre, Rivetoile, was closed.  In his review An Englishman said that he believed the display had been moved from  central Strasbourg to here , “with the aim of getting punters familiar with the neighbourhood that includes the struggling Rivetoile shopping centre”

The shopping centre is on the left of the above picture although from the lack of people and activity you would be excused for thinking it was just a picture of some flats.  A picture does not always tell the whole story, and here’s another:

One of the restaurants open and being visited, but why at 16:00 on a Sunday afternoon was it only MacDo’s that was open?  Entertainment had been laid on and people were coming to them:

The cinema is the big green building in the back and MacDo’s is to my back when I took this.  The law has been changed in France to allow shops to open on Sunday so Rivetoile could make itself a ‘leisure and shopping destination’ on Sundays by opening up.  People would come from miles and the shops and restaurants would be packed.  I’m not holding my breath for it though.

Match report


I don’t know if I am a bringer of bad luck.  It can’t be true all the time.  I have hope that Manchester City seem to have a good season in front of them.  Lancashire don’t and will have to settle for mid-table obscurity again.  England were awful this Summer in South Africa.  So of my obsessions there is Le Racing.  Perhaps in the fact that the two seasons I’ve followed them they have gone from the 1st Division in France via the 2nd Division to start this season in the National, or 3rd division might be some kind of message that my support is not welcome, a bad omen.  But then there is always the fact the club are known as the OM of the East.  Another club who do not achieve what they could because of off the pitch shenanigans and instability.  So, back to the second this season?  Well not if what I saw yesterday is anything to go by.  I had been equivocal about going to the match then I got a text from a friend who was on their way and after fifteen minutes further equivocating I got on my bike and in fifteen minutes we met and I then got my ticket.  Well, the match was no great shakes.  Le Racing missed a number of chances including two wonderful crosses met by air-kicks.  The third consecutive draw against well placed opposition.  As the new manager says the players need time to get used to playing with each other.  That’s true.  There were only two players yesterday left from the team who went down earlier this year, and one was the reserve keeper who hardly ever played but is now the No. 1.  I’m hopeful that we’ll not follow the previous path of being high placed at the end of September followed by descent and then a relegation scrap in the Spring which is lost.

The picture shows the crowd with focus on the Ultra Boys, or Kop, corner.  They were in good voice and sang for most of the match.  I was sat next to a group of middle-aged Alsatian men who talked through most of the match in Alsatian – so, if people tell you it’s a dying language don’t believe them.  Perhaps there is hope to be had from the fact we’re unbeaten for the first three games – a foundation on which to build.

Down our street


Well, next door actually.  Earlier this year they started work on the building next door.  One day towards the end of June I returned home to find the pavement blocked by a concrete mixer feeding cement into a machine pumping concrete into the basement of the building next door.  There have been a number of builders vans parked on the pavement outside the building and their number has been so legion that they’ve often blocked our door and stretched on down the street.  As you can see from the picture this work is being carried out by our local council, Strasbourg Urban Council, to renew a block of 13 flats and you can also see there is a long list of local companies taking part in the work.  I did not know the building was or had become owned by the Council or that they were renovating them to provide homes.  I know from the glossy magazine we get regularly that they are working to provide homes for lots of Strasbourg people and there are regular articles on the work in hand and details of the number of completed homes and pictures.  So, maybe next time there will be a picture of the building next to mine in it and information about what they did to the building.

The balcony next door has traditionally been full of flowers with window boxes and flower and tomato plants on the floor and this year we’ve had this to look at.  So, I’m looking forward to new neighbours bringing back some life and colour.  I hope they don’t mind living next door to JTO‘s compost which only occasionally smells as the previous neighbours were not very happy with it.  It is wonderful for the plants and reduces our waste massively.

I wasn’t going to add a musical number for this piece but idly googling our street came up with this.  I doubt James Bond lives down our street, I expect I wouldn’t know if he did, and I doubt he will get one of the renovated flats either.  I don’t think much of the band but liked the backdrop and the spoken part at the end, anyone who knows me will understand why, and the use of uh-oh for o-o before the 7.  Have a good weekend:

The Cellist of Sarajevo


Despite my worst ever bout of Tendinitis (wiki) coming to a head and the relentless cold and snow the visit to Sarajevo in March is one of my most memorable visits to a European capital for sometime.  As I posted here it caught my imagination for its part in European history of the previous century.  As did the story of a place that called itself the Jerusalem of Europe.  It is hard to believe that the city that I visited, and included pictures in the above posts from, is the same as that suffering the widespread and daily destruction in the book.  Yet it is.

As it says in the Afterward to the book, “the Siege of Sarajevo was the longest city siege in the history of modern warfare lasting from 5th April 1992 to 29th February 1996.  The UN estimates that roughly 10,000 people were killed and 56,000 wounded.  An average of 329 shells hit the city each day with a high on 22nd July 1993 when 3,777 hit it.  23% of all buildings were seriously damaged and a further 64% had some damage.”

This is the background to the story which features the lives of three people living amongst the siege.  None of them are the cellist who we learn really existed and did do what the book says he did, and more that it doesn’t say.  It is the powerful story of three people trying to get on with their lives amongst a siege.  The daily trials that make up everyday life; getting water, crossing a junction, and getting bread.

Thanks to the visit this year I was able to picture the places written about and the journeys made by the characters and able to contrast them with walking the same streets and bridges now, seeing the same buildings having been reconstructed that are written about being destroyed.  It is a powerful enough story about the impact upon ordinary, every-day, individual life of trying to live amongst a siege but this additional aspect of knowing personally the difference gave the story an almost film like aspect for me.

In particular, whilst there I frequently looked up to the hills around Sarajevo where the people who wanted to kill the people down below would have been and you could see how, because of the layout of the city in a river valley with steep hills or mountains around it, easy it was to imagine being caught there  and how it was for the people on the hillsides and mountains like the saying goes, shooting fish in a barrel.  And then to wonder about being those fish in that barrel.  This book gives some idea of what that was like.

One question asked in the book is why survive, why fight so hard, why put up with the daily battle to go on?  One answer is not to let them win, the men in the hills who are shelling and shooting you.  Another is to be there when it has finished, to be part of rebuilding your city, the city you could have left but didn’t.  Something else that struck a chord having been back and seen the work to date rebuilding the city.

Unfortunately it will not be possible for me to go everywhere written about in subsequent books I read so I will not be able to test it, but I think it is a testament to the quality of the writing that you would be able to follow what the different characters have to do everyday without having been there.  Read it.

I can hear the grass grow


This is my second week back in Strasbourg from the UK where I worked for six weeks and spent some days with my parents before that.  Before leaving I worked an intensive couple of weeks at the same place I have been working since my return.  The stop before mine on the tram is Lycée Couffignal which is named after the school of the same name the stop is next to.  Work has been taking place at the school to provide a new gate and entrance and a running track, basketball court and football pitch have all been developed in a large area in front of the school buildings.  Before leaving the entrance seemed to be complete and tarmac laid for the basketball court and the running track.  Not much was happening with the football pitch apart from the goals.  Imagine my surprise the first morning when there was so much grass it was difficult to see the far goalposts:

The large number of sunny days in July and the downpours in August have really sped the growth of the grass, helped by the absence on holiday of the men who would cut the grass no doubt.  The title for this post is from a song again, this time the Move:

Beware of the flowers, Cos I’m sure they’re gonna get you yeah


I posted previously on the blog I had before, which died as a result of the failure of the IT at the place that hosted it, hence I now have my blog hosted by a large international company who are going to have in place the means to ensure there are sufficient back-ups and money that the blog will not die as a result of actions by others than me, about the ubiquity of Geraniums in Alsace, though that site and what was told to me whilst on a walk in the Vosges suggests that actually the flowers I see all around me are in actual fact Pelargoniums.  Anyway they’re everywhere.  As this picture of the building opposite my home shows.  I like the way they match the fire hydrant.

The title for the post comes from the wonderful John Otway,(wiki) who I saw a number of times including at his ‘home’ venue the Nags Head in High Wycombe:

In the Country


Yesterday, with JTO, I went for lunch with some friends who live at a village called DorlisheimLike many villages in Alsace it is easy to get to by train in just half an hour from Strasbourg and, after a short walk, we were sat in a wonderful garden talking eating and imbibing the occasional drink.  Tomorrow the village has a fete de Mirabelle and our walk from the station took us past the yard of the house next door where this float was being made out of dahlias for the parade the following day, today.  We spent a nice afternoon together then went to a nearby village to look around, Rosheim.  From the 14th to 17th centuries, Rosheim was an Imperial City of the Holy Roman Empire, and founded the Décapole confederation with nine other Alsatian Imperial Cities in 1354.  Like the other Decapolitan cities, it was awarded to France by the Peace of Westphalia and finally lost its independence under the Treaties of Nijmegen.  ONe of the first things we saw after stopping was the oldest boulangerie in France, more than 400 years old, as seen in the picture on the right.  It had some very nice cake in the window.(I don’t know who the chap is looking at the camera on the right.)  We then went inside the marvellous Romanesque church, St Peter and Paul, built by the Hohenstaufen dynasty between 1132 and 1190.  The external decorations are striking, in particular the Southern side portal, the decoration of the apse of which the central window is framed by the symbols of the four evangelists and on the corners of the main façade, four lions devouring a man.  The beasts represent sin attacking man and above them on the highest corner of the roof is an Eagle representing salvation.(Which can be seen clearer in the picture below)  The inside is very sober which I think gives it more power than if every inch was decorated as in say an orthodox church.  This also meant that the coloured light from the stained glass windows was displayed on the walls.  Also displayed on the walls of the church was the work of Aymery and Nathalie Rolland-Huckel.  Paintings by Aymery and jewellery,  sculptures and wall-hangings in lacquer and china with the theme “song of songs”.  The sober inside is softened by the alternation of square pillars and columns.  The sacristy from the beginning of the 12th Century was built on top of the choir of the former church which was burnt down.  Nearer the front of the church the pillar featured a carving of more than 20 faces, each with a different expression, said to be the monks who worshipped at the church at the time it was being built.  We looked into the building next to the church, slap bang in the centre of the village which was not only empty but was in some parts derelict and had trees growing inside it.  It surprised us that in such a central position, such an imposing and large building had been allowed to fall into wrack and ruin.    Rosheim was fortified for the first time in the 12th century  and refortified in the fifteenth century.  Of these walls three fortified gates remain.  On the main square stands the 18th century town hall, the Zittgloeckelturm (clock tower) and a very beautiful renaissance well.  The clock tower, which is also one of the gates, and the well can be seen on the left.  Just out through the gate there is a 12th century mason païenne (pagan house) which is the oldest residential building in Alsace.  We drove past it but didn’t have time to stop and look at it as time was getting on and we had to get back to Strasbourg to do our shopping for the weekend. (The shops being shut on Sunday it is necessary to make sure you have everything you need for the weekend before they close on Saturday.  This is something that was a culture shock on moving from Brixton where we did things just in time, buying the food etc. for the Sunday meal on the day itself.)  On the way out in the train I had been trying to post a video to Facebook to celebrate out visit but failed to do so.  Its posted here instead.  The janggly guitars of the 80’s pop sounds of the The Farmers Boys doing a cover of Sir Cliff and the Shads. ‘In the Country’.  Enjoy, I’m off for my Sunday Cremant:

Everyone’s gone to the moon


In the three years I’ve lived in Strasbourg two of them I have been working elsewhere in August.  The other I was not working in August so I didn’t spend much time travelling around Strasbourg.  So, this is the first year I have been present in Strasbourg for more than half the month and worked here.  I returned from six weeks work in the UK on Sunday and started working with the Eurocorps (history) on this Monday morning.  It has been really interesting work and might be something I come back to talk about in the future.

I knew that France essentially shut down for the holidays, that people were either a Julyist or an Augustist, going away for either the month of July or August.  The news at the beginning of July is about the traffic chaos of everyone going away, then you have the double chaos at the end of the July/beginning of August as you have the Julyists going home and the Augustists going away and then then more chaos at the end of August as they all go home.  The lack of people  as they’re on holiday, therefore the lack of work in France is why I have taken a contract in the UK the last three years.  However, the pay was so much better this year than last that I was able to return home after 6 weeks rather than the previous 8.  Even better, the arrival of new staff at Eurocorps meant I had work to come back to.

The picture above was taken at the centre of the Strasbourg tram network, the Homme de Fer Station just before 8 in the morning.  A tram is just coming in so usually the station would be chock full of people waiting to get on it.  At the same time there would be people from up to three different free sheets handing out their paper – there seem to be no free papers in August, do people who do not go on holiday not need news?  Clearly they don’t as I have continued to get my morning digest of news from one free paper.  Maybe the problem is the lack of students to give the paper out to people?  Oh well, “À la rentrée.”

The title of this post, like many of mine comes from a song title.  I had hoped to post the Nina Simone version but it was originally a hit for Jonathan King and his subsequent conviction for paedophilia doesn’t change that.  However, people from Strasbourg haven’t gone to the moon they’ve most likely gone to the South of France, Bordeaux or elsewhere in France:

Men at Work


At one of the places I work there have been building works going on for months.  Asbestos was taken out of the main building, a new reception has been built and an extension is also being built.  This has caused some disruption – last September during work we had to put up with a regular thump as piles were driven in for the foundations of the new building.  For ages new and different, and usually longer, routes to go places had to be found and used.  Only this week we had to move rooms because the noise of drilling made work impossible.  Then I came upon this:

The stepladder leading up to the, almost, celestial light yet access is forbidden.  Only one thing for it:

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