Calamateur gig in Dunfermline

Calamateur in concert, Andrew on acoustic guitar and Mark at keyboards
Calamateur in concert, Andrew on acoustic guitar and Mark at keyboards.

This evening Valleyboy Rich, the lovely Jane and I popped over to The Vine Church, Dunfermline to see our long-time Inverness-based friend Andrew Howie’s band Calamateur gig at the Vine Café.

The venue was contemporary, and not at all church-like, which suited the gig perfectly. Punters were seated around polished chrome tables drinking hot chocolate and eating fudge doughnuts, the lighting was dimmed, with candles placed strategically to enhance the mood. At the front, to the left of the stage, a huge back-projected screen showed cityscape images, similar to those produced by One Small Barking Dog.

Calamateur this evening consisted of Andrew Howie on acoustic guitar and vocals, with the odd finger used to press play on what I presumed was some kind of MIDI system that produced backing percussion and various other sounds; Mark Someone was on keyboards, providing a beautiful accompaniment to Andrew’s delicate guitar and haunting vocals.

Believe it or not, despite having known Andrew for about five years or so, this was the first time I’d seen him playing live and one of only a handful of times that I’ve seen him with a guitar in his hand! They played for about 35 – 40 minutes, which was over all too quick.

The set was a combination of quiet, delicate songs about hope, interspersed with darker, heavier material about betrayal, revenge and eventually murder! My only criticism was that the sound could have been better, there was a poor balance between instruments and the EQ levels didn’t sound right — it all sounded a bit lo-fi from where we were sitting. I’m not entirely sure whether this was down to our location near the front or the folks on the mixing desk.

But at the end of the day it didn’t detract from our enjoyment of the gig. Andrew rocked, his performance was solid, and the songs and lyrics quite, quite beautiful.

I thoroughly recommend that you at least download Son of Everyone, and his two free albums Tiny Pushes Vol.1 (How to be Childlike) and Tiny Pushes Vol.2 (All the Wrong Buttons). It may convince you (quite rightly) to part with your hard-earned cash on The Old Fox of 45 and The Son of Everyone EP.

John Peel played him on his late night BBC show, back in the day, you know. And that man was rarely wrong about a good tune!

Scotland 18 – 12 England

Scottish Rugby Union Calcutta Cup winners image
If I just make a few changes I’m sure no-one will notice.

First of all I’d like to say that my Dad was an Englishman — an Englishman who supported the Scottish Rugby Union!

Did you see it? Did you?! What do you mean “what?”?! I mean Scotland trouncing England at Murrayfield! If you missed it you can read the match report at the Official Website of the RBS 6 Nations.

I’ve not watched a Scottish game where Scotland played with such passion and gutted determination for years, and where I was leaping up from my seat every few minutes shouting at the TV. “Come on…! It’s not a quiz…! Drop him …! Yes …!!”

They are beginning to consistently get things right, they are getting the basics of play right, they are making tackles, catching and passing well, and are putting the ball between the posts when called to. I’ve been saying for years that if they can’t get to the line then they need to go for a drop-goal to get points on the board. At last, they are doing it.

It was such a delight to see Frank Hadden smiling from ear to ear. That man is a Scottish hero. He’s obviously getting something right. And more to come, I hope.

We watched the game at Potting Shed HQ with Eddie and Rebecca (and Owen), Camella, and Valleyboy Rich. As the final whistle blew Jane and I leapt out of our chairs — well, Jane did as I was already standing — and hugged each other, “Happy New Era,” I said. And I believe that it is.

Katiepie Designs — a tale of lovely people on the Internet

Owen name print from Katiepie dot co dot uk
Name print for Owen by Katiepie Designs.

Have you seen the AOL /discuss adverts on TV? There are two — you can watch them online too or read the scripts — asking “Is the internet a good thing?” or “Is the internet a bad thing?”.

It’s a genius piece of advertising. We’ve all probably had both good and bad experiences of using the Internet. Here’s one of my good experiences:

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Helen Barnett who runs Katiepie Designs. Helen emailed me, having found the information on my website about PDF creation software, to ask for my recommendations about a suitable application to convert an advert to PDF for print; seemingly the magazines that she wanted to advertise in required submissions in PDF format. (PDF is clearly the way forward!)

As a thank-you for my help, and having been reading my blog, Helen offered to make me a name print for my nephew, Owen. Which she did, posted it and I picked it up from the Royal Mail sorting office on Thursday morning.

As you can see from the photograph above Helen has made a wonderful job of the handmade name print. It has:

  • O for Octopus
  • W for Whale
  • E for Elephant
  • N for lizard newt

And at the bottom it reads:

Owen Thomas Saunders, born 14th January 2006, weight 8lbs 5oz

in the most beautiful handwriting. (I hope those details are correct!)

Anyway, what a lovely, lovely person. If you have any newly-born nephews, nieces, sons or daughters, then visit Katiepie Designs now and buy one. In fact, they are so lovely if you have a name why not buy one for yourself!

The job interview

View of St Andrews town from the pier
View of the Royal and Ancient town of St Andrews, taken from the pier.

Start date

Having spoken on the telephone this morning with the Unit Director of Business Improvements at the University of St Andrews, I now have a start date for my new job: Monday 1 May 2006.

I would have wanted to start much sooner than that, and so would they. Had we not been approaching Lent and Easter, and had I not have been covering at St Ninian’s, Comely Bank, and had I not been committed to getting as much of the Scottish Episcopal Church website done before I my appointment ended at the end of April then I would have said that I could. But I felt that I wanted to see my commitments here through to the end.

It’s now beginning to sink in that I got the job. I’m really getting quite excited about this new post, in what is a fairly new discipline — most people I speak with ask me “What is an Information Architect?!” I’ll explain that in a well-structured post soon, but if you can’t wait there is an article about Information Architecture on Wikipedia.

The interview

So, a few people have asked me about the interview on Wednesday.

Before I write about that I’ll just say a quick, presumptious hello to any members of the Business Improvements Unit who now may be following my blog with interest. Here’s how it was from my perspective.

As it happened my interview date coincided with my good friend Peter Leeming visiting from Aberdeen. I was at St Mary’s College with Peter from 1989-1993 and we’ve remained firm friends ever since.

In fact, Peter is the only person I remember from my open day visit to St Mary’s and I remember thinking how clever he must be while we visited the main library because when the group were asked for the name of a theologian he suggested “Karl Barth”; I’d never heard of him — Bart Simpson, yes; Karl Barth, no. Anyway, kindly Peter offered to change his plans for the day and travel up to St Andrews with me; I took him up on his offer.

The first part of the interview consisted of a two-part written task. Part one was to write out — on paper, with a pen — the HTML code for a web page. On the way home Peter asked me why, given that St Andrews is The Finest Academic Institution in Scotland™, they do all their Web coding on paper! It took me ages. I only had 30 minutes for both tasks, and writing out HTML in long-hand took me about 20 of those. Give me a PC and a copy of Notepad and I’ll tap it out in about a quarter of that time. Give me a PC and a copy of WeBuilder 2005 and I’ll do it in 2 minutes!

As it was, I couldn’t remember the exact tags for ensuring that the code would validate as XHTML 1.0, so I simply explained that I knew the code should be there, even if I couldn’t remember if from memory. If you’re interested it is:

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd">
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">

Which is partly why I found the final cell of yesterday’s Dilbert cartoon so funny.

The second task I ran out of time for, but managed to scribble some ideas down. Scribble being the operative word. I’d forgotten just how much I rely on my PC for writing and organising my thoughts. I write, edit and re-edit, which is fine on a PC because the delete key doesn’t leave the same trail of squiggles and cross-outs that I left on that sheet of A4. On reflection I should just have been bold and used a mind map.

University of St Andrews crestTime up, I was accompanied to another building for the interview itself. What I remember most about the interview room itself, apart from the three people who interviewed me were the blue sofas complete with University of St Andrews crest embroidered on them.

The interview I guess went well, because I got the job. But I remember coming out of the building afterwards thinking “Aww… I’m sure I’ve blown that!” I was still feeling quite washed-out having had that 24 hour bug the day before, and so wasn’t entirely myself, but the three who interview me welcomed me warmly and helped me to relax as much as I could.

I enjoyed delivering my PowerPoint presentation, with not a bullet-point to be seen, almost as much as I enjoyed writing it. When we gathered back around the table — which felt good that we were around the table rather than a ‘them vs me’ arrangement across the table — I struggled a bit with getting out what I wanted to say. It was like there was so much information that I wanted to share it was hard to get it all out coherently.

There was one point where I misunderstood — or misheard — the question and tried to explain the difference between XHTML and XML when I’d in fact been asked to differentiate XHTML from HTML. D’oh!

Still, despite my fearful response after leaving the interview room, I had enjoyed the meeting. But then, what isn’t there to enjoy about meeting new people and talking about a field that I have a passion for?

Getting the news

After an enjoyable lunch at PizzaExpress — I had the Pollo con Funghi, thanks for asking — we drove back down the road to Edinburgh. Reaching Kirkcaldy at about 16:40 I realised that I was very near my brother Eddie’s new place of work. He now works as a Health and Safety Officer for Fife Council, seconded to their Fire and Rescue Service.

I gave Eddie a quick call and went to pick him up. Shortly after passing Thornton railway station on the way back my mobile phone rang. I threw it to Eddie on the back seat who answered it chearfully.

“Hello! Gareth’s phone. Gareth’s brother Eddie speaking…! Ok … well, he’s driving just now … ok … ok … Gareth, it’s Heidi from St Andrews.”

Checking the rearview mirror I stepped on the brake and parked at the side of a long, straight road, with the hazard lights on and took the phone back from Eddie. This is it, I thought, thanks but I’m sorry you were unsuccessful. But to my absolute delight (and pleasant surprise) I was wrong: I was the successful candidate. We arranged that Heidi would telephone me on Friday morning to arrange a start date and salary and then she checked that my contact details were right.

Heidi: Would it be easier to phone you on your landline or mobile on Friday?
Gareth: Either is fine. I should be in, though.
Heidi: Let me just check I’ve got your home phone number correct: 0131 …
Gareth: That’s right.
Heidi: Alright, I’ll telephone you on Friday.
Gareth: Have you got my mobile number?
Heidi: I’m phoning you on it right now.
Gareth: [Slightly embarrassed pause.] Oh yes. Well noticed!

Meanwhile Peter and Eddie were killing themselves laughing, quietly in the background. I hung up the phone and turned to them, “I got the job,” I said simply.

About half a mile further down the road I pulled over again. “I’ve got to phone Jane!” She was at the Gyle with her Mum. “Are you sitting down?”
“No. Just tell me!”
“I got the job!”
The phone went silent. “I think I’m going to cry. I’m so proud of you.”

For the next couple of miles down the A92 whenever I looked in my rearview mirror all I could see was Eddie smiling wildly, his face held between two hands giving me the thumbs-up.

And that was it — or at least part of it, the rest I’ll keep to myself to treasure if you don’t mind. I feel a new sense of confidence about myself. And I have no doubts that this is the area I want to work in. Because even though there is a good helping of geeky stuff in this field and this job, at the end of the day it’s still all about caring about people: presenting information in such a way that anybody can access or update it easily and simply. Because if it’s not arranged in a user-friendly way, if it’s not organised in a way that people can find it it might as well not be there at all. Put another way, what is the point of hiding your light under a bushel? As someone famous once said (Matthew 5: 15).