Chris Croft's Personal Blog

September 8, 2015

Russia – what’s it like to visit in 2015?

Filed under: Uncategorized — chriscroft @ 7:56 am

We spent 10 days there cycling from Moscow to St Petersberg, and here are my thoughts:

1. Controlled?  – Not really communist at all now. No evidence of us or anyone being monitored: you got the feeling that we, or any of the Russians, could go anywhere they liked and do anything (legal) that they liked.
2. QUEUES! Everything is inefficient, every till, every toilet every shop seems to have a queue. Why don’t they have more staff? There’s no shortage of people. Why don’t they have better systems? I think it’s a) they don’t understand systems b) they don’t care because there’s nothing in it for them c) the type of people they are – see later for these
3. Systems: everything from the booking in procedures at hotels, to the airport, to every restaurant, to the bag rules for entering the Kremlin, was ridiculously inefficient. For example the Kremlin – nothing is stated about bag size on any notices, but when you get to the front of the queue you discover that small is OK but medium is not, and it’s the whim of the guy to decide what’s medium. In our group my little rucksack was the only one he didn’t like, so I then have to go to another queue to have it checked in (for free though) and then rejoin the first queue, at the back, without my bag.
4. Restaurants – you wait ages and then you get the wrong food, in the wrong order, cold. My starter came after my main course. Some people’s food never came at all, they got no dinner. You couldn’t make it up! No apologies offered for any of this. And it was not a language problem because we had a translator, and anyway the menu says Starters, Main Course etc, and we are pointing to what we want, so how hard can it be??
5. Language – very few people speak English, and Russian is really hard to pronounce. Even Hello is a big long weird word: Zdravstvuyte. And the alphabet has lots of odd letters to it’s really hard to read even place names let alone a menu. This is Hello in Russian: Здравствуйте
6. Nothing in it for them – a hangover from the communist days I suppose, I kept thinking “If they sold those they could make lots of money / if they put the price up / if they made it easier for us” but then if you’re on fixed pay why would you want MORE customers? What difference does it make if you have happy customers? Do you WANT repeat business, it’s just more work. I guess there’s an owner somewhere, but for everyone else it makes no difference, they obviously don’t so bonuses or shares or even training. At the Ballet a coke cost the same as in the corner shop – what are they thinking??
7. A few people have worked out the game, and are running businesses and making a LOT of money. With even half a commercial brain you could do better than everyone else. But I suspect that business might be tough there – people might object to you encroaching on their patch, and I wouldn’t want to upset a Russian – see next section!
8. Type of people – if you go to India the people have a natural service mentality, they want to be your friend and make you happy. And of course on top of that they know that if you are happy you’ll buy more, and come back and buy more. “It’s trade to prosper”. Maybe because there are so many people packed in, living together, it’s all about relationships. But The Russian personality isn’t like this, (maybe because of the harsh weather, I don’t know), it’s much more “Be tough to survive”. We met a guy, an ex Afghanistan paratrooper who now drives a truck across Siberia in the winter for days on end, an amazing man, he looked and sounded like a bear, and he gave us some apples from this tree, so he was friendly (thank goodness!) But there wasn’t much joking around to be had, unlike maybe Morocco or Italy or Brazil where they are always up for a laugh.
9. Situation of the people – they have been stuffed by the system. Having been supported by the communist system, now suddenly their little farms are no longer viable, and they are being left to go bust. The country villages are dying as the young people move to the horrible cities. They don’t have the commercial knowledge to replace their dependency on communism. It’s a period of change and they are getting no help. It’s really sad.
10. Power of the Media – they genuinely do think Putin is great, and they genuinely do think that America wants to invade Russia. As if! But then maybe we are victims of our media in the same way, who knows what’s really true. But really, all those miles and miles of scrub, it didn’t look very much worth invading to me…
11. Size – the rouble was plummeting, just in the week we were there it went from 70 to the pound to 100 to the pound, so meals etc were very cheap and getting cheaper. But nobody was bothered. If you never leave the country, and most of them don’t want to, don’t’ need to, and can’t afford to, then who cares about prices outside. If food, cars, houses etc are all made and priced internally then you can live in your bubble without needing to care about exchange rates etc. Even Mercedes have a car plant there, so everything is in roubles. The EU and US sanctions mean nothing because everything they need is made in Russia.
12. Cheese – except cheese. They can’t make or get Parmesan or Feta, they have to use their own rubbery unexciting cheese, so the pasta and the salads were very unexciting.
13. Buildings – worth the trip for these. Red Square, St Basils, The Kremlin, and all of St Petersberg, especially the inside of The Hermitage were incredible. If you looked at each item in the Hermitage for one minute it would take you eight years to see it all! Also the monasteries (e.g Novgorod) and Orthodox churches, both inside and out, were beautiful. But most of the towns were dilapidated and sad – not exactly Italy’s crumbling beauty.
14. Scenery – like the worst bits of Canada repeated endlessly. If you want beauty its Scotland or Norway, if you want interesting it’s Iceland, if you want epic it’s the Himalayas. Sorry Russia but you’re not on the list for scenery, though I’m sure there are some good bits in amongst the millions of miles.
15. Overall – fascinating, some great buildings, see it before it either becomes America (will take quite a while) or becomes a no-go zone (could happen any day now), but once is enough and a week is enough. And India is better.

July 10, 2015

Russian Visa – two useful tips

Filed under: Travel and driving — Tags: — chriscroft @ 6:12 pm

If you’re going to visit Russia as a tourist you have to get a visa, and that means going to London to have your finger prints taken and to hand in their ridiculously detailed application form.  If in doubt, don’t bother to visit Russia, we are clearly not welcome!  But if  you ARE determined to go, I have two tips from when I got my visa

1 – They want to know every country you’ve visited, and in my case that’s too many to remember.   And if you miss a few, who’s to know?   But be careful to list EVERY country you’ve visited that’s listed in your passport.  All the ones with stamps in there.  Because the one thing they CAN check is that the form agrees with the passport.  I forgot to mention Cambodia.  Oops!  but to be fair, they did allow me to add it to the form there and then.

2 – Your visa photo.  Lots of people have had trouble with this!  They want one that is less than 6 months old.  My photo was the same as my passport  – seems reasonable? – but my passport is several years old, so they KNEW the photo was also several years old.  So they rejected it, looking rather proud of their cunning logic.  I used another one (which may or may not have been even older, I can’t possibly comment!) which they were happy with.  Both photos looked almost exactly the same, and exactly like me, as I stood there before them, but no, if it’s the same photo as your passport (the passport you will be using to enter the country on your holiday) they won’t accept it.   Any other photo, for example the one my wife used which has totally different hair and which bears almost no resemblance to her: they will accept.  Brilliant!

In the Russians’ favour, the queue was only short, and you can take any bag in with you – it’s just like a post office with a waiting area, so although they say rather scarily on the application form that you can’t bring a laptop in, nobody checks your bag and it’s fine if you’ve got one in there – or at least it was when I went.  And they take credit cards too, or cash.  Although at £100 per person it does feel like a money-making exercise.  Don’t go unless you really want to.  Italy Ireland and Iceland are all free!

So, I hope that helps you – those are the things I wish I’d known before I went.

April 27, 2015

Accredited training by an e-learning or online route

Filed under: Uncategorized — chriscroft @ 4:44 pm

 

 

 

 

As well as my taught Project Management course, and my on-line / e-learning project management course called Practical Projects, I can now offer training that is both on-line and accredited.

So you can get a management qualification, accredited by CMI (The Chartered Management Institute) completely on line. This is great if you live a long way from the south of England, or if you can’t spare whole days for your learning process.

This diagram shows the combinations of training that are available:

 

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 17.39.17

Here are the links to the above if you want to know more:

Single day courses

Open courses

Conference talk subjects

Accredited programmes – taught

Accredited programmes – on-line / e-learning

15 minute mini-courses

Practical Projects

Phone apps

MP3 Audio

www.lynda.com

December 14, 2014

My favourite tracks, ever

Filed under: Lists, Music — Tags: , , , — chriscroft @ 11:35 pm
  1. Jackson Browne: The barricades of heaven
  2. Van Morrison: In the garden
  3. Van Morrison: Celtic New Year
  4. Lynyrd Skynyrd: Sweet home Alabama
  5. Of monsters and Men: Little talks
  6. Don Henley: Boys of summer
  7. John Martyn: Solid air
  8. Wishbone Ash: Sometime World
  9. Led Zep – for your life
  10. The Pet Shop Boys: Being Boring
  11. Bruce Hornsby: The way it is
  12. Robbie Williams: The road to Mandalay

I wanted to get it down to one, or maybe 5, or at lest ten.  But I just can’t let any of these 12 go!

And here are the ones that nearly made it……..

  1. Love and affection (Joan)
  2. Once in a lifetime (Talking Heads)
  3. Driving with the brakes on (Del Amitri)
  4. Like a Rolling Stone (Bob)
  5. Tangled up in blue (Bob)
  6. Propane nightmares (Pendulum)
  7. Cajun Moon (JJCale)
  8. Romeo and Juliet (Dire Straits)
  9. Need you tonight (INXS)
  10. Afternoons and Coffeespoons (Crash Test Dummies)
  11. Mr Jones (Counting Crows)
  12. Tinseltown in the rain (The Blue Nile)
  13. Secret World (Peter Gabriel)
  14. Holding back the years (Simply Red)
  15. Read My Mind (The Killers)
  16. Treat (Santana)

October 20, 2014

Christmas Present ideas for 2014

Filed under: Lists — Tags: , , , — chriscroft @ 7:59 pm
My traditional list of best ones I can find

These were the cheapest prices I could find for the items, but…

  1. If any of the links no longer work, out of stock etc, then just google the description to find them from somewhere else.
  2. Also I haven’t checked the postage so if that’s a rip off then also google for other suppliers.
  3. Also while you’re on these sites you can see what else they have!
    • Light up glasses – see while you read or work in bad light  £3.50
    • Mouse mat that’s a real persian carpet – beautiful, and works well too  £15
    • Earplugs in a little tube on your keyring – with three levels of sound reduction – great for gigs etc  £18 but your ears are worth it!
    • 4 chemistry-style fun shot glasses  £10
    • This glass of milk light seems a bargain for £10
    • Tea man who dangles into your cup – fun and useful – £10
    • Candle that smells brilliant.  The ultimate classy candle.  It used to be called “Library” but boringly they’ve renamed it True Grace.  £25 but worth it!
    • Periodic Table of Texting mug – I need this to know what’s going on!   £7
    • Book of bad taxidermy – just hilarious!  Probably not suitable for a cat lover without a sense of humour….  £6
    • Finger nose hair trimmer – useful and funny, like my training courses, so therefore I want one.  £8
    • Penny Farthing sellotape dispenser – quite stylish actually.  £7
    • Wooden Guitar spoons for people who like both cooking and music… £10 for the pair
    • Secret box which looks like a book – for hiding things in your car, on your desk, where ever   £13
    • Coin counting jar – I’ve always wanted one of these!  This one is shaped like a pig and is only £6
    • I had a bug zapper before which was fragile when you swung it around, and not every powerful.  This one costs double but is The Business!  £11
    • For a trekkie this pizza cutter is a must.  £25
    • Kitchen timer that changes colour when the time is nearly up – fun and useful – £17
    • When I was about 9 I loved a game called Howzatt, a cricket game using two metal hexagonal prism dice.  These are modern versions for cricket and rugby (though it IS Rugby League).  I reckon any nerdy kid would love them!  £9 each
    • For the business or leisure traveller, some expensive but nice bags here
    • Go to sleep listening to headphones hidden in a soft headband – not cheap, but you need the wireless ones’ I think. I’ve not tried them but they look comfy enough.   £57
    • Card suits nibble bowls – cooler than they sound!  £13 for the set of 4
    • Ladies toolkit – now, obviously anyone should really get a set of the best tools (molewrench etc) and not in pink, but for a starter kit, maybe a youngish girl showing an interest, this might be a good present – £25  This one also looks good if you can find it.
    • a tin that looks like an Aga.  Classy, and people who have agas always love them and they might like this too  £10
    • Carry lots of garden or tool stuff in this little bag with lots of pockets – I know my mum would like this!  £15
    • The egg skelter is fun but also means you can rotate your eggs and eat the oldest first.  £20
    • monster eating garden gnomes for £25
    • If you have to move your jigsaw off a table half way through its maddening, and this could be the answer!  £10
    • If you live in London or visit it sometimes then these books look good – places and shops you shouldn’t miss – £11 each
    • Could be the answer to the Christmas pudding that won’t light, or stay alight?  £3
    • This biscuit tray is rather freaky  £10
    • Great desk accessory – a seal balancing a pen on his nose!  £13
    • One garden gimmick that I really do use – great for picking up hedge trimmings or leaves   £3.50
    • I greatly enjoy my subscription to Graze.  Very good for when you’re driving, or travelling, and want to be a bit healthy.  A fortnightly delivery would make a good present.
    • I use this keyboard all the time and people always go “ooh”.  £45 from amazon and my phone is almost as good as an ipad or laptop.  Better in someways – longer battery life, better keyboard for typing than an ipad, lighter and smaller than a laptop.
    • My success diary 2015 – £5, A5 sized
    • My happiness daily tips book – something for every day of the year, which can be used for ever – £10
    • Dog calendars. pdsa-shop.co.uk
    • Off centre umbrella 
    • Calendar of Britain’s Dullest Men
    • Keep half finished tomatoes, onions, avocado and lemon fresh without horrible clingfilm etc – £5 each
    • You Are Here cushion    £20
    • Pashmina infinity scarf £18 plus postage
    • For some reason I love this Chicken purse – looks better as it gets fatter.  £9  There’s a handbag too but I think there’s a limit….
    • If you’re a skier then this beard / scarf is both hilarious and practical, though £25 is quite a lot and I think you’d need to be a good skier to carry it off
    • I really want this Stone Face tissue holder – easter island lives on, though somewhat sacrilegious.  £19
    • Tissue box covers – pointless unless they are fun:  house with smoke £8.50    A pity this one seems to be out of stock at the moment
    • puzzle that’s both beautiful and quite hard, and only £7
    • A good present is something you want but can’t justify buying for yourself – and such is the magic rope wine bottle holder.  Only £5
    • A fun combination lock for £7
    • A rather cool waterproof beanie hat – there are lots of designs and prices if you google this, but I know that Sealskinz really are waterproof and this one looks good too – £28
    • For the keen cyclist who wants to keep fit in the winter – go as fast as you like, safely, without having to dismantle any parts of your bike – £46  there are posher ones with computerised readouts etc too.
    • Grippy pad for your phone in your car – a fun cheap present at £7, and very useful
    • I’ve got one of these folding saws and it’s amazing how useful I have found it – £10
    • I do have a bit of a fascination for combination locks, and I like this idea – a bolt for your shed or side gate with a combination lock on it.  £12
    • £40 is quite a lot, but this impossible-to-spill tray could be great for people who are older (or just clumsy!), or who eat out in the garden a lot.
    • Kitchen magnetic whiteboard weekly planner – these words are all music to my ears! – £15
    • One of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen, this musical birthday hat is pretty funny and for £7 I think it could be justified.
    • For under £20 a machine that spews out popcorn almost instantly!
    • Chemistry Beer Glass –  extra cool after than breaking bad series.  £12
    • Geeky Mug with The Element of Surprise on it.  There’s also an Omg one.  £8

September 29, 2014

My USP

Filed under: Random stuff - uncategorisable — Tags: , , , , , — chriscroft @ 5:54 pm

It’s taken me 20 years to work out my USP.

Most people start with a USP and then deliver it, doing what they do from a market-led point of view. Some have a bunch of catch-all platitudes: “My five values are…”.   But I can only do what I do – just be me. But I think I’ve worked out now what it is that I do differently.

If you look at the training market:

Some courses aren’t even practical, they’re just a load of theory without it having been through the “So What?” test. Everything in all of my courses has been through this filter. That’s my rule number 1.

Many courses aren’t fun. When did you last go on a fun Project Management course??  Mine is!  Ask anyone who’s been on it!

Very few courses are philosophical. “Why bother with Time Management?”, “Does it matter if you’re a horrible boss if you get good results?”, “Can happiness be added into all management subjects?”, “What’s the relationship between Stress, Achievement, and Quality of Life?”, “Can you ever really separate work and home life?”, “Do you HAVE to enjoy your work?”, “Can a training course change someone’s life?”. People who’ve been on mine will tell you that my courses really are philosophical, but in a way that is practical and fun.

USP

September 7, 2014

The top ten books that have influenced me most over the years are:

Filed under: Books and Culture, Happiness, Lists, Managing People — Tags: , , — chriscroft @ 6:05 pm

Scott Peck – The Road Less Traveled
Rupert Sheldrake – Seven Experiments that Could Change The World
Susan Jeffers – Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway
James Redfield – The Celestine Prophecy
Rohinton Mistry – A Fine Balance
Ken Blanchard – The One Minute Manager
Eli Goldratt – The Goal
Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene
Peter Senge – The Fifth Discipline
Stephen Knight – The Brotherhood
Marlo Morgan – Mutant Message From Down Under

Get them and read them!

August 8, 2014

online Project management options

Filed under: Project Management — Tags: , , , , , — chriscroft @ 11:11 am

have a look at the previews and compare the quality….

http://www.simplilearn.com/project-management/pmp-certification-training-online/ppa630da30
(scroll down and select one of the 2 min previews)

OR

http://www.practicalprojects.co.uk/teaser-video/

August 6, 2014

Cost Reduction – what you need to measure

Filed under: Lists, Managing People — Tags: , , , , , , — chriscroft @ 9:41 am

I wrote this:

http://blog.vistage.co.uk/the-no-nonsense-guide-to-cost-reduction-for-clever-business-leaders

I hope you find it useful

 

CC

June 23, 2014

Which communication method to use?

Which communication method to use?

Use the urgency and the importance of relationship building to choose the best method.
Consider moving up a level or two on the arrows.

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