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Birmingham Pride 2012

Last year saw my first Birmingham Pride, after having spent seven years living in Manchester and having Manchester Pride on my doorstep. I enjoyed it, but only to a point, as last year I was living out in the sticks of Sutton Coldfield and was not properly able to immerse myself in the event to the degree to which I had become accustomed during my years in Manchester. At the end of it I vowed to myself that I was enjoy Birmingham Pride 2012 much better, having set myself the goal for moving into the city centre in the year that followed.

I achieved that goal five months later, and so this year I was able to deliver on the promise I made myself and I had a Pride much more along the lines of what I am used to, being able to dip in and out of it and be able to quickly and easily return to my home base as needed and use it as a rendezvous point for with my friends. Indeed, I am fortunate enough to actually live on one of the streets that the parade passes down. Although I could have viewed it from my sixth floor balcony I chose not to and instead view it from the roadside with everyone else of course. I was grateful for the handy access to a toilet once it had finished, however.

Enormous Glide banner outside iHost (formerly DV8)

This year I got much more involved. The company I work for, Glide, sponsored the iHost bar. We paid for the events banner on the outside of the building and also branded up the inside of the bar, where some well known DJs from Birmingham and Manchester played classic house all weekend. The bar was constantly busy from morning right through to when the main club opened and beyond. It’s impossible to measure any direct impact on sales or web traffic, and that was never our intention, the whole point of the exercise was brand proliferation and given how much it cost Glide definitely got bang for buck and we received a lot of respect from our industry peers for having got involved.

Outside the “Glide Pride Bar” Pride itself was much like it was last year except for one major difference and that was that this year was the first year that an entrance fee was levied for the “entertainment arenas”. Up until and including last year Birmingham Pride was the largest free music festival in the United Kingdom, but at a tremendous cost to the local businesses who paid for the main stage, the cabaret tent, the dance tent and other entertainment features. The rest of the event was largely funded by various grants, including generous support from Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Police. This was not sustainable, however. Many believed that the venues who put on the entertainment were able to pay for it out of drinks takings, but these takings did not cover the cost, and so it was decided this year that although the Pride event itself would remain free (unlike for example Manchester Pride, where you need a ticket merely to enter the village cordon), there would be a £10 charge for the entertainment to cover the cost of running it.

James makes Jon his honorary boyfriend for the weekend

There was outcry over this from some factions, typically skint students who expect everything for free anyway, so that came as little surprise. I had no problem paying £10 for the weekend (although admittedly Glide paid it for me, I wouldn’t have otherwise hesitated) and I noted that it had the added benefit of dissuading less desirable Pride “guests” who had been known to spoil previous events from coming. As one drag act Baga Chipz put it succinctly, “it keeps the fuckin’ riff-raff out”. I spent most of the weekend in the Village Cabaret Tent as this was the most entertaining and social of the venues. I didn’t care much for the main stage acts. On Saturday I went to Poptastic, a well-established club night run by a friend of mine in Manchester who was running it for the first time ever at Birmingham Pride.

I had proper Pride blues the day after. I always do after Pride, I used to get them when I lived in Manchester and went to Manchester Pride too. It’s always a sign that I’ve had a good weekend. I don’t know if I’ll go to Manchester Pride this year or not. I didn’t go last year and I can’t honestly say I really missed it. If I do go it’ll all be very last minute.

More photos on Facebook.

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Birmingham City Boy

Yes, I am aware that it's another flat above a shop

I’ve moved to Birmingham city centre, ending my 18 month tenure in the nice-but-dull former royal town of Sutton Coldfield. This may seem sudden to everyone but it’s actually something I’ve been wanting to do since moving to the West Midlands and that I have actually been quietly planning for six months or so, which is how long it has taken me to bring it all together for various reasons.

My new one bedroom flat is in Temple House, a popular development on the corner of Temple Street and New Street (the main outdoor shopping street in Birmingham, analogous to Manchester’s Market Street). It’s a 15-20 minute walk to work, which will be reduced by five minutes or so once the company for whom I work has itself moved in the New Year. No longer do I have a total of two and a half hours commuting time each day, which is great, because I get to spend longer at work and at home so everyone wins.

This year even drearier

It’s fabulous being back in the city centre. I always missed it, but now I’m back I realise just how much I missed it. This flat is arguably even more central than the Manchester flat was and there’s always a buzz going on outside, which I can observe from the balcony off the living room, something that only a few apartments in the building have.

Recipients of my Dreary Seasonal Newsletter accompanying my Christmas cards this year will note that I am also using it as a method of informing everyone of my change of address, in case you were wondering why you had not already received such a notification from me. Second class stamps cost 36 pence each these days, you know.

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Mountain biking renaissance

Trek Antelope 830

The only way you can tell it's 19 years old is its lack of technology.

When I was sixteen my parents bought me a new mountain bike as a congratulations present for passing my GCSEs. It’s a Trek Antelope 830, an American design which was, so I’m told by the grease monkeys in Halfords, something of a classic model from the early 1990s. It’s seen little use since I learnt to drive and languished in the car park of the apartment building in Manchester for a full seven years before I moved to Sutton Coldfield, disused and neglected.

I’d been meaning to get it fixed up for some time ever since moving because almost on my doorstep I have the largest urban park in Europe, Sutton Park, and the place is perfect for spending an afternoon biking around. It has roads and bridleways and once you’re bored of those it has hundreds of square miles of terrain to explore. So after having earned a bit of overtime during a busy period at work recently I finally got around to taking it to the local branch of Halfords to get it fixed up. For £160 I secured the following:

  1. New gear shifters.
  2. New saddle and saddle column. The last one “went missing” years ago from the W3 car park.
  3. New rear inner tube. Surprised that it didn’t need both tubes replacing, actually.
  4. Full service, plus another free service in 12 months time.
  5. New cycle helmet.
  6. Front and rear LED lights.
  7. Bicycle pump. They look completely different these days to what they used to.

The original gear shifters were broken and the parts were no longer available. The staff at Halfords remarked on these because they remember when that particular model of shifter first came out as they were apparently one of the first 7×3 shifters. They have been replaced with modern equivalents. This is a shame because it means that the bike is no longer completely original, but they are of course a necessity if I want to actually use it.

So yesterday I took it for its first proper outing to Sutton Park and I had a fabulous time. The bike’s great to ride, despite having a distinct and noticeable lack of modern technology that seems to be ubiquitous on modern bikes, most notably suspension and shock absorbers. As a result it’s a bit of a bone shaker when compared to a modern bike. It also has the old fashioned rim brakes, whereby the brakes are rubber blocks applied to the rim of the wheel, as opposed to the more modern disc brakes, which look like and act on the same principle as car brakes. This means that the bike can be a little tricky to stop quickly in an emergency. However,  I never intend to have it in a situation so extreme that I cannot easily plan my way out of it. I know the bike has limitations compared to a modern equivalent and it’s just a case of taking them into account.

The bike rides fine, just like it used to, except the chain seems to slip quite frequently and it’s difficult to get it onto the third (largest) cog on the front sprocket. Indeed, at one point it failed so miserably to do this that the chain came off and became wrapped around the pedal shaft, which required half an hour with the bike up on end and some very oily hands to work out and sort out. I’m not sure what might be the solution to this. They didn’t replace the chain at Halfords so it may well be the case that it’s just a bit old and needs replacing. I am consulting friends who are more into mountain biking for advice on the matter.

Lessons I have immediately learned from this first expedition are as follows:

  1. Take more than a litre of water for an afternoon. You get thirsty really quickly.
  2. Take a pair or two of those medical rubber gloves. When the chain came off my hands got absolutely covered in oil fixing it and I had no way of getting it off until I reached the bistro where I had my late lunch.
  3. There is barely any mobile signal in Sutton Park and so it’s difficult to use Google Maps. Sutton Park is extremely large and will take some time to learn properly.
  4. Skiing sunglasses make perfectly good cycling glasses and don’t look absurd with a cycling helmet.
  5. Cycling helmets don’t look even a fraction as ridiculous as they used to in the early 1990s.
  6. If I ever become reasonably serious about mountain biking I do think that I might have to consider a new bike at some point as I have a very sore arse today and this would probably have been avoided had the bike had some form of shock absorption technology.

Today my legs are absolutely killing me, as is my arse, but I fully intend to do exactly the same trip next Saturday, weather permitting. Ahead of that, however, I want to by a trip meter of some sort and some sort of attachment to hold my phone onto the handlebars would also be beneficial. Some people have also recommended padded shorts to reduce the arse soreness problem, but I won’t be seen dead in cycling shorts, it would have to be something I can wear underneath normal cargo shorts. I’d also probably do well to get a pair of gloves as I remember mashing my hands up quite significantly when I came off the bike as a teenager.

Cows in Sutton Park

Sutton Park is a nature reserve and boasts much wildlife, including these cows which are free and have the run of the park. They are apparently quite used to being around humans.

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Birmingham Pride 2011

I went to my first ever Birmingham Pride over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend. Last year I didn’t go because I had just moved to the area and was still out of work, so I simply couldn’t afford it, but this year was different and I had an absolutely fabulous time and I’m very glad that I went, even though after so many years of doing Manchester the setting and the people were largely unfamiliar to me.

Birmingham Pride operates under a similar format to Manchester Pride in that there is a parade through the city centre followed by a giant street party in the gay village that lasts several days, although in Birmingham it only lasts for two days instead of of the whole duration of the bank holiday as it does in Manchester. This was a good thing for this year at least because it absolutely plummeted down with rain on the Monday and so it would have been awful.

The other key difference between the two events is the ticket price. Manchester will relieve you of the best part of thirty quid for a wristband for entry into the village (if you don’t know the correct people), but in Birmingham there is no such requirement. It’s free, all weekend, indeed it’s apparently the UK’s largest free music festival. The payoff is that the acts on the main stage aren’t nearly so well known, but that’s fair enough, and frankly for me the pride events aren’t all about the main stage acts. I absolutely love the atmosphere and the noise experience there. Everybody is happy and it’s great. Just wish I had someone really special in my life to share it with.

Birmingham Pride is always early in the year and kicks off the pride season, with Manchester finishing it off on August bank holiday. I don’t like London Pride, it’s utterly up its own arse, so I never bother with it, but I do like Brighton Pride when I’m able to make it down there. That too is free, taking over the whole of Preston Park for a day in a format very similar to what London Pride used to be in the 1990s, before it became so heavily commercialised.

Many thanks to my friend and colleague James, who I spent most of the weekend with. We’ve been promising ourselves for ages a good night/weekend out and pride provided the perfect opportunity.

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PHP Vacancy

We’re hiring for a Software Engineer at work to join our technical team based in Birmingham city centre (Jewellery Quarter). If you’re looking for a challenging PHP role and you think you might fit the bill, please do drop me a line with your current CV. Full job specification below. Please don’t be put off by the crappy website, we’re literally just about to launch its replacement :)

Glide is a rapidly growing energy and telecommunications company specialising in looking after tenants, landlords, letting agents and property investors across the UK. They supply gas, electricity, telephony and broadband services to residential and commercial customers.

About Glide

They believe in hard work in an informal atmosphere that encourages people to express their ideas. They look for talented people who want to work with technology and can tackle problems in a smart and creative way. Their employees enjoy working in a challenging environment that brings out the best in them. Customers and customer service are at the heart of everything they do – their business revolves around their customers.

They have their own in-house development, customer support and sales teams and remain focused on keeping their costs low through automation and keeping customers informed through good communication. As technology evolves, they aim to bring new and improved services to their customers as early as possible.

About The Role

They currently have an opportunity for a full-time senior software engineer, starting immediately, as part of their in-house software team.

The role will focus on developing their bespoke systems. Their systems are written in object-orientated PHP with a SQL database. You will need to be a highly competent programmer  in PHP, SQL, Javascript, AJAX, Smarty templates, Model-View-Controller and in documenting your work. Good familiarity with Ubuntu/Debian based systems is required. Experience with invoicing routines, SVN or accountancy systems would be useful.

The role will involve working on projects to develop existing products, launch new products and services, improve internal customer service systems, update and maintain accountancy systems and invoicing scripts, debugging and diagnosing problems with their existing code base and working closely with their customer service teams. The role also includes integrating their system with multiple third party suppliers, redeveloping customer portals and revamping their website.

You will be enthusiastic about new technology, eager to learn, and will hold a degree in Computer Science or equivalent. You will be capable of managing your own time.

Application Details

The company is a place where everyone can be heard. If you like the sound of this opportunity, they’d love to hear from you. Please direct your communication and correspondence through my team or direct to me. Please view the website at www.glide.uk.com for more background information to assist you with your response.

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Back in the saddle

I  started my new job in Birmingham city centre (specifically, the Jewellery Quarter) on Monday, for Glide Utilities, a firm that sells household utilities (gas, electricity, telephone, broadband and TV licence) as a package to renting house-sharers, passing on a portion of the cost-savings brought about by bulk deals made with suppliers.

As I mentioned in my previous post, instead of paying separate suppliers directly, who will insist that accounts held with them are in one name only, house-sharers all pay a fixed sum every month to Glide who then handle the rest. It makes for easy budgeting and reduces household administration which can otherwise be a bit bewildering to people who are living separately from their parents and not in university halls for the first time. Glide is currently unique in its market and by all accounts seems to be doing very well.

My job is, with another member of technical staff, to maintain and enhance the somewhat complex software system that runs the company, which does virtually everything from internal company administration, accounting and billing right through to live ordering and status checking of utilities from suppliers. As with any existing system being started on by a new developer I will need a suitable gear-up period, but I’m making great inroads into it and I reckon that by the end of the week I’ll be able to make some initial recommendations as to procedure and future development.

It’s really good to be doing what I do full time again. It occurred to me on Monday morning that the last time I got up in the morning to go to a full time job in an office somewhere my life was very different, better in some ways and worse in others. It’s very different now, still a long way from ideal, but I do know that I’m going in the right direction to get to where I want to be. Doing what I am good at every day is a critically important step towards my goals rather than wasting time on the amount of sales and marketing that self employment demands of me, because I’m absolutely hopeless at both. I’m creative and technical, always have been, always will be.

I’ve been told to get the train in on Friday and not drive in. I can only assume that this means there’s going to be some sort of new-starter party in the afternoon/evening. It’s a young company and everyone who works there is around my age or younger, so I think it’s a fair bet that that’s what it’s going to be.

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Gainful employment

I’m delighted to report that on Monday I start a new job as a Software Engineer for a utilities management company in the Jewellery Quarter in central Birmingham. The reality of being self employed is quite different to what is perceived and I was very much struggling with the sales and marketing side of working for myself, so I decided to move back in to full time employment in order that I may concentrate on and spend my time on what I’m actually good at rather than incur frustration at spending time on having to do things that I’m not so hot at. I’ve never been a salesperson and I never will be. You have to be a certain type of person to do that I’m just not that person. I’m creative and technical, always will be.

The company is unique in its market. It provides a service to landlords and tenants whereby all members of a shared rented household pay one fixed monthly sum for all their utilities, including gas, electricity, water, telephone and broadband. Primarily aimed at the student market where house-sharing is most common, the company uses its buying power to negotiate cheaper rates from utilities providers and passes a portion of those savings on to their customers. It’s an exciting young company and I believe that I can make a difference to their operation and improve it through the ongoing enhancement of their existing software systems.

It’s an 11 mile commute into central Birmingham every day, which is fine, it should take me around 45 minutes each way. I don’t have to be in the office until 10.00am each day so that should allow me to avoid the worst of the traffic, which is ironically enough on the roads leading into and out of Sutton Coldfield rather than central Birmingham itself, once I’m past Sutton it becomes a lot easier. The equivalent train journey is less pleasant at 90 minutes in each direction including the two walks from the start and destination stations, so using the car is the way to go.

I’m looking forward to it.