Eurovision, Birmingham and Recovery Central

Sun 8 – Sat 14 May 2016


Eurovision Mans ZelmerlowLast week was one of the key dates in the gay calendar. Yep, Eurovision – like the gay version of the World Cup. And it’s even better now being a week long with semi-finals on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Very ably hosted by Petra Mede and Måns Zelmerlöw, both semis were good fun. Indeed Mans is basically gorgeous and there was a shot of him naked with his bits hidden by a cuddly wolf – you need to have watched to understand the context. UK voiceover for the semis was provided by Mel Giedroyc and Scott Mills who were generally quite amusing.

Yep parts of Eurovison are cheesy and crap, and I am not one of the fans who travels to it wherever it happens. However it’s a great example (generally) of fun competition without nasty and abusive nationalism unlike many sport events.

The Semis

I watched the first semi with mum at her place. And despite Putin and his semi-Fascistic tendencies, I did like the Russian song which rightly went through. With hindsight it was a bit too desperate to win and so much like last year’s winner.  Second semi in a hotel room in Birmingham. Very pleased that Australia went through – and please no more boring comments about ‘Australia’s not in Europe’. I also really liked Georgia and Latvia.

The Final

The Eurovision final itself again I watched from my Birmingham hotel room lying in bed and drinking wine whilst liaising with the rest of the world on Twitter which really comes into its own for events like this. Overall enjoyed the show and though Joe & Jake did well. Really though Australia should have won. The Ukrainian winner did nothing for me – found it a complete dreary dirge. And the new voting system was rubbish with multi-hundred point top-ups, the old style was far more understandable.

Birmingham and Recovery Central

Birmingham is a city that Dave and I love going to for a weekend break. There’s always so much to see and do plus it’s only an hour and a half away on the train. I was actually up there for the Friday launch of Changes-UK‘s Recovery Central. This is a new centre to encourage and support Abstinence Based Recovery. The organisation behind it is one of the ABR projects I oversee the grant for. This was very exciting following on from the great Jobs Friends Houses event last week.

Another Train Story

Birmingham I went up on Thursday afternoon to avoid an early start on Friday and and have a proper weekend away. A kerfuffle at the train station where the machine refused to give me my tickets because my card had changed due to being cloned. The people at ticket office were very unhelpful even though the tickets were bought from the same company (Chiltern Railways). They told me I would have to buy new tickets and try to claim a refund – crap customer service or what? Particularly as I had bought cheap online returns ages ago and would be forced to purchase very expensive on the day tickets. Phoned said company’s customer relations who spoke to staff at the information point who were very helpful and provided a pass for travel in lieu of tickets I had already paid for.

The train journey itself was fine and I spent the rest of Thursday chilling in Birmingham. It was a hot and sunny day with people having drinks sitting outside in the open air after work. To my favourite Chinese for dinner and I over-ate there as usual. Back to the hotel to play on my pooter and watch the second Eurovision semi. Had planned to go out afterwards but too tired and crashed out.

Recovery Central Launch

Russell BrandUp early on Friday and to the station to meet my manager coming up from London. The launch at Recovery Central went brilliantly with loads of people there – well done to Steve Dixon the charismatic leader of Changes-UK. I am up again on Tuesday for a meeting there so I will leave my look around the newly refurbished building till then. Really good feeling of empowerment with all the stories and examples of overcoming addiction. And a speech from Russell Brand who is great when he talks about recovery. It was especially good to see people proud of what they had achieved and being open (like with Jobs Friends Houses) – people saying ‘I’ve beaten addiction and so can you’. Me and my boss slipped away to talk work stuff before she back to London and me to my hotel to deal with work emails.

The Joy of Scuzzy Shops

Friday afternoon eventually spent chilling though a shock that the CD, DVD and Book Exchange in Birmingham had closed down, I used to love spending time there just browsing. Similarly I found out the next day that the Next discount store had also gone. A great new shopping centre above the train station called Grand Central but I do enjoy the scuzzy shops as well – too much sanitisation and chain shops that are the same the world over.

Silly Saturday

Birmingham Chinese QuarterFriday Dave came up and we went for dinner then out for a few drinks. Saturday Dave went off to a Body Power event at the NEC which he said was brilliantly and deliberaterly voyeuristic. Indeed a number of the tanned muscle men with their trophy girlfriends were staying in the city. I did the city’s museum and gallery falling back in love with their collection of pre-Raphaelites. A nice lunch then to the Custard Factory as there had been a car boot there when we had visited before. But alas this time there was nothing happening. Buffet Chinese and then Eurovision in the evening.

Health and Efficiency


Gym twice in the week gone. Previous Sunday morning to concentrate on core and then Monday morning to do upper body (did legs on Saturday). That was it exercise-wise for last week due to work commitments, helping mum with her laundry on Tuesday morning, and going to Birmingham. Previous Sunday was actually a scorcher – the hottest day of the year to date. So car boot after the gym which was busy but I didn’t buy much, mainly just a couple of t-shirts. Back to spend the rest of the day on the pooter and watch the rugby league (Challenge Cup) whilst Dave sorted out his beloved plants on the balcony. Crap TV in the evening, not even Antiques Roadshow.

Toxic Sugar

SugarOne of my reading books at the moment is a thoughtful one about the link between weight, our metabolism, and sugar. Interesting correlation in recent decades across the world with sugar consumption increasing in line with obesity. So I need to cut down my sugar intake and increase my fibre intake – the latter bulks out the body and negates the impact of the sugar (note the key role of eating raw fruit). I’ve started to try out porridge in the morning for breakfast instead of my beloved pastries. It’s not too awful even without honey but I couldn’t do it everyday. Weight up to 13-11. Does feel like it’s currently on an upward trajectory rather than just yo-yoing.


As said before, I helped mum do her laundry on Tuesday morning. I also went with her to the hospital on Monday afternoon. My heart sunk when I heard she had a 4pm appointment for her long-awaited outpatients appointment to discuss her knee. And, as expected, long delays meant we didn’t actually leave the hospital until 6.45pm. Battle with the doctors to get them to agree to try the operation. They were reluctant (due to pain in recovery and DVT risk) but as mum pointed out, it was her choice and she can’t just go on as she has been with the pain she was in. Mum did have to go back on her own the next day to sort out x-rays and scan to get her prosthesis made plus to arrange her pre-op assessment.

Digital (and an Away Day)

Brian and a Constructive Office Day

Most of my digital stuff is linked to work. But on Monday I had a catch-up with my old friend Brian. We’ve known each other for about 30 years and he is a super-techie, indeed wish I had the digital knowledge he has. Great to have a coffee in Soho and chew the cud.

Tuesday (after taking mum to the laundry), I had the joy (and I’m not being tongue in cheek) of the day just being at my desk so I was able to get on with stuff including writing a blog around our Tech for Good work – what we are funding and why we are doing it. I also did a lot of prep for the wrap-up day being run next Tuesday at Recovery Central for the five projects who received Tech for Good / Abstinence-Based Recovery grants.

My Projects with Microsoft

Wednesday afternoon I attended presentations by two projects funded jointly with money from Microsoft. Both projects (SafeLives creating a new network for professionals operating in the Domestic Violence and Abuse arena and Centrepoint refining and improving their Youth Homelessness Database) have gone well. It is important for charities to have small amounts of cash/support to be able to try new things in digital otherwise there may well be no progress. And there is also the need for the wider acceptance of the general tech rule that though individual projects may not ‘work’ in themselves, they can still leave examples there for others to build on for the ultimate greater good.

Funders Working Together

Thursday morning me and Nissa had a meet with Annie from Nominet Trust to look into the possibility (and practical problems/solutions) of co-ordinating and linking our Tech for Good funding streams. The aim is to save everybody time by avoiding people having to make two funding applications and each funder having less inappropriate applications.

The Away Day

TeamIn line with our new Grants directorate structure and new Grants strategy, we also had a team away day last week. I actually think our directorate gets along very well together – we have built a team through good day-to-day inter-actions. Very useful talking about and understanding the new strategy so that we can fully explain it to others. Always interesting in team-building events how that age old dilemma always rears its head of whether to just keep quiet and let things pass or say something and cause ripples…

Books and Reading

Fat Chance. The Hidden Truth about Sugar, Obesity and Disease by Dr Robert Lustig is the book I referred to earlier. Basically the premise is that sugar is the primary factor fuelling obesity (as opposed to simply overeating, fat, carbohydrates or lack of exercise) and is doing this by messing up our body’s hormones and metabolism. I get it and agree sugar is dangerously ubiquitous and that we also need to eat more fibre. I do think that there are bigger issues around overeating (and wasting food) and lack of activity which are both linked to lack of willpower. Lustig gives too much ground to those who say their lives are out of control. Yes they might be but only one person can take control of it again albeit perhaps with helpf from others. Indeed, reducing sugar intake has to start somewhere with a decision by an individual.

Arcadia Meanwhile I have also been reading another book on my Kindle which I am actually finding so bloody convenient to carry around. Arcadia by Iain Pears published in 2015 is like Lord of the Rings crossed with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe crossed with 1984 crossed with Brave New World crossed with a Shakespeare play. Wonderfully bonkers fantasy / sci-fi that generally makes sense (as far as these things ever do) and draws you in to another world(s). Recommended if you like a bit of escapism.

Pleased to report that I have listened to the final chapers of Dr Who and The Crusaders Well worth the effort of hearing it all the way through. A beautifully intricate, long and detailed adventure – very much of the time it was created in the 1960s..

Also listened to the brilliant Big Finish audio book Spare Parts about the fifth Doctor (Peter Davidson) and Nyssa visiting Mondas. This is the homeworld of the Cybermen, and Earth’s long-lost twin planet. A wonderfully clever story that takes us to the point at which the humans were becoming cybermen. Brilliant portrayal of a world similar to our own but with subtle differences. It does amuse me that cybermen (and the Borg in Star Trek) are portrayed as an awful consequence of man and machine bonding – I look forward to such a future.

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